Jewish Action Summer 2020

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Summer 5780/2020

Vol. 80, No. 4

Summer 2020/5780 | Vol. 80, No. 4


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FROM OUR ARCHIVES Memories of Boro Park JEWISH HISTORY Rabbi Leo Jung, Herman Wouk and their Little-Known Orthodox Society By Zev Eleff SPECIAL SECTION The Corona Diaries How Covid-19 Is Bringing Out the Best in Us As told to Rachel Wizenfeld JEWISH THOUGHT Mindfulness on Campus By Ahuva Reich On Jewish Mindfulness, Corona and Life in General By Toby Klein Greenwald COVER STORY Great Summer Reads Raising a Generation of Readers By Steve Lipman


Turning a Page in the World of Jewish Bookselling By Sandy Eller


02 08 16 21 71 74

LETTERS PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE An Encounter With One’s Self By Mark (Moishe) Bane FROM THE DESK OF ALLEN I. FAGIN Random Musings from Corona Quarantine CHAIRMAN’S MESSAGE By Gerald M. Schreck LEGALESE What’s the Truth about . . . “ad me’ah ve’esrim shanah”? By Ari Z. Zivotofsky THE CHEF’S TABLE Summer Market By Naomi Ross

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INSIDE THE OU Compiled by Sara Goldberg INSIDE PHILANTHROPY Compiled by Marcia P. Neeley BOOKS On My Own . . . But Not Alone: Practical Advice and Personal Stories By Ahava Ehrenpreis Reviewed by Faigie Horowitz Sarah Schenirer and the Bais Yaakov Movement: A Revolution in the Name of Tradition By Naomi Seidman Reviewed by Devorah Goldman The Koren Tanach of the Land of Israel Translated by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks Reviewed by Allen Schwartz REVIEWS IN BRIEF By Gil Student LASTING IMPRESSIONS A Pandemic of Kindness By Steve Lipman

Jewish Action is published by the Orthodox Union • 11 Broadway, New York, NY 10004 212.563.4000. Printed Quarterly—Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, plus Special Passover issue. ISSN No. 0447-7049. Subscription: $16.00 per year; Canadian, $20.00; Overseas, $60.00. Periodical's postage paid at New York, NY, and additional offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Jewish Action, 11 Broadway, New York, NY 10004.

Jewish Action seeks to provide a forum for a diversity of legitimate opinions within the spectrum of Orthodox Judaism. Therefore, opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the policy or opinion of the Orthodox Union.

Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION




Editor in Chief



I want to thank you for making my yom tov seudos upbeat and thoughtful. I might have been the guest of honor at my corona solo Seder, but Baruch Hashem, I was not alone. I was surrounded by [photos of] the sweetest children in the world, and I enjoyed the company of the Jewish Action at each Seder. There’s so much to be grateful for. Next year together in Yerushalayim!

SaraEditor OlsoninGoldberg Chief Nechama Carmel Literary Editor, Emeritus Matis Greenblatt AssistantAdvisor Editor Rabbinic

Sara Olson Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz Literary Editor Emeritus Book Editor

Matis Greenblatt Rabbi Gil Student

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Mark (Moishe) Bane

President Chairman of the Board Mark (Moishe) Bane

Howard Tzvi Friedman

Chairman of the Board Howard Tzvi Friedman Vice Chairman of the Board

Mordecai D. Katz

Vice Chairman of the Board Dr. Mordecai Chairman, Board ofD. Katz Governors

Henry I. Rothman

Chairman, Board of Governors

Avi Katzof Governors Vice Chairman, Board

Gerald M. Schreck Vice Chairman, Board of Governors Emanuel Adler

Executive Vice President/Chief Professional Officer AllenVice I. Fagin Executive President

Allen I. Fagin

Chief Institutional Advancement Officer Gerson IncomingArnold Executive Vice President

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Senior Managing Director Rabbi Steven Weil Officer Chief Institutional Advancement

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Chief Financial Officer/Chief Administrative Officer GeneralSchwartz Counsel Shlomo

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Chief Human Resources Officer Chief of Staff Rabbi Lenny Bessler

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Chief Information Officer Senior Managing Director

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GeraldCraig M. Schreck, Chairman M. Goldstein Joel M. Schreiber, Chairman Emeritus

Susie Berzansky Bensoussan Rochester, New York A BRIGHT SPOT DURING COVID-19 Thank you so much for the spring edition of Jewish Action. It was our family’s favorite read over yom tov. The articles were well written and up to your usual standard. What was most enjoyable, however, was that there was not a single mention of the “C” word (corona) anywhere in the magazine. Of course, we understood that the publication went to print before the current crisis. That being the case, it was so nice to read through the articles and take a mental break from the all-pervasive and yes, oppressive, coverage of the situation. You were Hashem’s messenger to give us that much-needed break. Thank you! Baruch Cywiak Brooklyn, New York WHEN A CHILD LEAVES THE FOLD Regarding the article “Faith and Family: When a Child Leaves the Fold” (spring 2020), Tal Attia’s advice was right on! I speak from personal experience, having our only daughter tell us when she graduated high school that she was done with Judaism. It took over two years for me to grow and heal and realize that this test was for me. We don’t have other children to focus on and that made it all the harder. Tal writes, “However, there is ultimately one factor we cannot control: the fact that our children are their own people, with their own experiences, minds, hearts, souls and, of course, free will.” I wish I’d had Tal’s words to help me heal back then. It’s so important for parents to remember that we’ve done our best raising our families with Torah and emet, and at some point, our kids have to choose their own derech for themselves. We’ve planted the right seeds and someday we will see fruit. Anonymous

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Rabbi Lenny Bessler

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JEWISH ACTION Summer 5780/2020

This magazine contains divrei Torah, and should therefore be disposed of respectfully by either double-wrapping prior to disposal, or placing in a recycling bin.

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Thank you for featuring this valuable symposium. Each of the well-known presenters provided expert advice to assist parents as they confront the many emotional, religious and practical issues that arise when a child no longer follows halachah. All of the points in the various subheadings—“Set a balance between love and limits”; “Love your child unconditionally”; “Invest in the relationship,” et cetera—are vital for helping children develop into emotionally healthy adults. While the guidance offered is appropriate when parents and children experience tension over religious differences, it is just as relevant at every single stage of one’s relationship with his or her children. Indeed, as Rabbi Moshe Benovitz writes: “We are constantly educating our children. . . More than anything else, they implicitly learn our values and priorities.” It is therefore crucial that parents consistently demonstrate that they are accepting of personal differences. Parental attitudes toward marginalized groups are “implicitly learned” and absorbed by our children. This includes attitudes toward, for example, those who dress differently than the community norm, are LGBTQ or otherwise struggling to find their place in the religious community, and those who do not follow halachah. These parental attitudes will undoubtedly color the relationship with one’s children when they forge their own path in life and in their relationship with Hashem, which may diverge from their parents’ path. Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman so fittingly writes: “One can simultaneously accept someone’s behavior while not approving of it.” The fact that a parent (or rabbi) demonstrates a sensitive and non-judgmental stance, which includes acceptance of others, even when disagreeing with them, will be remembered for many years. On the other hand, a parent’s (or rabbi’s) disparaging and cynical comments about others are nearly impossible to erase. The symposium is introduced with the statement, “Tolerance, compromise, flexibility and understanding are important components in any attempt to maintain a relationship with a child who has left the path of halachic observance.” These same ideals should be purposefully practiced with our children and actively demonstrated to them, at every age and every stage of their religious and personal development. Continually exercising the values espoused in this symposium (along with prayer for Hashem’s assistance) will help our children develop into emotionally mature adults, with healthy familial relationships. Chaim Nissel, PsyD Yeshiva University dean of students NYS licensed psychologist New Hempstead, New York Editor’s Note: As mentioned in the original article, the need to balance love, tolerance and understanding with fidelity to halachic norms raises very difficult questions which require consultation with learned and sensitive rabbinic authority. 4

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Your recent focus on a child who leaves the Orthodox fold was interesting and timely, and I especially appreciated those authors who shared their own experiences. Being shut down when authentically questioning and grappling with intellectual topics and issues of faith pushes people away. Too many young people who are sincerely struggling with these issues are dismissed rather than engaged. Instead of banging their heads against a wall, they call it quits and leave the communities in which they have grown up. We all lose. Renée Septimus New York, New York Years ago when I served as a consultant at a yeshivah high school, I dealt with teenagers, many of whom were turned off to Orthodoxy. These teenagers thought that by “rebelling” they are no longer conforming, and that they are exercising their independent right to question old ways of thinking, and to make their own decisions. I enjoyed pointing out to them that our forefather Avraham was in fact an independent thinker and a non-conformist. Indeed the midrash comments that Avraham Avinu was a very young child when he began thinking about a Creator. In other words, the foundation of our Orthodox beliefs is based on commitment and not at all on conformity. Conformity brings with it a fear of being different, of being ostracized and left abandoned. Commitment comes from a position of strength and a recognition of truth and brings along pride, determination, and dedication. Psychologist Solomon Asch investigated the need for people to conform and its influence on perception and decision making. His famous experiment entailed identifying whether two lines on a wall were of equal length or whether one was longer than the other. He told nine people in advance to lie even though the correct answer was apparent. However, he did not cue in the tenth person. The research question he asked was, “Would the tenth person trust his own perception and judgment or would he or she go along with the other nine people?” Asch discovered that many people were willing to suspend their independent thinking and decision making in exchange for not being different. We in the Orthodox community need to appreciate and respect adolescents’ need to identify with their peers, to think

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I am writing in response to “Faith and Family: When a Child Leaves the Fold.” I would posit, from personal experience, that when a child leaves a less observant life (e.g., Reform or Conservative) to become Orthodox, it creates as many, or even more challenges, than those you wrote about. One day the child comes home to advise his parents that should they wish to continue to enjoy meals with him at their home, new sets of dishes are in order as well as new silverware. The foods that your son enjoyed for years and that Mom always cooked may no longer be acceptable. Forget going out to dinner to celebrate birthdays, unless one lives in New York or LA or in other major cities. This is life-altering. But we try to avoid being judgmental and adjust—physically and emotionally. How? Never lose track of the fact that you brought this individual into the world and you love him unconditionally, more than life itself. Concentrate on the things and times you can enjoy together. Make peace with your child’s life choice.

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in new ways, and to feel that their questioning is based on the need to commit from a position of strength. Our job is to remind ourselves that we are committed to being Orthodox out of a position of pride and strength. One of the main reasons Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch was so successful in bringing a generation of Jews back to Orthodoxy was his ability to articulate the purpose and meaning behind Torah observance and its benefit not just for the klal but for the individual as well. Certainly when Chazal say “Al tikra charus, ela cheirus—Don’t say that the commandments are etched in stone. Rather say that they represent freedom,” they were addressing this very point. The question for parents, teachers, administrators and our community is, how do we teach commitment? Without such a discussion, we will run the risk of reproducing the results of the Ash experiment in every generation, thereby making us more vulnerable as a cohesive nation.

JEWISH ACTION Summer 5780/2020

Editor’s Note: The challenges facing non-Orthodox parents whose children become Orthodox are certainly deserving of treatment as well. Those who embrace a frum lifestyle should be encouraged to maintain good relationships with their parents and siblings. As one kiruv professional explained, all too often baalei teshuvah reject their non-Orthodox families, resulting in unnecessary pain and alienation.

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AN ENCOUNTER With ONE’S SELF By Mark (Moishe) Bane


s I write this message in late April, the horrid illness, tragic deaths and economic devastation imposed by Covid-19 have indiscriminately caused social disorder, psychological fragility and relationship disruption. The implications have varied among communities and individuals, but for many people, one of the more significant consequences of extended confinement has been an encounter with one’s self. For those living alone, spending significant solitary time is not an unfamiliar experience. But even for such individuals, as well as for those living with others, coronavirus has introduced a new strain of isolation. The novelty of this solitude reflects the almost absolute elimination of direct human contact outside the home, compounded by the Mark (Moishe) Bane is president of the OU and a senior partner and chairman of the Business Restructuring Department at the international law firm Ropes & Gray LLP.


JEWISH ACTION Summer 5780/2020

diminishing of many fundamental dimensions of personal identity. The shedding of layers of identity that ordinarily veil our deepest inner self, and the elimination of the noise of life that commonly justifies our lack of introspection, have thrust us into a jarring rendezvous we have long avoided. An encounter with our unvarnished self can be exhilarating, confusing, emancipating or tempestuous. Some may embrace the opportunity, while others deliberately look away. An Amalgamation of Identities Each of us is an amalgamation of multiple facets of identity. Our preoccupation with a particular identity dictates its prominence at any given moment. For example, my identity as a grandfather is intensified when I am playing with my grandchildren, my identity as an author is more prominent while I am writing, and my identity as a chocolate aficionado is accentuated when . . . well, actually much of the time. By severely restricting our activities and interactions, the

Covid-19 sequestration has suppressed many aspects of our identities. For example, a significant dimension of one’s identity is one’s daily occupation, whether that is practicing a profession or studying in kollel or a university, owning a business or working on an assembly line. Losing one’s business or suffering a layoff cuts deeply into one’s identity, and only somewhat less so when the business or job is put on hold and lingers precariously. Even when forced to work remotely, thereby being denied the ordinary workplace collegiality and banter, one’s occupational identity suffers. Other significant elements of identity are also diminished by the expansive societal lockdown. We sustain our self-image as members of a social circle by playing basketball together, shopping as a group or simply chatting over a cup of coffee. But what if getting together is prohibited, malls are closed and basketball courts shut? For many, following and watching a favorite sports team, even if alone, becomes part of their identity, which explains the emotional outbursts of

In the midst of all the pain and damage wrought by Covid-19, we are being afforded a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redefine ourselves as we emerge from seclusion.



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fans to a team’s loss or win. Alas, wins and losses have been put on hold. And, of course, personal appearance is significant to one’s sense of self. Much of that is lost when even the limited available social interaction is telephonic or through a hazy Zoom headshot. Being compelled to don protective masks on the occasional excursion to the grocery store or doctor’s appointment further diminishes one’s sense of identity. Observant Jews suffer additional, unique identity losses during this quarantine. Daily minyan attendance and certainly the Shabbos morning shul kiddush are often part and parcel of how we see ourselves. And joining others in packing and delivering Tomchei Shabbos packages or participating in bikur cholim visits are frequently at the core of who we are, often more so than our jobs or hobbies. This is certainly the case for participants of a long-standing weekly parashah class, daily early morning kollel or Daf Yomi study group. Perhaps Covid-19’s most devastating blow to the Orthodox Jew’s identity has been the diminution in general integration within the Jewish community. Shul attendance, chesed projects and Torah study sessions are not only aspects of individual self-definition, they also meld the individual Jew into the collective communal persona. This integration, core to our identity, is further intensified by celebrating in each other’s simchos and sharing in each other’s grief in a community-based social circle far broader than family and close friends. Large weddings and other celebrations may be justifiably disparaged as opulent and wasteful; however, such celebrations, if done modestly, serve an important role in our communal integration. This fusing of the individual and the community is the very essence of the Jew’s identity. The Identity of a Jew Jews, particularly observant Jews, frame their core identity as both individuals and as community members. We are socialized to do so not only in summer camp and 10

JEWISH ACTION Summer 5780/2020

The strange and challenging period of Covid-19 sequestering is an unprecedented opportunity to discover aspects of ourselves in ways that are almost never available. youth groups, but most significantly and effectively in day-in and day-out Orthodox schooling from early childhood through high school and beyond. Our shul relationship is not merely as members of an institution, but as regular attendees, many of us three times daily. We study Torah together, live in Orthodox enclaves and constantly obsess over the safety and security of Israel. Though much of our mitzvah observance is fulfilled on an individual level, religious rituals, even those that are personal, are most appropriately performed communally. This is true in welcoming the Shabbos, blowing the shofar or celebrating a son’s bris. I first appreciated the extent of the Torah’s intended communal integration almost thirty-six years ago when preparing to speak at my own sheva berachos three days after my wedding. I stumbled upon a teaching of the Rambam (Hil. Avel 1:10). Communal sheva berachos was first decreed by Moshe Rabbeinu shortly after he descended from forty days and nights alone with God on the summit of Mount Sinai. Rambam teaches that this edict simultaneously addressed the practices of celebrating seven days of sheva brachos and sitting shivah for seven days upon the passing of a family member. I ruminated over the commonality between shivah and sheva berachos and about Moshe Rabbeinu’s motivation for establishing these two practices. In that evening’s devar Torah, I surmised that upon descending from Mount Sinai Moshe Rabbeinu was concerned that the Jewish people would understand his forty-day private encounter with God to

represent the pinnacle of human spirituality. He feared that Jews would aspire to achieve holiness in solitude rather than recognize that spiritual heights are most precious and accessible when pursued through collective communal experiences. To convey this message, Moshe Rabbeinu identified two instances when an individual’s natural inclination is to retreat, to detach from the community, to be alone. The first is during periods of intense personal grief. The second is the newly married couple’s eagerness to celebrate alone, with only each other. The mandating of communal participation in shivah and sheva berachos conveys that even when we might instinctively be inclined to seclusion, and even in our most personal experiences, a Jew belongs within the community; our essence is as a member of the Jewish people. Covid-19 has not only stymied ordinary communal integration but has even denied communal involvement in major life-cycle experiences. Not only are we unable to participate in our friends’ sheva berachos, but we couldn’t even dance and rejoice at their weddings. Not only can we not whisper in their ears words of comfort during shivah, but we couldn’t even share tears of grief at their relative’s funeral. And perhaps most traumatizing is learning of those who left this world in absolute solitude, denied even the gentle touch of their beloved saying goodbye. Yet Still an Individual Notwithstanding the integration of our personal identity with that of our community, we remain individuals. We have personal weaknesses to

remedy and strengths to exploit. Though our religious experience is elevated through communal integration, we also must pursue a relationship with God that is personal. We appropriately concern ourselves with the community’s collective religiosity, but we are also obligated to focus on and engage in our own personal growth and observance. The effectiveness of both our communal efforts and our individual pursuits is significantly dependent on our knowing ourselves. Too often, however, even the most disciplined and ambitious among us accumulate vast knowledge and develop a keen understanding of people, but assiduously avoid studying who they are themselves. The strange and challenging period of Covid-19 sequestering is an unprecedented opportunity to discover aspects of ourselves in ways that are almost never available. An Opportunity to Learn, Not Yet a Time to Know It is my fervent hope that by the time this magazine appears in your mailbox, we will no longer be sheltering in place and some semblance of normal life will have returned. While isolation provides a rare opportunity for us to encounter our raw selves, actual self-knowledge is achievable only when our daily life returns to normal, or to whatever becomes the new long-term normal. Only then will our true selves emerge. We need to recognize that our self-observations during confinement do not yield the full picture of who we are, but merely afford normally inaccessible insights upon which we can later construct an understanding of our comprehensive selves. This initial period of learning, available during quarantining, may be comparable to obtaining an X-ray before examining a patient’s body. Analyzing the otherwise inaccessible anatomy is invaluable to the subsequent study of the ordinarily observable, but studying an X-ray is not in itself sufficient to understand the body as a whole. There are many aspects of our inner self that we can explore during these days of full or partial isolation: • What is our relationship with God? Perhaps that can be gauged by our prayers in seclusion and without distraction. Our words may flow with atypical sincerity and focus, or we may rush through prayer, unrestricted by the congregational pace or the judging eyes of pew mates. Now that the daily carousel of ordinary life has halted, what role does God’s will play in our quiet contemplation of current and future responsibilities and choices? • What kind of children or parents are we? How are we as friends? Do we fret about those with whom we are unable to spend time, or do we welcome the mandated distancing as somewhat of a relief, alleviating us from some of our social obligations? Do we concentrate on addressing only our own woes and challenges, or do we extend an effort to address the needs of others? • What importance do we attribute to our financial status, our social standing, our public persona? Do we view 12

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financial losses as practical blows that need to be calibrated and addressed, or do they undermine our sense of self way beyond their practical implications? In considering canceled social events, we may regret losing the pleasure of spending time with others, or we may begin to recognize that we anticipate such events primarily as opportunities to emphasize our status and prominence. • We learn much about ourselves from how we spend time for which we have no accountability. Do we uncover a stifled intellectual curiosity that bursts forth when unleashed from within, or do we discover that the wasteful and unproductive hours that permeated our daily schedule for years were not, as we thought, the result of our exhaustion from the commute and our need to wake up early? One note of caution: Whatever you discover, be kind and generous to yourself. Remember that much of the less-attractive discoveries you make are likely shared by many others. We are all flawed, and our task is to uncover which flaws are ours. Most of all, recognize that in the midst of all the pain and damage wrought by Covid-19, we are being afforded a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redefine ourselves as we emerge from seclusion. As with any significant, lengthy disruption, we can begin anew and be a better version of ourselves. Doing so is certainly not easy—the challenge may be daunting. But it will never be more achievable and it is certainly worth the effort.

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ver the past weeks, we have become accustomed to a new and disorienting vocabulary—pandemic, social distancing, quarantine, flattening the curve. Every aspect of our lives—religious, professional, social, and economic—have been turned topsy-turvy, literally overnight, with a suddenness and ferocity that defies description. As we shelter in place, we are confronted daily with a panoply of emotions—isolation, loneliness, fear, alienation, physical and economic insecurity, to name just a few. And yet, amidst these enormous challenges we find the strength to persevere and to harness our faith as well as the resilience to strive and to thrive. The pandemic has also been a time to think more deeply; to explore the forces that motivate and energize us; to appreciate the relationships that we so often neglect; to be grateful for


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what we so often take for granted. In isolation, there is greater opportunity to contemplate. I thought long and hard about the subject matter of my message for this issue of Jewish Action. How could I possibly avoid addressing the pandemic? But each time I considered one aspect of its impact, others came to mind. So I chose a different path, and now share with you several thoughts and reactions, wholly unrelated, except by virtue of the virus that engulfs us, and the modifications in our attitudes, relationships and behaviors it has compelled. So herewith are some random musings from corona quarantine. 1. Bracketed Crises and the Stockdale Paradox Noted management guru Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, the classic work on excellence in corporate decision-making, devotes considerable attention to what he refers to as the “Stockdale Paradox.” Admiral James Stockdale became a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. He endured brutal years of captivity through a combination of profound realism and enduring optimism. The Stockdale Paradox, as enunciated by Jim Collins (and as recently commented on by Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League in the context of Covid-19 management planning) consists of two complementary (though, at first blush, mutually inconsistent) principles: (1) Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever that may be; and (2)

Retain the faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties. I began my tenure as the OU’s executive vice president in the spring of 2014. Within weeks of assuming my duties, in April of 2014, we learned of the kidnapping of three Israeli teens from a bus stop at Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion. In a rare moment of absolute national unity, all of Israel (indeed, all of world Jewry) came together to pray for the safe return of these three young men. I traveled to Israel to visit with the Fraenkel family, whose son Naftali was one of the boys, to directly convey the fervent prayers of the American Jewish community and our solidarity with the teens’ families. To our great sorrow, our hopes were not realized when the three teens were found brutally murdered. In the aftermath of this heinous act, and the escalating barrage of missile attacks on Israel, war with Gaza (known as Operation Protective Edge) followed shortly. Several of our NCSY summer programs had already left for Israel; others were scheduled to leave imminently, together with Yachad’s Yad B’Yad program; still others were scheduled to travel first to Europe and then make their way to Israel. What ensued was perhaps the most intense, anxiety-provoking two-week period I have ever been called upon to manage, as we struggled to relocate Allen I. Fagin is executive vice president of the OU.

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those already in Israel to the Golan, and divert the trips that had not yet left to other destinations. Every day, sometimes every hour, required that we make a new and difficult decision. We hoped for the best and planned for the worst. And, through it all, we never wavered from our fundamental goals of preserving the safety and wellbeing of the young people entrusted to our care, and the transparent and timely communication of our plans to their parents. The NCSY and Yachad staff worked tirelessly to accomplish these goals, and they succeeded beyond any reasonable expectation. Fast forward six years. I frankly had not expected to end my OU tenure enmeshed in another crisis. The Covid-19 pandemic is a true disaster, a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. The cost in human life has been staggering; thousands of lives lost with frightening and bewildering speed and ferocity; friends and family left to mourn in isolation; shuls and yeshivot—the center of our very existence—shuttered; an economy left in devastation, millions out of work. And yet, throughout this crisis, the lessons of the Stockdale Paradox again guided our reaction. We hoped for the best and planned for the worst. I marvel at the extraordinary ability of our professional staff to pivot from a direct services mode to a provider of outstanding virtual programming literally, in a matter of days. NCSY immediately shifted to virtual “Latte and Learning,” educational offerings and inspirational “flash mobs.” Yachad’s IVDU school continues to provide a daily curriculum to scores of students with special needs. “Yachad on Demand” offers a wide variety of social, educational and support programs across the globe. OU Kosher, in an amazing display of technological prowess, continues to certify hundreds of thousands of products and ingredients across the world. During the very hectic pre-Pesach season, OU Kosher provided Pesach guidance and product information for many who were making Pesach at home for the first time, and our OU Kosher web site received nearly 1,000,000-page 18

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views in the lead-up to the sedarim. Our advocacy efforts—at the federal, state and local levels—continues unabated. The Teach Coalition and OU Advocacy aggressively sought to ensure that non-public schools and other non-profit institutions were included in federal and state aid packages; numerous calls and webinars were held to guide eligible shuls and yeshivot in accessing available resources. Teach NYS, along with its advocacy partners, successfully pressed the New York City Department of Education to provide kosher and halal food options to its “grab and go” meal pick-up program. OU Advocacy was at the forefront of advocacy efforts to secure passage of the federal CARES Act, which included an array of financial resources for eligible not-for-profit institutions. Our Synagogue and Community Services Department launched a daily Tehillim and chizuk phone call with hundreds of participants and maintained a robust schedule of virtual programming geared for seniors, parents and children. Programming including a wide range of Torah shiurim as well as arm-chair discussions and presentations on a variety of issues, such as financial and mental health topics. All Daf continued to provide meaningful and personalized Gemara-oriented content to users all over the world. Likewise, our Women’s Initiative rapidly and creatively expanded its unique program offerings. Its Cope and Hope program features classes with notable speakers over Zoom and focuses on ways for women to best navigate the crisis in their many roles; Counting Toward Sinai is now a series of forty-nine audio shiurim delivered by women, each focusing on a different aspect of tefillah; and Torat Imecha, a daily Nach shiur, continues to increase its ever-expanding group of registrants. The OU Center for Communal Research will embark on a study of the impact of the coronavirus on Orthodox Judaism in the United States, focused on creating in-depth portraits of several affected communities, with a view toward developing constructive policy responses after the outbreak has

passed. OU Israel’s Oraita, Makom Balev and Zula programs continue virtually, with advisors and staff in regular contact with participants. Likewise, our extraordinary network of campus-based OU-JLIC educators have had almost 1,000 virtual coffee dates with college students; taught hundreds of shiurim and chaburot for students and their family members; and answered almost 2,500 halachic questions—many related to Covid-19. And while we sheltered in place, 41 chatanim/ kallot took chatan/kallah classes given by our OU-JLIC educators. As I reflect on my six-plus-year tenure as OU executive vice president, I am struck by how it has been bracketed by crisis—not exactly what I had planned or wished for. But the lessons of the Stockdale Paradox have served us in good stead. We emerged from our first encounter with unanticipated challenges with renewed confidence and vigor. We have, and will continue to, emerge from the current encounter far stronger as well. Such are the lessons of confronting adversity while harnessing our abiding optimism. 2. Black Holes, Viruses and the Transcendence of God While the world was coping with the pandemic, a team from Harvard University’s Center for the Fundamental Laws of Nature managed, for the first time, to photograph a black hole. Black holes are one of the great puzzles of modern physics; scientists understand precious little about them—their mass, how fast they spin, what’s inside their warped space-time continuum. Until this first photographic image was captured, science could only theorize abstractly about the composition of a black hole. But analysis of the photograph revealed a collection of rings of light (portrayed in the photograph on the next page) bending in ever-thinning loops as they got closer to the black hole’s “event horizon” —a “boundary” around the black hole which is the point of no return where matter, and even light, disappear into a mysterious void. As one member of the Harvard team put

