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This email list is used each week to spread Hashem's Torah and thoughts on parenting Jewish children to readers around the world. With a heavy heart and firm resolve, I would like to use this forum this evening to publicly repudiate the actions of those in the Boro Park community who shamed Jews worldwide yesterday with their lawless and violent actions.
As a Torah Jew, I am obligated to judge people l'kaf zechus (favorably). With that in mind, and considering the fact that I was not there to witness these protests firsthand, perhaps I should listen to those in our community who defend or excuse the actions of the protesters by pointing out that there were allegations of police brutality that sparked the protests.
However, there is no set of circumstances that permit the torching of a police car and the setting of fires in this malcus shel chesed (benevolent country). These criminal acts are a dark stain on our community and constitute a disgrace of Hashem's Torah. And I firmly believe that those who perpetrate these actions are 'rodfim' who are putting all of us in danger.
L'man Hashem; haven't we learned anything at all from history? Aren't we afraid of creating needless animosity among our neighbors? We have been given a privilege that was denied our grandparents for two thousand years. It is one that we should accept as the gift that it is, not endanger it with acts of hooliganism.
Instead of reactive comments from people defending the protestors, or suggesting that these are the actions of a few individuals, I would like to see universal and broad-based condemnation of these actions from responsible community leaders, rabbonim and heads of schools. I plan on speaking about this matter and repudiating these actions in my Friday dvar Torah to my talmidim. I hope that many others will do the same.
I strongly believe that all parents should speak to their children about this matter at their dinner and Shabbos tables. Our children are watching our response to this very public chilul Hashem. Very carefully.
There are hundreds of amazing acts of selflessness and Kiddush Hashem in our community on a daily basis. However, these beautiful messages are being snuffed out by the negative actions of a few. In this 24-hour news cycle and Internet blog world we cannot allow the misguided youth who commit violence to speak for us.
May Hashem grant us wisdom in these troubling times.
I am adding two articles that I wrote on these topics in the past few months.
My Grandfather and I
By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
My paternal great-grandfather was Rabbi Dov Ber Horowitz. Among Chassidim throughout Europe, he was lovingly referred to as 'Reb Berish Vishever, ' drawing on the name of the city in which he lived and faithfully served as chazzan and shochet for more than fifty years. Each year he wrote beautiful songs for Chassidishe Rebbeim with whom he had close contact - among them the Admorim of Satmar and Viznitz, zichronom livracha. Many of his niggunim (songs) are still sung today by chassisdim around the world (Among them, the 'Satmar Sholem Aleichem' niggun and the Viznitzer 'V'emunah Kol Zos', sung on Shabbos Shirah and Shvei Shel Pesach).
The great tzadik and gadol Reb Shrage Feivel Mendelovitz z'tl used to ask my father a'h to sing his grandfather's stirring "Geshem/Tal Niggun" each Seudas Shlishis in Torah Vodaas. To this day, Reb Shrage Feivel's eighty and ninety-year old talmidim (students) b'eh hum the tune to me when we meet at social gatherings. I honor my zeide's memory by singing his songs each Yom Tov meal, and my wife and I, with the chesed of Hashem, recently walked our daughter to the chuppah as dozens of my male cousins - Reb Berish's descendants - sang his beautiful "Geshem/Tal Niggun."
In 1944 at the age of 72, Reb Berish and 3,000 of his townspeople, h'yd, were rounded up and deported to Auschwitz several days before Shavuos. On the loading dock waiting for the trains to arrive, surrounded by armed German troops and snarling dogs, Reb Berish rose and tearfully addressed the crowd of assembled Jews. It was late in the war and despite the fact that the people knew they were headed for almost certain death; escape was impossible under those conditions. Reb Berish encouraged his townspeople to turn inward and do teshuvah before they met their fate. Having served as chazzan in the town of "The Visheves" for fifty years, he knew all the yomim noraim tefilos (high holiday prayers) by heart. He used this knowledge and his beautiful voice to lead the entire assembled group in a word-for-word recitation of the closing Neilah tefilah of Yom Kippur during their last few moments together.
Reb Berish was a victim of Anti-Semitism - not only during his final years. Throughout his life, government officials and civilians treated him and his contemporaries harshly. His opportunities for employment were limited, and he lived each day of his life in fear of pogroms and death.
Several generations have passed since those horrific experiences. I, and to a much greater extent my children, have been raised, Baruch Hashem, in almost ideal circumstances in a malchus shel chesed (under the rule of a benevolent government). I can live where I wish to, engage in virtually any profession and walk the streets of my neighborhood in comfort and security.
