Jewish Action - Fall 2018

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Fall 5779/2018


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Fall 2018/5779 | Vol. 79, No. 1


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THE JEWISH WORLD The Forgotten Jewish Community of Ecuador TRIBUTE A Portrait of the Rav Celebrating the Rav’s legacy as the year marking his 25th yahrtzeit comes to a close By Stanley Boylan The Rav on the Significance of the Shofar By Stanley Boylan SPECIAL SECTION Gifts My Mother Gave Me: A Tribute to the Jewish Mother On Mothers Gedolim recall the profound influence their mothers had on their lives Research and translation by Eliyahu Krakowski COVER STORY Jews by Choice By Barbara Bensoussan Loving the Convert By Yona Reiss Up Close with Abby Lerner By Yehudit Garmaise


66 70

PROFILE Remembering Sarah Taub By Bayla Sheva Brenner HEALTH AND MEDICINE Preserving Your Future The newest frontier in reproductive technology and how it’s impacting the Orthodox World By Gila Arnold


02 06 10 16 78

LETTERS PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE Making Time for Volunteerism and Chesed By Mark (Moishe) Bane FROM THE DESK OF ALLEN I. FAGIN Data-Driven Decision Making: A Communal Imperative CHAIRMAN’S MESSAGE By Gerald M. Schreck JUST BETWEEN US Stop Kvetching About Your Kid’s School By Judy Gruen


82 86 90 98 108 109

THE CHEF’S TABLE Kosher Cuisine with a Millennial Twist By Norene Gilletz LEGAL-EASE What’s the Truth about . . . Fasting Forty Days Upon Seeing a Torah Scroll Fall? By Ari Z. Zivotofsky INSIDE THE OU INSIDE PHILANTHROPY BOOKS The Five Day War By Mendy Ganchrow Reviewed by Leah Lightman The Gift of Stuttering By Moe Mernick Reviewed by Simcha Feuerman


Airport Lights



By Yaacov David Shulman Reviewed by Johnny Solomon

“Please Blow the Shofar Quietly” By David Olivestone Cover: Andrés Moncayo

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. 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.

Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION




Editor in Chief

Nechama Carmel

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Mark (Moishe) Bane Chairman of the Board

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Gerald M. Schreck, Chairman Joel M. Schreiber, Chairman Emeritus © Copyright 2018 by the Orthodox Union Eleven Broadway, New York, NY 10004 Telephone 212.563.4000 • Twitter: @Jewish_Action Facebook: JewishAction


JEWISH ACTION Fall 5779/2018

HIGH COST OF BURIAL As a rabbi, I truly appreciated Rabbi Akiva Males’ article entitled “What’s In Your Anti-Cremation Toolkit?” (summer 2018). However, I believe there is one main issue that was not addressed in the article. Often relatives point out that a cremation costs about $1,000 while a burial costs $10,000 or more. Seniors tend to be tight on resources and do not want their children to bear the cost of burial. They therefore often choose, in their words, “the easy way out,” and opt for cremation. Would the price difference merely be $1,000 to $3,000, it would be much easier to convince them to opt for a Jewish burial, but when the price difference is thousands of dollars, unfortunately, “money talks.” I would like to know what arguments can be made to address this issue. I have often had to collect significant funds in order to convince people to fulfill the mitzvah of a Jewish burial. Rabbi Moishe Y. Engel Chabad shaliach Long Beach, California Rabbi Akiva Males Responds I thank Rabbi Engel for his comments. He is, of course, correct in that it is the relatively low cost of cremation that contributes to its growing popularity in certain segments of the American Jewish community. What then can the Orthodox community do to better “sell” the concept of a traditional Jewish burial when cremation costs are significantly lower? I believe two points need to be considered. The ultimate reason why Judaism has always insisted on burying its dead is because this is what halachah requires. For Jews whose decisions are based on traditional religious practice, burial will remain the only option—despite its price. On the other hand, for Jews whose decision-making process is not based on traditional Jewish practice, unfortunately, cremation’s lower cost makes it a more appealing option. (Isn’t this the same factor which determines who will pay for kosher meat versus non-kosher meat—or any of the other additional expenses associated with living one’s life in accordance with halachah in twenty-first-century America?) Additionally, it is incumbent on the Orthodox community to do what we can to keep the costs of a traditional Jewish burial as low as possible. This will make the expense of burial more bearable for Jews who are motivated to follow Jewish tradition. This might also make burial a stronger option to be considered by those whose commitment to Jewish tradition is more tenuous. (The OU is to be commended for its efforts towards such a project. [See our ad on page 89 for information on the OU’s Levaya program, which offers affordable fixed-price halachic funerals.]) The rise in cremation is directly linked to the degree that Jewish tradition plays in guiding people’s lives. (This offers us another important reason to share the beauty of Torah living with our fellow Jews.) Commitment to halachah is the most effective means of stunting the growth of the cremation epidemic that is rapidly seeping into the American Jewish community. In the meantime, my article attempted to offer some tools that might influence a person whose commitment to Jewish observance is not strong enough to offset the seeming advantages of cremation.

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WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP I was sorry to read about the closing of the OU Women’s Branch (“Paving the Way for Women’s Leadership” [summer 2018]) for two reasons: (1) it described the demise of an organization responsible for so much good during the past near-century, and (2) it completely ignored the role of Rebbetzin Rebecca F. Goldstein (my grandmother) in the establishment of OU Kosher, along with that of her husband, Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein. Their efforts were described so aptly in an article that appeared in the summer 2011 issue of Jewish Action entitled “The OU: Pioneering the Kosher Food Industry” written by Shulamith Z. Berger. At the same time, it should be emphasized that the demise of the Women’s Branch indicates that it was a victim of its own success, elevating the role of women to the point where they now have senior leadership positions in the general OU. Rabbi Aaron I. Reichel, Esq. New York, NY Author of The Maverick Rabbi (on the former OU President Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein) I found it inspiring to read about how women decades ago joined forces to address societal challenges in the Jewish community. As a coordinator of twice-yearly neighborhood shidduch meetings since 2005, I would like to propose a new role for shul sisterhoods: to join together to confront the shidduch challenge facing our generation of American Jewry. Perhaps this can be accomplished by each shul having a representative who keeps an updated list and profiles of its single congregants, with groups of women networking with representatives from around the country for shidduch ideas. When asked what motivated her grandmother to start the Women’s Branch, Nancy Klein responded, “. . . the women felt that alone they had no influence, but if they banded together, they could accomplish something.” Today, too, individual women hesitate to suggest shidduchim for a variety of reasons. Let us “band together!” Hindy Mandel Lakewood, New Jersey NEED FOR HIGH-QUALITY FRUM LITERATURE In the most recent issue of the magazine, Moishe Bane, president of the Orthodox Union, penned an essay entitled “A Community in Search of a Culture,” in which he states: “We need to ensure that our day schools are . . . preparing future generations of Orthodox Jewish authors. We should encourage the creation of high-quality Orthodox literature for children, teens and adults.” Thank you, Mr. Bane! It is crucial for the Orthodox community to have books that are engaging, well-written and of high quality that will appeal to all Jewish youngsters. 4

JEWISH ACTION Fall 5779/2018

While there has been growth in the Jewish fiction market recently, particularly for children, we need books and authors that will speak to those Orthodox youngsters who are regular readers of popular fiction, such as Pinkalicious, Junie B. Jones, Percy Jackson and Harry Potter. Faygie Holt Author of the Achdus Club series Livingston, New Jersey ISRAELI CHAREIDIM JOINING THE HIGH-TECH INDUSTRY I enjoyed reading “The New Chareidim,” (by Yocheved Lavon [summer 2018]) which highlighted the rising number of Chareidi men and women who are entering high-tech fields. As president of the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT), I am grateful for the article’s coverage of JCT’s role at the forefront of this important socioeconomic revolution in Israel and I thank Jewish Action for bringing these efforts to the attention of the American Jewish community. One notable section of Lavon’s piece focused on David Asher, a Chareidi cyber analyst who got a job after taking a short-term course. We applaud all of the important efforts to help Chareidim join the workforce. While David’s story is inspiring, there is an interesting alternative path that has recently emerged at JCT. We at JCT believe that short-term educational programs are not enough. We have just concluded the first cycle of the Cyber Elite program for our software engineering and computer science graduates. Cyber Elite is an eleven-month program, developed in partnership with the Rashi Foundation’s Cyber Education Center and the National Cyber Directorate of the Prime Minister’s Office. This year, thirty-one graduates (sixteen men and fifteen women, studying separately) spent an extra year studying cyber training, while simultaneously working in R&D in the cyber departments of multinational companies, aerospace and defense companies, or cyber startups. It brings a whole new perspective to the issue of Chareidim in Israeli high-tech. Today, Chareidim constitute less than 1 percent of the senior technology positions in Israel. The primary path to senior positions in Israel’s cyber industry has been participation in military cyber units, which makes the field virtually inaccessible to those not traditionally represented in these units. The JCT program not only enables Chareidim to enter hi-tech, but provides them with unique added value. Cyber Elite challenges Chareidi students, invests in their abilities and enables them to reach the upper echelon of cyber security. It is not a quick fix, but rather targets a path that is likely to lead to national and even international leadership in the cyber world. We have already seen the results. In addition to excellent feedback from all the companies where Cyber Elite graduates work, 20 percent of all finalists in the recent national Cyber Challenge contest of the Israel National Cyber Week were from Cyber Elite.

Jewish Action Wins Rockower Award Again Jewish Action won a Simon Rockower Award for “The Contemporary Rebbetzin,” which appeared in the fall 2017 issue. Written by Avigayil Perry, the article, which won First Place for Excellence in Writing about Women, explored the ever-changing, ever-demanding role of the contemporary rebbetzin. The prestigious awards, referred to as the “Jewish Pulitzers,” are sponsored by the American Jewish Press Association, which holds a journalism competition for leading Jewish magazines and newspapers from across the country. The entries are assessed by a panel of judges with expertise in journalism, writing/reporting, editing, graphic design and cartooning in both the Jewish and non-Jewish media. This is the eighth year in which Jewish Action has participated—and been honored— in the Rockower Awards competition.

The program is also a key driver for empowering religious women in Israel. The fifteen women who graduated from Cyber Elite have been placed in the security operations of aerospace and defense companies, the cyber departments of Fortune 500 companies, and cyber startups, among other companies. With programs like Cyber Elite, members of the Chareidi community can truly reach their full potential in the workforce. Professor Chaim Sukenik Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) Jerusalem, Israel

At the same time, it should be emphasized that the demise of the Women’s Branch indicates that it was a victim of its own success.

Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION





learned the significance of caring for others from a young mother beginning a long period of post-hospital convalescence. With an infant and toddler at home, she had suddenly found herself incapacitated, in the hospital and in great pain. I asked her about pain treatment, arrangements for her children and the reactions of others to her situation but I sensed that I was missing something. Eventually she taught me that being seriously ill imposes two very real but distinct tragedies. First, of course, is the illness and the pain and their implications. Her family and doctors understood her suffering and offered treatment and sympathy. But there is also a second tragedy that no one seemed to appreciate. She is a wife, mother, daughter and friend. Whether at home or at work, addressing 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 Fall 5779/2018

the needs of others is her essence. Her illness, however, deprived her of the strength and mobility to help, give and care for others. In fact, her own pain and anxiety are often so consuming, she is unable even to ask about others’ needs or challenges. We are familiar with the deprivation of dignity most people suffer when ill and hospitalized. But the loss she suffered most was being denied her greatest source of dignity, which is caring for others. We are a giving community. We host kosher food pantries, poverty programs, and gemachs (freeloan societies) providing access to everything, from money to wedding gowns to home hospital beds. We fund myriad programs addressing the panoply of children’s needs, as well as programs for couples struggling with infertility, organizations to test dating couples for genetic incompatibility, and programs to introduce unaffiliated Jews to their heritage. We offer referral services directing people to appropriate physical and mental health professionals, and even introduce people to families who will share their Shabbos experience. And yet, it seems to me that our community’s relationship to chesed has changed. Rather than actually performing chesed, we increasingly “outsource” the tasks. Even when we are invited to participate in a communal chesed project, frequently our financial support, not our active participation, is actually being

solicited. And truth be told, when we realize that we are not being asked for our time, many of us are rather relieved and happily write a check. Community rabbis have confided in me that while their congregation is growing impressively, fewer and fewer shul members are prepared to give of their time and effort on behalf of the shul and the community. But even if this perception is accurate, should we be troubled? After all, isn’t our goal to ensure that the needs of the community are met? Does it matter if we are personally involved in acts of chesed and community activism so long as our generosity ensures that the services are provided? I believe it does matter. Chesed and activism are not just about providing a service or meeting a need. They are also about how we live and what occupies our time and behavior. Visiting the infirm, tutoring an underprivileged child or playing scrabble with a lonely neighbor conveys that you truly care about the other person. Similarly, communal activism conveys the value you place on being a member of the community, thereby increasing the commitment and bonding of others. Equally significant is that personal participation in chesed and communal activism changes who we are. We become kinder, better people and far more connected to each other and to the Jewish people. Moreover, selfless behavior orients our minds in a manner essential to being a proper religious Jew.

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It seems to me that our community’s relationship to chesed has changed. Rather than actually performing chesed, we increasingly outsource the tasks. Self or Other As infants we perceive ourselves as being the entirety of reality. We then spend our childhood, adolescence and adulthood trying to unlearn that impression. The ability to recognize and care for the “other” is a sublime experience. In fact, it is a fundamental aspect of our obligation of “v’halachta b’drachav,” to emulate the character of God. The process of increasing our appreciation for, and respect of, others is called maturing. Achieving this maturation, this outward focus, is essential to our religious experience. Judaism is theocentric, meaning that we strive to serve the Almighty and to recognize God in history, as well as in both the holy and the mundane aspects of our daily lives. Self-absorbed people are incapable of recognizing God’s presence and influence since they only focus on themselves. By observing mitzvos, by performing chesed and by dedicating time to the community, we hope to nurture an outward-focused mindset that will orient ourselves to engage in the search for God. Unfortunately, aging does not necessarily translate into maturity, and the effort to shed our self-absorbed mindset is a lifelong struggle. Theoretically, commitment to Torah observance should infuse us with an authentic outward focus; alas, religious observance itself may be rather self-serving. Religious fervor should reflect piety, but it is often merely an expression of personal identity. While Torah should make us feel holy, too often it simply makes us feel “holier than thou.” In fact, we can even fall prey to using religious passion as a tool to impose our own will on others, rather than using it in deference to the will of God. 8

JEWISH ACTION Fall 5779/2018

If, however, we develop a truly outward-focused Judaism, our observance, piety and passion are likely to be authentic. Communal volunteering and spending time on the needs of others will help fashion an outward-focused personality, allowing for a focus on God and the pursuit of God’s agenda rather than our own. Once we commit to include chesed and activism in our lives, the next challenge is choosing the roles we assume. For some of us, communal involvement comes easily and for others caring for those who are troubled or needy is second nature. But for many of us neither is comfortable. Where do we begin and how do we gauge how much time and effort is appropriate? Selecting a Role The first challenge is considering what makes sense for you. For example, should your role be to lend an ear to the lonely, teach the Jewishly unaffiliated, or pack food for the hungry? Is it better for you to be an organizer or a participant, a planner or an implementer? Should you initiate a new program or institution, or should you expend effort improving existing programs or institutions? Is it better to be a social entrepreneur or to work within larger communal institutions; should you be counter-cultural or work within the communal system? Should you aspire to be a visionary or a pragmatist; build bridges or fortresses; nurture the weakest or elevate the strongest; address critical needs of a few or effectuate more modest improvements for the many? And should you be guided by what is most enjoyable or by what is most needed? Should you assist a cause that you are passionate about because it addresses

your own needs, or ensure objectivity by addressing needs that do not affect you or those with whom you have a special relationship? Several initial steps are helpful. Firstly, identify a role that you feel you can stick with and will not quickly abandon. Working with interesting, pleasant people, being able to observe tangible results, and receiving encouragement and positive reinforcement are all factors likely to keep you involved. Other factors are more individualized. For example, are you more comfortable as a follower or leader, taking risks or playing it safe? What is your tolerance for criticism or failure, or feeling under-appreciated? These considerations are all informative. Secondly, it is important to select roles that play to your strengths. It is particularly satisfying when your efforts produce results unlikely to have been achieved without your involvement. Ultimately, however, the most significant consideration may be the urgency of the need. A gifted artist, for example, can hardly justify focusing on beautifying a communal gathering spot if there are not enough volunteers to distribute medicine and food in the midst of an epidemic. The Appropriate Degree of Commitment—the Circles Test In light of our many responsibilities, where do chesed and volunteerism fit in? How do you determine when chesed and activism are the right things to do and when they are irresponsible? Every person is obligated to give charity, but the appropriate amount varies significantly among donors. Chesed is the same. In gauging how much time and energy to commit, I suggest employing the “circles test.” Draw two circles of different sizes—a “capacity” circle and a “circumstances” circle. The first circle should reflect the size of your capacity, with the second circle reflecting the amount of demands and distractions imposed by your circumstances. The size of the capacity circle reflects the extent of your capacity—

an amalgamation of traits and characteristics that collectively indicate how much responsibility and focus a person can handle. Physical, intellectual and emotional strength all factor into capacity, as do stamina, intelligence, self-confidence and the ability to withstand stress, criticism and failure. Multi-tasking skills and attention span also contribute to the calculation. Second is the circumstances circle, which reflects the aggregate amount of demands, distractions, impositions and external influences that consume your time, attention and energy. For many, parenting is the most significant circumstance, though its demands are often underestimated. Moreover, the space consumed by parenting is influenced by myriad other circumstances, such as the degree of a spouse’s commitment and availability, the number and ages of children, and each child’s unique needs and challenges. Other

occasional game changers are an ill spouse and aging parents. Livelihood and personal well-being are also common, significant circumstances. The degree that your capacity circle is larger than your circumstances circle reflects the amount of time, energy and attention that is available for chesed and volunteerism. If, however, your circumstances circle is larger than your capacity circle, the responsible choice is to defer assuming additional roles until your circumstances change. Shifting Circles and Lost Opportunities We often ignore changes in our circumstances that may significantly alter the balance between our capacity and circumstances. For example, our circumstances circle may shrink as we watch our children grow up, leave home and eventually mary. Similarly, we enjoy increased availability when our job commitments are reduced or eliminated, or when we can afford to choose to do so. Do we fully

consider the impact of these changed circumstances on our availability for volunteerism and chesed? Though tragic, one’s availability to help others occasionally is increased by sad life events, like the passing of a parent. Knowing ourselves and honestly assessing our capacity and circumstances are serious challenges but core Jewish responsibilities. In the best of good faith we may understandably err in either direction. What is not understandable is failing to reassess when changes occur in our circumstances. And what is truly unjustifiable is not even bothering to conduct an assessment of our personal availability to help others. The Mishnah teaches that the world stands on three pillars—Torah, avodah and chesed. One without the others is hollow. Each is essential to our personal growth as Jews, and to the collective needs of our community. Our personal challenge is finding the correct balance and the proper expression of each.

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s our society—and our community—becomes ever more complex, the need for objective, fact-based decision making is increasingly becoming a communal imperative. No longer can we rely on instinct or assumption. Like any well-managed company or institution, our decisions require data and sophisticated analysis. The OU has taken some major steps in this direction. Various of our major program arms—including NCSY, Yachad, OU-JLIC and Israel Free Spirit, the OU’s Birthright Israel program—maintain well-developed databases that assist with program development and program review. Each of our programs has, for the past four years, developed objective metrics to measure its success or failure; each is evaluated twice annually against these metrics. In short, we have moved from “management by anecdote” to a far greater reliance on obtaining and utilizing sophisticated data gathering Allen I. Fagin is executive vice president of the OU.


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techniques and analysis to determine how and where to best deploy our limited resources. But it is still not sufficient—not for us, and not for our complicated and ever-evolving community. We need to better utilize the most rigorous research and data analytics available to inform our judgements about how our community thinks and acts so that we can guide our program and policy choices. We are, therefore, enormously excited to announce the creation of the OU Center for Communal Research, and welcome its new director, Matt Williams. The Center for Communal Research will advance the OU’s mission to better understand and serve the Jewish community by developing a high-quality base of data, knowledge and insights about our community through a carefully conceived and executed research agenda. The Center will be the central address for all OU research and evaluation projects. It will study how people learn how to live Jewish lives; how day school graduates and college students relate to God and Orthodoxy; how our community members feel about a multitude of issues facing them, and the ways in which institutions have made—and can make—an impression on their identities; as well as the opportunities and challenges facing our community. We anticipate that the Center’s research will form the basis for published research and symposia on selected issues of communal concern. In addition to its external research agenda that will study the larger American Jewish community, with an emphasis on

Orthodoxy, the Center will also focus on internal program evaluation, which will assist in the strategic development and enhancement of OU departments and programs. Matt Williams, the founding director of the OU Center for Communal Research, joins the OU after serving as the managing director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive, where he conducted an array of research projects, developed strategic plans, and guided the design, execution, and evaluation of programs for a variety of Jewish and non-Jewish institutions. Matt holds degrees in art history, English, and Jewish studies from Yeshiva University, a master’s degree in history and public policy, and is currently completing doctorates in education and history, all from Stanford University. He is an alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship and a former Jim Joseph Fellow in Jewish education. He was a summer fellow at the Katz Institute for Advanced Judaic Study, a Mellon Initiative Scholar of Art History at Yale University, and a visiting researcher at New York University where he taught in the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. One of the tasks of the OU Center for Communal Research will be to explore the likelihood that Orthodox Jews will constitute the majority of American Jewry before the end of the century—and the potential consequences of this probability. According to leading demographers, the American Jewish landscape will undergo a seismic shift over the next fifty to seventy years. Orthodox Jews, who currently represent approximately 10 to 12 percent of the


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Adapted from E. Adkins with permission

Orthodox Jews vs. Reform and Conservative Jews vs. Jews of No Denomination (All Ages) 4 million 3 million 2 million 1 million 2018








■ Orthodox (All Ages) ■ Ref/Con (All Ages) ■ No Denom (All Ages)

American Jewish population will—if current projections hold—become the majority of American Jewry. “There will be more Orthodox than Reform and Conservative [Jews] combined within about 40 years. And before the end of this century the Orthodox will outnumber all other American Jews combined, including those who belong to no denomination.” (See the Forward’s “Orthodox to Dominate American Jewry in Coming Decades As Population Booms,” by Ari Feldman and Laura E. Adkins, June 12, 2018, orthodox-will-dominate-american-jewry-in-coming-decades-as-population/.) The data, say the experts, is compelling and inexorable. The non-Orthodox population marries later and has fewer children—less than two per couple, or a negative rate of replacement. In contrast, the birthrate among Orthodox Jews is over four children per household. Add to this demographic reality the well-documented, dual effects of assimilation and intermarriage on population trends; and project out several decades . . . the projections are hardly far-fetched. If anything, their effects may become manifest far sooner than predicted. To be sure, the demographic predictions are just that, predictions . . . based on a myriad of assumptions regarding the continuation of current observable trends. They require careful analysis and reflection, including consideration of the impact of aliyah; inward and outward movement from and into Orthodoxy; the effect of economic trends on family size; patterns of marriage and divorce; 12

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and a myriad of other factors. But the demographic trends within the Jewish community seem clear: our community is growing—rapidly; and the non-Orthodox population is shrinking. The prospect of demographic ascension raises new and profound questions about the future of Orthodox life in America; the nature and responsibility of our institutions; and the relationship between Orthodoxy and the broader Jewish community and American society generally. Some of these challenges we do not yet have the capacity to imagine, let alone the infrastructure to resolve. The questions abound: how will we serve the needs of a community that may be, at once, among the poorest and the wealthiest, in America? What will the communal dynamics of marriage look like decades hence? Will our communal infrastructure be capable of providing appropriate support and services to an ever-growing population of singles? How many children will be reared in two-income households? How will this affect educational success and lifestyle choices? How will we relate to the broader American Jewish community that is, increasingly, becoming interfaith in composition and straying further and further from religious affiliation? How will changes in our political ideology manifest themselves, and impact upon— perhaps even transform—our sense of communal identity? What are the strategic consequences of further Progressive alienation from support for Israel—on our community and on historical bipartisan support? In short, must we begin to plan now for a future Jewish America

in which the fate of American Jewry will increasingly rest on our shoulders? And, if so, what must that planning process look like? Here is a random sample of the types of issues that we will face and need to plan for. I have selected but a few of the myriad potential examples to illustrate the magnitude and complexity of the task before us: 1. Our Expanded Obligation for Outreach As Rabbi Dr. Abraham Unger has written recently: “Save for a small Orthodox minority numbering not much more than 10 percent of US Jewry, American Jews have overwhelmingly decided not to marry each other and commit their children to serious Jewish education or communal commitment. With more than 70 percent of American Jews marrying non-Jews, according to the most current Pew Research Center Survey of US Jews, and the minority of non-Orthodox Jews who do marry Jewish partners not providing substantive and consistent Jewish exposure to their children, it is hard to see how American Judaism will survive in any meaningful way outside of Orthodoxy.” We are left with two stark choices: We can let history take its brutal course, or we can double—and double again and again—the efforts we make to bring an energized, uplifting, passionate—and informed— Yiddishkeit to hundreds of thousands of our Jewish brethren. The kiruv movement must be embraced, reinvigorated and supported with the funds and talent required. It is a fundamental imperative of a minority on its way to majority status. How will we plan to meet this imperative? Indeed, what does this imperative look like to an increasingly interfaith Jewish community? 2. Numbers Matter—Will American Jews Maintain their Important Place in the Public Square? How will we adapt to a smaller, albeit a far more religiously committed, population base, particularly one


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likely to be concentrated in a relatively small number of urban hubs? What will be the impact be on our political clout? And, derivatively, what will the consequences be for the long-held tradition of bi-partisan support for Israel (and its national security and defense) as the Orthodox community tilts further to the right of the political spectrum. A challenge of future majority status that will require provocative analysis. 3. The Relationship Between Diaspora and Israel How will the Orthodox community— particularly as it reaches or nears majority status—maintain a broad-based consensus on identification with, and support for,

Meet Matt Williams Can you tell me a little about yourself? I was born in Oklahoma and grew up in Georgia. I’m a member of the Choctaw Nation and a Sephardic Jew whose father emigrated from Morocco. I’m probably the first American Indian, Sephardic Jew the OU has hired in its history. In some ways, I think this represents the dynamic demographics of the American Orthodox community, once almost exclusively from Eastern Europe. That “outsider” perspective is probably an asset to a researcher, but as the OU has signaled with my hiring, on some level, there really shouldn’t be “outsiders” among those who want to participate in Jewish life. Why did you decide to become a social scientist and dedicate yourself to studying the Jewish community? I’ve always been passionately


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the State of Israel? Will our community, particularly if no longer a minority, feel more confident and secure—and hence more willing to tolerate the expression of heterodox viewpoints, particularly among a younger generation increasingly alienated from the Jewish State and the Zionist agenda? Or will the opposite be the case, with majority status seen as a vindication of the ascendance of Torah values and proof of their eternal message? In short, how will the community of ma’aminim bnei ma’aminim relate to and interact with the remaining community of American Jews who continue to identify with Jewish culture and peoplehood, but not with its religious essence. Is there a place for liberalism

curious about Judaism. I triple majored at Yeshiva University in art history, English and Jewish studies. I prepared to pursue semichah but instead earned a Mellon Initiative Fellowship at Yale University. Subsequently, I was named a YU Point of Light and granted the Yeshiva College Honors Program Award for Distinguished Student. I’m driven by questions—how does one learn how to be Jewish? How does that express itself within, alongside, and juxtaposed with institutional Jewish life? And how do we in the Jewish establishment implicitly limit the types of ways individuals can enter and engage with the Jewish community? Why are you interested in this particular role at the OU? I’m thrilled to help the OU’s various departments better understand what they do and gauge their actual impact. But more than that, this position allows me to think more broadly, and build a research agenda that can help us address and maybe

within the Orthodox community? How will we maintain civil discourse, and civil disagreement, in an increasingly polarized community? These questions—and scores like them—animate our thinking as we launch our new OU Center for Communal Research. We urge our readers to react to this essay by writing to me ( or to Matt Williams ( with comments and/or suggestions for vital research projects that would benefit our community and enhance our ability to plan for the future. May we see great success in our collective avodat hakodesh as we continue to identify—and help respond to—the needs of Klal Yisrael.

even solve challenges in the broader community. It speaks so well of the OU that its leaders decided to invest in research and see it as essential to our work. What areas within the Orthodox Jewish world are you excited about studying? One area is the economics of Jewish life—affordability, whether it’s a function of tuition or housing or healthcare—it’s something we need to get a better handle on. A second area is the evolving gender roles of our community. I don’t mean the growth of women’s spiritual leadership per say, but the suspected increase in two-income households, the later-marriage phenomenon and the sheer number of singles affected by the shidduch crisis. And a third is how do we, as Orthodox Jews, relate to the broader American Jewish community? We need to better understand these phenomena before we can thoughtfully approach any of them.