What is God telling us by insisting that we consider the meaning and the impact of loneliness? Yes, gam zeh ya’avor, this too shall pass, but will we have internalized the most fundamental lessons of the experience? 3. For There Is No Night and No Day “V’hayah yom echad, hu yivada laHashem, lo yom velo laylah, v’hayah le’eit erev yihyeh ohr—but there shall be a continuous day, only Hashem knows when, of neither day nor night, and there shall be light at eventide” (Zechariah 14:7). The corona pandemic has spurred a panoply of frequently-asked questions: What caused it? How did it spread so broadly and so quickly? How, exactly, is it spread? How long will it take to develop a vaccine to immunize against it? What is the relationship between the pandemic and the dearth The first image of a black hole, from the galaxy Messier 87. of paper towels and toilet paper? Courtesy of Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, via the National Science Foundation But perhaps the question heard most mouth, all their host”* (Psalms 33:6). it: “As we peer into these rings . . . we often throughout our quarantine is— “Mah gadlu ma’asecha Hashem, meod are looking at light from all over the what day is today? The normal patterns amku machshavotecha—How great visible universe; we are seeing farther of our lives have been shattered by are Your works, O Hashem, how very into the past, a movie, so to speak, of stay-at-home orders. The rhythms subtle Your designs!” (Psalms 92:6). the history of the visible universe.” and cycles of our lives have been God’s hand is everywhere, from the The black hole whose image was dislocated. Days meld one into the photographed for the first time is larger enormity and mystery of the physical other; day is night and night is day. universe to the microbial smallness than words (or even mathematical Researchers have identified clear and mystery of the coronavirus. All formulae) can easily express—a behavioral changes in various are His. We are reminded of the monster the size of our entire solar groups exposed to prolonged periods famous story related in Gittin (56b): system. The coronavirus lies at the of isolation—members of polar as Emperor Titus was returning to opposite end of the size spectrum of expeditions and astronauts, for Rome following his destruction of creation; it is composed of a handful example. In these studies, subjects the Second Temple, a giant wave of molecules. It is an RNA virus that are frequently lively at the outset, but threatened to destroy his ship. Titus typically enters human cells when spirits and energy can severely lag challenged God, claiming He only has its glycol proteins bind with proteins midway through an expedition. Days dominion over the water but not over on the surface of a healthy cell. This and weeks lose their delineation; the land. God answered Titus and tiny, microscopic organism has, as productivity slows and relationships said: “There is a creation I have, smaller begin to deteriorate. Prolonged social of the writing of this essay, been than all creations, called a gnat; this responsible for over 2.7 million cases isolation can produce well-documented will be the cause of your demise.” of Covid-19 worldwide, and more physical and psychological tolls, And so it is incumbent upon us to than 200,000 confirmed deaths. including depression, dementia, heart ask: What is God telling us by forcing As this pandemic humbles our attacks and sleep disruption. In part, us indoors, limiting our travel and understanding of life, it brings these consequences derive from curtailing our consumption? What into ever sharper focus God’s disruption of our natural circadian is God telling us by requiring that eternal mysteries. Black holes and rhythms which are regulated mostly by we focus, almost exclusively, on our coronavirus—both parts of a Divine exposure to light, but which can also families and communities; that we plan that we struggle to comprehend. be affected by the absence of particular contemplate our inherent fragility, the “Bidvar Hashem shamayim social cues. As the Wall Street Journal tenuousness of our existence and our na’asu; uveruach piv, kol tzeva’am— recently noted, “[s]taying confined at impotence in the face of a contagion By the word of Hashem, the heavens home greatly limits external stimuli we can neither recognize nor control? were made, by the breath of His and can trigger a physiological Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION


and psychological response similar to the behavior of animals in hibernation. Study subjects—at the South Pole and in space—are apt to slow down, sleep more and get more forgetful.” Sound familiar? In Zechariah, as noted above, the Navi describes a period of utter chaos and disorder: “V’hayah yom echad, hu yivada laHashem, lo yom velo laylah, v’hayah le’eit erev yihyeh ohr.” It is an apt description of at least one aspect of the tumultuous upheavals in our normal routines and rhythms. But where there was once chaos, there is also hope. The Malbim’s commentary on this pasuk explains that there will come a time in history when we no longer will be governed by the natural order of day and night. Instead, Hashem’s light will illuminate the world, and our purpose within it will be clear. 5. Avinu Malkeinu As shuls shuttered in the face of social distancing mandates, our rabbanim urged that we add Avinu Malkeinu to our daily tefillot. I found enormous comfort in these additional supplications—particularly in those portions that had never before resonated. I found myself pausing, with particular kavannah, over the words: “Avinu Malkeinu mena mageifah m’nachalatecha— Our Father, Our King, withhold the plague from Your heritage” (translation from ArtScroll Siddur). So often, our prayers are circumscribed by our particular milieu, our unique and time-bound frames of reference. Before March, beseeching God to spare us from plague or epidemic was not part of my contemporary consciousness. I said the words, but was I truly moved by them to cry out for God’s mercy and benevolence? The Gemara in Ta’anit (25b) relates that, during a period of prolonged drought, Rabbi Eliezer recited twenty-four different types of berachot in an effort to bring rain to the world. His prayers went unanswered. Then Rabbi Akiva went and davened for 20

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the amud. He said, “Avinu Malkeinu, ein lanu Melech ela Atah—Our Father, our King, we have no King but You.” Rabbi Akiva explained that it was not sufficient to ask a king to be merciful and provide rain; one needed to first approach Hashem as one approaches a father, asking for His love. Before “Malkeinu” comes “Avinu.” As Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik writes, “The basic function of prayer is not its practical consequences but the metaphysical formation of a fellowship consisting of God and man.” We pray to bare our souls, in hope and longing for a return to normalcy. We pray to unleash the ever-merciful inclinations of the Almighty. But above all we pray to maintain connection with the Borei Olam; to renew and strengthen our bonds. As we socially distance, our connection to Hashem intensifies. 6. Longing for Return I was enormously inspired by the following thought shared by Rabbi Yosie Levine, rav of The Jewish Center in Manhattan, on parshiyot Tazria/Metzora, during the worst days of the pandemic: With eyes newly opened to the effects of disease and hearts newly sensitized to the challenges of isolation, what resonances can we find? . . . I, for one, am moved by an observation from the author of the 13th century Provençal commentary, Hizkuni. As part of his purification process, the metzora releases a little bird into the wild. And the question is why? It’s neither a sacrifice nor a gift. What’s its meaning? Hizkuni suggests that the procedure captures the feelings of the metzora: a creature cooped up who longs to be free . . . Once permitted to return to nature, the bird immediately seeks out its companions . . . Likewise, the person afflicted with tzaraat should be dreaming of returning to the warm embrace of his/her community. As we have just celebrated Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, Yom Yerushalayim and Yom Ha’atzmaut— all while confined to our homes— we pause to recognize the courage and resilience of our forbearers, brothers and sisters, who struggled

and persevered, who emerged from challenge, hardship and despair with their spirits undaunted and their faith intact. Their stories, and their triumph over adversity, inspire us through these extraordinary times. We long to be free of our confines and return to the communities and workplaces that nurture us. 7. A Final Thought I conclude with this poem, forwarded to me while I was penning this essay, written by Catherine M. O’Meara.** In the Time of Pandemic And the people stayed home. And they read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And they listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed. May we all merit the blessings of good health, and the speedy end to this plague. Notes * Translations from or adapted from Sefaria, except where indicated otherwise. ** Poem reprinted with permission from the author.


By Gerald M. Schreck


his summer issue has certainly been the most challenging in my fifteen years as chairman of Jewish Action. When we planned this issue back in February, we could never have imagined what the world would look like just a few short weeks later. Back then, the virus seemed only a distant threat, affecting the residents of a little-known Chinese city by the name of Wuhan. Within a few short weeks, however, Wuhan shot into the spotlight and suddenly terms like “Covid-19,” “social distancing” and “quarantine” became household words. Before we knew it, we were dealing with a deadly pandemic in our cities and in our own communities, with no end in sight. As a quarterly, Jewish Action does not strive to keep readers abreast of the news. There are dailies and weeklies for that purpose. Instead we take the time to reflect on events, to deliberate, to carefully probe the depths of a story. At times we offer thoughtful analysis; other times we shed light on an event or phenomenon by having people share their personal experiences—individual stories that ultimately tell a larger story. We like to give writers weeks or even months to research a topic, and more often than not, an article will go back to a writer two or three times until we

feel it addresses the topic thoroughly, in a way that will satisfy our readers. But planning this summer issue proved to be exceptionally difficult. Many of the stories we lined up in February no longer felt relevant; they simply didn’t resonate anymore. We found ourselves pulling article after article. Even assuming all would be back to normal by June (we naively thought that in early March!), we couldn’t ignore the pandemic—it was too all-consuming, coloring every aspect of everyone’s day-to-day life. At the same time, there was no chance to reflect on Covid-19, as the situation was constantly evolving. How do we write a piece in March about a story that changes with each passing day when the magazine will not appear in print until early June? Who could predict how the pandemic would play out and what people would want to know about or read about in the months ahead? After rethinking, recalibrating and readjusting, we solicited new material and came up with a variety of new articles including one I am especially proud of: “The Corona Diaries.” A mix of personal essays that are poignant and insightful, the article is framed as a diary, offering reflections written by a broad range of individuals, including a single mom sheltering in place, a young woman who got married during quarantine, and a doctor and nurse, both of whom are on the frontlines and feel as if they are in a war zone. We hope you find reading this issue, crafted with much thought and care, to be a meaningful and rewarding experience. On a personal note, I am currently quarantining in Florida, where I was when the pandemic first hit. While being in quarantine poses many challenges, especially for those of us like me who are in the high-risk

category for Covid-19, there are certainly some bright spots. I have, for example, discovered a whole new world of online shiurim that keep my spirits and energy level high. Even though I am quite busy between remotely managing my full-time job as well as my Jewish Action responsibilities, I make sure to attend my Zoom shiurim, delivered by Rabbi Asher Weiss, Rabbi Hershel Schachter and others. Back in Brooklyn in my pre-quarantine life, while I had a full schedule of business meetings and a few shiurim as well, somehow during quarantine the shiurim have become far more central to my day. Quarantine has also stripped away many distractions, leaving us open to spending our time doing that which we really want to do. One of the first concepts you learn in time management seminars is the difference between the “urgent” and the “important.” Urgent is defined as those things on our to-do lists that require immediate attention, although they might be trivial. Important is defined as those tasks that relate to our values and long-term goals and can have a real impact on our lives. In quarantine, my “urgent” tasks have dwindled significantly as I cannot pick up the dry cleaning or go for a car wash. And so I spend my free time taking care of truly important tasks— attending daily shiurim, catching up with old friends and enjoying my family and grandchildren over Zoom. In other words, doing the things I really want to do. This has been a silver lining, which I’m hoping to keep up long after the quarantine is over. Gerald M. Schreck is chairman of the Jewish Action Committee and an honorary vice president of the OU.

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View of the west side of Ft. Hamilton Parkway between 56th Street and 57th Street, looking north, June 1962.



pleasant atmosphere and enjoying the warmth of a fine Jewish community. . . . Boro Park, the old residents tell me, received its name by virtue of the fact that it was once the park of Brooklyn. Almost all of its streets stretching in orderly fashion from 9th to 18th Avenues and 40th to 60th Streets in the southern part of Brooklyn—are lined with trees and contain private residences; and the neighborhood still Brownsville once enjoyed their heyday, maintains its park-like appearance. had their share of glamour and were Its close to 70,000 Jewish families each designated at certain periods as have been there—in the main—for the “Yerushalayim d’Amerika”; but years, staying on despite the rising Boro Park has continued to hold its barometer of their economic fortunes own throughout population shifts, (“b’li eyin harah”). Fairly well-to-do economic vicissitudes and the like. “baalebatische” Jews dwell shoulder to Even today, in the face of so many shoulder (alleys between the houses of alluring new Jewish neighborhoods, course) with their poorer brethren in it maintains its vitality with an a spirit of unity and democracy which uncommon and uncanny steadfastness. would please any lover of America . . . . The reasons for this constancy lie in The well-known Shmorei Emunah a number of factors which I shall try to Congregation—to many the aristocrat depict—not with scientific exactness, of synagogues in the community— but rather with impressionistic fervor would hardly be able to cater to all of its members if it were not for its which comes from relishing the


The excerpts below are from “Boro Park Is My Town,” by Joseph Kaminetsky, which appeared in the October 1953 issue of Jewish Life, the predecessor to Jewish Action.


t would not be too difficult, as a matter of fact, to delineate the vital aspects of Yiddishkeit apparent in any of several sections of Brooklyn. Local patriotism, however, impels me to concentrate on my own “adopted homeland,” the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, USA . . . . In point of fact, Boro Park has remained primarily a Jewish neighborhood for close to forty years or more. Sections like the East Side and


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Photo: Brooklyn Historical Society

famous “Hashkomah—First Minyan” on the Sabbath and Festivals. The Young Israel of Boro Park has “standing room only” every Shabboth and cannot wait for the day that its new building, now only a steel shell, will take on “bones and flesh” . . . . Perhaps in no other community in America (and I am a travelling man) have I seen all of the major Orthodox synagogues getting together on a common project. The “Joint Friday Night Forums,” sponsored by the four major synagogues—Shomrei Emunah, the Sephardishe Shul, Young Israel and Temple Beth-El (a “temple” only by virtue of its gala physical appearance; it is 100% Orthodox)—are a tribute to the spirit of cooperation which permeates our Boro Park. Jewish education is sponsored by a few still thriving intensive Talmud Torahs and an impressive group of Yeshivoth Ketanoth. . . . The Eytz Chaim Yeshivah . . . Yeshivath Torath Emeth . . . Between the two, Boro Park’s young males do not go wanting for intensive Jewish education. Our two girls’ schools— the Shulamith School for Girls and the Beth Jacob of Boro Park are both doing a tremendous job for the distaff side of our younger generation . . . The study of Torah is not limited to our Torah institutions, however. Our synagogues are not merely Houses of Worship; they are veritable Houses of Study. The Young Israel of Boro Park is one of the few synagogues in the country which sponsors the “Daf Yomi”—the daily study of a “blat Gemorah” instituted by the late Lubliner Rav . . . . Most of the Jewish inhabitants of Boro Park have been in this country for many years. A large proportion of them were born here. All of the synagogues feature sermons or classes in English. The Jewish institutions sponsor ball games, picnics and card games. The fine ultra-modern dress shops, beauty parlors and haberdasheries on 13th Avenue do a thriving business. Boro Park is, indeed, as fine a representation of an American-Jewish community as you can find on these shores.

Children play in the snow outside of Chaap-A-Nosh in Boro Park, under the 55th Street elevated train line, February 1978. Courtesy of Anthony Catalano/Flickr

Temple Beth El, now the Young Israel Beth El of Borough Park. Founded in 1902, the Beth El congregation—an Orthodox shul—was built between 1920 and 1923. The three-story magnificent building, with Moorish and Egyptian architectural influences, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. Photo: Matthew X. Kiernan/New York Big Apple Images Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION



Rabbi Leo Jung, Herman Wouk and their Little-Known Orthodox Society Concerned that “Orthodoxy was diminishing in America,” a group of high-profile lay leaders came together to strenghthen Orthodox Judaism and increase its role in the larger American Jewish arena. By Zev Eleff


n 1946, Rabbi Leo Jung of New York’s Jewish Center assembled a group of half-dozen Jewish influencers. Codenamed “Ben Yephuneh,” this below-the-radar society included young Orthodox laymen. Ben Yephuneh’s purpose was to decide and act on the most pressing and improvable issues facing Jewish life in the United States. Once the agenda was set, Ben Yephuneh dispatched its members—like pseudo-sleeper agents— to effect change, discretely, within the mainstream Jewish community. The influential society was short-lived. Its surreptitious operations went undetected and probably would have remained that way if Rabbi Jung’s

grandson, Ezra Rosenfeld, hadn’t found copies of the Ben Yephuneh meeting minutes among his grandfather’s files. These documents reveal much about the agenda of postwar Orthodox Judaism. It also highlights the oft-overlooked role of laypeople—in favor of rabbis and schools—to execute change in American Jewish life. Rabbi Jung was an organization man. In addition to his position at the well-heeled Jewish Center on New York’s Upper West Side, he maintained a large profile within the Orthodox Union and was one of the founders of the Rabbinical Council of America. These institutions expanded after World War II, just like other organizations.

Rabbi Dr. Zev Eleff is chief academic officer of Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois and associate professor of Jewish history at Touro College.


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The tragic need to respond to the Holocaust had mobilized the American Jewish establishment—from the Joint Distribution Committee to Federations, from Hadassah to synagogue groups— and increased the resources and scope of Jewish organizational life. The shared sense among organizational heads was that American Jewry would have to play a larger role to rebuild Jewish life in the Holy Land and the Diaspora. Yet, the unnoticed Ben Yephuneh initiative underscored Rabbi Jung’s and others’ conviction in the individual laymen (no women entered the society’s ranks) who could sometimes do much more behind-the-scenes than policy-waving institutions. The group’s labors betokened Orthodox Judaism’s rising interest in taking part in the wider American

Jewish scene. Very much aware of charges that Orthodox Jews exercised a posture of insularism—worst, still, “clannishness”—Rabbi Jung’s group believed it important that Orthodox Judaism increase its representation within, for example, the United Jewish Appeal and Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York (then, two separate organizations). In the postwar era, these institutions stood out for their interests in supporting global Jewry— in Israel and Europe, in particular. Rabbi Jung’s circle worried that other American Jews viewed the Orthodox as out-of-touch. Besides for Rabbi Jung and a few other rabbinic standouts, the Orthodox rabbinate struggled to show its ability to shine as brightly as its counterparts within the Conservative and Reform enclaves. In the first half of the twentieth century, figures like Rabbis Solomon Goldman, Mordecai Kaplan, Abba Hillel Silver, Milton Steinberg and Stephen Wise loomed much larger, in perception anyway, than the leading lights of the Orthodox community. Each was also closely tied to major Jewish institutions—such as the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, World Zionist Organization—and this left little room for Orthodox rabbis. The solution was to leverage influential laypeople who could have an easier time gaining access to these institutions than “more noticeable” rabbinic leaders. Rabbi Jung proposed to name the group “Sinai.” Herman Wouk suggested “Kalev,” in recognition of the Biblical Caleb who stood out as the righteous resister among the wildernesswandering Israelite people. Though they liked Wouk’s idea, the other members— Joshua Finkel, Moses Jung (Rabbi Jung’s brother), Bernard Levmore and Mortimer (Mordecai) Propp—feared that the name sounded too much like the Hebrew word for dog. They therefore settled on “Ben Yephuneh” since Caleb was the son of Yephuneh. Each member possessed a considerable reach. Some were friendly with the staffs of major Jewish organizations like Federations, the Jewish Welfare Board and Israel-support agencies. Several held close connections

to sympathetic leaders: non-Orthodox rabbinical figures like Robert Gordis and Louis Newman; politicians such as US Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau; and relatively recent Eastern European arrivals like Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe. These links were crucial for the pragmatic-minded Ben Yephuneh. Mysteriousness is a virtue among hidden societies. Rabbi Jung’s notes and monthly meeting invitations identified members by initials and recorded other facts in pithy form. Nonetheless, the notetaker decided it worthy enough to express about a February 1947 meeting that “there was an eminently fine dinner, served by an

Rabbi Dr. Leo Jung, ca. 1950.

Courtesy of Yeshiva University Archives

equally fine hostess.” What’s more and owing to the cultural pedigree of the society’s membership, meeting minutes preserved the sentiment that another occasion was “rendered most pleasant and worthwhile by the hostess’ playing of Chopin and Beethoven on the piano.” Most of Ben Yefuneh’s operations were quite serious. The group was animated by a grave concern for Orthodox Judaism in the immediate postwar period. Pundits predicted its demise, describing America’s Orthodox community as a “case study of institutional decay.” Rabbi Jung and his band of young lay leaders shared a “general deep concern . . . about the fact that Orthodoxy is diminishing

in America.” They agreed that their community suffered from a miserable public relations problem that made it all-too-difficult to increase its role on the larger American Jewish arena. Much of their work took a top-down approach, focusing considerable attention on the Orthodox rabbinate. Their interest made clear that Ben Yephuneh was not altogether uncritical of its own community. Its members expressed concern about the quality of training at several Orthodox schools and worried whether seminaries were “sending out the proper caliber of men” to compete against Conservative-educated leaders, especially along the expanding suburban frontier. One Ben Yephuneh member wondered aloud whether “Orthodox institutions would be helped if they would be brought under one central head, to make one big appeal for all Yeshivoth.” To ameliorate, the society dispatched members to meet privately with yeshivah heads and other stakeholders to influence the situation, suggesting that mentors (like Rabbi Jung) be called on to support less-experienced rabbis in the field. Ben Yephuneh deployed similar efforts to “combat anti-Zionist and anti-American information given in Yeshivoth Kethanoth.” They shared a similar view held among American Mizrachi leaders that Religious Zionists needed to redouble their efforts to join with other Zionist groups in support of the soon-to-be-formed State of Israel. Moreover, aspiring Orthodox rabbis, to their mind, required further coaching on being a proper support of Israel. Other initiatives exercised a bottom-up method. For instance, Ben Yephuneh sought ways to better include the Orthodox in the larger American Jewish scene. Several of Rabbi Jung’s men agitated to ensure that kosher food was available at Jewish functions. They surmised that a dearth of kosher eating impaired Orthodox participation in community programs and created undue unease for religiously observant participants who attended programs despite the dining situation. In the view of one unnamed Ben Yephuneh member, the discomfiture around dining impeded the Orthodox Jewish initiation Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION






1. Members of the society furnished this petition to elevate kosher standards and pushed for Jewish leaders of all kinds to sign and participate. They also prevailed upon secular Jewish agencies to absorb the cost of providing kosher food at events because it represented “good neighborliness” and because “the gain in communal solidarity will more than outweigh the additional expenditure involved.” Among themselves, the group took credit for the menu changes at several subsequent well-publicized events. Images courtesy of Rabbi Dr. Zev Eleff 26

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2.-3. Rabbi Leo Jung wrote several notes to Herman Wouk to encourage him to attend the society’s meetings. Wouk was balancing his work as a writer on a popular radio show and preparing a World War II novel. In time, The Caine Mutiny would win Wouk a Pulitzer Prize. 4. Mortimer (Mordecai) Propp was one of the most active members of the society, pushing for increased kosher standards, especially at non-Orthodox affairs.

into “American Jewish brotherhood.” Clandestinely, in private correspondences, the Ben Yephuneh members charged that unkosher meals were tantamount to “segregation,” a very loaded word at that time. Ben Yephuneh called on Jewish agencies to absorb the cost of kosher service because it represented “good neighborliness and in the trust that the gain in communal solidarity will more than outweigh the additional expenditure involved.” Among themselves, the group took credit for menu changes at several subsequent well-publicized events. Ben Yephuneh also engaged Jewish editors to publish Orthodox-friendly materials. The group commissioned newspaper and journal articles and used its contacts within the Jewish press to disseminate these tradition-sympathizing materials. One less-thansuccessful literary endeavor is perhaps, counterintuitively, most noteworthy. For several months, Rabbi Jung and his lay colleagues encouraged Herman Wouk to submit an essay to the popular Commentary magazine. He furnished a draft, but the magazine editors rejected the manuscript because it allegedly contained a “negative attitude” about the non-Orthodox. The Ben Yephuneh meeting minutes recorded that, according to the group, “while [the essay] shows the indefensibility of any but the Orthodox position, it does not state the case for Orthodox Judaism.” Wouk explained that he had deliberately done this, “as he feels he could not do justice to such an article unless he studied three years at Yeshiva.” Other members encouraged the thirty-two-year-old literary phenom to give it more attention. Wouk demurred, however, citing his overly crowded schedule. In time, and with the rabbinic guidance of Rabbi Jung and Rabbi Moshe Tendler, Wouk returned to that unpublished work, developing it into his well-known This Is My God. Wouk’s busy life betokened the major challenge for the Ben Yephuneh lay leaders. Wouk was at that time a writer for a popular radio show and had to miss several meetings because he was forced to remain in the office, in his words, “locked in a furious debate with

Herman Wouk speaking with students at Yeshiva University, ca. 1970. Courtesy of Yeshiva

University Archives

some very stupid people.” Rabbi Jung wrote repeatedly to encourage Wouk to attend. Wouk apologized, requesting that Rabbi Jung “please greet my friends in BY I miss them.” He begged Rabbi Jung’s forbearance. “My book will be published, please God, early next month,” wrote Wouk. “I have some hope of being freed to a single line of work thereafter.” The book was delayed four more years. But when it did finally appear, Wouk’s Caine Mutiny rose to the top of the best-seller lists, earned the Pulitzer Prize and was remade into a film starring Humphrey Bogart. In the meantime, Wouk’s schedule rendered his Ben Yephuneh attendance rather spotty. Ben Yephuneh disbanded after four or five years of intense activity. Understandably, its members prioritized professional and family

responsibilities. Writing to Ezra Rosenfeld—who graciously shared all these sources—many decades later, in 1989, Wouk reflected that “in retrospect possibly there was something slightly comical and naïve about all this, but we meant well and had fun.” Yet, Wouk also acknowledged that the experience moved him to raise the Orthodox flag when he relocated shortly thereafter to Long Island. Other Ben Yephuneh members remained active in cultivating American Orthodoxy. They were no longer part of a hidden society but continued to operate, sometimes too much under the radar, in support of Jewish life. Their efforts are an important reminder of the power of laypeople, beyond the purview of organizational life, to make a pivotal mark on Jewish history. Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION



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Corona Diaries WEEK OF MARCH 15

Grandmothers Meet on Zoom By Viva Hammer

We live together in coronavirus isolation in Sydney, Australia— my parents, my daughter and I. We are exceedingly busy doing absolutely nothing. Washing our hands again and again, then washing the towel that washed the hands. On the phone checking on people who are also in isolation. My mother, who is in a high-risk category for the coronavirus, is participating in her board meetings on Zoom. My father, in an even higher risk category, is attending shiurim on Zoom. No one comes into the house, and we don’t go out except to places where there are no people. My daughter

is in quarantine in her bedroom because she had been taking classes at a university campus where someone tested positive. We talk to her on the phone. She has the best Wifi in the house, so she’s set till Seder night. In between my mother’s Zoom sessions and my father’s, I’m bleaching the kitchen before making Shabbos. Is bleach more poisonous than the virus? It’s an exceedingly hot day for a Sydney autumn, not autumn at all, and we’ve heard that the sun burns the virus. Last month, the sun burned Australia down; this month, it’s burning the virus down. That’s what they tell us and although I don’t believe the virus rumors, I still follow them, just in case. Doesn’t hurt to have the windows open

and blankets scorched by the sun. Midday has passed in Sydney, and the calls to my son and sister in the US will soon cease as they go to sleep, and then we will begin calling Europe and Israel before we light candles. The Jewish schools in Sydney have been canceled, and I can hear children shrieking with joy. Another summer vacation has arrived! I am relieved; they are at low risk for the virus. The older we are, the more we are at risk for the virus. The young ones, in their second summer vacation that might last a year, are safe. Viva Hammer has held positions at the US Congress and US Treasury Department and is now at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute of Brandeis University.

We are exceedingly busy doing absolutely nothing. Washing our hands again and again then washing the towel that washed the hands.

Ed.: Transliterations in this magazine are based are Sephardic pronunciation, unless an author is known to use Ashkenazic pronunciation. Thus, the inconsistencies in transliterations are due to authors' preferences. Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION


Weddings During Corona By Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

In the pre-corona era, we often received invitations to as many as three or four weddings a week. Of course, our current corona crisis has reshaped the entire issue. At the moment I write these words, Yerushalayim, where I live, is not under total lockdown but contact with other people is restricted to essentials, which, of course, includes political demonstrations. Weddings are permitted, provided that attendance is limited to a very small group and social distancing is observed—at this moment defined as two meters distancing, windows open, and wishing mazel tov with elbow bumping. I have been fortunate to participate in a few such small wedding gatherings, most of them last-minute changes from what was originally planned— let’s call them “corona weddings.” Today I attended one. Last-minute changes for this wedding meant that the chuppah took place in the backyard of the kallah’s family. The area was beautifully decorated; floral arrangements were brought in. The smorgasbord was definitely sparse, but not too many guests were starving at 1:30 pm. Social distancing was observed; the beaming chatan and kallah were clearly thrilled to get married sooner rather than wait for a more “practical” time. Our local rav was mesader kiddushin, since the chatan’s rosh yeshivah was unable to. The wedding repast was held in a neighbor’s house, since their living room area is larger than that of the kallah’s family. The neighbor, who is regarded as high risk, stayed in a room in his house for the entire simchah, sharing his home although he himself he could not participate. The meal was “catered” by the kallah’s sisters, and neighborhood boys volunteered to be the waiters. Everyone involved in the wedding, 30

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from the chefs to the waiters, and certainly all the participants, had a tremendous sense of simchah. They were participating in a wedding because they wanted to, not because they assumed that they would be invited and felt required to attend. Social distancing proves to be more bonding than social convention. I suspect that the parents’ simchah was increased knowing that they have not accumulated huge debts or used up most of their life’s savings that could have been better used elsewhere. Any suggestions on how we can continue having “corona weddings” after this crisis ends? Personally, I would forgo the elbow bumping for more traditional hugs, kisses and handshakes. Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff, formerly a pulpit rav in Buffalo and Baltimore now lives in Neve Yaakov in Jerusalem, where he teaches, writes, and visits Jewish communities all over the world (when there is no threat of the coronavirus). He is a prolific author on rabbinic scholarship, both in English and Hebrew.

A Single Mom Reflects on Corona By Anonymous

We don’t know why Hashem brought the coronavirus to the world. We don’t know why Hashem wants schools shuttered and shuls shut down. We don’t know why Hashem wants people to stay home alone. Maybe, just maybe, Hashem wants everyone to know what it feels like to be alone. Maybe, just maybe, Hashem wants everyone to know how the divorced, widowed, and agunot feel hourly, daily, weekly. And maybe, just maybe, Hashem wants everyone to know what it feels like on Shabbos morning when all the men are walking to shul with their sons and there are boys on the block who have no one to take them, no one to sit next to, and no one to

show them the place in the siddur. Maybe, just maybe, while we’re in quarantine, we can really put ourselves in another person’s shoes for the first time and figure out ways to help them. Hashem is giving us this gift. Let us use it wisely.

