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W I N T E R 5 7 74 / 2 0 1 3
FEATURES 12 Confessions of a Shomer Shabbos
Hollywood Screenwriter By Robert J. Avrech
71 OU Seeks to Cut Energy Costs for
60 The Little-Known Story
Behind the Latke By Carol Green Ungar 62 Lights of Redemption
“From Johannesburg Shall Go Forth Torah” Conversing with the Chief Rabbi of South Africa Interview by Bayla Sheva Brenner
Once Buried in Warsaw, These Menorot Are Now on Display in Jerusalem By David Olivestone
COVER STORY Life Beyond New York By Barbara Bensoussan 30 From the Ground Up:
Growing Torah in the Garden State By Bayla Sheva Brenner 34 Cherry Hill’s West Side:
36 Detroit: Motown’s
Orthodox Revival in the Aftermath of Sandy 42 Community Day Schools:
Are They an Option? By Rachel Wizenfeld
50 Faith on Campus:
8 CHAIRMAN’S MESSAGE
Gerald M. Schreck RABBI STEVEN WEIL, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT INCLUSION Shabbos Is More Than One Day a Week How to Take Shabbos into the Week By Hillel Goldberg
Yachad Joins the Workforce By Bayla Sheva Brenner 70 A Quacky Visitor at the OU
By Michael Orbach
The Critical Role of an Orthodox Campus Community By David Wolkenfeld
BOOKS By Baruch Sterman with Judy Taubes Sterman Reviewed by Alfred Cohen By Menachem Genack Reviewed by Richard Joel
INSIDE THE OU
Orthodox Community on Campus? By Elli Fischer
A Dairy Delicious Chanukah By Norene Gilletz
No Teen Left Behind By Martin Nachimson
68 Ready, Willing—and ABLE:
48 What Does It Take to Build an
76 THE CHEF’S TABLE
82 Letters to President Clinton
66 JUST BETWEEN US
40 Rebuilding Oceanside
74 OU Press
6 PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE
10 FROM THE DESK OF
In-Town Community with an Out-of-Town Feel
Schools and Shuls By Roslyn Singer
80 The Rarest Blue
24 Orthodoxy on the Move:
VO L . 74 , N O . 2
What’s the Truth about . . . Checking Tefillin? By Ari Z. Zivotofsky 88 LASTING IMPRESSIONS
The “Accidental” Shadchan By Judy Gruen About the Cover: The concept for our cover, illustrated by Ann D. Koffsky, was inspired by New Yorker illustrator Saul Steinberg’s “View of the World from 9th Avenue.” Our cover depicts Orthodox New Yorkers’ often-skewed view of the world, with Brooklyn and other heavily Orthodox areas as the “center of the world.” An author/illustrator of more than thirty books for children, Koffsky’s latest work, Frogs in the Bed: A Seder Companion (Behrman House Publishers), will be available this spring. See more of her work at www.annkoffsky.com.
SPECIAL SECTION 52 Can Schools Do a Better Job
of Teaching Tefillah? By Steve Lipman 58 Rabbi Dr. Isaiah Wohlgemuth:
A Beloved Teacher of Tefillah
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. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY, and additional offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Jewish Action, 11 Broadway, New York, NY 10004.
Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 1
Letters Materialism Not to Blame g
Thank you for addressing the topic of materialism, which plagues our communities (“Impoverished by Wealth,” by Rabbi Avraham Edelstein, summer 2013). However, I want to point out that gashmius is not always the cause of financial problems. Many of the families who are experiencing financial stress are not struggling to pay for fancy homes and vacations— they are struggling to put food on the table and educate their children. DEVORAH SHORE Passaic, New Jersey
Resources for Grief g
In “A Loss Worthy of Grief” (fall 2013), Rabbi Yamin Levy poignantly expresses his experience with infant loss many years ago. I would like to mention an invaluable resource that Rabbi Levy may be unaware of. A T.I.M.E was founded twenty years ago to help couples struggling with infertility. A T.I.M.E also has a pregnancy and infant loss support program offering services including counseling, chevra kadisha arrangements and loss support groups. A T.I.M.E can be reached at 917.627.5528 or firstname.lastname@example.org. DVORAH LEVY, LCSW West Hempstead, New York
Talking about Sexuality g
As a clinical psychologist who has done research on sexual attitudes in the frum community, I applaud Dr. Yocheved Debow’s persuasive and courageous call to action (“Why We Need to Talk to our Children about Sexuality,” summer 2013). By ignoring or silencing our children’s questions and concerns regarding puberty, their bodies and their emerging sexual awareness, we send a message that these topics are unacceptable. Inadvertently, we lead our children to cut off an important part of their emotional and developmental experience. Furthermore, by stifling honest conversation we deprive them of opportunities to develop a much-needed 2
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capacity to deal with the interpersonal, emotional and sexual challenges that they will encounter throughout their lives. In this instance, as in many others, the Torah’s values can directly bolster our children’s psychological and religious health. KOBY FRANCES, PHD Clinical psychologist Miami Beach, Florida
Why Fault Parents? g
At first glance, I was pleased to see an article by Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen entitled “Why Are So Many Kids Off the Derech?” (summer 2013). An examination of possible risk factors is always important so that we can continue to address and prevent these problems. After reading the article, however, I wonder whether Rabbi Kelemen realizes that this “mageifah” is happening next door; that his friends, relatives and fellow mispallelim—the normal, happy, well-balanced people he deals with every day—are the parents who have kids who are off the derech. They are the parents he would like to lump together as being responsible, beyond the 40 percent of kids from divorced homes, for the rest of our “off–thederech” children. He has painted us all very neatly with one huge brush: “the other 60 percent [of kids who are off the derech] come from homes where the parents are still married, but the marriage is not flourishing—at least not by the Torah’s standards.” Certainly a hypercritical and angry home environment is a major risk factor only secondary to shalom bayis issues. But if, as Rabbi Kelemen concludes, every child who goes off the derech is a direct result of the parents’ fundamental selfishness and lack of shalom bayis, what about the parents who don’t fit that bill? There is no simple answer, no simple explanation. It is easier to grossly oversimplify the issue. However, many wise rabbanim and askanim have come to the realization that it is a convergence of factors that leads our children astray: learning issues, social
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g Guilt breeds low self-esteem and despair, and corrodes the confidence that is prerequisite to admitting mistakes. Guilt does this to children as well as to parents. Therefore, we try to avoid making children and parents feel excessively guilty over their mistakes. Rabbi Yaakov Bender is a master educator. He sets a sterling example for us all in how to help parents and children admit mistakes. He opened a recent public presentation on the topic of “at-risk teens” with his well-known caveat: “There is no rhyme or reason why children go off the derech.” He then spent almost an hour presenting twenty-four parental mistakes, all expressions of egoism and selfishness, that heighten the risk of a child abandoning Torah. He said he only got halfway through his list of parental “no-no’s” before time ran out. Then he concluded by decrying Jewish guilt: “Never blame yourself.” Rabbi Bender understood that those who possessed sufficient confidence to admit mistakes and do teshuvah would hear all fifty-eight minutes of his warnings, and those who weren’t prepared to confront that painful reality would hear only the first and last minutes of his talk: “There is no rhyme and reason . . . . Never blame yourself.” Had I said that parental errors play a role in only 85 percent of the cases, I would have left room for any parent of an off-the-derech child to include his child in the inexplicable 15 percent and say parental errors played no role in his child’s defection from Judaism. The idea that there is no rhyme, rea-
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issues, abuse, deprivation, negativity, technology, lack of emunah and many more. We must be aware and proactive. But we must also remember that Hashem has given each child a unique personality that might make it difficult for some of them to handle the stress of growing up in today’s world, even if they don’t fall into a risk category. As Rabbi Kelemen writes, if a child goes off the derech, “parents have to admit the possibility that mistakes may have been made at home . . . approach our . . . experts and humbly accept advice and direction.” It is crucial for every parent to admit that he makes mistakes while raising his children. All of us can point to at least one of our healthy frum grown children and reflect on mistakes we made in raising them as well. I suggest that Rabbi Kelemen read a recent article by Rabbi Yaakov Bender, rosh yeshivah of Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, New York, where he states that “there is absolutely no rhyme or reason for children going off the derech... Certainly there are . . . homes that are more likely to develop children with issues . . . but how can we say that chinuch is at fault when those same parents have raised several other children who grew up perfectly frum and ehrlich? . . . implying that any child is a rasha is simply unfair . . . to further imply that parents are to blame is even more unfair.” We, as parents of children who have left the derech, do enough soul searching and blaming of ourselves; we certainly are not helped by reading articles telling us that it’s our fault because of shalom bayis issues that we don’t have. While discussing the issue is crucial, yet another parent-bashing article is totally uncalled for and hurtful.
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Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 3
son or responsibility when children go off the derech is the popular position, and I wondered if I should have stated that in my article just to ease some parents’ anguish. I confessed this regret to friends and colleagues, some of whom agreed that sometimes we need to blur issues to prevent pain and some of whom disagreed vehemently. Professor Faranak Margolese, the great-granddaughter of the former chief rabbi of Tehran and author of Off the Derech: Why Observant Jews Stop Practicing Judaism, wrote to me, “There is very much a rhyme and reason. I think the reasons are abundantly clear.” She offered to send a free copy of her bestseller to anyone. Rabbi Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin, a clinical psychologist with more than thirty years’ experience in the Orthodox community and author of The Role of Parents, wrote to me regarding the argument that it can’t be deficiencies in parenting that cause children to go off the derech when there are other siblings who are “perfectly frum and ehrlich”: If a car with four passengers was involved in an accident, one passenger was killed and the three others escaped injury, would this prove that it wasn’t the accident that killed the driver? In addition, our assumption that the other siblings [of an off-the-derech child] are doing fine can often be very inaccurate. I have often had lengthy discussions with highly functioning siblings of off-thederech youth. They often point to significant issues in the family that contributed to the development of the problems of their wayward sibling (e.g., shalom bayis issues, overly critical parents, et cetera). I always make it a point to ask them how they managed to avoid being damaged by these family issues. The most frequent response is that they were impacted, just not in the obvious manner that is displayed by their wayward sibling. Dr. Sorotzkin also wrote that just as we must be sensitive to the pain of parents of rebellious youths, so too we must be sensitive to the feelings (and sanity) of the rebellious youths themselves. If parents made terrible errors, it is cruel and psychologically destructive to tell the children that their homes were perfectly normal and it is
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they who are entirely to blame for their rebelliousness. There certainly are exceptions— children who are blown off course by traumatic experiences outside the home—but even in these cases, a good marriage and proper parenting give children spiritual resilience and facilitate quick recovery. And before any parents can affirm with confidence that they played no role in their child’s spiritual crisis, they must honestly confront statements like this one from Rav Chaim Kanievsky (Orchos Yosher, p. 38): If a child’s father and mother disagreed in matters . . . and the child saw or heard his parents’ arguments and fights, then the child cannot be punished as a ben sorer u’moreh (wayward child), for it is not the child who sinned. Rav Kanievsky explains that by fighting in front of their child, the parents deprived their child of free will and drove him off the derech, and therefore he isn’t punished. If so, then according to the tradition that lack of shalom bayis is indeed the root cause of a child going off the derech, when is a child responsible for his own defection? It must be a case in which the child was never a witness to his parents’ fights. When parents are clever enough to fight only behind closed doors, even though this presents a child with a spiritual challenge that he could fail and become the Torah’s ben sorer u’moreh, hidden marital conflict does less spiritual damage and leaves the child with enough free will to choose to remain religious. Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg once said: Show me . . . the juvenile delinquent . . . and in almost every case I will show you a person resorting to desperate means to attract the emotional warmth and attention he failed to get, but so much wants and needs . . . If you find rebels in society today, it is because they were never given proper love” [Heart to Heart Talks (Brooklyn, 2000), 139]. Rav Scheinberg certainly didn’t say this out of a callous disregard for the feelings of hurting parents. Rather, he said it hoping parents would heed his message and avoid this tragedy or at least repair the damage, thus saving
both parents and children untold misery. I did not intend to render a moral judgment on any parent. Most parents have good intentions and are doing the very best they can. However, just as it is important that our empathy for cancer patients doesn’t dissuade us from pointing out that smoking kills, so too our empathy for the (admittedly vast number of ) parents whose children aren’t flourishing spiritually must not stop us from honestly discussing what we can do to stop the “mageifah.”
Stating the Position of Rabbi Feivel Cohen g
This letter is in response to a request from Jewish Action that I state my view and, to the best of my knowledge, that of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l, concerning the topic of reporting molestation. What prompted this request was a letter published in the winter issue, in which the writer purports to set forth both my view and, more importantly, that of Rav Elyashiv on this topic. Firstly, I thank the editorial board for making this request. In order to set the record straight, I need to preface my comments with the following: As is made clear in Rav Elyashiv’s written response (of which I have the original copy, and which was subsequently printed in Kovetz Teshuvos, a compendium of Rav Elyashiv’s responsa), his answer to the question posed to him is based on Teshuvas HaRashba (volume 3, siman 393; also quoted in the Beis Yosef on Choshen Mishpat, siman 2), in which the Rashba posits that any rav or group of rabbanim who have rabbinical jurisdiction over any locale have the Torah-authorized power to go beyond the punitive measures—both corporal and financial—generally set forth in the Torah for malefactors and impose such penalties as they deem appropriate. This special empowerment is where one’s malfeasance tends to endanger the desired and called for societal contract among men. It goes without saying that the aforementioned rav, or his appointed agent (“bo’rrim” in the Rashba’s parlance—not to be confused with the
I read your article about Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein (“The Pioneering Rabbi,” fall 2013), whom I remember from my childhood. When the Nazis invaded Belgium on May 10, 1940, my family was fortunate to be able to escape, traveling through France, Spain and Portugal and settling in Manhattan. My family had a sponsor in New York, who guaranteed financial support, if necessary. Many Jews in Europe did not know anyone who could sponsor them. My late father, Abel Finkelstein, sponsored a number of refugees. However, there was a limit to the number the government permitted him to sponsor. At my father’s suggestion, Rabbi Goldstein gave an impassioned sermon, asking his congregation to sponsor European refugees, thereby preventing them from being deported and enabling them to come to the United States. KARIN FELDHAMER New York, New York g
I would like to thank you for your excellent treatment of the overall topic of the changing rabbinate, and to correct a mistake that appeared in my article on my grandfather Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein. I didn’t claim that the position of Orthodox rabbi did not exist in America a century ago, just that there was no job description for an Orthodox fully Americanized rabbi at that time. As Jewish Action points out elsewhere in the issue, there certainly is one now, and it is more comprehensive than could have been imagined a century ago, or even a couple of decades ago.
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Ed.: Please note the OU’s position, like that of the Rabbinical Council of America, is that “those with reasonable suspicion or first-hand knowledge of abuse or endangerment have a religious obligation to report that abuse to the secular legal authorities without delay.”
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same term when used in the context of a beis din), must practice due diligence in determining the veracity of one who reports such conduct. All of the above is adduced by the Rashba from numerous citations from the Gemara. After quoting the Rashba, Rav Elyashiv clearly states that all of the above (that is to say both the nature of the penalty and the determination of the report’s veracity) is at the sole discretion of the rav, and at times, with the appointed agent. The rav may find that it would be most valuable to seek the input of the secular authorities who have much experience in these matters and also to seek the input of individuals who are privately engaged professionally in these matters. In conclusion, it is abundantly clear to me that according to Rav Elyashiv, it is absolutely forbidden for any individual to report any malfeasance to the secular authorities without prior authorization from a rav empowered to do so as described above.
Succulent Succule ent
RABBI AARON I. REICHEL, ESQ. Kew Gardens, New York
Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 5
By Martin Nachimson
NO TEEN LEFT BEHIND O
nce there was a vast void in Jewish programs addressing the needs of young adults. There were programs from birth (“Mommy and Me”), programs for preteens, programs for teens—and then the void. Off went our kids to college and after four years, many of these impressionable young men and women began to falter in their Yiddishkeit, their religious commitment eroded by the overwhelmingly secular environment of the contemporary college campus. And then came NextGen. Working hand in hand with NCSY, NextGen, established in 2011, is dedicated to supporting teenagers when they graduate from yeshivot, day schools and public high schools to college campuses and beyond. The NextGen team, under the leadership of Rabbi Dave Felsenthal, who has been involved with Jewish youth since he was an NCSY advisor, is comprised of top professionals including Rabbi Ilan Haber, director of the Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC); Rabbi Yehoshua Marchuck, director of Alumni Connections; and Penny Pazornick, North American associate director of Israel Free Spirit/Birthright. NextGen’s flagship program, JLIC, currently found on sixteen campuses throughout North America, places Orthodox rabbinic couples on college campuses to serve as Torah educators within the Hillels, helping Orthodox students navigate the challenging college environment. These talented educators offer weekly shiurim and classes, bring guest speakers and events to campus and make key aspects of Orthodox life, such as kashrut, chagim and Shabbat easier to observe. Today, we are proud to say, more than 1,700 students are actively involved or connected with the JLIC educators on a regular basis, and over 3,000 students on a more casual or informal basis. Under the guidance of Rabbi Marchuck, who was an NCSYer since he was thirteen, Alumni Connections keeps in touch with NCSY graduates who go on to secular colleges, and connects these young people with Jewish organizations on those campuses. Why is it important to seek out these students? To ensure that they remain meaningfully engaged in Jewish life during this vulnerable time in their lives.
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Each year, NCSY provides as many as 8,000 alumni for us to track. But we don’t only contact former NCSYers; we also search for students who were involved with OU synagogues, OU Advocacy (formerly the IPA) and our Birthright program. In order to reach students, we employ various data collection methods: we gather information from students at regional Shabbatons, as well as from NCSY staff, student surveys, OU synagogue rabbis and Birthright trips. The talented Alumni Connections team recently developed an app—Jewniversity Resources— that provides students with information about Jewish life on campuses throughout North America, including the availability of kosher food, minyanim and other aspects of religious life on campus. The app is quickly becoming an indispensable resource for high school educators, community rabbis, youth directors, parents and, of course, college students. To keep information current, the Alumni department launched #ChaiSpy, a contest that encourages students to share information about Jewish life on their campuses to their peers nationwide. Yet despite all of the tremendous success we’ve had in maintaining connections with our alumni, NextGen is not satisfied. Rabbi Felsenthal thinks big. At the most recent NextGen staff retreat, our professionals chose a goal they felt would define NextGen for the coming year: to create a database of every Jewish high school student in North America. Our goal is to motivate students to voluntarily provide us with their information. How? By using “gamification,” a strategy often used in marketing and customer-loyalty programs that rewards users with gamelike features such as points and badges. NextGen is on the cutting edge of gamification. Another pillar of NextGen is Israel Free Spirit/Birthright. While I’m sure you all know about Birthright and the tremendous impact it has on unaffiliated young Jews, you may not know that the OU is one of the largest and fastestgrowing organizers in the Birthright program. This past year, our Israel Free Spirit/Birthright program had an award-winning and record-breaking season; we managed forty-eight buses and brought nearly 2,000 participants
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on a life-changing journey to our homeland. Recently, the OU was recognized by the national Birthright organization for the educational excellence of our Birthright programs. OU Israel Free Spirit/Birthright program is consistently rated the highest in participant satisfaction. In fact, 17 percent of our participants opt to extend their Birthright trip in Israel to attend yeshivah or seminary, compared to an average of 3 percent on other Birthright trips. We also ran a number of specialized “niche” Israel trips, including Birthright Yachad for individuals with disabilities, a special program with JACS (Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others) for participants who have overcome their addictions, a bicycle trip, an arts and entertainment trip, a technology trip and more. Each of these trips included itineraries that are tailored to the interests of its participants. For example, the technology trip visited Google headquarters and the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology. I have saved what is perhaps the best for last, because it involves not only a program, but also an extraordinary individual. Heart to Heart, an affiliate of NextGen, originated with a young man by the name of Hart Levine. When Hart was a young collegiate at the University of Pennsylvania, he created a grassroots organization to reach out to unaffiliated Jewish students on campus. He went around campus looking for students with Jewish-sounding names and invited them to share Shabbat meals. The meals grew; soon he was hosting dozens upon dozens of students for Shabbat dinner. Over time, his program mushroomed—he called friends on campuses around the country and brought the program there. His student-run and student-inspired organization has Orthodox college students bringing their unaffiliated Jewish peers closer to their heritage via student-run Shabbat dinners. Heart to Heart soon came under the OU umbrella. This past year, more than 1,450 Jewish students, most of them uninvolved in Jewish life, attended Shabbat dinners at eighteen college campuses. Hart Levine, in short, represents what NextGen is all about. Before signing off, I want to mention the well-publicized survey of American Jews recently released by the Pew Research Center. As many have noted, the results are depressing, but not terribly surprising: the study found a significant rise in those who are not religious, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish. What are we at the OU doing about these dire statistics? We—through the work of NCSY and NextGen—are working to ensure that young people do not fall through the cracks, that college youth get the religious support they need during a very challenging period of their lives and that unaffiliated Jewish kids on campus have a religious address to turn to. By strengthening Jewish life on campus, we are working to ensure the Jewish future. g
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Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 7
By Gerald M. Schreck
s I write this message on a Motzaei Shabbos in early October, we just finished reading parashas Lech Lecha, where God tells Avraham to leave his birthplace, his family and all that is familiar to him and embark upon a journey. While the text does not explicitly state why God chose Avraham to father the Jewish nation, the midrash fills in the gaps. Avraham, the midrash informs us, is an iconoclast. Following his inner sense of Truth, he rejects the values and idolatry of Ur Kasdim, a cultural hub of the ancient world, and reaches out to his Creator. When the Torah refers to Avraham as “haIvri” (literally, the Hebrew), it is in fact referring to Avraham’s spiritual fortitude. “The entire world was on one side of the river [m’ever echad] and he was on the other side [m’ever hasheini].” This inner strength caused him to merit to be the father of the Jewish people. Indeed, we, the children of Avraham, are also called upon to be “on the other side.” To be a Jew is to be an iconoclast. Unless we reside in the beit midrash, we are constantly assaulted by ideas and ideals that are antithetical to Torah. While we remain committed to
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engaging in the general culture, this engagement inevitably entails struggle— in minor, and sometimes major, ways. This struggle is beautifully illustrated in Robert J. Avrech’s article, “Confessions of a Shomer Shabbos Hollywood Screenwriter,” in this issue. An award-winning screenwriter and producer who has been working in ubersecular Hollywood for over twenty-five years, Avrech is remarkably unaffected by Hollywood “where leftist thinking dominates.” Unimpressed with Hollywood’s superficiality and fanatical devotion to liberalism, Avrech has managed to carve out a successful career in the movie industry while remaining a devout Jew. While our challenges may be less overt than Avrech’s, they are challenges nonetheless. Some forty years ago, I began my career in media working for local radio stations as a news writer. Subsequently, I was hired by a major national radio broadcast network as a news editor. I couldn’t believe my good fortune—I was perhaps the only Orthodox news editor in the
industry at the time. Additionally, I had gotten married a year earlier and my wife was expecting. I started the job during the winter months. The first Friday, I left early. The following Monday, the vice president of news called me into his office. “Jerry,” he said, “ask your rabbi for a dispensation to work late on Friday and all day Saturday.” “Nick,” I said, shocked by his request. “I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. I won’t be able to do that.” Not long after that, I was fired. I am not telling you this story to pat myself on the back—any Torah Jew would have reacted the same way. I mention it to illustrate the point that all of us—at unexpected moments—may be called upon to affirm our allegiance to Torah values. This is what it means to be a believing Jew, to be a descendant of Avraham. On a lighter note, I hope you noticed the interesting illustration on our cover, which was inspired by Saul Steinberg’s famous 1976 New Yorker cover. The cover pokes fun at how the typical Orthodox New Yorker views the world, with Brooklyn and other heavily Orthodox neighborhoods depicted as the center.
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Living outside of major metropolitan areas in the States used to mean one had to sacrifice to live a frum life. This is no longer the case. Our cover story takes you to communities across the country where Torah is unexpectedly thriving: Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Oak Park, Michigan and Overland Park, Kansas, may soon be as prominent on the Orthodox map as Teaneck and the Five Towns. Sure, dozens of Orthodox communities exist across the country, but in this issue, we chose to look at communities that have exhibited significant growth in the past decade or so. One of the important questions our cover story raises: why do some Orthodox communities thrive while others never seem to take off? While we may not have the answer to this perplexing question, the article certainly provides food for thought. With Chanukah around the corner, food blogger Carol Green Ungar does a wonderful job providing background (and a recipe) for the latke, the potato pancake that is a traditional Chanukah treat. Additionally, David Olivestone, the former senior communications officer of the OU, provides a fascinating account of two magnificent menorot that were rescued from the Warsaw Ghetto, thanks to the generosity of a Gentile woman. Other highlights of this issue include a special section on teaching tefillah, an interview with the chief rabbi of South Africa, articles on books, halachah, food and more. Once again, I encourage you to visit us online at www.ou.org/jewish_action, where, in addition to posting the most current issue, we post timely and relevant articles from the extensive Jewish Action archive. I also urge you to check out the online interviews with some of our authors. Interviewer Steve Savitsky speaks with Robert J. Avrech and South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, among others (links are provided at the end of the articles). Happy reading and best wishes for a wonderful Chanukah! g
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All of us—at unexpected moments—may be called upon to aﬃrm our allegiance to Torah values. This is what it means to be a believing Jew, to be a descendant of Avraham.