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By Gerald M. Schreck


hoose life,” the Torah tells us in Parashas Nitzavim. And indeed, what seems like such a fairly easy choice—life over death— is in fact, a very, very difficult one. We are constantly bombarded by life-death choices. Do we take a few minutes to speak to our elderly, lonely neighbor sitting on the porch or do we hastily wave as we rush by? Do we speak calmly and supportively to our spouse even after a grueling day at work or do we allow our annoyance and frustration to prevail? Do we snap at our children when they seek our time and attention or do we take a minute to listen to their stories, their challenges, their fears? Are these really life-death choices? Yes, they are. As author Rabbi Yehoshua Berman writes: The mitzvah “you shall choose life” enjoins us to function as a chooser—to take the reins of life firmly in hand and be in control of ourselves. It empowers us to live in a conscious manner wherein deliberate decisions between good and evil, right and wrong, better or worse, good or even better, characterize how we approach life; and not just go through life following the automatic-pilot path of least resistance, ease and pleasure seeking ( reflections/325017951.html). Our cover story “Jews by Choice” is—appropriately—about choices. Rosh Hashanah is all about choices. It’s about past choices and future 16

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choices; it’s about who we were, who we are and who we hope to be. In this issue we read about the choices made by a few extraordinary individuals to leave their religion of birth and embark upon the rigorous path of conversion to Judaism. The men and women who, through their own diligence, determination and persistence, end up joining Klal Yisrael are fascinating individuals with fascinating stories to tell. We are privileged to be able to present but a glimpse into their lives. But while the choices made by those who are born Jewish don’t seem quite as dramatic, they are no less life-altering. Every Jew— convert or not—makes choices with eternal consequences multiple times each and every day.

Each of us makes choices—every day, every hour... which have eternal ramifications. My own mother, Rae Schreck, a”h, made a life-transforming decision when she married my father. A decision that affected her children, grandchildren and all future generations. A decision for which I am eternally grateful. My maternal grandparents arrived in the United States in 1900, and while my grandmother lit Shabbos candles and tried to maintain some traditions from the alte heim, her home was not a religious one. In those days, there weren’t many yeshivos; the flourishing infrastructure of Orthodox life that we take for granted today did not exist back then. The Orthodox community was struggling, overshadowed by the more powerful Conservative

and Reform movements. My mother learned how to read aleph-beis and that was the extent of her Jewish education. But hashgachah brought my parents together; they met and wanted to marry. My father, however, had been brought up in a very religious home, and was a 1928 graduate of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School. In marriage, my mother made her choice. She chose to share a frum lifestyle with my dad. Today her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all live Torah-true lives. My mother embraced Yiddishkeit wholeheartedly. She instilled in all of us what Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik referred to as “Torat Imecha,” the powerful experiential relationship to Torah and Yahadus that only a mother can convey [see “Our Mothers,” page 42]. She was a highly spiritual person and, despite her irreligious background, lived a life guided by the light of the Torah. During her final illness, when we accompanied my mother who was already well into her eighties to the hospital, she whispered to me: “Jerry, I’m not leaving the hospital. If Hashem wants to take me, I am ready. I have two grandsons who have semichah. I have raised beautiful children and grandchildren who go in the way of Hashem.” She was fulfilled knowing that she raised future generations who would go in the right path. In this issue, we included a section entitled “Gifts I Got from My Mother,” where writers reflect on lifelong gifts they received from their mothers. What gift did my mother leave me? The gift of emunah. She made a foundational choice when she married my father that reverberates until this very day. Each of us makes choices—every day, every hour—many of which have eternal ramifications. Choose life. Best wishes for a kesivah v’chasimah tovah. Gerald M. Schreck is chairman of the Jewish Action Committee and vice chairman of the OU Board of Governors.


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Jews have been living in Ecuador since the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, but those early Sephardic families almost completely assimilated. Centuries later, as the Nazis rose to power, Eastern European Jews began arriving in Ecuador, leading to the Jewish population’s peak of 4,000 in the 1950s. Due to rampant assimilation and emigration, today Ecuador has only about 800 Jews. The majority live in Quito, the beautiful capital nestled near the equator at an elevation of 9,350 feet. Jewish Action spoke with Rabbi Nir Koren, rabbi of the main Jewish community in Ecuador, and Rabbi Shoshan Ghoori, OU director of international relations, Latin America, to find out why a little-known Jewish community is experiencing a religious renaissance. Photos courtesy of Rabbi Nir Koren, unless indicated otherwise.


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For the past year, Rabbi Nir Koren has served as the rabbi of Communidad de Judia del Ecuador, a congregation and community organization in Quito, known simply as “the Community.” The lawyer-turned rabbi speaks Spanish, English and Hebrew fluently. In his mid-thirties, Rabbi Koren, originally from Israel and married to Andrea, an Argentinian, has spent his rabbinic career strengthening small Spanish-speaking Jewish communities around the world. Before arriving in Ecuador, the rabbi and his wife led Orthodox communities in Colombia and Mexico.

Rabbi Shoshan Ghoori was born in New York to a distinguished rabbinic family. He studied in Israeli yeshivot, including Beit Meir and Yeshiva Toras Moshe, and received rabbinical ordination from Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey. In addition, he was instrumental in creating the Spanish translation of the ArtScroll Siddur, and established the Kosher Chile organization, as well as

Quito, the beautiful capital of Ecuador nestled near the equator at an elevation of 9,350 feet. The city is a UNESCO cultural heritage site, containing the least-altered historic center in the Americas. Pictured here is Garcia Moreno Street in the city’s historical Pichincha Province. Photo: Daniel Romero/VWPics via AP Images.

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JA: Is it true that the Jewish community in Ecuador is experiencing a religious renaissance? Rabbi Nir Koren: In Quito, the capital city where the bulk of the Jewish community resides, many, many Jews are interested in learning more about living a Torah lifestyle. There is a tremendous desire among Jewish Ecuadorians to grow as Torah Jews and I am thrilled to play a part in bringing the people of this community closer to their roots.

Rabbi Shoshan Ghoori: Outreach should not be limited to North America. Assimilation is an international catastrophe for the Jewish people. True, Ecuador has a small Jewish community, but we need to care about all Jews. When Avraham Avinu prayed to Hashem to spare Sodom, he said, “Ulai yimtza’un sham asarah?— What if ten [righteous people] were there [in Sodom]?” He cared about every last person, and Hashem said He would save the city even if only ten good people were found in it.

How Do You Say Kosher in Spanish? South America’s Booming Kosher Food Industry • Supervising nearly 600 plants in Central and South America, OU Kosher has a significant presence in South America, certifying products including olive oil, dried fruit, quinoa and fish—especially tuna and salmon. “The South American kosher market is growing since the kosher market the world over is growing,” says Rabbi Yitzchok Gutterman, OU Kosher regional director of South American operations. Companies in South America are attracted to kosher because they know that US companies demand kosher certification. “And since the kosher market in the US is huge, these companies seek out the OU,” says Rabbi Gutterman. How strong in the OU’s presence in South America? “We are in nearly every country in South America,” says Rabbi Gutterman. • OU Kosher works hand in hand with governmental agencies in South America, in countries rich with opportunity. In November of 2017, the Ecuadorian government invited OU Kosher representatives to speak at an agriculture event in an effort to help advance the country’s economy. The government even offered to subsidize a percentage of the cost towards obtaining OU Kosher certification. • In South America the OU works hard to forge close relationships with the local rabbis and communities, assisting them to enhance their own kosher certification and make more kosher food accessible on the local level. “OU Kosher is not just about certifying companies,” says Rabbi Gutterman. “It’s about building and strengthening Jewish life the world over.”


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In order to understand the community in Ecuador, you need a little background. For many decades, the Jewish community was predominantly Conservative or Reform and was under such leadership. Over the past few years, however, the community has undergone a religious reawakening and actually sought out Orthodox rabbis— Rabbi Koren and his predecessor— because the community specifically wanted to move in that direction. JA: What inspired this growth? Rabbi Ghoori: Despite the fact that the Jewish community of Quito is small, it’s very dynamic—there’s a lot of energy there. People want to grow; there’s a real desire to learn and to move toward becoming more religious. The community now has kashrut standards in place—the Jewish Community Center, the main hub of Jewish communal life in Quito, is kosher; the community catering hall is kosher. Rabbi Koren, working together with the OU, made this possible. This is a highly educated, intellectual, business-oriented and business-savvy community. In business you are constantly evaluating what works and what doesn’t. The community saw what was working and what wasn’t when it comes to preserving Jewish identity. They saw that the South American Jewish communities that embraced Orthodoxy are growing. The others are not. Jewish Ecuadorians understand the lesson of history: small non-Orthodox Jewish communities tend to vanish over time. After one or two or three generations, everyone intermarries, and there is no Jewish community to speak of. They also saw what happened in places like Chile. JA: Tell us about the religious revolution that took place in Chile. Rabbi Ghoori: There was almost no Orthodox presence in Chile in the 1980s. Some 15,000 Jews lived there, but it was mostly a secular Jewish city, lacking the Torah infrastructure and rich religious life found in Brazil and Argentina.

With the support of Canadian businessman and philanthropist Dov Friedberg in the 1990s, I established an Aish HaTorah branch in Chile and the first Sephardic congregation in Chile for Jews of Mediterranean and North African descent. With the help of many individuals and organizations, the teshuvah movement really took off in Chile. Many of my students are now running Torah institutions there and Chile is one of the strongest Jewish communities in South America. Currently, there’s a kollel, an Orthodox-run school (Maimonides) that serves children from kindergarten until twelfth grade, shuls, several kosher restaurants, and one amazingly successful NCSY branch that has helped the community grow in countless ways. What’s happening in Ecuador now is similar to what took place in Chile. Before Chile experienced a religious renaissance, there was no such model in South America. Now, however,

small struggling Jewish communities in South America are seeing the yeshivot, the learning, the day school, the vibrant Jewish life in Chile, and are saying, “We see continuity there; we see a vibrant, all-inclusive Jewish community in South America.” The Jews in Ecuador saw this and they hired Rabbi Koren because they made a decision; they want to revitalize Jewish life in their city. Rabbi Koren: It’s important to understand that South America is not one country; there are twelve distinct countries on the continent. Each country has its own personality, its own distinct characteristics. On the Atlantic coast, Brazil, Argentina even even Uruguay have solid Orthodox communities. Unfortunately, on the West Coast—Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia—the Jewish communities tend to be weaker and struggle with assimilation. My wife is from Cordoba, Argentina. (For her it wasn’t difficult

Quito has an amazing Jewish community. Its members are eager to learn and to grow spiritually. to understand why I wanted to go to Ecuador when the opportunity arose.) Argentina has a relatively huge Jewish community, with 250,000 members, it’s the strongest in South America. But it’s not a ba’al teshuvah community; the Jews there had remained Orthodox throughout. So while the Jewish communities of Chile and Argentina are both are strong and growing, they are very different culturally. Continued on page 24

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▶ Rabbi Shoshan Ghoori, OU director of international relations, Latin America, was instrumental in establishing a branch of Aish HaTorah in Chile. Having had a hand in Chile’s religious renaissance, Rabbi Ghoori hopes that Ecuador can experience the same. Courtesy of Rabbi Shoshan Ghoori

▲ Rabbi Nir Koren, rabbi of the main community in Ecuador, is helping to spur a religious revival within the country’s small Jewish community. Seen here with his wife, Andrea, who is from Argentina. ▶ The Plaza Grande is the central public square of Quito, also known as Independence Square. Over 4,000 Jews lived in Quito in the 1950s, as many Eastern European Jews had fled there to escape the Nazis. Adobe Stock


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In Quito, the Jewish Community Center, a multi-million-dollar facility built in 2000, serves as the hub of Jewish life in the city. This imposing building offers a wide range of religious, educational, cultural and social services. The complex includes a mikvah, a shul, a kosher kitchen, tennis and squash courts, a swimming pool and a youth center.

▟ Housed within the Quito Jewish Community Center’s thick stone walls is one of the most beautiful synagogues in the Americas.

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Continued from page 21

JA: How did you come to be a rabbi in Ecuador? Rabbi Koren: I studied at Ohr Torah Stone’s Straus-Amiel Program in Israel. The program is committed to training rabbis to effectively strengthen Jewish identity and existence in communities throughout the Diaspora. Subsequently, my wife and I were sent to Mexico—first the Jewish community in Monterrey and later, Cancun. After that we served in Colombia for some time. The Straus-Amiel Program connected us to the position in Ecuador. JA: What are you doing to bring people closer to their roots? Rabbi Koren: Quito has an amazing Jewish community. Its members are eager to learn and to grow spiritually. We recently launched a mezuzah project. It gives me an opportunity to enter people’s homes and get to know them. I spend much of my time visiting with people, sitting with them and listening to their stories. Not everyone feels comfortable inviting the rabbi

to their home, but if I come to put up a mezuzah or to check a mezuzah, we can get to know each other in a comfortable way. We also started a talmud Torah project. One day a week children come to the Community Center after school and study Torah. We also started offering a Talmud shiur for men. During the week, we do not pray in the Jewish Community Center; we pray in people’s homes. We circulate among the community members— every day at a different location. We pray, eat a delicious breakfast together, and then study halachah for five minutes—right now we are finishing, for example, the halachot of reading the Torah and the aliyot l’Torah. Afterward, everyone leaves for work. We also started a youth movement. JA: Why do you circulate in people’s homes rather than use the shul as a base? Rabbi Koren: Firstly, commitment. When someone offers his house as a place to pray, he has to show up and

I would also like to bring Orthodox Jews to tour the Galapagos Islands and to mainland Ecuador . . . to establish a strong relationship between world Jewry and the Ecuadorian Jewish community.


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make sure there’s a minyan. He calls his friends and neighbors. He is personally invested in the success of the minyan. Secondly, often people won’t show up to a shul, but they will show up to an individual’s home. JA: What does the Ecuadorian Jewish community need right now? Rabbi Ghoori: It’s a small isolated community and it needs to be connected to the larger Jewish world. When I started doing outreach work in Chile, the kollel we started was supported by the Friedbergs. This in and of itself gave Chilean Jewry a bond with North American Jewry, because many who would come to Chile from Canada or the US had heard of the Friedbergs. Similarly, Ecuadorian Jews need to feel part of something bigger. I’d like to connect them to other South American Jewish communities first— maybe bring thirty students from Chile to spend Shabbat with thirty students from Ecuador. We need to bring NCSY here as we brought it to Chile. Putting Jewish Ecuador on the map will give this small community a spiritual boost. I would also like to bring North American Orthodox Jews to tour the Galapagos Islands and mainland Ecuador. This would not just be an opportunity to see a beautiful country on South America’s west coast—it would be a way to establish a stronger relationship between world Jewry and the Ecuadorian Jewish community.

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A Portrait of

The Rav 26

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By Stanley (Shmuel) Boylan Photos: Yeshiva University Archives


Throughout the year 5778, which marked the twenty-fifth yahrtzeit of the Rav, we have sought to present different facets of his complex and brilliant personality to the broader public. As the year closes, Rabbi Dr. Stanley Boylan recalls the fundamental role the Rav played in his life and learning. At the entrance to my home, there hangs a portrait of my rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, with which my wife surprised me a number of years ago. This portrait of the Rav depicts him more or less as I remember him when I was his talmid, his eyes peering out of thick glasses with an inquisitive but demanding look. His image watches me as I come and go, and reminds me of things that I have yet to learn and of the role he played in my life and learning. At my office at Touro College, there is a different portrait of the Rav, a computer-generated image from an earlier photograph. While I can clearly discern the Rav’s features in this portrait, the photograph on which it is based was not taken during the period when I was his talmid. In this portrait, the Rav appears as ever, masterful, and here, too, I am inspired by the intellectual majesty and moral integrity radiating from his penetrating gaze, but I have more difficulty recognizing my beloved rebbe in it. At this twenty-fifth yahrtzeit of the Rav, there are indeed various portraits being drawn of him, many of them true to the vision and experiences of the individuals composing them. Some are even written by individuals from a new generation—the “dor asher lo yada et Yosef”—who experienced the Rav’s brilliance only from his writings or from his recorded lectures; other portraits are composed by those who never truly recognized him at all, “v’heim lo hikiruhu.” Some portraits may actually distort the image of the Rabbi Dr. Stanley Boylan received his BA and semichah from Yeshiva University and his PhD in mathematics from NYU. He has served as vice president of undergraduate education and dean of faculties at Touro College since 1981.

Rav and what he stood for, so those of us who had the zechut (privilege) of learning directly from the Rav have an obligation to present our vision of this great man and his personal impact. The impact that a rebbe has on his talmidim is ultimately much greater than the individual chiddushei Torah he taught. It is the unique personality of the rebbe as he approaches the learning process and the challenges presented to him that etch themselves into the talmid and change his thinking and his life. There is great value in preserving before oneself the image of one’s teacher, of one’s rebbe. The Gemara in Eruvin 13b states: Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi said: “The fact that I am more incisive than my colleagues is due to the fact that I saw Rabbi Meir mei’achorai, from behind. Had I seen him from the front, I would be even more incisive, as it is written, ‘And your eyes shall see your teacher.’” The image of Rabbi Meir, even from the back, transformed Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi and made him Rebbe, the teacher of all generations. We all

know that Yosef HaTzaddik, when confronted with great temptation, was similarly saved by the image of his father Yaakov, which appeared before him (Sotah 36b). Interestingly, the Rav quotes this passage from Sotah as the preamble to his magnum opus, Ish Ha-Halakhah (Halakhic Man), where he sketches an image of his own great teachers and forebearers. The Rav himself, in a hesped that he delivered over a gadol who had passed away, described the difficulties in presenting a full picture of the niftar (the deceased) by referring to a passage in the Talmud (Moed Katan 25a). When Rav Huna, the great Amora, passed from this world, the aron (coffin) in which he had been placed was too wide to pass through the door of Rav Huna’s house. Various attempts to solve this problem were rejected, including transferring him to a narrower aron, as it was regarded as being disrespectful to the deceased. Finally, they simply broke down the doorway to enable the aron to exit. So too, the Rav explained, when a gadol passes away, those entrusted with conveying his essence through well-defined passageways, the windows of their own soul through which they perceived the gadol, somehow fail to encompass the true greatness of the individual. The attempt is made to contain the gadol within the routine categories within which we define other

The impact that a rebbe has on his talmidim is ultimately much greater than the individual chiddushei Torah he taught—it is the unique personality of the rebbe as he approaches the learning process and the challenges presented to him that etches itself onto the talmid and changes his thinking and his life. Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION


The Rav at a luncheon by the faculty of RIETS. From left: The Rav, then-YU President Dr. Samuel Belkin and YU Rosh Yeshivah Rabbi Mendel Zaks.

individuals and ourselves, resulting in making the gadol appear smaller. If one wishes to have access to the essence of the gadol, to appreciate his greatness, one must break down one’s individual narrow vision and see the gadol in the entirety of his contributions and his personality. This insight certainly applies to the Rav, who defied easy categorization because of the richness of his spirit, the brilliance of his intellect and the moral integrity of the true man of faith. He encompassed simultaneously an abiding dedication to the mesorah of his distinguished forebearers as well as his vision of chiddush (original interpretations) in Torah as a primary creative exercise. And so, we find profiles of the Rav by those who approach him from a single line of vision—either seeking to emphasize the modern at the expense of the mesorah, or confining the Rav to areas in which he was, indeed, most comfortable, within the daled amot of halachah. Twenty-five years after his passing, we who experienced the Rav’s brilliance on a continual basis, primarily within the context of the give and take of Talmudic exposition, still learn of and learn from the breadth of the Rav’s vision and teachings. The Rav defined himself as a melamed—a term of honor, since it is the term used with regard to Hashem in Birkat HaTorah (“Hamelamed Torah l’amo Yisrael”)—and talmud Torah was the very essence of his purpose in life. He would quote a family maxim: “In 28

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order to be a gadol, you had to grow up among gedolim.” (Needless to say, the Rav’s talmidim, by and large, did not grow up among gedolim.) The Rav had a great and unique mesorah of Torah Shebe’al Peh from his father, Rav Moshe Soloveichik, and his grandfather, Rav Chaim Brisker, whose chiddushei Torah were inevitably expressed in virtually every shiur. While other students of Rav Chaim had also broadly mastered the fundamentals of applying the Brisker derech, in the hands of the Rav it was the methodology of a genius applied by another genius. The Rav felt that man was commanded to be creative, just as Hashem is a Creator, and that this creativity could be expressed

through talmud Torah and the power of chiddush. In teaching Torah, the Rav was also literally creating and transforming talmidim; he applied the principle of “Uman koneh b’shvach keli—the craftsman is given dominion over the object he creates” to the rebbe who forms and transforms his students. And the Rav was a master craftsman. During the period of my sojourn in the Rav’s shiur, our class consisted of many of the Rav’s leading talmidim who would ultimately transcribe his Torah teachings and give it over to future generations of talmidim; others would later assume the leadership of American Orthodoxy.1 One of the secrets of the Rav’s masterful pedagogy was an abiding openness to new approaches to a sugya, both from himself and even from talmidim. The Rav would start with a seemingly fresh look at a sugya or text, with no preconceived explanation, but of course his approach inevitably fell within the overall Brisker framework. He would solicit or insist on answers from talmidim; the Rav would not always agree with a student’s formulation, but not being prepared for or involved in the shiur was a fatal flaw, to be avoided at all costs. On one occasion when the Rav’s discussion was especially intense, he called upon me, and I told him that I had a totally different peshat

His Torah and teaching are being learned mainly without exposure to the force of his personality, which itself left such an indelible impression; without his sense of humor; without the intensity of his passion. Of course, we learned from the Rav’s Torah, but being exposed to his own persona was a limud in itself.

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in the sugya. To my surprise, the Rav simply allowed me to learn it differently. On other occasions, he would seriously examine approaches that differed from his own. On the other hand, when I offered a routine peshat (“cheftza-gavra”) the Rav rejected it as too facile for the problem being discussed. For the record, the Rav did not allow any so-called “secular” knowledge to impact on the shiurim that he gave, which were purely Torah. The Rav venerated intellectual honesty and elevated the desire for amito shel Torah (the truth of Torah) above all else. In transmitting Torah, he sought to teach his students not merely to know the Torah text that he was teaching, but to know how to think about the text, how to examine the nuances, the difficulties and the seeming paradoxes in the explanations provided, even those that he himself advanced. A shiur might start with the Rav’s rendering of Rav Chaim’s peshat in the sugya, truly brilliant in itself, then expand upon it to question which cases the explanation might truly apply to and whether there were approaches intimated by the Rishonim. Living with the great mesorah of Brisk, the Rav interpreted that mesorah to incorporate the exploration of new approaches to be subsumed in a future mesorah that he and his talmidim might create. At the end of the shiur, the Rav would seek to encapsulate the lesson by asking, “What did we learn today?” Since he was only in New York three days a week, each shiur could run for multiple hours before he would ask this question, and, in reviewing the shiur, the Rav might experience difficulty with an explanation or principle that he had elucidated and might well decide that it needed another formulation. This could turn into another shiur, but he would not give up until he was satisfied, and, on rare occasions, he would pronounce the principle “amito shel Torah.” On other occasions, he might return to the sugya the following week, until he was truly satisfied. After all the discussions and deliberations, the Rav wanted to make sure that the final lesson would be as he had anticipated, or that it would be defined with sufficient rigor to meet his standards. It may be precisely this which renders the Rav so unforgettable to his talmidim, because we either seek out his approach to a perplexing sugya, or in other instances, remember how he would encourage us to think creatively and explore other possibilities, always within the overall halachic structure of kol haTorah kulah, which was his given. There is a danger, of course, that talmidim who perhaps did not learn all that the Rav had to teach and did not absorb the lesson of amito shel Torah, might mistake his encouragement of openness for a disregard for the mesorah and the intellectual discipline and tension which accompanies it. That each individual section of Talmudic text could be mastered and understood in the context of a universal mesorah was his true lesson to us all. It is incredible that the Rav, who spent so much intellectual energy on deciphering and explicating so meticulously and articulately the opinions of the giants of Jewish tradition, might be cited as a source for those seeking to undermine the authority of that self-same tradition. Anyone using

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the Rav’s open approach to talmidim to advance his own personal agenda has failed to grasp the very core of the Rav’s methodology and values and may not have been a talmid at all. As a student in Yeshiva College, it was my greatest desire to gain entrance into the Rav’s shiur, although entry at the time was limited to those students pursuing semichah (ordination). My chavruta and I, braver souls then than we are today, undertook to sit in on the Rav’s shiur. Having attended other shiurim based on the Brisker “canon,” I remember thinking at that first experience with the Rav’s shiur—the Rav was learning Kiddushin—that the experience was like a transformation from black-and-white to color, where a rainbow of possibilities and interpretations suddenly appeared before me. Unfortunately, I had to wait another year until the Rav’s shiur was opened up to Yeshiva College students. After recounting this experience, I received a call from an individual working with tapes of the Rav’s shiurim who was trying to date the Kiddushin shiurim. I realized that I could now, after all these years, finally hear the Rav’s shiurim on Kiddushin. In some sense, the Rav is even more accessible today to talmidim and the broader public—via published reconstructions of shiurim and through recordings and media outlets. It is breathtaking to read the Rav’s brilliant formulations of ideas that he 30

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would explicate in the future, already referenced in the Iggerot HaGrid HaLevi and Iggerot HaGram v’HaGrid, which were based on his letters to his father and others. The Rav’s thoughts on the Yamim Noraim now elevate and inspire us and Klal Yisrael throughout those holiest of days, and his reflections on Kinot and on Chumash are now cogently and movingly presented for all to read. However, with the publication of such fine works, there have been striking, perhaps inevitable, changes in the manner in which the Rav is perceived for posterity. Learning in the Rav’s shiur or attending one of his public lectures, it was always clear to us that the Rav was a genius at interpretation, with great sensitivity to the nuances of the language of a text. Interestingly, we did not regard the Rav as a spokesman for himself but, rather, as a revealer of truths, sometimes received from his forebearers and sometimes uncovered by him through his koach hachiddush. The Rav would use his great bekiut and marvelous logical (and pedagogical) skills to present a persuasive argument. His teaching was not based on his own personal authority as a religious leader or spokesman, but rather on the sources that he brought to bear on a problem and the elegance of the solutions that he offered. Over the years, the Rav himself has become the study of countless scholars, and his teachings seen as original

thinking derived from his own religious sensibilities; however, although the Rav admitted to a keen halachic intuition, by and large he followed the minhagim (traditions) of his family (often minhag HaGra or the minhag of the yeshivot of Lithuania) in his own practice. As a teacher of generations, the Rav always sought to derive a position on a controversial issue from the sources of authentic Jewish authority. The Rav’s voice was an echo of the kol miSinai, advocating lamdut, not liberalization, addressed to modernity but not the call of a modernizer. Following a family tradition, the Rav published relatively little, quoting the maxim, “Not everything that one thinks should one say, not everything one says should one write down, and not everything one writes down should one publish.” Given the Rav’s meticulous standards of excellence and attention to detail, many of those items published by talmidim and others in his name might well have been held back from publication by the Rav, largely to the detriment of the world of his talmidim and the Olam HaTorah. Because of the Rav’s particular derech halimud (methodology of learning), which incorporated new approaches specifically to open up the minds of his talmidim, we do not always know, and cannot know, the Rav’s final opinion, whether the chiddush or brilliancy captured by the talmid or the recorder reflected “sof da’ato,” whether it would have met his criteria in the review, “What did we learn today?” Ironically, the Rav’s Torah may now have a wider audience than in his lifetime, but with some uncertainty as to whether the Rav himself would have imparted this particular thought for posterity. And if the Rav’s thought is, indeed, more present, his absence is also more profoundly felt, because his Torah and teachings are being learned mainly without exposure to the force of his personality—which itself left such an indelible impression; without his sense of humor; without the intensity of his passion. Of course we learned from the Rav’s Torah, but being exposed to his own persona was a limud in itself.