We Cannot Part By Viva Hammer

The strongest human need is the need for each other. For some time, my parents, my daughter and I have lived in one house. But now, the infectiousness of the coronavirus means that I must choose between my parents’ safety and my daughter’s healthy social life. If my daughter wants to see her friends and ride on public transportation, she must leave us. “You’re throwing me out?” she cries in disbelief as she drives off to the third social engagement of the day, a day after we’ve gone into isolation. My daughter can’t believe what I am saying. Neither can I. I explained the virus to her and why we must be cut off from contact with other people, that my parents are elderly and very much at risk. But my daughter can’t believe I would enforce the rule: if she wishes to be with us, she can be with no one but us. And this condition of our lives may last months or more. We do not know how long. In the days before we began to isolate, we hosted my daughter’s birthday party and a Purim party, went to two Megillah readings, shopped, and wandered the malls. We will not do any of those things again for a long time. And while we make plans to lock ourselves away, almost no one in Australia, where we live, is sick. Two weeks ago I asked: how can they shut down civilization for the sake of a few sick people? But one person turned into two, and two into four and four into eight, and it only takes twenty-seven days of doubling to go from one to a million. No country has recorded daily doubles yet, but that is the shape of the curve. So we tell our loved ones goodbye; we will see you again in another season, or another year or on the screen.




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Craving Connection By Larry Rothwachs, as told to Rachel Wizenfeld

The difficult challenge that has confronted me personally has been, on the one hand, to impress upon the community how serious this medical crisis is, while, on the other hand, not making people who are already quite anxious become more anxious, worried and scared. I want to convey a sense of calm and reassurance and tell people they’re going to be okay and that we’re going to get through this together. But if the message is too positive, and if it sounds like, “Don’t worry,” what I would essentially be doing is allowing people to let their guard down. I shared the following recently with my community: There is a model in grieving that delineates five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It was interesting to see this play out on a communal level. When we canceled shul, on the “morning after,” there was denial and anger—not anger at the rabbis personally, but institutionally there was a feeling of, “How dare you shut down our houses of worship?” Bargaining followed, as we worked through decisions about public rituals and semachot, and now we’re sort of hovering between depression and acceptance. Pesach is now looming, and I’m having heartbreaking conversations with people who have elderly parents, and singles in the community who are terrified of being alone on Pesach. It’s painful. Technology is playing a major role in this as well. I have preached frequently over the years about the very corrosive effects of technology and how it has really impacted our community in a negative way. So I found it incredibly ironic—and I’m still trying to make sense of it—how technology has enabled us to function and remain connected 32

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Pesach is now looming, and I’m having heartbreaking conversations with people who have elderly parents, and singles in the community who are terrified of being alone on Pesach. It’s painful. in a meaningful way; it’s been a lifeline for so many people. At the same time, social distancing has been a hard reset on the world and society, and I believe it has enabled us to realize how important human connection is. It’s hard to explain to people, especially young children, adolescents, and even people in their young twenties, who don’t remember life before smartphones or social media, what they are missing. But now, with all these physical barriers that have been put into place, there’s this genuine craving that people are having for connection. I hope this will continue long after corona is over. Rabbi Larry Rothwachs has served as rabbi of Congregation Beth Aaron in Teaneck, New Jersey since August 2002.

funeral and shivah would have drawn thousands. The Brooklyn community where he sold sefarim, sacred books, was settled by Holocaust survivors. When they celebrate, and when they mourn, they do so in masses, to remind themselves that they have not been defeated. No! They grow and flourish. My friend describes the surrealness of mourning in these times. The front door is locked; no one comes in and no one leaves. There is no minyan and no Kaddish. “We are in isolation now with all the world,” my friend tells me. “And in our isolation,” he concludes, “we are together.”

Thoughts from an Agunah By Anonymous

Rachel Wizenfeld is a LosAngeles-based writer, crisis counselor and school psychology graduate student. She is a longtime contributor to Jewish Action and to other publications.

In Our Isolation, We Are Together By Viva Hammer

On the seventh day of our isolation from the coronavirus, I call a friend sitting shivah for his father. Three mourners sit alone, together. No visitor can come physically to comfort them. The man who died was a legendary bookseller in his nineties whose

A good friend asked me today how I’m doing. I said that of course I feel terrible for those stricken with the virus, and even more so for those who passed away and for their families, but that in terms of how I’m feeling day to day while living with the coronavirus, it’s really no different than my day-to-day life without the coronavirus. The uncertainty, the hoping, the praying. . . . Not knowing if my husband will serve me with papers again to try to wrest custody of our three kids away from me, or if he will contact my neighbors again, spreading lies. The only certainty I live with is Hashem’s constant Presence—Him holding my hand through the pain and the uncertainty that is my life.

A Web of Care By Viva Hammer

On a regular day, no one says hello on the street where I live. Even people I walk past on a daily basis don’t return my greeting; they look at me as if I must be deranged to greet a stranger. I haven’t seen the adults in the homes next door to us, although I hear their children’s shrieks and laughter. “Do we have enough to do at home for half a year?” I ask my mother, after we have been in isolation for two-and-a-half days, gardening, reading, cooking. The weather is beautiful, the air is clearer every day. Maybe we are deranged, I think. How can the virus be among us on days like today? And then these strangers, my neighbors, start delivering food parcels to the door, sending notes, calling, asking how they can help, what we need. The shul my father has davened in for thirty years, which is now shut, has gathered a corps of volunteers to help out the isolated. This neighborhood, which was once too self-involved to help or be helped, has become a web of care. We don’t even know the faces of our helping angels, or their names. But one day, when the virus is spent, we will meet and greet each other. Even shake hands. May that time come speedily. And may our care for one another survive what comes after.

Counting on our Fellow Jews By Mitch Karpp

The coronavirus outbreak seemed to kick into high gear within Jewish communities in the US during Parashat Ki Tisa. The very first verse in that Torah portion discusses the proper way in which to count Jews, to prevent the consequence of affliction by a plague. I was stunned to read this verse just as I received an e-mail from my local shul announcing the first set of restrictions

aimed at limiting the spread of the disease. Perhaps Covid-19 is a message to us that we are not “counting” each other in the right way? In our lives filled with busyness and distraction, do we really stop and notice the other people in our communities? Do we appreciate the value in others, or even in ourselves? Do we view each and every Jew as being a vital part of the community? Like the addict or the alcoholic who sometimes needs to hit rock bottom before he sees how bad his situation truly is, perhaps the concept of social distancing in such an extreme form is Hashem’s way of telling us that we have hit rock bottom in the way we perceive and value each other. This idea has really hit home for me; I find myself appreciating my wife more than ever. The same thing is true regarding my children, all three of whom are not even out of preschool yet. Parenthood is extremely challenging and demanding, but with this additional time home with them and my changed perspective, I have become calmer and happier than I was before the quarantining began. I see this with my neighbors as well; it is heartwarming to see people, who would normally be working or doing other activities, spending time outdoors with their children. I’ve learned from my own personal hardships in life that the greatest challenges and tests that one passes through are also the biggest blessings. So yes, this time is very challenging, but I am also a more grateful person today than I was two weeks ago. Mitch Karpp lives in Henderson, Nevada with his wife Megan and their three children. He is a special education teacher with the Clark County School District and has been teaching for twenty years.

Developing a Divine Compass By Zev Wiener

Both the Torah and contemporary mental health literature emphasize the importance of kevius and seder, regularity and routine, in our everyday lives. The Beis Hamikdash service followed a specific daily schedule; the periodicity of the Jewish holiday season punctuates the year with predictable energies; shuls, schools and professional sports leagues all operate on regular calendars. This consistency can affect our general sense of stability in deep ways that we often don’t appreciate until they are disrupted. The disruption we are experiencing can exert a profound effect on a person’s basic sense of calm and can call into question many of the basic assumptions one has always carried about life. These are times when our mettle is being tested. The Ribbono Shel Olam is asking us to muster every ounce of inner strength, talent and wisdom that we collectively have, to take care of each other throughout this ordeal, and to rise to even greater heights than we ever thought possible for the sake of our families, our people and the world. It’s beyond inspiring to see how people are doing this. The number of Zoom Torah classes, random check-in text messages, Tehillim WhatsApp groups, volunteer delivery services and chesed buddy systems that have sprung up is simply astounding. There were no classes in rabbinical school, yeshivah or seminary entitled “How to Lead When the World Seems to Be Falling Apart.” But every single

So yes, this time is very challenging, but I am also a more grateful person than I was two weeks ago. Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION


Three weeks before the wedding, things started to snowball. The shul where our wedding was supposed to take place closed. Pictured, Bryna and Aryeh Nirenberg at their corona wedding.

Torah class was actually teaching us all along how to do this, because all of Torah is ultimately about developing our inner Divine compass. And when our compass is calibrated, it will guide us in any situation. Rabbi Dr. Zev Wiener serves as attending psychiatrist at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, runs a private practice in psychiatry, and serves as resident maggid shiur at Young Israel of Century City in Los Angeles.


Teaching on Zoom

By Tammy Jacobowitz, as told to Rachel Wizenfeld When it comes to distance learning, on one hand we are isolated and apart, but on the other hand it’s much more intimate. I have access to my students in ways I don’t usually have: I see their shared bedrooms, what they have on their walls, what’s in their basements, et cetera. I’ve been 34

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bringing this into the classroom rather than pretending it’s not there. I might ask a student, “Tell me what’s behind you,” or “I see you’re in a different place today—what’s going on in your house?” I find myself spending the first five minutes of every class period creating a feeling of community. SAR is known as the school with no walls. I always knew that when I walk into my teaching space, I need to create the room for learning to happen; I can’t rely on the walls to do that for me. But the truth is that having a teaching space is always a fiction, no matter what the environment is. You have to create it and structure it and bring students in through the ideas you share. Teaching on Zoom, however, I realize this more clearly. As a teacher, I have been very resistant to use technology with my students. In our class my students know that there are no iPads; we use pencil and paper. One of my teaching goals is to have people see and learn from each other’s faces. But now there’s no choice; we have to use screens. We are able to have eye contact, but it’s inevitably mediated through screens. I find myself getting a headache from staring into screens, while I draw my students’ attention away from even more screens. But these screens that I try to avoid are what’s

allowing me to see my students, and allowing them to feel my love for them. My students are each struggling in his or her own way. One student told me, “I miss all the small interactions, all those in-between class conversations when I can talk to a teacher or a classmate tells me she likes my skirt and then I have a nice two-minute conversation with her. Now all my interactions are purposeful and planned.” For teenagers especially, those impromptu moments are such an important part of socializing. Dr. Tammy Jacobowitz is the Tanach department chair and director of Makom B’Siach at SAR High School in Riverdale, New York.

A Corona Wedding By Bryna Nirenberg, as told to Rachel Wizenfeld

We got engaged in January and were planning to have our wedding in Baltimore, two Sundays before Pesach. Three weeks before the wedding, things started to snowball. The shul where our wedding was supposed to take place closed. We said to ourselves, “Okay, so it will be a little different than we imagined.” We began texting

all of our friends, letting them know the wedding was canceled for now and that we weren’t sure what would be happening. So many people wrote back to us with supportive words; it made us appreciate how many people cared about us. Then, two weeks before our wedding date, we started hearing that a travel ban from New York would be imposed. How would Aryeh’s parents, who live in Monsey, attend the wedding in Baltimore? Suddenly, all our worries about what to wear, the menu, et cetera, seemed irrelevant! The numbers permitted for gatherings kept getting lower: first 250 people, then fifty; our rav advised that only immediate family and the eidim (witnesses) should attend. We moved up our wedding by about a week. The location kept changing as well. Finally, we planned a small seudah at a hotel in West Virginia (weddings had been banned in Maryland) and got married outside at Harpers Ferry. The wedding was attended by our

. . . we started hearing that a travel ban from New York would be imposed. How would Aryeh’s parents, who live in Monsey, attend the wedding in Baltimore? families, the caterer, the photographer, the mesader kiddushin and the eidim. We maintained social distancing; we did the best we could. It was small and intimate, different than what we expected. We tried to do a livestream for our friends and extended family but had forgotten to bring the connecting cable. Some in attendance took videos, which we shared. We had no sheva berachos, and we’ve been making Shabbos for ourselves. The

decision to make Pesach by ourselves felt daunting at first, but we supported each other and it ended up being wonderful. We cooked and cleaned together. No newlywed couple would have chosen this, but it was actually amazing just being home together. Bryna Nirenberg is a Baltimore native and nursing student who lives with her new husband, Aryeh, in Baltimore, Maryland.

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Living Emunah

By Zahava Farbman, as told to Rachel Wizenfeld If you asked me today what the hardest part is right now, I would say it’s the post-Pesach feeling. I think many people were thinking, “There’s no school until after Pesach. We’ll make it to Pesach.” People were really holding on to the belief that life would be restored to normal after Pesach. But that’s not the case. Now it seems there’s no end in sight. Additionally, we have suddenly been hit with the reality of how many we’ve lost over Pesach. We really need to find the chizuk to go on. Hashem always provides the refuah (remedy) before the makkah (affliction). Here the obvious refuah is technology. There’s been a tremendous amount of chizuk being given to the community through shiurim and therapy via Zoom sessions, among other initiatives. In my community, several organizations got together and set up a suicide hotline before yom tov for people who felt really on the edge and for whom being alone over Pesach could lead to suicide ideation. Sadly, we received plenty of calls. This is an unprecedented situation, but we as a

We’ve been spending our lives learning emunah, teaching emunah, and raising our children with emunah. Now is the time to be living emunah. 36

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community are stepping up to the plate. Self-care is extremely important for all of us right now. The days I get out for a walk are better days for me. There are art classes or exercise classes available on Zoom, and even taking a half hour to curl up with a book or to call a friend is so important. There is an opportunity now to focus on oneself, to dig deep and be introspective. Each person needs to find chizuk, whether by listening to shiurim or learning an inspiring sefer. Most importantly, we need to take the time now to focus on our connection to Hashem. We’re not in shul with everyone else; we are home alone. Talk to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Finally, the only reassurance we have right now is our emunah. We’ve been spending our lives learning emunah, teaching emunah, and raising our children with emunah. Now is the time to be living emunah. Zahava Farbman, MSW, PhD candidate, is associate director, Chai Lifelines Crisis Intervention, Trauma and Bereavment Department.

Wartime Medicine By Charles Traube, as told to Rachel Wizenfeld

Covid-19 has ravaged patients, and it has ravaged doctors, emotionally and physically as well. I’ve seen a lot of patients pass away. When you take care of patients for twenty-five or thirty years, you develop a relationship with them; you know their wives and children, their fears, the weddings that are coming up, their grandchildren. Then suddenly they contract this virus, and a week later they are gone. One patient came to see me over twenty years ago. He had already been placed on a waiting list for a heart transplant because his heart function was so poor. We were able to help him, and his health improved dramatically;

he was lower on the list because he was doing so well. He was able to attend his children’s weddings, and spend time with his grandkids, things I never thought he would do. Then he contracted Covid-19, and within three days he was gone. Emotionally, this experience just drains you. Each patient has a family—you’ve got to speak to the family members and have compassion for what they’re going through, while at the same time you have eight other phone calls waiting to be made—to patients who think they have Covid-19, who are having panic attacks and patients who actually do have Covid-19. You feel like you’re in a MASH unit. My practice is affiliated with Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. Because of its location, the hospital is bearing the brunt of this crisis—it’s treating 600 patients with Covid-19. The hospital ICU can usually accommodate twenty beds. Now there’s an ICU on every floor, all full. Nurses and medical personnel are flying in from all over the country because there’s simply not enough staff. Additionally, medical staff members are getting sick as well. It’s a chaotic situation. I’m spending a tremendous amount of time practicing “telemedicine,” calling patients to see if they’re safe or if they have symptoms. Coming into the office would be dangerous for patients, so we’re doing the best we can. Normally, if a patient calls complaining of chest pain, we advise him to be on the safe side and to go to the hospital to get an EKG. But now, going to the hospital would be putting him at risk, so we’re trying to avoid that. We make educated guesses based on our experience. The emotional pressure is extraordinary. I’m used to losing a patient a month; at the peak of the pandemic in New York, I was losing three patients a day. It just shakes your foundation. Our patients depend on us; we are their agents of health. And now there is nothing we can do as we watch this illness devastate them. It’s a terrible illness. It attacks the lungs, then the body attacks the infection and causes a horrific type of pneumonia, which then results in systemic problems, such

. . . the rituals of Jewish mourning are important . . . but they are not essential for the mourner’s ability to grieve. What is essential is the relationship, the connection and history with the person who passed away. as kidney and clotting issues. Once a corona patient is placed on a ventilator, his chance for survival is not very good. We have to go on, and hopefully there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s been a very long tunnel. It feels like we’re in the middle of a war. I think we’re going to see a lot of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among the physicians and health care professionals who are in the hospital every day. I’m starting to see it already. Once some semblance of normalcy returns, the medical professionals are going to have to process the enormity of what’s happened: bodies in the morgue waiting to be picked up by funeral homes; planeloads of bodies sent to Israel to be buried, the deaths in the hospital day in and day out. Despite everything the doctors and hospitals are doing, patients just keep on dying. It’s surreal. To me, the saddest part of it is the loneliness. People go to the hospital alone, they die alone and are buried alone. I went into cardiology because I wanted to help people. Unfortunately, in my field, people do die, but not all that frequently. Over the years, I’ve developed close relationships with many of my patients. I’m not just losing a lot of patients; I'm also losing a lot of friends. Dr. Charles Traube has a cardiology practice in Brooklyn, New York. He’s an assistant clinical professor at Downstate Medical Center.

Report from the Critical Care Unit By Yehudis Brown, as told to Rachel Wizenfeld

When the virus first hit, it was incredibly stressful and frightening. Information about the virus kept changing and nurses were unsure how this would impact us. Every Friday night after lighting candles, I would cry, “Hashem, please send a yeshuah!” I was transferred from cardiology to the critical care unit to help manage the overload of vented patients. As I found my footing working in the critical care unit, I began to feel more helpful. Feeling useless doesn’t help your mental state. I usually work ten-hour days, four days a week. The past few weeks I’ve been working twelve-hour days, five days a week. It wasn’t much of a decision; this was just what I was going to do. My husband is incredibly supportive. I have a six-year-old and two-year-old twins at home. The six-year-old understands that his Mommy has to work to help people feel better. He makes signs that he posts on the door for me to see when I get home: “Come see me when you’re home!” The twins have no understanding of what’s going on. There is a lot of teamwork in my unit, which is incredibly uplifting and keeps

our morale high. We have members of all disciplines—anesthesiologists, critical care specialists, physical therapists— coming to turn the intubated patients. No one talks down to the others, despite his or her credentials or experience. At this point, the intensity has shifted. Last week we had no room in our unit; every space was filled. Now we have beds available, unfortunately due to deaths. For every corona patient who got off a ventilator, there were three to five patients on ventilators who passed away. When a patient passes away, we have a moment of silence. Someone will say, “Let’s remember that this patient was a person; he was a husband, a father, a grandfather.” It provides the patient with dignity. He or she is not dying alone. These patients unfortunately are dying without their families, but they’re never dying alone. Medical professionals are always in the room. Because families cannot physically be with their loved ones, we do provide Facetime screens for patients, but in our units it’s difficult because the patients are sedated and are not alert. I was present recently when an Orthodox Jew was passing away. As the doctors and nurses practiced a moment of silence, I was able to recite a few chapters of Tehillim. It’s

It feels like we’re in the middle of a war. I think we’re going to see a lot of post-traumatic stress disorder among the physicians who are in the hospital every day. Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION


incredibly sad. The decline is so fast; we can try and try, but we are often helpless. It’s very heartbreaking. Most times I am able to compartmentalize, but I do break down sometimes. I try to release my emotions because that’s what you have to do in order to keep working with patients. While I understand the need to get to know each patient and his or her life story, it does make it more painful when they don’t make it. Many professionals are saying this situation is similar to wartime medicine. My grandmother was a nurse during WWII in France; I wish I could talk to her to find out how she dealt with it. (She is no longer living.) All of us in the field are facing equipment shortages and dealing with so much death. Many of us feel that we are likely to have PTSD after this time period, just like after a war. Yehudis Brown is a nurse practitioner at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside, New York.


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Making Sense of Grief

By Isaac Schechter, as told to Rachel Wizenfeld There are so many people grieving right now. All the notices in the Jewish media about people who have passed away are assaulting our sense of normal. It’s important to limit exposure to the media, especially for people who are susceptible to depression, whether due to previous loss or because they are not occupied with work or a family. It’s easy for such individuals to get drawn in. People are grieving for various things: lost hopes and expectations, job loss, the inability to go to school or do their usual activities due to isolation, et cetera. This is “lowercase grief,” but it, too, is grieving. When someone loses a loved one, the rituals and practices of Jewish

mourning, the levayah and the shivah, are important, even vital, as they provide a profound sense of comfort. But they’re not essential for the mourner’s ability to grieve. What is essential is the relationship, the connection and history with the person who passed away. A man I know just lost his father. Thankfully, he was able to reach a doctor who placed the phone next to his father so he could say Vidui with him before he passed away. His father may not even have heard his son on the phone or known what was going on, but the son was able to share that moment with his father. What’s essential in such a situation is to come to terms with what you were able to do and what you weren’t able to do. Maybe you were able to pack some extra food, a little chicken soup, for your loved one as he was rushed off to the hospital, and maybe you weren’t. It seems like an insignificant act, but there are many fractals of pain, and at every level and every stage there is an element of grief for what you were and weren’t able to do.

The pain of knowing one’s loved one passed away alone without family by his or her bedside is profound. It’s important to realize that the grief one feels is not just for the loss, it’s for everything that surrounds the loss. The loved one being alone. The days or weeks of not being able to comfort one’s family member or medically advocate for him. These are very painful things and it takes time to process. One must go back to the essential parts of the relationship and think about the loved one’s entire life, not just the end but how one was able to be mechabed (honor) his loved one and give to him throughout his life. Practically, even if one cannot sit a typical shivah, one can speak with family members and friends on the phone or via Zoom. The point of talking is not to make everything okay, but to acknowledge one’s sadness. It’s okay to be sad, and it’s also okay to be distracted and come back to the feelings. One doesn’t have to make the sadness and the pain go away. The more the relationship meant, the more pain will be present. Dr. Isaac Schechter is a clinical psychologist and the chief clinical officer of Achieve Behavioral Health, the largest provider of behavioral health in Monsey and Monroe in upstate New York. He also founded the Institute for Applied Research and Community Collaboration (ARCC) to promote research on health, behavioral health and social issues in the frum community.

Seeing posts on social media from my married friends struggling to homeschool their children or to maintain shalom bayis only reminds me and my fellow singles of everything we yearn for. Singled Out

By Tzipora Zelmanowitz, as told to Rachel Wizenfeld I am lucky that during this time I’m still able to see and spend time with my family members who live just a few blocks away from me, and that for Pesach I was able to be with them. But I have several friends who spent Pesach alone. I felt guilty about that. Why am I so fortunate that I could be with my family; why me and not them? I had to process those feelings. Having said that, being in my apartment alone for most of the day is incredibly difficult. Seeing posts on social media from married friends struggling to homeschool their children or to maintain shalom bayis only reminds me and my fellow singles of everything we yearn for. Particularly when the world seems bleak and there is so much death and sickness around us, we want to be comforted by a life partner. So many of my friends have expressed the wish to just have someone at home with them to talk to and to cry with. It’s heartbreaking. I go back and forth with regard to dating. There is some peace of mind in that dating is not on the agenda right now; I’m not going out to meet people or to attend singles’ events, so the pressure is off. But my younger brother was supposed to get married this week, and while it’s not happening

as planned, there’s a lot of talk among my family members about alternative plans. That shifts my thoughts back to “my younger brother is getting married and I’m not even dating, and my birthday is next month,” and then I spiral down. I’m very grateful that my job is keeping me busy, but on the days that I’m less busy I find myself spiraling. This situation has forced me to strengthen my faith in God. I’m working on reevaluating the way I daven and relating to God without feeling anger or resentment. During this time, if one is not careful, one can begin to feel bitter. We all have struggles at whatever stage of life we’re at, and I can’t imagine trying to do my work with kids running around the house. But at the same time, I find myself saying, “At least they’re married and at least they have children.” At the end of the day, if I take care of my mental health and keep happy and put things in perspective, the negative feelings tend to stay away. But particularly at this time, people should remember their single friends. When family members and friends call me, even if I can’t take the call, it makes me feel that I’m not alone. Tzipora Zelmanowitz lives in Queens, New York and works as a trusts and estates litigator. She is also a singles and mental health advocate, using social media as a platform to coach singles and marrieds on empowering one another regardless of marital status.

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Shalom Aleichem in Quarantine By Tania Hammer

Shalom Aleichem is a poem we sing before Kiddush, heralding the festive Friday night meal. “Peace be upon you, heavenly angels on high, our Shabbat guardians from God.” “Shalom aleichem,” peace be upon you, is also a warm greeting we extend to people we haven’t seen in a while, usually accompanied by a handshake or a hug. Albeit none of that these days . . . It is erev Shabbat and I’ve been in complete isolation in a Jerusalem hotel since Tuesday, Chol Hamoed Pesach. Everyone on the flight was brought here directly from Ben Gurion Airport and was ordered to stay in our rooms. Cameras are everywhere. And with military precision, as the management of coronavirus is in the Israeli military’s hands, we are ordered to go back to our rooms if we are spotted anywhere outside. Shabbat is my favorite day, whether it’s the Shabbat I welcome fifty guests or the Shabbat I spend alone. But never before has my Shabbat been challenged with quarantine isolation. In preparation for this quarantine Shabbat—there was not much to do—I invited the heavenly angels to be my guests. They have accompanied me every Shabbat, sent by our Maker. No, I couldn’t chat with the angels, but I could sing songs, I could pray, I could read . . . this would be a different type of Shabbat. On March 1, I left Jerusalem for New York to celebrate a wedding. I had watched the bride grow up, and when I made aliyah three years ago, I made a pact with my dear friend, the bride’s mother, that I would not miss her daughter’s wedding. The virus was just gaining traction then. Israel had closed its borders to China in late January and we were given hand sanitizer at work. But there was not one person who advised against my two-week trip. I arrived in New York on March 2. 40

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Never before has my Shabbat been challenged with quarantine isolation....In preparation for this quarantine Shabbat— there was not much to do— I invited the heavenly angels to be my guests. No, I couldn’t chat with the angels, but I could sing songs, I could pray, I could read . . . this would be a different type of Shabbat. In the car on my way to where I was staying, the radio announced that 200 people had tested positive for the virus. By the time the wedding took place on March 4, 1,000 people had tested positive. At the wedding, no one thought they had the virus. And no one fell ill because of the wedding, we thought. The next week was Purim. And then my March 14 return date to Israel was canceled. I was going to be in New York for the duration. And in that duration, the Jewish community in New York, which had been my home for thirty years, was transformed. Yosef, the guy in the hotel room next door knocks on my door. “Let’s make Kiddush together,” he says from his doorway. Great idea. It will lift our spirits. If we are told by the authorities over the loud intercom system to go back indoors, we will. In his booming voice, Yosef announces: “Kiddush!” One by one, heads pop out of doors. Every Israeli knows what Friday night Kiddush is, and all of us in this quarantine are Israeli. A chance to see another human being is too good to pass up. Complete isolation is one of the hardest things a human being can do. Whether you are in prison or a five-star hotel, not being allowed to see other people is harrowing. We start singing “Shalom Aleichem.” We are roused into the song, poetry from a bygone era welcoming our ethereal guests. And we welcomed

each other as well. As if we were all guests of one another. Yosef then made Kiddush in his deep baritone voice. Never so poignant were the words from Bereishit: “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because He abstained from all His work which He had done.” I thought about what I had done the previous six days. At a Seder in New York, I waited—with my belt tightened and my bag packed with unleavened dough—until the signal came that I could leave, which I did, on the wings of eagles. I also thought of the previous six weeks in New York and the devastation the virus had wreaked there. And now, how blessed I was to be in Jerusalem in the best of health, alone but with angels on my hotel floor. How much meaning the poem had now, in an antiseptic environment where we couldn’t eat together but could sing from our doors, heralding in another Shabbat which was not just another Shabbat. It was certainly different. Very peaceful. The angels—both ethereal and human—had done their job. Tania Hammer lives in Jerusalem. She was placed in quarantine when she returned to Jerusalem after a trip to Long Island, New York that was supposed to be a week and ended up being six weeks. She hosts beautiful Shabbat meals, and at her table everyone is welcome.

A volunteer for “Am Yisrael vs COVID-19” delivering groceries to homebound families in Brooklyn. Courtesy of Nicole van Amerongen

How Covid-19 Is Bringing Out the Best in Us While there has been so many wonderful chesed initiatives in our communities over the past few months, we are highlighting but a few that illustrate what one individual’s determination and perseverance can accomplish.

By Daniel Rothner, as told to Rachel Wizenfeld

Ambulance Corps. As of this writing, we have provided 18,000 meals.

Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck was at the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak in New Jersey. The doctors and nurses at this hospital (and others) were on the front lines 24/7, and we at Areyvut felt that the Jewish community should express its gratitude for their endless service. [Areyvut is a North Jersey-based organization that engages Jewish youth in chesed and in making the world a better place.]

The meals we provide are from a variety of kosher restaurants; it’s important to help the local Jewish food businesses. Each meal is individually packaged in sanitized conditions (we can’t just order a pizza for people to share!). I heard that a local kosher restaurant was going to close before Pesach and not reopen. I looked into the circumstances and decided that along with other restaurants, we would order from that restaurant as well to help keep it afloat.