Our immigrant parents never felt that level of security; and even those who did were sensitive to the fact that we are in galus. It is well known that Reb Yaakov Kaminetsky z'tl, during his years in Monsey, discouraged his talmidim (students) from wearing talesim (prayer shawls) in the street on Shabbos since he felt that we as Orthodox Jews should live modestly and not attract undue attention to ourselves. My father never considered wearing a talis in the street. I on the other hand, wear mine on Shabbos without giving it much thought. Our children don't even understand what the fuss is all about. Wear your talis, don't wear it; who cares?
An Exciting - And Challenging - Reality
I write these lines to share with you my growing sense of unease at the ill will that is being generated with our non-religious and gentile neighbors over the many zoning and political battles that have emerged over the past years as a result of our exponential growth, b'li ayin horah - and our newfound political power.
In the some of the largest Jewish communities of North America, we are suddenly finding ourselves in the strange position of being a powerful force in the political arena. Elected officials in every level of government are courting us. In some cases, we even represent the majority votes in our local races.
Politics is often a nasty business, however. When these election campaigns kick into gear, otherwise reasonable people resort to negative attacks and smear campaigns against their opponents. In our eagerness to promote 'our' candidates, we sometimes stoop to these tactics as well.
There are also significant issues of zoning and land use matters across the United States that pits our real needs against the sensitivities - real or perceived - of our neighbors. Virtually every shul and yeshiva that is built is done so with protracted, often bitter zoning battles. Having just completed a three-year odyssey to secure all approvals necessary to build the yeshiva where I serve as Menahel, I am intimately familiar with the passions that these situations generate on both sides.
As our community grows, b'eh, we will need chochmas Shlomo (The wisdom of King Solomon) to balance the need to pursue our rights while not violating Hashem's clear instructions to us - in the form of an oath - not to create ill will among our neighbors while we are in exile. (Kesubos 111a).
With all these pots are on the fire, we dare not provoke our neighbors needlessly over matters large or small that are within our power to avoid. In the past, this was self-evident as we were a small minority, and couldn't afford to engender any negative feelings. We also had a greater level of interaction with non-Jews in our neighborhoods than we do nowadays, which heightened our level of sensitivity to their feelings.
Things are very different now.
A Dangerous Step to Take
In the last sixty years we have evolved from, 1) "Please allow us to live in peace" to 2) "I'm glad to be living in peace", to 3) "I have every right to live in peace" to 4) "We will always live in peace no matter what we do."
While I do not suggest that we march backwards to step 1, I think that a blend of 2 & 3 is the wisest path to take. This would follow the shvil hazhav (golden path) of moderation charted by the wisest of all men, Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon). We should respectfully and vigorously advocate for our rights and privileges in this great country, but we must always be cognizant of the fact that our generation of children who live in the United States have been granted the gift of security that eluded us for two thousand years.
Rabbi Berel Wein, in one of his taped lectures, related that when his shul (synagogue) in Monsey was being built, and the main beam supporting the structure was being purchased, the contractor suggested that the shul invest in a more expensive beam, one with a 150-year guarantee. Rabbi Wein remarked that as a student of history, he is painfully aware that throughout our years in galus (exile), Jews never planned to live in one place for that long a period of time.
If you accept my argument that step 1 is inappropriate and a blend of steps 2 & 3 are the ideal, I propose that the attitude of step 4 is downright dangerous. No one gave us a guarantee that this menuchas hanefesh (tranquility) will last forever. I was recently in Antwerp, where many observant Jews regularly remove their yarmulkas in the street for fear of being attacked. It is the same in France and many European countries. And if we ever needed a wake-up call as to how things can turn badly very quickly, just look at what is happening in France over the past month or so.
Acting Graciously - and Wisely
We have the right to wear our talesim in public on Shabbos, but we should not walk four abreast in the street when our gentile or non-religious neighbors are driving by. We should vigorously pursue our right to build shuls and yeshivos in our communities but should do whatever is humanly possible not to impede the flow of traffic and not to park illegally when attending those shuls. Our streets and lawns must be kept clean and tidy and we need to be exceedingly polite to each other and to the non-religious and gentile members that we interact with - on the roads, in the bank, and in the Post Office.
We, as educators, parents, and community members need to see to it that we do not follow the potentially disastrous path of step 4. We must pick and choose our issues and battles very carefully, and do our very best to conduct them with dignity and grace - even if and when we are provoked. We must do our very best to act as model citizens and be mekadesh Shem Shamayim (glorify the name of Hashem) at all times. Our interactions with our neighbors must be in a manner of friendship and neimus, which is the way of our Torah.
Klal Yisroel is collectively mourning the death of Rabbi Naftoli Neuberger z'tl who recently passed away after more than fifty years of exemplary public service in Baltimore Maryland. He was a proud advocate for Torah values and a prince among men who conducted his affairs with outstanding distinction and refinement. He was revered among all segments of Baltimore Jewry and his opinion sought by elected officials at local, state and national levels - not for the votes that he delivered, but for his wisdom and unimpeachable integrity.