The Rav was not an isolated professor of Talmud delivering Olympian-style lectures, but a flesh-and-blood rebbe. He was often surrounded by devoted talmidim who developed close and lifelong relationships with him. There was a period during which the Rav lost his brother and his wife which was, indeed, a difficult period for him. We, all the talmidim of the shiur, traveled together to visit him for shivah in Boston. Subsequently, when he came back to Yeshiva, he learned Masechet Moed Katan and hilchot aveilut, which was his way of expressing his loss through the limud of Torah. After a shiur, the Rav was often surrounded by loving talmidim looking for clarification on a part of the shiur or posing a new halachic question for resolution. On one occasion, one of his favorite talmidim brought his kallah to meet the Rav and asked for a berachah. This was not in the realm of usual requests, and the Rav shyly responded, “I am not a Chassidishe rebbe,” reflecting his Litvish upbringing. He gave the berachah which was sought, of course, and which bore great weight. When my son was of bar mitzvah age, I brought him up to Boston for a berachah from the Rav, who was then confined to his home. There was no protest from the Rav this time, and a berachah was forthcoming. (My son, now in Eretz Yisrael, has since mastered more Brisker Torah than I ever will). When possible, the Rav would also intervene for his talmidim for positions, when he could be helpful, and once even weighed in on a doctoral thesis defense on behalf of a talmid. The Rav was a berachah to all of his talmidim, even if he wasn’t a Chassidishe rebbe! For those of us familiar with the personality of the Rav, reading his works captured in print can jog our memories and help us to re-experience the grandeur of his thought. My suggestion to those encountering the Rav solely through print would be to listen to some of his shiurim, now widely available online, to experience the dynamism and drama intrinsic in his personality in order to understand the problems that he addressed, rather than merely the answers recorded in writing. We are living in an age in which it is possible to capture somewhat the “achorai” of the Rav, if not to experience the full gamut of his personality. And to do so is certainly necessary if we are to try to be “omed al sof da’ato,” to know what the Rav might have expressed as his final opinion at the end of the shiur when he would reflect, “And what did we learn today?” Note 1. Rav Hershel Schachter, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Rav Menachem Genack and Rav Michel Shurkin are among his great talmidim and transcribers. Future maggidei shiur include Rav Abba Bronspiegel, Rav Moshe Yaged, Rav Mordechai Willig, Rav Yitzchak Ginsburg, Rav Aharon Kahn, Rav Chaim Ilson, Rav Ezra Bick, Rav Avishai David and many others. The Rav’s nephew Rav Moshe Meiselman also learned with the Rav at that time privately in Boston.



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The Rav on the Significance of the Shofar By Stanley Boylan In his kinot teshuvah derashot, the Rav would often speak about the significance of and meaning behind the mitzvah of shofar. It was the genius of the Rav that his kinot teshuvah derashot remained rooted in the halachic sphere and primarily based on lamdut related to a text (often the Rambam). At the same time, they contained powerful ideas related to the loftiness and unique holiness of the day—the kedushat hayom of the Yamim Noraim. The Rav would address the seeming contradictory nature of the mitzvah of tekiat shofar. The Rambam insists that the very essence of the mitzvah is lishmo’a, to hear the shofar; indeed the “cheftza shel mitzvah (object of the mitzvah) is not the shofar, but the kol, the sound of the shofar itself. Nevertheless, the individual blowing the shofar is required to have kavanah (intent) to do the mitzvah. How is one to understand this seeming paradox? In Brisker terminology, the Rav explained, the blowing of the shofar constitutes the ma’aseh mitzvah—the act related to the performance of the mitzvah—while listening to the kol shofar, the shemiah, represents the kiyum hamitzvah—the actual fulfillment of the mitzvah by the individual. There are, according to the Rav, mitzvot where one is required to perform a prescribed act, but the actual kiyum—the true fulfillment of the mitzvah—relates 32

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to the kiyum she’b’lev, the effect the mitzvah has upon one’s heart. Mitzvot such as tefillah (prayer), aveilut (mourning), simchat haregel (joy of the holidays) may have external actions associated with them, but their actual fulfillment depends upon the extent to which the activities express one’s innermost feelings. In repentance, Viduy, the confession, constitutes the ma’aseh mitzvah while teshuvah is the kiyum she’b’lev. Similarly, the mere mechanical act of blowing the shofar is a ma’aseh mitzvah but lacking in kiyum, fulfillment of the mitzvah, unless the kol has been heard and its message internalized.

The shofar, a cry beyond words, a mitzvah which consists of the very breath of man, expresses that which ultimately cannot be expressed by us in words but is all the more meaningful. The Rav understood well that the normative performance of a mitzvah, such as shofar, requires precise and specific actions to conform to the strictures of the mitzvah, and in this regard, all who perform the mitzvah are equal. However, regarding kiyum she’b’lev, the Rav believed that the fulfillment

could indeed vary depending upon the extent that mitzvah affects an individual’s consciousness and touches his heart. The kolot of the shofar, as defined by halachah (tekiah, shevarim, teruah), are sounds of a cry or a wail, but speak to us in various ways. The Rav at different times emphasized different approaches to their interpretation. The Rav often cited the Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah, 3:4): Even though the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a decree, it contains an allusion. It is as if [the shofar’s call] is saying: “Wake up you somnolent from your sleep and you who slumber, arise. Inspect your deeds, repent, remember your Creator . . .” “[In this Rambam,] the shofar is a call, as if from the Almighty, calling us back to him—a call to teshuvah, to repentance,” the Rav wrote. At other times the Rav would quote the Ramban, who emphasizes the merger of the sounding of the shofar with the process of prayer with the berachot of Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot, which express the essence of kedushat hayom of Rosh Hashanah. The kol shofar itself is a kiyum of tefillah, of calling out to Hashem at our time of supreme judgment. In standing before Hashem, we are limited to words in expressing our innermost emotions. The shofar, a cry beyond words, a mitzvah which consists of the very breath of man, expresses that which ultimately cannot be expressed by us in words but is all the more meaningful. This dual purpose of the shofar is reflected in the duality inherent in the mitzvah—the tekiah and the shemiah—the sounding of the shofar and the listening to its voice. The Rav adds beautifully that the experience of sin splits the human personality and divides it from its innermost being. The mitzvah of shofar, itself split between the toke’a and the shome’a, seeks to restore the unity of the total individual, as he performs the act of teshuvah. The toke’a, who sounds the alarm, calls to the shome’a as he listens and stands before Hashem in judgment.

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A TRIBUTE TO THE JEWISH MOTHER If you Google “world’s most influential people,” you won’t find “mother” on the list. And yet, she should be. Each and every day, each and every mother goes about changing the world—her corner of the world—by molding her children and influencing who they will eventually become. In the essays that follow, we pay tribute to the powerful and enduring influence of our mothers.

Agreeing About Nothing Rosa Layman* We agreed about almost nothing. This included everything from religion and politics to personal style and hobbies. Encounters with her would be highly charged, if not explosive. Yet in her lifetime, my mother gifted me, her only daughter, with her prized piece of jewelry—a brooch measuring five inches in diameter, comprised of twenty-two carat gold, over three carats of diamonds and many pearls. Her taste consistently favored estate pieces. This one reminded me of an underwater sea creature with a humped, rough back with protruding horns. Mom explained that an Egyptian Jewish jeweler whom she trusted taught her that investing in jewelry is a must for any Jew. Following the establishment of the State of Israel, the jeweler was forced to flee Egypt for Israel with only a small overnight bag filled with selected pieces of jewelry. Subsequently, he moved to the United States in the 1960s, setting up a jewelry business on the East Coast. He married and had two children who graduated from Ivy League colleges and pursued successful

careers. It was all possible because, as my mother related to my siblings and me, he carefully planned and acquired pieces of jewelry that would increase in value. She claimed that he had imparted to her what to look for when purchasing estate jewelry. My mother had two stipulations when she gave me the brooch. First, I would give or “lend” her the piece to wear if she requested it. Second, I was not allowed to alter the piece in any way whatsoever during her lifetime. I honored both even though I felt she was trying to control me—yet again. Further, I didn’t share my mother’s taste in jewelry in general and this brooch in particular. Nonetheless, I appreciated its history in the family and my second-generation American mother’s motivation for purchasing it. As a student of Jewish history, I am aware of life in the Diaspora. I understand that while we have contributed on a colossal scale to the societies in which we lived, we have always been a people on the move. Nothing, we’ve learned, is permanent. My mother’s 120 years in this world came to an end about five years ago. Since then, we have celebrated several family semachot, thank God, and the brooch has remained in its emerald green case, still unworn. But I’m no longer militant about either selling or refashioning it. In Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION


fact, I’ve decided that this brooch will remain intact. My taste hasn’t changed but I’ve come to appreciate that my late mother saw beauty in it. To me, the piece’s beauty is sentimental and spiritual. Through this piece, I’ve learned that differing forms of beauty—and opinions— can coexist and even thrive. That’s my mother’s gift to me. *Rosa Layman is a pen name.

Photo: Amir Levi

The Piano— The Gift of Strong Women Hylton I. Lightman My maternal grandmother Nadja, whom we called “Mum,” lived with my family. Every day when I returned home from school, she greeted me with a snack and a schmooze. As delicious as the food was, I loved Mum’s company and her stories and insights into life. They still warm my heart and shape my view of the world. I’m not sure what level of education Mum achieved during her school years growing up in St. Petersburg, Russia. She immigrated to South Africa, mastered the English language and was well-versed in current events. I’ve spent many happy hours locating Russian-language novels that I sent to Johannesburg for her enjoyment. Mum understood life. You respect your parents and elders. Family is paramount. Schooling is essential and never to be taken for granted. Besides respecting people, you respect “things” 36

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and the inanimate, including the upright piano that stood in our living room long before I entered this world. The piano was a gift from Mum’s brother Yitzchak who had settled in Berlin and had the piano shipped from Germany to South Africa in the 1930s. Not a single family member was musical, nor did any of us take piano lessons, but the piano was a constant presence in my life, collecting dust and displaying family photographs. Twice weekly, Mum would take me by the hand when I returned home from school and we’d stroll across the street to the store to purchase a cup of ice cream that cost a “ticky” (about two-and-a-half pennies). Memories of my time alone with this aristocratic-looking woman who was dedicated to her family is something I still savor decades later. One day, I took the “ticky” Mum stored near the front door for our ice cream forages and purchased an ice cream for myself. Big mistake. Meeting me at the front door, she took the beloved treat from my hand and threw it into the garbage pail. She turned to me and said sternly, “It’s a privilege, not a right.” It was a lesson learned for life. She loved being a Jew and was a proud one. She kashered meat with salt and a bucket and made sure that Pesach happened in our home. Preparing for and bringing in the holidays was always a joy, never a burden. Throughout my childhood and up until my mother passed away in June 2014, twenty-seven years after Mum’s death, Uncle Yitzchak’s piano was a centerpiece in the living room of my childhood home. Just looking at it brought back wonderful memories of my beloved Mum, who passed away in 1987. When my mother left this world at nearly ninety-nine years old, I traveled to Johannesburg for the funeral. There was a lifetime of memories and “stuff” in that three-bedroom apartment. I cared only about the family photos, letters and cards, which I carried back to America. Yet the piano nagged at me. It was a physical representation

of my childhood and of a strong, principled woman who instilled in me a sense of right and wrong, of justice, of how the world is supposed to be. Immediately after shivah, and unbeknownst to me, my wife—yet another strong woman in my life— arranged for the piano to be crated and shipped to New York. The piano occupies a place of honor in our living room. While no Lightman has embarked on lessons yet, the piano is adorned with family photos spanning the generations. Most importantly, it reminds me on a daily basis of Mum, who worked hard to make sure that the mesorah was not only maintained in our family but flourishes to this very day. What a gift. Dr. Hylton Lightman lives in Lawrence, New York, with his family.

Photo: David Kahbinsky/ YU Inset: Courtesy of Michael Feldstein

Two Jars of Sorrel Grass Soup Rabbi Shalom Carmy My aunt Miriam worked hard and lived alone, almost an hour’s distance from us. One boiling humid day in 1958 my mother got on the slow bus to Borough Park, let herself into my aunt’s apartment and surreptitiously deposited two containers of homemade schav (a sorrel grass soup popular in

Meeting me at the front door, she took the beloved treat from my hand and threw it into the garbage pail. She turned to me, and said sternly, “It’s a privilege, not a right.” It was a lesson learned for life. Eastern Europe) in the refrigerator. My aunt lived another thirty years, most of them after the stroke that ended her independent life. The memory of the schav her younger sister had surprised her with never failed to bring laughter to her lips. I once told this story to explain why Jonah was so delighted with the gourd God provided him for shade even though he had already built himself a booth.

It is the small unexpected gestures that convey the full power of chesed. My mother was my “bad parent,” so to speak. My father encouraged me to do the things I wanted to do anyway: study, playing ball, truthfulness and stubbornness for principle. It was my mother who tried to teach me ordinary skills and also made the case for disagreeable virtues like having patience for shallow people. In youth

it was she who constantly warned me that being well read didn’t make one anything special. Later, of course, she stopped. Instead she reminded me that writing well was not as important as some people thought . . . One fine spring day when I would much rather have been outside, my mother discovered that a child my age could already tie his shoelaces. She decided I should too. To me that lesson seemed to go on for hours until she mercifully concluded that I had achieved sufficient progress. Though I never forgot the frustration of that afternoon I realized that children tend to be impatient with the slow passage of time and had exaggerated the incident. I didn’t imagine my mother remembered it. Fifty years later, her eyesight and hearing were gone and her ability to walk was severely limited. She was no longer the person who almost single handedly cared for a dying husband and a constellation of aging

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and ailing family, although, as I have written elsewhere, she still had the mental strength and resourcefulness to make an empathetic difference in other people’s lives.1 As I was tying her shoelaces one morning she said: “Shulem, you don’t remember, but when you were little I wanted you to learn to tie your laces and you didn’t want to cooperate. It was like hours until you made progress.” “And now,” she continued with satisfaction, “Look, you can tie mine.” During my mother’s shivah, several students told me that they regretted never having met her, but they knew that she had once exerted herself on a hot summer day to delight her sister by preparing and delivering two containers of refreshing cold soup. We never know how our small everyday actions affect their recipients and how they can reverberate in the souls of generations yet unborn. A few days before she died my mother asked me if caring for her had ever interfered with my work and obligations. The correct answer was— hardly ever. The deeper response was that it is hard to imagine a greater gift than serving as what they call a “primary caregiver.” We tend to be thankful for what our parents do for us. There are equal, perhaps greater benefits when they make it possible for us to do something for them. My study and teaching and writing today are immeasurably richer and deeper because my mother was able to give me those extra years of training. Note 1. See my “So Soon: A Nahmanidean Meditation on Death,” Tradition 41:1 (spring 2008) and “Notes of a Son and Brother” in Jeffrey Saks and Joel Wolowelsky, eds., To Mourn a Child: Jewish Responses to Neonatal and Childhood Death (OU Press, 2013).

Rabbi Shalom Carmy is a professor of philosophy and Bible at Yeshiva University, author of the “Litvak at Large” column at First Things, and is the editor of the RCA’s flagship publication, Tradition.


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Photo: David Morris Inset: Courtesy of Judy Kaiser

The Gift of Giving Judy Kaiser From the first gift of life, a mother never stops giving selflessly of her time, energy and love. And yet, I can isolate one gift my mother gave me— among the very many—that brought home to me the true value of a gift. My mother, Chaya Mirel bas Yechiel HaCohen, a”h, was born in pre-war Berlin to Polish parents. The Yekkish character traits of orderliness, punctuality and a strong work ethic were firmly woven into her character. While she raised her children with an abundance of love and tenderness, there was a predictable structure, even to the fun parts of our lives. Our childhoods were infused with treasured rituals from which she never deviated. For example, we received gifts twice—and only twice—a year: on our birthdays and on Chanukah. And there was a formal procedure to the way they were delivered—in a specific spot, at a precise time of day, in a time-honored manner. (On the coffee table; at 6 pm; eyes closed until the big reveal.) As a child, my mother was fortunate to have escaped to London along with her family just before the outbreak of WWII. She spent many nights during her teenage years huddled in a cold, damp, crowded bomb shelter, listening to the ominous droning of the German bombers flying overhead. Once dropped from the plane, each

explosive made a high-pitched whistle as it fell. The cessation of that shrill noise signaled that the bomb would hit its target exactly three seconds later. Knowing that even a bomb shelter could never withstand a direct hit, can you imagine what those three seconds felt like? From the time she was in her twenties, my mother was a victim of a cruel autoimmune disease that not only severely limited her mobility, but filled her days and nights with unrelenting pain. The doctors determined that her illness was probably stress-related, likely caused or at least aggravated by those bomb-filled nights just a few years earlier. This qualified my mother to receive Wiedergutmachung—compensation from the German government to the millions of survivors who had suffered so terribly at their hands. About ten years later, as a child of about seven or eight, I came home from school one day to find my mother in an unusually good mood. It had taken a long time, but finally an envelope containing a handsome compensation check had arrived. I have no idea how much it was—but to my mother, it was a windfall. While there was always food on the table, there had never been money for anything beyond the basic necessities, and so this check was manna from heaven. With this surprise bonanza, she could finally afford to indulge in a purchase or two strictly for her own pleasure: a new dress, a designer fragrance, maybe even a piece of jewelry. Perhaps she did do that; perhaps she didn’t. I don’t recall. But here is what I do remember with great clarity: It wasn’t my birthday or anytime near Chanukah, but when I got home from school that day, my mother handed me her big, thick Sears catalogue—her chief conduit to the world of shopping—and told me that because of her good fortune, I could choose one item, any item I wanted, from that book. What did I choose? That may be secondary to the message here, but suffice it to say that I soon received a magnetized dollhouse

that I delighted in playing with for many years. But the real value of this gift was that it was given to me by my mother outside of her regularly scheduled gift days for no other reason than that she wished to share her good fortune with others. The value of a gift can best be measured by the love with which it is given. The dollhouse was a wonderful plaything, to be sure. But the true gift for me was her joy in giving it. A retired educator, Judy Kaiser is the founder and director of the Myra Vorhand Library of Agudath Israel of Toronto.

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By Shira Dancinger* My beloved mother was a tough act to follow. As my husband shared at her funeral, Mother was a soldier. She did what had to be done, no dawdling, no excuses. She was loyal and totally devoted to her family. She took great joy in the simple pleasures of life and the beauty of God’s world—the world of nature, the joy of music, the thrill of quality literature— and taught me to do the same. Until her last day, she moved with grace and carried herself with dignity and royalty, as befitting her name “Malka.” In the last two years of her life, Mother was quite ill, housebound and on hospice care. Since living on her own was no longer an option, she moved in with my brother and sister-in-law. At the time, they still had relatively young children living at home, so their house was a busy one. Mother had the proper aides to tend to her personal needs and I believe she enjoyed being part of a vibrant household once again. Given the circumstances, this was really an optimal setting for her. But of course, the mindset and worldview of a chronically ill senior meant there were always details that dismayed her and she felt comfortable sharing her criticisms. She may have been comfortable criticizing, but this did not sit well with me. Eager to maintain the equilibrium of the household and the relationships within, I knew that there was no room here for criticism. I gently presented Mother with another option that I felt would work immensely better in the long run for the entire extended family. “Mommy, I’ve a great idea for you. Why don’t you write an ethical will for the family? Include anything that you feel is important to convey for the future. Whatever irritates you today you can mention. This can be a formal document which you’ll sign. At the right time I’ll make copies for everyone and make sure each and every family member gets a copy.” Mother loved this idea and took it very seriously. She wrote out her notes on a legal pad and I typed

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them up and made copies for each family member. She signed each one. Then she suggested that I also photocopy her handwritten notes, so each family member would have this ethical will in her own handwriting. That’s how much it meant to her. Mother’s personality and character came through loud and clear in her words. She also apologized for the times when perhaps she was overly critical. “. . . I always wanted you to be the best behaved, the friendliest, the most charming children, beloved by everybody, admired and sought after, looked up to and respected . . . .” This ethical will encapsulates Mother’s life mission, for herself and for her children, within two pages. I read it and I sense her with me, guiding us, encouraging us, prodding us along, and hopefully deriving much joy and nachas. Every year on her yahrtzeit I circulate copies of her will once again. Mother’s words are always with us. Malka bas Yechiel—may your neshamah have an aliyah. *Shira Dancinger is a pen name.

Yehudis Perlow: An American Original By Faigie Horowitz Her friends said she like was Jo in Little Women, the spirited, brainy leader of the girls. The Eichensteins were the Marches, the warm, close family of faith and fun. They, too, had a saintly scholarly father who died young. Rebbetzin Bopche Eichenstein was Marmee, the humble fount of wisdom, giving and fortitude. The Eichensteins’ storied life was rich, peopled with famous characters and ordinary folks, and marked by adventures and legends that all happened to be true. Yehudis Perlow, née Eichenstein, who would become the Novominsker Rebbetzin, grew up in the fifties when opportunities for American Jews were opening up. Her interests were wide-ranging and deeply intellectual. Offered a full scholarship to the 40

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University of Chicago upon graduation from the Ida Crown Jewish Academy, she turned it down to join her peers at the local city college because yeshivah kids at the time commonly abandoned their Yiddishkeit at the elite school. She knew who she was: the first American-born child of her Chassidic rabbinic family that arrived in Chicago in 1922. She was the generation that caused her great-grandfather, the Strizover Rav, to cry when his children took their leave for America. “I’m not worried about you and your children,” he explained. “I am worried about your future grandchildren.” She was a torchbearer and trailblazer without fanfare or drumrolls, with a very healthy sense of humor, sharp honesty and a maverick style, who made the greats and the not-very-greats feel comfortable in her home and presence. Her lifelong effort to live up to the example of her parents marked her life of service to hundreds of individuals in need of support for their struggles with family dysfunction, trauma, parenting and wholesome growth. Her parents, Rabbi Avrohom and Rebbetzin Bopche Eichenstein, ran multi-generational shul/home complexes in various Chicago neighborhoods in an American variation of a Chassidic hoif (court). Greenhorns shared their troubles with the rav and were honored with conducting zemiros at the table Friday night even though they went to work Shabbos morning. Students got help with their term papers from the young and brilliant Hungarian-born rebbetzin and left with a package of homemade goodies. The couple functioned as a team, doing private hatzalah work during the War years; my grandfather brought his wife her typewriter during a postpartum hospital stay so that she could notarize documents. Rabbinic refugees traveling from the West Coast received their first respectable hats as a gift from Rav Eichenstein. Meshulachim spent weeks in residence and always found a repeat customer for sefarim in the rav. The Bnei Akiva kids would gather to play ball behind the shul and hang out in the house. Doors were never closed.

My mother struggled to accept payment for her services when she became a social worker in the seventies. Why should I take money if my father helped people for free? she reasoned. But she didn’t struggle with professional boundaries as clinicians do. She went to battle for her clients with yeshivah boards, city authorities and the beis din during the days when disgrace and shame coated serious problems in our communities. She didn’t hesitate to call in favors and use her power and influence to open doors. She screened people waiting to see her husband, the rosh yeshivah and rebbe. They functioned as a team in the communities they led in Chicago, Washington Heights, and Brooklyn. She showed us how to be courageous in her vulnerability and openness about her struggles—raising a severely developmentally disabled child in the sixties, and her anxieties about being a rebbetzin in Boro Park, preparing speeches without a robust Jewish education, managing an open house and living up to her mother’s example. Time and again she gave up her own comfort and position to make a change in venue and role for the greater good of family and tradition. My mother taught me that pioneering Jewish organizations require leadership and time, and that the people count, not just the cause. Young and old, talmid, teen in crisis, newcomer, lonely single, and man of the establishment equally deserve caring, as well as irreverent wit. She was a woman of great influence who wielded wisdom and empathy and knew what needed to prevail when. Upon departing her home or office, people would inevitably thank Rebbetzin Perlow for her time. “It’s my time, but it’s your life,” was her response. The biggest gift my mother gave me was showing me that devoting your life to Klal Yisrael is not giving your life away—it is truly living in God’s way. Faigie Horowitz, MS, is a marketing professional, community activist, writer, and rebbetzin in Lawrence, NY.

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“The Jewish Area” by Elena Flerova. Copyright by Alexander Gallery (ATV Gallery INC). 42

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MOTHERS It is no secret that behind every great Jewish leader is a great Jewish mother. In the pages ahead, Eliyahu Krakowski presents the writings of various gedolim who speak with love and devotion about their mothers and the profound influence they had on their lives.

Research and translations by Eliyahu Krakowski

Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal (1885-1945) Photo: Yad Vashem, Hall of Names

I remember when I was eight years old, and I was learning Chezkas Habatim [in Bava Basra], my mother would wake up early on Friday to bake for Shabbos, and she would bake a small, sweet cake just for me, since I was learning Torah . . . to make the Torah dear in my eyes and make my heart excited for our holy Torah. One time, her baking was delayed, so that when

I came back from shul after Shacharis, my cake had not yet been baked. I asked, “Mommy, Mommy, where is my cake?” because I was hungry. My mother responded wisely, “What can I do, dear son, the cake is still in the oven. But I will give you advice to quiet your hunger: Know, my son, that the holy Gemara has the effect of quieting hunger and satisfies living beings just like bread and [like] the cake that I am making for you. Take the Gemara and review what you studied this week, and you will be full. You will see that I am correct and you will not feel any hunger. On the contrary, you will taste honey sweeter than from the comb, a taste even sweeter than the cake.” Hearing her pleasant words, spoken with a smile and with warmth, burning with love for the Torah, to the heart of a small child to excite his heart for our holy Torah, I had no doubt that

what she said was true and I believed that it was actually so—that when a person is hungry and he sits down to learn, he becomes satisfied. I went energetically and took the Gemara and reviewed the week’s lessons with great desire until I truly forgot my hunger, and even the cake was forgotten. In the meantime, the cake finished baking, and while I was learning my mother came and brought me the cake and said, “Eat your bread with joy” (Koheles 9:7). With methods like these my parents endeared the Torah to me, and this is what gave me the strength to withstand all the trials that have come over me until this point. . . . Responsa Mishneh Sachir, Introduction (trans.) Rabbi Eliyahu Krakowski is associate editor of OU Press.