Each day we provide hot meals for the medical professionals at Holy Name and Englewood Hospital, as well as to the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps and the Englewood Volunteer

Areyvut is absorbing some of the costs, and in just a few weeks we raised $22,000. We publicized this

initiative through social media and articles in the local papers, and it just took off. One block in Teaneck found out about the initiative through a neighborhood WhatsApp group, and everyone on the block donated. Overall, the response has been amazing. We received this message from one of the medical personnel: “Thank you for showing such kindness to the healthcare workers. It was my first meal at work in two weeks!” Daniel Rothner is the founder and director of Areyvut.

Rachel Wizenfeld is a LosAngeles-based writer, crisis counselor and school psychology graduate student. She is a longtime contributor to Jewish Action and to other publications.

My neighbor had official documents permitting him to drive anywhere in the By Nicole van Amerongen, as city . . . Arriving at my customers’ homes told to Rachel Wizenfeld After all classes at Columbia one by one, they were in disbelief. Was University were canceled, a fellow student and I were discussing how my food a Pesach miracle? helpless we felt. We wanted to do something to help the Jewish

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community. We decided to launch a WhatsApp group of volunteers who would run errands for the elderly, immunocompromised and those ill with the virus. Our volunteers assisted with whatever was needed: Pesach items, groceries, medicine pick-ups, transporting things to and from family members in the hospital, et cetera. We sent requests to our volunteers via WhatsApp, and then connected the volunteer directly with the individual making the request. We publicized the project on social media, as well as on sites that offered us free publicity. One student helped us develop a hotline and a web site. When the hotline became unmanageable, we added eight more dispatchers, mostly our friends. Known as “Am Yisrael vs. Covid-19,” our group currently has 1,100 volunteers covering New York and New Jersey, including Monsey, Lakewood, the Five Towns and Far Rockaway, West Hempstead, Manhattan, Riverdale, Bergen County, Passaic, Queens, and Brooklyn. The first few days we were getting about two hundred calls each day and running ten to fifteen errands. At our peak before and during Pesach, we were getting about 600 calls daily running fifty to sixty errands. Our volunteer base is diverse— teenagers and young adults who are out of school, but also men and women in their forties and fifties. Our volunteers, many of whom are forming close relationships with the callers, are amazing. One night I got a text at midnight from a woman who had seen my cell phone number on the original flyer (our hotline hours are 8 am to 11 pm). She wrote that she has a friend in Boro Park who is ill and desperately needs a space heater, as the heating in her apartment is not working. I replied that it’s too late since the hotline is closed, but that she should contact me again in the morning and I would 42

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post the request then. The woman agreed but asked if I could post the request with her phone number that night, so she wouldn’t have to bother me in the morning. At 12:30 am, I posted the request on the Brooklyn chat, thinking no one would even be awake. The woman got fifteen calls that night from people offering to bring over a space heater! Nicole van Amerongen is a college student who lives in Woodmere, New York.

By Grace Natik I’m a chef based in Jerusalem, and Pesach is my busiest season. This year was obviously different. Because of the virus, Pesach programs were canceled and travel was out of the question, so I offered people meals for Shabbat Hagadol and the Seder. The Shabbat Hagadol meal delivery got off without a hitch. I turned up the music in my car and was on my way. But suddenly things changed. On Tuesday, the day before Pesach, the Israeli military placed extreme restrictions on movement. In Jerusalem, the penalty for traveling around was severe. All of my customers were planning on spending Pesach alone. None of them had ever made Pesach before. They were relying on me for meals, and the streets were completely blocked. It’s sad enough to eat alone. Now they would have no food. Nothing. The streets were silent. No one was going anywhere. I would pay an enormous fine for delivering Pesach meals. But it had to be done because my customers were relying on me. Suddenly, I had an idea. My upstairs neighbor works for the government. Maybe he could clarify the lockdown instructions for me? Perhaps I could find a way to deliver the food within the new

An Areyvut volunteer picking up meals for Holy Name Medical Center’s medical professionals from Sender’s Smoke Joint, a kosher restaurant in Teaneck, New Jersey. Courtesy of Daniel Rothner

guidelines. I called and asked him what to do about the Seder meals. “Grace, you have welcomed us on so many Shabbatot. We can help get the deliveries out,” he said. “But how?” “Leave it to me.” I was elated; I started crying. . . . My neighbor had official documents permitting him to drive anywhere in the city. I packed the boxes of food, and he and I were on our way. We were stopped by the police five times, but once they understood our mission, they encouraged us to continue. Arriving at my customers’ homes one by one, they were in disbelief. Was my food a Pesach miracle? In times like this, when things are so uncertain and so many people are lonely and sad, we can always choose to help each other. Kindness outweighs everything. Grace Natik works as a private chef in Jerusalem.


Being Mindful on Campus

How Mindfulness Is Helping Students Cope with Anxiety By Ahuva Reich


ong before the coronavirus changed the world as we know it, Rabbi Reuven Boshnack, the OU’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (OU-JLIC) educator at Brooklyn College, made an observation: quite a number of students on campus were struggling with anxiety. These students were having a hard time coping with multiple real-life pressures. “We have a significant number of Jewish immigrant students including Syrians, Russians, Persians and Kavkazi Jews who are supporting their families; . . . our Hillel is incredibly multi-cultural,” says Rabbi Boshnack. “In addition, they face the challenges of finding a marriage partner while juggling school, family relationships, social life and work. Many of these young adults are also trying to figure out where they fit religiously— and to be at home with their Judaism.” College students tend to be especially vulnerable to feeling stressed and overwhelmed. “In the olden days, life on the farm was very predictable," says Rabbi Boshnack. “Contemporary life has a greater degree of uncertainty,” says Boshnack. There was already a significant mental health crisis in this country, well Ahuva Reich is a writer living in New York.

before the pandemic set in, notes Rabbi Boshnack. “The opioid crisis is just one indication of the unhappiness of society,” he explains. Of course, with the advent of the pandemic, many students began to feel even more anxious and stressed. Rabbi Boshnack, a graduate of Yeshiva University with a degree in mental health counseling, and his wife, Shira, have made mental health a priority in their work as OU-JLIC educators at Brooklyn College for the past thirteen years. The couple engage in pastoral counseling, helping students on an ongoing basis and referring them for further treatment when necessary. They organized a mental health awareness evening with a panel discussion that was open to the entire community and attracted some 300 participants. On a practical level, the Boshnacks assist students in finding internships and jobs, and even shidduchim through JLIConnections, a dating program geared for OU-JLIC students and alumni. Mindfulness: an Antidote to Anxiety A central component of many kinds of psychotherapy, mindfulness has also become increasingly trendy in recent years. The meditative technique is popular among Hollywood celebrities and corporations like Aetna, Target and General Mills, which offer mindfulness training to employees (some corporations even hire “chief mindfulness officers” in the hopes

of increasing productivity). However, while some people think of mindfulness as an Eastern meditative technique, it is actually a Jewish concept, rooted in age-old Jewish sources. “There is ample evidence that meditative practices were widespread among Jews throughout Jewish history,” wrote the brilliant physicist and prolific author of Jewish works Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in his book Jewish Meditation (chap. 5). “References to meditation are found in major Jewish texts in every period from the biblical to the pre-modern era.” In fact, the Amidah, Rav Kaplan writes, was designed to be a meditation. And the Musar Movement, he notes, is one of the most important meditative movements in Judaism. In a lecture on Jewish mindfulness, Rabbi Ya’akov Trump,* rabbi of the Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst in New York, discusses how many of the concepts found in mindfulness—such as meditation—hisbodedut—and “being in the present” are drawn from Judaism. The Gemara (Sukkah 53a), for example, states: It is said about Hillel the Elder that when he would rejoice at the Simchat Beit Hashoevah, he would say: ‘If I am here, everyone is here; but if I am not here, who is here? What did Hillel mean? Quoting Rabbi Nisson Alpert, Rabbi Trump explains Hillel’s words as follows: When I am here, all of me is here. In other words, if I am engaged in an activity—whether I am playing with my

* “Jewish Mindfulness,” available at Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION


children or learning Torah—all of me is engaged and fully present in that activity. This past fall semester, Rabbi Boshnack, who has Chassidic leanings, had an idea: why not draw upon his own interest in mindfulness to address the growing anxiety among students? Soon “Mindful Mondays,” a weekly discussion group on Jewish mindfulness, was launched. “We started the course because we wanted to be prophylactic—and help young people achieve mental hygiene,” says Rabbi Boshnack. “If someone is worried—he needs to understand what he can do to self soothe; he needs to learn to recognize the situations that cause him to be anxious. Part of the solution is self-awareness, getting to know one’s feelings and thoughts.” The course is based on the work of Dr. Benjamin Epstein, a Jerusalem-based psychologist and author of Living in the Presence: A Jewish Mindfulness Guide to Everyday Life, who in his book demonstrates the idea that one must consciously infuse the present with The Presence, the awareness of the Divinity that is imbued in every moment. Rabbi Boshnack intersperses Chassidic stories and Torah concepts with breathing methods, guided imagery and other techniques that relax the body and mind. A good part of the class is experiential. In a soothing, calming voice, he guides students to engage in relaxation techniques and then to visualize letting go of negative emotions. “Mindfulness really teaches you to be in the moment and that it’s ok to sit with uncomfortable emotions,” says Sarah (not her real name), who has been attending the weekly sessions since they began. “I love the classes. They are the highlight of my week.” Zooming Mindfulness Once Covid-19 shut down the Brooklyn College campus in early March and students were forced to be homebound, a whole new host of challenges arose, such as students having to contend with difficult familial relationships; navigating Pesach at home with their non-religious families; or dealing with making a Seder alone. Not surprisingly, Rabbi Boshnack’s course, viewed as 44

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Key Pointers for Coping with Anxiety Remember: • Although prolonged periods of stress can wear down your body and mind, anxiety is a normal part of our biology. It actually protects you when there is a threat to our physical or emotional safety. • Don’t discount or downplay anxiety. “When someone is worried for example, just saying ‘cheer up’ doesn’t work. It’s the equivalent of saying to a heart patient, ‘Just snap out of it. I think you’ll be ok,’” says Rabbi Boshnack. • Outlets, such as exercise, sports, art, music or reading, are important in managing stress. Engage in range of activities that you enjoy. • Stay connected. You are not alone, even though it may feel that way. Keep in touch with people who can provide practical assistance or emotional support. • If your anxiety feels unmanageable, you should seek professional help. Therapy and/or medication can be beneficial.

Rabbi Reuven Boshnack, and his wife, Shira, both of whom have been serving as OU-JLIC educators at Brooklyn College for the past thirteen years, have made mental health a priority in their work on campus.

Rabbi Boshnack with students at Brooklyn College.

a luxury only weeks earlier, was now We need to do a better job inculcating seen as a necessity. Currently called “The Mindful Zoom,” the course in our children and in our students that is drawing even more participants than when it was on campus. “Students are fearful about their Hashem loves us. This is especially health and about their families’ health; they are concerned about the important during challenging times, such economic frontier; there’s a lot going on [contributing to students’ anxiety],” says as the times we are living in right now. Rabbi Boshnack. “Some are grieving over losing a loved one. Others are grieving over their future—they might have lost jobs or internships that were lined up.” There are many of layers of stress, and teaching coping skills and resilience through mindfulness is Rabbi Boshnack’s specialty.

“Students are fearful about their health and about their families’ health; they are concerned about the economic frontier; there’s a lot going on [contributing to students’ anxiety],” says Rabbi Boshnack.

How Mindfulness Works What are some of the fundamental ideas of Jewish mindfulness? • Being in the moment. “We are used to living distractedly and running away from the present,” says Rabbi Boshnack. Paying attention to your breathing and to the sensations around you can help you achieve a state of mindfulness. Clear your mind of thoughts about the future or past by focusing on what you are doing in the present. Cooking, exercising and dancing are examples of activities that require one to be immersed in the present Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION


‫תשעה‬ ‫ב'אב‬ ‫תש"פ‬

Tisha b’Av

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Senior Managing Director, OU

Reliving the Tragedy

RABBI DR. TZVI HERSH WEINREB Executive Vice President, Emeritus, OU

The Past is Present, the Future is Now!





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There are many layers of stress, and teaching coping skills and resilience through mindfulness is Rabbi Boshnack’s specialty. moment, which is why people enjoy these hobbies. • Learning the skill of gratitude. “Thankfulness is a skill,” says Rabbi Boshnack. Instead of allowing your mind to focus on the negative, practice focusing on the good. This will enable you to develop a healthy and positive outlook. Ask yourself: What did I receive? And what did I give back? • Directing the mind towards radical acceptance. Accept the reality as it is. You can react to it but you can’t fight it. Accept, for example, that you have to be sheltered at home for a few weeks during a pandemic. “Acceptance of reality is an active choice,” writes noted American psychologist Marsha M. Linehan, the founder of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), a type of psychotherapy that combines behavioral science with mindfulness. • Knowing that “it’s okay to not be okay.” People think everything has to be perfect and that they are supposed to be holding up just fine, even during an unprecedented pandemic, says Rabbi Boshnack. That’s simply not the case. Religion can be drawn upon as a resource to find meaning, comfort and peace of mind. Unfortunately, Rabbi Boshnack finds that it can have the opposite effect when one is lacking certain foundations of faith. “We need to do a better job inculcating in our children and in our students that Hashem loves us. This is especially important during challenging times, such as the times we are living in. We mention this concept every day in our tefillot. Rav Soloveitchik taught that it’s kefirah [heresy] to believe that Hashem commands us to love Him but doesn’t love us back.” Internalizing some of the key elements of emunah can also result in reduced anxiety and greater yishuv hada’at (tranquility). “Especially in times of great uncertainty, one should work on recognizing that one is not running the show, but that God is,” says Rabbi Boshnack. The most critical aspect in coping with anxiety of all kinds is learning skills that build the grit and resilience necessary for coping with stress. Once students master the art of Jewish mindfulness, says Rabbi Boshnack, they will be able to think healthy thoughts; to welcome their thoughts and not run away from them; to live in the moment; and to internalize that God is in control. They will be healthier and happier overall and will be better equipped to face all kinds of life challenges—even a global pandemic.

On Jewish Mindfulness, Corona and Life in General By Toby Klein Greenwald


here are no coincidences in life, and it was surely prescient that Jewish Action editor Nechama Carmel asked me on the cusp of the corona outbreak to review two books on Jewish mindfulness. I began writing this in March, a few days before Rosh Chodesh Nissan (my wedding anniversary), and finished it in late April. I don’t know what will have changed by the time Jewish Action goes to press. The two books—Living in the Presence: A Jewish Mindfulness Guide for Everyday Life, by Dr. Benjamin Epstein, and Mindfulness: A Jewish Approach, by Dr. Jonathan Feiner— are helping me through the crisis. I hope they will help you too, no matter what is happening to you in life.

I mention my anniversary because on the first Friday night that my husband and I were told we could not leave our homes, even for shul, I asked him to sing Lecha Dodi out loud with me. We’ve been married forty-four years and never did we sing Lecha Dodi together. How would we? He was always in shul, and if I was also, I was in the ezrat nashim. Yet, rather than think, what a shame that we’re not in shul, I appreciated the moment. When I sit in my living room on Shabbat evening, I feel like I am in a womb. The holiness, the light of the candles; the chance to be in the silence, to think and to connect with God and with myself, undisturbed by phone calls or WhatsApp pings. Multiply that feeling exponentially and that

Toby Klein Greenwald, a regular contributor to Jewish Action, is a journalist, playwright, poet, teacher and the artistic director of a number of theater companies. She is the recent recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from AtaraThe Association for Torah and the Arts for her “dedication and contributions in creative education, journalism, theatre and the performing arts worldwide.”

is what many of us are feeling now, day by day, electronic devices and Zoom meetings notwithstanding. And that is what I believe Drs. Epstein and Feiner are referring to when they speak about being in the quiet and being in the present. What, in fact, is Jewish mindfulness? Dr. Epstein, an experienced psychologist who uses traditional Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), calls it yishuv hada’at. He writes: “A basic purpose of this book is to introduce you to who you are as God made you, and to the gift God has placed within you . . . Every single moment is a broken piece of time in which God has placed you so that you may fix it with the resources you have at hand at precisely that time.” We are all part of the tikkun. There are moments during the day when I sense panic coming on. I went through almost a year of breast cancer and treatments and never really feared that I would die. Perhaps it was cognitive dissonance. Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION


I go into my yard to do this exercise, where, from our home in Efrat, I can look at the hills of Judea and feel blessed that I am living in Eretz Yisrael. Everywhere I turn, I see God’s paintbrush. Author Toby Klein Greenwald walking down her pastoral neighborhood’s pathway. Photo: Rebecca Kowalsky

But now that I am at higher risk due to age and medical background, I have to acknowledge that I could be in a life-threatening situation. When those moments come, I do what both authors suggest—I observe my thoughts calmly from the outside and breathe. Dr. Epstein describes a meditative technique. “Stand still! Habituate yourself to step back and simply observe your thoughts . . . When you view your thoughts and feelings 48

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as an outside observer, there is no longer any self-involvement that demands their removal. . . First you have to let God in . . .” He offers a breathing exercise derived from Likutim Yikarim, in which we contemplate Hashem’s name as we breathe in, allowing our breath “to serve as a vehicle to help you identify all of the powers in the world with their Source.” I go into my yard to do this exercise, where, from our home in

Efrat, I can look at the hills of Judea and feel blessed that I am living in Eretz Yisrael. Everywhere I turn, I see God’s paintbrush. Focusing on nature is an idea which Dr. Feiner, who studied at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and is the clinical director of a psychology practice group specializing in mood and anxiety disorders, discusses in one of his “Try” sections that appear at the end of each chapter. The sections provide exercises to help one achieve a state of Jewish mindfulness. “The next time you walk outside, pay attention to the beauty around you”; he tells the reader to notice the light reflecting on the tree, the sound of the wind, the complexity of the world around us. “Remind yourself of the artist who created these beautiful masterpieces.” He notes Ramban’s recommendation to enjoy nature as an antidote to melancholy. In the midst of the corona lockdown, my husband loves to go into the forest (with no people around) and take a walk. And every day of our lockdown, I walk up and down our pastoral neighborhood pathway, breathing in the beauty. But what about our fears? Dr. Epstein says there is no such thing as a bad emotion. For example, if you encounter a bear, fear is a good thing. (How much more so, a global plague!) “Each emotion has its source and root in a Divine realm such as loving-kindness or strength . . .” But emotions should be used constructively, properly channeled and elevated, an element in the journey to yishuv hada’at. Is Mindfulness Jewish? What turns two Orthodox Jewish psychologists to the study and practice of a discipline that some would associate with spirituality from the non-Jewish East? Dr. Epstein, who has semichah from Yeshiva University, contends that mindfulness is unequivocally part of Jewish culture. “Rav Aryeh Kaplan, zt”l, wrote that there is a strong tradition of meditation and mysticism in mainstream Judaism, and until Jews become aware of the spiritual richness of their own tradition, it is

understandable that they will search in other pastures. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt”l, echoed this statement.” Dr. Feiner was drawn to mindfulness in graduate school. He told Jewish Action, “The closest thing to an ‘Aha!’ moment for me came after a professor encouraged us to be mindful about something with which we were struggling. Upon concluding the exercise, I noticed how I related to the pain in a very different way. It was still there, but it was easier to manage. That was the turning point for me.” Since then, he began using mindfulness as a therapeutic technique; today he leads workshops on Judaism, psychology and mindfulness. My own “Aha!” moment, deeply influenced by these two books, came on a Shabbat afternoon (pre-quarantine) LIVING IN THE PRESENCE: A when I was playing an alphabet game JEWISH MINDFULNESS GUIDE with my granddaughters, aged three FOR EVERYDAY LIFE and four. It did not demand the level By Benjamin Epstein, PhD of concentration needed when I play Urim Publications chess against my eleven-year-old Jerusalem/New York, 2019 grandson (he always wins), and I felt 239 pages my mind begin to wander. Suddenly, the idea, “This is where you are meant to be now,” kicked in, and I was there, fully present with them, feeling their lockdown (though, unfortunately, joy and excitement as they matched up things can also go the other way). the treasured letters of the Aleph Bet. Both authors emphasize the Being in the present is at the core concepts of prayer and meditation. of Jewish mindfulness, and this “If we pray properly, the day is reminded me of what Dr. Epstein different. And if today is different, writes about patience: “[w]hat is life is different,” writes Dr. Feiner. happening right now is exactly what is But when Dr. Feiner speaks of supposed to be happening. Not what prayer, he is not only referring to you think should be happening and formal prayer; he sees great value in not something you can force to occur.” speaking to God through informal With so much time for soul-searching prayer. “Judaism has a tradition during the corona lockdown, we of spontaneous prayer,” he writes, naturally turn to teshuvah, a theme that referring to the concept of “misboded.” comes up in both books. Dr. Epstein He notes how “Breslover Chassidim writes that all change is possible, that often go into the forest to do this.” we are constantly evolving, a thought When I got married, I discovered reflected in the poetry and social media that there is only one short blessing posts that appear during the pandemic. for candle lighting (not including the Dr. Feiner describes the process of “Yehi ratzon” and other additions). I “returning—again and again,” and, as asked my mother, who would stand always, breathing and noticing our there for twenty minutes with her breath as we think about areas in life eyes closed and her hands clasped that we want to improve. One must to her chest, why it took her so long. encourage apologies, he writes. I wonder “I’m talking to God,” she replied. Quoting from Pirkei Avot, Dr. Feiner how many burnt bridges or flawed extols the virtues of silence. “I spent all relationships were repaired during

MINDFULNESS: A JEWISH APPROACH By Jonathan Feiner, PhD Mosaica Press Beit Shemesh, Israel, 2020 181 pages

my days among the wise, and I have found nothing better for a person than silence.” He advises us to become better listeners. When we have a conversation, we should listen to what the other person is saying, rather than focusing on what we can share, as “insight and wisdom are more likely to be obtained in listening than in talking.” Indeed, his chapter on silence is invaluable for anyone who is an introvert or wants to understand introverts. “The midrash teaches that when God gave the Torah and there was total silence, the sound came forth, ‘I am Hashem, your God’” (Shemot Rabbah 29:9) and that “most of the earlier tzaddikim . . . were shepherds because of the benefits of solitude” (Rabbeinu Bachya ibn Pakuda on Shemot 3:1). So what is mindfulness? When you are able to be in the quiet and find tranquility and empathy. What is Jewish mindfulness? When in that quiet, you find God. Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION


Great Summer Reads Facing a summer of social distancing after weeks of quarantining, many have turned to books and rediscovered the joy of reading. We asked Jewish Action readers to tell us about their favorite Jewish book—a book that changed their lives, strengthened their faith or helped them through a difficult time. See selected responses in the pages ahead.

Special thanks to Binyamin Ehrenkranz for helping to prepare this article for publication. 50

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Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION



If You Were God As a fifteen-year-old who attended public school and z, I read If You Were God by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, zt”l, in 1985. The book changed my life. It illustrated the framework of Yiddishkeit and what Hashem’s plan is [for the world], reinforcing much of what I had been learning at NCSY Shabbatonim. To this day I read it once a year. Neil Harris is a former Midwest NCSY regional president (1988-89) and NY NCSY staff member. He lives with his wife and three children in Chicago, Illinois.

they were children, our grandmothers and grandfathers lived with the rich stories bequeathed by our Sages, a non-abstract, childlike picture painted in rich hues, as far from the mud of Eastern Europe as can be imagined. This was the secret fire that once burned in every Jewish heart. Our children can know these stories again from the age they can read or even before. They can be the students in yeshivah and seminary for whom new information is not a theoretical construct but a commentary on the real. That is, if they have read The Little Midrash Says, the greatest Jewish book in the English language. Tzvi Kilov is a writer from Atlanta, Georgia. He received his treasured set of The Little Midrash Says from his grandmother, Zlatta bas Elchonon, of blessed memory, when he was five years old.

The Little Midrash Says

A Fire in His Soul:

Before we are old enough for philosophy, heartfelt prayer, or even for the Talmud or the Mishnah, God places before our eyes a world of wonder and mystery, pregnant with as-yet-undiscovered meaning. There are many good stories out there, tales that beguile and delight, full of color and shade and people that seem real and alive. Adult Jews today yearn for that Judaism of three dimensions, tangible and solid, the Judaism of the shtetl. But the Judaism of the shtetl was real not due to philosophy or the study of halachah or social circumstance alone. It was real because from the time

I grew up around Irving Bunim and knew the stories of his life. Yet reading his biography blew me away. Irving Bunim negotiated fearlessly with the vicious Adolph Eichmann to smuggle out precious Jewish lives and save them from Auschwitz. In 1950, upon meeting a poor Sephardic immigrant child who could not read the Shema, his heart was broken, driving him to convince the avowedly secular first Israeli government led by Ben-Gurion to support an independent


JEWISH ACTION Summer 5780/2020

Irving M. Bunim, 1901-1980, The Man and His Impact on American Orthodox Jewry

system of religious schools in Israel. He helped build our Jewish day school system in the US ensuring the future of American Jewry. And he did the same for the Young Israel movement, making certain that we would have synagogues and communities to daven and live in. He was a thoughtful scholar, steeped in Torah, who wrote profound and inspiring sefarim on ethics and Pirkei Avos. In addition, he built a hugely successful business from scratch and was one of his day’s leading Jewish philanthropists. He was humble, engaging, driven, determined, honest, capable, popular, funny, a speaker in great demand and a raconteur to boot. He famously hosted Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, HaMakon yikom damo, and Ze’ev Jabotinsky in his home, albeit not on the same evening. His huge heart was open to the entire Jewish people. He served as the right hand of my grandfather, the great Torah sage Rabbi Aaron Kotler, of blessed memory, in rebuilding the Jewish people after the Holocaust. In light of such accomplishments, how could one not want at least a glimpse of such a magnificent, expansive life? If you want to laugh, cry, reflect and be inspired to act, you can—just by reading this book. In fact, though I have already read it many times, I plan to read it again. Those who choose to join me will be astonished at how one man’s life could encompass so much. Irving Bunim’s story is titled A Fire in His Soul—because that encapsulates what he possessed. How else could one human being have accomplished so much? Rabbi Aaron Kotler is president and chief executive officer of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey.

Tales Out of Shul:

The Un­orthodox Journal of an Orthodox Rabbi

Some books influence your life. Others foretell it. When twenty-four-year-old Rabbi Emanuel Feldman stepped off the train in 1952 in Atlanta, Georgia to lead Congregation Beth Jacob, he faced an Orthodoxy very much in retreat. His decades of service that followed both catalyzed and mirrored the dramatic growth of Torah observance in America that we recognize today. In 1996, I was a high school senior deeply involved in NCSY and beginning to think about larger Jewish issues and my own future. It was then that I read the newly published Tales Out of Shul, Rabbi Feldman’s humorous but profound retrospective on forty years of rabbinic service in a very “out-of-town” milieu. His charming anecdotes—beginning with his eye-opening first she’eilah regarding the choice of a Hebrew name for a newly born “Nicholas” (spoiler alert: he chose Nechemia)—brought Jewish education and outreach alive for me. Scores of enlightening vignettes impressed upon me how one man can dedicate himself to the farthest reaches of the Jewish people and help transform generations. A few years later, as a student at Ner Yisroel, I had the chance to meet the legend in person. I learned that he and I may have been the only two students in the yeshivah’s history to attend the same writing program at Johns Hopkins University— only fifty years apart! I was then on the cusp of beginning my own career, not as a pulpit rabbi but in outreach, navigating questions very similar to those Rabbi Feldman had encountered. In fact, I recently had the identical Nicholas name dilemma while leading an Israel trip! Fast-forward another twenty years. I host a weekly podcast interviewing substantive personalities across the Jewish world. On an interview tour 54

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through the Holy Land, I found myself sitting in the rabbi’s dining room in Bayit Vegan. What an honor it was for me, deep into my own communal service career, to reflect with my early hero about his. Several months after releasing the interview, I visited Congregation Beth Jacob, now led by Rabbi Emanuel’s son, Rabbi Ilan Feldman, and presented the lessons I had learned from their longtime leader. After delivering another talk in Charleston, South Carolina, in which I also mentioned the book, the shul’s rebbetzin approached me to share that she too had read Tales Out of Shul as a young girl and had been similarly inspired to become an out-of-town Jewish professional. She not only loved but ultimately “lived” the book as well. Rabbi Ari Koretzky is executive director of MEOR Maryland, an outreach organization based at the University of Maryland, College Park and host of the podcast “Jews You Should Know.”


My Twenty Years in Soviet Prisons Back in the eighties, I borrowed the book Subbota from my neighbor in Givat Shaul. Subbota (by Avraham Netzach, a pseudonym) is a true account of Rabbi Eliezer Nannes who was arrested and imprisoned in 1935 for counterrevolutionary activities (teaching and supporting Torah). He endured twenty years in a slave labor camp in Stalin Russia, during which time he managed to keep Shabbat, chagim and kashrut under the most outrageous and horrific circumstances. Though written in a plain, un-schmaltzy style, the book reads like a spiritual thriller. Rabbi Nannes outsmarted the NKVD, outmaneuvered corrupt officials, gained the respect of the most brutal prisoners and influenced countless Jews toward Torah observance. (Subbota means Shabbat in Russian.) He managed to keep his beard too. I basically read the book to its death

(over the years the spine broke in several places and the pages scattered). After I finished the book the first time, I was shaking. “Who is this man?” I asked my neighbor. “Is he still alive? Can I meet him?” She brought me to his little apartment in an old Yerushalmi neighborhood. He was ninety, his wife ninety-six. They had no children. (By the time he got out of prison, it was too late.) The students to whom they taught Torah became their progeny. He was tough and funny with the kind of sheen on his face that holy people are often graced with. Ruchama King Feuerman is a novelist and writing coach. She lives in Passaic, New Jersey, with her family.