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Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 9
From the Desk of RABBI STEVEN WEIL, Executive Vice President
write this just as my sixteen-yearold son is returning from Israel. He was fortunate to participate in one of the OU’s most spectacular programs, Yad B’Yad. Yachad/NJCD (National Jewish Council for Disabilities, an agency of the OU) brought seventy typical high school students to travel the length and breadth of our homeland, literally “hand-in-hand” with young adults who have disabilities. Parents, including myself, who chose this program wanted more than just a fun, inspiring and comprehensive Israel tour and experience for our children; we wanted our kids to become sensitized to the needs of those who might be perceived as being less fortunate than they. We wanted them to appreciate that not everybody has the blessings that they have. We were wrong. These are not the only lessons our kids came back with—they came back with so much more. Yad B’Yad, and Yachad in general, is structured in such a way that all who participate know they are part of one community. Yachad clearly sends the message that we are all peers, and our community simply isn’t complete when we don’t all have a place and something to contribute. Our kids who went on Yad B’Yad did become more sensitive people—not because of what they did for the Yachad participants, but because of what the Yachad participants did for them. They amazed them with their talents. One wheelchair-bound Yachad
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member is a “sit-down” comic; another is familiar with every possible transportation route throughout the tristate area. Kids were invited to contact him anytime they get lost or need help getting around New York City, and he would never disappoint. Our kids learned from their Yachad peers to drop the crippling self-consciousness that plagues most teenagers, just enjoy being who they are and take pleasure in whatever they are doing at the moment. In a culture where teenage apathy is at an all-time high, our teens learned from the Yachad participants how much fun Shabbat is, how meaningful davening can be and how enjoyable it is to sing and dance for no other reason than we can. Our kids did plenty of chesed on Yad B’Yad, but it was done together with their Yachad peers: volunteering at a food pantry, an absorption center in Tzefat and an old age home. Our kids did not forego any of the exciting Israel experiences—they went zip lining and rappelling, they spent time on an army base and floated on the Dead Sea. Yad
B’Yad might move a little slower, might cover less ground, but the participants, no matter what their abilities or disabilities, can do anything and everything. Could there be a better way for our kids to learn that we truly have no limits? Who benefits from Yachad the most? Is it the Yachad participants who enjoy Shabbatons, summer camp and Israel trips? Is it the parents who get a respite from the constant care they lovingly and tirelessly provide for their children? Is it the “typically developing” siblings who by default may get less parental attention because of their brothers’ or sisters’ special needs? Is it shuls like mine, Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck, that have the privilege of hosting Yachad’s Simchaton, a summer camp reunion that takes place over Simchat Torah? Instead of suffering from holiday burnout at the end of the Tishrei season, we are infected by the contagious enthusiasm of the participants who wholeheartedly make Simchat Torah into a real simchah. Or is it kids like my son, who come back infinitely richer after five weeks of being a cherished member of this Inclusive community? I believe we all benefit the most. The Yachad community is a microcosm of Klal Yisrael. How much stronger, happier and supported would we all be if the global Jewish community were Inclusive of everyone, irrespective of his or her background, culture, color or genetic or chromosomal makeup. Hinei mah tov u’mah na’im, shevet achim gam YACHAD. g
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CONFESSIONS OF A SHOMER SHABBOS HOLLYWOOD SCREENWRITER By Robert J. Avrech
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primary Exposition—In Which the Main Characters and Primary Drama Are Introduced
It’s Shabbos morning. I’m in shul, davening with the hashkamah minyan, where an undertone of chatter is definitely not the norm. For me, a frum-from-birth screenwriter, this shul, where my wife and I have been members since we moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn, is my fortress of solitude. It’s where my Hollywood identity is securely tucked away and I can revert to my true self, which is: husband, father and grandfather, shomer Shabbos Jew, Religious Zionist and a man who tries to live a Torah life as best as he can. In the midst of davening, a friend whispers: “I just saw that movie you made a few years ago. Very exciting story. ” “Um, thanks so much.” I figure the conversation is over and go back to davening. “The thing I was wondering is,” continues my friend, “what’s she really like?” She being the famous and glamorous star of the movie my friend has recently seen on Netflix. Several possible answers pop up in my head, as if on a TV game show board: 1. She’s very nice. 2. She’s crazy as a loon. 3. Why on earth were you watching that movie? I go for number one. My friend nods his head as if I’ve just explained a difficult Tosafos, puts a gentle hand on my shoulder and says, “We’ll talk more later.” The purpose of this scene is not to denigrate my friend, who is a wonderful and charitable person, nor is it an attempt to bolster my credentials as a pious man. I confess: I’ve been known to talk in shul on occasion. This anecdote illustrates the mesmerizing allure Hollywood exStill from A Stranger Among Us, starring erts over, well . . . everyone! Hollywood movies are the most powerful tools of social and political propaganda the world has ever known. Melanie Griffith and Eric Thal. The film was written and produced by Robert J. Think about it: America wins wars only when Hollywood believes in Avrech and directed by Sidney Lumet. them and puts itself squarely behind America’s war effort. During World War II, every studio in Hollywood backed the Allied effort against the Axis. Hollywood stars raised money for war bonds, and studios produced films that went all out for freedom and liberty against the tyranny of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Hollywood played a huge role in America’s victory. Contrast Vietnam. Hollywood, which was overwhelmingly antiwar, produced a series of movies that undermined the American effort against the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. America lost Vietnam. HollyRobert J. Avrech’s numerous credits include A Stranger Among Us, directed by Sidney Lumet, and The Devil’s Arithmetic, starring Kirsten Dunst and Brittany Murphy, for which he won the Emmy Award for best script. Avrech has just published How I Married Karen, an ebook memoir that received a rave review from Kirkus, the bible of the publishing industry. He writes at his award-winning blog, Seraphic Secret.
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wood knew that with a few clever, glossy films (such as Coming Home, starring Jane Fonda) and carefully manufactured imagery, it could undermine American foreign policy and turn heroic GIs into psychotic baby killers. More recently, Hollywood has made about a dozen movies that condemn America’s military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not one of them was profitable, but the damage was done: America withdrew from both fronts. Islamic tyrannies will fill the vacuum—and Hollywood will never take notice or assume any responsibility. Even women’s fashion is a reflection of what they see on the screen. Ever since Manolo Blahnik stilettos featured prominently on HBO’s hit show Sex and the City over a decade ago, middle-class women have been willing to walk through fire and water for a pair of Manolos—at something like $900 a pop!
Act II: Conflict—In Which Our Little Drama Is Developed Into a Narrative Arc
Let’s be clear: Hollywood influences practically every aspect of life in the United States. As an award-winning screenwriter and producer who has been working in Hollywood for over twenty-five years, I can claim an authentic knowledge of Tinseltown and the people who make it work. And I am here to tell you that whether your head is inside a Borsalino or under a kippah serugah, Hollywood is inside your head. And there, slowly but surely, it is executing a brilliant, insidious stealth attack on the core values that make up not only the bedrock of Torah Judaism, but also the foundation of American culture. Here’s one example from my life as a screenwriter. A few years ago, a big studio hired me to write a drama about the dangers posed by Islamic terrorists. The studio executives wanted me to write the script because they knew it would be not just entertaining but also a cautionary tale for modern times. Still, one studio executive took me aside and whispered a warning: “Just don’t, y’know, malign all Muslims.” My script was a beauty. Lots of action, a romance between a rugged American CIA agent (think a young George Clooney) and a beautiful Mossad agent (imagine Charlize Theron as a brunette), a few killer car chases, an evil Muslim terrorist and a decent Muslim kid who In A Stranger Among Us, Melanie Griffith plays gets blackmailed into becoming a suicide bomber. A few a New York cop who goes undercover as a weeks after I handed in my first draft, a studio executive ba’alas teshuvah in order to solve the murder called me and said that the studio was not going to go of a Chassidic diamond merchant. In this ahead with the project as currently written. scene, Griffith enjoys a Shabbos meal. On “We feel it’s too controversial. It might be seen as Griffith’s lap is Aliza, Avrech’s daughter, anti-Muslim. Now maybe if you turned the Muslim terplaying a role in her father’s film. rorists into Christian terrorists, we might reconsider.” “Christian terrorists? Like whom?” I asked. The studio exec said, “Oh, y’know, you can just make it up.” “Christian terrorist organizations do not exist. I have done the research.” “Yeah, well, there’s another problem: the stuff about Israel, your Mossad character. What about the Palestinians? You really have to present their side of the story.” “The character of the Mossad agent is there for romance and to emphasize the global nature of Islamic terrorism,” I said. “It is, after all, Palestinians who invented modern jihadist terror.” The studio exec sighed. “Robert, what can I tell you? You’re a great writer, but this script—well, unless you turn it inside out, it’s dead.” A few days later, an inside source at the studio told me that someone had slipped a copy of my script to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an American group that presents itself as a civil rights
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organization but is actually a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. CAIR read my script and put pressure on the studio to drop the project or suffer some unnamed consequences. My script was dead, killed off by a new set of values that have colonized Hollywood the way cancer cells multiply and devour healthy tissue. If you go to the movies, Islamic terror barely appears. And when it does appear, it is so tentative and mild that you would think that Muslim terrorists were an aberration on the world stage. Hollywood sells glamour and sizzle. The women are beautiful, the men are handsome and the plot lines are, one hopes, clever and compelling. But Hollywood also sells a set of core values. Turn on the TV and you will see happy gay couples on almost every show. Since most of Hollywood believes that gay marriage is a human right, writers, producers and stars inject gay characters and couples into their storylines in order to convince viewers that gay couples are just like straight ones. Look at the ABC hit sitcom Modern Family. It’s clever and touching, and who in his right mind is going to object to the lovable gay couple who are featured players on the show?
TV is also the place where . . . children are either preternaturally wise or sadly jaded—sometimes both—but they never turn to their parents for advice or guidance.
Still from The Devil’s Arithmetic, starring Kirsten Dunst and Brittany Murphy. The film garnered rave reviews and earned Avrech the Emmy Award for best screenplay.
TV is also the place where Dad is a clueless, lovable buffoon while elegant, long-suffering Mom puts up patiently with his childlike behavior. The children are either preternaturally wise or sadly jaded—sometimes both—but they never turn to their parents for advice or guidance. Watch a few hours of TV and you will come away believing that the nuclear family does not really function, if it exists at all. Here are a few more messages that Hollywood endlessly projects: 1. No one goes to church or synagogue. Any character who worships is the butt of jokes. Exceptions are made for Buddhism, ill-defined spiritualism and, natch, Islam. 2. The greatest threats to our planet are overpopulation and so-called global freezing/global warming/climate change. Mankind is doomed because selfish people—that’s you and me, not the Hollywood elite—do not separate their trash with proper devotion. 3. Republicans are stupid, nasty bigots, usually with very bad skin. 4. Democrats are glamorous, brilliant, tolerant and the saviors of mankind. (Try telling that to Detroit, which has been ruled by Democrats for more than forty years.) 5. A woman’s place is in the workplace. Motherhood is sooooo Leave It to Beaver. 6. There are no Torah Jews in the greater Hollywood imagination. If we do show up, we are usually there for stupid bris milah jokes. 7. Zionism is invisible. When it does appear, it is usually treated like the plague. Hollywood glamorizes and sells its values. These values make their way into your home—if you have TV, if you go to the movies, if you watch online—in such a way that you do not even realize that your gray matter is gradually being shaped into the fashionable conformity that animates Hollywood. From where does Hollywood get its values? Almost every Hollywood executive, director, producer and writer I’ve ever met has attended an Ivy League university where secular, leftist thinking dominates, and where genuine education—the search for knowledge—has been replaced by a not-so-subtle intellectual brainwashing.
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A few months ago, a frum high school girl and aspiring screenwriter came to me for advice. She mentioned that she loved Modern Family and would “love to write stuff like that.” This girl is from a solid Torah family. She’s active in Bnei Akiva and volunteers with Bikur Cholim—an admirable young woman in every way. I asked her what she thought about gay marriage. She knew exactly what I was getting at. Smiling self-consciously, she said that she knew it was wrong, but she really loved the gay characters on the show and would feel as if she were betraying them if she came out against gay marriage. “They’re not real,” I chided gently. “They’re real to me,” she said. The gay characters on a fictional TV sitcom have become real to this fine young woman and to millions of viewers around the world. The fantasy world of television and movies that emanate from a giant screen, TV panel, computer, tablet and smartphone have become a simulacrum of the real world—a parallel world that worms its way into our consciousness, replacing traditional morality with alien values disguised as the new normal. None of this happens by chance. We who write movies and television shows weigh each word and image with excruciating care. I have managed to inject my values into several films and get away with it, even winning an Emmy Award for The Devil’s Arithmetic, a time-travel Holocaust drama. But I and a few like-minded friends are in the minority, outgunned and outnumbered.
Movies are a moral landscape where stories convey powerful messages. Every movie begins with a script. Here is a sample page from Avrech’s Emmy Award-winning screenplay for The Devil’s Arithmetic. Photos courtesy of Robert Avrech
Act III: Resolution—In Which a Satisfying Closure Is Achieved maybe
At the shul’s kiddush, my friend comes over to continue our discussion. Mostly, he wants to hear about the star. He’s delighted that I know her, that I know and have worked with dozens of stars. He thinks it’s just great that a guy from shul hangs with Hollywood royalty. “What are they really like?” he asks. I decide to tell the truth. “Not one of them is anything like they seem on screen. Mostly they are self-absorbed narcissists who can barely make their way from their limos to the sidewalk without powerful pharmaceuticals. If you spend ten minutes with any one of them, you would be shocked at how shallow, ignorant and one-dimensional they are. What they do well is act. They are actors. Without a role, without someone like me to write their dialogue, they practically cease to exist.” My friend is shocked and baffled. Am I joking? “Don’t make the mistake of confusing reality with a carefully-tailored image. That blurring can warp the mind.” That’s when he asks the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. “Then why do you do it?” “Because I love movies—and I know the difference between reality and fiction.” He smiles, nods and heads off to Daf Yomi. I walk home. In my head, I’m already plotting my next script. g Listen to Robert Avrech speak about Hollywood at www.ou.org/hollywood-screenwriter.
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It’s not just our paramedics that are saving lives in Israel.
When you think of Magen David Adom, you may picture speeding ambulances. But one of MDA’s most important functions is to supply the people of Israel with blood — for everything from routine surgeries to emergency procedures. Every unit of blood is separated into three components and can save three lives. Can’t get to Israel to donate blood? You can still support MDA’s lifesaving blood services. Make a gift today.
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Conversing with Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein
Shall Go Forth Torah South Africa’s first native chief rabbi, who is successfully strengthening Yiddishkeit on the home front, has gone global with a worldwide learning program. I N T E RV I E W BY B AY L A S H E VA B R E N N E R
espite its relatively small size—an estimated population of 70,000— the South African Jewish community is thriving religiously. While the community is mostly traditional, it boasts a burgeoning ba’al teshuvah movement, due, in part, to Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, the dynamic and charismatic chief rabbi of South Africa. Appointed to the position at the age of thirty-two, Rabbi Goldstein, who has a PhD in human rights and constitutional law, is a beloved figure in South Africa. A prolific author, commentator and vocal defender of Israel, Rabbi Goldstein has enviable reserves of energy, launching trailblazing programs such as Sinai Indaba, an annual Torah convention of the foremost international Jewish leaders and thinkers, and Generation Sinai, a highly successful parent-child learning initiative. His ingenuity, persistence and tireless efforts have resulted in thousands of Jews around the world becoming more connected and more engaged in their Judaism. During a recent visit to the United States, Rabbi Goldstein stopped by OU headquarters in Manhattan to speak with Jewish Action. Bayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.
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Skyline of Johannesburg, South Africa.
Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein was appointed chief rabbi of South Africa at the age of thirty-two. Photo: M. Kruter
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JEWISH ACTION: You are involved in so many aspects of
I’ve been at the center of driving Community Active Protection [an anti-crime project]. CAP is manned by members of the Jewish community who oversee the vehicle patrols as well as a community call center and an analysis department analyzing crime trends. Many people ask, “What’s a rav doing fighting crime?” I realized that crime was one of the key issues affecting the community. Some view rabbanus as a clerical position—that’s not rabbanus. Rabbanus is saying you are a leader of Klal Yisrael; you have responsibilities. You The most recent Generation Sinai, a parent-child learning proneed to ask: what do the peogram launched three years ago in South Africa, took place in ple need? If they have guns more than 100 schools in thirty-eight cities around the world, [pointed] at their heads, it’s a from Los Angeles to London, from Buenos Aires to Berlin. sakanah. As a rav you have an Photos courtesy of the Office of the Chief Rabbi of South Africa achrayus, a responsibility, to deal with it.
South African life, and your influence extends well beyond the walls of the beit midrash. You even established an anti-crime project that brought down contact crime between 80 and 90 percent in its area of operation. Why do you invest so much of your time and energy in nonrabbinic pursuits? Do some segments of the South African Jewish community criticize you for this? RABBI GOLDSTEIN: Be-
cause the community is primarily traditional and
JA: In the US, where assimilation is rampant, secular Jews tend to be indifferent toward—or even intolerant of—Orthodoxy. South African Jews, even if not Orthodox, have great respect for Orthodoxy and Jewish tradition. How are you helping South African Jews move toward greater observance? RG: It’s rare for a secular Jew to come
respecting of Judaism, people naturally look to rabbanim to play a leadership role. In this position, one must be able to deal with politics, both Jewish and national. In my inaugural speech, I stressed that the Torah is the blueprint for everything in life. It’s a mistake to compartmentalize and say, “Here’s the religious dimension of life, and here’s the secular dimension.” I try not to close the Gemara and then move on to the politics of the day. Everything is in the Torah; it’s all one.
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into my office without putting on a yarmulke first. I can be in a public place and walk past someone whom I don’t even know is Jewish and he’ll stand up and greet me. If I need help with a certain project—irrespective of what the particular project may be—I just pick up the phone and even Jews who are very far from Yiddishkeit will run to assist me. At the same time, I believe that traditional Judaism has a certain shelf life. If it’s not converted into something with more serious commitment, it can dissipate. One of my top priorities is kiruv. South African Jews are wide open to it. I have to use the opportunity now to reach out. In 2011, we launched Sinai Indaba (Indaba is a Zulu word for a “gathering of the tribe to discuss important matters”), an annual Torah convention which has featured prominent speakers such as former Chief Rabbi of Israel Yisrael Meir Lau, Rabbi Berel Wein, Britain’s former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, Rabbi Yis-
To keep one’s integrity as a rav, one has to be learning; otherwise, one becomes a community worker and not a rav. socher Frand, Dr. David Pelcovitz and Israeli singer/songwriter Yonatan Razel. That first year, more than 3,000 people attended. In the years since, attendance has grown. In 2013, around 6,500 people came. At Sinai Indaba, we try to show that Torah Judaism is not a narrow ceremonial religion but a way of life, a way of thinking. Judaism does not just belong in the shul; it’s wide-ranging and exciting and applies to how you run your business, how you interact with your family. One day of Torah inspiration can have an incredible impact. JA: I have been told that even those who are nominally
observant in South Africa say, “The shul I belong to but don’t go to is Orthodox.” Is it easier or harder to influence nonobservant Jews who affiliate with Orthodoxy? RG: It’s much easier to influence them, because at least they
know that when they are looking for Judaism, there’s only one address. All of our Jewish day schools are Orthodox schools—the curriculum, rebbeim, the teaching, kashrus. It may be that many students in the schools are not properly mitzvah observant, but they are in an Orthodox environment and that makes it easier to reach them. JA: Tell us about your own family’s journey toward
Torah observance. RG: I grew up in a very traditional home and went to a Jew-
ish day school. My father has strong recollections of his grandfather who was shomer Shabbos when he arrived in South Africa from Lithuania (he remained so until the end of his life). It made a big impact on my father. My parents were always very involved in the shul as well as the school. We were all affected by the ba’al teshuvah movement in South Africa. I became very close to my rosh yeshivah, Rabbi Azriel Chaim Goldfein, zt”l. In my position as chief rabbi, I spoke with him regularly. His passing was a great personal loss for me.
JA: A unique aspect of the South African Jewish community is its unity. How do you explain your community’s success in staying unified? RG: South African culture emphasizes unity and working together. The South African Jewish community’s motto is “Unity in Diversity.” We have one hechsher, one beth din, one united communal infrastructure. We also have an outstanding network of schools, with 90 percent of Jewish children in Orthodox Jewish schools, a mixture of Modern Orthodox, Chareidi and Chabad institutions. I go out of my way to engage with all segments of the community. I visit numerous shuls and have relationships with as many rabbanim as possible. When dealing with different segments of the community, the core currency of credibility is learning, being rooted in Torah. I go to the Yeshiva Gedolah of Johannesburg for a learning seder for a few hours in the afternoon and give a Gemara shiur in my home in the morning. People ask me how I manage a learning seder. There may be many e-mails that go unanswered and phone calls that go unreturned until the following day, but I have to learn; it keeps me fresh and sane. To keep one’s integrity as a rav, one has to be learning; otherwise, one becomes a community worker and not a rav. Rabbanus and Torah need to be at the forefront of everything. I host a monthly luncheon for rabbanim and an annual three-day rabbinical conference so that we have an opportunity to debate issues in the community. We have Orthodox rabbis from across the spectrum working together in an atmosphere of good chavershaft [camaraderie]. This kind of unity is a top priority. One of the main objectives of having a chief rabbi in the first place is to consolidate the unity in the community. JA: In your position, where you can’t please everyone, you manage to maintain your integrity without alienating your constituents. You walked out of a Yom HaShoah
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Sinai Indaba, an annual Torah convention held in Johannesburg and other cities in South Africa that features prominent speakers from around the globe, drew more than 6,500 South African Jews this past year. Pictured here are Rabbi Berel Wein, Rabbi Goldstein and Rabbi Paysach Krohn.
presentation when a teenage girl got up to sing. You refuse to cave to political correctness at the expense of halachah, yet you maintain your popularity. How do you do it? RG: You have to work with your core
principles; it’s the key to communal leadership. If your leadership is going to be based on what is most pleasing to people, you have no compass. People appreciate honesty. The covenant of faith binds all Jews and connects us; it gives expression to the concept of Jewish peoplehood and unity. But it must be comprised of Torah principles and values, calling us to a higher destiny. JA: You grew up in South Africa; you
saw apartheid. How do you react when Israel is referred to as an apartheid country? RG: It’s a defamation of the Jewish State. It’s the modern blood libel, total sheker, total lies. Furthermore, it’s an insult to the real victims of apartheid. If everything is apartheid, then nothing is apartheid. The South African legacy is on the line now. South Africa is a very religious country with millions of Christians, and the real power lies in the Evangelical and Protestant churches. I’ve been working closely with church leaders. Our message to the South African government is: “Don’t take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Be a force for peace; don’t be a force of division.” In December of 2012, at the ANC [African National Congress—the majority party in the South African Government] conference in the city of Mangaung, I composed an open letter, signed by a number of Christian leaders representing more than ten million Christians, calling on the ANC to not
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support the boycott movement against Israel. It said don’t be anti-Israel; be even-handed in your approach. I had a debate with Cyril Ramaphosa, the newly elected deputy president of the ANC. I told him, “We don’t expect the South African government to become pro-Israel, but we do expect it to be even-handed, not to foment divisions.” JA: What are the Jewish commu-
nity’s internal challenges—globally and in South Africa? RG: My recent book, co-authored with
Rabbi Berel Wein, The Legacy: Teaching for Life from the Great Lithuanian Rabbis, seeks to capture moral and strategic vision for Klal Yisrael today. It covers the key values that the Jewish world urgently needs. [For example,] darchei noam—interactions with one another must be done with more gentleness, more refinement, more derech eretz. We could have very bitter disputes, but why must derech eretz be thrown out in the face of those disputes? Another one of the biggest problems facing the Jewish world today is Jewish ignorance. We have pockets of tremendous knowledge and learning and then we have vast oceans of Jewish
ignorance. The key to kiruv is learning Torah. The Midrash says: “The light of the Torah will bring them back to the good.” That’s one of my key philosophies. It’s not about getting people to do anything initially; it’s about teaching Torah in its purest form. In 2007, I presented a beis midrashstyle educational program to two of the biggest networks of Jewish day schools in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The vast majority of the children in these networks are not shomrei mitzvos. I proposed that high school students should have a choice: instead of learning Jewish studies as an academic subject, they could learn Gemara and Chumash within the context of a beis midrash-style of learning. Currently, this model is successfully operating in three high schools. More than half of the students in these schools opted to learn in the program. They’re getting a taste of real Torah learning. JA: You’ve gone international with “Generation Sinai”—a Jewish unity initiative that has parents and children learning together. Why go global? RG: Because parents and children
learning Torah together is the life-
blood of Klal Yisrael. We launched Generation Sinai—a parent-child learning program—in South African day schools three years ago. Our plan was to have parents go to their child’s school and learn with him or her on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, close to Shavuos. This past year on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, tens of thousands of parents and children across six continents got together to study the same section of the Torah in their individual schools. The program took place in more than 100 schools in thirty-eight cities around the world, from Los Angeles to London, from Buenos Aires to Berlin, in English, French, Spanish, Russian, German and Hebrew. This was done together with some remarkable partners such as Project SEED in the United Kingdom and Ayelet Hashachar in Israel. Parents brought their children to school in the morning and then sat down and learned with them for half an hour—fathers with sons and mothers with daughters. We provided the textual materials on the topic. For children who don’t have a parent or parents, we encouraged grandparents and aunts and uncles to get involved. After the first Generation Sinai event, there was this incredible outpouring of emotion. People were so moved. Secular parents had never sat down with their children to learn Torah before; they had never experienced anything like this. Every school participated, from Chareidi to traditional. We hope to expand the program to more Jewish communities around the world. Jews are separated by oceans and mountains, continents and climates, language and culture, but we have one Torah that can hold us all together. Sharing Torah is what Generation Sinai is about. It is about sharing our Sinaitic legacy with the next generation, and in so doing, ensuring our Jewish future. Generation Sinai attests to the spiritual power of Torah learning and the strength of Jewish unity. My work in South Africa is far from complete. I see it as a primary responsibility to spread Torah as far and wide as possible, in its most compelling and profound form. South Africa is a great and proud Jewish community, and I consider it an honor to serve it. g Listen to Rabbi Goldstein speak about the thriving Jewish community of South Africa at www.ou.org/southafrican-jewish.
s we were preparing to go to press, we received the distressing news of the passing of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, zt”l. The Orthodox Union joins Klal Yisrael in mourning Rav Yosef, a giant in Torah who lifted the status of Sephardi Jews and provided them with pride and political strength. Rav Yosef was one of a kind, truly “the greatest of his generation.” May his memory be a blessing for all of Klal Yisrael. A tribute to Rav Yosef will appear in a future issue of Jewish Action. Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski
Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 23
rsey New Je
Park, K ansas
Why Some Communities Are Growing at a Remarkable Pace
sey ew Jer N l, il H Cherry
Manalapan, New Jersey
Barbara Bensoussan has worked as a university instructor and social worker, and currently writes for Jewish newspapers and magazines.