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Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (1915-2006)

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The naming of a Talmudic sefer after my mother and teacher, a”h, is not merely an artificial grafting but rather is a fitting combination, because she was totally immersed in the waters of Torah knowledge, and her whole existence was wrapped up in Torah and yiras Shamayim. One could sense in a tangible way how she experienced the taste of the World to Come in this world while sitting and listening to her husband and her children studying Torah, either participating through an awed silence, or while reading works of musar such as Chovos HaLevavos and Menoras HaMaor, or taking part by recounting words of aggadah, musar and derush on the weekly parashah. A singular inner peace spread over her at such times and an exalted spiritual glow displayed itself prominently across her features. As long as her soul was still within her, she was devoted entirely to noble pursuits such as these, to the point that speaking of Torah, yiras Shamayim and good middos served as a healing balm to give her the will and desire to live even in the midst of the most difficult moments of her illness. It was clear that the Chovos HaLevavos which she studied day and night had taken control of all her limbs, and that the Menoras HaMaor which she reviewed assiduously shone its light through her entire body and illuminated the darkness of her physical suffering. Through this, she was able to ascend above her physical existence and so-to-speak proclaim, “Even as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will not fear because You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” [Tehillim 23:4]. She strengthened and 44

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You, Ima, were formed from the substance of lions. You were a spiritual descendant of Yitzchak Avinu— a soul which was made to beat by the attribute of gevurah, in all of its manifestations. encouraged all of us, telling us not to worry so much about her worsening condition, since the God we serve on this earth is the same God who controls all worlds, and therefore even after her passing, we would still have the connection through worship of the one God who watches over us all. How deep and multi-layered are these lofty words. . . . I will never forget the majesty which spread over her on the last Seder of her life. We were all surrounding the Seder table. With supreme strength granted to her as she lit the holiday candles with such deep emotion, accompanied by awe-inspiring prayer to her Creator, she sat up in her bed, participated in the Seder and listened attentively to everything which was taking place. When one of her children whispered to her that perhaps the noisy arguments over divrei Torah were too much for her to bear, she answered tenderly and sensitively: “Noise such as this, exchanges over divrei Torah, I can bear.” She sat this way, encouraging

until the end, and the participants during these holy hours almost forgot about the critical condition she was in. Ramas Rachel, Introduction (Tzitz Eliezer, vol. 5) (trans.)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994) Above: The Lubavitcher Rebbe Below: Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson

Courtesy of Jewish Educational Media/

On the day of a yahrtzeit, it is customary to talk about the conduct of the person who is remembered so that we may take instruction from their lives [sic]. . . . In speaking of a righteous woman who did so many important and good actions in her lifetime it is difficult to choose one incident to relate. . . . The exile that they experienced (my father and mother) began when the old regime in Russia was replaced. At that time they were in a state of exile, or siege, in their own city. Of course it became incomparably more acute when they were actually driven from their home and exiled in a strange and distant land. . . . [Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and his wife, Rebbetzin Chana, first lived in Chi’ili, Russia. With the onset of World War II, many refugees ended up in the Kazakhstan region, including Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and his wife.] First of all, the fact that my mother actually joined my father in exile is in itself a lesson for us. My father was the one against whom the decree of banishment was issued by the authorities. My mother was really not obliged to leave her home, or her city and journey to the distant, forsaken land. She chose to do so out of her good will and with a severe

determination, because she wanted to be close to, and give support to, her husband in his exile . . . . In that nefarious place and under external circumstances she did, however, undertake a painstaking practice which involved special sacrifice and was intended to facilitate the dissemination of my father’s teachings to the masses. My father’s whole being and life was his Torah study; he labored in Torah, especially the esoteric teachings of Torah, the Kabbalah. For himself the mental activity and the words of Torah would have sufficed. But to disseminate his teachings to others—that needed transcription. It had to be recorded in ink on paper—but what to do? No such thing was available— there was no ink to be had in the lands of exile. Here my mother came into the picture. In addition to helping my father in all his usual needs, she got involved in assuring the recording of my father’s Torah for posterity. She learned how to make ink, and she personally scavenged for the necessary grasses and herbs, which she painstakingly gathered with great difficulty. To these she added some special chemicals from which she concocted home-made ink. It was with that ink that my father was able to record his teachings on paper. As a result of this, she created the possibility that today we are able to disseminate my father’s teachings in print, so that still today, in 5746 [1986], many Jews may study his teachings and commentaries on the esoteric aspects of Torah as illuminated through the understanding of Chassidus Chabad. For this we pay homage to the woman whose yahrtzeit we observe today . . . .





Shabbos Parashas Vayeilech, yahrtzeit of Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, sixth day of Tishrei, 5746 (1986); excerpted from

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Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993)

Left: The Rav.

Photo: Yeshiva University Archives

Above: Rebbetzin Pesha Soloveitchik. Courtesy of Tova Lichtenstein

People are mistaken in thinking that there is only one Massorah and one Massorah community; the community of the fathers. It is not true. We have two massorot, two traditions, two communities, two shalshalot ha-kabbalah—the massorah community of the fathers and that of the mothers. “Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob (the women) and tell the children of Israel (the men)” (Exodus 19:3); “Hear, my son, the instruction of thy father (mussar avikha) and forsake not the teaching of thy mother (torat imekha)” (Proverbs






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1:8), counseled the old king. What is the difference between those two massorot, traditions? What is the distinction between mussar avikha and torat imekha? Let us explore what one learns from the father and what one learns from the mother. One learns much from father: how to read a text—the Bible or the Talmud—how to comprehend, how to analyze, how to conceptualize, how to classify, how to infer, how to apply, etc. . . . One also learns from father what to do and what not to do, what is morally right and what is morally wrong. Father teaches the son the discipline of thought as well as the discipline of action. Father’s tradition is an intellectual-moral one. That is why it is identified with mussar, which is the Biblical term for discipline. What is torat imekha? What kind of a Torah does the mother pass on? I admit that I am not able to define precisely the massoretic role of the Jewish mother. Only by circumscription I hope to be able to explain it. Permit me to draw upon my own experiences. I used to have long conversations with my mother. In fact, it was a monologue rather than a dialogue. She talked and I “happened” to overhear. What did she talk about? I must use an halakhic term in order to answer this question: she talked me-inyana de-yoma. I used to watch her arranging the house in honor of a holiday. I used to see her recite prayers; I used to watch her recite the sidra every Friday night and I still remember the nostalgic tune. I learned from her very much. Most of all I learned that Judaism expresses itself not only in formal compliance with the law but also in a living experience. She taught me that there is a flavor, a scent and warmth to mitzvot. I learned from her the most important thing in life— to feel the presence of the Almighty and the gentle pressure of His hand resting upon my frail shoulders. Without her teachings, which quite often were transmitted to me in silence, I would have grown up a soulless being, dry and insensitive. 46

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...You found the wherewithal to pave a path to your father’s heart and explain to him the value and necessity of what you were doing. The laws of Shabbat, for instance, were passed on to me by my father; they are a part of mussar avikha. The Shabbat as a living entity, as a queen, was revealed to me by my mother; it is a part of torat imekha. The fathers knew much about the Shabbat; the mothers lived the Shabbat, experienced her presence, and perceived her beauty and splendor. The fathers taught generations how to observe the Shabbat; mothers taught generations how to greet the Shabbat and how to enjoy her twenty-four hour presence. In this excerpt from “A Tribute to the Rebbitzen of Talne,” Tradition 17 (spring 1978): 73-83—a eulogy by the Rav about Rebbetzin Rebecca Twersky, the mother of his eldest son-in-law—the Rav describes his relationship with his mother.

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein (1933-2015)

Photo: Intermountain Jewish News/Richard Nowitz

Below: Bluma Lichtenstein Courtesy of Tova Lichtenstein

My mother was born in Telz. For her, Telz— the site of one of the major Lithuanian yeshivot—was not only a birthplace, but a source of influence. My grandfather, Rabbi Abchik Schwartz, was the secretary of the yeshivah, and the family lived in its courtyard. Not infrequently would my mother recall how the sound of the

shofar or the response of “Amen, yehei shemei rabbah” in the yeshivah could be heard clearly in her house. The feeling of connection to the nobility of the world of Torah and the spirit which characterized Lithuanian Jewry at its best was part of my mother’s blood and soul. Fifty years after immigrating to the West, the word “etzleinu, for us” always referred to us Litvaks. She was raised in the shade of wisdom and merited to see a number of the gedolim of that time. The roshei yeshivah of Telz she, of course, knew from up close—my grandfather would take a walk every day with Rabbi Chaim Rabinowitz [Rabbi Chaim Telzer], and it was said that one could set a watch based on the time they departed and returned. But she also met by happenstance with other gedolim. She saw Rabbi Boruch Ber [Leibowitz] when they both escaped to Minsk during the First World War; she ate with Rabbi Elchonon [Wasserman] at the Knessiah Gedolah in Vienna [in 1923]; and she was friendly with a number of individuals whose stars rose in the Torah world in the course of time—when I was young, I heard the Ponovezher Rav, whom my mother knew as Rabbi Yoshe Koller, refer to my mother by her first name; she was greatly respected by Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, who was a friend of the whole family; she was part of the circle in which my teacher Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner was active at the beginning of his life. Later on, I remember how when I was a guest of my future father-inlaw, I heard him say about my mother, before he got to know and appreciate her: “Nu, about Aharon’s mother, Rabbi Dovid Lifshitz said that she is half a rosh yeshivah.” And in fact, my mother was almost the only unmarried

woman who would walk into the famed Talmud Torah in Kelm. . . . My purpose is not to elaborate on history, rather to sketch a personality. The central facet can be clearly defined: You, Ima, were formed from the substance of lions. You were a spiritual descendant of Yitzchak Avinu—a soul which was made to beat by the attribute of gevurah, in all of its manifestations. Such courage and such strength! In matters small and large. Approaching the age of forty, you decided it was time to learn how to ride a bicycle—and you did. A decade later, when you decided that the school you were teaching in was not treating you properly, you chose to abandon the profession entirely and enter a new field. Since you had no training for this, you began studying bookkeeping and accounting, and you stubbornly persisted until another teaching opportunity came your way. . . . At my bar mitzvah, in the presence of Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky and Rabbi Dovid Lifshitz, who spoke if not you? And later on in life, who traveled from the bowels of Brooklyn each week to hear the Rav’s shiur in Manhattan? Who traveled for almost an hour and a half each way to Yeshiva University to hear lectures on Israeli and Babylonian Aramaic from my teacher Rabbi Michael Bernstein? You, Ima. Such courage and such strength! Equally for relatively trivial matters and major ones. It was not easy in Lithuania of the 1920s for a young woman to leave her home to acquire a Western education—in particular, when this was not done out of rebellion against the world of Telz and Kelm, God forbid, but with pride in your Lithuanian heritage and a desire to complete it, deepen it and broaden it. Despite the difficulties, you made the decision; and once the decision was made, you found the wherewithal to pave a path to your father’s heart and explain to him the value and necessity of what you were doing. After making the difficult adjustment to a new country, our family was finally making ends meet. In the middle of our second year living in Chicago in

the 1940s, my mother was present at the wedding of one of the educators in the community, at which the bride walked down to the chuppah to the tune of “Here Comes the Bride.” My mother was shocked, though she contained herself. But when she came home she definitively announced, “My children will not be educated in this place.” You stubbornly insisted, from the time of your youth in Lithuania until making aliyah at the age of seventy, on speaking Hebrew in foreign lands, whichever they were. In your house and while teaching, in Paris and in New York, you did not allow another language to pass your lips. The names you chose for your children were another testimony to your loyalty. You would tell with pride about how in the hospital in Paris they thought you had suffered a head injury when, despite the strong opposition of the certified officials who claimed that in France you must give French names, you consistently maintained that your children would not be named Jacques or Madeleine but Shoshanah, Aharon and Hadassah. . . . As an orphan, I wish to say a few parting words. First of all, thank you! For all that you sacrificed to bring me—to bring us—both to life in this world and in the World to Come. You not only gave us the strength and ambition to grow, you also infused in us the substance, knowledge and values to do so. You set before us challenges

and developed in us the personal and intellectual tools to deal with them. You were not only my mother, but also my rebbe and teacher—both as one who implanted in me Torah knowledge, simply put, and as one who shaped a personality which longs for acquisition of such knowledge, in all its breadth and depth. . . . You implanted in us a thirst for broader horizons and allegiance to truth, the truth of Torah and yirat Shamayim, the will and the ability to ascend from the rut of prevailing mediocrity . . . In the closing lines of Masechet Moed Katan, we find: “Rabbi Chiya bar Ashi said in the name of Rav: Talmidei chachamim have no rest even in the World to Come, as it says [Tehillim 84:8], ‘They go from strength to strength [me’chayil el chayil], every one of them appears before God in Zion.’” For you, Ima, a true talmidat chachamim [student of the wise], there was not much rest in this world. It was a world of chayil, strength, according to both meanings of the word: courage and achievement. You remember, Ima, how on Shabbat evening after a particularly busy Friday, you would stand by the Shabbat table and announce, with satisfaction and with a smile, “This week I was really an Eshet Chayil.” In this world of action, you were truly an Eshet Chayil; and so will you continue to be in the world of recompense . . . . “Ima,” (trans.) The original can be viewed in Hebrew at

[My mother] taught me that there is a flavor, a warmth, to mitzvot. I learned from her the most important thing in life—to feel the presence of the Almighty and the gentle pressure of His hand resting upon my frail shoulders. Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION



JEWISH ACTION Fall 5779/2018


During this season of reflection and self-transformation, we focus on a few extraordinary individuals who underwent what may be the ultimate self-transformation: conversion to Judaism. While there is much to say on conversion in Israel, this section will focus on the conversion experience in the United States.

By Barbara Bensoussan


t was a fascination with Jewish history that ultimately led Michael Verderame to become Jewish. Jews had persevered despite all of challenges; something here has to be real, he thought. Yet it wasn’t until Verderame, who grew up Catholic, was in graduate school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign that his interest in Judaism really sparked. Some of his Jewish friends described Shabbat meals and the Pesach Seder. Verderame took to the library to study Judaism more intensely. He also started learning with a few different rabbis on campus— including Rabbi Dani Appel, who at the time headed the OU’s Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (OU-JLIC) program at Urbana-Champaign. “The first time I met Michael, we were going to daven Minchah and there were ten of us including him. I said, ‘Let’s start,’ but he called me aside and said, ‘I’m not Jewish,’” recalls Rabbi Appel. Rabbi Appel and Verderame, now Yitzchak, learned together a few times a week, and when the latter felt ready in January 2013, Rabbi Appel went to the Chicago Rabbinical Council and told them he had a young man who was serious about converting to Judaism. They gave him a comprehensive list of books for Verderame to read. “Michael finished them all within a week!” says Rabbi Appel. “Before he converted, we joked that he would be the next rabbi because he knew more than everyone else.” Most of us have encountered people who’ve been “reborn” as Jews after extensive study, meetings with a beit

din, and a final dip in the mikvah—an arduous process meant to discourage all but the mostly sincerely motivated. Halachah stipulates that one who seeks to become Jewish must be politely but firmly turned away three times before we agree to teach him or her. The most motivated will persist nonetheless. “I had to beg to become Jewish,” says Zahava Pasternak, now in her fifties and living in Boro Park, New York. “I taught myself Lashon Hakodesh, and had to repeat my story over and over again as I asked people to help me convert.” When the rabbi in her native city in the South didn’t move forward to convert her, she moved to Monsey, New York and sought out rabbis who would. Barriers to Acceptance Once on the path to conversion, how do geirim acclimate to frum society and culture? Paloma (Penina) Bain had a relatively easy time adjusting, since she had worked for a Jewish-owned restaurant for several years and had been making Jewish friends and

absorbing knowledge about Judaism all along. Aliza Stein [not her real name], a physical therapist, also had Jewish friends before converting. “I’ve lived in four different frum communities, and all but one were very warm and welcoming,” she says. As a single person, she never lacked for Shabbat invitations, and when she married, the community got together and arranged her entire wedding. Nechemia Davis, a special education teacher now living in Baltimore, had an entirely different kind of challenge when he decided to become Jewish, because he’s black. Once, while walking the streets of a certain frum community wearing a white shirt and black pants, “a fifteen-year-old yeshivah boy crossed the street when he saw me coming; he didn’t know what to think,” he chuckles. But that was an isolated incident, says the former devout Christian. Subsequently, in the same community, when he knocked on a landlord’s door to see an apartment for rent, he had to explain

Barbara Bensoussan has worked as a university instructor and a social worker and currently writes for Jewish newspapers and magazines.

About the Illustration: We chose this stirring painting “Har Sini” by Yaeli to illustrate our section on conversion since the Revelation at Har Sinai was, in essence, a mass conversion to Judaism of the thousands of descendants of Avraham. In reality, every Jew is descended from a convert; some go back to Har Sinai, others to those who converted later in history. “Har Sini” is an expressionistic depiction of the Jewish spirit surrounding Har Sinai. The Aleph Bet, falling out the the luchot that Moshe is receiving, are entering the hearts of the Jewish people. Yaeli is an Israeli-born artist (now based in New York) who brings her unique contemporary artistic vision and expressionist technique to a wide variety of Jewish subjects including weddings, Jerusalem and Biblical images. Yaeli works across multiple media including acrylics and watercolors. Learn more at

Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION


Nechemia Davis works as a special education teacher in Baltimore.

Zahava Pasternak with her son, who attends a Chassidic yeshivah; she and her family live in Boro Park.

Yitzchak Verderame, pictured here with his wife Dena and son Natan, was in graduate school at the University of Illinois UrbanaChampaign when his interest in Judaism sparked. Today he is assistant dean at the Hebrew Theological College in Chicago.

Avi Sosa, an engineer from a Spanish-speaking country, moved to a much smaller Orthodox community in the States to find a congenial rabbi and congregation that gave him the encouragement he needed on his spiritual journey.

that he was studying for conversion. The woman introduced him to her husband and offered him some kugel. Not only did they rent the apartment to him, they ended up “adopting” him; he became a regular at their table during Shabbat and yom tov. While Davis’ family did not attend his wedding, the hall was packed with friends and community members. “Rabbi Moshe Wolfson was in Israel at the time, but he called his gabbaim here and told them to bring all the yeshivah bachurim to dance at my wedding,” says

Davis, who has a strong connection to the mashgiach ruchani at Mesivta Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn. When his wife had a baby boy after their move to Baltimore, friends drove down from New York with a car filled with food, chick peas and beer to celebrate the vach nacht [the night preceding the brit milah].


JEWISH ACTION Fall 5779/2018

Finding a Bashert Unfortunately, converts are not always embraced with open arms. Avraham (Avi) Sosa found the barriers to

conversion to be more social than halachic or cultural. An engineer from a Spanish-speaking country, he says he had a difficult time fitting in with the Jewish community in his home country. Shortly thereafter, he left for a bustling Jewish community in the States, but had trouble breaking in there as well. “I often felt alone. I was both an immigrant and a prospective convert.” He later moved to a much smaller Orthodox community where he found a congenial rabbi and congregation that gave him the encouragement he needed on his journey. Many geirim convert while single, and once Jewish, want nothing more than to marry, start a family and join a community. But convincing shadchanim to see beyond their non-Jewish origins can be challenging. “When I tell shadchanim I’m a ger, the dynamic changes,” Sosa says. Many well-intentioned people assume a convert will have the most in common with another convert, or that only a convert will be willing to date another convert. But that feels incredibly unjust to many geirim who worked hard to become members of the Jewish people. Bain, who finds that people check her conversion credentials closely before proposing shidduchim, is adamant that she does not want to marry another convert. “I have no Jewish family,” she says. “I want to marry someone who does, so my children will grow up with Jewish family. I have to think about where I’m going for every Shabbat and holiday, but my children shouldn’t have to.” Pasternak, whose husband is from Israel, married in her forties and feels fortunate to have found her spouse. But she avows that the process wasn’t easy. “I felt I was Class B when it came to shidduchim,” she says. Her husband, however, is “everything she davened for.” She’s not concerned about marrying off her own son, “as Hashem already knows who his zivug is,” she affirms. Stein’s oldest children are already of marriageable age, and she finds that the shidduchim suggested to them are often other geirim. “Why should my child marry a ger?” she says indignantly. “My children are

frum from birth! Why should they have to be subjected to the same outsider status that I experienced?” Davis married a frum-from-birth black woman whose parents converted many years ago. “It helps to have married someone who’s like me, who understands my background,” he says. On the other hand, since Davis began learning about Judaism and converted within a Chassidic milieu, it was an adjustment to deal with his wife’s family’s Sephardic minhagim. And yet, some geirim integrate into the frum community in every way—including finding a Jewish spouse—with few bumps on the road. Verderame found the process rather seamless; he already had a parnassah and was able to find a spouse relatively quickly. “People were very welcoming,” he says. “I never really had a problem. “Converting and [going into the mikvah] was intense,” he adds. “It was a big accomplishment. It was a big commitment; would I be able to live up to it?” But the beit din rabbis were “very approachable,” he says. In fact, they were so approachable that one even offered him a job—while his hair was still wet! As a result, Verderame, who is in his forties, has two master’s degrees, a PhD and a JD in law, is assistant dean at the Hebrew Theological College in Chicago, which is now part of the Touro system. Shortly after converting, he was set up with Dena, the woman who would become his wife.

The NEW Shabbos R e a d i n g L i g ht


Becoming More Aware How can we be more sensitive to the needs of geirim? Firstly, we have to keep in mind that geirim, as well as baalei teshuvah, face certain challenges that the typical FFB has no experience with. Having no frum relatives is difficult, says Stein. There is no support system when it’s time to make yamim tovim or tuition payments. “We have no parents to go to on yom tov, no shvigger [mother-in-law] to buy new Pesach shoes for the children,” she says. Secondly, Stein would also like others to understand that she didn’t simply crawl out from under a rock when she became Jewish; she had been a worthwhile person in her non-Jewish life, with valuable experiences and knowledge. And now that she’s frum, she’s well-educated in Judaism and doesn’t need to be shown the basics. “I’ve been frum for thirty years,” Stein says. “I know how to

You don’t want to create a situation where geirim have to constantly question their Jewish status. Once they’re in, they’re in.





Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION


The Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC) Beit Din oversees conversion with GPS-sponsoring rabbis throught the midwest and beyond, in communities including Memphis, Dallas, Kansas City and Denver. Recently, a woman flew in from Hong Kong to complete her geirut. From left: Dayan Rabbi Ephraim Friedman, Dayan Rabbi Daniel J. Raccah and Av Beit Din Rabbi Yona Reiss. Courtesy of the Chicago Rabbinical Council

I often felt alone. I was both an immigrant and a prospective convert. check lettuce [for bugs]! Yet some folks still think I need to be instructed.” Thirdly, we all must make efforts to help a new convert feel part of frum life: extend sincere, repeated invitations for Shabbatot and yamim tovim; make genuine efforts to find shidduchim appropriate for their personalities and hashkafot; try to understand and help with their other needs, and most importantly, respect who they were and who they became. As Sosa says: “Care about us, and treat us as equals.” Verderame hopes that others can have an experience similar to his own. When he was on the 52

JEWISH ACTION Fall 5779/2018

search committee to hire a national director of conversion for the RCA’s Network of Regional Batei Din for Conversion, he wanted to impart his insights about going through the process smoothly—and what can be learned from it. “You don’t want to create a situation where geirim have to constantly question their Jewish status. Once they’re in, they’re in.” “The Torah tells us to be kind to converts,” says Rabbi Appel. “Obviously, if the Torah tells us this, it means human nature is to be less sensitive and compassionate to outsiders. For people who have

made such a big change in their lives, such slights can hurt even more. “A convert is Jewish now and part of the community. Treat them as Jews and love them as anyone else.” Yet while some geirim choose to leave behind much of their non-Jewish pasts, others find surprises there. One thing Rabbi Appel didn’t know, which Verderame actually only recently discovered, is that his maternal grandmother—an immigrant from Mexico who was very open to his conversion and interested in the Jewish customs before she passed away recently—may have had some conversos in her lineage. “Part of me would almost say it doesn’t matter, because I am where I am now,” Verderame says. “On the other hand, I have a son now, and it might be nice for him to know some of the history.”

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Most converts spend years on a spiritual trek and finally find their place in Judaism. Are we welcoming enough? By Yona Reiss


JEWISH ACTION Fall 5779/2018


ne of the most oft-repeated mitzvot in the Torah is that of loving and caring for the ger, a person who has converted to the Jewish faith. In fact, the Ba’alei Tosafot (Kiddushin 70b, s.v. kashim) note that this requirement appears in the Torah either twenty-four, thirty-six or forty-six times (depending on how you count) in a variety of different contexts. There is a heightened obligation to demonstrate compassion toward a convert because, as the Torah repeatedly reminds us (Shemot 22:20, 23:9, Vayikra 19:34, Devarim 10:19), we were all geirim, or “foreigners,” in the land of Egypt and therefore we should have compassion for others who have joined us from foreign nations. Numerous laws govern the process of conversion to Judaism. The Geirus Policies and Standards (GPS) Network of conversion courts under the rubric of the Rabbinical Council of America all follow uniform standards that were designed, and continue to be fine-tuned, to ensure high standards of halachic integrity and sensitivity during the conversion process. However, following the conversion process, many obligations pertain to the treatment of converts by all members of the community. For example, the Torah forbids causing verbal distress to a convert (Vayikra 19:33, Bava Metzia 58b, 59b) and oppressing a convert (Shemot 22:20, 23:9). Similarly, there is a heightened requirement to demonstrate love towards a convert (Vayikra 19:34, Devarim 10:19). When it comes to distributing communal funds and resources, a needy convert is often singled out by the Torah for special attention (Vayikra 25:35, Devarim 10:18, 14:29, 16:11, 16:14, 26:11). At the same time, certain limitations are placed upon converts. For instance, a Kohen is not allowed to marry a female convert (Even Haezer 6:8). Converts are not permitted to serve as dayanim (Jewish law judges), except in limited situations (see Yevamot 102a, Choshen Mishpat 7:1). Additionally, it is generally prohibited to appoint a convert to a position of public authority (see Kiddushin 76b). Nevertheless, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, writes in his responsa (Yoreh Deah 4:26) that the commandment of loving a convert requires the community to search for leniencies in terms of appointing worthy converts to positions of prestige in a way that would not violate the technical interdiction against appointing converts to positions of public authority. On this basis, he permits a convert to serve as a rosh yeshivah, arguing that (a) being a rosh yeshivah is not really a position of public authority, because there is only internal authority Rabbi Yona Reiss is chairman of the GPS Conversion Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America; av beit din, Chicago Rabbinical Council; and rosh yeshivah and Rabbi L. Katz chair in professional rabbinics, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS).