The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious

Back when Amazon was only a book vendor, the company name quickly became a verb in my family. Frequently I would hear from my father, “I read a book you might like; I’ll Amazon it to you.” That is how Dr. Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg’s Biblical interpretations captured not just my attention but also my imagination. As her books were arriving at my doorstep, I was acclimating to new roles: wife, mother, rebbetzin. Dr. Zornberg’s exploration of Biblical characters’ interactions with God, people and the world provided novel perspectives that appealed to me as I was confronting different life experiences, engaging with community members and trying to make sense of current events. The ideas in her third book, The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious, have influenced my understanding of faith, personalities and relationships. For example, Dr. Zornberg’s discussion of Avraham’s drama at the Akeidah provides an interpretation of the shofar that affects the way I contemplate both historic and current Jewish events:

Abraham wants permanent credit for his silent restraint . . . the credit is to be transferred as prophylactic atonement for the sins of future generations. . . . Essentially, He [Hashem] denies Abraham the closure he asks for, the absolution that will inoculate his children against future sin, indeed, against the traumas of history. Instead, He refers him to the shofar as the means of evoking forgiveness. By blowing the shofar, future generations will continue Abraham’s work, rather than simply banking on it.1. Dr. Zornberg’s descriptions of a human struggling to deal with trauma, couched within her interpretations of Yosef and his brothers, helped me better appreciate the psychological effects of trauma. She quotes the midrash about Yosef’s detour to the pit on his return to Egypt after burying his father. There she describes the experience of trying to heal from trauma: “he has gone to the trouble of returning to that place of his terror, in order to bring closure to the old narrative. He makes the blessing for a personal miracle, claiming the site of his trauma as the site of redemption . . . transforming pain into hope.”2 Tefillah, specifically the Maariv prayer, is explored through Yaakov, influencing me to think more deeply about the profound connection between each service and the Avot. Moreover, the events recorded in Sefer Bereishit provide fertile ground for Dr. Zornberg to explore spousal, sibling and parent-child relationships that impacted my own awareness of such interactions. I am very grateful to Dr. Zornberg for enriching my life and sensitizing me to the murmurings of the deep. Notes 1. Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious (New York, 2009), “Abraham Bound and Unbound,” 206. 2. Ibid., 319. Nehama Teitelman is an administrator for research in the Department of Pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the rebbetzin of Young Israel of New Hyde Park.

The Rebbetzin:

The Story of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis Since my teenage years, I have been on the lookout for appropriate mentors. Over the years I’ve been blessed with phenomenal women who inspire me and prod me to keep growing. I’m exceedingly grateful to them.

I recently read the impressive biography of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, a”h, skillfully written by Rabbi Nachman Seltzer. I had the privilege of knowing the Rebbetzin when I was a child in Camp Naarah. The talented Rebbetzin, who was in charge of shiurim at the camp, made a huge impression on me and I became friendly with the Rebbetzin’s oldest daughter. In 1973, together with my parents, z”l, I attended the life-altering event in Madison Square Garden where the Rebbetzin mesmerized thousands. While I kept up with the Jungreis family over the years, I got busy with my own growing family (k”ah), and had no idea of the scope of the Rebbetzin’s reach. Now that I have read the book, I realize I have a new role model and mentor—the Rebbetzin! The Rebbetzin was on a mission. A Holocaust survivor, she had witnessed the horrific loss of six million of our brethren. She could not tolerate further loss of our people to assimilation and intermarriage. With courage and determination, she used her enormous talents and energies to bring our people back. Traveling across the world to address audiences of all ages and backgrounds, she would engage her fellow travelers in conversation and impress upon them that they too had stood at Sinai and they too have an obligation to keep Torah and mitzvos. Her devoted husband, Rav Meshulam Jungreis, z”l, supported and encouraged her. Her parents, who miraculously survived the camps Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION


together with her, were an incredible source of inspiration to her. In Bergen-Belsen, her father, affectionately referred to as “Zeide” throughout the book, gifted them with Shabbos. Zeide would save breadcrumbs for Shabbos, and say, “My precious lights, my beautiful kinderlach, close your eyes. We are home. Mama baked the most delicious challah . . .” Upon discovering how many family members he had lost in the Holocaust, Zeide cried out, “I beg of You Hashem . . . All my children . . . all Jewish children, should remain committed to Torah.” His devoted daughter Rebbetzin Esther took these words to heart, and ended up bringing thousands closer to Yiddishkeit. Could I ask for a better mentor? Miriam Liebermann, MSW, coauthor of Saying Goodbye—A Handbook for Teens Dealing with Loss and Mourning, and editor of two anthologies for women, The Best is Yet to Be and To Fill the Sky with Stars, lives in Manhattan.

All for the Boss:

The Life and Impact of R' Yaakov Yosef Herman, a Torah Pioneer in America

I was twelve when my mother handed me All for the Boss, Ruchoma Shain’s biography of her father, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Herman, a passionate advocate for religious Judaism in early 20th century America. I was a compulsive reader as a child—which my parents sometimes indulged by letting me stay home from school to pore over novels such as Gone with the Wind or Exodus. Yet I had never read a book like this before. The stories about Rabbi Herman are remarkable, involving tremendous mesirut nefesh and generosity on his part, and also offer a fascinating window into a prewar Eastern European-influenced American Jewish milieu (with an equally fascinating 56

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I picked up the book, all 550-or-so pages of it, settled into an overstuffed sofa in my host’s living room, and didn’t put it down until I finished reading every page. excursus into Shain’s own time spent as a very American newlywed at the Mir yeshivah in Poland). Many of the stories are also ambiguous—such as the one where Rabbi Herman threw out of the house the secular novels that his bookish daughter treasured. One story that stuck with me was when Rabbi Herman stormed into a crowded Young Israel synagogue one Friday night and banged on the pulpit, demanding they cancel an upcoming synagogue dance until he was physically dragged out of the sanctuary, his daughter watching the scene with mortification. Shain is able to animate what made her father remarkable without sugar-coating or even trying to resolve any of the complications. Subsequent rabbinic hagiographers should take note, although in many later biographies, one can also see Shain’s influence. As a maturing child, I was enchanted by the stories about Rabbi Herman and also by the genre of book: one which seeks to use our contemporary qualities of description to capture a way of being that is not easily translated. Admittedly, All for the Boss did not convince me to return all of my secular books to the library, but it did ignite an admiration for a certain kind of unyielding religious passion, which stays with me even when I fall short. I believe the books (and films and music) that move us when we are young play a part in the development of our spiritual DNA as we get older. My “Boss” probably looks a little different than Rabbi Herman’s, but the book remains a touchstone for me in terms of what is possible for us to aspire toward as religious Jews. Sarah Rindner is a writer and educator who recently made aliyah with her family.

A Tzaddik in Our Time: The Life of Rabbi Aryeh Levin

During the early days of my chrysalis several decades ago from a Jewishly ignorant secular Jew to a member of the Orthodox community who values time spent over a volume of Talmud or Chumash, I spent a Shabbos at the home of my employer, the publisher of Buffalo’s weekly Jewish newspaper where I worked as editor. On the long afternoon, with hours to spend between the last piece of kiddush kugel and the attempt to scrape together a minyan for Minchah, I came across a book on my host’s shelf that I had never seen before. It was the biography of a man that I, unfamiliar with the personalities of the Orthodox world, had never heard of—Rabbi Aryeh Levin. A Tzaddik in Our Time by Simcha Raz, describes the life of the Jerusalem resident popularly known as the “Father of Prisoners,” an advocate of the incarcerated, the infirm, the outcast. I picked up the book, all 550-or-so pages of it, settled into an overstuffed sofa in my host’s living room, and didn’t put it down until I finished reading every page. Not only was the book fascinating, it was an education, an insight into a world and a worldview that I, a fledgling ba’al teshuvah, was just beginning to enter. A Tzaddik in Our Time, in countless vignettes, taught me what it meant to be a frum Jew. Buffalo had a small Orthodox community, and I had few role models among the city’s small

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number of Orthodox synagogues and educational institutions. I had not yet traveled to New York City’s Orthodox neighborhoods, where I eventually made my home. With a limited number of Torah-observant Jews, we had no concept of “Chareidi,” “Modern,” “Litvish” or “Chassidic.” We could not afford to judge or exclude—which was the accepting way that Rabbi Levin, as described in Raz’s book, led his life of chesed in a city with no lack of Orthodox Jews. Gentle but firm, open-minded but committed, erudite but not preachy, he set an example of Torah-true behavior that I considered impossible to emulate but necessary to follow. The rabbi was my introduction to Orthodox life. A daunting introduction. Rabbi Aryeh Levin led such a saintly life of self-sacrifice that I knew few people could live like that. I certainly couldn’t. But I have always used his actions as a guide for how I should behave. Steve Lipman is a frequent contributor to Jewish Action. He lives in Queens, New York.


JEWISH ACTION Summer 5780/2020

Until works by such scholars as Rabbi Hayim Donin, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin came along, This Is My God was the treasured companion for a young woman who wanted not only to live her faith but also to explain to friends and colleagues who couldn’t be farther away from it the joy and meaning it gave her. G-d Winked: Tales and Lessons from My Spiritual Adventures

About seven years ago my husband’s stepmother gave my daughter a copy of Sara Yocheved Rigler’s G-d Winked. My daughter, a young teenager at the time had zero interest in Rigler’s spiritual quest and the book ended up on my nightstand. I was fully expecting this memoir to be just another version of the classic “non-religious-Jew-becomes-observant” genre, but there was one chapter, one concept, that spoke to me, so personally and so intimately that I folded that page in the book and kept it on my nightstand for months so I could keep rereading that paragraph. About a third into the book Rigler challenges you to ask yourself, “What’s my mission?” Or phrased in the frum vernacular, “What’s my tachlis in life?” This is the line that hooked me in and literally changed my perspective on just about everything at a difficult and pivotal point in my life. “Clarity about

your mission dissipates guilt for all the worthy endeavors you’re not engaged in” (p. 135). She then gives a personal example, explaining that her mission in life is to reach people, to connect to people via her writing and lecturing, and this knowledge absolved her from the guilt she felt about not liking to cook for myriads of Shabbat guests. While this statement might seem simplistic, almost intuitive, but it was this very specific example (a type of chesed that was logistically difficult for me) that made me realize that I can’t do everything, I can’t be everything, and more importantly, I don’t have to. As I flipped through the book the other day to find the quote I referenced above, I realized that Rigler had written a personal note addressed to Leah Sara. I had not realized that this book was from my stepmother-in- law’s personal library, although I did remember that she knew the author. Clearly it is no coincidence that a week before the first yahrtzeit of Leah Sara Miller, a”h, Hashem put her book into my hands once again. Truly, God winks. Chani Miller, OD, is an optometrist in private practice and lives in Highland Park, New Jersey, with her family.

The Vale of Tears The late Rav Pinchas Hirschprung’s name evokes many important life accomplishments. Leading student of Rav Meir Shapiro, the famous rosh yeshivah who initiated the idea of Daf Yomi. Chief rabbi and builder of Montreal Jewry. Master of all Torah literature, who knew virtually every page of the Talmud by heart. But I know Rav Hirschprung primarily for the episodes that transpired throughout two years of his illustrious life. (The book covers the period he was in Europe during the war until he escaped to Shanghai.) In 1939, as the young rabbi of Dukla, a peaceful, mostly Jewish small town in southeastern Poland, Rav Hirschprung quickly found himself in the throes of World War II. His memoir The Vale of Tears begins as a retelling how his family and community experienced the quickly intensifying evil of the

Nazis. However, the book soon becomes a story not just of his own relentless quest for survival, but one of deep faith—of the courage and devotion that he lives and spreads while fleeing through ten towns across Eastern Europe, including a stretch of time traveling basically barefoot. Here he is pushing away a Gestapo officer’s revolver from pointing at a Jewish twelve-year-old boy. There he is persuading a Ukranian peasant wagon driver to consider the final reckoning in Heaven in order to deliver Rav Hirschprung to his destination unharmed. He is caught attempting to cross the Polish-Lithuanian border and miraculously released twice— only to try yet again and succeed. Along the way, the reader meets many other pure-hearted and pious fellow Jews, such as Dukla’s elderly baker whose messages of religious perseverance stay with Rav Hirschprung throughout his

travails, and the sage Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, whom Rav Hirschprung revered and met multiple times seeking guidance. Interestingly, these recollections were penned just three years after the events described took place, first appearing in 1944 as serialized articles in a Canadian Yiddish newspaper, making this one of the earliest Holocaust memoirs in existence. Through the hard work of the Hirschprung family and the generosity of the Azrieli Foundation, The Vale of Tears was first rendered into English in 2016. Besides for its absolutely riveting and sometimes harrowing accounts, this book moved me for the values that Rav Hirschprung embodied even while literally hovering between life and death: the importance of compassion to others, seeing the gifts of God’s blessings in whatever situation one finds oneself, and the strength an observant Jewish life itself can offer even—nay




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on facts, as I had always hoped. Though written in a plain, un-schmaltzy Asresting I wrote him in a fan letter, I wished my yeshivah had taught it to me style, the book reads like a spiritual that way. But better late than never. thriller. Rabbi Nannes outsmarted the NKVD, outmaneuvered corrupt officials, gained the respect of the most brutal prisoners and influenced countless Jews The Chosen toward Torah observance. Joshua Z. Rokach is a retired appellate attorney and a member of the Young Israel of Greater Washington. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

of Creation and the age of the universe? As an educated person, this conundrum bothered me. On the one hand, Judaism teaches us to live by facts. In the Talmud, a dispute on halachah at times gets resolved when an Amora declares the custom he saw in the house of Rebbe or Hillel or Rabban Gamliel. On the other hand, what do we make of the Seven Days the Torah mentions and the 5,780 years from Binyamin Ehrenkranz is a Creation as we recite in many contexts? member of the Jewish Action Herman Wouk took on the issue, Editorial Committee. framing it as a debate between himself and Dr. Richard Feynman, a prize-winning physicist who served on the commission investigating the 1986 Challenger explosion. In the book, Dr. Feynman, the atheist, and Wouk, the Talmudic scholar, offer their points of view. The main lesson I learned from the book was that faith encompasses On Science and more than reading a dry text. On the Religion topic of Creation, Wouk emphasizes A book that mathematics as key, convincing me changed my life that one must embrace science as was Herman Wouk’s The Language that well. That brought me back to the God Talks. His earlier seminal work, principles of Kabbalah, which revolve This Is My God, provided a modern-day around mathematical formulas. rationale for the laws of kashrut and One can fit these formulas into the the like while people like me who grew words of the Torah. This led me to up in Orthodoxy find other ways to read a book that explained the Big cleave to the mitzvot. This book, while Bang Theory as the meaning behind less popular, addresses more profound “And There Was Light.” The Days issues confronting the Jewish faith: how of Creation can mean eras, making does an observant Jew square current sense of archaeology and biology. scientifically accepted ideas in physics, In short, Herman Wouk’s book astronomy and cosmology with a literal helped me embrace my faith as showing reading of the Torah regarding the story it to be more than dogma and actually especially—in trying circumstances. Indeed, the writing is laden with prose from all kinds of Jewish sources, often employed very cleverly. But as much as Rav Hirschprung’s prodigious mind shines through his chronicles, it is the magnificence of his humanity and heart that make his story one I find so uplifting.

The Language that God Talks:


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“Reuven, listen to me. The Talmud says that a person should do two things for himself. One is to acquire a teacher. Do you remember the other?” “Choose a friend,” I said . . . “Reuven, if you can, make Danny Saunders your friend.” (The Chosen, p. 74) When I was a teenager, I discovered the novel The Chosen by Chaim Potok on my parents’ bookshelf. This book transformed me and had a powerful impact on the development of my Jewish identity. The story begins in 1944 in Brooklyn. Two teenagers, Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders, are brought together when Danny deliberately pitches a baseball at Reuven’s head and Reuven ends up in the hospital. This is an inauspicious beginning to what develops into a deep and enduring friendship between boys from very different backgrounds: Reuven, the son of a Modern Orthodox yeshivah Talmud teacher and Danny, the brilliant heir to his father’s Chassidic dynasty. It is also a story about fathers and sons. Reuven and his father, David Malter, share a close relationship and discuss everything. Danny’s father, Reb Saunders, only communicates with his son when they study Talmud together. He is raising his son in silence. This coming-of-age story introduced me to the tumultuous world of the

Jews of Brooklyn living during World War II and their crisis of faith after the Holocaust. It was also my first glimpse into the holy life of a Chassidic community. Through Reb Saunders, I began to understand the desperate struggle of the Chassidim to maintain their beliefs and traditions in the face of modernity, and through David Malter, I learned about the fervent dedication of the Zionists to establishing a Jewish state. How do you live as a Jew in the modern world? What is a true friend? Can you befriend someone from a different background? Can silence be a force for good? Can you pursue a different path from your parents but keep their love? Grappling with these questions pushed me to grow both as a Jew and as a human being. Reading about the painful struggles of the Jews in the mid-twentieth century strengthened my connection with our people. And

the unlikely bond between Danny and Reuven became an unforgettable model of a friendship that could survive even the most difficult of challenges. In all of these ways, this remarkable story, full of wisdom and compassion, changed my life. Janine Muller Sherr is a freelance writer and former Judaic studies teacher. She currently lives in New York with her family.

Reflections of the Rav:

Lessons in Jewish Thought Adapted from the Lectures of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

I responded deeply to Rabbi Abraham Besdin’s adaptation of some key

teachings of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik in Reflections of the Rav: Lessons in Jewish thought adapted from the Lectures of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. The book summarizes a number of Rav Soloveitchik’s speeches that address key theological questions with his characteristic profound Torah knowledge and penetrating emotional insight. Many of the major themes of his philosophical life appear in this book, in homiletical—and therefore accessible—form. These include religious morality, prayer, the Holocaust, autonomy and the need for organized religion. Rav Soloveitchik emphasizes the need to approach God using our intellect while humbly recognizing our human limitations and ultimately surrendering to God’s wisdom and command. Faith in our tradition and its bearers emerges as an essential ingredient in forging our own path. In this relatively easy-to-read book, seemingly contradictory

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attitudes are balanced, subtly teaching by example how to lead a vibrant intellectual life of faith. I found the book an entry to Rav Soloveitchik’s thought and a guide to a faithful and intellectually fulfilling Jewish life. Rabbi Gil Student is Jewish Action’s book editor.

What the Moon Brought When I think back to my childhood, reading What the Moon Brought written by Sadie Rose Weilerstein and illustrated by Mathilda Keeler is one of those memories that glows brightly. I am sure I read many, many other books back when I was eight (or was it seven?). But for some reason, it’s this book that I remember so well. I pulled it back off the shelf recently and turned to its copyright page— 1942, by the Jewish Publication Society of America. That’s pretty old by American standards. And its thick brown cover made it feel old to me, reading it as I did in the late 1970s. But it didn’t feel old in a raggedy, trashcan way, more like in an antique way, like a book of gravitas; it felt authentic. To my eight-year-old self, it felt like Torah. Its pages told sixteen stories of two sisters, Ruth and Debby, who celebrated the Jewish holidays through the year. They dipped the apple in honey, they built a sukkah, they dressed up for Purim. And since it was written in 1942, they collected pennies to buy a tree in “Palestine” on Tu B’Shevat. (It was 1942; no Yom Ha’atzmaut just yet.) They did it all alongside parents who looked oh-so sophisticated. Father had a fashionable 1940s fedora and Mother, a sleek polished hairstyle. And Ruth and Debby, one blonde, one brunette, looked like two little Shirley Temples, 62

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always with ribbons in their curly hair. What makes me remember this book so well? Paging through it now, I think it’s because as old as it felt, it felt modern to me too. The characters didn’t look like Tevye and Golda from the shtetl. They looked like . . . well, American. Two little girls, American just like me, who celebrated Jewish holidays, just like I did. I saw myself on those pages. And it made me feel important—that Jewish experiences just like mine and little Jewish girls just like me were significant enough to be recorded in a book. No wonder I remember it so well. Ann D. Koffsky is the author and illustrator of the Kayla and Kugel series, a newer set of stories about a girl who celebrates the chagim. Like Ruth and Debby, Kayla also wears ribbons in her curly hair. Koffsky lives in Long Island, New York, with her family.

This Is My God This Is My God was not my first encounter with Herman Wouk’s work. I’d watched the film versions of Marjorie Morningstar and The Caine Mutiny on television sometime in the late 1960s/early 1970s, and I was intrigued enough to borrow the books from my local library on which they had been based. They were both entertaining reads. A year or so later, The Winds of War was published and rocketed to the top of the best-seller lists. When reading the reviews of that book I kept seeing references to “Mr. Wouk, an Orthodox Jew,” which I found very surprising. None of the Orthodox Jews I knew wrote novels, much less best-sellers that had been made into movies with Gene Kelly and Humphrey Bogart. I saw a reference to This Is My God in one of the reviews, and so I borrowed it from the library, too. I was in my early teens at the

time, and the book just blew me away. I already knew back then that the professional path I was going to travel would be a bit different than those to be taken by my Bais Yaakov classmates. I loved books—reading them, writing about them, talking about them—and I was fascinated by how they came into being and by the world of book publishing. And now here was an Orthodox man who had written this extraordinary guide to Torah Judaism (only much later did I become aware that in 1959 it, too, had been a New York Times best-seller) and who was also succeeding in the very world I had been dreaming about. So I bought a paperback edition of This Is My God and kept it as a sort of talisman as I went off to college and then tried to find my way in publishing. But as I began to interact with people outside of my frum world, it became more than a talisman; it became a guidebook. I didn’t think there was anything particularly interesting about how I lived my life, but my fellow English majors in the Brooklyn College Scholar’s Program were fascinated by the world I came from. And they would ask me pretty detailed questions about Orthodox Jewish observance, rituals, and customs—not because they were trying to catch me out, but because they genuinely wanted to know. This, of course, was exactly what Wouk wrote about in This Is My God, and as I came up with my carefully crafted responses I would consult my copy of the book to see how Wouk had phrased it. This only intensified when I started working in publishing, as an editorial assistant at The Viking Press. I wanted to hear from our Viking editors what it had been like to work with Saul Bellow and Jack Kerouac; they wanted to know why the winter solstice occurs after the Friday with the earliest licht bentchen. And if a married women is allowed to wear a sheitel made out of her own hair. I didn’t expect to find answers to those questions in This Is My God (that’s what my rav is for), but I did find in it brilliant articulations of what I believe and why I believe it, which I would reference in conversations with my colleagues on many occasions.

I reread the book to write this essay, and I was pleased by how well it has stood the test of time. Yes, it is dated in spots—at that point in his life Wouk didn’t seem to think that girls had a serious interest in Torah learning, and although he wrote eloquently about the value of Jewish education, he seemed a bit uncertain about the yeshivah day school movement. But until works by such scholars as Rabbi Hayim Donin, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin came along, This Is My God was the treasured companion for a young woman who wanted not only to live her faith but also to explain to friends and colleagues who couldn’t be farther away from it the joy and meaning it gave her. Altie Karper is the editorial director of Schocken Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

I have been Orthodox from birth, although we did some things that were not right. We kept a kosher home and went to shul on Shabbat and yamim tovim; my father would have gone daily if he wasn’t working. However, we did turn on lights on Shabbat and despite the lack of an eruv, I did carry the newspaper home on Shabbat, although we did not pay for it. I was actually happy with the way we practiced Judaism except that I always felt that it was unfair that my friends went to the beach or the movies on Saturdays and I couldn’t go. Then I read This Is My God by Herman Wouk and realized that Shabbat had a positive aspect to it. I may have still felt like I was missing something, but I began to focus on the positive. Although I was still a teenager, when I read that it was great to have twenty-four hours when no one could bother you about anything, I realized that Wouk was right. Later on, when I was in boot camp in the army, I got off every Saturday while all the rest of the company was out drilling. My job was to wait for the inspecting officer to inspect our barracks and remember all the demerits he gave our platoon for a messy bed or things like that. One Saturday, I was sitting on the steps outside my barracks waiting for the officer when the sergeant of the neighboring platoon called out, “Horowitz, don’t you feel guilty about sitting around while your buddies are out drilling?” I laughed and said, “When I was a kid all my friends were going to the beach and the movies while I had to stay home and do nothing. Now I’m finally getting even!” And that’s when I remembered what Herman Wouk had taught me. I have met many irreligious Jews in the process of doing teshuvah and they asked me for book recommendations. I always recommend This Is My God. Anonymous



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Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION


Raising a Generation of Readers

photo placeholder By Steve Lipman

Certain genres can compete more successfully in this age of limited attention spans. “Jewish comics are very popular,” says Racheli Carmel, a seventh grader from Far Rockaway, New York who is an avid reader. Indeed, visit any Jewish bookstore and witness the sheer variety of Jewish comics available. How does the Jewish community raise a generation of readers? How do we share a love of reading with young students? Here is some advice for parents and teachers, culled from a variety of education experts, on making young readers likely to turn into lifelong readers: Start ‘em young: Children are able to listen to books being read before they are able to read them. They get used to the written—or read—word.


s a lifelong reader and expert in education, Temima Feldman—general studies principal of the lower grades at Torah Academy for Girls in Far Rockaway, New York—has witnessed the Jewish community’s change in reading styles at home and in the classroom. Her reading interests tend toward historical fiction, while her children prefer graphic novels. And she has seen a decrease in reading proficiency and in reading interest among many of the students she supervises. Coming from a variety of homes, some influenced by ubiquitous electronic devices, they often have short attention spans when reading. If they have any interest in reading, in the first place. “It is hard to keep their attention,” Feldman says of the problem that many teachers in Jewish day schools face. To encourage reading, Feldman has instituted “Book Month” each year at her school, to make


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reading a cool activity. The month features a variety of fun activities: students bring in blankets and pillows and a book to read on “Cozy Fridays”; they fill out book logs for a school-wide reading contest and get to dress up as their favorite character in a book they’ve read. Education experts in the Jewish and general world agree—social media, online videos and bullet-point presentations with short sentences and short paragraphs have combined to discourage young students from developing reading habits or appreciating longer tomes. But the well-known children’s author Bracha Goetz says lack of interest in reading in not as widespread among young members of the Orthodox community “as it is for the general population because of Shabbos, which greatly contributes to reading time.” In other words, kids who aren’t turning to television or electronic devices for twenty-five hours a week are more likely to open up a book.

Offer variety: All sorts of reading material is available now— newspapers, magazines, blogs, et cetera. As long as they are reading something, let them read. Let the child choose what they want to read: They know best what interests them. Take kids to the library: Make it familiar territory. Start with short-term goals: A chapter a day is easier at the beginning than an entire book. Make it fun: A book does not need to fit into a syllabus or curriculum. Sometimes it can just be an escape or entertainment. Allow children to dislike a book: Forcing them to accept your choice may lead them to resent that particular choice and reading in general. Reading should not be seen as a form of punishment. Model the habit: Kids are likely to pick up the reading habit when they see their parents doing it. Keep lots of books at home: So children will not need to go to

How does the Jewish community raise a generation of readers? Barnes & Noble or a library when they have some spare time.

Discuss books with the kids: Show that you value their reading.

Competition: Prizes in school for the most books read (and book reports handed in for each one read) may spur students to read as many books as possible, even if for the sake of the short-term award.

Praise their reading: That will build their self-confidence, and make them more likely to keep reading.

Let children know the benefits of reading: If it teaches them practical skills, improves their grades or facilitates a hobby, they are more likely to appreciate the reading habit.

Boost their thespian skills: Ask your children to act out key elements of a book chapter. This gives them practice in identifying the most important parts of the text and an opportunity to communicate in a format that may be engaging for those with writing challenges.

Introduce your child to a book series: One good book may encourage kids to follow up with other books by the same author.

Let kids trade books with their friends: Feldman has started a book swap at her home. Her children trade books with their classmates,

and describe why they have found a particular book of interest. In other words, a book club, in the guise of a social activity, for kids. Finally, “Harry Potter”: No one has kept track of how many youngsters have been turned into readers through J.R. Rowling’s series of books about the boy wizard, but the number (in many languages) surely must be in the millions. Ruth Statman, librarian at Bais Yaakov of Baltimore Middle School, says she has seen countless students, previously indifferent to reading, who now read one Harry Potter book after another. “Rowling,” she says, “is a genius.” Steve Lipman is a frequent contributor to Jewish Action.