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, Michig an
In our cover story, we visit Orthodox communities across the country that have witnessed significant growth over the past few years. Places like Kansas City, Springfield, New Jersey and Detroit, Michigan are flourishing . . . the question is, why? We asked key players involved in building these and other frum communities: What are the key ingredients necessary to grow a community? In the section that follows, we share the stories of a few thriving communities and the secrets behind their success.
BY BARBARA BENSOUSSAN
I’ve always wanted to redo Saul Steinberg’s famous New Yorker cover “View of the World from 9th Avenue” as “An Orthodox New Yorker’s View of the World” [Ed.: see the cover of this issue!]. It would have Brooklyn at the center, surrounded by the other boroughs and Long Island, with perhaps Teaneck, Bergenfield as well as Passaic and Lakewood on the periphery and places like Chicago and Los Angeles mere specks on the horizon.
ut of an estimated 700,000 Orthodox Jews in North America, close to 500,000 can be found in New York City, Long Island and Westchester according to the UJA-Federation of New York’s 2011 demographic study (that doesn’t even include the rest of the tri-state area, such as Rockland County, New Jersey and Connecticut). It’s nice to know that Orthodox Judaism is flourishing in the New York area. The bad news is that, well, it’s getting awfully crowded. Crowding means many things: it means the price of housing has risen way beyond the means of middle-class families and young couples just starting out; it means greater anonymity, a higher-stress lifestyle and fighting for parking spaces. The answer? Go west, young man . . . or south, or north! “People come to Kansas City, they see our great community and they walk away saying, ‘Who knew?’” says Rabbi Daniel Rockoff of Congregation Beth Israel Abraham & Voliner (BIAV).
Kansas City is one of a number of cities across the country whose Orthodox population has seen tremendous growth in the past five to ten years. In Overland Park, for example, a suburb of Kansas City, BIAV boasts more than 150 families—thirty of whom moved in within the last five years. “We’re trying to create buzz about Kansas City; create some traffic here,” says Rabbi Rockoff. Apparently, he’s succeeding; the shul welcomed twenty newborns in the past year alone. Congregation Israel, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Springfield, New Jersey, expanded its shul building two years ago to accommodate its growing membership. Now, says Rabbi Judah Isaacs, director of the OU Department of Community Engagement, the shul may have to renovate again—its new quarters are beginning to feel cramped. While ten years ago Springfield had only a handful of families with parents under the age of thirty-five, today there are almost forty young families. “We’ve been adding almost one
* Most of the shuls mentioned in this section are OU-member shuls.
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Rabbi Daniel Rockoff of Congregation Beth Israel Abraham & Voliner in Overland Park, Kansas. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Rockoff
A quiet picturesque street in Overland Park, Kansas. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Rockoff
family a month over the past year,” says Springfield resident Ben Hoffer. Down South, Dallas, in the center of the Bible Belt, has a booming frum community as well. Hard to believe that a few short decades ago, Dallas didn’t have much of an Orthodox presence. Today, the city boasts the impressive DATA, the Dallas Area Torah Association, a vibrant community organization that connects Jews to Judaism—along with six kosher restaurants, ten Orthodox synagogues, four yeshivot/day schools and two eruvs. Why do some communities take off while others seem to limp along? Experts agree that there is one crucial
piece to making a community a success: energetic, inspiring leadership. “I believe that you could put a dynamic rav anywhere—even in Alaska—and he will create a community,” says Rabbi Ari Rockoff, brother of Rabbi Daniel Rockoff and the associate dean of institutional advancement at YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education & Administration and the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. Rabbi Ari Rockoff previously served as director of community partnership at YU’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF), where he helped grow Orthodox communities. Rabbi Isaacs concurs. “Having a lively rav makes a big difference,” he says. In Springfield, that means Rabbi Chaim Marcus at CongregaRECIPE FOR GROWTH tion Israel. Descended To grow a community, the rav must consider every from a long line of aumember an integral part of his family. I dance with gust and influential my [congregants] at their simchahs and cry with rabbis, Rabbi Marcus them when they have tzaros. I daven for “my family” was raised on Staten all the time; I have a list of all my members and pray Island, New York, for them in shul and at kivrei tzaddikim. where his father Secondly, at the first sighting of a machlokes, served as the rabbi of I do whatever I can to resolve it; discord destroys the Young Israel of a community. Staten Island. Thirdly, the most important ingredient to build“When Rabbi Maring a solid community is intense and inspiring Torah cus arrived in 2002, learning—in Gemara, halachah and machshavah. You many people only atneed to engage the entire community in inspirational tended shul on Rosh learning—men, women and children. Without it, a Hashanah and Yom community cannot grow. Kippur,” says Hoffer. “Now, most of the peoRabbi Moshe Weinberger ple are there on ShabCongregation Aish Kodesh, Woodmere, New York 26
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bos, and we have enough members on weekdays to have two healthy minyanim.” Rabbi Marcus, who received semichah from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), also teaches Judaic studies at Bruriah High School for Girls in nearby Elizabeth. Dallas has likewise enjoyed excellent rabbinic leadership; in the early days, Shaare Tefilla Congregation was led by the beloved Rabbi Howard Wolk, who currently serves as chaplain of Jewish Family Service in Greater Dallas. The community has grown so large, however, that there is no longer one central shul. “At the beginning, my shul was like a melting pot,” says longtime Dallas resident David Zoller. “Everybody was together in one synagogue. But eventually, the kollel, which had been housed there and attracted a lot of ba’alei teshuvah, broke away and formed its own shul and schools. That was painful in the beginning, but everyone adjusted, and now we’re at a point where we accept that everyone needs to find the style they’re most comfortable with.” Today, Dallas offers a range of religious options, from Modern Orthodox to Yeshivish to Chabad. “We all know each other; everyone is related . . . the heads of the two communities that split are cousins. We help each other out, write each other checks as necessary—we’re too small to be divisive.” While all agree that a dynamic and dedicated rabbi—and rebbetzin—is crucial to helping a community grow, the
burden of leadership does not only fall on them. For a community to truly prosper, it needs both “a great rav and a great lay leadership,” says Rabbi Isaacs. “I have seen communities truly flourish as a result of this combination. There also needs to be an investment in the community—people have to be willing to put time, energy and effort into helping their community grow.” Rabbi Ronald Schwarzberg, director of the Morris and Gertrude Bienenfeld Department of Jewish Career Development and Placement for YU’s CJF, doesn’t think the recipe for growth is so simple. “A shul doesn’t grow solely because it has a young, charismatic rabbi. There are communities that are challenged to expand and there may be a myriad of complex issues that a community must confront to grow,” he says. “A dynamic and charismatic rabbinic leader needs a cast of committed lay leaders that will partner with him to develop the quality programs and requirements that will attract new membership.”
Coming to the Fair The OU’s annual Communities Fair provides an opportunity for communities to showcase their strengths and for families to take a look at options outside New York, with booths set up from different cities. “We review each community to make sure it has the
tion included professional necessary amenities, such as a day school, mikvah photos, videos and handouts (he created slogans and kosher food,” says like, “We have an eruv, Rabbi Isaacs. “There but we don’t carry our are some communities that apply without six-shooters on Shabthem, in the hope that bos!”). In fact, Zoller’s if they can attract web site (www.movetoenough people, it will dallas.org), designed for drive demand.” At the fair, YU, was intended from the communities encourage outset to serve as a temattendees to join their eplate for other small comThe Dallas community mail lists for further con- hosts an annual kosher munities. tacts and updates. When Hannah Farkas, prochili cook-off—just one of the charms of living in the Linden, New Jersey, gram manager of the OU a community with a Department of Community community built a miksmall-town feel. Engagement, adds, “Sucvah, for example, they cessful communities use promptly sent notices to the personal touch to recruit. They ninety prospective residents. “We’ve seen communities that have don’t just send out generic e-mails; they’ll make follow-up calls to say, grown because of a few people who ‘When are you coming for were good, aggressive recruiters,” says Rabbi Isaacs. “Places like Cherry Hill a Shabbos?’” The human element is clearly the and Detroit managed to bring many most powerful factor in persuading people in.” prospective families to visit a commuCommunities have gotten creative nity and ultimately decide to move in their marketing techniques, offering there. “A Shabbat visit is crucial in freebies to fairgoers that reflect the swaying people to come,” Rabbi local flavor: football T-shirts (Denver, Isaacs says. “They see who’s in the Colorado), mini lighthouses (Provicommunity, whom they would be livdence, Rhode Island), Nike souvenirs (Seattle, Washington), even raffled din- ing among. ner tickets to local restaurants. Zoller, “It’s like a shidduch; you have to who has a background in marketing know what you’re looking for. Do you and sales, was one of the first to create want a community where they have a a professional trade show-style presen- great Daf Yomi? Or one where they’ll tation for his city. The Dallas presentaturn a blind eye if you don’t show up to
Houses in Kansas City cost between $160,000 and $425,000, with larger houses on lots of 13,000 square feet or more. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Rockoff
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minyan from time to time? Do you prefer a younger crowd or an older one?”
Alternatives to Teaneck Each location outside the Big Apple offers its own unique charm. Quaint picturesque Springfield, only thirty-five minutes from New York City, attracts many who want an affordable community near New York “that’s not Teaneck or the Five Towns,” says Hoffer. “We have the best of both worlds—we’re near the hustle and bustle, but life here is more relaxed.” Springfield has blossomed into “a warm community of people who are very interested in spiritual growth, regardless of where they fall on the religious spectrum,” says Hoffer. “They all share a desire to be better today than they were yesterday, which creates a growth atmosphere.” The community is fortunate to have a good
CALLING ALL KIDS Communities looking to attract young families need dynamic and engaging youth professionals. They ensure that young children are involved in meaningful activities during Shabbat morning davening and have other activities throughout the week. Effective youth professionals make children feel that the shul is their home. Rabbi Judah Isaacs Director of the OU Department of Community Engagement _____________________________________ Hiring a dynamic couple to drive the youth department is one of the wisest choices a shul can make. A shul should allocate 16 to 18 percent of it’s operating budget to provide a quality youth program. The top OU shuls invest 25 to 30 percent of their operating budgets on their youth departments. Youth programming is essential. When kids participate in shul, the family will inevitably participate in shul too. Youth have the power to draw the participation of entire families. Rabbi Steven Weil OU executive vice president
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infrastructure in place: a renovated shul with a house for the rabbi and a beautiful mikvah. Hoffer describes his hometown as a place that was always a “very nice, simple, warm community. Here when you invite people for Shabbos, often you have to wait three weeks because they’ve already received so many invitations.” Similarly, in Dallas, visitors are impressed by the Southern hospitality. “Hospitality is key. Here it’s a natural instinct, not a programmed response,” says Zoller. “We embrace all newcomers; we’re happy to show them around or invite them for Shabbos.” Dallas likes to vaunt its sunny climate by advertisRabbi Chaim and Lea Marcus, the dynamic rabbi and ing, “It’s always warm in rebbetzin of Congregation Israel in Springfield, New Jersey. Photo courtesy of Daniella Hoffer our sukkahs!” “In February, it’s sixty degrees,” housing—and even when it’s not cheap, Zoller says. “And it’s a clean city too.” the buyer gets more bang for the buck. According to Rabbi Daniel Rockoff, the key to making a small commu- In a Jewish area of Dallas within the eruv, according to Zoller, a house may nity thrive is “a special kehillah that cost upward of $350,000, but that knows how to take people in and inmeans a large four-bedroom house clude them. with a two-car garage on a quarter“It’s that warmth and spirit that acre lot (or larger). Kansas City prices really attract people,” he says. “The fall somewhere between $160,000 and quality of life and the necessary Jew$425,000, with larger houses on lots of ish institutions are just what make 13,000 square feet or more. In Springit possible.” field, houses are available for $350,000 to $450,000, with the added advantage The Economics of of being five minutes away from a train Living Out-of-Town station that gets you to midtown ManThen there’s the ever-important issue hattan in half an hour, or a forty-fiveof job availability. “In Dallas, we have minute commute to areas like Teaneck no state income tax,” boasts Zoller, or Monsey. “and that attracts many Fortune 500 Some communities have sought to corporations to this area. That, in turn, attract new families by offering ecoproduces employment opportunities. If nomic incentives such as day school someone tells us specifically what he’s grants, housing subsidies, building looking for, we will do our best to help fund waivers or free JCC memberhim find a job.” ships. Three years ago, Springfield ofSimilarly, Kansas City is home to fered $500 a month toward a first corporations such as Garmin, Hallyear’s rent or up to $20,000 for help mark and H&R Block, as well as legal with a down payment on a house. and engineering firms (Kansas City is Those numbers went down to $15,000 quickly becoming one of America’s the second year, $10,000 the third year most entrepreneurial cities, according and will be phased out in the future. to a recent article in the Huffington “We have about 150 families now, Post). Some communities have and we would like to attract another shrewdly brought headhunters to the twenty-five to thirty more,” OU’s Emerging Communities Fair to Hoffer says. recruit employees. Dallas, on the other hand, didn’t Out-of-town housing is substanneed to offer incentives. The jobs, tially cheaper than New York-area weather and strong community are
enough, and Zoller can’t even keep track of who’s moved in since the community has expanded so much. “Places like Dallas will grow regardless,” Rabbi Daniel Rockoff asserts. And as Zoller points out: “Dallas is also an older community—this year the day school celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. There’s no building fund to pay anymore.”
First-Class Chinuch For an Orthodox family, finding the right chinuch options for their children is just as high a priority as cheap housing or the perfect job. Dallas now has both day schools and yeshivot. While Springfield does not have a community day school, many families send to nearby Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, the Jewish Educational Center or Bruriah High School for Girls. “It can be an issue when there’s only one community school,” Hoffer points out. “If your child has a problem, he has no other options within the community.” When Rabbi Daniel Rockoff arrived in Kansas City five years ago, there was only a non-Orthodox Jewish day school in place. Instead of attempting to build a new yeshivah from scratch, which would have required a tremendous outlay of money and effort, he teamed up with Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy and added a “Matmidim” Judaic studies track, like a school-withina-school (see page 46 in this issue). It offers separate Judaic studies classes on par with other day schools, and currently enrolls about forty students who join the other students for limudei chol (secular) classes. Approximately 235 students attend Hyman Brand. Kansas City has benefited from many other creative initiatives of Rabbi Rockoff, such as
the summer intern program, in which Yeshiva University students are placed in internships in the Kansas City area in professions ranging from medicine to marketing. While there, they also actively participate in the Jewish community (some of them even opt to return to live there). Rabbi Rockoff has launched or supported programs that include scholars in residence, a community kollel, NCSY, a “Day of Discovery” on local college campuses, “Schmooze at the Zoo” days and kosher barbecue competitions (not to be confused with Dallas’ much-celebrated annual kosher chili cook-off ). Once happily ensconced in out-oftown communities, new families often appreciate the greater sense of connectedness and tolerance. “In Springfield, you can have women who don’t cover their hair and wear pants who are close friends with a more Yeshivish-style neighbor,” Hoffer says. “In a small community, the advantage is that you become friends with people who aren’t exactly like you.” In a smaller community, each person counts in a way he might not count elsewhere—he’ll probably be needed to complete a minyan or serve on the shul hospitality committee. “After attending Camp Stone, my fifteen-year-old decided he wanted to start a Bnei Akiva chapter,” Zoller says. “He didn’t have any funding, but he got together with eight other kids and now they have forty members.” Rabbi Rockoff, paraphrasing Pirkei
MAKING CENTS OF IT ALL If, as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, suggested, people would commit 67 percent of their tzedakah funds to local institutions (day schools, shuls, mikvaot), our communities would be much more inclined to grow. Memphis and Dallas are examples of communities where leading philanthropic families have made dedicated commitments to invest their charity in their own communities. Their efforts continue to bear fruit—these cities boast a thriving Jewish infrastructure that exceeds the standards of other communities with even larger Jewish populations. Rabbi Weil
Avot, puts it eloquently: “In a place where there are no men, people will stand up and become men,” he says. Conversely, “In a place where there are too many men, some may stop being a man.” Of course, once a community begins to thrive, there’s the challenge to avoid becoming a victim of its own success. “We’ve grown so much in Springfield,” Hoffer says. “Now the challenge will be to retain our small-community character as we keep on expanding.” g Shaare Tefilla is a Modern Orthodox shul in Dallas with 200 families, most of whom have school-aged children. Photo: Bud Force
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wo resourceful rabbis discovered the winning recipe to creating a frum community from scratch. They identified regions where Jews were plentiful but Judaism was scarce, and employed the motto “Give them Torah and they will come.” It worked. South Jersey’s spiritual transformation began with a modern-day Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett who set out to teach Torah to Jews with little or no Jewish education. Within a short period of time, these adventurous rabbis—Rabbi Chaim Veshnefsky of the Jewish Learning Center of MonBayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.
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mouth County in New Jersey and Rabbi Yisroel Tzvi Serebrowski, director of Torah Links Center in Cherry Hill, New Jersey—succeeded in building inspired Orthodox communities from the ground up. Unlike Boone and Crockett, however, these pioneers have semichah.
Cherry Hill— A Community Changed About thirteen years ago, as part of Beth Medrash Govoha (BMG) of Lakewood’s outreach efforts, Rabbi Serebrowski began teaching in the east side of Cherry Hill. (The west side of Cherry Hill, eight miles away, enjoys a thriving Orthodox community as well. See page 34 in this issue.) He organized classes in people’s homes and at the local Jewish community center and public libraries—basically any place that would open its doors—and offered compelling presentations such as “If You Hated Sunday School, Then This
One’s for You.” He invited prominent guest lecturers and held Shabbatons in various homes. People came. “The best ambassador is a satisfied customer,” says Rabbi Serebrowski. “One host would lead to another.” As his following grew, so did the demand for a full-time community rabbi. “I was content living in Lakewood and traveling to Cherry Hill three or four times a week,” says Rabbi Serebrowski, who was part of a commuter kollel established by BMG. “I never thought we would have a shul or that I would wind up moving to Cherry Hill.” Since the 1970s, BMG has been sending young rabbinical students to establish kollels, with the goal of strengthening Jewish communities across the country. In the late 1990s, BMG began establishing “commuter kollels” in areas commutable from Lakewood. This arrangement worked well for Rabbi Serebrowski, until one of his students made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. “He told me, ‘Rabbi,
I’m all ready to keep Shabbos. The problem is, I have no infrastructure. I live in a place without a shul. If you start a minyan, I’ll never go back to work on Shabbos.’” Rabbi Serebrowski consulted with his mentor, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, BMG’s mashgiach, and Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, founder and rosh yeshivah of the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia. They both said, “You have no choice. You must move.” He did. Rabbi Serebrowski looked for a house in a centrally located area in Cherry Hill. He started a minyan in his basement, initially recruiting friends from Lakewood to ensure he would have ten men. People said, “Host a minyan Friday night only, or just Shabbos morning; don’t overdo it.” But his determination won out. “If I’m moving because of Shabbos, there is going to be a Shabbos. And there’s going to be every minyan, every week.” Rabbi Serebrowski still recalls his excitement the first time twenty people from the community showed up at the minyan. Then twenty people began showing up every Shabbat and he no longer had to make “minyan phone calls.” It had become a solid minyan.
Ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Max and Anna Krupnick Torah Links Center. Second from the right, in the front row, is Rabbi Yisroel Tzvi Serebrowski, founding rabbi and director, Torah Links of South Jersey. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Serebrowski
this amazing shul and don’t have enough room for people. It’s a great problem to have.” Genna Landa, forty-six, is a software developer and one of Rabbi Serebrowski’s “regulars” who faithfully showed up for davening and Torah classes from the outset. “Rabbi Serebrowski exudes warmth, and that’s what attracts people. He’s a scholar, a savvy businessman and a warm, caring mensch. [In terms of doing mitzvot,] he doesn’t say, ‘You should do this,’ but ‘this is what should “We have everything here that anyone could be done.’” possibly need—a self-contained community In 2010, the community purchased a where people can grow at all levels.” two-acre property, now referred to as the Torah Links Center, or Today, on a typical Shabbat, the shul at- TLC, which currently houses the shul, tracts between sixty-five to one hunHebrew school and adult learning and dred participants. social programs. TLC’s Hebrew Susan Lipson, fifty, grew up Jewschool has more than thirty students ishly unaffiliated in Cherry Hill. and is growing. In the past year, TLC’s Today, she’s an integral part of the programs have touched over 1,000 ingrowing Orthodox community in her dividuals with varying levels of relihometown, which—religiously speakgious observance. ing—barely resembles the town she Rabbi Serebrowski is now onto the knew as a child. “I feel absolutely part next generation of frum east Cherry of the community. I’ve met so many Hillers. Two young women from secupeople on so many different religious lar families who went on to study in levels; and we all get along. We have seminary in Israel ended up returning
to live in Cherry Hill and joined Rabbi Serebrowski’s growing team of Jewish educators. The community is in the process of installing an eruv, which is due to be completed by December 2013. “I see it as a tremendous catalyst for frum families from outside the area to move in,” says Rabbi Serebrowski, who was also instrumental in getting the local ShopRite to open a “kosher experience” section. “I want to create a situation that when a family becomes frum, they don’t have to leave for a more established Orthodox community,” says Rabbi Serebrowski. “We have everything here that anyone could possibly need—a self-contained community where people can grow at all levels.”
Manalapan: On the Map Fifteen years ago, Rabbi Veshnefsky began teaching an adult Jewish education course in Manalapan, New Jersey. The response was positive, so he launched a lunch-hour discussion group on Thursdays and a Monday evening program. Attendance grew, as did requests for more classes. Over time, Rabbi Veshnefsky’s popular shiurim evolved into what is today known as the Jewish Learning Center of Monmouth County (JLC), a new modern
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shul on six acres of land that offers an array of programs including adult classes, lectures, a Hebrew school and community social events. Rabbi Veshnefsky also opened the Bais Yaakov of Western Monmouth County and has plans to open a yeshivah ketanah for boys. In addition, the JLC community recently brought in a kollel to further strengthen the kehillah, which now boasts nearly forty families. “We have a diverse group—some who learned in yeshivos and ba’alei teshuvah who didn’t; they’re all here to grow in Torah,” says Rabbi Veshnefsky. In 2008, the community, located a mere twenty miles from Lakewood, erected the first eruv in western Monmouth County. “In order to build a strong community, a shul rabbi must be a good shepherd,” says Rabbi Veshnefsky. “He must take care of people, be attentive to their needs. It’s also essential to teach authentic Torah, not ‘fluff.’ A rabbi could be charismatic and entertaining, but ultimately, entertainment only serves to grease the wheels, to make the engine run smoothly; the engine is the Torah.” Of course home-cooked Shabbat meals don’t hurt either. Rabbi Veshnefsky extols his wife’s devotion to feeding hundreds of Shabbat guests, referring to it as her “pro-bono catering business.” Hoping to motivate families to relocate to the area, Rabbi Veshnefsky, together with representatives from JLC’s new eight-member kollel, attended the OU’s Emerging Communities Fair. As a result, for several consecutive Shabba-
tot after the fair, the community hosted numerous families checking out Manalapan, considering the possibility of settling there. “We always knew we wanted to raise our family in a small, growing community,” says Tzipporah Daneshrad, twenty-seven, who discovered Manalapan at the 2011 OU Emerging Communities Fair. She and her husband had taken pilot trips outside the tri-state area and realized they would prefer to live closer to family. “We thought we would have to move across the country when [the ideal community] was actually in our own backyard,” she says. “Manalapan is a warm, welcoming community, where you can buy a beautiful home with land and actually get your money’s worth. My husband found his makom Torah here. He’s learning more than he ever did; he made three siyums in the past two years and he works full time. It’s been the best decision ever.” She’s particularly impressed by the community’s eagerness to grow religiously. “There is one woman who just began covering her hair; we saw that transition happen,” says Daneshrad. “There may be diverse religious levels, but everyone is growing; this is not a community where people consider themselves finished products.” Frum-from-birth families continue to join the Manalapan mix. “My father read about the community in a Jewish paper,” says Yossi Stamler, thirty-five, a financial consultant who grew up in Brooklyn and moved with his wife to her hometown of Chicago. They de-
THE MAZAL FACTOR Growing a community requires Hashem’s blessing. I have seen many communities grow despite making huge mistakes and others hobble along, even though they are doing everything correctly. Stephen J. Savitsky OU chairman of the board
cided to move back East, looking for a community in the tri-state area with an out-of-town feel. They tried Manalapan. “Rabbi Veshnefsky got me excited about learning and now I can’t get enough,” says Stamler. He was also taken by the community’s extraordinary warmth. “At first I thought, what’s the catch? But then I realized they genuinely want to do for others. Our first Shabbos here, we were walking home from shul and it started pouring. A member of the community walking with us ran to his home and returned with raingear for everyone. I miss nothing about the city.” Both Rabbi Serebrowski and Rabbi Veshnefsky are enjoying the fruits of their labor. What began as small groups of Torah classes have blossomed into full-blown mainstream frum communities. Recently, while giving a warm mazal tov to new grandparents at a shul kiddush, Rabbi Serebrowski looked around him and marveled at the sight—the room was teeming with young children. “There weren’t nearly enough highchairs to go around.” g
A scenic view of Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Serebrowski
The Jewish Learning Center of Monmouth County in New Jersey. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Veshnefsky
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In-Town Community with an Out-of-Town Feel
B Y B AY L A S H E VA B R E N N E R
ho says you can’t live the out-oftown life without moving from the New York metropolitan area? What if you could actually afford your dream home and your children’s tuition and live in an established frum community that is a mere hour-and-ahalf from Manhattan? Apparently, you can. “I don’t know how much longer we are going to remain the best-kept secret on the East Coast,” says Daniel Drabkin, thirty-six, president of the Young Israel of Cherry Hill. According to Drabkin, on Cherry Hill’s west side, one can buy a beautiful four-bedroom home for $200,000, easily commute to a job in the five boroughs, Philadelphia or Baltimore and come Bayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.