We must raise our sensitivity in reaching out to the converts in our midst with compassion and love and making them feel completely accepted. over students and teachers, but not over communal members; (b) when there is nobody else as worthy as the convert for the position, the prohibition is not applicable (this argument is also found in the Tashbetz, Magen Avot 1:10, and Minchat Yehudah, Parashat Mishpatim, in the name of the Ba’alei Tosafot with respect to the appointment to the Sanhedrin of Shmaya and Avtalyon, according to the opinion that they were converts); and (c) the prohibition is not applicable to the convert himself in the event that the community chooses to appoint him to a particular position. Based on some of these considerations, Rabbi Asher Weiss (Minchat Asher, Bereishit no. 71) rules that a convert could even be appointed rabbi of a synagogue if the community members all agree upon accepting him to serve in that position. Rabbi Dov Aaron Brisman, av beit din of the Beit Din of Philadelphia, penned a similar responsum (Shalmei Chovah, YD 47) in which he concluded that a convert can be appointed president of a synagogue if final decisions are fundamentally made by the synagogue board rather than in unilateral fashion by the president (although Rabbi Aaron Felder, zt”l, expressed an opposing view in She’eilat Aaron 2:10). Additionally, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky rules (Netzach Yisrael 2:145) that there is a mitzvah of “loving the convert” in the context of a marriage relationship with a convert. Some of the rabbis involved in conversion in North America have taken upon themselves the task of serving as a “shadchan” to individuals whom they converted, ensuring that the converts are fully acclimated into communal life by finding a suitable shidduch. On that note, my wife and I have, b’ezrat Hashem, successfully matched two recent converts from our community with their life partners, and we joined both couples in celebrating the brit milah of each of their firstborn baby boys. But unquestionably there are challenges. The Talmud (Yevamot 48b) mentions that converts often have a difficult time in their adjustment period. One convert commented to our beit din that some people Continued on page 58

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seem to feel that the types of personal questions that are inappropriate when posed to other people (regarding their personal lives or level of observance) become fair game in the context of conversations with converts. This is not acceptable, either on an individual level or a communal level. Rashi comments (Vayikra 19:34) that when the Torah reminds us that “we were converts in the land of Egypt,” it is telling us that we started out in the same predicament as new converts to Judaism. Indeed, the Talmud (Keritut 9a) recounts that the entire Jewish people went through the process of conversion at Mount Sinai. The Gemara (Shabbat 146a, see Rashi ad locum) further relates that all individuals who were destined to become converts throughout the generations had some type of spiritual presence (“mazlayhu havu”) at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given. It is important to underscore that one who has undergone a valid conversion procedure is every bit as Jewish as one who was born Jewish. One of the key discomfitures that converts face is being questioned about the validity of their conversion. This inquiry can also afflict children or grandchildren of women who have previously converted to Judaism, and whose progeny rely upon their matrilineal descent for validation of their own status. This is one of the reasons why the Rabbinical Council of America, in conjunction with the Beth Din of America, created the GPS

Rabbi Yona Reiss

Courtesy of the Chicago Rabbinical Council 58

JEWISH ACTION Fall 5779/2018

Some people seem to feel that the types of personal questions that are inappropriate when posed to other people become fair game in the context of conversations with converts. This is unacceptable. network of participating rabbinical courts for conversion throughout North America. The GPS network has produced protocols to help ensure a valid conversion process, providing converts with a comfort level that their conversions will be accepted by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and around the world. The GPS system has proven itself strong and vital enough to be able to repair and rebuild when necessary, and to become a better and more effective force for good on behalf of the Jewish people. The recent hire of Rebbetzin Abby Lerner to serve as the national director of conversion services is just one example of how steps have been taken to ensure that conversion candidates have the necessary resources to voice any concerns in terms of their experiences. Along these lines, the Midrash (Ruth Rabbah 2:17) derives from the verse in the book of Iyov (31:32) “Bachutz lo yalin ger—a ger would not be made to lodge outside,” that it is necessary to take steps to embrace and encourage a sincere convert throughout the entirety of the conversion process. Having a strong system of conversion courts in place helps to fulfill that mandate. There is a striking statement in the Talmud (Yevamot 46b) in the name of Rabbi Chelbo that “converts are as problematic for the Jewish people as a wart in the skin.” Tosafot (Kiddushin, ibid.) offers several explanations to this quixotic quotation, ranging from the concern that converts may sometimes be less knowledgeable and therefore less observant in the performance of

mitzvot, to the observation of Rabbi Avraham HaGer that converts make others look bad due to their heightened level of mitzvah observance and commitment. Ultimately, the trajectory of a convert, like that of each member of the Jewish nation, can go in either direction, but much depends on the love and support he or she receives from the community. On some level, “it takes a village” to raise up a convert. Perhaps this sense of communal responsibility is why the Tosafot, in an alternative explanation, states that the greatest pitfall with respect to converts is the difficulty of avoiding the numerous prohibitions against causing a convert any distress. We must raise our sensitivity in reaching out to the converts in our midst with compassion and love and making them feel completely accepted. Today, many of the most active members of any Jewish synagogue, community or institution are converts or descendants of recent converts. It is instructive to bear in mind the words of Avraham Avinu (Bereishit 23:4) who described himself, when he was interacting with the Bnei Chet, as “Ger ve’toshav anochi imachem—I am both a foreigner and a resident among you.” Along similar lines, we are all part of the magnificent mosaic of worldwide Jews from different origins, backgrounds and cultures— insiders who have come from the outside. By respecting and honoring each member of our Divinely inspired nation as part of a unified whole, we will truly serve as an Or L’amim—a beacon of light to the multifaceted and multicultural world around us.


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Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION A Project of


Abby Lerner

Up close with

Jewish Action writer Yehudit Garmaise speaks with Abby Lerner about those who embark upon the arduous journey of conversion


JEWISH ACTION Fall 5779/2018


bby Lerner serves as the first national director of conversion services for GPS (Geirus Policies and Standards), the network of conversion courts established in 2008 to serve communities throughout North America. In this role, Rebbetzin Lerner supports candidates through the process of conversion, answering questions, addressing concerns, and acting as a liaison to the batei din. The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) oversees the batei din and sets standards for the more than 200 Orthodox conversions that take place every year in the United States. Prior to this position, Rebbetzin Lerner taught limudei kodesh at Yeshiva University High School for Girls in Queens, New York, for nearly three decades. She currently also serves as the rebbetzin of the Young Israel of Great Neck, New York.

Jewish Action: It is no secret that your position was created in the aftermath of a highly publicized abuse case that involved converts. What do you think is the most effective weapon in preventing abuse of Orthodox conversion candidates? Rebbetzin Abby Lerner: The RCA created this new position for which I was hired—national director of conversion services for GPS—to let the rabbinical courts know that conversion candidates’ questions and concerns will be taken seriously, and that there can be [legal] ramifications for breaches in proper behavior on the part of rabbis or batei din. My cell phone number and e-mail address are currently posted on the RCA web site for those who seek to convert. The fact that a conversion candidate has someone to communicate with, someone who provides a safe place to turn to for questions, is a significant step in preventing any kind of abusive situation. Even one case of inappropriate behavior, or an incident that might lead to a case of inappropriate behavior, is too much. Along with members of the GPS Committee, I am working to ensure that candidates have an address to turn to with whatever concerns they may have. Together we will be regularly reviewing conversion courts to ensure that they adhere to the guidelines issued by the RCA and the Beth Din of America in 2007. It is critical to let the local batei din know if a conversion candidate is

being made to feel uncomfortable by any dayan or sponsoring rabbi. JA: Do you feel conversion candidates are particularly vulnerable to mistreatment? AL: Within the GPS network, 200 to 300 people per year complete the conversion process; women comprise over 70 percent of conversion candidates. The relationship between a potential ger/giyoret and a rabbi is one which could involve an imbalance of authority. Firstly, only a rabbi is able to grant the candidate the ability to become a Jew. A potential convert knows that his or her future depends on this rabbi. Secondly, the lack of background in Yiddishkeit puts a potential convert at a distinct disadvantage. Because a convert is an outsider at the start of her journey, she can benefit from a conversation with someone who understands the process but is not part of the beit din. This could help her understand whether what she is experiencing is a legitimate part of the process of converting, or God forbid, an ethical or legal breach of conduct on the part of the rabbis involved in her case. Since my appointment to this position, when a conversion candidate encounters something that seems unusual, he or she can pick up the phone and ask me, “Is this incident wrong in terms of human relations, or is this another interesting thing about Judaism that I am not fully understanding?”

JA: What kind of behavior on the part of a rabbi might betray a lack of sensitivity toward conversion candidates? AL: In the year since I began working in this position, I have been overwhelmed by the sensitivity, understanding and compassion I have encountered among the sponsoring rabbis and dayanim of the beit din. That’s not to say there isn’t work to be done. The oppression that Jews have historically experienced as a people has rightfully made us more cautious with regard to admitting converts. Not all sponsoring rabbis—especially young ones— have experience with conversions. Sometimes a rabbi might feel he has to apply stricter standards. In that case, he should convey that he’s not trying to be insensitive, but that there are standards to which he must adhere. While most rabbis actually exhibit exquisite sensitivity and compassion, I have occasionally heard some complaints. A rabbi may speak with a candidate while checking a cell phone or without making eye contact or actively listening. These are challenges that we all face in an era when everyone is connected to one electronic device or another—but this A longtime high school and college literature, writing, and art teacher, Yehudit Garmaise teaches language arts at the Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn Toras Emes Academy in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband and four daughters.

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“It’s a journey— the day you convert is the first day of a very long journey.” -a convert who became Jewish over twenty years ago universal cultural problem is greatly magnified when dealing with potential converts who may walk into an interview already feeling intimidated. Some rabbis, due to their hectic schedules, may take what seems like too long to return a phone call; some may fail to return calls. While it is true that rabbis are often overburdened, we try to emphasize how important it is, even through small acts, to demonstrate compassion, validation and respect for all the learning and efforts a conversion candidate invests to become Jewish. Again, I want to emphasize that while certain insensitivities do occur, on the whole I’ve seen sponsoring rabbis and dayanim exhibit extraordinary sensitivity and compassion as well as an awareness of what both men and women go through as a convert. JA: Why do you think that more than 200 people each year are determined to become Jewish? AL: Often those who want to undergo Orthodox Jewish conversions are on a search for truth, similar to the way any ba’al teshuvah comes to Torah. I’ve seen people who were very successful professionally come to a point in their lives where they ask themselves: Is this all there is? Other conversion candidates have become disenchanted with their religions of birth. Still others are inspired to explore Judaism because they feel morally out of step with the American culture. I recently 62

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spoke with a woman who grew up in a Catholic home and graduated from one of the top universities in the US. She said, “I felt that there is no place on campus for someone with my values; I felt so alone.” About a third of the candidates approach the beit din because they have Jewish roots. Perhaps only their father is Jewish, or they are aware of a Jewish grandparent. In the southwest portion of the US, in some states with larger Hispanic populations, we often see candidates whose parents practiced Jewish rituals quietly, perhaps attesting to the history of the Spanish Inquisition and the traditions that their families passed down from Jewish ancestors who were marranos or conversos. Finally, there are those who are searching for a community. Their entry point to Judaism is not theological but social. While some batei din feel that’s a legitimate motivation, others do not; they contend that there needs to be a theological component. JA: What do you mean by the search for community? AL: Sometimes the search for meaning and the search for community come together. There are individuals who are fascinated with Judaism after having shared a Shabbat meal with Jewish friends at college. They are thrilled with the sense of community and belonging that characterizes frum communal life. Being part of a community makes you feel that you’re not alone in the world. With all our cell phones and FaceTime, it’s a very isolating universe. Many years ago in our shul in Great Neck, a ba’al teshuvah couple made a brit milah for their second son. More than 200 people showed up. The father got up during the simchah and said, “At the brit milah of our first son, there were about fifteen people in our living room. Now that we’ve become observant, at this brit milah there are 200 people here, and I know everybody! No one tells you that when you become Orthodox, you suddenly have a whole family around you. The non-religious

can’t even begin to understand what kind of life change this is.” JA: What happens when marriage is the primary motivation for one choosing to become Jewish? AL: The batei din understand that marriage may be the motivation, and when that is the case, the rabbis are not only meticulous regarding the potential convert and his or her commitment to keeping the mitzvot, but they are also meticulous regarding the Jewish partner. Often, the conversion candidate or would-be candidate is very enthusiastic about becoming observant, but the Jewish partner is much less so. When this happens, the conversion will not go forward. It must be a journey for the couple as a whole. JA: Can you describe a recent conversion you attended? AL: I recently observed a conversion overseen by Rabbi Zvi Romm, the administrator of the RCA’s New York beit din for conversion. After the woman immersed in the mikvah, Rabbi Romm sang the beautiful mi shebeirach prayer about changing the woman’s name; he then explained it in English. The rabbis on the beit din danced and sang Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov welcoming this newest member of Klal Yisrael. The woman’s female Torah teacher was there too, and we three women danced together in celebration of this most emotional event. Rabbi Romm then said to the giyoret, “Please recite Birchot HaTorah now.” The young woman, who by then had long been observant, replied, “But Rabbi Romm, I already davened this morning and I said Birchot HaTorah.” He said, “But now . . .”—and I’ve heard him say this to other candidates since—“I want you to say these berachot as a Jew.” I listened to her say, “asher bachar banu mikol ha’amim v’natan lanu et Torato—Who has chosen us from all the peoples and given us His Torah.” It was an extraordinary experience to stand there and to hear this woman say those words for the first time as a Jew. These are the same words that we, for the most part, say unthinkingly every day. I have seen the beit din rabbis



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approach each new conversion with the same fervor and enthusiasm—with joy, singing and dancing. It’s beautiful. JA: Do the batei din ever turn converts away? AL: For candidates who realize that changing everything—what they eat, where they live, what they wear, and what time they leave work on Friday—is too much for them, we may encourage them to become involved with the Noahide community. For some people, the Noahide community is a sufficient place to feel comfortable and at peace with themselves. JA: Are there ways in which those who have already converted can be supportive towards conversion candidates? AL: Many converts write blogs and have Facebook groups in which people can ask questions and share information. I am excited to be one of the teachers who give shiurim to conversion candidates. These shiurim are not necessarily about conversion issues, but concern topics of interest to all Jews. For example, in a webinar about the High Holidays, we address questions such as, “How do I ready myself for the High Holidays?” or “What should my mindset be during this time of year?” JA: Do you have any advice to offer converts about how to integrate into the community? AL: I tell all conversion candidates that becoming a frum Jew is not the kind of thing you can do alone. Some who want to convert come upon Judaism through reading or via the Internet, but they might be living all alone in a community with no religious Jews. Being far away from even a tiny, functioning Orthodox community, these conversion candidates have no way to connect, and they are stymied as to how to proceed. Being Jewish is about being part of a community. No Orthodox Jew lives by him or herself anywhere. We often encourage conversion candidates to move in order to experience a thriving Jewish community. 64

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Integration must happen before conversion. The rabbis need to see that the candidate is already part of a community before they will proceed with the conversion process. JA: How can Orthodox community members be more welcoming to those whose neshamot were also at Har Sinai and want to join the Jewish people? AL: Small things that we take for granted can create discomfort for geirim. For example, someone recently shared with me how painful our common pastime of playing Jewish geography can be for converts. So firstly, we must not pry. When we meet someone new, and we notice that his or her answers are not what we expected, we should stop inquiring so as not to not create any discomfort. When we realize that someone is a convert, we should be careful not to exclaim in an initial conversation, “Wow, what drew you to Judaism?” Some converts are happy to speak about their experiences, but most just want to be part of our world, and every time they meet somebody new, they don’t want to have to share their innermost thoughts about what made them choose Judaism. Secondly, while yamim tovim are usually a time for extended family visits, converts do not have Jewish families with whom to spend the chagim. So the usual question “What are you doing for yom tov?” can be painful. Don’t ask people where they are going for yom tov; just invite them. Thirdly, sometimes we make assumptions about what is halachically prohibited for converts. What we really need to do is take the next step to determine what the halachot actually are by asking a she’eilah. The answer is often more sensitive to the convert than we could have imagined. A convert who aligned herself with a Yeshivish community wondered whether her parents could walk her down the aisle; the answer to her she’eilah was, “Why not?” And although halachah does not require converts to sit shivah for non-Jewish relatives, every person,

convert or not, who loses a parent needs the opportunity to mourn and receive comfort. A convert who is mourning the loss of a loved one can be listed in the shul’s weekly e-mail with the times and dates that he or she is receiving visitors, and in that way an unofficial shivah is created, whereby people in the community can visit and share their condolences. Fourthly, when we notice that a convert may not fully grasp the subtleties of dress codes or other conventions of Orthodox life, instead of offering “helpful” tips, we should simply try to quietly focus on modeling the most tzanuah and refined behavior that we want to see in our communities. We are part of one family, and we should treat each other as such. Everyone who lives in supportive communities with Torah values will eventually figure out how to best conform to the minhagei hamakom. Finally, we need to be sensitive to the fact that converts, even after having fully integrated into the Jewish community, may still be self-conscious about their background. One of my good friends is a Modern Orthodox woman whom I’ve known for more than twenty years. She had never spoken to me about her status as a convert until recently when she shared this anecdote. “Just a few months ago, I was at a Shabbat table and a kashrut issue came up; the guests and hosts at the table were unfamiliar with the halachic concept of eino ben yomo. [an absorbed taste inside a utensil becomes stale if it remains unused for more than twenty-four hours.] I proceeded to explain the concept of ben yomo to everybody at the table, after which I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve made it!”’ This is a woman who has served at the helm of prestigious Jewish organizations and is already a grandmother. But none of that had made her feel completely accepted. It took this incident to make her feel like she was a bona fide member of the Jewish community. I cried when she told me the story.

Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION


Remembering Sarah Taub PROFILE

Sarah Taub, a”h (1957-2017)

By Bayla Sheva Brenner Bayla Sheva Brenner is an awardwinning freelance writer and a regular contributor to Jewish Action.


JEWISH ACTION Fall 5779/2018

In 1979, at twenty-three, Sarah Taub gave birth to her second daughter, a baby with Down syndrome. Her doctor told her that the child would never learn to walk or talk and advised her to leave the hospital without her. Those years the world didn’t know any better. Taub set out to change that. She took her baby home with one question for God. “You gave me this child; what is my mission? Let me see the purpose while I’m alive.” As her daughter grew, Taub scoured Cleveland’s Jewish community for programs that catered to children with special needs. She found none. The situation put a strain on her marriage and the couple decided to divorce. As a single mother, Taub continued to

explore social and educational options within the Jewish community for little Ahuva (Huvie), a toddler at the time. She continued to come up empty. With Huvie in hand, she tried Yeshivath Adath B’nai Israel (YABI), the only Orthodox-run Jewish afternoon school for students in elementary and high school. Rabbi Abraham Bensoussan, the education director and executive director of the school at the time, readily agreed to admit Huvie into the kindergarten class. Taub was taken aback. “Do you know that she has Down syndrome?” “Yes. I see that,” he said. “She’ll have a tutor to help her during the class.” Huvie thrived in her mainstream

school, yet social opportunities were still lacking. Looking around, Taub saw how many Jewish kids with developmental disabilities had little or no meaningful interactions with their peers. She was determined to ensure that Huvie would not suffer from social isolation. When Huvie finished sixth grade, Taub found out about Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities—a fledgling organization dedicated to providing educational and social opportunities for Jewish individuals with disabilities and ensuring their inclusion in every aspect of Jewish life. Taub was thrilled. Finally a solution to Huvie’s loneliness. There was, however, one problem: Yachad was based in New York. Huvie lived in Cleveland. Taub contacted Chana Zweiter, who had founded Yachad only a few years earlier, in 1983. Taub knew she needed to bring Yachad to Cleveland. “When my Huvie grows up I want her to have this. I want the Jewish community of Cleveland to have Yachad.” It didn’t take much more for Zweiter to hire Taub to run Cleveland Yachad’s chapter. She wound up serving as the director of Cleveland Yachad for thirty years, the longest-running director of any Yachad chapter across the country. “From nothing she created a thriving Yachad program,” says Zweiter. “With her warm, personal touch and her professionalism, she pulled it together. It’s clear why Cleveland Yachad grew.” The fledgling chapter began modestly enough, with three boys and one girl. For an hour and a half every Wednesday, Yachad members and their mainstream peers would connect for pizza and ice-cream parties as well as for parashah learning. Rabbi Bensoussan encouraged Taub to use school’s multipurpose room as the Cleveland Yachad meeting place. Taub joined forces with the local NCSY chapter and linked Yachad members with their mainstream high school and college-age peers. As enthusiastic Yachad members, NCSYers and their parents spread the word, the chapter grew. Along with the weekly meetings, Taub took Cleveland Yachad members to NCSY’s regional Shabbatons in Pittsburg, Detroit and Columbus. In time Cleveland Yachad began hosting its own Shabbatons, featuring guest speakers, Torah learning, and seudat shelishit with the shul congregants. The chapter joined day schools, the JCC, and other community institutions for celebratory and educational activities, and had monthly visits with the senior residents of Stone Gardens Assisted Living Residence, where Taub served part-time as the activities director. Today, Cleveland Yachad, which recently celebrated its thirtieth anniversary, runs a host of diverse, innovative programs and new community collaborations to promote inclusion in the greater Cleveland Jewish community. Running four to six inclusive events each month for teens and young adults with disabilities and their mainstream peers, Cleveland Yachad continues to respond to the ever-growing need, offering programs such as yoga, pottery, pet therapy, comedy improv and poetry workshops.




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Huvie may have sparked her mother’s desire to promote inclusion, but what fueled Taub’s passion was a driving sense of responsibility to make sure that every child who needed to belong had an entry into Jewish life. “She was a trailblazer who did things even if they seemed impossible,” says Sara Ireland-Cooperman, current coordinator of Cleveland Yachad. “She told me, ‘We are doing God’s work.’” In 2011, Yachad honored Taub at its national dinner for her longstanding dedication and Cleveland Yachad honored her in 2017 with a Life Achievement Award. When Sharon Peerless, a member of the Cleveland Jewish community, gave birth to a baby girl with Down syndrome, it didn’t help that friends and neighbors were expressing their sympathies. Soon after she brought the baby home, Taub and another mother of a child with Down syndrome visited her with words of congratulations and a huge candy platter. “It was just what I needed,” says Peerless, “to celebrate Ronit’s life.” A naturally shy girl, Ronit found a place to blossom in Yachad. “Before she joined Yachad, Ronit hardly spoke a word,” says her mother, currently a Yachad board member. “Thanks to Yachad, she loves bringing the parashah sheet home and reading it at the Shabbat table. She lights up smiling. That was something she would not otherwise have experienced without Cleveland Yachad.” Yachad parents readily related to Taub, because of her warmth, positive outlook and genuine empathy, says Yachad International Director Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman. “She was a master of relationships. People responded to her and related to her because she responded and related to them.” “She didn’t deny the challenges of having a child with special needs,” continues Dr. Lichtman. “Their challenges were also her challenges. But she was also able to see the good in everyone and everything. That understanding combined with her positive outlook made her beloved. In a calm and balanced way, she plowed ahead.” 68

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She didn’t deny the challenges of having a child with special needs. Their challenges were also her challenges. Unshakable Faith When Taub was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in 2011, the doctors estimated she had maybe two years to live. Nonetheless, despite her constant pain, she stuck to her hectic schedule and lived another six productive years. “You would never know how sick she was,” says Taub’s cousin Steve Eisenberg. “What can I do, what can I learn, everything was a growth opportunity. Nothing stopped her from greatness.” Her powerful example lives on. Instead of selling their mother’s home, her children decided to convert it into a Bikur Cholim House with a beit midrash for those visiting sick family members at the Cleveland Clinic. From the moment she gave birth to Huvie, Taub spared no effort trying to ensure she would be as independent as possible. With devotion and foresight, she formed a consortium with three other parents, and partnered with local agencies to fund the staffing for a Jewish group home for adult women with special needs. At first, Taub’s older daughter Dena Leah protested, upset that her mother was “kicking her sister out of the house,” insisting that when the time came, Huvie could come live with her.

“My mother told me, ‘She will always be part of our family, but she needs to have a life of her own. These things are incredibly difficult to arrange. Right now, we have this opportunity,’ I now see how wise she was.” Taub created a new reality in Cleveland. Her successes served as a springboard for other inclusion efforts. Today, Cleveland Yachad is thriving, having grown by 45 percent in the last two years alone. Yachad plans to expand the chapter to include both a senior and junior chapter, as well as to provide additional programming for children ages five and up. All this as a direct result of the seeds that Taub planted. As Taub had hoped, she lived to see the difference she made. “Yachad in Cleveland is a household word because Sarah Taub is a household word,” says Dr. Lichtman. “They are interchangeable.” “She taught us not to run from a challenge,” says Dena Leah. “It doesn’t matter if you’re scared, feel inadequate, or it seems unattainable. Hashem is knocking on your door. This is your moment to achieve something for others. There’s something great to accomplish.”

Sarah Taub (standing, in black), surrounded by Yachad members along with their high school peers during a Yachad program, on the front lawn of Yeshivath Adath B’nai Israel in 2000.

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JEWISH ACTION Fall 5779/2018


Preserving Your


Egg Freezing Technology: The newest frontier in reproductive medicine and how it’s impacting the Orthodox world By Gila Arnold


ike most young religious women, Miri Abrams (not her real name) assumed she would get married at a young age and immediately start building her family. But, as is the case for far too many women these days, the years passed, and the New York native was still searching for her bashert. It was when she hit her mid-thirties, still single, that a friend of hers sat her down for a talk. “Have you considered fertility preservation?” she asked. “Because you should do it. Now.” Miri had heard of the egg freezing procedure, or oocyte cryopreservation, in which a woman’s eggs are extracted and preserved for use at a later date. Many of her single friends were speaking about this option, which, thanks to medical advances in recent years, has transformed from a procedure with a spotty efficacy record to one with a very high success rate. Still, it was one thing to speak about it; deciding to do it was another matter altogether. “The biggest hurdle was emotional,” relates Miri. “Agreeing to undergo a fertility preservation procedure meant admitting that I’m an older single, and that

by the time I get married, there’s a good chance that I’ll have trouble getting pregnant naturally.” The other hurdle involved coming to terms with the practical aspects of the procedure, and this, too, was formidable. “This is a medical procedure,” she points out. “It’s not like going for a pedicure; it’s invasive and involves discomfort.” And then, of course, there was the price, which runs into the many thousands of dollars and is not covered by insurance. Still, at the end of the day, Miri decided that the benefits far outweighed the costs. “I told myself, hopefully I’ll get married soon and become pregnant naturally, and I will have wasted my money. That would be the best-case scenario. But I would never want to look back later and regret that I didn’t take this step to preserve my ability to have children when I was still young enough to do so.” Gila Arnold is a widely published author and journalist whose articles have appeared in numerous international magazines. She is a also freelance copywriter, specializing in creating marketing materials for nonprofit organizations. Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION


A Growing Trend Recent years have seen fertility preservation go mainstream. It started in 2012, when the American Society for Reproductive Medicine announced that egg freezing technology had improved dramatically and that it was no longer considered experimental. Soon after, in 2014, Apple and Facebook moved the procedure into the national discourse by announcing that they would offer egg freezing as a perk for female employees. Today, some cryopreservation clinics throw “egg-freezing parties” to woo women through their doors and convince them to undergo the procedure in order to extend their childbearing years. The draw for a woman to freeze her eggs is easy to understand from an emotional perspective and also has strong medical backing. Yet critics contend that the industry is engaging in biological fear-mongering and promising unrealistic hope in an effort to convince customers to part with quite hefty sums of money (in an average clinic, about $10,000 for the actual procedure, plus another $3,000 to $5,000 for the hormones and drugs, and then an annual storage fee of $500

to $1,000). Questions are also raised about the ethics involved in giving a woman the illusion that, with her eggs safely stored, she has all the time in the world to pursue her career, play the singles scene and enjoy a carefree life and whenever she feels like finally settling into motherhood, her eggs will be patiently waiting to do their job. What are the facts and myths regarding egg freezing? And what are the implications for the Orthodox community, particularly the growing population of older singles? A Numbers Game First, the medical background. The premise behind fertility preservation is the unrelenting fact that a woman’s reproductive ability decreases dramatically with age. This can be hard to swallow in a society that glorifies youth, and in an era when people are increasingly pushing off adulthood responsibilities for many years. While forty may be the new thirty, a woman’s biological clock stubbornly knows its age. It actually starts ticking from the time she is born. A female baby is born with 1 to 2 million potential eggs—all

Rabbi Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, assistant rabbi of the Young Israel of Woodmere and chair of medicine at South Nassau Communities Hospital (SNCH), lectures widely on reproductive technology and halachah. Courtesy of South Nassau Communities Hospital 72

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the eggs she will ever have. By the time she hits puberty, this number is down to about 1 million; by twenty-five, it’s at 300,000. And starting from age thirty-five, the rate of follicle loss increases rapidly. In addition, and even more significantly, the quality of her eggs decreases dramatically, meaning that the egg has less of a chance of becoming fertilized, and even if it does, there is a higher risk of genetic or other disorders. The decrease in egg quality is the main factor accounting for the drastic reduction in fertility as a woman ages. The numbers can be disheartening, and downright frightening. At age thirty, roughly 70 to 75 percent of a woman’s eggs are normal quality; by age forty, the numbers reverse—70 to 75 percent are abnormal, and her chances of becoming pregnant naturally in any given month is only about 5 percent (as opposed to a thirty-year-old’s 25 percent chance.) However, here’s the good news: a forty-year-old woman’s ability to actually carry a pregnancy is not much different than it was a decade or two ago (assuming she’s in the same general state of health). Hence the medical theory that if a woman’s better quality, thirty-year-old eggs could be put aside for use in her forties, fertility problems could hopefully be avoided later. A Boon for Singles The field of fertility preservation was originally developed to benefit cancer patients. Since cancer treatment can permanently harm reproductive tissue, researchers devised a technique for extracting and preserving the healthy tissue prior to treatment. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) lists several populations that can benefit from fertility preservation procedures, including cancer patients, women exposed to toxic chemicals in the workplace, women who have a genetic disease which affects future fertility and women who, whether due to personal choice or other circumstances, delay having children. It’s this last group—by far the largest percentage of people undergoing the procedure annually—that has

given fertility preservation somewhat of a negative overtone. However, this is undeserved, says Joshua U. Klein, MD, chief clinical officer and reproductive endocrinologist at the Manhattan-based Extend Fertility, the only practice in the US dedicated exclusively to egg freezing. “There’s a narrative in the media that women who freeze their eggs are selfishly focused on their careers. But really, the vast majority of them are single women who haven’t found partners yet and feel the clock ticking. Preserving their fertility takes away the panic in the dating scene,” says Dr. Klein. Indeed, a brief survey of online personal accounts of egg freezing all reveal this same theme of growing older without having found a partner. If this panic is being felt even in the secular world, it is many times more acute in the frum dating scene, where the ability to have a family is so strongly valued that older single men will often reject women whom they fear do not have the same childbearing potential as their younger counterparts. According to Rabbi Elchanan Lewis, rabbinic counselor at PUAH, an international fertility organization which specializes in the field of fertility and halachah, the prospect of having their childbearing years pass by without having found a marriage partner has led some women to make choices that are highly problematic from a halachic standpoint. “For many years, the only real option that was available for single women who wanted to have children was to be inseminated by donor sperm and become a single mother. This is something that halachic authorities prohibit,” says Rabbi Lewis. The other available option was to freeze actual embryos, again using donor sperm, which was just as halachically problematic. For this reason, when the option of oocyte cryopreservation became viable about ten years ago, with the development of the vitrification process for egg freezing, PUAH was at the forefront of promoting this procedure as a