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Turning a Page in the World of Jewish Bookselling By Sandy Eller


has high hopes for a positive outcome. t may have been a few decades ago, and reference works and more are but the memories are as clear in proof positive that we love our books. “Having survived depressions and my mind as if it was just yesterday. As I write these lines at the end of world wars, I’m confident that the Over the course of many April, it is still too early to predict how publishing industry and bookstores Shabbos afternoon visits, mishloach the Jewish book industry will fare in will survive this and continue bringing manos deliveries and high school the face of Covid-19, but publishers books that inform, challenge and study dates at the home one of my are hopeful. With self-sheltering as entertain to readers everywhere.” closest childhood friends, I always the new normal, many are naturally When reflecting on the future of the found myself fascinated by the turning to books for comfort and Jewish book business, another factor multitude of books that graced inspiration. Altie Karper, editorial that has been on publishers’ minds nearly every available inch of wall director of Shocken Books—a division during the past decade or so is the space. It wasn’t just the living room of the Knopf Doubleday Group at impact of the digital age. It’s hard of her Kew Gardens Hills home that Penguin Random House—says it’s not to wonder if the physical printed was covered entirely in bookshelves; too early to make any predictions. word will one day be relegated to the the hallways, seemingly in lieu “At Penguin Random House, we’re annals of history. The emergence of wallpaper or paint, were filled only beginning to see the sales of tablets and e-readers that allow with endless volumes of both the numbers come in.” Karper notes readers to devour books without ever kadosh and the secular varieties. that while physical bookstores have touching a conventional page have To be fair, my friend’s father was a been closed to walk-in customers for long been considered a threat to the prominent nuclear physics professor weeks, Amazon does not appear to publishing world. Similarly, the ready whose career had taken him through be dominating the market as some supply of online reading material Harvard, MIT, Columbia and Brandeis, had originally feared, since it is (often free) and the ease of online book and clearly theirs was a scholarly home. prioritizing shipment of medical and shopping have affected the Jewish But as a nation, the Jewish people have health supplies. “Our overall sales publishing world in a variety of ways. long been known as “am hasefer,” the have not seen as much as a decline people of the book. Step into just about as we had feared,” observes Karper. Surviving in the World of High Tech any Jewish home and you are likely J. Levine Books and Judaica closed “We’re told that sales of children’s to find far more written works than its brick-and-mortar store last books have actually been on the in the typical American household. spring and transitioned to an online upswing as parents look for activities Sefarim, novels, biographies, storefront, ending a presence in for their home-bound children.” commentaries, cookbooks, research Manhattan that spanned 130 years. Having watched elected officials, political pundits and newscasters try to In an interview with the Jewish Week, Sandy Eller is a freelance writer owner Daniel Levine said that the predict the future since the beginning who writes for numerous web store was the oldest Jewish bookstore of the coronavirus outbreak, Karper sites, newspapers, magazines and in the country, attributing its demise says that it is clear that attempting to private clients. predict the future is futile and that she to the upswing in online sales.


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“The next generation doesn’t shop in stores,” says Levine. “That’s the nature of the world.” Levine currently sells Judaica on Amazon. “That’s where people are shopping now.” This reality can be daunting for booksellers, admits Rabbi Simon Posner, executive editor of OU Press. “When was the last time you walked into a bookstore and bought a book, other than sifrei kodesh?” asks Rabbi Posner. “You could spend all day online looking at shiurim, Daf Yomi and just about anything and everything. It’s is hard for old fashioned, hard-copy paper books to really compete with that.” Over the years, it is the combination of Judaica and books that have kept many a business afloat, especially when rent, location and a whole slew of other variables can mean the difference between success and failure. Koren Publishers’ Matthew Miller sees the evolution of Jewish bookstores as a prime example of survival of the fittest, but believes that despite the convenience of ordering books online, nothing beats the experience of browsing in an actual bookstore. In Karper’s view, “bookstores will last forever, but perhaps in formats that are different than the current models.” She is heartened to see the

resurgence of small and mid-sized independent bookstores that “know how to provide excellent personalized customer service and therefore have loyal, repeat customers.” Still, publicist Stuart Schnee’s experience indicates that online sales are driving the Jewish book business—especially these days, when the coronavirus pandemic has kept people at home. “Everyone is pivoting to more emphasis on online sales,” says Schnee. “Online has been a big part of selling books for years, but now it’s the only way to buy books in most cases. Publishers offer free shipping, special discounts, free downloads and more in order to stay in front of customers and remain relevant.” While e-books had once been hailed as the wave of the future, spelling the death of the printed word, those gloom and doom predictions haven’t exactly come true, particularly in the Jewish world. The mere existence of Shabbos and yom tov creates a continuous demand for printed matter; despite the proliferation of iPads, Kindles and other e-readers, consumers haven’t all hopped on the e-book bandwagon. According to David Kahn, Feldheim’s general editor, e-books have taken off in the general market primarily as a platform

Cookbooks—like celebrity chef Jamie Geller’s Joy of Kosher and Jewlish by Jamie—are some of Feldheim’s biggest sellers. Pictured, Jamie Geller enjoying one of her tasty creations. Courtesy of 68

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for novels, and while they hold an undeniable appeal for travelers, they have gained little traction elsewhere. “People don’t feel as comfortable reading on them, and the layout just isn’t the same,” says Kahn. “The expectations for that market didn’t pan out as predicted. And in our market, there is almost no interest.” For Karper, whose readers span the Jewish spectrum, e-books only add to a book’s readership; “they do not take away from sales of the print edition.” Kodesh Press founder and editor Rabbi Alec Goldstein observes that technology has also created new opportunities for the Jewish book world, giving booksellers and publishing houses the ability to reach previously untapped audiences. “I get orders from all over the US, even in places where you wouldn’t expect people to be reading Jewish books, like the Deep South,” says Rabbi Goldstein. Being able to chat in real time has also presented Rabbi Goldstein with an opportunity to create virtual communities on social media. These personal interactions with readers, customers and reviewers all over the world have paid off for Kodesh Press, boosting its popularity. One for the Books The days of wannabee authors submitting manuscripts and dealing with the disappointment of rejection letters may be gone with the advent of self-publishing, but has providing the masses with the ability to have their writings printed hurt established publishing houses? The answer to that question appears to be a resounding no. While self-publishing does make authorship accessible to the general public, there is no doubt that a professionally published book will be a different product than one that is homegrown. Miller has often encountered aspiring authors who are reluctant to have their works edited, but he observes that the better the author, the more he wants his books to be edited in order to achieve the best possible results.

Over 15,000 people visit Yeshiva University’s annual sefarim sale each year. Photo: James Estrin/the New York Times/Redux

“We have high standards at Koren and have worked hard to reach a certain level of excellence, production, distribution and marketing,” says Miller. “If you want to have your book up on Amazon, go ahead. It doesn’t bother us.” Despite heading up a publishing house, Rabbi Posner is a big fan of self-publishing and giving a larger group of people the ability to make their books available to the reading world. “We don’t feel threatened by it at all,” said Rabbi Posner. “Our mission in life is to put out quality, sophisticated material for the Jewish community. If another publisher or an individual does that, yasher koach to them. Let the Jewish community hear what you have to say even if you can’t get a mainstream publisher to do it.” Finding Your Niche Every publishing house has its own niche and its best sellers can vary widely. ArtScroll, for example, has transformed the Jewish book industry, providing the layperson with a greater understanding of Yiddishkeit by translating most Jewish works. Drawing on his decades of experience,

Levine observed that with its sophisticated approach to marketing distributing and customer service, ArtScroll is, quite literally, in “a class of its own.” While ArtScroll’s siddurim, chumashim and gemaras are always in high demand, Jeremy Stolow’s Orthodox By Design names cookbooks as one of the publishing house’s biggest moneymakers. The best-selling Kosher by Design series made Susie Fishbein a household name, and other ArtScroll cookbooks have featured celebrity chefs and social media stars including Naomi Nachman, Miriam Pascal and Danielle Renov. Over at Koren, Miller has seen that his readers are mostly drawn to books that look at Tanach through contemporary eyes. Already in its third printing, Koren’s The Israel Bible presents Tanach through the prism of Eretz Yisrael, while the historical context presented in The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel— Exodus yields remarkable insights. “The plague of darkness seems pretty bad, but when you understand Egyptian theology you realize that every Egyptian and every slave knew about Ra the sun god who was born every morning and died every night,”

observes Miller. “Darkness wasn’t about stumbling around because of the lack of light, it was killing the gods of the Egyptians just before the killing of their firstborn.” With 80 percent of Feldheim’s English books read by women, Kahn notes that a biography on Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan was well received. Meanwhile, short story collections are enjoying their moment in the spotlight with all of Feldheim’s readers. Cookbooks, which can sell 10,000 copies in their first month before being nudged out of the spotlight by a newer release, are by far Feldheim’s biggest sellers, from the Bais Yaakov Cookbook to offerings from celebrity chef Jamie Geller. Graphic novels are all the rage in children’s books. No matter what the category or the demographic, getting an edge is key to sales, says Kahn. “There are so many books out there today that you need something that stands out,” says Kahn. “For a biography to be successful it has to be about a very well-known person or something out of the ordinary. Our children’s book I Love You Just Because You’re You had laminated pages and that also sold well. People want Jewish content and they are willing Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION


Daniel Levine at the front of J. Levine Books and Judaica, the brick and mortar store which closed last year. Levine currently sells Judaica online. Photo: Michelle V Agins/the New York Times/Redux

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau (originally to spend more to get it, but there published in Hebrew), is another has to be something special there.” highly regarded OU Press title. Kodesh Press has found that its “It is such a compelling story of his readers’ preferences vary; some enjoy indomitable will and overcoming great multiple books on a single subject odds during the Shoah to become a while others pick and choose. Rabbi leading national figure,” observed Goldstein has been seeing a renewed Rabbi Posner. “Go out and buy the interest in Tanach, history, Chassidus, book, but make sure you have a box of Neo-Chassidus and halachah. tissues next to you when you read it.” “Personally, I think that people should read what they like, which The Best of the Best is how you develop a love and The number of Jewish books on the appreciation for reading,” says shelves continues to grow with every Rabbi Goldstein. “Reading is a passing year, but there is no secret personal decision and a very private formula to producing a book that will one. You can play a game or watch resonate with readers across the board. television with someone else, but What makes a book truly you can’t read as a twosome.” outstanding? For Miller, it is one One of OU Press’s all-time best whose subject matter appeals to sellers is also one of its earliest titles: him personally, created by someone The Seder Night: An Exalted Evening—a with a knack for the written word. haggadah featuring the commentary “A great writer can make even the of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, whose most boring subjects into something writings are extremely popular at that you can’t put down,” says Miller. OU Press. Even difficult subjects “If I had to rank the most important have been well received. Rabbi elements of a great book, the quality Posner has received multiple e-mails of the writing would be numbers regarding Rabbi Soloveitchik’s Koren one, two and three,” said Miller. Mesorat HaRav Kinot, saying that Kahn’s list of criteria is somewhat the commentary brought the subject longer and includes books that matter to life, making Tishah B’Av appeal to a broad spectrum of people, an almost “enjoyable” experience. books that inspire and books that Out of the Depths, an autobiography beg to be read over and over again. of Israel’s former chief rabbi More than just being something 70

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to be read and put down, Rabbi Goldstein sees books as experiential vehicles with far-reaching effects. “Reading gives meaning, animates, educates and inspires,” says Rabbi Goldstein. “A great book should challenge the reader intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. There are times when I feel transformed after I read a book; when I can observe real changes in myself, that’s how I know it was a great book.” Karper’s assessment for what makes a good book: “A book from which I learn something important that I never knew. A book that makes me think seriously about a subject that I thought I knew all about, but now realize that perhaps I don’t. A book that makes me laugh. A book that makes me cry. Any of these, in my opinion, qualifies as a great book.” While the effect of Covid-19 on the Jewish book industry remains unknown and although the industry has certainly been altered by today’s digital world, rumors of the Jewish book’s impending demise appear to be unfounded. With a passion for the written word still running strong in our veins, it seems clear that there are still many more chapters in the story of the Jewish publishing world that remain to be written.



Misconception: It is traditional to bless a person that he or she should live “ad me’ah ve’esrim shanah,” until 120 years, based on the assumption that living the longest possible life is desirable and that a verse in Parashat Bereishit indicates that God limited the human lifespan to 120 years. Fact: This is a relatively recent blessing. According to most commentators, the pasuk in Bereishit is not the source of this blessing. Background: At the end of Parashat Bereishit (6:3) just before the Flood story, though not explicitly linked to it, the Torah declares in an enigmatic passage: “Vayomer Hashem lo yadon ruchi va’adam le’olam beshagam hu vasar, vehayu yamav me’ah ve’esrim shanah—Hashem said, ‘My spirit shall not contend evermore concerning man since he is but flesh; his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’”(Translation from the Stone Edition Chumash [ArtScroll, 1993]). It is possible to interpret this as God capping the human lifespan at 120 years. But that is not how most commentators understand it. Onkelos as well as Pseudo-Jonathan Rabbi Ari Z. Zivotofsky is a professor of neuroscience at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

translate the verse to mean that God was giving that generation, i.e., humankind—not individual man—120 years from that point in which to repent and thereby avoid the Flood. This is also how Mechilta D’Rabbi Yishmael, Avot D’Rabbi Natan (aleph:32), Rav Saadya Gaon, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Seforno and most of the traditional commentators understand the meaning of the verse as well. The Yerushalmi (Nazir 7:2) assumes that the verse is referring to each individual but not to the individual lifespan; rather it means that after death, most1 human bodies will be fully decomposed after 120 years. There are, however, some who explain the verse as referring to the human lifespan. Additionally, some explain Rabbi Yehoshua bar Nechemiah’s statements in Bereishit Rabbah 26:6 that way. The Rosh (Hadar Zekeinim) says that owing to the extreme longevity during the first ten generations of humankind, even the spiritual side of man was becoming material-oriented. Thus God limited the human lifespan to 120 years. Yeshuot Yaakov on Tanna D’vei Eliyahu (16:2) and the Malbim (Bereishit 6:3) both state that by God limiting man’s time on earth to 120 years, he will fear sinning and will more readily repent due to fear of death. Ibn Ezra and Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffman (1843-1921) adamantly reject

this approach, because it would imply that the many subsequent Biblical characters who lived longer were exceptions. Throughout Bereishit and Shemot there were many figures whose lifespan exceeded 120 years—as well as others who lived many years later, e.g., Yehoyada, who died at 130 years of age (II Chronicles 24:15). An alternative source for the berachah of “until 120” is the lifespan of Moshe Rabbeinu. He lived to the age of 120, and when he died, “. . . his eyes had not dimmed, nor had his strength waned” (Devarim 34:7). Chazal (Sifri to Devarim 34:7 [357]; Bereishit Rabbah, Vayechi 100:10; Rosh Hashanah 31b) explain that similar to Moshe Rabbeinu, three other Jewish leaders lived 120 years which, like Moshe, consisted of three periods of forty years. They were Hillel Hazaken, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai and Rabbi Akiva.2 Further significance is given to Moshe’s age when the gemara (Chullin 139b) asks where the Torah foreshadows Moshe prior to his birth. The gemara suggests that Moshe is alluded to in the verse cited earlier: (Bereishit 6:3), “Hashem said, ‘My spirit shall not contend evermore concerning man since he is but flesh; his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’” The unusual word beshagam, whose gematria is 345, has the same gematria as “Moshe,” who lived to Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION


120 (cf. Bereishit Rabbah, Bereishit 26:6; Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 32). Evidently, in Chazal’s worldview 120 years indicates some level of completeness.3 This is also evident in the Midrash (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 39) that explains that since Yosef’s brothers referred to their father Yaakov in Yosef’s presence as “your servant, our father” ten times and Yosef remained silent, Yosef lost ten years of his life. Yosef died at 110 (Bereishit 50:26); the Midrash implies that in Chazal’s view he should have lived to 120. There are other traditional sources that discuss lifespans that are far different than 120 years. Tehillim 90 (attributed to Moshe Rabbeinu and recited in the Pesukei D’zimra of Shabbat says [90:10]): “The days

verse in I Chronicles (29:28) says that King David, who lived until the age of seventy, died b’seivah tovah—“in fullness of years.” For eighty, the mishnah used the same word, strength, as the abovementioned verse in Tehillim. Rashi explains that in order to live past eighty, one needs to be granted Divine strength, due to one’s physical condition. For ninety, Rashi reads the description in the mishnah (lamed-shin [or sin]-chet) as la’shuach, the root of which can either mean bent or a pit, to signify that a ninety-year-old either walks bent and is fairly helpless, or that he is ready for the grave. Rabbeinu Yonah (Sha’arei Teshuvah, Sha’ar 2:9; cited in Rabbi Akiva Eiger on Avot) says it can be read as la’suach, to converse, which is related to prayer,

The Torah declares in an engimatic passage: “Hashem said, ‘My spirit shall not contend evermore concerning man since he is but flesh; his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’” of our years are seventy, and even if by strength, are eighty. . . .” Malbim (Bereishit 6:3) explains that in early generations, when the world was “new,” conditions were ripe for long life, but God nonetheless limited the human lifespan to 120 years, while in later generations lifespans were, by nature, shorter, hence the seventy years in the verse. The mishnah in Pirkei Avot (5:21) describes the different stages in life. He [Yehudah ben Teima] used to say: Five years of age for studying Tanach; at ten, Mishnah . . . at forty, wisdom;4 at fifty, able to give counsel; at sixty, old age; at seventy, fullness of years;5 at eighty, the age of “strength”; at ninety, a bent body; at one hundred, as if dead and gone completely out of the world. Some of these descriptors are based on verses, and others on observation. Regarding seventy, the 72

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signifying that after ninety a person should spend his time in prayer. Rashi describes a one-hundred-year-old as generally unable to see, having no strength, and losing his mental faculties. This mishnah, certainly according to Rashi, presents a bleak picture of aging, such that one may not want to live to 100, let alone 120. On the other hand, there are positive perspectives on old age as well. The Mishnah says (Kinim 3:6 [25a]; also Shabbat 152a): “Elders of Torah . . . as long as they continue to age, their minds become even more settled.” The Rambam explains that despite the natural physical decline, wisdom and knowledge increase with age. And regarding the mishnah describing one hundred “as if one is dead and gone completely out of the world,” Rabbi Yisrael Hopstein, the Maggid of Kozhnitz (1737-1814; Beit Yisrael

on Avot) and Tiferet Yisrael explain it with a positive twist—the person merited that his physical desires diminished and he is therefore less interested in worldly matters, such that it’s as if he is in Olam Haba. So where did the berachah “ad me’ah ve’esrim shanah,” come from? It seems that 100 or 120 was considered a very long life, longer than anyone could reasonably be expected to live. When Yeshayahu HaNavi describes the fantastic future he says (Isaiah 65:20): “ . . . for the youngest shall die a hundred years old. . . .” In other words, 100 was really old, and yet that would be the minimum. In his description of the Ten Tribes, the ninth century Eldad HaDani writes (Eisenstein, Ozar Midrashim, 1915, p. 23): “… they live long lives, living 100 or 120 years.” A long life was always viewed as a blessing from God. Both the Torah and Chazal suggest in many places that the reward for following the commandments, both in general and various specific aspects, is long life. The tradition of blessing a person to live to 120 years, as a way of wishing someone long life, only began in the last few hundred years. The term ad me’ah ve’esrim appears in responsa literature from the eighteenth century through the present;6 there is no evidence of the phrase being used in earlier times. Not only might there be no real source for this berachah, but some may have not viewed it as a berachah at all. According to Rabbi Michel Shurkin (Megged Givot Olam, pp. 100-101), both Rabbi Chaim Brisker and Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky objected to wishing someone “ad me’ah ve’esrim shanah,” (and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein7 seems to have felt similarly) because in a sense it is really a curse; a person could theoretically live longer. There are sources that indicate that too long a life is actually not desirable. The Gemara (Berachot 47a) states that the days and years of one who stretches his response of “Amen” are lengthened. Yet just a few lines earlier, Rav Chisda is quoted as saying that one who elongates “Amen” too much is simply mistaken. Maharsha (Chiddushei Aggadot, Berachot 47a) explains that those who extend the recitation of Amen too long believe that answering

a really drawn-out amen will earn one an even longer life. But they err in their thinking, explains the Maharsha, because too long a life is not desirable, as stated by Shelomo Hamelech (Kohelet 12:1): “ . . .before the evil days come, and the years will come when you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’” Rashi, quoting the Gemara (Shabbat 151b), says that the “evil days” refer to old age and feebleness. The story is told (Yalkut Shimoni, Eikev, 871) about an exceedingly elderly woman who approached Rav Yossi ben Chalafta and complained that she had lived too long and life was no longer desirable. She said she no longer tasted food or drink, and expressed a desire to die. Rav Yossi inquired as to what mitzvah she had performed regularly and she responded that she attended morning minyan faithfully. He suggested she stay away from shul for three consecutive days. She obliged, and on the third day she became sick and died. Too long a life without much quality may not be desirable, and Rabbi Yossi ben Chalafta empathized with the woman. A similar message can be learned from the elderly men of the city of Luz (see Sotah 46b). Many rabbis of previous generations emphasize ages other than 120. For example, Rabbi Akiva Eiger, when leaving instructions regarding what should be done upon his demise, wrote “after 100 years . . .”8 In a certain sense, sixty was classically considered a full lifespan, because, as the Gemara explains (Moed Kattan 28a), once a person reached sixty it was clear that he had not died as a result of the punishment of karet (being cut off early). In recognition of that, Rav Yosef made a party upon reaching sixty. Later authorities such as Leket Yosher, Ben Ish Chai, and Kaf Hachaim relate variations on Rav Yosef’s party. Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer (Ketav Sofer) made a siyum and party upon reaching age fifty 9 (Shu”t Ketav Sofer, YD:148). Chavot Yair (70, cited in Pitchei Teshuvah, YD 217:16) suggests that upon reaching seventy, one should recite Shehecheyanu and make a meal, although it is not quite a seudat mitzvah. Teshuvah Me’ahavah (2:239) and Peri Megadim (Mishbetzet

Zahav, OC 444:9) understood the logic (trumpets) blown in the Beit Hamikdash. 4. On the wisdom of age forty and its for making the berachah but found connection, or lack thereof, to the study it hard to agree practically because of Kabbalah, see my article, “The Age to there is no source for it. Others, such Study Kabbalah,” Jewish Action (fall 2016). as Ben Ish Chai (Parashat Re’eh:9), 5. Based on this and on the verse in Tehillim, also mention making a party for one’s some level of completeness is associated seventieth birthday. And in Rabbi with seventy. Ba’al HaTurim (Shemot Moshe Meir Yashar’s biography of the 23:26) explains that when the Torah Chofetz Chaim, he reports that on his promises “a full lifespan” as a reward for seventieth birthday the Chofetz Chaim fulfilling the Torah, it means seventy-two years and that the “seventy” of the pasuk made a lechaim with his star students Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman and Rabbi in Tehillim is excluding the person’s year of birth and year of passing. Maharsha Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman and recited (Chiddushei Aggadot Kiddushin 38a) Shehecheyanu. In a tour de force, Rabbi accepts the “seventy” in Tehillim as Dov Meir Eizenstein (Moriah, Av 5769 referring to actually seventy years, and [349-350], pp. 63-75) demonstrates explains the above verse in Shemot as that one should acknowledge God’s implying seventy-one, referring to a person who dies on his birthday and benevolence via a party upon reaching thus is into his seventy-first year. sixty and seventy, and even fifty. for example: RaBaZ (3:CM:34); Seridei See, 6. In conclusion, it seems that the Eish (2:4); Tzitz Eliezer 19:60; Asei Lecha berachah “ad me’ah ve’esrim” is of Rav 1:61); Teshuvah M’ahavah 1:84; Siach recent vintage. The notion that God Yitzchak 469; Mishneh Halachot 4:246. limited human life to 120 years is 7. See, however, Iggerot Moshe, YD:3:145 found in some very early sources where he responded to a query in which he but is not generally accepted by used the term “120 years” in the context of a blessing for long life. It may be that he traditional commentators. Viewing responded that way because that is how Moshe Rabbeinu’s 120 years the questioner phrased the question and as “complete” is a traditional idea, he did not want to make him feel badly. which may have contributed to the 8. Asher Yetzaveh, vol. 2 development of the berachah. (Jerusalem, 5765), 535. The concept of praying for long 9. He did not explain why he chose to life and viewing long life as a highlight his fiftieth birthday, but it Divine reward is found in classical might relate to Yerushalmi, Bikkurim 2:1 cited in Tosafot, Yevamot 2a and sources. In addition, it seems that Shabbat 25a that state that karet would it is also important to appreciate be at age fifty. It should be noted that each milestone along the way, while died in 1871 at age fifty-six. he accepting what God gives us. Notes 1. See Torah Temimah, Bereishit 6:3, n. 6. 2. Moshe was in Egypt forty years, in Midian forty years and led the Jews in the desert for forty years. Hillel lived in Bavel forty years, studied in Israel forty years and led the Jewish people for forty years. Similarly, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai was a businessman for forty years, studied Torah for forty years and led the Jewish people for forty years. Finally, Rabbi Akiva was a shepherd for forty years, studied Torah for forty years and served as a Jewish leader for forty years. 3. Not just regarding years, but in other contexts as well, 120 (as well as 12, 60, and 360) is considered a complete number. The number 120 (and 120,000) appears in numerous contexts in Tanach and Chazal. The only place the phrase “ad me’ah ve’esrim” appears in Shas is in Erachin 13b in describing the maximum number of chatzotzrot Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION




isiting the farmers’ market each summer season has always been a treat for me; but now, after a long period indoors, that feeling of contact between man and farmer, between earth and table, have become that much more meaningful. The bright vibrancy and color of summer produce needs little more than a nudge in the right direction to sing. Whether as an accompaniment, accoutrement or the starring role, consider these recipes for your summer table.

Sundried Tomato Turkey Burgers with Rosemary Aioli Photo: Baila Gluck 74

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By Naomi Ross Blueberry Cobbler with Cinnamon Biscuits

Yields 6-8 servings

A cobbler is an easy fruit dessert to put together without the work of a homemade pie. It can be made in a large serving dish or done as individual servings in ramekins. Filling 2 pints fresh blueberries, picked over ¾ cup sugar 3½ tablespoons cornstarch 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice ½ teaspoon grated lemon peel 1 teaspoon vanilla extract ½ teaspoon cinnamon Biscuit Topping 1½ cups all-purpose flour ¼ cup sugar plus 1-2 tablespoons for sprinkling 1½ teaspoons baking powder ¼ teaspoon salt 5 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, margarine or coconut oil ¾ cup heavy cream or soymilk, plus 1-2 tablespoons for brushing ¼ teaspoon cinnamon Vanilla ice cream Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 10-inch baking dish or 8 individual ramekins. Combine all filling ingredients in large bowl, tossing to coat. Transfer to prepared baking dish or divide among ramekins; set aside. To prepare the biscuit dough, combine flour, ¼ cup sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl; whisk to blend. Add butter; rub in with fingertips or with a pastry blender until coarse meal forms. Slowly pour cream or soymilk into flour mixture, mixing gently until just blended and dough comes together (adding a little more liquid as needed Naomi Ross is a cooking instructor and food writer, and the culinary director at Apron Masters Kitchen in Woodmere, New York. She teaches classes throughout the tri-state area and writes articles connecting good cooking and Jewish inspiration.

if dough is still dry looking). Spoon golf-ball-size pieces of dough (about 2-3 tablespoons) and place on top of blueberry mixture, arranging biscuits spaced apart in dish (or one large piece of dough per ramekin). Brush dough with remaining 1-2 tablespoons cream. Mix cinnamon with remaining 1-2 tablespoons sugar and sprinkle over dough. Bake cobblers until fruit is bubbling, biscuits are browned, and toothpick inserted into center of biscuits comes out clean, about 45-55 minutes (30-35 minutes for individual ramekins). Cool slightly. Serve hot or warm with vanilla ice cream.

Easy Summertime Peach and Arugula Salad Yields 6-8 servings

A little bit of dressing goes a long way! Pouring off most of the dressing and leaving only a small amount in the mixing bowl with which to coat the leaves prevents this delicate salad from getting drenched and soggy. 2 tablespoons rice vinegar 2-3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 2 teaspoons honey ¼ teaspoon kosher salt 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil ½ red onion, very thinly sliced 6 ounces baby arugula (about 6 cups) 10 basil leaves, chiffonade 3 large firm-ripe peaches, halved, pitted and thinly sliced 2 ounces finely crumbled feta, goat cheese or bleu cheese A handful of hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and chopped Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste Whisk together vinegar, juice, honey and salt in a large mixing bowl. Then add olive oil in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified. Pour off about ¾ of the dressing into a separate cup and reserve. Add the red onion, arugula and basil leaves to the remaining dressing and toss until leaves are coated. Divide amongst serving plates. Arrange peach slices over greens. Drizzle with a little more dressing. Garnish with little bits of crumbled cheese, a sprinkling of hazelnuts

and few grinds of freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately. Chef’s Notes • Avocado Variation (parve): Omit cheese. Slice 1 avocado into long slices. To serve, alternate slices of peach, avocado and whole basil leaves (not chopped) in a beautiful starburst pattern over the dressed greens. Finish with a drizzle of dressing, the hazelnuts and pepper.