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home to a community where everyone knows your name. Seemingly, the secret is getting out. Over the past decade, more and more young families have been moving to the west side of Cherry Hill. (See article on Cherry Hill’s east side on page 30 in this issue.) “I like living in a small community; it’s friendly and so much easier to get around,” says Rachel Pichette, thirty, who moved from the Philadelphia area in order to afford to buy a home. “Congregation Sons of Israel, which also houses the day school and mikvah, is just a few blocks away.” She also stresses the value of feeling like an integral part of the community. “We felt included right away,” says Pichette, whose husband is gabbai of the shul. “They kept putting us on different committees; we feel very important here.” Rabbi Ephraim Epstein, senior rabbi of Congregation Sons of Israel, a Modern Orthodox shul, concurs. “In the average large community, you don’t even know who is involved with the mikvah, eruv or chevra kadisha,” he
says. “In smaller communities, those are the people sitting in the same row as you in shul. The geographical advantage, the affordability and the . . . [ability] to make a difference—that just might be the recipe that makes the community so attractive. [By moving here,] one is moving to a place that’s looking for people to roll up their sleeves and share their talents and help grow Torah.” He reports that over sixty families have moved to the west side of Cherry Hill over the past ten years. Cherry Hillers on the west side also pride themselves on their diversity. Transplants come from across the American and religious map—from Teaneck, Brooklyn, Baltimore, Texas and Los Angeles. “We have ‘black hatters,’ Conservadox, those who are frum-from-birth and ba’alei teshuvah,” says Alise Panitch, an attorney living on Cherry Hill’s west side for over two decades. “It’s a place where everyone feels comfortable, welcomed and encouraged to grow and to become part of the community. We absolutely love it here.”
RABBINIC VISION Congregation Sons of Israel, a Modern Orthodox shul on Cherry Hill’s West Side.
Panitch helped establish the community’s Orthodox base. In the 1990s, the area’s Orthodox residents were mostly students training at the numerous medical schools in the area (local medical schools include Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Penn State College of Medicine and Jefferson Medical College, among others), as well as in other professional fields. With the aim of turning these transient members into long-term residents, she chaired the capital campaign to expand Politz Day School of Cherry Hill, the community’s local Modern Orthodox school. “One of the critical issues was education,” she says. “The Jewish day school only went up to third grade; the young couples weren’t buying homes and staying.” As hoped, the expansion triggered a turning point in the community’s growth. The school now boasts 160 students, and the number is steadily rising. Other schools in the area include Politz Hebrew Academy in Philadelphia and Foxman Torah Institute, a high school for boys, in Cherry Hill. As the frum population increases, so too does its need for adult education. “To me, more classes means more growth,” says Vivien Richmond, an enthusiastic participant in the shiurim offered by the Cherry Hill Community Kollel. And sometimes, east meets west. Rabbi Epstein and Rabbi Yisroel Tzvi Serebrowski of the east side of Cherry Hill are both part of the area’s vaad harabbanim. “We all get along beautifully,” says Rabbi Serebrowski. “There is absolutely no politics. We
sit across the table to discuss the communities’ common concerns—as rabbanim and chaveirim.”
Blame it on the OU So how are people finding out about this formerly well-kept secret? Panitch considers the OU Emerging Communities Fair the “strongest vehicle” for getting the word out about Cherry Hill’s west side. “It’s proven to be an exceptional way to connect with families looking to move,” she says. “There are some who attended and moved in within two months.” Aaron Spector, who has been in the community for eight years, brought members of Congregation Sons of Israel’s softball team to the fair. His wife, Sabrina, boasts about the advantages of living in the community. “My friends in North Jersey could buy two houses in
The most important element in community building is the strength, leadership and vision of the rabbi and rebbetzin. They must be committed to staying in their community and truly building it. I have met rabbis who are looking for their next job before they even start their present one. The community knows it and it doesn’t bode well for morale. The rabbi has to be the biggest advocate of his community. He must be indefatigable in building the community; he has to make the shul interesting, innovative, accommodating, a happening place and, at the same time, offer authentic spiritual fulfillment and meaning. The rabbi and rebbetzin must believe that their community has a real future. If they don’t really believe it, no one else will either. Stephen J. Savitsky
Cherry Hill for what they paid for one,” she says. “And our school tuition is one of the lowest in the area. [Because it’s a small community,] the kids get the oneon-one attention they need at school.” Ironically, the more the community sings of its small-town benefits, the larger it grows. Will it ever lose its outof-town feel? Drabkin says, “When we become the size of Brooklyn, I’ll worry about it. Until then, I think we’re good.” g
Politz Day School of Cherry Hill is the community’s Modern Orthodox school. Photos courtesy of Alise Panitch
Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 35
Bais Yaa k
Photos co ov of Detroit urtesy o f Shalom except w Photogra hen indic phy, ated oth erwise
ng of the You n iel Morris re Rabbi Yech field with his child th u o nd. u S f ro o g l y e Isra shul pla w e n e th f in front o bi Morris esy of Rab rt u co to o Ph
B Y B AY L A S H E VA B R E N N E R
ou would never know Detroit went bankrupt by the looks of two thriving frum communities close to the city. Oak Park and Southfield keep drawing scores of frum families to the area—and it seems like there’s no letting up. “For us, the depressed economy is actually a blessing; it keeps the cost of living low,” says Rabbi Tzali Freedman of Oak Park, regional director, Central East NCSY. “You could own a beautiful home in a great neighborhood for $150,000. For $350,000, you can get an amazing home.” And what about parnassah? He jokes, “The cost of living is so low in our area, you don’t have to work.” Bayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department. 36
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Micha Zwick, forty-two, a native Detroiter who owns a private investigation agency, sees a “landscape” of employment opportunities in the area. “There are job possibilities, especially for entrepreneurs,” he says. “For those who want to get into real estate, it’s a great market. The metro Detroit area has always had one of the cheapest real estate markets [for a large city] in the country. It became even cheaper with the recession. “When you turn on the TV, all you see are decrepit homes and neighborhoods [in Detroit],” says Zwick. “[Young couples] come here and are pleased to find well-maintained homes, freshly mowed lawns and friendly faces.” Frum Detroiters are actually optimistic in the face of the depressed financial environment. “There’s a ‘can-do’ spirit among the business community here,” Zwick reports. “Business owners are very confident about their future and the future of the
area, and they are willing to invest in that. We may have hit rock bottom, but we’re coming back.” Aside from the low cost of living, the area offers formerly frazzled city dwellers the solace of wide-open spaces and a slower pace of life. “I love that on Sundays, vacation days and Chol Hamoed you could go places without having to factor in four hours [in bumper-to-bumper traffic] for traveling,” says Shira Yechieli, twenty-nine, originally from Queens, New York. “If something is twenty minutes away, it’s really twenty minutes away.” Recent residents are finding that the warmth of a close-knit community more than makes up for the Midwest’s brutally cold winters. “The moment we moved here, all of our neighbors came by to say hello, bringing cakes and cookies,” says Yechieli. For several Shabbatot after, she and her family were invited out for meals. “I felt like a celebrity,” says Yechieli.
GROWTH FROM WITHIN sizes the area’s strong Orthodox inframoved here, the [number of ] classes structure and relatively inexpensive have increased,” says Yechieli. “Each day school tuition—around $8,500 for grade added an additional class this elementary school. school year.” To accommodate its Over the past few years, dozens of growing student body, the school is in young families have moved to Souththe process of building a new high field, says Ariella Shaffren, twentyschool and preschool. seven, a former Teaneck resiStephen J. Savitsky dent who moved to the neighborhood “Whenever my family comes to just over a year visit, they’re amazed that you could ago. “We’re all stop at a four-way stop sign and people in the same actually let you go if you are the first boat; we’re one there,” she says. “They’re not going young, we’re to just mow you down. Okay, you can’t moving to a get sushi at two in the morning or ten new commuat night, and we have only one pizza nity with no exshop, but these things become much tended family, less of a focus. There’s a simplicity in Ariella and Dani Shaffren moved to Southfield in 2012 and but we really bought a seven-bedroom home for under $100,000. The couple day-to-day life here.” feel a part of is pictured here with their two-and-a-half-year-old son, Koby. Detroit’s newcomers, some of things,” says Photo courtesy of the Shaffrens whom were accustomed to having a vaShaffren, who riety of day schools and shuls, discovserves as Young Israel ered that out-of-town doesn’t of Southfield’s sisterhood president. To prove the shul is serious about necessarily mean out of options. The “People have really taken us in.” building the community, Young Israel Oak Park/Southfield communities As the population expands, so do of Southfield offers families considerboast a number of day schools, three the schools. Yeshivas Darchei Torah in ing moving to town a $7,500 five-year kollels and a myriad of synagogues Southfield, which runs from preinterest-free loan toward purchasing serving approximately 1,000 families. a home or making renovations. school to twelfth grade, went from a “We’ve got a great product here in “We want to show people that we student population of 330 in 2008 to Southfield,” says Rabbi Yechiel Morris, want them to be here,” says Rabbi 373 in 2013. rabbi of the Young Israel of Southfield Morris, who sent representatives “My kids are in preschool in for the past eleven years. He emphato the most recent OU Emerging Yeshiva Beth Yehudah; since we Communities Fair. Confident that the community will continue to grow, the shul recently added another youth room, a majestic beit midrash and an outdoor deck and playground. “We got together and said, ‘we can make this happen,’” says Rabbi Morris. A significant number of frum students move to the Detroit area to attend college at nearby University of Michigan, Wayne State University, Oakland University or Michigan State University; upon graduation, instead of heading back East, many decide to settle in Detroit. “You make connections, relationships with the rav, the shul and the Torah center,” says Gabi Ahavas Olam outgrew its current shul space and plans Grossbard, forty, president of Ahavas to move to a new building in the spring of 2014. Olam Weingarden Torah Center of Shuls and communities must grow organically; in other words, the local Orthodox population must consistently reach out to the unaffiliated as well as to Reform and Conservative Jews. Kiruv is a core component in growing an Orthodox community.
Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 37
The International Jewish Resource Center for Inclusion and Special Education Proudly announces
Professional Development Conference
“Creating a Positive School Environment for Diverse Learners.” Sunday, February 9, 12:00 pm - 9:00 pm Monday, February 10, 8:00 am - 5:30 pm Congregation Keter Torah, 600 Roemer Avenue, Teaneck, NJ
Dr. Howard Muscott
Featured Speakers: Rabbi Yaakov Aichenbaum, Dr. Joel Dickstein, Dr. Karen Gazith, Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman For further information, pricing, and registration, please contact Batya Jacob at 212.613.8127, 551-404-4447 or firstname.lastname@example.org Hotel accommodations available for an additional fee upon request. Shuttle from airport (EWR) and to conference venue will be available THE INTERNATIONAL JEWISH RESOURCE CENTER FOR INCLUSION AND SPECIAL EDUCATION IS AFFILIATED WITH YACHAD / THE NATIONAL JEWISH COUNCIL FOR DISABILITIES (NJCD), AN AGENCY OF THE ORTHODOX UNION.
nual end-of-summer barbecue for the newcomers in town as well as for key people “they should meet,” such as school principals and faculty. This year forty-five couples attended, some of whom moved from Lakewood, New York and even Israel. “Everyone was so thankful for the opportunity to meet others in the community and learn about all the resources,” says Milworn. “It’s so unassuming here. There’s no ‘keeping up with the Joneses’; the wealthy live next door to the far less affluent. It’s a great place to raise kids.” All this, and there’s Torah learning too. “It’s so impressive how the Oak Park community wants to grow spiritually together,” says Erin Stiebel, twenty-seven, who runs the NCSY GIVE Israel summer trip, a five-week chesed program for high school girls. The Stiebels moved to the area in 2012 from Silver Spring, Maryland. “There’s Torah learning everywhere—shiurim, women’s programming, community events. Everyone is so invested in the community’s growth.” The investment seems to be more than paying off. “Recently, one Friday night we had two shalom zachors,” says Rabbi Morris. “There were years in the past that there weren’t any shalom zachors. Now we’ve got one almost every month. I think we’re creating a model for communities around the country; just bring in a core group, a base of young families and they’ll attract their friends. Detroit is a hidden gem.” g
Oak Park. “The next thing you know, you feel like a valuable part of the community. People aren’t in a rush to run back to New York where you’re just another person.” (The Ahavas Olam community outgrew its current space and plans to move to a new building in the spring of 2014.) “It’s not easy getting lost in our community,” Rabbi Michael Cohen, rav of the Young Israel of Oak Park, says. “It’s large, but small enough that people know each other. People like the fact that they see the principal and teachers of their children’s school every Shabbos in shul.” “They end up staying because they love it,” says Henna Milworn, a native Detroiter who has been hosting an anKosher stores in the heart of Detroit’s frum community.
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A C O M M U N I T Y, A FA M I LY hen God first created the human being, He placed him in the Garden of Eden “to work it and to guard it,” commanded him concerning the fruits and trees of the garden and then declared that “It is not good for the human being to be alone” (Genesis 2:15-18). These verses teach me that every human being requires a purpose or a function, that he must perform that purpose in accordance with certain rules and values and that he cannot accomplish this alone, without a partner or partners. In Freudian terms, the test of the functioning human being is his ability to work and to love, to have a purpose for his being and to enter into responsible relationships of concern and commitment to others. And so God created a family whose task would be to develop the garden, to procreate so that the task could be continued into the future and to perform that task in accordance with a set of rules and ideals. And this first family consisted of man, woman and God. A community is a family writ large. A Jewish community consists of a group of families dedicated to working together to create a meaningful society, a fragrant and productive garden, united by bonds of love and commitment to God’s dictates. From this perspective, a Jewish community must be a prayer community
which links its membership to God; a Torah learning community which enables it to understand what God wants of it and a chesed community which links its members together with bonds of concern for each other’s welfare and joint participation in each other’s joys and sorrows. Hence the first community I was instrumental in creating, the Lincoln Square Synagogue community, was based on regular meaningful and attractive communal prayer services, communal celebrations of the Sabbath and festivals, regular Torah classes which attempted to teach what God requires of us in our daily lives and an ethos of mutual concern: each member must have a place to eat Shabbat and festival meals and each member’s moments of joy and sorrow are to be shared by all other members of the community. Each member was expected to be involved in chesed, such as adopting an elderly person. We actively got involved in the then-burgeoning Soviet Jewry movement, and these activities were an important sparkplug in developing our synagogue community. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Founding chief rabbi of Efrat, founding rabbi of Lincoln Square Synagogue
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Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 39
Despite the extensive damage to their own homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Oceanside community members stepped up and raised $800,000 to rebuild their shul. Seen below, the newly renovated Young Israel of Oceanside. Photos courtesy of David Welner
In the Aftermath of Sandy
urricane Sandy left the Oceanside, New York community, on the southern shore of Long Island, with many of its homes devastated and its shul in shambles. This past Rosh Hashanah, the 200-member Young Israel of Oceanside (YIO) witnessed a more powerful flood—one of gratitude. This one, they welcomed. Ten months after the storm, members of the kehillah stood before their renovated aron kodesh, bursting with emotion; they felt the awe of the day and a profound appreciation for what they managed to accomplish together— Bayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.
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B Y B AY L A S H E VA B R E N N E R rebuilding a community with faith, determination and achdut. “When crisis hits, people in the community step up,” says Rabbi Jonathan Muskat, rabbi of YIO for the past nine years. Shul members, many of whom experienced extensive damage to their homes and endured no heat or power for weeks, had their own dire situations to deal with. Nonetheless, says Rabbi Muskat, they reached out to others and helped raise funds to rebuild the mikvah as well as the shul. “I found the sanctuary totally demolished,” says David Welner, former shul president and thirty-five-year resident of Oceanside. Located a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean, the shul was flooded with corrosive salt water. “The aron kodesh had overturned and was floating in over five feet of water; the three Torah scrolls inside were destroyed. Bookshelves
collapsed, dumping thousands of sefarim into the water.” Community leaders met to determine what needed to be done to get the shul up and running. Fundraising topped the list. “We had to rebuild and we had to do it quickly,” says Herb Wallenstein, vice president of the shul and a forty-year resident of Oceanside. “It brought everybody together.” Community members readily pitched in to make fundraising calls. A young woman who grew up in the community but had since moved enlisted the help of her friends via Facebook and Twitter, raising tens of thousands of dollars. In total, the community raised $800,000. Since so many in the affected areas were also desperately “picking up the pieces,” sheetrock, lumber and contractors were not easy to come by. Fortunately, Welner, who works in real
estate, has a solid background in construction and played a leading role in rebuilding the shul. Miriam Nathan, an interior decorator and longtime member of the shul, donated her time and talents to the project as well. For ten months straight, Welner supervised and coordinated the project, leaving his real estate business mostly in the hands of his staff. Despite the fact that the shul was undergoing construction, adult education classes, youth events and bar mitzvot went on as usual. “We worked around it,” says Wallenstein. “Thanks to the dedicated efforts of the leadership and the patience of the shul members.” Rabbi Muskat and his community also went to work rebuilding members’ lives. “People needed financial, emotional and spiritual support,” says Wallenstein. “The rabbi was involved with everything. He didn’t take a back seat. He reached out for financial help and assisted those who needed encouragement. Everyone was there for each other. They saw that when the chips are down, they could count on their fellow congregant and neighbor.”
Oceanside-Bound Young Couples Interestingly, about five years prior to Hurricane Sandy, the shul launched an all-out growth initiative to encourage families to move to Oceanside, offering a generous incentive of a $20,000 in-
Located a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean, the Young Israel of Oceanside was flooded with corrosive salt water. Bookshelves collapsed, dumping thousands of sefarim into the water.
terest-free home loan. The overture included active assistance through the entire home-purchasing process. It worked. Fifty young families relocated to the community over the past three to four years, and only a handful actually took the loan offer. “They advertised a friendly, welcoming place and delivered,” says Rabbi Ari Rockoff, whose in-laws live in the area. “You can’t just wave money [the financial incentive]. It may get people’s attention, but what keeps them is that they had the community facilitating it all for them. They’ll help you buy a home, negotiate the mortgage rate, assist with the closing and renovate and design the home. The money was only a hook. It was the awareness of Oceanside being an attractive, welcoming community that interested them. People feel that what they were sold is what they got.”
The aron kodesh had overturned and was floating in over five feet of water; the three Torah scrolls inside were destroyed.
The community’s cohesiveness throughout the calamity strengthened the loyalty of its new members. “We were worried that the families who had just moved in would say, ‘This is what I moved to?’” says Wallenstein. “There is no one in the Orthodox community [in Oceanside] who is putting his home up for sale. [People] were actually appreciative of having moved here.” Despite the hurricane and its challenging aftermath, families continue to move in. Two young couples recently bought homes and one is currently in contract. Standing beneath a skylight illuminating a mural of Yerushalayim, the members of YIVO came to Rosh Hashanah services feeling spiritually renewed. “We have emerged even stronger,” says Rabbi Muskat. “The davening was uplifted by the fact that we returned to our shul, a structure more magnificent than ever.” The dedicated architect of the shul, soon to celebrate its sixtieth anniversary, agrees. “It was extremely emotional,” says Welner, “to be back in a place we all love so dearly. The Jerusalem stone looked so real, you wanted to go and put a kvittel in it.” When asked what his kvittel would read, he responds, “I would ask Hashem to watch over these new families moving in—the future of Oceanside—that they will be able to rejoice in the shul’s 120th anniversary.” g
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BY RACHEL WIZENFELD
Community Day Schools:
Are They an Option? The pros and cons of sending frum kids to diverse community day schools While more and more Torah day schools are sprouting across the country, many families in smaller Jewish locales are sending their children to community schools with a student body from diverse religious backgrounds. Such an experience can be spiritually enriching— or challenging and even confusing. In the following article, parents, students and teachers talk about such a decision and the unique challenges and opportunities it presents.
Students at The Silver Academy in Harrisburg, PA, showing their support for Israel.
ariashi Groner, director of the Charlotte Jewish Day School in North Carolina, recalls many years ago how her daughter’s fifth-grade teacher approached her with concern. “Shaina’s always swinging on the swings by herself,” the teacher said, worried that someone had hurt her feelings. So Groner asked her daughter why she wasn’t playing with her classmates. Her daughter replied, “They’re all just chasing the boys. Do you want me to be chasing boys too?” That was a perfect example, says Groner, who directed the school first as a Chabad community school and now as a nondenominational community day
school, of how her daughter knew when to step back. All of her kids who have continued on to Orthodox middle schools and high schools and turned out “more than fine” knew when it was time to step back and when they could join in with their classmates. Many parents in small Jewish communities, whether they live there for work, outreach or Jewish education, have faced the question of how to socially integrate their kids into community day schools while making sure they stick to their Orthodox value system. Most agree that it depends on both the school environment and the child him or herself. Rabbi Moshe Yosef Gewirtz, a Judaic studies teacher at The Silver Academy in Harrisburg, Pennsyl-
Rachel Wizenfeld is a frequent contributor to many Jewish publications. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.
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vania, where about 70 percent of the students come from unaffiliated, Reform or Conservative homes, says it’s critical that children have at least one like-minded friend. In his experience—he’s currently sending his eighth child through the school—it doesn’t matter if the frum friend is a year older or a year younger, but they need someone to play with on Shabbat. For girls, it’s important they have at least one religious friend so they are not the only ones always wearing skirts. While one of his daughters managed despite not having a close frum best friend—even becoming the star basketball player in a long skirt—he has seen other kids in that situation struggle and need more support, or slightly relax their standards. “You have to know your kids,” he says. Rabbi Shimmy Trencher, a social worker who sends his children to the Sigel Hebrew Academy of Greater Hartford and serves as dean of students at Hebrew High School of New England (HHNE), both of which are Modern Orthodox schools but draw students from across the spectrum (“from atheist to Orthodox,” he says), echoes that sentiment. “The most relevant questions parents have to ask are: ‘To whom does my child gravitate? Whom is my child going to be friends with?’ Because for teens especially, friends play a significant role. And parents need to ask, ‘How strong is my child in terms of his or her own commitment and values?’” Rabbi Trencher, who also served as assistant director of New England NCSY for several years, gave an example of a young lady who came to HHNE as an extremely committed Lubavitcher. Not only was her
Where can I get
Family Counseling Services?
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Always on Call Live Help Online 1800-603-OHEL www.ohelfamily.org Confidential Response email@example.com Students at The Silver Academy working in the science lab. Photos courtesy of The Silver Academy
Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 43
Parents need to ask,“How strong
is my child in terms of his or her own
commitment and values?” own commitment strengthened by her school experience, but she inspired many other students and went on to attend a top Lubavitch seminary. According to Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK, the Jewish Community Day School Network, there are 130 community day schools, also known as nondenominational or pluralistic schools, in North America, each with its own unique blend of religious affiliations and influences. Some, like Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Kansas City, Charlotte Hebrew Day School in North Carolina, The Silver Academy in Harrisburg and Levey Day School in Portland, Maine, have several Orthodox families as part of the school and try very hard to accommodate Orthodox practice to make those students feel comfortable, whether by using an ArtScroll siddur during davening or by providing a kosher sukkah. Other schools have a less traditional bent and an Orthodox family might feel less comfortable there.
Common Conflicts “For a typical Orthodox kid who can’t go to birthday parties and has to keep kosher [when his classmates do not], that is difficult, and I don’t think I would put kids through that,” says Groner. But Groner, who is Lubavitch, says that it can be different for Chabad families on shlichus. “Yes, they’re the only ones with tzitzis and a kippah, but they understand that they’re there for a purpose.” Some parents may be concerned about their kids straying from the path when surrounded by students of different religious levels, but Rabbi Trencher believes those risks exist in any type of school environment, including more homogeneous Orthodox schools. However, he does find that the attraction of other types of lifestyles is more present and in public view when attending a community-type school, especially when the kids are very young. Daniel Berman, a twenty-one-year-old studying in a yeshivah in Israel who attended Oakland Hebrew Day School (OHDS) in Northern California, expresses how being in a religiously mixed classroom was confusing for him as a young child. [Full disclosure: Daniel is the writer’s younger brother.] He says that he would see his friends without kippahs outside of school, and while he looked at them as if they were doing something wrong, they didn’t act like anything was wrong.
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In addition, conversations like the following only confused him: “Why can he eat it and I can’t? Is he being bad by eating it?” “No, he’s not being bad . . . ” “So why can’t I eat it?” “Because we don’t.” “It’s very hard to explain to a child that you have to be religious because it’s the right thing to do, yet these people who are not religious and are not doing the right thing are good people,” Berman says. “This made me have a bit of a negative feeling toward [aspects of Judasim,] specifically Shabbos and kashrus, because my friends were allowed to play Gameboy [on Shabbos] and eat Skittles and [at] Chuck E. Cheese.” Overall, though, Berman thinks there were some benefits to attending such a school: “Nonreligious people weren’t foreign to me. Some people growing up in [very insular] communities have difficulty interacting with those from other backgrounds. I think in that sense it helped.” To strengthen his kids and ward off some of the more negative reactions that Berman describes, Rabbi Trencher says he holds frequent conversations with his children about their values and challenges that arise in school, and also makes sure to send his kids to strong Jewish programs during the summer where they will be positively influenced. Similarly, Rabbi Gewirtz says that he sent most of his kids to Orthodox sleepaway camps so they wouldn’t have to be in the minority all the time. One benefit Rabbi Trencher sees in community schools is an added emphasis on middot. “With families that don’t necessarily value halachah as I do, why are their children in a Jewish school? Because they want their kids to be Jewishly knowledgeable and inculcated with Jewish values . . . it’s all about middos—that’s the predominant Jewish value, not halachah.” As for the quality of Jewish education in community schools, Rabbi Trencher, who attended a Jewish high school in New York, says that when comparing his high school education to that of his children, his was “more rigorous in many ways.” But the educational benefit of these community schools is that there is a lot more room for asking questions and for discussion. “They may learn less halachah, but they are engaged in a process of understanding their Judaism and how it affects
their lives in a way that certainly was not a part of what I had in a more homogeneous environment.” Rabbi Gewirtz claims that in his school, the only areas in Judaic studies which need supplementing are Mishnah and Gemara. He has found that girls who graduate are sufficiently prepared for yeshivah and Modern Orthodox high schools, but boys often come to yeshivah high schools somewhat behind in their Gemara skills. Often it takes them a year or two to catch up. To compensate, he studies with a few boys on the side, sometimes in an after-school club, and he says that although these boys do have a period of adjustment when attending a typical yeshivah high school, it is not a serious obstacle. “We don’t have a strong curriculum because it’s not the same hours [as a typical yeshivah]—our day ends at 3:35,” he says.