Each of us, as ambassadors for Torah Judaism should look to emulate his noble ways as we chart the course of our individual and collective lives in these difficult times.
I hardly ever sleep on airplanes. So after an eleven-hour Thursday night flight to Eretz Yisroel, I arrived Friday noontime, jet lagged and exhausted.
I came to spend Shabbos with my daughter, who is studying in a seminary in Yerushalayim. Together we walked through the winding streets of the Jewish Quarter and enjoyed a beautiful, spiritual Kabbolas Shabbos at the Kosel. After the conclusion of the tefilos, we returned to our hotel, which was almost exclusively occupied by Shabbos observant guests, for the evening seudah (meal). I ate rather quickly and was in my hotel room getting some much-needed sleep by seven o'clock. By midnight, I awoke, already having had a full night's sleep. I quietly left the room and made my way down to the lobby with a sefer, some reading material, and an assortment of roasted nuts that my daughter had purchased for me.
Sitting in the deserted hotel lobby, I looked up and noticed a teenage young man sauntering through the lobby. He was wearing jeans and a tee shirt, sporting a spiked, Israeli-version- of-a 'mushroom' haircut and several body-piercing ornaments. Not your average yeshiva bachur.
I smiled in his direction, wished him Shabbat Shalom, and turned the bags of nuts in his direction as if to invite him to partake in them. He was a bit taken aback at my offer and asked me if I was sincere. When I assured him that I was, he sat down and eagerly made a significant dent in my supplies. Several minutes later, a few of his friends entered the lobby and he invited them over to join us.
Some picture that was - four secular teens and a chassidic, forty-something rabbi chatting in a hotel lobby over a growing pile of garinim shells. Once they found out that I was a school principal, we engaged in a lively discussion about their school life and I fielded seemingly endless questions about the yeshiva where I serve as Menahel.
It was fascinating for me to observe how they warmed up to me as time passed. In fact, one by one they began referring to me respectfully, in the third person. Then, suddenly it got quiet for a moment or two. The young man who was the first to sit down wanted to know if he could ask me a question. "Betach", (sure) I responded.
Two in a Row
His eyes locked in on mine with a mixture of hostility and genuine curiosity. "Why are there no charedim like you (who are friendly and accepting) in Israel?" he asked me. I responded that there are thousands like me - but that he had simply never met any of them. I asked him if he ever had a Shabbat meal in a charedi home and encouraged him to try that experience - with an open mind. I even offered to set him up with one of many families who would be glad to have him over.
Then his friends joined in. "But why do they (charedim) hate us and throw stones at us?" they wanted to know. I told them that they should not believe the stereotypes about charedim that they have been reading in the papers. I informed them that only a tiny, vocal percentage of our community engages in this type of behavior. I politely but firmly pressed my point. I said that I have had insults and abuse showered on me over the years by individual secular Israelis as I walked the streets of Yerushalayim dressed in my shtrimel, but that I never assumed that any of the four of them were of that mindset.
Like boxers circling each other in the ring, we weaved and bobbed around the issues they raised for a few more minutes until we parted company courteously and respectfully.
I was so deeply disturbed by the conversation that I found it hard to concentrate on my sefer after the kids left the hotel lobby. I got up to stretch my legs and walked around the lobby for a few moments. If round one wasn't unpleasant enough, I got my second dose a few moments later. As I was walking to the rear part of the lobby, there was a secular woman finishing up a phone call on one of the hotel's pay phones. I greeted her with a polite Shabbat Shalom. Her response was visceral and harsh. "Aren't you angry that I am speaking on the phone during Shabbat?" she asked me angrily.
In my barely-passable Ivrit, I responded that anger was certainly not an emotion that came to my mind when I saw her on the phone. Saddened or upset perhaps, but angry? Why would I be angry?
I thoroughly enjoy every part of my visits to Eretz Yisroel. The kedusha (holiness), the predawn walks to the kosel for Vasikin minyan (sunrise-time prayer services), and perhaps most of all, watching my adult children progressively grow attached to the holy stones of Artzeinu Hakedosha. But increasingly so, each of my trips to Eretz Yisroel leaves me feeling more and more troubled by the growing harshness and hostility between the secular and religious Jews. Its almost like we are a behaving like a terribly dysfunctional family.
There is certainly more than enough blame to be placed on the leadership (and many individuals) of the secular community. I have been scanning two Israeli papers every day since the intefada started five years ago, and the outrageous, inflammatory, anti-charedi comments are simply horrific and are so far beyond the pale of civilized discourse. I assume that the left wing, secular leadership of Shinui and Meretz will not be reading these lines. But if they would, I would tell them to search their souls and realize that they are depriving their children of the spiritual oxygen needed to sustain Jewish continuity by denigrating us so badly and repeatedly.
