Photo Credit: Feldheim Publishers

Title: If Not Higher: Stories and Insights of Rabbi Yehuda Kelemer zt”l
By Dr. Stuart Apfel and Hanoch Teller
Feldheim Publishers



“When you are focused upon others, then life – no matter how it is dished – is a cornucopia of opportunities.”

That, in a nutshell, was Rabbi Kelemer.

It can be said of very few people that every moment of their lives was spent pursuing wisdom, kindness, good deeds, and peace. But it can be said, from my reading of If Not Higher, that the legendary Rabbi Yehuda Kelemer was one of those people. The book paints Rabbi Kelemer as a modern-day superhero with a tallis, instead of a cape.

If Not Higher covers the 50 years Rabbi Kelemer officiated as rabbi at Young Israel of West Hempstead on Long Island, New York and previously in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Rabbi Teller’s books were the first religious books I read and I was captivated by his stories, his style, and his use of language. And he is still the king of imagery. The book is written in his florid and descriptive style, surrounding the reminiscences and true accounts collected by Dr. Apfel, stories which are uplifting and entertaining, inspiring, and motivating.

“The wondrous accounts of Rabbi Kelemer’s kindness, magnanimity, scholarship, humility, halachic expertise and more, fail to fully describe who the man was and what he accomplished. Whatever someone said about him, the only judicious response was, ‘If not higher!’”

It is appropriate that Rabbi Kelemer, who seemed bigger than life in his piety, modesty, and sensitivity, should be commemorated by someone who writes such that alliteration, personification, onomatopoeia, and metaphor are all present in one sentence.

“The air was already drunk with humidity when the dark clouds began rolling in, snuffing out the stars, hundreds at a time. Raindrops the size of small squids splatted against the windshields of the speeding cars and trucks roaring down Sunrise…”

Along with moving stories there are many funny anecdotes like the fact that Rabbi Kelemer had a number of phones because he was always losing them or their chargers and so many people were trying to reach him constantly.

Rabbi Kelemer learned with many of the Gedolei HaDor – from the Telshe Yeshiva, the Mirrer Yeshiva, under the guidance of Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, and was also a beloved disciple of Rav Elyashiv for several years. His erudition in halacha and its sources was monumental.

“Tragically, the world lost not only his brilliant mind and encyclopedic knowledge of Torah, which were legendary. More importantly, the nation lost his immeasurable acts of chesed and his near superhuman efforts to care for every human being in need.”

If Not Higher contains personal stories and examples which bring to life Rabbi Kelemer’s unique gifts – his erudition, graciousness, sensitivity, modesty and kindness, traits we can all learn from. And, of course, his signature self-effacing humor and wit.

“These words don’t begin to do him justice. He exuded warmth, empathy, caring. He had a kind, warm, captivating sense of humor. He was modest and captivating self-effacing in a manner that is indescribable. He was accessible and available – always. All of these qualities were bound up with his love of Torah, and the fact that he lived in the Torah world 24/7 and brought it to all of us.”

This book will leave you wanting to be a better person, and while Rabbi Kelemer demurred, avoided, and even ran away from any praise or honor, he would surely have been happy with that result, from his place in Heaven, if not higher.

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