The biggest hurdle was emotional... Agreeing to undergo a fertility preservation procedure meant admitting that I’m an older single, and that by the time I get married, there’s a good chance that I’ll have trouble getting pregnant naturally. halachically permissible way for single women to preserve their fertility. What is the vitrification process? For decades, the only method in use was by a slow-freezing process. However, due to the high water content in eggs, ice crystals would form during this freezing process, compromising the quality of the eggs when defrosted. About twelve years ago, researchers began experimenting with a flash-freezing technique called vitrification. Being able to immediately lower the temperature to extremely low freezing levels prevented ice crystals from forming. Vitrification quickly became the freezing method of choice and, as mentioned above, in 2012, in the US egg freezing was reclassified and no longer considered experimental. (Israel’s Ministry of Health approved the procedure in 2011.) Suddenly, egg freezing became a real medical option for women looking to preserve or extend their fertility. “About ten years ago, we heard about this new method at a fertility conference here in Israel, and we were impressed with the data,” recalls Rabbi Lewis. As is their policy for any new fertility advancement, they immediately turned to the gedolei haposekim in Eretz Yisrael; Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu zt”l, and, ybl”c Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Rabbi Asher Weiss and other rabbanim from across the Orthodox spectrum were all supportive of the procedure. “Their main concern was that it might cause women to choose to

push off marriage, which is what’s happening in secular society,” says Rabbi Lewis. The rabbis stressed that the option must be presented in the right way—as a means to help older single women who have not yet found their bashert preserve their ability to become mothers in the future. Halachically, Rabbi Lewis explains, there are two issues that must be dealt with before PUAH will do the procedure: First, the woman must understand that the eggs are only to be used when she is married—even if she turns forty-five and is still single, she may not use them. And second, the procedure must be done under halachic supervision. This supervision (which PUAH provides, free of charge, for any fertility procedure involving the transfer of genetic material) ensures that the eggs are properly labeled, sealed and certified as belonging to the correct owner. This is vital to prevent serious halachic problems that may arise in the case of human error in the labs. With these two conditions in place, Rabbi Lewis says, the process itself does not have any halachic problems attached to it, and he is not aware of any major rabbinic authority who prohibits it. “This is done in all Orthodox circles—Chareidi, Chassidic, Modern Orthodox. The only difference of opinion among the posekim of the various communities is how publicly the matter should be discussed. It doesn’t matter what kind of head Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION


Some people may claim that freezing my eggs [reveals] a lack of emunah. But I believe the opposite. The fact that Hashem gave me this option means that He wants me to use it.

covering she’ll wear when she gets married—a thirty-five-year-old single has the same needs.” This is also the opinion of Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, assistant rabbi of the Young Israel of Woodmere and chair of medicine at South Nassau Communities Hospital on Long Island, New York, who lectures widely on reproductive technology and halachah. Rabbi Dr. Glatt urges unmarried women who will follow the above guidelines to begin the process of making a conscious decision regarding undertaking this procedure when they reach their thirtieth or thirty-first birthday. “There is no chiyuv for a woman to freeze her eggs,” he explains, “since we pasken that a woman, unlike a man, is not obligated in the mitzvah of peru urevu [the Biblical injunction to ‘be fruitful and multiply’].” Moreover, he explains, that since egg freezing is a medical procedure that is somewhat painful, burdensome and expensive, the procedure, although halachically permissible, is not obligatory. Yet, he says, while there is no chiyuv, it is a great opportunity for a single woman, from a practical standpoint, to increase the likelihood of having a baby when iy”H she does find her bashert and marry. Rabbi Glatt states that there are some hashkafic concerns with general advocacy of egg preservation: halachah would not, for example, sanction egg freezing in order to delay childbearing when married, or to put off marriage so a woman could pursue her career. Of course, if a woman has a medical reason for delaying childbearing, this would not pose a halachic problem, and is, says Rabbi Glatt, “a wonderful way to have children later in life when the medical contraindication for having a child is no longer present.” But Does it Work? So egg freezing is medically solid and halachically sound. But the real question is, does it work? And, its corollary—is it worth the money? Because the technology is so new, there haven’t yet been significant numbers of women attempting to use their frozen eggs to get


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pregnant. However, preliminary statistics are encouraging. “We are able to say that the egg freezing method is successful,” says Dr. Tal Imbar, director of fertility preservation services at Hadassah Hospital. “In terms of the eggs retaining their quality after being frozen, results have shown a 90 to 95 percent success rate. We already have eggs frozen for ten years, and, theoretically, they can remain frozen forever.” Studies comparing success of IVF treatment using donor eggs have shown that there was no significant difference whether the donated egg was fresh or frozen. And documented success rates of women using their frozen eggs that culminated in a live birth are, on average, about 4 to 14 percent per egg, which, while it sounds low, is actually an encouragingly high number when taking into account that no one freezes just one egg. Most freeze ten to fifteen. But across the board, the strongest factor affecting success rates is the age of the woman when she freezes her eggs; thus, the urgency. Doctors agree that there is a very specific window in oocyte cryopreservation. Virtually no one recommends electively undergoing the procedure before age thirty; the likelihood of having a baby naturally is too high to warrant the cost and risk of a medical procedure. Between thirty and thirty-four is the optimal window for freezing, when egg quality is still at its peak. Between thirty-five to thirty-nine, egg quality goes down, but for women who haven’t frozen their eggs earlier, this is still a viable time to do so. After age forty, egg quality lowers to the point that it generally no longer pays to freeze. (To compare, a thirty-four-year-old who freezes the recommended ten to fifteen eggs has a 60 to 70 percent chance of having a healthy baby; a forty-year-old freezing that same amount has only a 30 to 40 percent chance.) The majority of Dr. Klein’s patients are in their thirties, with an average age of thirty-six. He is a strong advocate of the procedure; yet, he says, it is not for everyone. And that’s the real answer to the questions

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above. The procedure, when all is said and done, is an insurance policy, with no guarantees of success. Every woman needs to make her own informed decision, and her own cost-benefit analysis. Dr. Klein always presents the hard statistics to his patients at the initial consultation. “Women who are forty-two or forty-four will come to me, asking to freeze their eggs. It’s a tough conversation. On the one hand, she sees this as her last hope—how can I take that away from her? On the other hand, ethically, can I let her spend thousands of dollars on something that has a low chance of success? The best I can do is to give her my informed opinion.” For many, the cost is a barrier. Dr. Klein would not necessarily recommend that a woman do this if she will have to go into serious debt over it. However, in an effort to level the playing field, he has worked hard to make the service as affordable as possible—his practice charges only $5,500, about half of the country-wide average fee. Rabbi Lewis relates that PUAH has been working to reduce the cost of the procedure in Israel as well. “We’re in the process of working to get this partially covered by the major health

The midtown Manhattan office of Extend Fertility, a practice dedicated exclusively to oocyte cryopreservation.

Courtesy of Extend Fertility


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funds,” he says. In the meantime, due to an arrangement with Hadassah Hospital, a reduced fee is offered to women referred by PUAH—6,000 NIS instead of 14,000 NIS (about $1,700 instead of $3,800). And yes, says Rabbi Lewis, some American women come to Israel to have the procedure done at a fraction of the US cost. Raising Awareness Ultimately, childbearing, like matchmaking, is in the hands of Hashem. Yet our generation’s remarkable advances in fertility technology are undoubtedly a gift from Heaven and are here to benefit us. Rabbi Gideon Weitzman, director of PUAH, says egg freezing is a real gift for Orthodox single women, for whom marriage and children are a priority. “We get calls on this question every single week, if not every single day,” he says.1 While not every single woman in her thirties may choose to freeze her eggs, those active in helping our community with fertility issues feel strongly that every woman deserves to know about the option. While Miri says that going through the procedure itself was not easy and involved several weeks of discomfort, from the twelve days of hormone

injections prior to the extraction to the recovery period afterwards (while recovery varies, she says that it took her about a week to get back to herself), she is very happy she did it, and encourages her single friends to do so as well. “Before I did this, I didn’t realize how common it was. Afterwards, I found out that there’s a whole underground of frum single women freezing their eggs. But people don’t feel comfortable talking about it, and because of that, a lot of women don’t know about the option.” For that reason, she was very eager to share her experience with others and feels strongly about spreading awareness in the community. “Some people may claim that freezing my eggs [reveals] a lack of emunah. But I believe the opposite. The fact that Hashem gave me this option means that He wants me to use it. By doing this, I’m showing Him I believe that one day I’ll get married. Look, this is what I’m doing to ensure I have a family. Now You do Your part.” Notes 1. ABC News Network. James, Susan Donaldson. Health/rabbis-urge-single-orthodox-women-freeze-eggs-age/story?id=17185321 (retrieved June 15, 2018).

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hen we were invited out recently for a Shabbat meal, we hesitated before accepting. While we really like the couple who invited us, the conversation at their table tended to revolve excessively around their kids’ schools—notably, all the things they disliked about them. One school didn’t offer sufficient resources for their very bright son who had social anxiety issues. They protested what they felt was an overly rigid policy on dress codes and social media at the school their teenaged daughter attended. With our own four children grown, we feel blessedly released from the ongoing obsession we also had over our children’s happiness and education in school. We Jews tend to be perfectionists. We expect a lot from ourselves and we expect a lot from others. And with day school tuition so high, we may even feel within our rights to demand almost tailor-made education for our children. We accepted the Shabbat invitation, and thankfully the conversational landscape was much broader than we had anticipated. The schools caught a break that day. When our children were very young, a dear friend taught me an important lesson. As an indefatigable school volunteer, she had no patience for Judy Gruen is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. Her latest book is The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith (2017).


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parents who complained about schools but never offered to contribute in any way with better ideas, with their time or with other creative resources. I took that message to heart. Some years later, however, I violated my policy and blew a gasket at a school administrator. “Mr. Kovaks” had been brought in as a sort of behavior cop to quell a rising tide of unruly behavior among the students. When my nine-year-old intentionally tripped another child in the yard, I was extremely upset with my son, but I was livid with Mr. Kovaks. Instead of taking my son aside to speak with him privately, he humiliated him publicly in class. He punished him (and me!) with an absurd three-day suspension and many hours of mindless busywork. After two miserable days at home with my son in tears and refusing to do the work, I literally burst into Mr. Kovaks’ office, shaking in rage. I told him he had no understanding of basic psychology and failed to have made any aspect of the punishment fit the crime. Why didn’t he make my son apologize to the other child, and give him a number of chesed tasks to teach him more about kindness and self-control? Instead, Mr. Kovaks created an association of schoolwork with punishment, and of school administrators with humiliation. The school fired Mr. Kovaks before the end of the year, but his short, disastrous reign cost the school the defection of many families, including mine.

Like many protective parents, I reacted severely, perhaps badly, because I felt he had damaged the psyche of an already sensitive child. Fortunately, I never encountered anything nearly this inept again in any of my children’s schools. In general, I have tried to support the schools even when I have disagreed with certain policies or found certain teachers wanting. For example, when our daughter was in high school, I was appalled that her school was using an American history textbook by Howard Zinn, whose far-left politics infuse his widely used textbooks with a damaging anti-American bias. I called the general studies principal to discuss it. I gave her a copy of Michael Medved’s The Ten Big Lies About America (New York, 2008), which dispelled so many of Zinn’s theories and urged her to at least have the girls read some part of Medved’s fine book for balance, if she still insisted on using the Zinn textbook. Another time, seeing that my gifted fourth-grade son was bored during English class, I offered to come in for a weekly English enrichment session for a few students chosen by the teacher. I bit my tongue many times when one of my kids came home announcing a new school policy I didn’t like or repeating an idea the teacher said that went against our hashkafic grain. At those times, I would say, “We may not like this new rule, but you’re in a good school that is giving you a solid Torah education. We won’t like everything that happens Continued on page 80

I bit my tongue many times when one of my kids came home announcing a new school policy I didn’t like or repeating an idea the teacher said that went against our hashkafic grain. How and When to Criticize Your Child’s School Canvassing several other parents and educators about this topic from a frum e-mail list I belong to, I received an avalanche of responses. The following quotes, paraphrased for brevity, are particularly illuminating:

Don’t criticize the school or teacher in front of your child. Doing so sends a very clear message that you don’t respect his educators. It also makes it very difficult for the child to develop and show that respect. Helicopter parents think that they are doing their children a great favor by buffering them from all hurts, but in fact they are smothering them. Teaching a child that not everything in life will be perfect (nor is it meant to be) may be the greatest gift you may ever give him.

I used to complain to teachers when I was upset about something until a teacher said, “You know, this is the third time this year you are complaining about something. Isn’t there anything good in my class?” I was shocked and disgusted with myself.

As a teacher of twentyplus years, I have found that parents need to prioritize their complaints in order to be taken seriously. Don’t make a fuss over small issues if you want your child to learn resilience. Of course, parents must be their children’s advocates, particularly with more serious or underlying issues that have not been dealt with or have remained under the radar. . . . Offer compliments and thank you’s so that criticisms will be more palatable.

I learned an important lesson from a principal who asked that parents speak directly to her regarding issues and not take them to the teacher. At first I thought this would constitute lashon hara, or might get a teacher in trouble unnecessarily, until she explained that she was protecting her teachers from needless aggravation; she was running interference for them. She was a loyal, dedicated, amazing principal.

I stopped complaining about my son’s school when I realized that he simply had needs the school could not meet, physically or psychologically. When I accepted that I could not change the school, I moved my son to another school with a better environment for him, though it was not a great match hashkafically. Schools are package deals.

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Continued from page 78





celebrating the spirit of youth GALA










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in school, but we need to accept it in good spirits.” Raising our family in Los Angeles offered us the opportunity of many choices of day schools, a choice not necessarily available in smaller communities. Our three sons went to three different high schools, as we tried to follow the dictate of educating each of our kids “al pi darko—according to his nature.” It wasn’t easy. Not only did we have to meet several mandatory building funds and lost out on any multiple-child tuition breaks, but we also introduced hashkafic conflicts at home, as the schools’ hashkafot ranged from modern to black-hat Yeshivish. Yet these different schools were the right fits for our very different sons. We naturally want the very best for our precious children, who have different ways of learning, socializing and relating to Yiddishkeit. We feel frustrated and perhaps cheated when a school cannot meet our children’s distinct needs, when it is too small to offer tracked classes and lacks the budget for educational resource specialists. But no school can be all things to all students.

....And with day school tuition so high, we may even feel within our rights to demand almost tailor-made education for our children. The hallmark of a Jew should be expressing hakarat hatov on a regular basis, and if we fail to do this for the teachers who work so hard to educate our children, we undermine one of the basic purposes of a Jewish education. When we complain too much at our children’s behest, we spoil them, weaken their bond to Torah, and create more of the dreaded “snowflakes” who cannot cope with any challenging ideas or people. I have seen some parents who have tried too hard to keep their kids happy in schools, with disastrous results. I have watched parents move their kids from school to school to placate their children’s demands “to be with their friends” or for a looser environment. I have heard these parents complain bitterly that it was the teachers’ faults for not instilling a love of Torah or teaching effectively, when in fact the children had learning challenges or were spiritually apathetic. Sadly, I have watched many of these kids grow into adults with little to no commitment to Torah observance. No school is perfect. Neither is any parent, or child. Perhaps we can keep these ideas in mind to foster a better relationship with our children’s schools . . . and with our children.


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Kofta Stuffed Dates

Courtesy of Millennial Kosher by Chanie Apfelbaum and ArtScroll/Shaar Press

Busy in Brooklyn In her new cookbook, Millennial Kosher (ArtScroll), Chanie Apfelbaum embodies her passion for new food for a new generation, featuring traditional Jewish dishes reinvented for the modern palate. Influenced by international cultural cuisine, her cookbook incorporates bold flavors and spices, using fresh seasonal ingredients and fewer processed foods.


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KOSHER CUISINE with a MILLENNIAL TWIST By Norene Gilletz Mom’s Honey Chiffon Cake, Up-“Dated”

Adapted from Second Helpings, Please! by Norene Gilletz and Harriet Nussbaum (Gourmania Inc.) Yields 15 to 18 servings 4 eggs 1 cup sugar 3/4 cup canola oil 1 1/3 cups silan (date honey) or buckwheat honey 3 cups all-purpose flour 3 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1 cup cold brewed tea or coffee (or 3/4 cup tea and 1/4 cup brandy) Preheat oven to 350°F. Place oven rack in lower third of oven. Spray a 10-inch Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray. Combine eggs and sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer; beat on high speed until thick and light. Gradually pour in oil and silan and blend well. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon in a large bowl and mix well. Gradually add to batter, alternating with tea or coffee, starting and ending with dry ingredients. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 15 minutes (it’s best to set a timer). Reduce oven temperature to 300°F and bake 1 hour longer, or until cake tests done. (A wooden skewer inserted into the center should come out dry.) Remove cake from oven and let cool for 15–20 minutes. Loosen cake from pan using a flexible spatula. Carefully invert onto a round serving plate and remove from pan.

Variation: Honey Spice Cake: Add 1/2 tsp ground allspice and 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg to dry ingredients.

Kofta Stuffed Dates

Adapted from Millennial Kosher: Recipes Reinvented for the Modern Palate by Chanie Apfelbaum (ArtScroll) Yields 24 dates Stuffing the sweet dates with the spiced kofta filling and wrapping them in smoky kosher beef fry creates the perfect party bite that pairs well with beer. 1 lb ground chuck 2 tablespoons grated shallot 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 tablespoons chopped parsley 1⁄2 teaspoon cumin 1⁄2 teaspoon allspice 1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1⁄8 teaspoon pepper 2 tablespoons pine nuts 24 Medjool dates 12 slices beef fry, sliced in half lengthwise Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, combine meat, shallot, garlic, parsley, spices and pine nuts. Form the mixture into torpedo-shaped logs, each about 1 heaping tablespoon. Slice open dates lengthwise, making sure not to cut all the way through. Discard pits. Stuff dates with meat mixture. Wrap each date with a strip of beef fry; place on a rack set over a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Millenial Kosher, ArtScroll/Shaar Press

Honey Roasted Za’atar Chicken With Dried Fruit

Adapted from Millennial Kosher: Recipes Reinvented for the Modern Palate by Chanie Apfelbaum (ArtScroll) Yields 4–6 servings 10 oz dried apricots (scant 2 cups) 10 oz pitted dried prunes (scant 2 cups) 3 tablespoons za’atar 2 tablespoons olive oil 4 chicken legs, skin-on 1/2 cup dry red wine Kosher salt, to taste 1/3 cup honey Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread apricots and prunes into a 9 x 13-inch pan. In a bowl, combine za’atar and olive oil to create a paste. Rub the za’atar paste over chicken; place chicken on dried fruit. Pour wine around the chicken; sprinkle with salt. Cover tightly with foil; bake for 1 hour. Uncover the pan. Drizzle the chicken with honey. Bake, uncovered, for an additional 30–45 minutes, basting every 10 minutes with the pan juices. Norene Gilletz, the author of twelve kosher cookbooks, is also a food writer, food manufacturer, consultant, spokesperson, cooking instructor, lecturer, cookbook editor, and a podcaster. Norene lives in Toronto, Canada.

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Mushroom Barley Risotto

Mushroom Barley Risotto Courtesy of Millennial Kosher by Chanie Apfelbaum and ArtScroll/Shaar Press

Adapted from Millennial Kosher: Recipes Reinvented for the Modern Palate by Chanie Apfelbaum (ArtScroll) Yields 6 servings Chanie writes: “I love risotto. What I don’t enjoy is standing over the pot, stirring in ladle after ladle of stock to make the classic dish. Here, I let the barley do the thickening, and with little effort you’re left with the creamiest bowl of comfort food that really hits the spot, even without the meat. My mushroom barley-loving kid approves!” 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 medium onion, diced small 2 cloves garlic, minced 10 oz cremini mushrooms, stems removed 3.5 oz oyster mushrooms, stems removed 3.5 oz shiitake mushrooms, stems removed 1/2 cup dry white wine 1 cup barley, rinsed 1 tablespoon soy sauce 4 sprigs thyme 1 bay leaf 8 cups vegetable stock Salt, to taste Pepper, to taste White truffle oil, for finishing Heat a 5-quart stock pot over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add onion; sauté until translucent. Add garlic; sauté until fragrant. Slice mushrooms; add to pot. Cook until softened and most of the liquid has evaporated. Add wine; cook until most of the liquid is absorbed. Add barley, soy sauce, thyme, bay leaf and stock; bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium; simmer with the cover half off, stirring occasionally, until barley is tender and the risotto is creamy, with a porridge consistency, about 1 hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, discard bay leaf and thyme sprigs; divide risotto between serving bowls. Finish with a drizzle of truffle oil. Variation: For dairy meals, add parmesan cheese to taste. For meat meals, use beef stock in place of vegetable stock.


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Autumn Apple Bake Prep time: 30 minutes Cooking time: 30 minutes Total Time: 1 hour Yields 10-12 Servings Ingredients: 8 medium-size tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced 1 ⁄2 c brown sugar 2 T flour 1 t cinnamon 2 T orange juice 1 T lemon juice 3 ⁄4 c flour 1 ⁄2 c brown sugar 1 ⁄4 t salt 1 ⁄2 c Breakstone’s® Butter 1 ⁄2 c chopped hazelnuts

Directions: Mix apples with first three ingredients. Spoon into a buttered 21/2-quart casserole. Drizzle with orange and lemon juices. Combine 3/4 cup flour, brown sugar, and salt; cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add pecans. Spread over apples. Bake at 375°F for 45 minutes or until apples are just tender. Serve warm with cream if desired.





Misconception: A person who drops a sefer Torah, and even one who merely witnesses it fall, must fast for forty days. Fact: There is a late post-Talmudic custom for a person who drops a sefer Torah to fast, usually one day. Background: This is a widespread belief, and even people lax in other areas of halachah seem to be careful about this (forty-day) fast.1 Yet there is no source in either the Babylonian or Jerusalem Talmud, the Rambam, Tur or Shulchan Aruch for fasting when a Torah falls, let alone fasting for forty days. However, Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg devoted twenty-five pages (Tzitz Eliezer 5:1) to exploring the development of this custom, citing sources and providing reasons and parameters for the practice. Of course, one must guard the sanctity of a Torah and treat it with special care, and no one questions the trepidation and sorrow that accompany the desecration of a Torah scroll. The Gemara (Moed Katan 26a) rules that if one sees a Torah scroll burned deliberately, Rachmana litzlan, one must tear keriyah. (In fact, in his very first responsa [She’eilot U’Teshuvot Mi’ma’amakim I:1], Rav Ephraim Oshry, z”tl, discusses a case in the Rabbi Dr. Ari Z. Zivotofsky is a professor of brain science at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.


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Kovno Ghetto where the accursed Nazis slaughtered dogs and cats in the shul, and then forced Jews to tear apart sifrei Torah with which to cover the rotting carcasses. Rav Oshry ruled that those who witnessed the event should tear keriyah, but there is no need for anybody to fast, particularly considering the malnutrition and ill health of those in the ghetto. Rav Oshry did view the event as a call from Above for teshuvah.) The Shulchan Aruch (YD 340:37) says that one must tear keriyah if one sees other books of the Tanach or tefillin burned deliberately; the Shach (YD 340:56) applies it to seeing a sefer Torah being torn; and, although Pitchei Teshuvah (YD 340:21) cites rabbinic authorities who are unsure if keriyah is necessary when seeing Gemaras and other religious texts being torn, the Aruch Hashulchan (YD 340:38) says that one must do so. As an extension of this, the custom evolved to impose a fast if a Torah was burnt or torn, Rachmana litzlan. The idea of fasting when a Torah or a pair of tefillin2 “merely” falls is more recent, dating back several hundred years, and since then its parameters have been discussed by many later authorities. A sefer Torah falling is certainly less severe than the deliberate burning or tearing of a sefer Torah. Hence, although there is a popular notion to fast even on Shabbat for dreadful dreams,

including a dream in which one saw a Torah or tefillin burnt (Shulchan Aruch, OC 288:5), that is not the case for seeing them fall in a dream (Mishnah Berurah, 288:16). Similarly, no rabbinic authority suggests tearing keriyah for a fallen Torah, possibly because usually there is no actual damage, and it is not intentional. Among the earliest references to fasting for dropping tefillin (or a Torah scroll) are Rabbi Israel of Bruna (1400-1480; Shut Mahari Bruna 127), who explains that dropping tefillin is a sign from Heaven that one should repent and fasting is a means of repentance; and Rabbi Shmuel ben Moshe Kalai (Greece, c. 1500-1585; Sefer Mishpatei Shmuel 12) who states that we fast because dropping tefillin is a “zilzul” (desecration). Fasting after such an event entered the mainstream when the Magen Avraham (1637-1683, Poland; OC 44:5, cited in MB 40:3) and Rabbi Moshe ibn Habib (1654-1696, Jerusalem; Kapot Temarim on Sukkah 41b) noted that it is a popular custom and that it applies to a Torah scroll as well. 3 These early sources mention that the one who dropped the Torah or tefillin should fast, but do not mention that those witnessing it need to fast (see Tzitz Eliezer 5:1:3:2-3). Extending this custom which, as is noted by many of the later authorities, has no Talmudic basis, took two forms: increasing the

number of days required to fast and adding to those who are obligated to do so. The Chida (Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai; 1724-1807) was asked if those who witnessed a Torah fall must also fast. He responded (Shut Chayim She’ol 1:12, summarized in his L’David Emet 3:11 and Shiurei Berachah, YD 282:1-4) that there is no source even for the one who dropped the Torah scroll or tefillin to fast, but since it is already an established custom, if one who drops either did not fast, that would be viewed as strange; thus he should fast one day. However, the Chida states that witnesses are not obligated to fast. He does, however, mention a community where a Torah fell from the hands of an individual and the local rabbi imposed a three-day “BaHaB” fast (Monday-Thursday-Monday) on the entire community; the Chida concludes that each local rabbi should decide what is appropriate for his community. The discussion among the posekim continued with some suggesting that owing to the seriousness of the bizayon (disgrace), all members of the congregation, even those not present, should fast if a sefer Torah falls. Some were of the opinion that if one entered a shul and saw a Torah on the floor, even if he did not see it fall, he should fast. What about a blind person who was present and sensed what had happened although he obviously did not see it (see Tzitz Eliezer 5:1:5)? All of these scenarios are discussed. Once the custom became popularized, many questions arose. What to do if the Torah fell inside the aron? What if it fell on the steps of the aron? What if only one side of the Torah rolled to the ground? Does a Torah need to be checked if it fell? What if a pasul Torah fell? What if the individual carrying the Torah fell but the Torah remained securely in his hands? What if a Torah falls on Yom Kippur? What if the parchment of a Torah not yet sewn together falls? et cetera.4 Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz (1797-1876) discusses three instances in which Torah scrolls were defiled to various degrees and the appropriate response.

The layers that have been added continue to develop. Irrespective of who fasts or for how long, this custom is a testament to the respect the Jewish people afford a sefer Torah.