Hangar Steak with Chimichurri and Herbed Tomato Salad Yields 4 servings

Argentina’s answer to ketchup, the vinegary herb mélange known as chimichurri is a must to serve with grilled meats. It’s also a fantastic marinade—after a few hours marinating in chimichurri, hangar steak is moist and flavorful, especially on the grill. 4 hangar steaks, about ½ inch thick Chimichurri: 2 cups packed flat-leaf parsley leaves (about 1 large bunch) ¼ cup fresh oregano leaves Pinch of kosher salt 6 garlic cloves, peeled 1 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce or 1 seeded jalapeno pepper 1/3 cup white wine vinegar 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon) ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil Herbed Tomato Salad 3 medium vine-ripe tomatoes, diced ½ red onion, minced 1 green bell pepper, diced 2 tablespoons minced parsley 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper Place parsley, oregano, salt, garlic, hot pepper sauce, vinegar and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade (“S” blade). Pulse until pulverized. While motor is running, slowly add olive oil until mixture is uniform and well blended. Season to taste with salt or pepper as needed. Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION


Hangar Steak with Chimichurri and Herbed Tomato Salad Photo: Baila Gluck

Transfer mixture to a large container or baking dish, reserving ½ cup chimichurri for serving time. Place steaks in dish, turning to coat with chimichurri. Cover and marinate for at least 3 hours or overnight. Preheat broiler or grill. Remove steaks from marinade; discard marinade. Broil or grill steaks for 3-4 minutes per side, turning once during cooking. Allow steaks to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. While steaks rest, combine all ingredients for the herbed tomato salad in a large bowl. Toss to blend and adjust seasonings, adding more salt or pepper to taste. Serve with reserved chimichurri for dipping and herbed tomato salad on the side.

Sundried Tomato Turkey Burgers with Rosemary Aioli Yields 8 patties

Aioli is a garlicky mayonnaise from the Provence region of southern France. Here, a rosemary aioli has a dual purpose: dressing the bun as an accompaniment, while also lending the turkey meat extra moistness and flavor.

Rosemary Aioli ½ cup mayonnaise Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons) ¼ teaspoon salt 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed (about 2 teaspoons) 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary Freshly ground black pepper, to taste Turkey Burgers 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing grates 1 shallot, diced (about 1/3 cup) ¼ cup sundried tomatoes packed oil, drained and chopped Kosher salt, to taste Freshly ground black pepper, to taste 1½-¾ pounds ground turkey 1½ tablespoons rosemary aioli Baby arugula Hamburger buns or multigrain rolls, sliced in half Heat oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots and sauté for about 2-3 minutes, until shallots are translucent. Add sundried tomatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste; continue to sauté

for another 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Combine all ingredients for rosemary aioli in a small bowl and whisk to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. In a large mixing bowl, combine turkey, shallot-tomato mixture, and 1½ tablespoons rosemary aioli. Mix until just combined. Using moistened hands, gently form into 8 patties. Preheat grill to high (about 450 degrees). Grease grates of grill (an oil-soaked wad of paper towels and tongs do a good job of this). Place burger patties on grill. Close cover and grill for about 4 minutes per side, turning once during grilling. Toast bun halves on the grill for 1-2 minutes, until golden brown and grill marks appear. Remove and transfer to a platter. Spread bun halves with rosemary aioli, then top each with a burger and a handful of arugula. Cover with bun top and serve. Chef’s Notes • Do Ahead: The rosemary aioli can be made 3-4 days ahead and stored in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.

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s the Covid-19 pandemic unfolded, the OU and its Karasick Department of Synagogue and Community Services responded quickly, offering guidance, chizuk and support for OU synagogues and the broader Jewish community. With the input of leading rabbis and a team of infectious disease specialists, the OU provided information and guidance (at, which was updated on a daily basis. From encouraging people to “Stay Home, Save Lives” to urging Covid-19 survivors to donate plasma to providing regulations on mikvah use during the pandemic,

To address the community's the OU became a central address diverse needs during quarantine, for shuls and community members seeking direction regarding Covid-19. the OU has also become a hub for virtual programming, offering The OU statements—some produced programs on a range of issues jointly with the Rabbinical Council from shiurim to parenting to of America, Agudath Israel, the financial advice and more. Vaad of Lakewood and others—have created a new level of communal “We strive to be the source that people turn to for guidance and unity across the country. support while also preparing Additionally, the OU launched a for the ‘new normal’ once the daily Tehillim and chizuk call. pandemic is over,” said Naftali Joined by over 1,000 people Herrmann, Southeast Regional each day, the call has the added Director, Karasick Department benefit of introducing the broader of Synagogue and Community community to a wide variety of Services, who has spearheaded rabbinic leaders across the nation. many of these initiatives. Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION


Virtual NCSY: OU Israel: Apart But Always Keeping Us Together Unified

Yachad On Demand: Let's Stay Connected

While everything in the world may have changed, NCSY’s dedication to connecting with Jewish teens has remained an important constant. In the first two months following the pandemic outbreak, NCSY produced 2,000 hours of new programming and made these events accessible for free to teens and families across the world. Over 41,000 participants joined NCSY’s Torah classes, virtual JSU clubs, inspirational flash mobs, haggadah collaborations with alumni, challah bakes, Shabbatons in a Box, and concerts with Simcha Leiner and Gad Elbaz. NCSY virtual programming will continue to expand as NCSY aims to offer something for everyone, inspire teens and form relationships that bring us all closer.

Launching "Yachad on Demand," Yachad, the leading organization for those with disabilities in the Jewish community, began offering a plethora of virtual programming including online support groups, an online buddy system, Partners in Torah, and events—such as live cooking demonstrations, shiurim, pre-Shabbat schmoozes and games and educational materials. The Yachad IVDU school system and its day hab programs have switched to a digital model as well, where students participate in all-day virtual classes and programming.

To join, please visit

Although the physical OU Israel Center remained shut for weeks, OU Israel staff continued working round the clock to address the needs of its diverse constituents. Since the pandemic erupted, more than 6,800 people participated in 113 Zoom shiurim sponsored by the Center, with an additional 4,500 people participating in more than twenty Facebook Live shiurim and special events. NCSY Israel, Yachad Israel, the Zula and OU Israel Youth all went virtual with their programming while OU Israel Center staff and volunteers offered chizuk and assistance to thousands of Center members.

The over 200 OU Israel staff members have not rested for a moment during this pandemic. We have taken a face-to-face organization and turned it into a virtual face-to-face organization. — OU Israel Executive Director Rabbi Avi Berman

“While we all feel the impact of social distancing, it is particularly challenging for those with special needs who rely heavily upon in-person interconnection,” said OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin. For more information, visit

OU-JLIC: Killing COVID with Kindness Since campuses closed due to Covid-19 in mid-March, OU-JLIC has continued to engage, support, inspire and educate its students and their families. Whether it’s having virtual coffee dates with students, arranging virtual shiurim, answering she’eilot—even providing home-cooked meals for Pesach to those stuck on campus—OU-JLIC educators have maintained personal connections with students at this critical time.

An OU-JLIC student from NYU delivering kosher for Passover food to Jewish patients at the Javits Center Emergency Hospital in New York. Courtesy of Rabbi Joe Wolfson 80

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But perhaps most impressive is the amount of chesed done by OU-JLIC educators for and with their students. For example, an initiative at NYU and incorporating many other campuses, called “Killing COVID with Kindness,” has connected hundreds of students with volunteer opportunities including grocery shopping, packaging and delivering meals, and calling and writing to lonely elderly individuals. Volunteers even provided kosher for Passover food and haggadot for the 110 Jewish patients at the Javits Center Emergency Hospital in New York.

OU Advocacy: Supporting the Charitable Sector Since the start of the pandemic, the OU Advocacy Center has played a leading role in crafting and advocating for bipartisan federal legislation providing significant assistance for the nonprofit charitable sector.* In March, much of this advocacy effort came to fruition with the passage of the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, which included nearly $2 trillion in emergency economic stimulus funding. Among its key provisions, the CARES Act

provided emergency appropriations to support nonprofits by offering forgivable loans, unemployment insurance expansion, employee retention tax credits, payroll tax credit deferrals, aid for nonpublic schools and FEMA disaster loans. The legislation also provided the nation’s Jewish and other nonpublic K-12 schools with access to a pool of emergency response funds. In April, OU Advocacy successfully worked for the passage of a bill that helped replenish the programs and is among the leaders of a broad coalition of national

nonprofit organizations pressing Congress and the Administration for more relief and support for our charitable entities. OU Advocacy has held multiple webinars and calls providing guidance to shul and school leaders on how to access these critical resources. "OU Advocacy is committed to continuing to work with our elected leaders and coalition partners to serve our community and deliver the support and relief they need," said OU Advocacy Executive Director Nathan Diament.

"As the coronavirus pandemic strikes communities across the US, we are grateful that we have had success with our allies in Congress and the Trump Administration and delivered critical funds to so many community institutions." —OU Advocacy Center Executive Director Nathan Diament

Teach Coalition: Fighting for Our Students

*Information current as of April 27, 2020.

Teach Coalition continues to advocate for nonpublic school inclusion in all relief appropriations. This includes access to state and local funds, free "Grab-and-Go" meals, the continuation of specialized services and the availability of necessary equipment and programs for remote learning. In a critical win this past April, Teach Coalition branches in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Florida were instrumental in successfully securing kosher and halal meal options at “grab-and-go” free meal distribution centers in New York City, Philadelphia, Montgomery County, PA, and South Florida respectively, ensuring that all students have access to nutritious meals in these challenging times. April also saw Teach New York successfully advocate for free iPads for nonpublic school students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as 7,000 Chromebooks and 20,000 flip-phones for New York City yeshivah students.

"Grab-and-go" kosher meals at a distribution center in Far Rockaway, New York. Courtesy of Allison Deal

“Pandemics and the tragic suffering left in their wake do not discriminate. Every day of delay is another day that state and local governments fail in their responsibility to serve every student in distress. It is time for all states and cities to take meaningful steps toward equitable services and funding," said OU Chief of Staff and Teach Coalition Executive Director Maury Litwack. Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION




Winning Photo Captures Orthodox Singles' Experience Congratulations to Lior Melnick of New York, winner of the OU Center for Communal Research’s (CCR) Photo Contest. Run in conjunction with the CCR's study of the lives of Orthodox Jewish singles, the contest challenged singles to submit an original photo that they feel reflects their life as a single Orthodox Jew. Lior’s winning photo, entitled “Eishet Chayil, Will I Find?”, shows him reciting Eishet Chayil at a staged Friday night dinner, joined only by his reflection. The table is sparsely adorned. His caption: “Married friends own fancy things— Kiddush cups, challah covers, candlesticks. Being single, you make do with tin foil candlesticks and napkin challah covers.”

OU Advocacy Urges Congress to Combat Anti-Semitism Speaking before the US House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism in January, OU Advocacy Center Executive Director Nathan Diament urged elected officials to take action against antiSemitic attacks across the United States—particularly those on visibly Orthodox Jews.

OU Advocacy Center Executive Director Nathan Diament testifying on Capitol Hill in January. 82

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He called for increasing funds available in the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which the OU Advocacy Center spearheaded in 2005, and for allocating a portion of DOJ’s grant to local police departments for the purpose of local police providing greater protection to houses of worship.

All Daf Explodes Across the Globe

Yachad member Dina Sheva Waldman learning with her Lev L’Lev partner Bayla Sheva Brenner on a video call. Courtesy of Partners in Torah

Gaining a Chavruta . . . and a Friend Connecting those with special needs to friends is especially crucial during these challenging times. Enter Yachad’s Pearl Matlin Lev L’Lev Program— Partners in Torah for Teens and Adults with Special Needs. Sponsored by Yachad and Partners in Torah, the new program—appropriate for all learning levels—connects Yachad members with a study partner to learn Torah by phone or video call once a week. To date, more than fifty people are learning Torah weekly, and the number keeps growing. “Our hope is that our members not only walk away with more Torah knowledge but also with a chavruta and friend,” says Rebecca Schrag Mayer, Director, Yachad New York & Informal Education.

With shuls and schools closed in many countries around the world, the All Daf platform has been assisting thousands throughout the globe in their learning experience. More than 32,000 people in 107 countries have downloaded the “All Daf” app, an innovative free digital platform for Daf Yomi learners. Beyond offering shiurim on the daily daf, All Daf offers participants of all backgrounds the opportunity to enhance their learning with a host of topics related to the day’s daf, including Jewish history, lomdut, Tanach and other sources and resources. Continuing to inspire learners during these challenging times, All Daf is easily accessed at and is available for download on your Apple and Android devices from the app stores.

To sign up, visit

Fond Farewell to Rabbi Kalinsky The OU’s West Coast region bid a fond farewell to Director Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, who retired after nearly thirty-five years of dedicated service. Rabbi Kalinsky built up the West Coast region—the first OU regional office outside the New York area— from very modest beginnings, working both as a mentor to rabbis and as a liaison to OU member synagogues throughout the area. Today, OU West Coast encompasses the entire West Coast region, from Vancouver to San Diego and as far east as Denver. In addition to his organizational and ad­ministrative work with the OU, Rabbi Kalinsky has served as a Rabbinic Field Representative for OU Kosher since 1981—a position he will continue to hold—and was rabbi of the Young Israel of North Beverly Hills from 2005 to 2012. Rabbi Kalinsky and his wife Sandy were honored with the Keter Shem Tov award at the West Coast region’s annual banquet.

For nearly thirty-five years, Rabbi Kalinsky has devoted himself to the West Coast region. He is loved by the entire community for it. —OU West Coast Region President Scott Krieger

To learn more, visit Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION


NEW POSITIONS & PROMOTIONS Welcome to . . . . . . Katie Katz, Executive Director, Teach New Jersey. Katie oversees Teach NJ’s annual campaign, community engagement and mobilization efforts across the state. She joined Teach NJ from the Englewood Health Foundation. Katie holds an MBA from Brandeis University in nonprofit management as well as a master’s degree in Jewish professional leadership. She lives in Teaneck, New Jersey with her family. . . . Emily Slavkin, Associate Director of Grassroots Engagement, Teach New York. Originally from Orlando, Florida, Emily has interned for Congressman Ted Deutch (FL22) and AIPAC in Washington, DC. Additionally, she interned for UN Watch in Geneva, Switzerland. A recent graduate of the University of Michigan, she holds degrees in political science and Judaic studies. . . . Drew Feld, Associate Director of Marketing Operations, OU Marketing and

Communications. In his role, Drew is charged with introducing and leading the project management discipline within the Marketing and Communications Department. His responsibilities include designing processes, managing risk and serving as a strategic production advisor for the department. Drew has been a project management professional since 2013 for both marketing agencies and in-house companies. He lives in Riverdale, New York with his family.

Congratulations to . . . . . . Maury Litwack, Executive Director, Teach Coalition, who was included in City and State’s 2020 “Education 100”—the magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in New York State’s education policy arena. . . . Rabbi Adir Posy and Solly Hess, who have been named dual successors to retiring Director of OU West Coast Rabbi Alan Kalinsky. While continuing to serve as National Director of the OU’s Karasick Department of Synagogue and Community Services, Rabbi Posy will work with OU member synagogues on the West Coast to provide vision, leadership, and programmatic support throughout the region. Rabbi Posy is the former Assistant Director of OU’s West Coast region and has served the National Director of Synagogue and Community Services for the last three years. Solly will serve as OU Director of Institutional Advancement, West Coast, overseeing all of OU West Coast's fundraising efforts and working with various OU programs to enhance their respective visibility and maximize their impact. Solly’s previous work with the OU includes running West Coast NCSY, during which time he helped revitalize the West Coast region. Most recently, Solly served as the Western States Regional Director of OU’s Synagogue and Community Services. 84

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WOMEN IN ACTION WI Responds to Coronavirus Outbreak

Dr. Chana Gelb (left) Rebbetzin Dr. Malka Ismach (center), and Mrs. Slovie Jungreis Wolff were among the presenters for WI's varied and diverse virtual programming for women.

In light of Covid-19, the OU's Women’s Initiative (WI) sponsored a number of important programs to support and encourage the women of our community.    Mikvah professionals webinars: Two hundred women participated in the webinars in support of mikvah staff and directors, which were presented by Rabbi Yaakov and Rebbetzin Peshi Neuberger of Congregation Beth Abraham of Bergenfield, New Jersey.

Nearly 1,200 women participated in the series, held over the three Sundays prior to Pesach. Presenters  Slovie Jungreis Wolff of New York, Raisel Freedman of London and Dr. Chana Tannenbaum of Israel brought their unique perspectives on the themes of freedom, redemption and introspection.

“Building Safe Spaces, Building You”: Close to two hundred women participated in this national support program for women, which offered practical advice Rebbetzin webinar: With the significant pressures placed and chizuk, presented by Zahava Farbman. on rebbetzins during this challenging time, this webinar offered chizuk and insight to rebbetzins. Torat Imecha Nach Yomi Siyum: Over 250 women Presenters included Rebbetzin Dr. Yael Muskat, Director from across the globe joined a virtual Zoom siyum on of the Counseling Center at Yeshiva University’s Stern the completion of Sefer Shmuel I, presented by Sara College for Women and Zahava Farbman, Associate Malka Reichman, the Sefer Shmuel instructor. Director of Crisis Intervention, Trauma and Bereavement “Cope and Hope”: WI offered a series of Services for Chai Lifeline’s Project C.H.A.I. four webinars targeted to help community members “Seder Ideas and Inspiration”: In partnership with in different family situations navigate the unfoldin with OU Israel’s L’Ayla and the Office of the Chief g Covid- 19 crisis, presented by psychologists Dr. Rabbi UK, WI launched a three-part virtual learning Aliza Septimus, Rebbetzin Dr. Rachel Levine, Dr. series to help women prepare spiritually for Pesach. Chana Gelb and Rebbetzin Dr. Malka Ismach. Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION


COMING SOON FROM OU PRESS Sephardic Savvy By Rabbi Haim Jachter OU Press


s the rabbi of a Sephardic synagogue who is himself of Ashkenazic descent, Rabbi Haim Jachter has a unique vantage point from which to observe the differences in customs and halachot between Ashkenazim and Sephardim. In addition, Rabbi Jachter is well-known for his clarity of presentation and broad range of Torah knowledge. In his latest work, Sephardic Savvy, Rabbi Jachter applies his expertise to explicating an encyclopedic array of divergences between Ashkenazi and Sephardi halachic practice, while also capturing the diversity within different Sephardic communities. This fascinating work begins with an overview of opinions on lo titgodedu—the prohibition of forming factions in Judaism—and how that impacts the practices of an Ashkenazi praying in a Sephardic synagogue and vice versa. (Unsurprisingly, Ashkenazic and Sephardic posekim may differ on this meta-issue as well.) The book concludes with chapters on Yemenite and Moroccan halachah as well as overviews of the halachic approaches of some of the major Sephardic posekim of the last century: Rav Ovadia Yosef, Rav Shalom Messas, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul, and Rav Hayim David Halevy. The intervening chapters discuss a plethora of issues which separate Ashkenazim and Sephardim, from the well-known to the obscure. In each chapter, Rabbi Jachter provides the sources and rationales behind 86

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“I have consistently been absolutely overwhelmed by [the essays'] profundity, depth, wisdom, creativity and originality. the practice of each community, on questions ranging from the proper pronunciation of God’s name and whether one should sit or stand during Kaddish to eating kitniyot on Pesach (and eating in the home of someone with a different practice than one’s own), and the standards for reciting Sheva Berachot, to give but a few examples. Throughout, Rabbi Jachter explains the opinions of both earlier and contemporary posekim and demonstrates how halachah unfolds in often unexpected ways. Moreover, in developing the rationales for both sides of each issue, this book sheds much light on the dialectical back-and-forth of the halachic system as a whole. Sephardic Savvy is essential reading for Jews of all origins who are interested in understanding their own practices and appreciating those of their neighbors, and in seeing the full mosaic of halachah created through the diversity of its parts.

Lechaber Et Ha-Ohel: Thoughts on Connections in Tanach and Chazal By Michael Kaiser OU Press


his highly original work consists of essays on an array of topics related to themes in Jewish thought and the Jewish holidays. Building upon the works of a wide variety of masters of machshavah, such as Sefat Emet and Shem miShmuel as well as Rabbi Gedalyah Schorr’s Or Gedalyahu and Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Goldvicht’s Asufat Ma’arachot, among many others, the author engages in close readings of primary sources in Tanach and Chazal to reveal the

underlying thematic connections between different areas of the Torah. For example, in an essay about the korban haomer brought on the second day of Pesach and how it relates to Creation, the author explores the connection between the korban haomer and the manna eaten in the desert, the Written Law and the Oral Law, brit milah and Amalek, as well as Lag Ba’Omer and Chanukah. Some of the other essays in the volume discuss: Megillat Rut and its underlying themes, the conflict between Lavan and Yaakov as well as between Bilaam and the Jewish people, the meaning of the enigmatic phrase “Sefer HaYashar” which appears twice in Tanach, and the midrashic encounter between Yaakov and Elifaz which portends the eternal struggle between Amalek and the Jewish people. While this work requires effort on the part of the reader and contains numerous Hebrew citations from a variety of sometimes abstruse sefarim, the reader’s efforts are richly rewarded. In his foreword, Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, who persuaded the author to publish this work, writes: “I have consistently been absolutely overwhelmed by [the essays'] profundity, depth, wisdom, creativity and originality. I have learned a great deal from each one of them and been captured by their dazzling brilliance, one by one. They were never an easy read; I had to work at trying to understand them. But they have always been worth the investment of my time and energy.” This is an important volume for those interested in deep study of Tanach and Chazal and advanced machshavah.



Compiled by Marcia P. Neeley



s COVID-19 spread throughout the country, the OU’s Kosher Food Lifeline (KFL) launched programs to combat the anticipated significant increase in food insecurity, especially during the Pesach season. In conjunction with the OU’s annual Maos Chittim campaign, KFL initiated an emergency Passover food campaign to help the growing number of families experiencing financial strain due to the pandemic, raising over $350,000. The funds enabled food pantries, Tomchei Shabbos and social service agencies across the country to obtain much-needed Pesach food before the holiday. As food insecurity continues post Pesach, KFL is providing resources for immediate food donations and purchases to increase kosher food in our communities. In New York, KFL connected local kosher caterers with city agencies in order to provide home meal delivery to those aged sixty-five and older who are strongly advised not to leave their homes. Additionally, with food supply lines disrupted, KFL is working directly with kosher pantries across the country— including Boston, Cleveland and Detroit—to connect them with local vendors and food distributors. KFL has also teamed up with OU Advocacy to provide kosher food pantries access to government funding for food, such as the USDA’s COVID stimulus package. To support KFL’s critical work, visit

A Detroit Chesed Project (DCP) volunteer loads boxes of food onto a delivery truck. Photos: Envision Studio

“The community at large is in crisis. It is critical that they have the support of the OU in the battle against food insecurity.” —KFL Director Allison Deal

Wearing protective gloves and masks, DCP volunteers ready Pesach food packages for delivery to those in need, including a full truck’s worth of chicken and meat arranged through KFL.

We invite you to join us and make a difference. Contact Arnold Gerson at or visit Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION





ore than 350 OU-JLIC students, alumni and educators celebrated their fundraising achievements over the past year at OU-JLIC’s Winter Conference. The campuses’ various campaigns raised nearly $450,000 combined to support and grow programs for the coming year. At the conference, several educators received awards for their successful fundraising efforts.

(Pictured Above) OU-JLIC Cornell’s Dodgeball Tournament challenged students to create their own teams and fundraising pages. Students’ successful crowdsourcing—and great ball playing— raised nearly $10,000. Educators Rabbi Daniel and Sarah Kasdan were recognized with the “Grit Award” for their persistence and extraordinary efforts in overseeing the fundraiser.

YACHAD is a thriving global organization dedicated to addressing the needs of Jewish individuals with disabilities and ensuring their inclusion in every aspect of Jewish life. SERVICES OFFERED: u Social Recreational Programs u Birthright Israel u Clinical & Family Services u Summer Programs u Informal Education & Sensitivity Training u IVDU Schools u Shabbatonim u Vocational Training & Day Hab

FIND YACHAD IN YOUR AREA! Baltimore Chicago Cleveland Dallas Israel Los Angeles New England New Jersey New York South Florida Toronto

u ...and more!

Learn more at YACHAD.ORG or 212.613.8229 88

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WEST COAST Four OU-JLIC West Coast campuses—UCLA, Western University, Santa Monica College and California State University of Northridge (CSUN)—joined together for a fundraising campaign to beat all previous ones. The educators and their students launched a fifty-hour online crowdfunding campaign and created student-staffed call centers to reach the greater LA community. Over 420 donors contributed to the campaign—including alumni spanning fifteen years—which successfully raised over $76,000, earning OU-JLIC West Coast the award for "Largest Campus Upreaching Campaign.” From left: UCLA educators Rabbi Aryeh and Sharona Kaplan; Santa Monica College educators Rabbi Nick and Orit Faguet; Western University educators Dr. Rod and Daniella Najibi; and California State University of Northridge educators Rabbi Bryan and Sondra Borenstein at OU-JLIC West Coast’s annual fundraiser.

HERZLIYA More than thirty-five students joined educators Rabbi Josh and Margot Botwinick’s OU-JLIC team at the Jerusalem Marathon, raising over $30,000. The Botwinicks (pictured below) received the“Best Student Engagement in an Upreaching Campaign” award at OU-JLIC’s Winter Conference.

BRANDEIS Under the guidance of educators Rabbi Isaac and Tal Attia, forty-plus students created the Brandeis Haggadah. Comprised of contributions from students, alumni, faculty and Rav Isaac and Tal, the haggadah is a reflection of the Torah values and unique spirit of the Brandeis community. The students raised over $20,000 in sponsorships and sales. Rav Isaac and Tal (now OU-JLIC Torah educators at Binghamton) received an award for “Most Creative Upreaching Campaign.” We invite you to join us and make a difference. Contact Arnold Gerson at or visit Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION




ontinuing its generous support, the MB Glassman Foundation granted NCSY’s Denver chapter $45,000 for its MB Glassman Denver NCSY Scholarship Fund. The fund provides Denver teens with limited resources the ability to attend regional and national conventions as well as transformative summer programs in Europe and Israel. Over the past few years, the Denver chapter has grown from an average of sixty high school teens participating in programming to over 300 affiliated and unaffiliated teens involved annually. “The Glassman Scholarship fund has allowed me to attend NCSY summer programs, regional Shabbatons, Yarchei Kallah, and so much more. These programs have changed my life,” says Denver NCSYer Shevi Parkoff. Pictured: Denver NCSYers attend a Latte and Learning event. Courtesy of Eloise Appel


From left: NCSY National Director Rabbi Micah Greenland; Honorees Steve, Eytan, Sue and Chava Darrison; OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin; Honorees Jonathan, Daphne, Eliza and Jesse Orenshein; former West Coast NCSY Regional Director and Benefactor of Anne Samson TJJ Lee Samson; Chairman of West Coast NCSY Youth Commission Dr. Moshe Benarroch; and West Coast NCSY Director Rabbi Derek Gormin. Photo: Etan Vann

“We are so proud of the accomplishments of the entire West Coast region as we celebrate this important milestone.” —OU President Mark (Moishe) Bane 90

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ore than 225 friends and supporters attended NCSY West Coast’s Legacy Gala this past February in celebration of NCSY’s five decades of inspiring Jewish teens in the region. The gala raised over $120,000 in scholarship funds for NCSY summer programs, enabling West Coast NCSY to build on its legacy and impact even more teens in the area—the largest NCSY region in the country. Held in Los Angeles, the evening paid tribute to Steve and Eytan Darrison of the Los Angeles Valley and Daphne and Jesse Orenshein of Los Angeles, two parent-and-child pairs who are deeply involved with NCSY.

Thank you for your generous annual support of our vital programs. YACHAD - Inclusion for people with disabilities SEIF OU-JLIC - Supporting Jewish life on college campuses NCSY - Life-changing teen empowerment and inspiration program OU ISRAEL - Outreach to at-risk youth, support for soldiers and olim ISRAEL FREE SPIRIT BIRTHRIGHT ISRAEL - Connecting Jewish youth with Israel and their heritage THE PEPA & RABBI JOSEPH KARASICK DEPARTMENT OF SYNAGOGUE & COMMUNITY SERVICES Educational content, programs, consulting for synagogues and communities THE WOMEN’S INITIATIVE - Creating and promoting inspirational and educational programming for women TEACH COALITION - Fighting for Jewish schools to receive fair government funding KOSHER FOOD LIFELINE - Assisting kosher food pantries to help the needy in their communities OU ADVOCACY CENTER - Promoting Jewish interests in the halls of government OU TORAH - Providing a broad array of Torah study opportunities JEWISH ACTION - The OU's insightful and inspirational quarterly publication OU IMPACT ACCELERATOR - A mentorship program for growth and early-stage funding for Jewish nonprofit entrepreneurs. OU PRESS - Publishing insightful and compelling works on Jewish texts

Members of the OU BENEFACTOR CIRCLE lead through their philanthropy. We applaud them all for their commitment, including those whose names remain anonymous. We invite and encourage you to join them in making a difference.

