With boundless gratitude to the Ribbono Shel Olam and hearts brimming with joy, we are pleased to inform you of the engagement of our son Baruch to Alanna Apfel of Los Angeles, California, daughter of Gary and Serena Apfel.
For those who may wish to extend mazel tov wishes to our son and his kallah, his email address is email@example.com, and we can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
May we always share besuros tovos with each other.
Yakov and Udi Horowitz
When my paternal grandfather, Reb Yakov Moshe Horowitz, z’l, emigrated from Europe in the 1930’s, he settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania. My parents spent the first years of their married life there, and three of my aunts and uncles raised their families in Scranton. And since many Yomim Tovim during my formative years were spent in that ‘out-of-town’ community, whenever I have occasion to visit nowadays, part of me feels like I am returning home after a long absence.
Well, back home I was last week in Scranton addressing their Annual Bais Yakov Dinner, where my cousin Mrs. Gitty (Leiter) Horowitz was the Alumna of the Year Honoree.
It is always an adjustment of sorts to transition from city life to the rhythm of an out-of-town community. Life there seems to be more … well … real. People are friendlier and more accepting. No one cuts you off in traffic, and people hold the door open for each other at the convenience store. In the Jewish kehilah as well, things are more basic. You see, people aren’t grouped into categories in small towns. Scranton has one universally respected Rav, one hechsher, one day school, one mikveh, on and on. All the community members daven and learn together, celebrate joyous moments jointly and comfort each other in trying times.
To my knowledge, no statistical analysis has ever been conducted to calculate the dropout rate of ‘in-town’ children vs. ‘out-of-town’ kids, but it is my strong suspicion that the out-of-towners have a lower rate. Why do I say that? Because, in a small town everyone matters. Everyone. The day school celebrates the arrival of each new family, and every Jewish child is guaranteed a Torah education without any ‘wait-lists’ or admission hoops to jump through. And while raising children in a community with a small Jewish population presents formidable challenges, I would venture to say that the feeling of belonging and the non-judgmental acceptance of all children is more than enough to outweigh them.
In order to personalize my speech, I called Gitty’s husband, Reb Yakov, several days before the Dinner and asked him to share with me some of the attributes that contribute to his wife’s sterling reputation as a talented and caring educator. (Mrs. Horowitz serves as the Assistant Principal of the Bais Yakov Middle School in Baltimore.) Listening to him speak glowingly of his wife’s devotion to her students, one theme clearly emerged – how she treats the hundreds of girls in her care as the unique individuals they are. In fact, he described how she spends hundreds of hours each summer personalizing the schedules of each and every one of her students so that their learning and personality patterns are in sync with the teachers of the classes they will be attending.
In my remarks at the Dinner, I offered my own theory of what may have generated Mrs. Horowitz’s commitment to the individuality of each of the girls in her care. I noted that when she was a student in Scranton’s Bais Yakov a generation ago, due to the convergence of several factors, Gitty was the only student in her graduating class. A child who is made to feel important enough to have her own teacher and graduation ceremony, I said, will spend her life defending the individuality of each of her talmidos. A community that believes – and invests – in the future of a single child, will merit the zechus of watching with pride as that young lady develops into a star mechaneches who believes and invests in the neshamos entrusted to her care.
Most of the members of my generation were made to feel similarly valued by our holocaust-surviving parents. Sadly, many of the children in our communities and schools are not feeling treasured like those of my generation. Perhaps we have become so ‘spoiled’ by the incredible successes of our Yeshiva/Beis Yakov system over the past 30-40 years that we are finding it hard to telegraph the value of our children to them.
It might not be such a bad idea for all of us city slickers to spend some time in smaller Jewish communities, where we can recalibrate our hearts and minds to properly appreciate all of our children.
Rabbi Moshe Weinberger shlit”a, the dynamic Rav of Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, New York, tells a remarkable story that he personally heard from Rabbi Binyamin Lifton z’l, who served as a rebbi in the Yeshiva of Central Queens for decades.
When Reb Binyomin was in his late teens, his parents decided to send him to the famed Yeshiva in Grodno, headed by the legendary gaon, HaRav Shimon Shkop z’tl. As it was common practice for all applicants to recite a ‘shtikel Torah’ to Reb Shimon upon arrival, Binyomin’s parents hired a rebbi to properly prepare their son for his farher.
Binyomin endured many days of grueling travel to get to the Yeshiva. When he finally arrived late one evening, exhausted and famished, he was startled to be greeted by Reb Shimon. Binyomin introduced himself and said that he was prepared to recite his ‘shtikel Torah’ to the Rosh Yeshiva. Reb Shimon informed Binyomin that before he recited his Torah portion, he would like to ask Binyomin two questions.
Binyomin froze in fear, as he had only prepared himself to recite a portion of gemara, not to be subjected to a full-blown ‘farher! His fear dissipated when Rav Shkop asked him, “When was your last hot meal?” and “When was the last time that you slept in a bed?”
When Binyomin informed the Rosh Yeshiva that he had not properly eaten or slept since he began travelling, Reb Shimon took him home, personally cooked supper for him, and attended to his needs, until he was sleeping comfortably in Reb Shimon’s house.
Reb Binyomin told Rabbi Weinberger that he had forgotten a great deal of the Torah that he learned in Reb Shimon’s shiurim, but he never forgot the two questions that the Rosh Yeshiva asked him that night. He also told Rav Weinberger that throughout the terrible war years, it was the warm memory of Reb Shimon’s devotion to his needs that sustained his faith in Hashem and his will to remain alive.
© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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