The Benefits of Diversity For some parents, a community school is even more attractive than a typical Torah day school because of the increased religious diversity, as well as the oftentimes stronger secular education. Javid Noorollah, a chiropractor in Kansas City, moved with his family from San Diego to Kansas so his wife could attend medical school there. His wife had grown up in Kansas City and attended the local community day school, Hyman Brand. While both grew up Conservative, today they identify as Modern Orthodox and thus were pleased to learn about Hyman Brand’s newly operating Matmidim Program, a special Judaic studies track for observant children. For the Noorollahs, the school is ideal because the Orthodox track offers their daughter, currently in kindergarten, a strong social network of Orthodox kids and helps avoid situations where she would feel left out. At the same time, being in a school with Conservative, Reform and even unaffiliated students means they feel more comfortable with the level of secular studies, as well as the exposure their daughter will receive to different types of Jews, which the Noorollahs believe will teach students to learn to love all Jews and not be too insular. “It really helps for building ahavas Yisrael and tolerance for other Jews,” agrees Rabbi Gewirtz. “You might not agree with everything that they’re doing and know they’re not doing everything according to halachah, but they’re Jews, and in many ways may be finer than you.” The exposure to religious kids and families can be transformative for secular students as well. For Chana Raiskin, a now-Orthodox newlywed who grew up Conservative and attended South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in Sunnyvale, California—a Modern Orthodox school where the vast majority of students in the 90s came from secular or traditional families (today the demographics are different)—going to the school gave her significant Jewish exposure and roots so that later, in high school and college, she was more easily drawn toward becoming observant. “I had a strong association with being Jewish and I’m sure that the school helped with that identification,” says
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Raiskin, who’s spending her first year of marriage studying in Israel. Similarly, Chanokh Berenson, a recent graduate of Yeshiva University who attended HHNE, gives credit to his school for introducing Jewish learning and practice to him in a nonjudgmental way, allowing him to take on observance slowly and at his own pace. “Nothing was ever forced on me; no teacher ever said, ‘You have to do this.’ Everything I did was my choice,” he says. “When I first started wearing tzitztis, my friend said, ‘Oh, are you getting extra credit for that?’ and I replied, ‘in Shamayim.’ Only I probably didn’t know what Shamayim was back then, so maybe I said something else.” Groner recalls that when she took her son, now twentythree, to the arcade when he was ten years old and he was about to redeem his tickets at the counter which featured toys and candy, his ten-year-old friend, who was nonobservant, came running across the room, shouting, “He can’t have that and he can’t have that—he keeps kosher!” “These are the things that warm my heart,” says Groner. Rabbi Elie Tuchman, who previously served as head of school at OHDS for seven years (he’s currently the head of
school at Yeshiva at the Jersey Shore), agrees that diversity has tremendous benefits. “It teaches you to appreciate the other,” he says. However, he draws a clear line between true community day schools, in which the administration, faculty, board and student body draw from varied and pluralistic Jewish affiliations, to schools like OHDS, which are Modern Orthodox schools with a diverse student base. “If you sign up for this school [OHDS], that means you’re going to have kosher food at birthday parties, you’re not going to have birthday parties on Shabbat or Friday night, and that’s really a huge deal . . . . Obviously everything is a question of degree, but when it’s within the Orthodox framework, there are tremendous benefits [to diversity]. And while there are risks, they’re not as significant.” Whether you anticipate sending your kids to a community or community-type school or you already do, you should know yourself, know your child and know the school. Weighing all the factors will help you make the right decision for that most important thing—your child’s Jewish future. g
Cutting Costs in Kansas City—The Hyman Brand Model
Most small and midsize Jewish yman Brand, communities have a hard time in Kansas City, is the first supporting multiple day schools, community he asserts, even with a supportive day school to federation and community assissuccessfully integrate a fully tance. Rabbi Isaacs hopes that Orthodox track, according to communities that don’t yet have Rabbi Judah Isaacs, director an Orthodox school as well as of the OU Department of communities with a struggling OrCommunity Engagement. thodox school and a struggling Other schools have tried it in community school will seriously the past, but it has never consider a merger like Hyman taken off. Hyman Brand’s Brand to ease the community’s fiMatmidim Program, which nancial burden. has Torah-observant educaA community school can be tors, allows Orthodox stumore successful in recruiting kids A student at Hyman Brand Hebrew dents to learn Judaic studies across the spectrum because Academy in Kansas City taking a bite at a level that is on par with there’s a stigma against Orthodox out of her matzah project. Torah day schools from schools, even those that are open around the country. The Matto the community, says Rabbi midim students then join the Isaacs. Ironically, since the Matrest of the school for secular studies, lunchtime, recess midim Program opened at Hyman Brand, a large number and extracurricular activities. of Reform families joined the school. According to Rabbi While Rabbi Isaacs believes the benefits of such a Daniel Rockoff, rabbi of the local Orthodox shul and the merger are plentiful, including tremendous kiruv opporreligious advisor for the Matmidim Program, the school tunities, the real reason to pursue this arrangement is fihad a reputation for being too traditional; once the Ornancial efficiency. thodox kids were tucked away into their own program,
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Students working diligently at Hyman Brand. Photos courtesy of Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy
Reform families felt more comfortable enrolling their children—which ultimately helped lead to a more financially sustainable school. Besides the logistical challenges of operating such a program, Rabbi Rockoff says he wants to make sure that within the school, administration, board and community, they’re addressing issues without people feeling threatened, but rather recognizing that this operation is for everyone’s greater good. He adds, “Obviously in New York or Los Angeles, the ideal is to have separate schools. But when you go to communities with smaller Jewish populations, there’s a combination of ideal and reality, and sometimes the reality becomes the ideal . . . we try to collaborate when we can.” Such an arrangement highlights community day schools at their best, according to Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK, the Jewish Community Day School Network. “A community day school is supposed to reflect the community . . . with the addition of certain teachers and classes, it amplifies the school experience for everyone and adds high notes of diversity.” He adds that the diversity helps kids live with tension and feel good about it. “It helps them understand gray from black and white.” The merger at Hyman Brand worked, according to Kramer, partly because the Jewish community in Kansas City is relatively small, which tends to lead to a greater sense of community and more cooperation. “The sheer desire to make it possible is a huge drive,” he says. “This is why it’s successful. The leadership has tremendous respect for other people’s opinions and perspectives.” Rabbi Isaacs says that while this couldn’t be the model everywhere, he could think of more than a dozen communities that could benefit from a Hyman Brandtype merger, including Austin, Texas, which currently doesn’t have an Orthodox day school, and larger communities where the Orthodox schools are really struggling. g
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Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 47
By Elli Fischer
What Does It Take to Build an
Orthodox Community on Campus?
On campus . . . there are always students checking out Orthodoxy as well as checking out of Orthodoxy.
tart a child upon his path, even when he ages he will not stray from itâ€? (Mishlei 22:6). This verse, in its straightforward meaning (and as expounded by Rabbi Kalonymus Shapira in his introduction to Chovat Hatalmidim, contra the trend to cite the well-known first half of the verse while ignoring the crucial second part), is an if-then statement that uses a road as a metaphor for life. If a child is accompanied as he takes those crucial first steps, then he will remain true to that path even later on, when he or she is no longer accompanied. In other words, the goal of Jewish education is for students to have internalized the lessons of their parents and teachers to the point that they uphold them even once they become responsible for their own decisions. Rabbi Elli Fischer is a writer and translator from Modiin, by way of Baltimore. He and his wife, Pesha, directed the OUâ€™s Heshe & Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus program at the University of Maryland from 2004 to 2006.
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For many Orthodox students, arriving in college is the moment that hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in day schools, summer camps and gap-year programs are put to the test. On campus, for better or worse, commitment to Torah and mitzvot is a matter of autonomous choice, and college students, including Orthodox students, often become intoxicated (literally, in many cases) with the newfound freedoms of campus life and take the opportunity to experiment with new ideas, activities and identities. The flip side of this trend is that students will often resist attempts to assert authority over their lives, especially if they associate such authority figures with their parents. Broadly speaking, these insights are the keys to understanding the dynamics of campus communities and the role of rabbis and educators within them. It should be noted that there is a great variety of Orthodox campus communities, which differ from one another to the same degree as ordinary Orthodox communities. My
Show me a rabbi who is said to have built a community, and I will show you a man who was at the right place at the right time.
Rabbi Noah Cheses ( far left), JLIC educator at Yale, together with his students on a Tanach study trip in Israel. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Cheses
comments apply mainly to universities where students live primarily on campus and where there are enough Orthodox students to support communal life. Nevertheless, some observations may apply to schools with tiny Orthodox populations as well as to schools with a significant number of Orthodox commuters. I should also note that my observations stem mainly from my experience serving as a Torah educator for the Heshe & Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) at the University of Maryland from 2004 to 2006. (JLIC is an Orthodox Union-sponsored program that helps Orthodox students navigate the college environment.) Things have certainly changed since then, but these insights are general enough that they still hold true. On campus, the boundaries of the Orthodox community tend to be fluid. In most cases, minyanim, Shabbat, meals and Torah study take place in the Hillel or another space designated for the broader Jewish student population. Orthodox student associations thus share space with a multitude of other religious and cultural streams, leading to closer relationships than are the norm for Orthodox communities and often to situations beyond the comfort zone of many Orthodox students. Moreover, as noted, students experiment with new lifestyles, meaning that there are always students checking out Orthodoxy as well as checking out of Orthodoxy. Given this situation, some Orthodox campus communities err on the side of religious caution and try to isolate themselves from the broader Hillel culture. In the best case scenario,
however, the Orthodox community will successfully balance its internal needs with the demands of shared space. The presence of a JLIC couple is often the key to this balance, as they have a deeper understanding of the contours of acceptable compromises and accommodations. For example, under the guidance of a JLIC rabbi, the Orthodox association might reach a compromise under which a member of the Conservative association (often a woman) recites Kiddush on Shabbat morning, while an Orthodox (male) student recites Havdalah (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 271:2, and ask your local Orthodox rabbi about the practice that is right for your family and community). Show me a rabbi who is said to have built a community, and I will show you a man who was at the right place at the right time. Even the greatest community rabbi will not succeed without the raw materials of a committed laity and a host of conditions that make continued growth and success feasible. This is especially true of campus communities, where the entire membership turns over every four years and where one year’s trendy destination may fall from grace the following year due to factors out of the rabbi’s hands (like ranking and recession). Nevertheless, there is a snowball effect in which Orthodox students gravitate toward schools
with strong Orthodox communities, and so sustained success requires that new student leaders be cultivated every year by outgoing student leaders. It is thus students who build and maintain Orthodox communities on campus. Nevertheless, Torah educators can play a decisive role in this endeavor as well. Although Orthodox campus educators work with students just a few months removed from high school or yeshivah, college students expect to be treated as adults capable of making their own decisions and respond more positively to the initiatives of their peers than to top-down initiatives of authority figures. Thus, educators build a campus community by empowering students. Community-enhancing projects tend to fall flat unless students buy in and take ownership of them. Of course, such empowerment may be a mere façade for the educator’s efforts, but in this case, as in many others, the perception is more important than the reality. Preferably, though, the campus educators truly empower their students, and not just to lead campus communities. After all, many of tomorrow’s Orthodox lay leaders will attend secular colleges, making college campuses a proving ground for Jewish communal leadership—a place where tomorrow’s leaders gain experience with many facets of Jewish communal life. g
Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 49
By David Wolkenfeld
Faith on Campus The Critical Role of an Orthodox Campus Community
munah has two clear meanings in Tanach, neither one of which is exemplified by what we tend to associate with “faith” in a specific dogma.1 Emunah in Tanach can mean trust (as in Genesis 15:6, Numbers 20:12, Deuteronomy 1:31) and it can also refer to integrity (as in Deuteronomy 32:4). These understandings of emunah are helpful when contemplating university students. In the five years I served as an Orthodox rabbi at Princeton University, it was rare for students to come forward to discuss challenges to their faith regarding the truth of the ikkarei emunah, the dogmatic assertions of Jewish belief as codified by the Rambam and others. But one could easily see the relevance of emunah in its connotation in Tanach. Students arrive at university campuses and, some for the first time in their lives, must choose whether or not to reliably and conscientiously affirm the values and lifestyles with which they were raised. Will they live with emunah? Can they be trusted and relied upon to affirm the values and religious practices with which they entered university? Students must incorporate their new knowledge, friendships, experiences and choices into their prior Jewish identities. Do they do so in a way that displays emunah—integrity and ethical coherence? Do the external markers of Orthodox affiliation translate into a consistent pattern of behavior and manner of interaction with peers and professors? Rabbi David Wolkenfeld, together with his wife, Sara, directed the OU’s Heshe & Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus program at Princeton University from 2008 to 2013. He is currently the rabbi at Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation in Chicago.
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This dual definition of emunah—becoming a reliable and trustworthy link in the chain of Jewish life and integrating new experiences and choices into a Jewish identity that has integrity and ethical coherence—is the very heart of what we wish for Orthodox university students. And there are strategies to help cultivate emunah of this sort. Peter Berger’s book The Heretical Imperative explains that traditional beliefs collapse not in the face of logical arguments that counter them, but in the face of a changing “plausibility structure” that assumes a contrary understanding. A college student may never hear a logical argument denying the possibility of Divine Revelation or deconstructing our embrace of the sanctity of Jewish family life or undermining Zionist pride rooted in millennia of indigenous Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael. Instead, a student will sit through courses and conversations with peers in which the entire context of the conversation presumes—without ever resorting to an explicit argument— that these elements of Orthodox belief are false. This is why being connected to a campus Orthodox community, attending public shiurei Torah and minyanim, is vital for maintaining emunah in a way that might not be true for a conventional community of adults. Starting and
Rabbi Aaron Greenberg, JLIC educator at York University in Toronto, giving a shiur to students. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Greenberg
ending each day with tefillah b’tzibbur (something that both men and women do while at college), punctuating the week with shiurim and chevrutot, creates an alternative plausibility structure in which remaining a reliable link in the chain, demonstrating emunah, is normal and assumed. Likewise, when rabbis and Jewish educators from high schools or yeshivot speak of their confidence that their students will make wise religious choices on campus, those students see themselves as possessing emunah and being
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Students at Guelph University in Ontario lighting Chanukah candles on campus. Photo courtesy of JLIC educator Rabbi Daniel Levitt
deserving of that trust. When I served as campus rabbi within the rubric of the Heshe & Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC), I helped facilitate that alternative plausibility structure while also serving as proof of the community’s investment in the religious reliability of Orthodox university students. The community would not send Orthodox rabbinic couples to university campuses if it did not fundamentally believe that Orthodox university students were “worth” the investment. Integrating the experiences and perspective of the university campus into an Orthodox Jewish worldview and lifestyle in a way that displays ethical excellence and religious coherence is something I consciously tried to model for my students. Because my wife and I each attended university and incorporated the experiences, knowledge and skill-sets of our university educations into our professional lives as Jewish educators, we hoped that our presence in the community challenged our students. We tried to agitate them to embrace the experiences, wisdom and friendships that can only be found on a university campus, and then to drag those ideas back to the beit midrash and construct an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle that is itself a living example of emunah. g
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Notes 1. Yoel bin Nun, On Emunah and Its Opposites (Hebrew). Available at ybn.co.il.
Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 51
BY STEVE LIPMAN
Steve Lipman is a frequent contributor to Jewish Action.
Photo courtesy of Maimonides School in Boston
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R A F I D I A M O N D ’ S D AY S C H O O L C O U R S E on Jewish prayer came at a fortuitous time a few years ago. Rafi was a student at Maimonides School, a K-12 Modern Orthodox institution in Boston. He was studying the “R’faeinu” (“Heal us”) prayer for health in the Shemoneh Esrei which includes the words “bring complete recovery for all our ailments . . . [Hashem] heals the sick of His people Israel.” Rafi had given no special thought to the relevance of the prayer, he says. Then a relative became very sick; R’faeinu became relevant. Rafi’s lessons about the meaning of the R’faeinu prayer gave his davening greater kavanah, more intensity and devotion, he says. His relative recovered, and Rafi, who graduated this past June from Maimonides, says its tefillah curriculum strengthened his prayer life—which is the purpose of the high school-level prayer curriculum. Patterned after the teachings of the late venerated Rabbi Dr. Isaiah Wohlgemuth, the Maimonides School tefillah Kids davening at an NCSY event. curriculum offers both the historical context and philosophical underpinnings of individual prayers. Additionally, it emphasizes the interpretation of the words and the strucThe difficulties that many—children and adults, both ture of the siddur. The curriculum, say many people familiar ba’alei teshuvah and those who grew up in observant with the Jewish educational field, is considered the gold homes—experience at prayer have become a subject of instandard of day schools in North America—one that offers creasing concern in recent years in segments of the Orthodepth and breadth, that engages adolescent students’ interdox community. est, that inspires them to keep praying and understanding Chana Tanenbaum, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University in what they are saying after they have left the school. Israel, recently surveyed more than 350 yeshivah day school But few schools offer a comprehensive tefillah curricugraduates from overseas who were spending their “gap lum like Maimonides’; few devote enough time to making year” studying in Israel. She asked them if tefillah in their tefillah part of their students’ lives, the educators say. And, schools was “a spiritually uplifting event.” Only 16.4 percent some say, too few schools have a special dedicated place said yes. “In contrast, 20 percent of the same group found where only davening takes place. When school prayer is participation in a sports team to be fairly or extremely conducted in a multi-purpose classroom or auditorium or meaningful to their religious growth. any other available room, it sends the “Of all the activities in the message that tefillah is not an exercise school day, prayer is the one most We often feel that davening can’t go that deserves its own distinct place. clearly connected to religion and quickly enough . . . that davening is a religious experience, yet the results detour. We feel we have other [more The Difficulty of Prayer of this survey indicate that the overimportant] things to do. I think to But prayer itself, and not where it ocwhelming majority of students”— myself, if I were sitting in front of a curs in a school setting, is the priwho chose to take a year off before billionaire who could change my life mary concern. university studying in Israel, mostly in a moment, whatever I had to do “There are very, very few good in Orthodox institutions—“do not could wait. Whatever I think is more tefillah curricula out there,” says perceive prayer as being inspiraimportant pales in comparison to Daniel Rose, director of educational tional,” Tanenbaum wrote in a reactually sitting with God, Who projects for Koren Publishers, which cent issue of HaYidion, the controls it all. is developing a siddur-based curricuquarterly journal of the RAVSAK lum project “aimed at the US day CHARLIE HARARY, INSPIRATIONAL SPEAKER, community day school network. PROFESSOR AT THE SYMS SCHOOL OF BUSINESS school market.” AT YESHIVA UNIVERSITY, LECTURER FOR AISH HATORAH, THE ORTHODOX UNION AND NCSY.
Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 53
Photo courtesy of Maimonides
Rabbis and educators talk about adults who know the mechanics of prayer (what to say, when to stand up and sit down—in other words, what page they’re on in the siddur) but they are doing it largely from rote, from lifelong habit. They ask: “What’s the point? Is God listening? Doesn’t He already know what’s on our minds? Does He really answer prayers?” For some, prayer has become a ritual to be performed rather than a genuine connection with, a conversation with, the Creator. “There is a difference,” says Rabbi Mordechai Soskil, Judaic studies principal of the Maimonides Middle and Upper Schools, “between knowing what the words mean and knowing you are standing before God.” “For many people, Jewish and not, prayer has become a recitation of words,” Rabbi Hyim Shafner, rabbi of Bais Abraham, an OU shul in St. Louis, wrote recently. “Several frum people who take davening seriously have commented to me, ‘I like learning Torah and find it meaningful, but I just can’t relate, beyond the level of fulfilling an obligation, to tefillah.’ In the Orthodox community we sometimes, in our punctiliousness, and probably in reaction to Reform Judaism, allow the ma’aseh hamitzvah [the act of performing the mitzvah] to overshadow the inner kavanah [intent], and perhaps the telos of the mitzvah—connecting with God.” Much of this can be traced, rabbis and teachers say, to Jewish education—kids are not adequately taught the why of tefillah. Too few day schools, they say, offer extensive—or any—formalized teachings on prayer. Students, they say, are merely required to attend the schools’ davening.
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“Too often,” says Rabbi Jay Goldmintz, headmaster of the Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan, “we just throw them into the shul and in effect say, ‘Okay, now daven with kavanah,’ but we never really explain what that means or how to go about it, or why.”
“We play Jewish music over the loudspeaker as our students enter the beit knesset prior to the start of tefillah, in order to help them get into the proper frame of mind.” RAMAZ MIDDLE SCHOOL TEFILLAH GUIDE
Ideas That Work For teachers of tefillah, there is a growing—but still limited—amount of educational resources. Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, offers several of them in its catalogue, including a tefillah workshop series and a Teacher’s Guide for the Teaching of Prayer. The Ramaz Middle School has drawn up a list of “strategies” to make tefillah more inspiring. The main strategies are “to sing out loud and in unison as many of our tefillot as possible,” and to “finish in as short a time as possible.” “Less is more,” states the Ramaz tefillah guide. “We have found it is more effective to daven less and daven out loud than to daven more . . . to oneself.” “We never say a full Chazarat HaShatz [repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei by the prayer leader].” Instead, members of the minyan say “every word out loud in unison until Kedushah . . . Overall, we say a little less and sing a lot more,” the Ramaz tefillah guide states. “The result is many more students davening and enjoying it!”
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Few schools offer a comprehensive tefillah curriculum . . . few devote enough time to making tefillah part of their students’ lives. Photo: Benji Cheirif
“Less is more . . . we have found it is more effective to daven less and daven out loud than to daven more . . . to oneself.”
At Hillel Torah Day School in Chicago, New York-area attorney who teaches prayer Aliza Rosenbaum, who teaches eighth-grade to adults. “The Talmud, the Five Books of girls, instituted various innovative ways to help Moses and the Prophets are easy to teach bestudents connect to tefillah, including the cause the text and the commentaries are Tehilotai Project. The project entails having readily available. No similar single text is RAMAZ MIDDLE SCHOOL each student recite a particular perek of available for teaching the siddur.” A student of TEFILLAH GUIDE Tehillim every day. Throughout the year, the Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s at Maimonides four student researches the meaning of her perek. At decades ago, Katz founded the Beurei Hatethe end of the year, the class publishes a book, where each fila Institute that provides background about prayer on its student elucidates her perek and its connection to her life. web site (beureihatefila.com), in a weekly e-mail newsletter SAR Academy in the Bronx, known for its experimental and in Katz’s frequent lectures. His web site features a wide bent, has developed “Daily Thoughts on Tefillah,” a program array of historical and philosophical explanations—the halathat offers succinct insight into some aspect of prayer; and chot and the minhagim—on the siddur, the Haggadah and the the school, during Dveykut B’Tefillah week, offers its high machzor. Katz says his efforts follow in the theological footschool students a menu of nearly two dozen “tefillah opsteps of Rabbi Wohlgemuth. “I never forgot his method of tions.” Each option is led by at least one staff member. “We teaching. Rabbi Wohlgemuth instilled in me the confidence hope,” the school’s student guide explains, “that by shaking that it was possible to find the origins of the words and the ourselves out of our tefillah routine we will all have the opstructure of the siddur if we tried.” portunity to re-energize our tefillah and work on developing a sense of dveykut.” Can Kavanah Be Taught? The options include an “explanatory” tefillah patterned Can tefillah be taught—especially to students who are just beafter synagogues’ beginners services, a slower-paced davenginning to develop their independent personalities and inteling that offers an abbreviated service; a “musical tefillah” to lectual skills? How do you evaluate the success of a tefillah which participants are invited to bring musical instruments; curriculum? How soon do you see results—during school a service at which relevant davening, upon graduation, years later when the students texts are studied; a “meditagrow up? tion tefillah” that includes “It’s difficult to define success,” says Rabbi Moshe The simplest, most classic Zen breathing pracDrelich, a high school teacher at SAR. “There is no one powerful way to have an tices; an “Israel awareness best way.” effective davening is to stop tefillah” that focuses on IsIs a formal curriculum the solution to difficulties teachbefore you open your rael-related parts of the siding tefillah, “or is the solution part of the [prayer] experisiddur and think about dur and a “yoga tefillah.” ence?” asks Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, SAR principal. In other what you are about to do. It Despite these various iniwords, can kavanah be taught outside of the actual experiis actually a halachah in the tiatives, “more is needed,” ence of praying? Instead of offering a separate tefillah course, Shulchan Aruch. says one educator. SAR incorporates background about the prayers into the RABBI MENACHEM NISSEL IS THE “Teachers do not have school’s daily davening. AUTHOR OF RIGSHEI LEV: WOMEN available to them a text that One problem many day schools face: “there is no time” to AND TEFILLAH (JERUSALEM, 2001) guides them in teaching devote to a separate tefillah course, Rabbi Krauss says. For a AND RABBINIC ADVISOR TO NCSY. tefillah,” says Abe Katz, a school with a dual track of secular and religious studies,
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I have a little notebook that I keep in my purse. When I hear about someone whom I want to daven for, I jot it down. I take the list out when I daven. It jogs my brain; reminds me that these are things I want to address. I always keep the book with me. It keeps tefillah on my mind throughout the day.
there are too many other mandatory subjects to be taught. “Our school is not unusual [in REBBETZIN YAEL WEIL, AN EDUCATOR FOR MORE THAN TWO DECADES, WHO this predicament].” CURRENTLY LIVES IN TEANECK, NEW JERSEY. Difficulties in teaching tefillah are probably more common in the Modern Orthodox community than in Chareidi circles, Rabbi Krauss says. “Chareidi kids grow up taking tefillah seriously. I don’t think you have [Chareidi] kids . . . to the same degree . . . asking the type of questions that our kids do”— questions about the relevance and efficacy of prayer. “If our kids don’t understand something, they will stop doing it.” “Tefillah is a very sophisticated undertaking,” says Rabbi Goldmintz. “Most of us become most conscious of having kavanah as adults, for it is then that our vulnerabilities, needs and understanding of the world become most pronounced and we are therefore able to see prayer as something to embrace. Most adolescents are just not there yet.” “It’s a hard thing to teach [tefillah] to teenagers,” says Rabbi Soskil, “because not all kids are ready to learn.” They are, after all, teenagers. The school, Rabbi Soskil says, has a more modest goal: to teach the students the basics of tefillah, to give them a taste of its beauty, to give them the tools they will need later. The school has realistic expectations, Rabbi Soskil says—“not every kid, not every day.” Some months ago, three seniors sat in a meeting room at Maimonides and discussed how the tefillah curriculum has affected them. It broke her out of the practice of saying the words from rote, said Miriam Chava Kramer. Moshe Beiser said he discovered a “pattern” in the words of the siddur. Before, “I didn’t get the meaning,” said Rafi Diamond, who had found solace in the R’faeinu prayer when his relative was ill. After, “I found more meaning in the text.” Diamond said he recited that prayer again with special kavanah Students at Hillel Torah when two bombs exDay School in Chicago ploded near the finish participate in a line at the Boston “Tehilotai project,” in Marathon this past which each student can spring, killing three peo“take ownership” of a ple and injuring more perek of Psalms by than a hundred. “Because creating artwork and of what I learned [about explanations of the prayer], it added meaning perek that speak to her. to the words.” g
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Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 57
Rabbi Isaiah Wohlgemuth, a master teacher of tefillah, seen here with his Shabbat Talmud class; some of the kids walked two miles each way on Shabbat to learn with him. Photo taken in 1992. Photo courtesy of Maimonides School
RABBI DR. ISAIAH WOHLGEMUTH:
A Beloved Teacher of Tefillah By Steve Lipman
n the American Modern Orthodox community, the widely acknowledged master of teaching tefillah was a Holocaust refugee from Germany who made a new home in Boston. Rabbi Isaiah Wohlgemuth, who had semichah from Berlin’s Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary and a doctorate in education from Boston’s now-defunct Calvin Coolidge College, is remembered by generations of students from Maimonides School, the Boston institution where he taught from 1945 to 1997. His synagogue in Kitzingen was destroyed on Kristallnacht; he spent time in Dachau, was liberated and came to the United States shortly thereafter. The men and women who studied with Rabbi Wohlgemuth recall his trimmed beard and lilting German accent, his concern for students whom he treated as his own grandchildren and, above all, his signature class on the foundations of prayer. Steve Lipman is a frequent contributor to Jewish Action.