OU.ORG/BENEFACTOR To learn more about the OU Benefactor Circle or to become a member, please call Arnold Gerson, Chief Institutional Advancement Office at 212.613-8313 or email

Thank You Ambassador $250,000 & OVER














"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." ― Winston Churchill






We apologize for any omissions. If you wish to be acknowledged, please contact Sophia Bassan at


On My Own . . . But Not Alone: Practical Advice and Personal Stories By Ahava Ehrenpreis Mesorah Publications New York, 2019 320 pages

Reviewed by Faigie Horowitz


n recent years, we’ve seen a proliferation of books addressing all kinds of needs in our community. We have books for parents of special needs children, women who are divorced or childless, women in midlife. These books tend to combine personal stories of inspiration from famous and less famous people who articulate their emotions, normalize their feelings, and share the steps from surviving to thriving. What is different about the new anthology from Ahava Ehrenpreis for the single adult woman is that it has a substantial section that addresses halachic questions on religious obligations and practices such as Kiddush and Havdalah as well as lighting the menorah and holding a Seder. A handbook and a resource for single, divorced and widowed women, the book includes selections on guardianship, financial planning, social security and legal matters. The author is no stranger to the reader of Jewish periodicals. Ehrenpreis, a writer for several publications, has a dry humor and uses memorable imagery that illuminate her personal essays. Neither is her personal situation a secret. She has written about the

loss of her husband, the late professor, distinguished mathematician, marathon runner and international scholar Dr. Eliezer Leon Ehrenpreis, as well as other personal challenges. [She recently lost a son to coronavirus.] In On My Own . . . But Not Alone, she addresses her peer group and the general Jewish public with straight, unembellished talk about what it’s like to be a single in today’s family-oriented Jewish community. Divided into sections on sensitivity— the spiritual, the emotional, the halachic and the practical— the compendium includes articles from rabbis, rebbetzins, educators, psychologists and leaders that address existential challenges confronting a woman on her own, such as: “Why me? Why isn’t Hashem listening to my prayers? Does my pain have purpose? What does Hashem want from me? How do I deal with my jealousy of other people who have what I want so badly? How much hishtadlus for shidduchim do I have to do? What is my legacy if I don’t have children?” Each section provides Torah and psychological perspectives for differentiating between pain and suffering, choosing health and finding a reason to get up in the morning. These foundational pieces are illuminated by personal narratives that are designated as “Women’s Voices.” The individual process of internalizing a specific strategy or Torah precept, each according to her personal experience,

A co-founder of Rachel’s Place for runaway and homeless girls and JWOW! (Jewish Women of Wisdom) for midlifers, Rebbetzin Faigie Horowitz of Lawrence, New York, is an activist, board member of several organizations, columnist and health care professional.


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makes these essays compelling. These journeys carry the reader through each grueling step, from the rawness of grief and suffering to acceptance and growth. These pieces are an important reminder to all of us that internal spiritual work moves the needle very slowly. Blending families successfully, parenting a child with developmental disabilities, crafting a satisfying singlehood, and leading a family alone take ongoing, deliberate and painstaking effort to show results on the outside. A woman in her sixties once showed me a poem she wrote when I came to pay her a shivah call. “Not a Widow, Not a Wife” was the title. Her poignant expression of the ambiguity of her position as an isolated caregiver with needs was unforgettable. The proliferation of women in this position, who are responsible for spouses with long-term cognitive and physical struggles, is a relatively new phenomenon. Developing support groups and encouraging self-care for these women are not the only responses. Listening to their narratives of daily life is perhaps just as important. “Come see what my life is like,” another woman invited me. She showed me into her former den where her husband was sitting in his recliner, blankly holding a Tehillim in his hand while a recording of the chapters played. “This is how he

Acute loneliness, invisibility, lack of a definite role in a familycentric faith, socializing in a community of couples, invitations and the lack thereof are real struggles for single adult women, with and without children. spends his sixties while his brain is long gone,” she told me. Participating in show-and-tell is sometimes what our friends find supportive. It’s not only about the crises. Acute loneliness, invisibility, lack of a definite role in a family-centric faith, socializing in a community of couples, invitations and the lack thereof are real struggles for single adult women, with and without children. The articulated goal of the book is also to increase understanding and respect for women’s feelings and practical needs. Anticipating their dependency on others for repairs, helping with shidduch homework, providing hospitality and assisting with avos ubanim programs, for example, are all pivotal. The book includes the thoughts of rabbinic figures familiar to the communities of the widowed and divorced, such as Rabbi Yaakov Bender, Rabbi Yosef Eisen and Rabbi Henoch Plotnick, all of whom are committed to organizations such as Samchainu (supports Jewish widows); Sister to Sister (addresses the needs of divorced Jewish women) and Links (assists children who have lost a parent). Other contributors include Rebecca Feldbaum Steier, author of If There’s Anything I Can Do . . . (New York, 2003) and What Should I say, What Can I Do? How to Reach Out to Those You Love (New York, 2009), books about helping others cope with illness and loss, and Risa Rotman, author of Terror and Emunah in Har Nof (Brooklyn, New York, 2017), which details her personal story of grief and courage in the aftermath of terror. I would have liked to see more geographic diversity in the rabbinic group as well in the personal narratives. Experiences of women in smaller communities where community networks are smaller would have provided more balance to this valuable volume.

We may be apart, but we’re always Together THANKS FOR STAYING CONNECTED WITH US MARCH-MAY 2020






Sarah Schenirer and the Bais Yaakov Movement: A Revolution in the Name of Tradition By Naomi Seidman The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, in association with Liverpool University Press Liverpool, 2019 448 pages

Reviewed by Devorah Goldman


hat is a Bais Yaakov girl?,” a friend asked as we discussed Sarah Schenirer, the founder of the girls’ school movement. It’s a difficult question to answer if you’ve never met one. But on a trip to Poland in the summer of 2010, Professor Naomi Seidman immediately identified a group of such girls in the courtyard of Krakow’s Remuh Synagogue. She asked the young women if they were in town for the Jewish Culture Festival, which Seidman had been attending with students from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. To Seidman’s surprise, they informed her that they were there to visit the gravesite of Sarah Schenirer. Decades before, Seidman had been immersed in the world of Bais Yaakov. Both of her parents were pioneers in Sarah Schenirer’s enterprise: Her Devorah Goldman is the Tikvah visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.


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mother taught in European Bais Yaakov schools before, during and after World War II, while her father, Sarah Schenirer is a near-mythic the journalist and academic Hillel figure in Bais Yaakov schools, but Seidman, was a frequent contributor to the facts of her life are rarely taught the now-defunct Bais Yaakov Journal in detail, and her own writing is as well as the author of what seems virtually never studied. Some basics to be the first book-length history are widely known: She was born in of the school system. Naomi, who 1883 to a Chassidic family in Kraków, left Orthodox Judaism at the age of where she received little formal eighteen, found herself unexpectedly education and eventually earned a drawn to Sarah Schenirer as a research living as a seamstress. After some time, as authors Leslie Ginsparg subject following her encounter in Klein and Ann D. Koffsky put it in the Remuh courtyard. Seidman’s their children’s book, Sarah Builds endeavor shed light on her own a School, Schenirer began “sewing family history and culminated in clothes for souls” by teaching Torah her latest book, Sarah Schenirer to Jewish girls in a small classroom. and the Bais Yaakov Movement: A This is all true, though it leaves quite Revolution in the Name of Tradition. a bit out, including Schenirer’s two In the introduction, Seidman marriages and the evolution of Bais explains that the book is “an exploration of the phenomenon of Bais Yaakov from a grassroots movement to an organized institution and back Yaakov, guided by a set of questions again. And few Bais Yaakov girls that already presented themselves in inchoate form at that encounter in 2010. today seem to have any notion that Schenirer was a prolific writer: her What was it that I had instantly seen essays, plays, memoir and textbook in the group of young women? What on Judaism played a major role in is a Bais Yaakov girl, as a historical establishing Bais Yaakov’s culture at phenomenon, as a “new kind of the outset. As Seidman notes at the woman”? How were the first Jewish start of the book, she had vacillated girls who attended the institution at first between simply providing a Sarah Schenirer had founded related translation of Schenirer’s works—most to the group of girls I had run into of which have never been rendered that afternoon? Who was Sarah into English—and providing a history Schenirer, and how had she helped of the movement with just a few create this new type of young Jewish translated pieces in an appendix. She woman, who in turn remembered ultimately combined these projects (and misremembered) her?

by including a book-length study of Schenirer with a substantial collection of Schenirer’s translated writings. Following the book’s publication, Seidman has continued to provide translations of Schenirer’s essays and related materials on a web site, This in particular is a public service on Seidman’s part; Schenirer’s work ought to have been made available for English speakers long before now. But Seidman’s other questions still stand: Who was Sarah Schenirer, and how did she create an institution that not only survived two wars when other schools were destroyed, but which seems to form a particular kind of person? Seidman attributes part of Bais Yaakov’s success to the “rags-toriches” quality of the story that’s frequently told about Schenirer: that of a poor young woman whose drive to learn and teach saved countless other young women from assimilation. But she also debunks components of Bais Yaakov’s founding narrative, such as the belief that Schenirer was the first to successfully provide formal Jewish education to Orthodox girls. Schenirer was indeed the first to do so in Krakow—a uniquely impressive accomplishment due to the diverse Chassidic movements in that city. But there were other movements throughout Europe that had preceded or coincided with Bais Yaakov—Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, for example, established the Realschule in 1853, which provided rigorous elementary and secondary school education to both boys and girls. Thousands of girls in Russia attended female-only cheders in the 1890s, and the Yehudiah school system emerged from a girls-only cheder in Vilna around that same time. In 1920, forty Yavneh schools, including girls’ schools, were founded by a grassroots group composed of Religious Zionists and non-Zionists alike. These and other initiatives were designed, at least in part, to shield young women from assimilation by providing them with Jewish education. By the end of World War II, they had all but disappeared. So what made Bais Yaakov different? Schenirer opened

her first school in 1917, in the midst of World War I. She passed away in 1935, at the age of fifty-two. The Bais Yaakov movement flourished during her lifetime, persisted throughout the Holocaust, and became a global phenomenon following World War II. Many rightfully point to Schenirer’s unconventional network as an element of this triumph; she was born into a Chassidic family but became a disciple of the decidedly non-Chassidic Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, and incorporated his teachings into the Bais Yaakov curriculum. She also won the approval of Jewish leaders ranging from the Belzer Rebbe (Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach) to the Chofetz Chaim and the Gerrer Rebbe (Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter), a feat which was undoubtedly due to her personal integrity and righteousness. Yet Seidman points to another possible key to Bais Yaakov’s success. Before she began Bais Yaakov, Schenirer launched a separate project, a youth movement known as the Orthodox Girls’ Union. This was aimed at teenage girls and involved a variety of activities along with Torah lectures. Schenirer wrote of her disappointment with the program, noting that while the girls may have been inspired by her speeches, “they still couldn’t submit to the commandments of Jewish law and fulfill the Torah. And no wonder: most of the members were already young women . . . it wasn’t easy to persuade them to take on a new, truly Jewish life.” She concluded that “One had to begin with children,” and that she “would have to start schools for young girls.” Seidman argues it was no accident that Schenirer began with a youth movement instead of a school. Schenirer’s diary reveals that she had often been lonely as a child and young woman; the secular culture of Krakow held little appeal for her (though she did read some Polish poetry), and the opportunities for meaningful Jewish engagement were very limited for young women. The trends that led to this state arguably began in 1869 when the Compulsory Education Act was passed by the Habsburg Empire,

requiring all children between the ages of six and fourteen to attend public school or pay a fine. While Orthodox parents frequently paid fines in order to send their sons to cheder, girls were often sent to public schools—and since space in the public schools was limited, having their girls attend also allowed some parents to avoid paying the fine entirely. This led to major cultural divergences between Orthodox boys and girls and, consequently, difficult marriages. It also left young, devout women like Schenirer with few peers they could relate to. In November 1917, shortly after establishing Bais Yaakov, she remarked that “one more thing gives me joy: I’m not alone.” In creating a school, Schenirer formed the kind of creative, adventurous, spiritually-rich environment she seems to have dreamed of as a child. Her diary reveals her deep love and awe of nature, and she sought to cultivate this in her students. On Tu B’Av 1932, members of the Bnos movement (a youth movement associated with Bais Yaakov) reportedly hiked with Schenirer into the woods, where they lit a bonfire, learned Torah, sang and danced. She was an avid reader and sought to establish a robust Jewish literature, beginning with the Bais Yaakov Journal. Schenirer wrote numerous plays that were enthusiastically performed by Bais Yaakov students; these championed the virtues Schenirer sought to instill in her students, rooted in the lessons of Tanach. This spirited, sincere joy countered the mocking tones of secular Yiddish writers such as Sholem Aleichem, whose self-deprecating humor undermined the idealism inherent in Torah life. Schenirer was often mocked for her piety as a girl; she confided in her diary that she wished to find the courage to confront those who made light of Jewish law. Her forceful denunciation of these attitudes and unflinching defense of basic Jewish principles, combined with the lively, youthful and joyous approach she brought to teaching, continue to guide the institution she founded. Summer 5780/2020 JEWISH ACTION


Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel: Exodus Translated by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks Koren Publishers Jerusalem Jerusalem, 2020 327 pages

Reviewed by Allen Schwartz


his unique Torah commentary immediately establishes that its purpose is to help the reader associate the messages of the second book of the Torah with our current experiences as a people. This includes finding our heritage in the aftermath of a cataclysmic event that sought to subdue, weaken and kill us. Our history began as a people in exile, a place most Jews have lived for the last two millennia. This edition of the Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel series (this is only the first volume in a projected series on all of Chumash and most of Nach) comes at an auspicious time for our people. We continue to flourish in our homeland, Israel, while every shovel that breaks ground in that land unearths some testament to an ancient people that once lived there and never gave up the dream of returning. These archaeological testimonies are the veritable markers (tziyunim) that the prophet Jeremiah exhorted us to set down to vouchsafe our return: “Hatzivi lach tziyunim, simi lach tamrurim, shiti libaich, la’mesilah

derech halacht; shuvi betulat Yisrael, shuvi el arayich aileh—Erect markers, set up signposts, keep in mind the highway, the road that you traveled. Return, Maiden Israel, return to these cities of yours” (Yirmiyahu 31:20). There is precedent to read Sefer Shemot as a guide to returning to the Land. The nineteenth-century commentaries, the Netziv, Meshech Chochmah, Malbim, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, and others all used their commentaries on Shemot to underscore the challenges facing the Jews in the Diaspora. This work adds even more. In the beginning, the reader is directed how to connect the Torah text, especially in the early parts of Shemot, to the study of Egyptology, which sheds extra light on the religious, cultural and social milieu to which the Israelites were exposed. This helps us better understand certain phrases in the redemption story and is especially helpful in navigating the texts of the ten plagues. This volume includes a full archaeological background along with a selection of parallel sources

Rabbi Allen Schwartz, rav of Congregation Ohab Zedek in Manhattan, teaches Bible at Yeshiva University, where he holds the Raymond J. Greenwald chair in Jewish studies.


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from the ancient Near East. These archaeological sources are not meant to arm us with the assuredness of the historicity of the events described in Shemot. If you are looking for proof of the Exodus from this book, you can just as easily find many other books that try to disprove the Exodus from archaeology. What this book instead offers the reader is very convincing testimony to what is written in the Torah, and the witnesses are many. We believe the Exodus happened the same way we believe the Holocaust happened—our elders told us about it. Testimonies strengthen that belief. In three sections, the reader is drawn to numerous ancient Near Eastern parallels to the Torah. The first is largely in the form of similar narratives, such as the actions of the desperate parents of an imperiled child who grows to redeem his people. This, of course, describes Moshe in our story, but it also describes the Mesopotamian Sargon, King of Akkad, who preceded Moshe by 1,000 years (p. 11). The reader of the Koren Tanakh need not feel threatened by such similarities any more than we would feel threatened by similarities between the ancient flood epics and the story of Noah’s ark. The Torah always has morality at the epicenter of every story, an element missing from other ancient stories in practically every case. This is equally true of story of the Yam Suf splitting for the fleeing Israelites whose lives were at stake and that of the waters parting for King Snefru (which took place 1,000 years earlier) so that a pendant could be retrieved (p. 78). This section contains dozens of parallels that either shed light on the Biblical story, such as slaves taking time to worship their own God (p. 21), or contrasts it, such as in the description of miracles with snakes (pp. 23-24; 38-39). The Tanakh also notes similarities between the Song of the Sea and ancient triumphal poems (pg. 81). The second parallel relates to law. The psalmist could certainly be aware of ancient law codes that long predated the Torah, yet he declares

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“u’mishpatim bal y’daum—Of such rules they [other nations] know nothing” (Psalms 147:20). This audacious statement stands in contrast to our laws for reasons that are made abundantly clear in the Koren Tanakh’s treatment of Parashat Mishpatim, perakim 21 to 23 (pp. 113-137). Hammurabi and Lipit-Ishtar write laws to maintain order so that the gods can be served properly. Torah law creates a moral and upright individual, and that in and of itself is the service of the Deity. Cuneiform law is reactive, responding to situations that arise while the Torah is proactive, guiding us and telling us what to do. Cuneiform law is documented for the king and his inner circle while Torah law is open and is meant to be placed like a “set table” before the masses. Indeed, the Revelation itself is distinguished by its public presentation before the entire Jewish nation, while the source of Cuneiform law is shrouded in mystery and the occult. The third parallel relates to the ritualistic element of Sefer Shemot: the construction of God’s sanctuary. In this section the reader will find the most significant assistance in understanding the Torah in light of the cultural and religious milieu of the ancient Near East. On the verse “Mishchu u’kchu la’chem tzon— Draw yourselves and take lambs” (Shemot 12:21); our sages comment that the purpose of the Passover sacrifice was to draw us away from the service of the gods of Egypt to the service of the only true God. This third section of Exodus demonstrates with many examples how our sanctuary and sacrificial service would perform the same task. This is the well-known position of Maimonides (Moreh Nevuchim III:29ff) and is brought to sharp relief in this work. The introduction of Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel (p. XIV) indicates that this series does not assume any background on the part if its readers. Yet the seasoned reader who reviews the weekly Torah portion will find useful information for a well-rounded connection to Tanach. The scholar who is familiar with Nahum Sarna’s Exploring Exodus, Shalom Paul’s Studies in the Book of the Covenant in Light of Cuneiform and Biblical Law or Yehezkel Kaufmann’s Toledot HaEmunah HaYisraelit will appreciate the traditional parameters maintained by the Koren editors. I have found many cases in which a statement in this work corroborated by archaeology is actually found in the Midrash or in a medieval commentary. Pointing this out would have burdened the work with hundreds of footnotes, making it cumbersome and difficult to handle. Instead, there is an excellent index of articles, organized by the order of the text, and the reader would do well to supplement the body of the Koren Tanakh with these valuable sources. Sefer Shemot begins with a reference to Yaakov and his household and ends with a reference to the house of Israel. We begin the book as a people without a home, without a purpose and without freedom. The book ends before we come to our home but not before we build a home for the Divine Presence. This new volume from Koren is a home for the serious scholar and reader of Torah.


By Gil Student

THE LAWS OF OUTREACH By Avraham Edelstein Mosaica, 2019 450 pages


he ascendancy of a confident Orthodoxy in the second half of the twentieth century pushed the community from a position of defense to that of action. Many Torah leaders actively and emphatically encouraged rabbis and laypeople to reach out to non-Orthodox Jews in order to help them strengthen their bonds to Judaism. In response to this call, a cadre of enthusiastic and idealistic couples became outreach professionals. Halachic questions arise whenever an observant Jew exits the comfortable environment of mutual observance. When someone makes a career of directly interacting with specifically non-observant or partiallyobservant Jews, the questions multiply. Rabbi Avraham Edelstein is the outreach rabbi’s rabbi. During his many years at Ner Le’Elef, an organization providing training in Jewish leadership,

he guided rabbis who dedicated their careers to outreach. Because of this intimate knowledge of the challenges of outreach based on the combined experiences of his students, Rabbi Edelstein’s The Laws of Outreach consists of an encyclopedic exploration of these topics. The book covers the obligation to rebuke people for their religious failures, outreach as a rescue mission, aiding in the commission of a sin, and more. Rabbi Edelstein also addresses broad theoretical questions involved in outreach such as the mitzvah to reach out, obligations toward non-observant Jews and categorizing sinners. Rabbi Edelstein follows a strictly halachic methodology, building on primary texts and following the arguments throughout the centuries with an emphasis on late twentieth-century authorities. While Rabbi Edelstein does not offer practical conclusions, often he directs readers to where he believes the texts and sound arguments lead. For example, in his section on male-female interactions, while offering quite a spectrum of opinions, he emphasizes those that permit men to shake women’s hands in one form. And in his section on outreach through food, he quotes halachic opinions on both sides

The history is questionable . . .too many books contain cookie-cutter descriptions of rabbis who end up lacking personality and depth. Rabbi Gil Student writes frequently on Jewish issues and runs Torahmusings. com. He serves as Jewish Action’s book editor.


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of the issue but seems to find the argument to permit giving food to a man who insists on reciting a blessing without covering his head to be more convincing. This comprehensive book serves as a unique reference of fascinating topics and contains many rulings unavailable elsewhere. **** CHERISHED CONVERSATIONS WITH GEDOLEI YISROEL By Dov Eliach Feldheim, 2019 526 pages


ost readers are familiar with the problems in the “gedolim story” genre. The history is questionable; ideology trumps accuracy; too many books contain cookie-cutter descriptions of rabbis who end up lacking personality and depth. Rabbi Dov Eliach breaks the mold with his Cherished Conversations with Gedolei Yisroel. Previously, Rabbi Eliach published Hebrew biographies of the Vilna Gaon and Rabbi Mottel Pogremanski, who was a brilliant, young Torah scholar in Lithuania who died in 1950. Rabbi Eliach’s research into these figures gained him access to leading rabbis in the Lithuanian yeshivah world over the past three decades, many of whom were among the last remnant of the pre-War yeshivah world. He encouraged these rabbis to reminisce at length and compiled these interviews in a book, recently translated into English. Cherished Conversations with Gedolei Yisroel does not claim to be a history

book. It is a collection of reminiscences, primarily about the Lithuanian yeshivah world in Europe and Israel by those who continue its traditions. This inside look will delight those with even a passing familiarity with those yeshivot. Rav Shmuel Berenbaum discusses his time studying under Rav Elchonon Wasserman in Baranovich and Rav Eliezer Yehudah Finkel in Mir. Rav Moshe Shapira tells about his time in Telz and his transition to the Slabodka Yeshiva in Chevron. Rav Betzalel Rakow talks about his seven years in Montreux, Switzerland, with Rav Yechiel Ya’akov Weinberg and Rav Ya’akov Edelstein discusses his experiences as one of the founding students of the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. Throughout, Rabbi Eliach coaxes the speakers to highlight the unique personality traits of the people of whom they speak, and the characters of each yeshivah. He looks for distinct characteristics, which the interviewees leap at the opportunity to discuss. In particular, Rabbi Eliach developed a close relationship with Rav Chaim and Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky, both of whom open up to him at uncharacteristic length. Rather than claiming to be history, this book openly reports stories that reflect the worldviews of the speakers. These are conversations with great people about great leaders and great institutions.

mother to avoid unclean foods, implying that previously she had eaten non-kosher food. If that was the case, why wasn’t she chastised for her religious failings? The text seems to imply that keeping kosher is optional, a praiseworthy but not obligatory behavior. Rabbi Schwartz cites the Talmud (Sotah 9b) and Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 10:5) which explain that unclean food in this case does not refer to non-kosher food but rather to food not permitted to Nazirites. Perhaps even more serious is Tamar’s telling her brother Amnon to forestall his sexual attack on her, that if he asks the king in a proper manner, he will allow them to marry (II Samuel 13:13). However, wouldn’t that be incest? The Talmud (Sanhedrin 21a) explains that Tamar was the daughter of a yefat to’ar, a captive maiden, which would remove her from the status of sister to Amnon. Overall, Rabbi Schwartz categorizes four types of resolutions, of which the last acknowledges a violation of law albeit as a temporary measure within allowable confines. This valuable reference includes numerous citations from early and later commentators, as well as from academic literature. This volume would be even more valuable if a future edition includes a discussion of the plausibility of these resolutions. In my experience, while many rabbinic explanations seem implausible at first read, after delving into the subject from multiple angles, they grow in depth and reasonability. JA 3.75x5

**** CONFLICT & RESOLUTION IN THE EARLY PROPHETS By Allen Schwartz Kodesh Press, 2019 155 pages


t is a fundamental belief of Judaism that God gave the Jews—both the Written and Oral Laws. This belief requires elaboration because seemingly it encompasses such a wide variety of laws and traditions that appear irreconcilable. For example, the Bible includes many stories in which characters ostensibly violate laws contained in either the Oral Torah or the Five Books of Moses. Students of both Biblical and rabbinic literature rightly note and question these many inconsistencies. Of course, these students will also note that the Sages of the Talmud were well aware of these issues and addressed them in one fashion or another. Rabbi Allen Schwartz collects, categorizes and analyzes over 100 instances of apparent Biblical violations of Torah laws in the Early Prophets. He adds to this the resolutions contained in the Talmud, Midrash and early commentaries, the explanations that unite the Torah into a comprehensive whole. For example, in Judges 13:4, an angel tells Samson’s

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he Young Israel of New Rochelle (YINR) seemed to be a typical suburban Modern Orthodox congregation when I spent Shabbat a few times there twenty years ago. The shul, a modest wooden building, located across North Avenue from Wykagyl Country Club, had a warm feeling. The congregants were welcoming. Since then the congregation has greatly expanded, moving in 2008 into an impressive, two-story glass-andbrick-façade building down the block. The congregation, it turns out, is anything but typical. YINR, with 350 member families, the only Orthodox shul in the community, was at the epicenter of the coronavirus’ spread into New York State earlier this year, when a member of the congregation was diagnosed with the disease, along with other members of his family, as well as a kindhearted neighbor who drove him to the hospital. With the inter-connectedness of the frum community, the virus spread. “It ripped through our community . . . went through the shul very quickly,” says Mark Semer, immediate past president of the shul. New Rochelle subsequently became the first city in New York with a large community placed under quarantine. And the New Rochelle frum community became the first such community to demonstrate and experience a wave of chesed while in quarantine. The shul building was quickly closed, as Rabbi Reuven Fink, the longtime mora d’atra, realized the danger posed by social contact. The Young Israel epitomized a pandemic of kindness. Members of the shul both gave and received. Small, individual acts of kindness, and larger, community-wide ones, spanned the Orthodox community beginning with outreach to homebound Jews in New Rochelle, and rapidly expanding online, often via social media and in-person. “While our shul building was closed, it was our top priority to keep the community open,” said Semer. 104

JEWISH ACTION Summer 5780/2020

Because the community is chesed-oriented and had the infrastructure in place, within a day or two, the shul set up a buddy system for elderly members and had volunteers calling once a day to check in on their “buddy.” “The chesed machine was up in motion fairly quickly,” said Semer. When Ellie Goldenberg, head of the shul’s Women’s League, put out a call for volunteers who were not quarantined willing to deliver meals to the elderly, “within three minutes, we had twenty-one volunteers,” she says. “I’m a rabbi with the coronavirus whose congregation is quarantined. It’s bringing out the best in us,” Rabbi Reuven Fink wrote in a JTA essay in March that described his new reality and quickly went viral. The rabbi, who was quarantined along with 1,000 other members of the community, described some of the chesed his congregants received immediately and over several weeks, from close friends and total strangers. There were the twenty pairs of Chabad yeshivah students walking door-to-door in New Rochelle on Purim, reading the megillah in people’s backyards to those quarantined inside. “They rescued Purim for us,” said Semer. Congregation Shomrei Torah in Fairlawn, New Jersey had mishloach manot delivered to every child who’s a member of the Young Israel. And Suburban Torah Center in Livingston, New Jersey sent Shabbat care packages for each child replete with candies and other goodies. As the virus spread into other corners of the Jewish world, the chesed spread as well. Countless individual Jews brought home-made meals, and did the shopping and other errands for self-isolated people, especially for the elderly homebound. When shuls shut down the world over, some in Israel who were still able to daven with a minyan on porches or in large backyards—strictly adhering to the safety regulations from the Ministry of

By Steve Lipman Health and posekim—sent out offers. They wanted to recite Kaddish for those unable to get to a minyan. “I have already done so for fifteen yahrtzeits and twenty-nine different aveilim [mourners],” wrote one man. “This mitzvah opportunity is something I consider an honor and a privilege and one-hundred percent free of charge,” he wrote. The chesed that began in New Rochelle was spreading—pandemic-like. Several Jewish organizations and entertainers took part in online, livestreamed Zoom classes, concerts, magic shows and other activities; Masbia, which operates three free kosher soup kitchens in New York City, prepared boxes with two weeks’ worth of food, which it distributed on a nonsectarian basis; Evergreen, a supermarket in Monsey, New York, offered free meals to volunteer Hatzalah members who were working long hours. Even an airline joined in—El Al arranged unscheduled rescue flights to Peru, India, Australia and Costa Rica to bring back stranded Israelis. And in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, Rabbi Benjamin Joseph Samuels came up with the idea of a kosher l’Pesach “Seder in a Box.” For folks who would celebrate Pesach by themselves, or could not leave home to do yom tov shopping, he and a group of volunteers put together a box of everything needed for a complete Seder—“a full meal for two for one Seder, including grape juice, matzah and Seder plate.” The food, prepared “per Covid-19 food safety standards,” could be picked up at “a drive through pick up that complies with hygienic and social distancing standards.” For people low on funds, no charge. The rabbi was soon flooded with offers to help. “One of my funders volunteered to underwrite the project.” Said Rabbi Samuels, “Not all things viral are bad.” Steve Lipman is a staff writer at the Jewish Week in New York and a frequent contributor to Jewish Action.


Times Have Changed. Our Mission Hasn’t. Emergency Scholarship Campaign Our mission is to educate the next generation of leaders but many students are anxious that the pandemic will rob them of their chances for success and advancement. At Yeshiva University, we’re dedicated to continue their education despite the economic challenges brought on by COVID-19. Join us in this pledge by making a gift to YU’s Emergency Scholarship Campaign.

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