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Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION


In a case in which a Torah was stolen and then found, he ruled that there was minimal desecration and only the gabbai who irresponsibly did not lock the shul properly should fast or give tzedakah (Divrei Chaim 2:CM:33). In discussing an incident in which thieves had ransacked a shul and left the Torahs in the garbage, he suggested, based on Taanit 16a, that such an event occurs because of the sins of the congregation and thus a fast of repentance, in this case a BaHaB fast, was warranted for the whole congregation (Divrei Chaim 1:YD:59). In a final instance, he responded to a community in which, due to negligence, the Shabbat lights caused the aron and four Torahs to burn. He determined that they must give tzedakah and he imposed a public fast on all the men in the congregation. Additionally, he stated that the shamash should fast four times, once each season (Divrei Chaim, likutim in vol. 2:1). In practice, the custom is to fast one or three BaHaB days, and this applies either to the one who dropped the sefer Torah or to all present at the time. For example, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (28:12) says that if one drops a Torah he must fast, and the custom is that those who witness it must fast as well. Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvot V’Hanhagot 3:169) suggested to a congregation in which a Torah fell on Rosh Hashanah (which, he says, makes it more severe) that the one responsible should fast BaHaB, and the rest of the congregation should observe a one-day fast. Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel (Mishpatei Uziel 1:YD:19 addressed the case of a Torah that fell on Shabbat morning in a shul in Tel Aviv in 1934. Because it was accidental and the source for fasting applies to a sefer Torah that is deliberately burned, he did not require fasting, but wrote that one should find other ways to atone for the accidental desecration. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichot Shlomo 1:12:39) ruled that if the Torah fell from the aron and not from the hands of an individual, there is no need to fast. Rabbi Moshe 88

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Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, OC 3:3) systematically aligned the various customs with the proposed bases for the practice. He concluded that the (one-day) fast is most obligatory for the one who dropped the Torah, particularly if there is any possibility of negligence, and that the custom is that those who saw it fall should fast as well. Members of the synagogue not present or those present who did not see it fall do not need to fast (Rishumei Aharon 1:YD:240:7). He says this was all applicable for the case he was asked about in which, while one Torah scroll was taken out from the ark, another one fell to the ground. In general, authorities do not rule that one must fast forty days for dropping a sefer Torah. The notion of a forty-day fast is mentioned in several contexts. 5 For example, Moed Kattan 25a records an incident in which Rav Huna’s tefillin strap inverted and as penitence he fasted forty fasts.6 Bava Metzia 33a records an incident where Rav Huna felt insulted by Rav Chisda, and each fasted forty days because of the resentment that resulted from the misunderstanding.7 Rav Yosef and Rav Zeira8 are each described as having fasted three sets of forty-day fasts as part of petitioning God for certain things (Bava Metziah 85a). Fasting as part of prayer is still practiced— the Alter of Slabodka was reported to have told one of his promising students: “I fasted forty days that you not go off the straight path.”9 The Rema (OC 334:26) suggests a forty-day BaHaB fast for one who violates Shabbat, and the Chayei Adam (Shabbat 9:12) says this is even for accidentally violating Shabbat. Similarly, for accidental sexual sins a forty-day fast is suggested (Rema, YD 185:4). The idea of a forty-day fast is occasionally, although rarely, mentioned in the context of dropping a Torah. Rabbi Yosef Shaul Nathanson (1808-1875; Divrei Shaul al Aggadot haShas, Sanhedrin 43a, s.v. v’cruz) wrote that if a Torah falls, God forbid, we fast forty days. He further said that he saw this in “L’David Emet of the Gaon Azulai [the Chida], who states that the reason [for fasting

forty days] is because the Torah was given in forty days.”10 I have been unable to find this in L’David Emet. Rabbi Yosef ben Naim (1882-1961) discussed (Tzon Yosef 67) a case in which on Chol Hamoed Sukkot an individual removed a Torah from the aron for hakafot and a nearby Torah fell. In the course of his lengthy discussion, he quotes from a 5688 issue of the journal Ohel Moed where Rabbi Yaakov Shur derives from the story of Rav Huna that a forty-day fast is warranted for such a severe desecration. In explaining the severity, he also cites the Ramban (Devarim 27:26) who states that a person who does not guard a Torah from falling is under a curse (arur). On the other hand, there are those who prefer alternatives to fasting so as not to burden or weaken people. In general, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 571:1-2) limits who should voluntarily fast and the Mishnah Berurah (571:2) advocates a “Ta’anit haRa’avad,” a display of self-restraint by leaving over a portion of a tasty dish, or ta’anit dibbur in lieu of a “real” fast. Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt (Rivevot Ephraim 6:14) reports an incident where tefillin fell and the mashgiach instructed a ta’anit dibbur in lieu of a fast. Rav Greenblatt found that the Steipler Gaon (Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, d. 1985) had ruled similarly. Piskei Teshuvot (40:2; cf. Rivevot Ephraim 5:128) says that the custom in recent generations is not to fast even one day if tefillin fall, but rather to give tzedakah, increase Torah study, observe a ta’anit dibbur, and the like. The reverence with which the Jewish people treat the Torah is evident from the custom that developed to fast when a Torah falls. There is no discussion in the ancient sources about how to react to such a scenario. The Jewish people, rather than the rabbis, sensed a need for an appropriate response and instituted a fast. No source prior to the fifteenth century mentions fasting, yet this custom has become so entrenched that nearly every posek in the last 200 years discusses it and has had

to respond to questions about it. The layers that have been added continue to develop. Irrespective of who fasts or for how long, this custom is a testament to the respect the Jewish people afford a sefer Torah. Notes 1. This custom was even reported about in the Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2012, p. A1, where Lucette Lagnado wrote that “Rabbi Daniel Sherbill of Temple Emanu-El in Miami Beach is still haunted by that day in 1995 when a scroll tumbled to the ground after its ornate housing, or ‘ark,’ was opened. It was the High Holidays, and he was leading a congregation near Chicago. Dozens of members fasted for forty days, from sunrise to sunset, he says.” 2. These rules do not apply to a mezuzah (Mishneh Halachot 5:195). 3. The Magen Avraham differentiates between tefillin, for which one does not fast if they fell while in their case, and a Torah scroll, for which one fasts even if it fell within its case. As a source, the Magen Avraham notes that despite a prohibition of hanging tefillin, this is permitted if they are in a case (Shulchan Aruch, OC 40:1). A pet peeve of mine, learned from my rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Wehl, z”l, is when people “hang” their tefillin shel rosh by the knot as they put it on their head, thereby letting the holiest part, the bayit, dangle, rather than holding it front and back as they put it on. Note that the Taz (OC 40:1) rationalizes this practice, while many other later authorities disagree with him (Kaf HaChayim, OC 40:1). 4. For these and other details see Tzitz Eliezer 5:1 and 11:77:5; Gilyon Maharsha (YD 270); Halichot Shlomo 1:12: note nun; Torah Loda’at 2:379-382; Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman, “The Development of Minhag as a Reflection of Halakhic Attitude: Fasting for a Fallen Sefer Torah,” Tradition 33:2 (1999): 19-30; and Rabbi Meir Brandsdorfer, Kol HaTorah 75 (Tishrei 5773): 188-9. 5. See Shulchan Aruch, OC 568:4 that fasting straight for two days and two nights (or, the Rema says, for a strong person, three) is the equivalent of forty non-consecutive fasts of repentance. Rabbi Moshe Zacuto (c. 1612-1698; Iggerot haRemez 37) was asked about a Torah that fell and answered based on mystical considerations. He felt that eighty-one fasts were in order, but that a two-day/two-night fast was the equivalent of twenty-one fasts and they should do that three times. This is quoted by the Chida (Shut Chayim She’ol 1:12). Legend has it that Rabbi Zacuto once fasted forty days in order to forget the Latin he had learned. 6. This was above and beyond what was required. See Beit Yosef (OC 27) and Magen Avraham (27:17) for a discussion of what is obligatory. 7. According to the Maharsha’s version of the gemara text, the resentment lasted forty years. In which case, it may be that all of the appearances of “forty” in this story are exaggerations. 8. Standard editions say 100 days but the Maharshal emends it to say forty. 9. Rabbi Nathan Kamenetsky, The Making of a Godol (2002), p. 831. 10. The Maharsha (Chiddushei Aggadot, Moed Kattan 25a), in explaining why Rav Huna fasted forty days, states that tefillin are the crown of the Torah, and the Torah was given in forty days.

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AROUND THE OU The Zula band celebrating the launch of their album at the First Station in Jerusalem. Inset: the English version of the album cover.

Healing Through Music Harel Chetzroni, founder of the Pearl and Harold Jacobs Zula Outreach Center in Jerusalem known as “the Zula,” and his staff had a dream: to record some of the inspirational music sung by the struggling teens who come to the Zula. A magnet in Jerusalem for at-risk youth, the Zula, established in 2001, is open a few nights a week from midnight until dawn, serving as a safe haven for at-risk youth in Jerusalem who might otherwise be on the street. Many of these youth are 90

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often estranged from their families, have dropped out of school and are addicted to drugs and alcohol. This past June, after over two years of hard work, the Zula band released their first album entitled Ma’agal Shel Shamayim (Circle of Heaven). “Through the collaboration of our musicians and youth, our young people discovered their own incredible talent and, most importantly, it helped them begin to believe in themselves,” says Rabbi Avi Berman, Executive Director, OU Israel.

Ma'agal Shel S h a m ayi m The Zula Shel Chetzroni

Proceeds will go to help the Zula reach even more youth. The CD can be purchased at zula/heaven_circle.

Spiritual Charging Station— for Rabbis

Dr. David Pelcovitz at the recent Rabbinic Retreat. Dr. Pelcovitz spoke about dealing with distraction in the digital age and tackling the addiction epidemic. Photo: Chris Gillyard Photography

Aiming at strengthening Jewish communities, the Pepa and Joseph Karasick Department of Synagogue and Community Services starts at the top: The rabbi. This past April, the Third Annual Nathan and Louise Schwartz Rabbinic Retreat held in Orlando, Florida, provided dozens of rabbis from states in the west and southeast with the opportunity to spiritually recharge while discussing contemporary challenges facing the rabbinate. Topics at the three-day retreat included how to reach the millennial generation, abuse and the #metoo movement, and new frontiers in teaching Torah. Presenters included Dr. Gavriel Fagin, Director of Tikunim Counseling Services; Dr. David Pelcovitz, Professor of Psychology and Education at YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration; renowned motivational speaker Mr. Charlie Harary, Esq.; Rebbetzin Dr. Adina Shmidman, Director of OU’s The Women’s Initiative, and Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, OU Executive Vice President, Emeritus.

Pop-Up Café Inclusion Teens on The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey (TJJ). Photo: Josh Weinberg

We were trailblazers, since this was one of the first [Israel touring] programs created exclusively for public school kids.

Yachad Israel’s new vocational program completed its first year in style. Launched by Vocational Program Director Lisa Galinsky, the program teaches Yachad members the various skills necessary to enable them to successfully join the workforce. To showcase what they have learned and to spread the message of inclusion, this past June, Yachad transformed the Yachad Center in Jerusalem—where the vocational program is held—into a Pop-Up Dairy Café. The café, open for one night only, had Yachad members serving dinner to more than 100 diners—double the expected turnout! All proceeds from the café went to the Yachad Vocational Scholarship Fund, to enable individuals with disabilities to gain vocational skills.

—Rabbi Barry Goldfischer, founding director of TJJ.

TJJ 20th Anniversary Back in 1999, The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey (TJJ), an NCSY summer program in Israel for Jewish public-school students, recruited thirty-five teens for its inaugural summer. Now celebrating its twentieth anniversary, TJJ brought over 500 teens to Israel this past summer.

Yachad members display the menu to diners as they enter Yachad Israel’s Pop-Up Café. Photo: Mordy Portal Photography Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION


ADVOCACY WRAP UP Historic $1 Million for Kosher/Halal Meals in Schools Following a comprehensive advocacy campaign by Teach NYS—a branch of the OU’s Teach Advocacy Network—and its coalition partners, the New York City budget for fiscal year 2019 will include, for the first time, $1 million in funding for a pilot program to provide kosher and halal meals for students at both public and nonpublic schools. This new kosher and halal lunch program reflects the leadership of New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Chaim Deutsch. In September 2017, Mayor de Blasio announced the start of a universal lunch program to provide free and nutritious meals to all students in all schools across New York City, regardless of income or school placement. However, this program did not include those who had religious dietary requirements. In response, Teach NYS launched an advocacy campaign focused on correcting this inequity.

I’m grateful for the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson . . . and appreciative towards the advocates like Teach NYS and the Orthodox Union who helped make this a reality. This is a huge step forward towards ensuring that kosher and halal meals become a universal option for the 1.5 million New York City students. —Chaim Deutsch, New York City Council Member

This $1 million investment in both our public and non-public schools in providing kosher and halal meal options to our Jewish and Muslim students will assure that our students are less likely to go hungry and will make universal free lunch a reality for all. I thank Council Member Chaim Deutsch for his leadership as well as Teach NYS for their advocacy on behalf of young New Yorkers. —Corey Johnson, New York City Council Speaker

OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin (center), with NYC Public Advocate Letitia James (left) and day school students from every borough, speaks at a rally at City Hall. At the rally, Jewish and Muslim leaders called on the Mayor to make the “Free Lunch for All” program available to all students. Photo: Lia Jay Photography


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Cuomo Receives Mezuzah at State Funding Announcement

Governor Andrew Cuomo high-fives students at HAFTR during his visit to announce state security aid. Courtesy of the Governor’s Office

During a special visit to the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway (HAFTR) on Long Island, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced over $2 million of funding for Long Island schools and institutions as part of the state’s Securing Communities Against Hate Crimes Grant Program. Organized and promoted by Teach NYS, a division of the OU’s Teach Advocacy network, the visit had representation from nearly every Long Island Jewish day school and elected officials from every level of government. Teach NYS helped to create this $25

million competitive grant as part of the 2017 adopted State budget and wanted to bring Governor Cuomo to different schools to demonstrate our gratitude on behalf of the community. In appreciation, HAFTR Vice President of Political Affairs and Teach NYS lay leader Cal Nathan presented Governor Cuomo with a 3-D printed mezuzah case, which was later hung on the doorpost of the Governor’s mansion in Albany. The Governor thanked Teach NYS for its dedication and emphasized the

Breakfast for Success

Rabbi Saul Zucker, Head of School, Ben Porat Yosef (left) and student representatives from the school with Dr. Lamont Repollet, New Jersey Commissioner, Department of Education, at the breakfast.

importance of this grant initiative. Later that morning, Governor Cuomo visited Magen David Yeshivah (MDY) in Brooklyn, New York, another recipient of the grant funds. “When our community faced accelerating acts of anti-Semitism . . . the governor called together religious leaders from across the state and gave them a simple, clear and courageous message: hate crimes will not be tolerated in New York state,” said OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin to the packed house at MDY. “When the governor says something is not going to happen, it’s not just words.” Teach NYS has long worked on school security and safety. In 2013, Teach NYS played a leading role in urging the state legislature to include $4.5 million in security funds in the SAFE Act. In 2015 Teach NYS led a coalition to pass a nonpublic school safety bill in New York City. In 2016, Teach NYS advocated successfully to increase the security funds in the SAFE act to $15 million. Teach NYS continues to urge the legislature for further increases, highlighting the growing threats many nonpublic schools face.

It was with an air of determination and purpose that hundreds of community supporters, including dozens of New Jersey legislators, filled the ballroom of the Teaneck Marriot for the Teach NJS Legislative Breakfast. Teach NJS, a satellite of the OU’s Teach Advocacy Network, is dedicated to securing government funding to ensure that Jewish schools are safe and equitably funded. In recognition of his ongoing support of the Teach NJS mission, New Jersey State Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic) was given a special award for his leadership in championing legislation to fund nonpublic school security needs. In addition to highlighting past successes, including a $40 million allocation in state aid toward security, nursing, technology and textbooks for nonpublic schools for the 2018 fiscal year, the breakfast also promoted increased involvement by the community to make Teach NJS a stronger advocacy organization. For more information on the important work of Teach NJS, please e-mail or visit Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION


Highlights of the Washington Mission Some 100 Orthodox rabbis and communal leaders from across the country convened at the nation’s capital this past June to join in the 22nd Annual Leadership Mission to Washington. During the mission, participants discussed key issues including US policy toward Israel, school choice, and security funding for synagogues and schools.

Top, from left: OU President Mark (Moishe) Bane, OU Advocacy Executive Director Nathan Diament, OU Board of Directors Chairman Howard Tzvi Friedman and OU Advocacy Chairman Jerry Wolasky present an award to US Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ, center). The OU honored Rep. Smith for his many years of work and dedication to pass legislation that makes disaster-damaged shuls and other houses of worship eligible for FEMA funding. Bottom, from left: Mr. Wolasky, Mr. Friedman, Mr. Diament, US Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Mr. Bane.

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JEWISH ACTION Fall 5779/2018

NEW POSITIONS & PROMOTIONS A warm welcome to Shani Malitzky, the new Program Director of The Women’s Initiative. Shani looks forward to bolstering and expanding the department’s current offerings, which include providing female scholars in residence, learning opportunities for all ages and skill levels, lay leadership training and encouraging active involvement in synagogue life. For the past ten years, Shani served as Director of Student Life at Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central), where she also worked in community engagement, alumni relations and fundraising. She is currently a doctoral candidate at YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, and received her master’s in Jewish education and administration from there as well. Shani lives in West Hempstead, New York, with her husband and two children.

Rabbi Judah Mischel joins National and New York NCSY as Mashpia. He will be working closely with all levels of NCSY staff, creating a stronger community of volunteer advisors and helping focus NCSY’s professional staff on healthy and positive spiritual growth. Rav Judah is Executive Director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He founded Tzama Nafshi, an organization dedicated to fostering Jewish education and inspiration, committed to working to connect Jews with their heritage and each other. Rav Judah and his wife, Ora, live in Ramat Beit Shemesh with their eight children.

The Teach Advocacy Network welcomes Avi Spitzer as Director of Lay Network Development. Avi looks forward to working with a great team and hopes to assist them in their mission of ensuring that all Jewish schools are safe and fairly funded by the government. For the last six years he served as Executive Director of the Sephardic Community Federation (SCF), the government relations and public policy arm of the Sephardic community. Avi received his bachelor’s in political science from Brooklyn College. Some of his best ideas for implementing new initiatives came to him while biking around his local park, a favorite pastime. Avi lives in Brooklyn with his wife and four children. Congratulations to Maury Litwack on his promotion to Chief of Staff. Maury will retain his critical role as the Director of the Teach Advocacy Network—the OU’s state and local government advocacy efforts in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida and California. With the significant expansion of staff within the Teach Advocacy Network, Maury will concentrate on the overall management of the Department, and the creation and implementation of our advocacy strategy and goals. As Chief of Staff, Maury will be responsible for carrying out special projects as assigned by OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin; coordinating inter-departmental teams focused on particular operational or programmatic endeavors; and ensuring that specified initiatives, programs and policies are implemented effectively. Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION


WOMEN IN ACTION New York, New York Women’s Torah and Leadership Training Program—develop a cadre of women leaders who can deliver Torah classes and shiurim.

Livingston, New Jersey Women’s Center for Inspired Judaism—a hub of inspiring Jewish learning and activity for women.

Greater Cleveland, Ohio Saturday Night In(side Torah): Learning and Entertainment for the Women of our Community— encourage increased engagement in Torah learning for women throughout the Summer 2018 season.

Atlanta, Georgia Women’s Seder Avodat Yamim Noraim—help women prepare themselves spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually for the Yamim Noraim.

Congregation Agudath Sholom, Stamford, Connecticut Transmitting Torah: By Women... For Women—create a vibrant community of women to study together as a cohort and prepare divrei Torah and shiurim. 96

JEWISH ACTION Fall 5779/2018

Teaneck, New Jersey Women’s Beit Medrash in Halachah and Gemara—chavrutot and shiurim for beginners and advanced learners.

Richmond, Virginia Tools for Life—provide Torahbased tools that can help women better connect to Hashem, Torah learning and the community.

Recipients of the OU Women’s Initiative Challenge Grant The WI Challenge Grant appealed to synagogues nationwide to develop plans for innovative programming that address the needs of women in their respective communities. For more information, visit

Southfield, Michigan Your Voice – Our Community— annual leadership retreat focused on providing women with leadership skills and tools.

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida Eishet Chayil Initiative —provide a series of workshops delivered by Orthodox women on a multitude of relevant topics.

Houston, Texas More than Challah and Candlesticks: Women’s Relationship to Judaism in an Orthodox Context—teaching and mentorship to fortify the community in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Fair Lawn, New Jersey Women’s Professional Mentorship Program —network of Orthodox professional women to address needs of Orthodox women in the workplace.

Oceanside, New York M’Dor L’Dor: Cultivating Jewish Female Leadership Across Generations—chaburot with girls and more senior women that explore Orthodox female Jewish leadership.

Oakland, California Learn to Lead—Sunday morning Beit Medrash program led by female scholar to educate and prepare women to present classes or derashot to the entire community.

Los Angeles, California Inspired Leadership for Women—hire a part-time female employee to increase women’s programming, participation, and leadership in synagogue life.

Fair Lawn, New Jersey Women’s Institute of Learning and Leadership —interactive learning platforms to establish shiurim and chavrutah opportunities for women.

Baltimore, Maryland The Women’s Education Department—hire staff member to provide guidance, classes and chaburot for women.

NEW FROM OU PRESS Blessings and Thanksgiving By Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik Edited by Rabbi Shalom Carmy and Dr. Joel B. Wolowelsky OU Press and Maggid Books


his volume contains ten studies on prayer, based on previously unpublished manuscripts and edited transcripts of public lectures, as well as essays newly translated from Yiddish and Hebrew, by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Prayer was a central concern of the Rav, and he approached this theme in a variety of different modes. As the editors write in their preface to the volume, Blessings and Thanksgiving is “more concerned with the text and texture of prayer than with its underlying structure. In these lectures the Rav plumbs many of the details of prayer instead of restricting himself to examples that further his systematic argument. He addresses individual prayers and blessings in their particularity. . . . Without these essays, the Rav’s philosophy of prayer would be drastically incomplete.” The book’s ten chapters include: The Morning Blessings, a detailed and in-depth examination of the blessings recited each day upon awakening; Pesukei DeZimra and Kaddish, which contrasts the verses of praise recited each day with the Hallel recited on special occasions; Birchot Keriat Shema and Birchot HaTorah, an analysis of the themes of and relationships between these blessings; Birkat HaMazon, a conceptual study of the “grace after meals”; “Grant Us Understanding to Know Your Ways,” reflections on the abridged version of the Amidah, Havinenu, as a means of interpreting the original; Praying for the Defeat of Evil, a philosophical sermon relating to the blessing of VeLaMalshinim; Berakhot in Judaism, an inquiry into what it means for man to bless God; Communal Prayer and the Structure

of the Synagogue, which explores what the structure of the synagogue tells us about the concept of communal prayer; the Synagogue as an Institution and as an Idea, a further study of the philosophy behind communal prayer and the meaning of the synagogue; and Old Prayers and “New” Jews, which relates to the question of whether the prayers we recite are outdated and the goal of Jewish prayer. In this book, the Rav builds his philosophy on a careful analysis of the halachah. Halachic concepts inform philosophical notions, fulfilling the Rav’s commitment to formulating a “new world view out of the sources of Halachah.” But the book also contains personal reminiscences and reflections; prayer, after all, is not merely an intellectual exercise but one that involves the total personality. Here is one small sample of the rich teachings contained in this work: Fundamentally, there is only one prayer. Fundamentally, there is only one tzibbur: the invisible Knesset Yisrael, embracing the past, the present, and the future, prays with every minyan. The tzibbur in the synagogue is the micro-Knesset Yisrael of ten which represents, personifies, the macro-community of the invisible Knesset Yisrael, the eternal community . . . One must pray with the entire covenantal community which is present in the Beit HaKnesset, and the sanctity of the Beit HaKnesset is due to that mysterium tremendum. The latter suspends all three time dimensions: the past is not gone yet, the future has already arrived, and we, the ten people, the minyan who live in the present, unite both, past and future. A Beit HaKnesset is the home of prayer…because it is the home of the great Knesset Yisrael, and ipso facto, the home where the Almighty has a rendezvous with the Knesset Yisrael. Blessings and Thanksgiving is a significant contribution toward our understanding not only of specific prayers but of the Jewish approach to the encounter between man and God.

The Koren NCSY Siddur: A Weekday and Shabbat Siddur for Reflection, Connection, and Learning Developed by Debbie Stone and Dr. Daniel Rose OU Press and Koren Publishers


s a result of its remarkably successful educational programs, Shabbatonim and summer programs, NCSY has become synonymous with inspiring countless Jewish teenagers. The Koren NCSY Siddur does the same by drawing upon the foundational text of Jewish prayer, the siddur. This beautifully designed siddur aims to engage on multiple fronts—intellectually, emotionally and religiously. Toward that goal, the commentary in the siddur is comprised of four different parts: “Reflections” contain provocative questions for the reader to reflect on. “Connections” consist of uplifting stories of inspirational leaders and simple Jews and stirring quotations from a wide array of sources which connect to the prayer text. Full-color photographs provide a visual commentary on the siddur. All this is in addition to the “Learning” section of the commentary, which collects insights from commentators on the siddur, including Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, in addition to many other classical Jewish sources, equipping readers with a repository of background knowledge as well as wisdom. For pre-teens, teens and Jews of all ages and backgrounds, the Koren NCSY Siddur is sure to light up hearts and enlighten minds toward a meaningful religious experience of davening. Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION




PHILANTHROPY Portrait of Philanthropy

GERSHON DISTENFELD: Lending Support, But First Lending A Hand By Tova Ross


t’s one thing to give money. It’s another thing to put your money where your mouth is. Gershon Distenfeld, who, along with his wife, Aviva, recently named the Fred and Rose Distenfeld New Jersey NCSY Chesed Missions in memory of his parents, isn’t content to merely support an initiative he believes in: he wants to fully understand the impact of his support. “Gershon didn’t just want to give me a check and go away, he wanted to come on the actual mission to see it for himself from beginning to end,” recalled Rabbi Ethan Katz, the Director of New Jersey NCSY. In 2016, Distenfeld accompanied Rabbi Katz and a group of local teenagers to Detroit to help build homes with Habitat for Humanity, and to Windsor, Ontario, to help revitalize its Jewish community. “Gershon fell in love with the program and the fact that teens put their Jewish learning into practice by being an ohr lagoyim [light unto the nations] and engaging in tikkun olam,” continued Rabbi Katz. In twelve years of running chesed missions, Rabbi Katz has overseen nearly seventy trips to cities in need and places impacted by natural disasters, bringing hundreds of teens from yeshivah day schools and public schools to volunteer to make a tangible difference.

“Often it’s the first time that many of the people in the communities NCSY visits are encountering Jews,” said Distenfeld. “When they see young Jewish men and women coming solely to pitch in and help improve their communities, it has a tremendous impact.” Affording Jewish teens the opportunity to live meaningful Jewish lives is a particular passion of Distenfeld’s. As a longtime community activist and lay leader in Bergenfield, New Jersey, he and Aviva are supporters of various local initiatives designed specifically to solve communal crises, like yeshivah tuition. They helped found Yeshivat He’atid, a yeshivah that offers a blended curriculum and one of the most affordable tuition rates for any yeshivah day school in the tri-state area. “When I participated in the Detroit mission, it was fascinating to witness the teens experience a world outside their immediate homes and the walls of their yeshivah, see other people in need and work hard to meet that need,” explained Gershon. “It was an extraordinary growth experience for them, and I knew I wanted to help provide that for as many teens as possible.” Participating in NCSY missions has become somewhat of a family tradition: following Gershon’s example, the Distenfelds’ daughter, a student at Frisch, visited Houston with NCSY after Hurricane Harvey, and she and Aviva accompanied NCSY on a mission to Puerto Rico this past summer.

After I participated in the Detroit mission . . . I knew I wanted to help provide that growth experience for as many teens as possible.” “It’s fitting that this program is named after my parents because I learned from them, from an early age, that Judaism is more than just adhering to the technical obligations,” continued Distenfeld. “Missions like the ones NCSY is undertaking help us teach our children that Jewish values are not just things to teach in a classroom; you have to live them.” “Gershon is a true Jew in all senses of the word and believes in making Judaism meaningful and purposeful,” said Rabbi Katz. “NCSY is lucky to count him among our supporters and benefit from his vision and generosity.”