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“His . . . course was known to students as ‘BH,’ for Biur HaTefillah, a guide to Jewish prayer,” the Boston Globe reported in the obituary for Rabbi Wohlgemuth when he died in 2008 at the age of ninety-two. “In blogs,” the Globe reported, “former students recalled that he brought ‘kavanah,’ the Hebrew word for intention or focus and meaning, to thousands of students.” Students say the weekly class continues to influence their tefillah, decades later. An outgrowth of Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s life and approach to life, “BH” brought a wide variety of sources to the study of, and appreciation for, prayer. “Its emphasis is on the rationale, meaning and various halakhot of tefillah . . . to emphasize the interpretation of the words and the structure of the siddur,” the rabbi wrote in the Ten Da’at journal, a journal of Jewish education, describing his course. “A bibliography . . . would include all of Jewish scholarship: halakha and aggada, Talmud and poskim, philosophy and history, Jewish literature and poetry. I also
teach Rav [Joseph Ber] Soloveitchik’s ideas and philosophy. . . ” In the front of Maimonides’ sanctuary, a pair of shtenders still stands, as a memorial, in the exact spots where Rabbi Wohlgemuth and the late Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, the philosophical leader of the Modern Orthodox movement who founded the school in 1937, prayed daily. A book by Rabbi Wohlgemuth, A Guide to Jewish Prayer, grew out of his course. “The fact that in recent years many books have been written and published on prayer shows that many contemporary Jews look to these prayers for guidance in difficult times,” the rabbi wrote in an epilogue. Briefly discontinued after Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s death, his tefillah curriculum was quickly reinstituted under a new endowment at the school. Patterned after his teachings, it is offered to students weekly in the ninth, tenth and eleventh grades, says Nathan Katz, head of school. “We’re following in his footsteps.” As under Rabbi Wohlgemuth, the classes feature a blend of history, philosophy and halachah. A course outline for the first year of the class—“Jewish Thought I: Prayer”—includes an introduction to fundamental berachot, a selection of commentaries, a section of “ikkarei emunah” (fundamentals of faith) and a thorough look at the prayers that Jews recite every day. Alumni of Maimonides tell different stories of the influence that Rabbi Wohlgemuth exerted—and continues to exert—on their lives. Mark Blechner, who graduated in 1967, still attends the school’s daily morning minyan because, he says, he feels at home in the atmosphere of sincere davening that is a carryover from the rabbi’s years there. Other alumni say Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s tefillah class was the one in which they paid the most attention, the one whose notes they have saved over the years. “When I
“ . . . alumni say Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s class was the one in which they paid the most attention, the one whose notes they have saved over the years.” pray today,” Blechner says, “I feel as if Rabbi Wohlgemuth is watching me.” When Rabbi Wohlgemuth died, the Globe obituary quoted Steven Bayme, director of the Contemporary Jewish Life Department at the American Jewish Committee, as saying, “The world of Jewish text is a difficult one to open up—some people take to it naturally, some people struggle with it, but he made the text accessible to everyone.” “By encouraging inquiry into these areas [of prayers’ origins], he imbued students with the capacity to consider what meaningful prayer actually constitutes, and to understand liturgical texts and procedures with the same tools we bring to the study of other subjects,” Bayme says. “That at least opens the door to meaningful tefillah experiences absent gimmickry or contrived expressions of piety.” “I not only remember the halachic, philosophical and aggadic teachings he left us with, but I have used them over the past decades nearly every day,” Rabbi Asher Lopatin, president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and a 1982 graduate of Maimonides, wrote on a memorial web site for Rabbi Wohlgemuth. “Certainly in my own tefillah, I can’t get through Yishtabach without thinking of why it is in the reflexive; I can’t think of the first bracha of the Amidah without thinking of whether we really have the merits of our forefathers or not, or geshem vs. gashem, or a million other parts of the tefillah where understanding and kavanah were built on Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s teachings.” Leah Lightman, who attended Maimonides in the The Creator of humanity 1970s, says she was shopping in allows us to say “atah,” a book store about twenty years “You.” If we would only ago in the Geula neighborhood take a moment to of Jerusalem when she came contemplate this . . . the upon a copy of Rabbi WohlgeCreator Who created us muth’s book. structured a context “I became very emotional,” where we can have a Lightman says. The store personal conversation owner, noticing, came over. with Him. It’s amazing. “You must be from Boston,” CHARLIE HARARY he said. Many customers who see Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s photograph on the cover “get very emotional,” the store owner explained. “I find out they’re from Boston,” also former students of Rabbi Wohlgemuth. Lightman, who now lives on Long Island, says Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s example of personal piety in the school minyan was as influential as his classroom teaching. He stood at his shtender, Lightman says, “as if there was nothing going on [in the world] beyond his conversation with the Almighty.” g
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Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 59
By Carol Green Ungar
The Little-Known Story the
Behind Latke obody really knows what the Maccabees ate during that first Chanukah, but one thing is certain—it wasn’t potato latkes. Though the custom of eating oily foods to evoke the miracle of the oil dates back millennia—in a ninth-century letter, Maimon, the Rambam’s father, exhorted his community to take this practice seriously—it would take several more centuries for the latke to emerge as the oily food of choice. The fabled Chanukah fritter celebrated in story and song (the classic Yiddish Chanukah Song “Chanukah, oh Chanukah, a yontif, a sheina” describes the joys of eating latkes) is a relative latecomer to the Jewish table, dating only to the nineteenth century. Potatoes were unknown in Europe until 1537, when Spanish forces of conquistador Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada landed in what is now Colombia to search for gold. Instead, they found potatoes. Although the Incans prized potatoes as a delicacy, the first potatoes to be planted in Europe were watery and bitter, and most people didn’t want to eat them. It was Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, a French scientist who was interred in a Bavarian prison camp, who eventually popularized the potato throughout Europe. Upon his release,
Carol Green Ungar is a full-time mother and freelance writer living in Israel. Her work has appeared in the Jewish Week in New York, Tablet, the Jerusalem Post and other publications.
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Parmentier became a one-man public relations agency for the vegetable that kept him alive for the duration of his imprisonment. Because of his efforts, potatoes eventually caught on in France and later in Eastern Europe, which brings us back to latkes. In the late eighteenth century, Eastern Europe was plagued by repeated crop failures. To stave off massive starvation, the Russian Empress Catherine the Great ordered farmers to plant potatoes instead of grain because potatoes grow more quickly and can survive a variety of weather conditions. Czar Nicholas I enforced the decree with greater vigor and by 1850, the potato was entrenched in Eastern Europe. The Jews, who were, for the most part, poor and hungry, were enthralled by the new vegetable. In the shtetl, potato was on the menu two or three times a day—a diet commemorated in the Yiddish children’s ditty “Sunday, potatoes; Monday, potatoes; Tuesday, potatoes . . . Shabbos, potato kugel.” For the Jews of Eastern Europe, the potato was, quite literally, a godsend. Nurtured by the potato, which is not only rich in starch but contains every other essential vitamin and mineral except calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D, the Jewish population exploded in Eastern Europe. In 1825 there were 1.6 million Jews in the area that is now Russia and Poland. By the end of the nineteenth century, there were over five million. Naturally, Jews became masters of potato cookery, developing a variety of
potato-based dishes including the much beloved Chanukah fritter, or the latke, whose name in Yiddish means “little oily.” According to food historian Gil Marks, the first latkes, called kartoffelpfannkuchen, were fashioned from coarse potatoes fried in schmaltz (chicken fat). Eventually the name was changed to kartoffel latke and finally to just plain latke. The popular latke recipe we are all familiar with today—grated potatoes bound together with onions, eggs and matzo meal—emerged. By the end of the nineteenth century, immigrants brought the recipe to the United States. The earliest American Jewish cookbook, Aunt Babette’s Cookbook: Foreign and Domestic Recipes for the Household, published in Cincinnati in 1889, includes a latke recipe, as does the 1903 Settlement Cook Book. By the 1930s, food scientists were figuring out ways to streamline latke preparation, and Aunt Jemima, the pancake mix brand, even marketed a latke mix. In our own times, foodies have played with the original recipe to create gourmet variations using ingredients like broccoli, basil, feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. Though some of these newfangled latkes are quite delicious, nothing beats old-fashioned potato latkes sizzling in the frying pan as the candles burn on Chanukah night. g Listen to Carol Green Ungar discuss the history of the latke at www.ou.org/dealwith-latkes.
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Potato Latkes 1 small onion 4 large potatoes 2 eggs ½ cup matzo meal 1/8 teaspoon black pepper 1 teaspoon salt Oil for frying
Grate together onion, potatoes, eggs and matzo meal. Add black pepper and salt. Heat oil in heavy-bottomed skillet. Make sure entire skillet is covered with oil ¼ inch or more deep. Drop in a tiny bit of batter. If it browns, you’re ready to fry. Spoon in latkes. Don’t crowd. Fry three minutes on each side. Remove, place on paper towel to drain excess oil and serve immediately. You can reheat in the oven on low and serve later, but nothing tastes as good as fresh latkes. Safety note: turn frying pan handles inward and never leave a frying pan full of hot oil alone, even for a minute.
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Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 61
By David Olivestone
67” high by 42” wide.
Redemption Once Buried in Warsaw, These Menorot Are Now on Display in Jerusalem
76” high by 45” wide. Photos: Shlomo Kashtan
David Olivestone, the former senior communications officer of the OU, now lives in Jerusalem.
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In May of 1943, SS General Jürgen Stroop triumphantly blew up the huge synagogue building that stood on Tlomackie (pronounced Tlomatskyeh) Street, on the edge of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. To the Jews of Warsaw, the dedication of this palatial shul in 1878 had symbolized the culmination of over 1,000 years of vibrant Jewish life in Poland. To Stroop, its destruction symbolized the ﬁnal victory of the Nazis over the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto.
The exterior of the Great Synagogue of Warsaw, destroyed by the Nazis in 1943. Photos courtesy of the Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw
“What a marvelous sight it was. A fantastic piece of theater. My staff and I stood at a distance. I held the electrical device which would detonate all the charges simultaneously . . . . After prolonging the suspense for a moment, I shouted: Heil Hitler and pressed the button. With a thunderous, deafening bang and a rainbow burst of colors, the fiery explosion soared toward the clouds, an unforgettable tribute to our triumph over the Jews. The Warsaw Ghetto was no more. The will of Adolph Hitler and Heinrich Himmler had been done.” Kazimierz Moczarski, Conversations with an Executioner (New Jersey, 1981).
he Orthodox congregation, also known as the Great Synagogue of Warsaw, or the Chorshul, but seemingly referred to most often simply as the Tlomackie Street Synagogue, had seating for about 2,000. It employed such world-famous cantors as Gershon Sirota and Moshe Koussevitzky, and its services were attended by the most prosperous elite of Warsaw Jewry.1 The two Chanukah menorot pictured here, each of which measures over five feet tall, belonged to the synagogue, but it is not clear exactly where in the building they stood.2 Cast in brass, and typical of the eighteenthcentury Galician style, they each feature elaborate ornamentation and the
Polish national symbol, the white eagle, on top. Around the time of the Nazi invasion of Poland and the start of World War II in Europe, the rabbi of the synagogue, filled with a sense of foreboding of what was to come, devised a plan to help some of his congregants escape from Poland while at the same time saving some of the shul’s treasures. Together with the synagogue secretary, he moved some major artifacts—these two menorot among them—to a secret underground hiding place. He then approached the Polish ambassador to Sweden (presumably since Sweden was a neutral country) and asked him to find someone who would pay a large sum for the menorot.
He would then use the money to help Jews escape from the coming inferno.3 The ambassador was successful in his search. He found a willing purchaser in Marguerite Wenner-Gren, whose husband, Axel, had founded the Electrolux company and who had already demonstrated great concern for the plight of Europe’s Jews. Marguerite was a mildly successful American opera singer when she and Axel met in a whirlwind romance, and after her marriage she played hostess to some of the most celebrated personalities in politics and entertainment in their several residences around the world. Some years after the war, in 1960, the Wenner-Grens happened to meet
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Sir Isaac Wolfson, a businessman and philanthropist who headed Britain’s Orthodox community and who was heavily involved in establishing various new institutions in Jerusalem. He described to them his plans for the new seat of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, to be named Hechal Shlomo after his father, and for a great synagogue to be built next to it. Moved by his vision, and in commemoration, as she wrote, of the Tlomackie community and in honor of the hundreds of refugees who managed to escape as a result of her purchase, Marguerite decided to donate the menorot for placement in the new synagogue. That shul was not to be built for many years, however, and meanwhile they were housed in what became the Wolfson Museum of Jewish Art, located in the Hechal Shlomo building. Marguerite, who was also a poet, expressed her feelings about donating the menorot in a poem which is displayed along with them:
You ancient lamp Tell the remnant of your people Israel your chronicles, Illuminated by the candles, Evoking the nighttime melody of David’s lyre Tell your remaining children that you have returned home, To your holy synagogue, In the hands of a non-Jewish woman Who has for many years Safeguarded you. Today in Warsaw, a massive glass skyscraper stands at the site of the former Great Synagogue.4 An area on its ground floor serves as a visitors center for the many Jews who visit Poland on the trail of family members who perished in the Shoah. Today in Jerusalem, there is a new great synagogue, adjacent to Hechal Shlomo, but the menorot have sensibly been kept in the museum where they are the impressive cornerstones of its fascinating collection of relics of the destroyed magnificence of European Jewry.5 g
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The interior of the Great Synagogue of Warsaw.
Notes 1. For more information about the synagogue, visit http://www.sztetl.org.pl/en/ article/warszawa/11,synagogues-prayer-hous es-and-others/. See also Ewa Małkowska, Synagoga na Tlomackiem (Warsaw, 1991) and Eleonora Bergman, “Nie masz boznicy powszechnej,” Synagogi i domy modlitwy w Warszawie od konca XVIII do poczatku XXI wieku (Warsaw, 2007). 2. Six tall menorot flanked the synagogue’s bimah, but it can be seen from photographs of the shul’s interior that these were electrified. 3. This account is based on documents found in the Sir Isaac and Lady Edith Wolfson Museum of Jewish Art in Jerusalem (see below), but the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw has no record of it. Indeed, outside of the museum, there seems to be no recognition of Marguerite Wenner-Gren’s act of saving so many Polish Jews. Although seemingly deserving, she has not been granted “Righteous Among the Nations” status by Yad Vashem because her actions do not meet its guidelines “that a non-Jewish person risked his or her life, freedom and safety, in order to
rescue one or several Jews from the threat of death or deportation . . . . ” (www.yadvashem.org). 4. Marking the seventieth anniversary of the shul’s destruction, a 1:10 scale plywood model of the synagogue building was installed near the site of the original shul on Tlomackie Street this past May. Next door, the building of the Jewish Historical Institute, which somehow escaped destruction, houses a significant collection on the history of the Warsaw Jewish community and of its sufferings during the Nazi period, including artifacts from the Warsaw Ghetto. A major new institution, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, is set to open in Warsaw in 2014. 5. Most visitors to Jerusalem seem to pass by the museum, which is a great shame as its varied collections include many important items. For more information concerning the museum, visit http://eng.hechal shlomo.org.il. My thanks to Keren Hakak and Yael Diamant Pfeuffer of the museum staff, as well as to Dr. Eleonora Bergman of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, for their generous help in providing information and photographs.
By Hillel Goldberg
Shabbos Is More Than One Day a Week How to Take Shabbos into the Week t is not my intent to address the issue of Orthodox teens at risk, yet if this article can aid their parents or mentors, so much the better. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik was wont to say that America has many Sabbath-observant Jews, but no erev-Sabbath-observant Jews. Shabbos is more than one day long, and more than Shabbos-plus-erev Shabbos too. After Sarah died, Isaac brought Rebeccah into the tent of his mother and he married Rebeccah, and thus was consoled. Rashi observes that when Sarah was living, her Shabbos candles burned from one erev Shabbos to the next, but when she died, the light died with her. When Isaac brought Rebeccah into the tent, the light returned. Is this a mere metaphor? I think not. Shabbos may be seen as a one-day-a-week respite—and a glori-
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, PhD, executive editor of the Intermountain Jewish News, is a contributing editor of Jewish Action.
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ous one at that—or Shabbos may be seen as the day that both colors the rest of the week and constitutes the week’s yearning and anticipation. If the latter, then we become not merely Sabbath observant, but erev Sabbath observant. We begin to touch, if only a bit, the stature of Sarah and Rebeccah. To be sure, to be erev Sabbath observant also means something concrete. It means that one will not save Sabbath preparations for the last minute and fall prey to the outbursts of anger, frustration or tension that punctuate many homes in the hours or minutes before candle lighting. It means, for example, that one will set the Shabbos table on Thursday night, or will take off work on Friday afternoon an hour earlier than is strictly necessary, or will go shopping for nonperishable Shabbos foods on Sunday, almost as soon as Shabbos is over. I shall return to some of these practical ways in which Shabbos can be made to descend on erev Shabbos, but to be erev Sabbath observant means
more—it is an entire change in mindset. It means feeling the week divided in half, such that with the recitation of the first two verses of Lechu Neranenah after the completion of the Psalm of the Day on Wednesday morning, one feels that the week has turned; it is now moving toward Shabbos. It means internalizing that Shabbos is not just an escape from, but a flight to; not just an end to the difficulties of the week, but a window to the Divine. Over the years, I have revamped my approach to Shabbos. This began eleven years ago when I read that Rav Eliyahu E. Dessler’s father arose at 2 AM each Shabbos morning and studied Torah with his son for seven hours straight. At 9 AM, Rebbetzin Dessler would bring them light refreshments, whereupon they went off to daven. For them, Shabbos was an opportunity to soar into spiritual realms. Inspired by the Desslers, I have not slept through the night on a single Shabbos since. I am not capable of studying Torah for seven hours straight beginning at 2 AM, but I now arise in the middle of the night to study Torah for a few hours. The Shechinah is palpable; the insight is acute. My Torah study the rest of the week fills in the interstices between the building blocks I acquire in the middle of the night on Shabbos. Not to mention, whatever else occurs the rest of Shabbos by way of hosting or being hosted, I am guaranteed that no Shabbos passes without serious Torah study. Even that is the least of it. If Shabbos is so powerful, it should permeate the week. Upon returning from shul on Saturday night, the first thing that my wife and I now do is prepare the Shabbos candles for next week. All week long, while they are not lit, as they were in Sarah and Rebeccah’s tent, they stand there, beckoning. On Wednesday morning, the week turns. As Thursday rolls around, the anticipation of Shabbos builds, and we finish as many Shabbos preparations as
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik was wont to say that America has many Sabbath-observant Jews, but no erev-Sabbath-observant Jews. possible. Erev Shabbos is no longer the proverbial madhouse, but this is hardly the main reason to have much of the cooking done and the table set by Thursday night. Simply put, we want to pull Shabbos into the week as much as possible. I have adopted another strategy to enhance both erev Shabbos and Shabbos. If I have any contentious or aggravating matter to deal with, from a major problem at work to an annoyance with a repairman, I simply put it off until after Shabbos (unless it truly requires immediate attention). When I move into Shabbos, I want to be able to say “Shabbat shalom” fully feeling the shalom. I am not suggesting that others do the same; maybe some of what I do will work for others, maybe not. The larger point is that everyone can exercise a bit of spiritual creativity to find ways to realize Shabbos more fully. As with all mitzvos, one can grow, over time, in the mitzvah of Shabbos. One’s Shabbos at age eighteen should not be the same as one’s Shabbos years or decades later. With much done in advance, I find myself able to go to shul on Friday evening early. I remember Rabbi Soloveitchik saying in one of his Saturday night lectures at Maimonides School in Boston more than forty years ago, words to this effect: “A person works on Friday until the last moment. He speeds home, arriving fifteen minutes before candle lighting time, then jumps into the shower, then back into the car, then speeds to shul just in time for the beginning of Minchah. This is not Shabbos. Holiness requires preparation.” Just as we are commanded to put Shabbos at the center of our lives, we are also commanded to work for six days. This is both a religious and a logical prerequisite for experiencing Shabbos as it is meant to be. Unemployment, laziness or a lack of satisfaction at work is not the preferred way to come into Shabbos. Even so, something more than six days of work are available in advance of Shabbos. This emerges from a Talmudic debate between Shammai and Hillel (Beitzah 16a). If Shammai the Elder came across a delicacy early in the week, he would set it aside for Shabbos. If, later in the week, he would come across an even nicer delicacy, he would set it aside and eat the first item. Thus, he considered his weekday meals to be in honor of Shabbos. Hillel the Elder would eat whatever came into his hands, confident that he would find a fitting delicacy for Shabbos at the end of the week. Shammai was thinking of Shabbos all week long, while Hillel was “laid back.” Ostensibly, Shammai and Hillel differed. Not really, I would argue. Both Shammai and Hillel
lived without modern techniques of farming or food distribution, without grocery stores brimming with every imaginable delicacy, spice, treat and dessert, and without liquor stores. It was necessary to set aside a delicacy for Shabbos as soon as possible (per Shammai), or it was advisable to trust in Hashem that He would provide it just before Shabbos (per Hillel). Neither condition applies today. Any imaginable treat for Shabbos is available any time, virtually anywhere in the Western world, at a price affordable to practically everyone. We cannot say with certainty how Shammai or Hillel would respond to our conditions of plenty. We can say that these conditions complicate the effort to make Shabbos special, and also enable us to see the common ground between Shammai and Hillel. Both were saying: Focus on Shabbos. Whether one needs to exploit the earliest opportunity to make certain that Shabbos will be special, or whether one can trustingly wait until the end of the week— either way, focus on Shabbos. It should color one’s thoughts all week long. The more the mental anticipation and actual preparations for Shabbos, the more one will taste Shabbos. The more one will treasure it, will center one’s life around it. The more one will be at ease on Shabbos. The less tempted one will be to speak about weekday matters on Shabbos. The less likely one will find Shabbos stale (the teen-atrisk’s complaint). The easier it will be to turn off the week completely. The more grateful for Shabbos one will become. The closer to the Shechinah one will become. The holier one will become. And the holiness can be extended. The melaveh malkah, the (not-necessarily-large) meal after Shabbos on Saturday evening, eaten by the light of two candles, breaks what would otherwise be a black-and-white, abrupt departure of the Shabbos Shechinah with Havdalah. Candles not only at the onset but at the closure of Shabbos, fine food not only on but after Shabbos, constitute a mediated experience of Shabbos, extending into the week. Shabbos is more than one day a week. It is a circle. One can extend a bit of Shabbos into the week via the melaveh malkah, and then one can taste a bit of the coming Shabbos by focusing on it and preparing for it during the week. And so, may I wish you a good Shabbos . . . and, a gut vach, a good week. They can go together. g
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By Bayla Sheva Brenner
Ready, Willing—and ABLE: Yachad Joins the Workforce
ou wouldn’t normally think the lunch-hour crunch at a kosher eatery or a stop at your local CVS is inspiring. Think again. Note the young men and women with developmental disabilities proudly clearing the tables or stocking shelves; they’ve got jobs to do—a privilege they had only dreamed about, until recently. Thanks to the Yachad Vocational Services Department’s job skills and social skills training, between forty to fifty of its eighty-five members currently work at establishments such as CVS, T.J.Maxx and Staples, as well as at schools, warehouses, libraries, supermarkets, offices and local businesses. It’s boosting their skill sets and self-esteem. “Yachad’s mission is Inclusion,” says Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, director of Yachad/NJCD, the OU’s National Jewish Council for Disabilities. “A job is the ultimate sense of belonging; it gives them a sense of purpose. And to this population, it’s so much more than a paycheck.” Just ask Talia, twenty-eight, a Yachad member who works at T.J.Maxx in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. “I love it here,” she says. “I organize the clothing according to size and make things neat. They are very happy with my work. They say that I’m awesome. If I didn’t have the job, I’d be lonely.”