Having said that, don't we, too, need to undergo a cheshbon hanefesh? Whose insane idea was the rock throwing anyway? Step back and think about it. Two generations of young charedi men threw rocks to impress secular Jews about the kedusha of Shabbos or to enforce its observance? Why in the world did we ever allow a fringe element to frame this debate and why did we not forcefully and repeatedly distance ourselves from the violent actions of those who shamed us so? I am not discussing the somber and proper expressions of public and respectful protest at the pain of public chillul Shabbos sanctioned by our Gedolim. We are discussing the lawlessness and desecration of Hashem's name that took place in the guise of promoting Shabbos observance.
Chazal say that it takes forty years to fully understand events that take place. Let's subject this issue of the rock throwing 'hafganos' (protests) that have taken place on and off over the past forty years to the harsh light of cost-benefit analysis. What did it accomplish? Close a few roads on Shabbos? Is that such a significant victory? Tens of thousands of Yidden have beautiful Shabbosos in America with cars driving all around them, albeit mostly driven by gentiles, which changes the dynamics of our response. However, I have a secular Jew living down the block in my hometown of Monsey. He drives and washes his car on Shabbos. My wife and I greet him with a cordial Gut Shabbos when we pass his home. Each time, he responds with the same salutation - uttered with the utmost derech eretz. And even if the closing of streets in charedi neighborhoods was one in the win column; at what price was the victory?
Of Rioting and Cuts
A.M. Rosenthal wrote a prophetic op-ed piece in the New York Times nearly fifteen years ago, following the horrific Los Angeles race riots. He commented that after the riots of the inner city minorities ran its course, he predicted that in the following months and years, the upper class whites in the country would riot the way they always have rioted. They will abandon the cities and move to the suburbs, he wrote, and they will vote Republican and shred the social services network. Sure enough, in 1994, two years later, Newt Gingrich was propelled to power and his "Contract with America" started a decade-long attack on funding for social programs. And shortly thereafter, President Bill Clinton announced that he would, "End welfare as we know it."
I conducted parenting classes in different Torah communities in three of the five evenings that I spent in Eretz Yisroel on this past trip. Fielding questions from hundreds of people in an open forum for two hours and taking private request for eitzos gives the presenter (me) a very accurate read regarding the challenges that communities face. I can tell you firsthand that our valiant avreichim and their families are suffering terribly from the draconian 'triple-whammy' cuts of the past few years. Simultaneously, child subsidies have been slashed, yeshiva funding cut back and all sorts of regulations on religious schools are now in place - compounding the strain on these mosdos haTorah.
Shouldn't we ask ourselves if the recent, painful budget cuts brought about in part by the stunning ascendancy of Tommy Lapid and the Shinui party - the rioting of the secular Jews - was even in a small part caused by the self-imposed collective black eye that we suffered as a result of the aggressive actions of some members of our community? We cannot avoid these implications for our future. Just because Tommy bungled his mandate and is slipping from power does not mean that the forces that propelled him there have abated.
A Hopeful Sign
I had the most wonderful five days in Eretz Yisroel, and thoroughly enjoyed the precious time that I spent with my daughter. But the events of Friday night cast a pall over my mood and thoughts as I replayed them in my mind's eye again and again.
Until Sunday morning.
It was about seven o'clock in the morning - after the vasikin (sunrise) prayers in the Kosel plaza. I was reciting tehilim after davening when I observed a scene unfolding right before me. Several secular Israeli teenagers had just arrived at the Kosel. They were dressed similarly to the young men that I had spoke to in the hotel lobby thirty-six hours earlier. Clutching paper yarmulkes to their heads, they kissed the holy stones of the wall and stood there in silence for a few moments. As they turned to leave, one teen in the group approached an elderly Sephardi bearded Jew and asked him for a blessing. The boy bowed his head while the rabbi blessed him with feeling and vigor. His peers followed the lead of the first teen and received similar blessings. Those who were in close proximity to the rabbi watched this beautiful exchange with pride and nachas. But I suspect it was more meaningful to me than the others - in light of my Friday night experience.
The boys turned to leave and I went back to my tehilim. I lifted my head again when the elderly rabbi loudly called the boys back to where he was sitting. He hugged the boys one at a time and warmly kissed each of them on both cheeks. He then placed his hands on their foreheads and emotionally exclaimed in Ivrit that Hashem should bless them and that all their actions should be met with unending success. They kissed his hand and walked away visibly touched.
My eyes began to blur as I thanked Hashem for restoring my faith that future generations of His children will interact similarly with each other - with tolerance and true ahavas Yisroel.
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