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The Sharks, from left: Azi Mandel, Managing Member of Treetop Development LLC; Mordecai Rosenberg, CEO of Greystone & Co.; Alan Shamah, co-founder of e.l.f. Cosmetics; and Mark (Moishe) Bane, OU President.



Where else can you find a mentoring program that trains the next generation of fundraisers other than OU?”

U’s Institutional Advancement Department concluded its inaugural Mentorship Program with a Shark Tank-type event. Working with experienced fundraising mentors, participants attended monthly meetings with their mentors and donors to hone their fundraising skills. After hearing from guest speakers—including Ron Hersh, CEO of Kochin Group and Stacey Popovsky, Executive Director, The Lisa and Michael Leffell Foundation—eight mentees from OU departments pitched their initiatives to the Sharks. Becca Zebovitz, Acting Director of Operations of Yachad, won the competition for her exceptionally well-done pitch. “The passion that everyone brought to the table for each of their programs, whether it was Yachad or OU-JLIC, was refreshing to see,” said Alan Shamah, Co-Founder of e.l.f. Cosmetics and one of the Sharks for the evening. Shortly after the competition, participant Rabbi Noam Friedman, OU-JLIC Educator at Columbia University, secured his first $25,000 gift. “It wouldn’t have happened without the mentorship program,” said Rabbi Friedman.

For more photos from the Mentorship Program competition, visit

Azi Mandel, Managing Member of Treetop Development LLC



n recognition of the power and impact of teen trips to Israel, the Blackman Foundation and the Samis Foundation have doubled their annual gifts to NCSY West Coast. The gifts will provide scholarships to allow more public school students to attend NCSY’s life-changing summer programs in Israel, such as The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey (TJJ). “TJJ plays a major role in increasing Jewish engagement and solidifying Jewish identity,” said David Cutler, Director of NCSY Summer.

Public school teens on The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey (TJJ), one of NCSY’s many summer programs that will benefit from the Blackman Foundation and Samis Foundation’s generous gifts. Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION




O OU-JLIC alumni and supporters enjoying the evening. From left: Aaron Strassman, Yosef Fox, Evan Presser, Ilan Kaufthal and OU Senior Managing Director Rabbi Steven Weil

n a hot summer evening this past June, nearly 100 people joined OU-JLIC for its first-ever SoHo Rooftop event. Along with great company, a buffet dinner, scotch and bourbon, the program included brief presentations by OU Senior Managing Director Rabbi Steven Weil, Rabbi Shalom Axelrod, rav at the Young Israel of Woodmere, and OUJLIC National Development Director Rabbi Pinny Rosenthal, stressing the need for OUJLIC on campus, which helps young men and women navigate the challenges of the college environment. This one-of-a–kind event raised $100,000 that will go towards providing a spiritual home for thousands of students on twenty-one campuses across North America and Israel.



osting its Third Annual Soccer Tournament, West Coast NCSY scored a huge win, bringing together some sixty players from Los Angeles and raising more than $10,000. Six teams from the local communities played while their friends and families cheered, raising critical scholarship funds to send teens to Israel. The YULA Boys High School alumni team came in first, with the Medioni family in second place. Team Sponsors included Masa Israel Journey, the Medioni family, DirectKix, Shalhevet, YULA, Canon, and Schlecter Law.

YULA Boys High School team enjoying their success. From left: David Danesh, David Fhima, Yoel Cohavy, Calev Aranoff, Jonah Anderson, West Coast NCSY Director of Community Connections Denise Badreau, Jonathan Wizman, Yuval Maouda, Jesse Orenshein, and Amir Abeziz.

WeWe invite invite you you to to joinjoin us us and and make make a difference. a difference. or or visit visit . . Contact Contact Arnold Arnold Gerson Gerson at at 100

JEWISH ACTION Fall 5779/2018

The Pollak family spoke about Caryn’s impact and dedication to Yachad. From left: Rifki Freundlich, Chaya Pollak, Lester Pollak, Joy Glicker Lieber and Shira Lieber. Photo: Abbie Sophia Photography



t New York Yachad’s first-ever Gala held this past June in Long Island, more than 200 guests paid tribute to Rabbi Abraham Wahrhaftig, z”l, a pioneer in the camping world who brought Yachad—and inclusion—to Camp Morasha. Today, Yachad has twenty-seven different inclusive summer programs. The Gala raised over $150,000 and showcased the impactful work of Yachad in Jewish communities across North America. Adira Katlowitz was presented with the Young Leadership Award for her longstanding involvement with Yachad. The event also honored the memory of Caryn Pollak, a”h, a member of Yachad’s nascent programming over thirty years ago, and later, a Yachad employee. Yachad dedicated its West Hempstead Chapter in memory of Caryn Pollak.

For more photos of the Yachad Gala, visit



The Young Israel of Plainview team, including Hebrew Academy of Nassau County Principal Kalman Fogel (center), with NCSY Director of Alumni Rabbi Yehoshua Marchuck (right of Fogel). Two riders from their team who were unable to join in Poughkeepsie participated in simultaneous bike events in their home states. Their team raised over $4,400. Photo: Yechiel M. Ungar Photography

ne hundred and thirty-two riders—double last year’s turnout— put pedal to the metal for Bike NCSY in Poughkeepsie, New York, this past June. Hailing from ten states and Israel, the riders traversed a cumulative 6,967 miles and raised over $120,000, providing 160 NCSY teens with scholarships to study in Israel for their post-high school gap year.

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ichard Hirsch was raised in a world of giving. His parents, Henry and Myrtle Hirsch from Manhattan, were involved in numerous philanthropic projects in education, healthcare and other charitable endeavors throughout the world. His father was also founder and chairman of New York’s Fifth Avenue Synagogue and his mother was very active in UJA Federation of New York. It was only natural for Hirsch, as a successful businessman and philanthropist, to focus on projects that are centered on community and Jewish continuity. Hirsch serves as Chairman of the International Board of Israel Bonds, leading the worldwide effort on behalf of the State of Israel. He is former President of the Jewish Week newspaper and runs three charitable foundations in the US. But of particular note is his ongoing support for the Jewish Student Union (JSU) clubs— Jewish culture clubs for high school kids at public schools— in Palm Beach, Florida, which expose unaffiliated students to Jewish teachings and culture. Regional director of Southern NCSY Todd Cohn was searching for a donor to make JSU clubs a reality for public schools in the Palm Beach area. Rabbi Moshe Scheiner, rav of Palm Beach Synagogue, knew just the person for Cohn: Palm Beach resident Richard Hirsch. Scheiner introduced the two, and shortly thereafter, the Jewish Student Union of Palm Beach, under the joint auspices of the Federation of North Palm Beach and NCSY, was born. “In the beginning students are excited and just come for the free pizza, but after attending some JSU programs and building relationships in the clubs they come because they appreciate the unique Jewish perspective

and wisdom that they don’t get anywhere else,” said Rabbi Immanuel Hass, Director of Palm Beach JSU. Thanks to Hirsch’s generosity, Palm Beach JSU programming includes Friday night dinners and scholarships to AIPAC, among other fun, Jewish-oriented events for teens. Since JSU was first launched in Los Angeles in 2002, the program has grown quickly, now serving more than 200 public school campuses across the

Beach, “In PalmJSU now runs clubs at ten schools, strengthening teens’ Jewish identity and connection to Israel.”

US and reaching more than 12,000 teens each year. In Palm Beach, JSU now runs clubs at ten schools, strengthening teens’ Jewish identity and connection to Israel. “We’re preparing Jewish teens for the BDS challenges and other problems they will face on the campus, making sure they are up to date with regard to campus anti-Semitism,” said Hirsch. Some JSU students in Palm Beach have decided to spend a gap year in Israel after high school or to attend an NCSY summer program. Hirsch’s philanthropy has clearly made an enduring impact. “Richard cares deeply about JSU,” said Rabbi Hass. “He has taken this program under his wing.”

We invite you to join us and make a difference. Contact Arnold Gerson at or visit 102

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his November, at its gala dinner, NCSY Canada will honor the memory of Harold and Pearl Jacobs, z”l, by launching a fund to support a bold new outreach effort aimed at reaching 18,000 teens. “My father always gravitated toward causes that would mentor and educate young people whom he saw as the future of the Jewish people,” says Paul Jacobs, one of the couple’s children. Established by the Jacobs family, the Harold and Pearl Jacobs z”l Chesed Fund will support NCSY’s chesed programs and teen scholarships across North America. These NCSY programs, which touch the lives of thousands and drive social action and charitable activities, include NCSY GIVE, Live2Give in Canada, and Give West in California. “These programs bring together religious and not-yet-religious teens to explore the power of chesed together,” said Rabbi Glenn Black, CEO, NCSY Canada. “It’s a very effective way to connect teens to their Jewish heritage.” Dedicated supporters of NCSY, Harold and Pearl Jacobs recognized the tremendous potential of the youth movement when it was in its infancy. “Now, like then, teenagers are looking for meaning in their lives,” said Paul. RECOGNIZING A PIONEER Back in the early seventies, NCSY was a small fledgling operation run mostly by volunteers and an extremely limited budget. Within a few short years, Harold Jacobs changed that. With his business acumen and unrelenting passion for educating Jewish youth, Jacobs, who served as OU

president from 1972 to 1978, and subsequently as OU chairman of the board, succeeded in securing the financial health of the OU; he then focused on turning NCSY into a powerhouse. Concerned about rampant assimilation, Jacobs felt NCSY held the key to the future of Orthodox Judaism in America—in fact, his administration saw the largest growth and expansion of NCSY in its history. Yet even Jacobs could not possibly have envisioned the impact NCSY would have. “Harold Jacobs could not have foreseen that NCSY would touch the lives of 25,000 teens annually, and bring 1,500 young people to Israel each summer, while transforming family after family and community after community,” said Rabbi Black. Today, NCSY is found in more than 200 cities internationally, with branches in Canada, the US, Israel and South America. Jacobs was right. NCSY was and is key to the future of American Orthodox Judaism. NCSY alumni are at the forefront of Orthodox Jewish life today—they are rabbis, teachers and Jewish communal leaders; collectively, they have changed the American Jewish landscape in profound and unimaginable ways. “All of this is due to the vision, foresight and leadership of people like Harold Jacobs,” said Rabbi Black. “The Jacobs family, through their philanthropy and support of programs such as the Zula Center in Israel and our international NCSY programs, is carrying on their parents’ legacy of Jewish leadership.”

Paul Jacobs, Harold and Pearl Jacobs’ son, in the center, with Rabbi Glenn Black, CEO, NCSY Canada and NCSY Canada’s Live2Give teens. Live2Give is NCSY’s premiere leadership program that creates ambassadors of good will. The program gives teens the opportunity to make a difference through social action and charitable activities. Photo: Jack Beker Photography

Pearl and Harold Jacobs

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Chumash Mesoras HaRav





Books of Jewish Thought and Prayer that Educate, Inspire, Enrich and Enlighten 104

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Available at OUPRESS.ORG

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 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 BRING ISRAEL HOME - Connecting the Birthright inspiration to everyday life for thousands of trip alumni TEACH ADVOCACY NETWORK- Fighting for Jewish schools to receive fair government funding OU ADVOCACY CENTER - Promoting Jewish interests in the halls of government OU TORAH - Providing a broad array of online 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 you to join them in making a difference.


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 Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION


Thank You Ambassador $250,000 & OVER








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




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The Five Day War Reviewed by Leah Lightman

By Mendy Ganchrow, MD Penoaks Publishing, 2017 291 pages


r. Mendy Ganchrow’s The Five Day War has the makings of a thriller. In this imaginative, fast-paced novel, protagonist Dr. Rob Savarin is poised for a successful professional future as a qualified colo-rectal surgeon. He also has a rich inner life: he daydreams about doing something for the Jews, like becoming a Mossad agent. After all, his two heroes are Walter Mitty and James Bond. Wildly enough, Savarin’s dream comes true. A headhunting firm engaged by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reaches out to Savarin because his professional credentials are impeccable. This is coupled with the fact that he is not yet in private practice. Would he consider working for the Saudi Royal Air Force for three years? Dr. Ganchrow, who served as president of the OU from 1994 to 2000, makes it clear that there is a Divine hand orchestrating these circumstances. Savarin’s biological father has an identifiably Jewish name. After Savarin’s parents’ acrimonious divorce, his mother remarried a non-Jewish man who gave Rob his non-Jewish-sounding surname “Savarin.” Providence is similarly responsible for other events in the book as Savarin “happens” to be in the right places at the right times, especially as he ministers to the health needs of the Saudi defense minister. Savarin thus becomes a source of situation-changing information valued Leah Lightman is a freelance writer living in Lawrence, New York with her family.


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by the Mossad, which helps the State of Israel and its unexpected Sunni allies in their fight against a nuclear Iran. While reading this suspenseful novel, one cannot help but wonder where Dr. Ganchrow begins and Rob Savarin ends. They share much in common. Both graduated from Chicago Medical School. Both are colo-rectal surgeons. The Five Dar War’s protagonist is on the cusp of professional success. In addition to his private practice, Dr. Ganchrow served as chief of surgery at a Rockland County, New York hospital. And similar to Savarin, Dr. Ganchrow did actually receive a cold-call invitation from the

While reading this suspenseful novel, one cannot help but wonder where Dr. Ganchrow begins and Rob Savarin ends. Saudi Kingdom to serve as a specialty surgeon in one of their Royal Air Force hospitals. Both are religiously observant Orthodox Jews who are devoted to Israel. Both want to dedicate themselves to work on behalf of the Jewish people. Dr. Ganchrow’s vast experience in pro-Israel activism and his deep understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict is evident throughout the book. In addition to his lengthy and celebrated professional career, Dr.

Ganchrow has been involved in Jewish communal life for decades. During the Vietnam War, he served as a US Army combat surgeon and volunteer chaplain. He achieved the rank of major and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal. While serving as a chaplain, Dr. Ganchrow conducted Shabbat and yom tov services and supervised a Pesach Seder for nearly 500 Jewish soldiers. While serving as president of the OU, he founded the OU’s Institute for Public Affairs, the forerunner of the OU Advocacy Center. Dr. Ganchrow has walked the halls of many governments around the world advocating on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people. All of these experiences are evident in this book. Dr. Ganchrow published four previous books, including his autobiography, Journey Through the Minefields: An Orthodox Surgeon’s Odyssey (2004) and three anthologies on Jewish celebrations. The Five Day War is Dr. Ganchrow’s first foray into fiction writing. We hope he will continue to bring his expert understanding of the US-Israel relationship and the complex realities of the Middle East to the broader public via his writings.

The Gift of Stuttering Reviewed by Simcha Feuerman

By Moe Mernick Mosaica Press Beit Shemesh, Israel, 2016 224 pages


n the Hebrew language, a “word” is called a “teivah,” which also means box or container. Words are the way in which people contain and express their thoughts and ideas. How difficult it must be for a person who struggles to get his words out! The very vehicle of thought and communication is disrupted. The Gift of Stuttering is Moe Mernick’s part memoir, part self-help book of how he learned to manage life as a stutterer. Moe speaks with insight and poignancy of how stuttering took over many aspects of his life at an early age. In fact, his name Moe was a purposeful choice to shorten his given name Moshe to one syllable, in order to reduce the chances of stuttering. A bright child, Moe developed avoidance strategies at an early age to forestall experiencing the social embarrassment of getting stuck on his words. For example, if he saw that he was soon to be called on by the teacher, he would ask to go to the bathroom to time his escape. Much of his early life revolved around various tricks to anticipate and avoid situations where he might be stuck stuttering. One of the strategies stutterers instinctively employ is to swap words. That is, they plan ahead while talking, Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, LCSW-R, maintains a private practice specializing in high-conflict couples and families, and addiction in relationships. He also serves as president of Nefesh International.

and when they anticipate a word that might be difficult to pronounce, they switch to a synonym. That is precisely why for stutterers, leading prayers or reading from required texts—and the latter happens often in yeshivah— leads to even more anxiety. One cannot switch a word in the text for another! One stutterer quoted in the book describes his life as constantly negotiating a room, knowing there is a deep hole somewhere in the floor, but never sure where he might trip and fall. The stutterer is always trying to avoid speech obstacles but is never quite sure what will happen next. Moe had loving, supportive parents, and of course several forms of speech

a series of life changes and personal development, he began to work on changing his pattern of avoiding speaking and social situations, and instead, accepting the possibility that he might stutter. This, by the way,

Much of his early life revolved around various tricks to anticipate and avoid situations where he might be stuck stuttering. therapy and treatment were employed, to varying degrees of success. Moe gently rebukes the profession for one important oversight—the focus on cure instead of acceptance. He references a study by the National Stuttering Association which found that the number-one factor in a successful life with stuttering is changing one’s attitude toward speaking. And this is where Moe’s approach begins to take shape. Moe realized that choosing to accept his stutter, and facing his anxiety head-on, was the key. Through

is the evidenced-based treatment approach to anxiety disorders— Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). ERP is a deliberate, gradual process to expose oneself to the anxiety-inducing event, behavior or thought, and mindfully refrain from the usual avoidance behavior. Although Moe was not necessarily curing his stuttering, he brilliantly and intuitively found a way to manage the secondary social anxiety that his stuttering caused. Of course, the more accepting he became of his stuttering, the less anxious he felt Fall 5779/2018 JEWISH ACTION


and the less likely he was to stutter. Moe notes that stutterers never stutter when talking to themselves; therefore, social anxiety must play a part in the stutterer’s challenge. Total and radical acceptance was Moe’s courageous approach. Once he came to a place of acceptance, his process of prayer changed. Instead of praying intensely, begging God to eliminate his stutter, he would end his prayers acknowledging that if God felt it was important for him to bear this challenge, God would grant him the strength to bear it. This process of acceptance allowed him to tackle one of his greatest fears: speaking in public. While attending a college class that required participation, Moe faced his fears and spoke at appropriate times, accepting the possibility of stuttering. This strategy of acceptance worked on many levels: it allowed Moe to live with the reality, focusing his prayers and his relationship with God in a manner that expressed his belief that his situation was meant for a purpose. Moreover, it actually reduced his anxiety—which, in turn, led to less stuttering! Eventually, Moe spoke at public venues and would share with the audience from the get-go that he might stutter. One touching event occurred when Moe received his aliyah on the Shabbat of his aufruf. As he drew near to the Torah scroll, he saw the opening words of the designated Torah portion, which seemed to be a special message from God personally broadcast to him: “Vayomer Hashem el Moshe, ‘Al tirah—and Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Do not fear!’” Today, Moe lives in Israel with his family, and is a successful entrepreneur and motivational speaker who delivers seminars across North America, as well as in Europe, Israel and Australia. Moe’s courageous story and personal advice is a superb and inspiring guide not only for stutterers, but for anyone who faces a personal social challenge. 110

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Airport Lights: Poems Reviewed by Johnny Solomon By Yaacov David Shulman CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017 126 pages


abbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook (1865-1935), best known as the first chief rabbi of pre-state Israel, was a truly unique Talmudist, halachist, mystic, poet and Jewish thinker. As chief rabbi, Rav Kook was renowned for his ability to respond to the needs of the period, as seen from his many letters and numerous responsa. Simultaneously, Rav Kook seemed to dwell beyond time, with glimpses of his mystical and almost prophetic perspective reflected in his many essays and, in particular, in his heartfelt poems. Renowned as a deep thinker who was gifted with flashes of inspiration, Rav Kook constantly jotted down his thoughts in notebooks or diaries. In fact, one of the most oft-quoted aphorisms of Rav Kook is, “I write not because I possess the strength to write, but because I am unable to remain silent” (Iggerot HaReiyah, vol. 1, p. 24). His writing was driven by an intense need to capture the ideas that overflowed from his heart and mind. In 1999, eight notebooks of Rav Kook were published under the title Shemonah Kevatzim, which contain the spontaneously recorded thoughts of Rav Kook from the period of 1904 to 1919. This work is particularly significant since, in contrast to many other works of Rav Kook that were edited by his son Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda and his disciple Rabbi David Cohen, what is found in Shemonah Kevatzim is, as Marc Shapiro puts it, “an opportunity finally to see what Kook wrote without,

Rav Kook’s writing was driven by an intense need to capture the ideas that overflowed from his heart and mind. as it were, going through his gatekeepers” (Changing the Immutable, p. 161). Within Shemonah Kevatzim we find entries by Rav Kook on a wide variety of topics including thought, speech, nature, culture, prayer and wisdom. Though not all of the entries in Shemonah Kevatzim are poems, they—like his other writings— are also not conventional prose. While many of Rav Kook’s books have been translated into English, sadly, Shemonah Kevatzim is not among the lucky few. However, a unique work has recently been published that attempts to capture some of the messages found within Shemonah Kevatzim in a more modern and accessible manner. Rabbi Yaacov David Shulman is a scholar, writer, translator and editor with considerable experience in exploring the writings of Rav Kook. (For example,

he translated Simcha Raz’s An Angel Among Men and edited Rav Moshe Weinberger’s Song of Teshuvah: A Commentary on Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook’s Oros HaTeshuvah.) In Airport Lights, Rabbi Shulman presents ninety-four original poems which are each “an expression of a personal encounter with a teaching by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook” (p. iii), and are primarily from Shemonah Kevatzim. Rabbi Shulman addresses a wide range of themes in this book, including faith, prayer, knowledge, truth, nature and love, while also making references to countries which he visited (hence the title Airport Lights). It should be noted that Airport Lights does not claim to be and should not be regarded as a commentary to Shemonah Kevatzim. Instead, it is a collection of poems inspired by some of its entries. Notwithstanding, by emphasizing its connection to Rav Kook, Rabbi Shulman creates a high expectation for the reader both in terms of content and style. Within Airport Lights there are a number of truly delightful poems. For example, inspired by a stirring entry in Shemonah Kevatzim 1:846 where Rav Kook speaks about the capability of each individual to enrich the universe through revealing his inner spiritual gifts, Rabbi Shulman presents his poem titled “Out of Ourselves” (p. 73): We can enrich the entire world, With our own treasure, If we can only bring it out Of ourselves. It is beyond measure, It is at the source of our Soul, which is a flame That lights up faces, Whose place nothing else can claim. Similarly, inspired by a short entry in Shemonah Kevatzim 1:530 where Rav Kook discusses how truth is revealed in its totality, Rabbi Shulman presents his poem titled “Bit by Bit” (p. 15): Truth doesn’t appear bit by bit. It’s sudden, sweet and infinite. Each log is split, a sudden thwack, And then is added to the stack. However, while attempting to capture some of the essence of Rav Kook’s thoughts, in some instances Rabbi


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Shulman’s poems sacrifice depth for rhyme. For example, inspired by a profound piece in Shemonah Kevatzim 1:848 about the power of choice, Rabbi Shulman writes in his poem titled “A Rock, A Handkerchief, A Car” (p. 75): Everything has free will: A rock, a handkerchief, a car, And when we tie our own free will To good, it reaches every star, It changes every antelope, It flows along the lanes And charges all the trees with light, As seen through windowpanes. Similarly, inspired by a short piece in Shemonah Kevatzim 1:750 where Rav Kook explains how greatness should not be feared but instead harnessed, Rabbi Shulman writes in his poem titled “Footprint” (p. 52): Don’t be scared Of giant weather balloons Or of giant thoughts Or swamping monsoons, Of floods that raise you Fed by ocean floor fountains To carve inscriptions On the sides of mountains When you are a lion,


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You are the footprint of a lion, When you are a meadow You are a dandelion. Airport Lights is an original work which stands on its own as a delightful collection of thoughtful poetry penned by Rabbi Shulman. In some instances, the poetry is compelling and moving, while at times it seems a bit clumsy. In a number of poems, the connection with the writings of Rav Kook is clearly evident, while in others the connection is tenuous. Still, I am deeply moved by what Rabbi Shulman has done through reflecting upon and writing poetry inspired by the teachings of Rav Kook, and I hope this work inspires others to do the same. Rabbi Johnny Solomon is a British-born Jewish educator who was previously the head of Judaic studies at Immanuel College and Hasmonean Girls’ School in Great Britain. He now lives in Israel where he teaches Tanach, halachah and Jewish thought at Machon Ma’ayan and Midreshet Torat Chessed, while also working as an independent Jewish education consultant.

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sometimes wish I had kept notes during my childhood. The shul in which I grew up was brimful with colorful characters. But today, when I look at photos from those days, I am hard-pressed even to remember most of their names. Who were they? What were their backgrounds? How did they come to live in our very genteel London suburb? And, I often wonder, were any of them survivors of the Shoah? (Back in the 1950s and 1960s, which is the era we are talking about, the Shoah was never mentioned, certainly not in front of the children. Today, I feel a sort of strange embarrassment that I was a teenager before I even knew that it had occurred.) Perhaps if I had kept notes I could tell you more about these people who populated my youth and now my memories. There was the man whom we called “The Voice.” If I had to classify his vocal instrument, I’d have to say he was a bass. But it wasn’t any particular talent for singing that earned him his title; it was sheer volume. Any time the shul joined together in song— and we had some fine chazzanim and loved to sing—his voice would hugely dominate, bringing smiles to some faces and, I suspect, annoyance to some less generous personalities. Then there was Mr. A., one of the most volatile people you’d never want to meet. There are some shul-goers, 112

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usually men, whose chief delight seems to be finding fault with everything. Mr. A. would blow up at the slightest provocation. One Shabbat, the rabbi said something during his sermon which Mr. A. found highly offensive. Making a great play of it, he stormed out of the shul, yelling as he went, “I’ll come back when you stop this nonsense!” But one of my favorites was Mendel Gamse (pronounced “Gams”), who was a genuine kanna’i, a stickler for observing the halachah the way he had been taught growing up. He had come to our shul in its early years, but not because he was so attracted to anything it offered. Apparently, the shul in which he had previously davened had dedicated a memorial plaque with the figure of a lion embossed on it. He denounced it as a pesel (graven image) and never stepped foot in the building again. I remember very clearly that Mr. Gamse spoke with a Polish accent, which made me think (recently, that is) that perhaps he was a survivor. But with a little research I found out that he had come to England in the early years of the twentieth century. He was born in 1875, so he was already in his seventies and eighties during the time that I remember him. Mr. Gamse was one of our regular ba’alei keriah, expertly reading the Torah with a heavily Polish-accented Hebrew pronunciation. “Oooo-ooo-mei-yin,” he

would begin each aliyah. This was very different from the proper English tones of our other lehners, and I loved it. But he was also our ba’al tekiah, and since I was developing my own skills with the shofar, I would watch him very closely. As he grew more elderly, I began to suspect that his teruah, the nine-note staccato sound, was achieved not so much by what he did with his mouth, but rather by a fierce shaking of his hand, but otherwise he was excellent. On the Rosh Hashanah before he was to pass away, he was quite ill and was unable to come to shul. I was asked to go and blow shofar for him at home. Several members of his family were there when I got to his house. “Please blow the shofar quietly,” they cautioned me, as soon as I stepped in. “He hasn’t been very responsive in the last few days, and you mustn’t startle him.” Armed with that admonition, but not quite knowing what to do with it, I entered his bedroom, trailed by the family. “Good yom tov, Mr. Gamse,” I said, in a loud whisper. “I’ve come to blow shofar for you.” His eyes were open, but I couldn’t tell how much he comprehended. I said the berachot for him and began to blow, trying as best as I could to muffle the sound. Now his eyes were glued on me. As I continued, I noticed that he was beginning to move himself up on his pillow. I blew more loudly. He struggled to get himself erect and his children helped him into a sitting position. I gave it full blast. When I was done, he looked directly at his wife and demanded in a weak but clear voice, “Wine, lekach, for kiddush.” And then Mr. Gamse, who had been almost comatose for several days, made Kiddush in his Polish accent, and as he sipped his wine and nibbled at his cake, I murmured to myself “Oooo-ooo-mei-yin.” David Olivestone, formerly senior communications officer of the OU, now lives in Jerusalem and is a member of the Editorial Committee of Jewish Action.







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