Inside the OU
Bayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.
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Or ask Avi, who works at a CVS drug store in Brooklyn Heights. “I come to work, put on my uniform and then speak to the manager to see what aisle to work on,” he says. “It gets me out of the house. I feel like I’m moving on in my life.” Almost 70 percent of the adult special needs population in the United States is either unemployed or underemployed. “What a waste of a valuable resource—and people with disabilities are a resource,” says Dr. Lichtman. “We are a stronger, richer community if we allow ourselves to benefit from the many ways in which they can contribute.” For close to three decades, Yachad/NJCD has been promoting the Inclusion of Jews with disabilities into every dimension of Jewish life. Yachad has fifty-five chapters across the country that provide a full array of services such as family Shabbatonim attracting hundreds of participants, summer camps, Taglit-Birthright programs to Israel and clinical services. Yachad’s Vocational Training Program caters to each client’s interests and abilities while taking his or her personal challenges into account. Currently, many of its members are interns, volunteers or paid employees. “Yachad’s vocational program does not serve as a typical employment agency,” says Jack Gourdji, executive director of the Jewish Union Foundation, an agency that is closely affiliated with Yachad. “Typical agencies will place people,
whether it’s the right fit or not. Yachad will make sure you’re the best person for the job, and vice versa.” Speaking of one young man with autism and ADHD, Gourdji says, “He can’t sit still. Yachad got him a job as a delivery person for one of the kosher restaurants in midtown Manhattan. It was a perfect fit. Just because an individual has developmental disabilities doesn’t mean he lacks talents. Yachad evaluates each individual and tries to best utilize his talents.”
Winter 5774/2013 JEWISH ACTION 69
Inside the OU
In an effort to spread the employment net wider, Yachad held two job fairs in Manhattan this past year for individuals with special needs. Almost five hundred job seekers and sixteen employers—including the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Lowe’s Home Improvement and the New York City Coalition Against Hunger—attended the first fair, held in March. Thirtyeight people got jobs as a result of the fair. The second job fair, in August, drew approximately four hundred job seekers and twenty employers. Putting It All into Practice Eli, a twenty-one-year-old job Yachad’s job candidates learn the soseeker at the fairs, attends Yachad’s cial and professional mores that job-readiness training and interns at many of us take for granted, such as Bravo Kosher Pizza in downtown Yachad prepares developmentally disabled how to appropriately interact with Manhattan. He’s now interested in adults to join the workforce. one’s boss and colleagues, dress for finding a job-for-pay in maintenance. work, come on time and be accountHis mother, Ruth, attributes his able. “[People with developmental disabilities] struggle with progress to Yachad. “They really do their homework,” she the idea that what they do really matters,” says Shula Einsays. “Eli has high-functioning autism and global delays. horn, Yachad’s vocational services coordinator. “We stress Yachad put a lot of time and effort into learning what motithat someone is relying on them and if they didn’t do it, it vates him, what makes him happy and ways they could help wouldn’t get done.” him with his struggles in the social arena.” To her delight Clients also receive “travel training,” which includes and relief, none of the behavioral issues she anticipated learning how to buy a metro card and successfully navigate came to fruition when he started interning. “He felt great, public transportation. Yachad also works with clients on inlike he was the man on campus,” she says. “He loves to work; terviewing skills and on improving posture and eye contact. he feels useful and capable.” Once “job-ready,” clients are assisted with creating a resume and finding an appropriate job. A job coach accompaYachad Goes Entrepreneurial nies the new employee during the initial weeks at the Dr. Lichtman saw the need for more opportunities—so he’s worksite, guiding him or her throughout the day. “For some, creating them. Yachad recently launched a for-profit online the idea of working seems daunting and out of reach,” says business selling gift baskets with Yachad members manning Einhorn. “The coaches guide them toward specific goals the phones. (To place an order, please visit yachadgifts.com until they come to see they can accomplish the required or call the toll-free number: 855.505.7500.) Currently, the tasks on their own.” Yachad’s vocational staff maintains con- business operates out of the OU headquarters in downtown tact with the employees and the worksites’ managers. “If an Manhattan, but Yachad would like to open up distribution individual starts to show up late to work, we are informed sites at Yachad chapters across the States. and work with him on it,” she says. Apparently, Yachad’s Vocational Services Department is Often, members start out as volunteers or interns, applyappreciated by employers as well. “My Yachad employees ing the skills they learned in an actual work setting. “The are so dedicated,” says David Abrams, the owner of Bravo goal is to build on their experience,” says Yael Schochat, job Kosher Pizza. “They’re happy to work and they put their developer for the Jewish Union Foundation. “They’ll have heart into everything. They come on time and rarely call in something to add to their resumes, helping companies look sick. It brings them such happiness. We gave one of the past their disabilities and hopefully hire them based on their workers a hat and a shirt that says ‘Bravo.’ He came into my office with tears in his eyes.” qualifications and abilities.” Eddie Akilov, a CVS store manager in Brooklyn, finds Schochat frequently hits the pavement pursuing employhelping the community is also good for business. “A lot of ment possibilities. “I’ll randomly walk into an establishcustomers make it a point to thank me; they tell me, ‘nice ment,” says Schochat. “I ask if they need any help sweeping, organizing shelves, stocking. Then I explain Yachad’s vocajob!’” He recently hired one of his Yachad interns. tional program and how our members can be an asset to “If you get one person a job, you’ve opened up a world for him,” says Dr. Lichtman. g their company.”
By Michael Orbach
A Quacky Visitor at the OU
Inside the OU
abbi Chaim Loike, rabbinic coordinator for the Orthodox Union, has been sighted on subways, busses and in and out of the office carrying an avian menagerie. If this sounds strange, it’s probably because you’re not familiar with the work Rabbi Loike does: Rabbi Loike is the informal bird expert at the OU. During his seven-year tenure at the OU, Rabbi Loike has raised dozens of birds, including quail, geese, ducks, partridges and finches as part of an ongoing effort, under the guidance of OU Posek Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, to document the mesorah of kosher birds. (The Torah lists twenty-four birds that are considered not kosher; however, since no one is exactly sure how to identify those twenty-four birds, much is dependent upon figuring out which birds are considered kosher through mesorah.) Rabbi Loike once helped prove that a wild turkey is the same as a domestic turkey and therefore kosher (the rambunctious turkey was not pleased with this development and flew around the office in a frenzy, destroying the rabbi’s keyboard). “Rabbi Loike is among the world’s leading rabbinic experts on the kashrut of exotic birds,” said Rabbi Dr. Ari Z. Zivotofsky, a Jewish Action contributor and a faculty member of Bar-Ilan’s Brain Science Program. “His passion is preserving both Jewish tradition and the variety in God’s natural world.” A few years ago, the OU was trying to determine the kosher status of a number of breeds of domestic duck. Rabbi Loike acquired a small flock of white mallards that were raised by a veterinarian not far from Rabbi Loike’s home in Long Island, New York.
Michael Orbach is a staff writer at the OU. 70
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A white mallard, part of a research project on the kashrut of birds, recently visited OU headquarters in Manhattan.
The veterinarian gave Rabbi Loike some of the eggs, but only one of them hatched. During Hurricane Sandy, the veterinarian’s office was flooded and the flock was destroyed. Rabbi Loike tried to obtain more white mallards but discovered he seemed to have one of the few remaining ones. “There might be a few white mallards here and there, but no one seems to be commercially raising them anymore,” says Rabbi Loike. “A lot of people claim they have a white mallard,” Rabbi Loike explains. “It’s not a mallard; it’s usually just a duck.” Rabbi Loike’s white mallard, a female, is now the family pet and is named Barvaz, Hebrew for duck. At about the same time Rabbi Loike came to the realization that he possessed one of the few remaining white mallards, he received a phone call from painter Ken Gibson, who is widely respected for his accuracy in portraying avian species. “We were schmoozing and I told him about the white mallard, and he was interested,” Rabbi Loike says. “And since he uses paints that are yolk-based, why not paint the picture with the yolk of the white mallard?” Gibson recently paid a visit to OU headquarters in Manhattan, where he painted Barvaz using yolk taken from several unhatched white mallard eggs. Gibson and Rabbi Loike hope to sell some of the paintings to raise money to launch a conservation effort for the white mallard and other endangered birds. “Making a painting out of the yolk of the endangered white mallard is a powerful statement,” Rabbi Loike says. “Species on our planet are vanishing and people have to take notice of it.” g Rabbi Chaim Loike, OU rabbinic coordinator, is the informal bird expert at the OU. Photos: M. Kruter
By Roslyn Singer
OU Seeks to Cut Energy Costs for Schools and Shuls
sk any school or shul: Energy costs money. It costs money to heat and cool a building and to turn the lights and computers on and off. OU Advocacy has launched a twopronged attack against mounting energy costs, one geared specifically for the State of New York and a larger nationwide initiative that will help syna-
about how much it costs to keep the lights on, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found that nonresidential buildings in the United States consume more than $200 billion in annual energy costs. For shuls, utilities are often the costliest budget component, while for day schools, estimates suggest that utility costs are the most
substantially reduced rates—but these programs and reduced rates are not available to private schools. If passed, the Energy Parity Act would give private schools access to the same energyefficiency programs and discounts that public schools receive. Cosponsored by Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) and Assemblyman Sean Ryan (D-Buffalo)
Tamar Eisenstat (center), an OU Advocacy-NY lay leader, discusses the benefits of the Energy Parity Act for Jewish day schools at a press conference in Albany. She is surrounded by members of the New York State Legislature as well as by Jeff Leb (to her left, front row), director of political affairs for OU Advocacy-NY, and Maury Litwack (to her right), director of state political affairs and outreach for OU Advocacy. New York State Senator Simcha Felder is in the back row, second from left.
Roslyn Singer is director of communications for OU Advocacy.
significant budget expense after personnel costs. We believe that the energy bills we’re working on could have a significant impact on day schools’ and shuls’ bottom lines.” In New York, OU Advocacy introduced the Energy Parity Act in order to end the “utility discrimination” practiced by the New York Power Authority (NYPA) against private schools. NYPA provides energy-efficiency programs and electricity directly to many public schools throughout New York State at
and supported by a bipartisan group of New York State legislators, the bill is expected to be taken up in the next legislative session. “Our calculations are that New York Jewish day schools’ utility costs could be half of what they are currently,” says Maury Litwack, director of state political affairs and outreach for OU Advocacy. “Should the bill become enacted as proposed, a school with a monthly electricity bill of $2,500 would save an estimated $15,000 to
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Inside the OU
gogues and day schools throughout the country. “Our mission at OU Advocacy is to advocate for the interests and values of our community and to help our community institutions and other nonprofit organizations in the broader Jewish community,” says Nathan Diament, executive director of OU Advocacy. “While most people don’t think
$21,000 annually, while a school with a monthly bill of $40,000 would save an estimated $240,000 per year.” Tamar Eisenstat, a member of the Executive Advisory Committee for SAR Academy and High School, a Jewish day school in Riverdale, New York, commented that SAR spends more than $600,000 annually on electricity. “It is our estimate that this legislation will save us nearly 50 percent, or $300,000 annually, on our electric bills. This money will go directly to support our families and teachers,” she says. Jeff Leb, director of political affairs for OU AdvocacyNY, adds that the strong bipartisan support for the bill underscores how the rising cost of energy and the need to become more energy efficient impacts all schools, regardless of whether they are public or private. On the federal side, OU Advocacy is supporting the Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Act. Introduced in the United States Senate by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Hoeven (R-ND), the nationwide initiative is a broad and bold plan to establish a national grant program through the Department of Energy in order to help nonprofit organizations make the buildings they own and operate more energy efficient. The Act would enable America’s schools, youth centers, houses of worship, hospitals and museums to reduce their operating costs, lessen their impact on the environment and bolster America’s energy independence. Under the proposal, $50 million would be authorized for each fiscal year from 2014 to 2017 for the grant program. Nonprofit organizations could apply for grants of up to 50 percent of the total cost of their energy efficiency program, with a cap set at $200,000. “Typically, when companies upgrade to become more energy efficient, they receive benefits in tax credits, a particular perk that nonprofits are unable to take advantage of,” explains Diament. “When nonprofit organizations—such as schools or shuls—want to improve or upgrade their buildings, they are often hard-pressed to find the money that is needed at the front end for that project,” says Diament. “Installing a brand new HVAC system in a large building can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. For a school or shul to fund this project, it either needs to—somehow—find the resources in its operating budget, which is difficult, or find a donor who thinks it’s a wonderful idea to donate such a large sum of money for a new heating and air conditioning system. Even the most dedicated donors are not so excited about donating money for a new HVAC unit or boiler,” says Diament. Since its impact will be felt well beyond the Jewish community, OU Advocacy is building a broad coalition of support for the Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Act. Supporting organizations include the National Council of Churches, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, YMCA of the U.S.A., the Association of Art Museum Directors and more. The bipartisan legislation is currently being considered as an amendment to a larger energy bill sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH). g 72
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NEW BOOKS FROM Bernard Revel: Builder of American Jewish Orthodoxy By Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff OU Press/Yeshiva University Press The Silver Era in American Jewish Orthodoxy: Rabbi Eliezer Silver and His Generation By Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff OU Press/Yeshiva University Press Available December 2013
U Press is proud to announce the republication of two books by celebrated historian Rabbi Aaron RakeffetRothkoff that have already become modern classics. As his students can attest, history is never boring in Rabbi Rakeffet’s hands. He views major historical events and eras in human terms; he understands institutions and movements by conveying the stories of the individuals behind them. Orthodoxy in America was embattled at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the pundits confidently and eagerly predicted the demise of Torah-true Judaism in America. But the heroic efforts of a few unique Orthodox leaders who refused to concede to defeat ultimately succeeded in establishing a robust Orthodoxy in America. One such leader was Dr. Bernard Revel, the guiding force in the establishment of Yeshiva University who became the first president and rosh yeshivah of Yeshiva College and RIETS. Dr. Revel was a product of the old country with its classical yeshivah system, but championed the impor-
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tance of combining Torah study with worldly knowledge. Moreover, his vision for Yeshiva University was an educational institution that would provide for the fundamentals of a vibrant Jewish community: a college for sophisticated secular studies, a yeshivah to ordain rabbis and a teachers institute to train educators. For all of Dr. Revel’s worldliness, his commitment to halachah was absolute and uncompromising, no matter what the political, personal or institutional cost. Always with dignity and respect, but with strength and passion, Dr. Revel fought tirelessly to fortify his vision of a Torah-true Judaism that would appeal to modern American sensibilities. Bernard Revel: Builder of American Jewish Orthodoxy is the story of the complex human being behind the legend and the very human dramas that underlie the history of the flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy in America. The timing of the book’s return to print couldn’t be better, as we are fast approaching Dr. Revel’s seventy-fifth yahrtzeit. The Silver Era in American Jewish Orthodoxy: Rabbi Eliezer Silver and His Generation relates the story of another extraordinary individual who exerted enormous influence on the American Orthodox scene.
When Rabbi Eliezer Silver came from Eastern Europe to America in 1907, he faced many of the same challenges that confronted Dr. Revel, although he pursued very different kinds of solutions. At the time, Eastern European rabbis who immigrated to America faced two daunting handicaps: they found themselves in an utterly unfamiliar milieu, where all the rules of the game had been changed, and the Reform movement had had ample time to entrench itself in the New World by the time they arrived. Rabbi Eliezer Silver would become a prime mover and a dominant force in the immigrant Orthodox rabbinate. For fifty-one years, until his death in 1968, he served as an officer of the rabbinic organization Agudath Harabonim, gave it a voice and relevance, and influenced the development of subsequent generations of American Orthodox rabbis. The Silver Era recounts the details of Rabbi Silver’s eventful life, from his early years in Europe through the final years of his courageous efforts to lead the Agudath Harabonim. When American Jewry came face to face with the nightmare of the Holocaust, Rabbi Silver, as a leader of the Vaad Hatzalah, played a crucial role in American Jewish efforts to help the survivors. As a founder of Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Silver exerted a forceful influence on the development of a more right-wing Orthodoxy on the American scene. Together, these two modern-day classics tell the story of an extraordinarily challenging period in modern Jewish history and the two men who contributed immeasurably to the successful establishment and extraordinary growth of Orthodoxy in America. g
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By Norene Gilletz
A Dairy Delicious
hether you spell it Chanukah or Hannukah, this festive winter holiday is associated with all sorts of latkes, sufganiyot and fried foods to celebrate the miracle of a small amount of oil miraculously lasting for eight days. The tradition of eating dairy dishes, particularly cheese, did not become popular until the Middle Ages. The story is told about a beautiful Jewess named Judith who saved her village from the Syrian-Greeks during the time of the Maccabean Revolt. She charmed her way into the enemy camp and brought a basket of cheese and wine to Holofernes, the enemy general. The salty cheese made him very thirsty and Holofernes drank so much wine that he eventually became drunk and passed out. Judith beheaded him with his own sword, and when the Syrian-Greeks discovered that their leader was dead, they fled. It eventually became a tradition to eat dairy foods in honor of Judith’s bravery. In the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, cookbook author Gil Marks explains how latkes became the ubiquitous Chanukah treat: “Latkes derive originally from Italian ricotta pancakes. Being fried and made with dairy made them suitable for Hanukkah.” The most prominent Ashkenazic term for pancake is the Eastern European latke, derived from the Ukrainian word Norene Gilletz is the author of nine cookbooks and divides her time between work as a food writer, culinary consultant, spokesperson, cooking instructor, lecturer and editor. Norene lives in Toronto, Canada. For more information, visit her web site at www.gourmania.com or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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for pancake and fritter, oladka, by way of the Greek eladia (little oilies), ultimately from the Greek elaion (olive oil). Cooks began using other ingredients in their latkes, such as cauliflower, spinach and zucchini. However, potato latkes, crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, are always a favorite. Gil Marks writes: “The secret to making crispy potato latkes without absorbing a lot of fat is to fry the batter in hot oil (about 1/4 inch), enough so that the latkes glide in the pan.” In addition to crispy potato latkes and tender cheese latkes topped with sour cream or yogurt, here are a few of my favorite dairy dishes from my personal recipe collection.
GIL MARKS’ ASHKENAZIC CHEESE PANCAKES (KAESE LATKES/LEVIVOT GEVINAH) Yields about 26 3-inch pancakes 2 cups (16 ounces) farmer cheese, pot cheese or drained ricotta cheese 4 large eggs About 3/4 cup all-purpose flour 2 tablespoons sugar or honey 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract About 1/2 teaspoon table salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt Vegetable oil or butter for frying
In a large bowl, beat together the cheese, eggs, flour, sugar, vanilla and salt until well combined. In a large skillet or griddle, heat a thin layer of oil over medium heat. In batches, drop the batter by heaping tablespoonfuls and fry until the top is set and the bottom is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Turn and fry until golden, about 2 minutes. Serve with sour cream, yogurt, maple syrup, jam, cinnamon/sugar or fresh fruit.
SPANAKOPITA ROLL-UPS Yields about 5 dozen hors d’oeuvres Filling 2 packages (10 ounces/300 grams each) frozen spinach 1 medium onion, chopped 1/2 of a red pepper, chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 package (8 ounces/250 grams) light or regular cream cheese (or 1/2 cup ricotta plus 1/2 cup feta cheese) 1 egg Salt and pepper to taste 1 tablespoon minced fresh dill (or 1 teaspoon dried) Dough 8 sheets phyllo dough 1/4 cup olive oil (melted butter or margarine can be substituted) Filling Cook spinach according to package directions. Cool slightly and squeeze dry. In a medium skillet, sauté onion, red pepper and garlic in olive oil on medium-high for 3 to 4 minutes, until softened. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process spinach until finely chopped. Add remaining filling ingredients. Process just until mixed, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil that has been sprayed with nonstick spray. Assembly Place 1 sheet of phyllo dough on a dry work surface, with the long side facing you. (Keep remaining dough covered with plastic wrap.) Brush dough lightly with oil. Top with a second sheet of dough; brush again lightly with oil. Spoon 1/4 of the filling in a narrow band, 1 inch from the bottom edge of the dough, leaving a 1-inch border on both sides. Fold sides inwards and roll up dough into a long cylinder. Place seam-side down on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. You will have 4 rolls. Brush tops of rolls lightly with oil. Using a sharp knife, mark 1-inch slices, cutting partially through the dough but not through the filling. (This makes for easier slicing after baking. If you slice the rolls completely before baking, the filling will dry out.) You will get about 15 slices from each roll. Bake for 20 minutes, until golden. Slice and serve. Note: Freezes well. To reheat, bake uncovered at 350°F for 10 minutes. Slice and serve. Variations Broccoli can be used instead of spinach. One cup of ricotta cheese can be used instead of cream cheese. If desired, add 1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes, rinsed and drained, to the filling mixture.
PHYLLO TRIANGLES Follow the steps for “Filling” above. Place 1 sheet of phyllo dough on a dry work surface and brush lightly with oil or butter. Top with a second sheet of dough and brush again with oil or butter. Cut dough into 6 strips about 2 inches wide. Place about 1 teaspoon filling about 1 inch from the bottom of each strip. Fold upward to cover filling. Bring the bottom-right corner upward to meet left edge, Enchilada Lasagna
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making a triangle. Continue folding upward and from side to side until the strip is completely folded into a triangle. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Place triangles seam-side down on lightly sprayed baking pan. Brush with additional oil or melted butter. (May be frozen at this point. No need to thaw before baking; just add 2 or 3 minutes to baking time.) Bake for 20 minutes, until golden.
SPANAKOPITA CASSEROLE Yields 12 servings Prepare spinach filling as directed for Spanakopita Roll-Ups. Spray a 9x13-inch casserole with nonstick spray. Line casserole with 4 sheets of phyllo, brushing each sheet lightly with oil as you layer it in the pan. Let edges of dough hang over pan. Spread filling evenly over dough. Quickly cover with remaining 4 sheets of phyllo, brushing each layer lightly with oil. Fold overhanging edges over the top; brush with oil once again. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes, until golden. Note: Reheats and/or freezes well.
SPINACH-STUFFED MUSHROOMS Yields 5 dozen 5 dozen medium mushrooms 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil Filling for Spanakopita Roll-Ups (above) Rinse mushrooms quickly and drain well. Pat dry. Remove stems and reserve for another use. Brush outsides of mushroom caps with a little oil. Fill each cap with a spoonful of filling, mounding it slightly. Arrange in a single layer in a sprayed or foil-lined baking dish. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired. Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes, until piping hot.
ENCHILADA LASAGNA Yields 6 servings No-roll enchiladas are layered like lasagna. This dish is fiberpacked and so yummy! The best part of all is that you don’t have to boil lasagna noodles to make this dish. If you use corn tortillas, this lasagna will be gluten-free. 2 teaspoons olive oil 1 onion, chopped 1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms 1 green pepper, chopped 2 cloves garlic, crushed 3 cups tomato sauce 1 can (19 ounces/540 milliliters) kidney beans,
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rinsed and drained 1/2 teaspoon chili powder 7 corn or flour tortillas 3/4 cup grated low-fat mozzarella cheese 3/4 cup grated low-fat Swiss cheese Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray an 8 x 12-inch casserole with nonstick spray. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. Sauté onion, mushrooms, green pepper and garlic for 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce, beans and chili powder. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Layer 2 tortillas, 1/3 of sauce mixture and 1/3 of grated cheese in prepared casserole. Continue layering until all the ingredients are used, making three layers. Cut up the extra tortilla to fill in any empty spaces. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes. Note: Reheats and/or freezes well.
CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE Yields 12 to 16 servings This decadent cheesecake is a winner! It’s extremely rich so serve very small portions. 1 package (8 ounces/250 grams) chocolate wafers 1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted 2 tablespoons brown sugar 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 2 cups chocolate chips 1 pound (500 grams) cream cheese, cut into chunks (light or regular) 3/4 cup granulated sugar 4 eggs 1/2 cup sour cream (light or regular) Garnish 1/2 cup chilled whipping cream (35%) 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar Gold-wrapped chocolate coins or chocolate curls Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9-inch spring form pan with nonstick spray. Crust Insert steel blade in food processor. Break wafers into chunks and drop through the feed tube while machine is running. Process them until fine crumbs are formed. Add butter or margarine, brown sugar and cinnamon. Process a few seconds longer to blend. Press into the bottom of prepared pan, reserving 1/3 cup crumb mixture for topping. Wash and dry processor bowl and blade. Filling Place chocolate chips in a glass bowl and melt on medium power (50%) in the microwave for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times. (Alternatively, melt them in the top of a double boiler over simmering water, stirring occasionally.)
Process cream cheese with sugar for 30 seconds. Do not insert pusher in feed tube for maximum volume. Add eggs and process until well blended, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add melted chocolate and sour cream and process 20 seconds longer. Pour chocolate mixture over crust and sprinkle with reserved crumbs. Place a pie plate half filled with water on bottom rack of oven. (This helps prevent the cheesecake from cracking.) Place cheesecake on middle rack. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes. When done, edges of cake will be set, but the center will be somewhat soft. Turn off the oven and let cheesecake cool inside for half an hour with the door partially open. When completely cooled, place cheesecake on a serving plate. Remove sides of pan.
Thank you for your continued patronage throughout the past year. Our warmest wishes to you and your family during the Festival of Lights.
Garnish Whip cream until thick. Add confectioner’s sugar and whip a few seconds longer, until soft peaks form. Pipe rosettes of whipped cream around edges of cheesecake. Garnish with chocolate coins or chocolate curls. Note: Freezes well. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Alternate Garnish Make or buy a cardboard stencil of a Chanukah menorah. Place it on top of the baked, cooled cheesecake. Sift confectioner’s sugar over top, and then carefully remove the stencil. You will then have the design of a menorah on top of your cheesecake. g
SUPERMARKETS Stores located in CT, MA, NH, NY, PA & VT. To find a location near you, please visit www.pricechopper.com.
Copyright © Norene Gilletz, September 11, 2013.
Chocolate Cheesecake Photos: Doug Gilletz
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Books The Rarest Blue: The Remarkable Story of an Ancient Color Lost to History and Rediscovered By Baruch Sterman with Judy Taubes Sterman Lyons Press Guilford, Connecticut, 2012 305 pages Reviewed by Alfred Cohen
Speak to the children of Israel, and let them make for themselves tzitzit at the corners of their garments, for all generations. And they shall put . . . a strand of techelet . . . at the corner. And [when] you see it, you will remember all the mitzvoth of the Lord and do them . . . (Exodus 15:37). the mitzvah of donning tzitzit While is fairly straightforward—one must wear fringes at the corners of a four-cornered garment—the requirement to include a strand of techelet is somewhat ambiguous. What is techelet? What purpose does it serve? Elucidating the verse above, the rabbis state: Techelet is the same color as the heavens, and when a person sees it on his garment, he will remember God Who dwells in Heaven and has given us commandments, and thereby he will be prompted to observe all the mitzvot of the Torah (Rashi, ibid.). [Interestingly, the blue stripe in the Israeli flag is evocative of the strand of blue in the tzitzit.] For thousands of years, tzitzit did indeed include the thread of techelet, but almost 1,000 years ago the practice lapsed because the knowledge of how to make techelet was lost. The blue strand in the tzitzit needs to be specifically techelet, the color of blue dye derived from the secretions or “blood” of Rabbi Alfred Cohen is editor of the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the rabbi of Congregation Ohaiv Yisroel in Monsey.
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a sea creature called the chilazon, and the identity of the elusive chilazon was lost. Around 120 years ago, an attempt was made to identify this creature and restore the practice of wearing techelet in tzitzit. The attempt, initiated by Rabbi Henoch Leiner (of Radzyn, Poland) and generally regarded as failing to correctly identify the chilazon, nevertheless succeeded in stimulating great interest in reviving the lost mitzvah. Numerous rabbinic and scientific studies have been undertaken to verify the true identity of the chilazon, and the story of that quest as well as full discussions of the scientific data which support that inquiry are the subject of a fascinating new book, The Rarest Blue, written by Baruch Sterman with his wife, Judy Taubes Sterman. The Rarest Blue reports on a broad range of inquiries into the scientific aspects of determining which sea creature is indeed the chilazon, which the book identifies as the murex trunculus, based upon descriptions in the Talmud and in rabbinic literature. Furthermore, The Rarest Blue details the production methods, including how the potential techelet is extracted from the murex and how the dye is manufactured. The authors even delve into the question of how color is perceived by the human eye. Their comprehensive and absorbing discussions are an excellent review of the scientific studies associated with the attempt to restore an ancient mitzvah, which include not only determining which sea creature could be the chilazon, but also the surprisingly complex endeavor to replicate the ancient extraction and dyeing methods. In addition, the Stermans offer the history of this whole undertaking and explain what Rabbi Leiner attempted to do and why many think he arrived at the wrong conclusion. Among those who differed with Rabbi Leiner was Rabbi Isaac Herzog, who later became the chief rabbi of Israel and wrote his PhD thesis on his own attempts to identify the chilazon. There are also
those who contend that Rabbi Herzog was equally mistaken in his own analyses. The Stermans’ research makes for interesting reading and provides valuable information. The Rarest Blue is an indispensable source of information, both historical and scientific, for those interested in the possible restoration of the mitzvah of techelet in the modern age. Nevertheless, despite its excellent qualities, this book is only a first step in the process of reviving the ancient mitzvah, if that is even possible. This is because halachah does not emerge from scientific inquiry alone, albeit scientific knowledge is certainly an essential component of the halachic process. There are two distinct and essential procedures in determining Jewish law. First, it is necessary to ascertain the realities of the situation, scientific or otherwise. Thus, before a rabbi can decide whether it is permissible to use an electrical device on Shabbat, he must understand how electricity works and how the particular device is to be used. Similarly, before he can decide whether something is kosher, he needs to know its ingredients and how it is manufactured. Every competent posek has his medical experts, psychologists, chemists and other experts who inform him of the technical realia of the issue he needs to determine. Second, once he has clarified the facts, a posek then needs to apply the pertinent halachic rules to the question. While halachah has to be based on technical information, that information does not create the halachah. Jewish law is determined by examining the facts and thereafter applying appropriate legal and religious principles. Ultimately, then, we must conclude that while in the realm of information and background this book performs an excellent and important service, it actually deals with only one part of the equation, and not the definitive part at that. On the question of wearing a thread of blue in tzitzit nowadays, dyed by
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those claiming that they have rediscovered the chilazon, a host of halachic issues arise—which this book does not address. To be perfectly fair, the authors never claim that their study offers a comprehensive rationale for renewing the wearing of techelet, nor do they claim to have any rabbinic knowledge. Their objective was only to present the scientific and historical background of the issue. The ultimate halachic decision is not part of their purview. On the other hand, their comprehensive study may well leave readers wondering why wearing techelet has not been embraced by the Torahobservant community on a grand scale, and that puzzlement arises from the fact that the halachic challenges are not alluded to. The authors should have at least mentioned that there are halachic issues that might preclude reinstating the wearing of techelet. Firstly, identifying the murex as the chilazon is a conclusion challenged by quite a few; just as Rabbi Leiner was convinced that he had identified the correct creature, and it turned out that he had been defrauded, or that he deluded himself, it is quite possible that this latest identification might ultimately also be shown to be mistaken. One serious challenge to identifying the murex as the chilazon is that the Gemara portrays the chilazon as a creature that needs to be “hunted.” (The Gemara specifically defines the action of hunting on Shabbat as that which needs to be done to trap the chilazon.) Yet I personally saw the alleged chilazon resting quietly on the wall of the tank, from which it did not move for a very long time. It hardly seemed to necessitate hunting! Thus, the halachic discussion might well negate the scientific conclusions ancillary to identifying the chilazon. Even setting aside the question of whether this newly identified creature is indeed the chilazon, there are those who challenge the underlying assumption that a mitzvah long forgotten may simply be revived. Thus, the basic premise of The Rarest Blue—that the
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mitzvah of techelet can be renewed in the modern age—faces a serious challenge. There are those who contend that a mesorah—a tradition handed down through the ages—is required in order to accept the identification of the murex as the chilazon, scientific proof notwithstanding. And even if it is accepted that the murex is the ancient chilazon, there remains the question of what shade of blue is true techelet. The Talmud describes the color of techelet as ‘resembling the sea; and the sea resembles the sky . . . . ’ What color of blue is the Talmud talking about? Bright sky blue? Or the light blue of dawn? Or the purplish-blue of dusk? Each of these questions is debated by the rabbis and needs to be resolved before techelet can be accepted. These are issues debated by medieval rabbis (Rishonim), which would be a formidable undertaking to resolve. Halachah is not decided by scientific information, but rather by weighing scientific information in the crucible of halachic principles. The authors have done a fine job of presenting the scientific background upon which a halachic ruling might be established. But by ignoring the far more important halachic discussion, they have, perhaps unwittingly, created an unfortunate impression that the scientific study is really all that counts; the implicit contention seems to be that if the data presented in The Rarest Blue holds up to scientific challenge, then it follows logically that the mitzvah of tzitzit with techelet can and should henceforth be observed using the blue dye from the murex. And that is certainly a false and misleading conclusion. I am grateful to the authors for their valuable work, providing timely and important information about an arcane topic—information that will certainly be helpful to rabbis and laymen. But it is not the final word on the topic. g Listen to Dr. Baruch Sterman discuss the mystery of the chilazon at www.ou.org/rarest-blue.
Letters to President Clinton: Biblical Lessons on Faith and Leadership Edited by Rabbi Menachem Genack Sterling Ethos/OU Press New York, 2013 288 pages Reviewed by Richard Joel Letters to President InClinton: Biblical Lessons on Faith and Leadership, Rabbi Menachem Genack offers insight into the special relationship forged between himself and former President Bill Clinton during his time in the Oval Office. The full extent of his appellation of “Bill Clinton’s rabbi,” with which President Clinton himself begins the foreword of this book, is revealed to the public in this groundbreaking record of official correspondence. Throughout Clinton’s presidency and beyond, Rabbi Genack sent the president scores of divrei Torah on timely issues, elucidating the day’s challenges through the prism of Torah. In turn, President Clinton carefully digested these lessons and often sent back handwritten comments, some of which are reproduced in this volume. Through this remarkable relationship, the Jewish ideas and Torah ideals—reflecting the mission of both the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and the OU—made their way directly into the Oval Office. This fascinating compendium serves as a moving reminder of just how far American Jewry has progressed when Jewish ideas and Torah ideals may freely enter the intellectual milieu of the most powerful leader in the free world. Rabbi Genack’s special relationship with President Clinton is a dramatic demonstration of someone able to flavor the president’s thoughts with Torah perspectives. The range of topRichard Joel is the president of Yeshiva University.
ics covered in this volume demonstrate the various and varied ways in which Rabbi Genack sought to enlarge the scope of President Clinton’s thinking and, presumably, enable him to navigate difficult decisions informed by some of the timeless values of our ancient tradition. Rabbi Genack saw this unique rapport not as a means to advance his own thoughts, but as an opportunity to expose the president to a variety of approaches by culling letters and submissions from additional Torah personalities. The range of prominent Jewish leaders and luminaries—among them Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, the Honorable Judith Kaye, Cynthia Ozick, Nobel laureate in chemistry Roald Hoffmann, former Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer and others—ensured that the president steadily engaged with Jewish values throughout his years in office. But Rabbi Genack’s book serves as much more than a documentation of personal correspondence. As a compendium of short think pieces on many aspects of communal life—and through its discussions of important topics such as leadership, sin and repentance, creation, community and education, holidays, faith and dreams and visions—the book serves as a primer for how the Jewish people can productively and meaningfully infuse our Torah into society. The section on sin and repentance reminds us that Scripture is a guide for real life, teaching mere mortals a path to increased sanctity. Those who remember former Senator Joseph Lieberman’s public scolding of President Clinton will see in his contribution, “Night and Day,” a different side of their close relationship. He writes, “After the night comes the day, with its promise of salvation and the hope for a new and better tomorrow.” These letters remind us that the Torah is a source of inspiration and aspiration, counsel and consolation, providing an avenue for personal transformation and redemption. Education, an endeavor with which I have a special relationship, receives its due in the book as well. In line with President Clinton’s groundbreaking education initiatives, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, eloquently states that “freedom . . . is a constant endeavor, throughout the ages, to teach those who come after us about the battles our ancestors fought . . . . Schools are the strength of a civilization, the guardians of its heritage and hope.” We build the future by conveying our values and vision to our students, our future leaders, to whom we must eventually hand over our faith, dreams and destiny. In a similar vein, I am reminded of the meeting I attended with President George W. Bush, Clinton’s successor, for a discussion along with other Jewish educators. President Bush explained the goal of higher education as a means of preparing students to compete in the global economy. I responded with my personal belief that the purpose of higher education must encompass more than economic considerations; it must ennoble and en-
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able our students. To which the President responded with words I would not soon forget: “Ennoble and enable— I like that.” In an ultimate sense, Letters to President Clinton stands as a poster child for the eternal and universal relevance of Torah. It demonstrates that when we seek to lead on a national and global scale—not just within the Jewish community—we only stand to gain from injecting the wisdom of Torah into the intellectual discourse. We cannot relegate Torah to its immediate environment, to the confines of our study halls. We must allow it to spill out of
those halls in abundance, as it colors the way our leaders lead, our thinkers think and our society functions, at all levels and in every imaginable way. This simultaneous engagement with both modernity and tradition is a fundamental tenet of Modern Orthodoxy. We encourage our young people to live lives of wholeness and integrity, lived deep in the wide world around them—not despite their traditions, but because of them. Rabbi Genack, a proud graduate of and revered teacher at Yeshiva University, compellingly demonstrates the importance of that simultaneous engagement. This book is
The following is excerpted, with permission, from Letters to President Clinton:
the story of a Jew and a Christian, both leaders and scholars, who share a passion for the wisdom of the sacred text, seeing in it Divine guidance for enhancing and elevating the world. Their conversation is one for the ages—as an example of a fruitful intellectual exchange, as a symbol of the great biblical tradition of the United States and as a lasting testament to the notion of Torah-informed engagement with the world around us. g Listen to Rabbi Menachem Genack speak about his latest book at www.ou.org/clinton-book.
Inherent to the human condition and our finitude is that we make mistakes and missteps. The critical element of leadership is the capacity to admit a mistake, and not Judah and Joseph be wedded to a misguided and possibly disastrous course. Menachem Genack, February 12, 1996 What we seek in our leaders is not perfection or a misplaced self-righteous stubbornness, but rather flexibility, ike a red thread going through the Bible and the Taland the ability to change direction in an ever-changing mudic tradition is the confrontation between Joseph world drama. Humility requires that policies be susceptiand Judah over who will be the progenitor of the Royal ble to constant reevaluation and midcourse correction. House. We feel the tension below the surface, as Judah This was King David’s great strength, and what set approaches Joseph to plead for him apart from his predeBenjamin (Gen. 44:18). cessor Saul. David was caIt is remarkable that Jacob pable of admitting error, bequeaths royalty to Judah while Saul always ex(“The scepter shall not depart plained away, as he did from Judah”—Gen. 49:10), when confronted by rather than to his beloved son, Samuel in the case of Agag Joseph. Joseph, after all, seems (1 Sam. 15). so suited to royalty, by temperaLincoln, our greatest ment as well as experience. President, had a fundamenJoseph is perfect in every retal vision of where he spect. He does not succumb to wanted to lead America, temptation. He is resolute and but within that context he rules with brilliance and magnaexhibited extraordinary nimity over Egypt. Why then is flexibility. With his nuIn his essay about the biblical story of Judah and Tamar, the mantle of the kingship and anced policy toward aboliRabbi Menachem Genack mistakenly cited a passage as leadership given to Judah, and tion, he was able to being from Genesis 28. The president, who has a firm grasp ultimately to his scion, David? maintain the border states, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, of biblical literature, responded with a note that tactfully while retaining the support corrected the citation to Genesis 38. the preeminent Jewish theoloof the Northern abolitiongian and Talmudist of the twenists. He changed commandtieth century, suggested that Judah is chosen for kingship ing generals until he found Grant, the right one, to whom because he is able to admit a mistake. According to the he gave his full support. classical tradition recorded in the Talmud, Judah is choIt is ironic that President Clinton is often assaulted by sen by God to be the forbearer of the Davidic Dynasty, his Republican critics for waffling and changing policy, and the Messiah, when he admits his relationship with when his ability to adjust to new circumstances and politTamar (Gen. 28:26). In fact, the etymology of the name ical reality, while remaining true to his basic vision, is the “Judah” is derived from the Hebrew “to admit.” mark of real leadership.
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By Ari Z. Zivotofsky
WHAT’S THE TRUTH ABOUT . . .
Misconception: Tefillin must be checked twice every seven years to ensure that they are kosher. Fact: The halachah is that tefillin that
have been checked and found to be kosher and are then used regularly are not required to be rechecked. Nonetheless, as a stringency, various customs have arisen regarding how often they should be checked. Background: Because myriad halachot
are involved in the production of sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzot, they must be made by a competent and God-fearing sofer. Despite the best efforts of the sofer, however, errors can occur. Thus, all sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzot should be independently checked before they are used. Since over time, it is possible that the ink will fade, the parchment will tear, batim will warp, et cetera, it seems prudent to periodically have tefillin inspected. The frequency of such inspections is the subject of debate in ancient sources. Basic Halachah The Mechilta (Bo, 17) records a debate in which Beit Hillel, based on Exodus 13:10 and Leviticus 25:29, asserts that tefillin must be checked every twelve months, while Beit Shammai maintains that they never need to be checked. Some commentaries, such as the Rosh, Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky is on the faculty of the Brain Science Program at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
say the opinions are reversed. A similar debate is recorded in the Yerushalmi (Eruvin 10:1; 26a), where Rebbi requires a yearly inspection and Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel says no periodic check is needed. The Mechilta and Yerushalmi each record an incident as proof of the latter opinion, but with different protagonists. The Mechilta relates that Shammai said that he used his maternal grandfather’s tefillin.1 In the Yerushalmi, it is Hillel who makes the statement about using his maternal grandfather’s tefillin.2 The Korban Ha’eidah and Pnei Moshe on the Yerushalmi explain that the point of the story is that the tefillin had not been checked since it had been used by either Hillel or Shammai’s grandfather.3 The halachic tradition through the ages has nearly unanimously followed the position of Beit Shammai and Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel. Rambam (Hilchot Tefillin 2:11) rules that as long as the batim of the tefillin are intact, the tefillin do not need to be checked. He cites the story about Hillel as found in the Yerushalmi presumably as a basis for his ruling. The Smag (Aseh 22, also citing Hillel), Rosh (last halachah in Hilchot Tefillin ) and Tur (OC 39) rule similarly. The Beit Yosef (OC 39:10) cites the Mechilta (in the name of Tosafot [Menachot 42b-43a, s.v. “tefillin”]) and the Yerushalmi, and rules that “tefillin that are known to be kosher never need to be checked” (SA, OC 39:10).
Why Check? According to ancient sources, tefillin need to be checked either on an annual basis or never; and, as stated previously, the halachah was decided according to the latter. Nonetheless, the Shulchan Aruch adds that if the tefillin are not worn regularly, and thus may have been damaged over time, they do need to be checked.4 The Tur quotes this distinction in the name of Rav Amram Gaon. So too, the Orchot Chaim (Tefillin 29) quotes Teshuvot HaGeonim (possibly Rav Amram?) as ruling that tefillin worn regularly do not require checking “even after fifty years”5 (see Prisha 39:5) but those worn only sporadically need to be checked. Regarding the frequency of this required check, the Orchot Chaim cites those who maintain that tefillin should be checked twice in seven years. The Beit Yosef (OC 39) quotes the Rosh who says that those who require a twice-inseven-years check6 are basing their ruling on a gemara (Yoma 11a) which sets that as the frequency for checking7 one’s mezuzot.8 The Rosh notes that there is a fundamental difference between mezuzah and tefillin in that the former is exposed to the elements. A relatively early source (the eighth-century Sheiltot, according to the Tur, and the slightly later Shimusha Rabba, according to the Rosh and Beit Yosef) advocated a twice-in-sevenyears checking for all tefillin. While that position was rejected, it was
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adopted in instances when an inspection is required for some other reason (e.g., when tefillin are not used regularly, or when batim are punctured or fell into water9). Because common sense plays a role here, tefillin should not only be checked if they are unused. The Mishnah Berurah (39:26) states that the basic halachah is that as long as the tefillin are sealed, they have a chazakah (i.e., there is a presumption that they are kosher, and do not need to be checked). Nonetheless, since sweat can ruin a pair (Knesset Hagedolah, OC 39; Magen Avraham 39:14), it’s a good idea to check them periodically. So too, tefillin worn on damp hair can get ruined. If the batim open or fall into water, they require an immediate inspection. If an inspection cannot take place right away, they should be worn but no berachah should be recited. The Chayei Adam (14:20) also states that an inspection is required if tefillin were left in a place with moisture, and Mish-
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nat HaSofer (24:3) says the same about tefillin left in the sun for an extended period of time. The nineteenth-century classic on the laws of safrut, Keset Hasofer (Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried 24:1 [p. 145 in the 1985 edition]), writes that tefillin that are known to be kosher never need to be checked. However, he adds that it is proper to check them since they can get ruined due to sweat. Rabbi Yaakov Emden (Mor U’ktziya, p. 39) rejects the possibility that sweat can penetrate the leather batim and cause damage. Yet he relates that when his tefillin were checked—only three-and-a-half years after they were previously found to be kosher—they were missing a letter. He writes how impressed he is with the wisdom of the sages who required checking every three-and-a-half years. Aruch Hashulchan (OC 39:6) quotes the Shulchan Aruch and adds that because [in his day] the quality of the ink is poor and oftentimes peels off the klaf, he suggests periodic inspections (he does not specify how often). So too, a mezuzah placed in a damp environment should be checked more frequently—at least once a year (Aruch Hashulchan, YD 291:1). Similarly, if a doorpost is painted with the mezuzah still affixed, it may have been damaged and must be checked; therefore, mezuzot should be taken down before painting takes place (Iggerot Moshe, YD 1:183; Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, Eidut L’Yisrael, p. 141). Additionally, one who dreams that his tefillin are not kosher should have them checked (Mekor Chaim, cited in Chayei Moshe 39:10). Over the last half century, it has become common for batim to be made from thicker hide than was used in previous years. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach states (Halichot Shlomo 4:36, p. 59, n. nun-bet) that because tefillin today are mehudar, and fashioned out of high-quality ink and parchment and thick leather, one should not have them checked without a specific reason.10 Inspecting tefillin requires opening the batim and then resealing them, which itself can cause problems. Because of the technical difficulties involved, the Rema (OC 39:10) rules that if there is no expert who can take the batim apart
and reseal them, it is preferable to not have them checked. (Checking a mezuzah, however, is a much simpler process and can be done by anyone who can read Hebrew [Pischei Teshuvah, YD 291:3 citing Chatam Sofer, YD 283].) Pious Customs Although tefillin do not need to be checked and mezuzot do need to be checked every three-and-a-half years, different customs have evolved. 11 Orchot Chaim (Hilchot Tefillin, p. 29) says that the sages of France had a custom to check once a year. Mateh Efraim (581:10) and the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (128:3) record a custom to check mezuzot and tefillin yearly during Elul. Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l, (Yechave Da’at 1:49) cites this custom approvingly. The Chayei Adam (14:20) says that it is proper to check tefillin twice every seven years. There is a custom to check the tefillin of a deceased individual before anyone else uses it; thus, if one buys a deceased person’s tefillin,12 he should have them checked (Misgeret Zahav, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch [Vilna, 5661] 10:8 and more recently, Yalkut HaSofer 24:1). Conclusion Adhering to the strict letter of the law and never checking one’s tefillin could make one anxious. What if one bought kosher tefillin, never inspected them as per the halachah and now, thirty years later, finds them to be pasul? Has he not fulfilled the mitzvah since they became pasul? Has he made two berachot levatalot daily? Shu”t Rav Pa’alim (4:2) states that when one acts in accordance with halachah and his intentions are l’shem Shamayim, then, if through no fault of his own, the tefillin were found to be pasul, it is considered as if he performed the mitzvah.13 Similarly, the gemara (Shabbat 63a) states that if one planned on doing a mitzvah and was prevented from doing so, God considers it as if he did the mitzvah. Chayei Moshe (39:10) argues that one should not feel guilty about wearing pasul tefillin if he adhered to the halachah, and even the berachot levatalot are not
a concern. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichot Shlomo 4:59, n. 115) suggests that if one does find that his tefillin is pasul, he should wear tefillin a few extra minutes each day from then on and also wear them during learning. Others disagree. The Meshech Chochmah (Shemot 13:10), for example, says that one should be extra careful about checking mezuzot (and tefillin) because even if one adhered to the halachah, if oneâ€™s tefillin or mezuzah are found to be pasul, it is not considered as if he fulfilled the mitzvah, regardless of whether he was at fault. After taking all of the above into account, the Peri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 39:15) concludes that one who checks his tefillin often with expert scribes is praiseworthy. g Notes 1. See Orchot Rabbeinu (Bnei Brak, 5751) p. 46, which records that the Chazon Ish, who was childless, gave his nephew his own fatherâ€™s tefillin for his bar mitzvah and said that there was no need to check them, despite the fact that they had not been used in years. No explanation was given. 2. On the change of names, see Shuâ€?t Binyan Tzion Hachadashot 39 (cited in Torah Ladaâ€™at XX; cited in parashah sheet Bo 5756). See Torah Sheleimah on Shemot 13:10, n. 131 for sources. 3. This explanation seems to fit with the story in context. Nonetheless, the well-known work on scribal laws, Baruch Sheâ€™amer, by the fourteenth-century Rav Shimshon son of Rebbi Eliezar (reprinted in 1970, p. 16b; in the 1877 edition, p. 19b) decries the fact that many do not check their tefillin and mezuzot and end up not fulfilling the mitzvah. He advises checking tefillin regularly and reports that he personally had seen many that had become pasul. 4. Eishel Avraham (Butschatch; OC 39) and Misgeret Zahav (10:8) say that even though in Talmudic times tefillin was worn for longer periods of time throughout the day, putting on tefillin daily certainly fulfills the requirement of airing them out. Mishnat Sofer (24:2) says any less frequent than daily wearing is considered â€œsporadicâ€?; therefore, tefillin not worn daily require a periodic checkup. 5. See Ran (Megillah 5b in Rif, s.v. â€œvâ€™hilchataâ€?) that a â€œmezuzah is checked once every seven years, while tefillin, which are protected, are checked once in a yovel [fifty years].â€? 6. A frequency of â€œtwo out of seven yearsâ€? appears in several additional places in rabbinic literature. These include: fixing the houses that fall in the Sharon region (Sotah 44a), refreshing the memories of families with questionable lineage (Kiddushin 71a), transmitting the accurate pronunciation of the Divine Name (Kiddushin 71a) and checking the second floor of the Holy of Holies (Pesachim 86a). The impetus may have been to link these items to the shemittah cycle. This is in addition to the items which are intrinsically linked to the shemittah cycle, such as biur and vidui maâ€™aser, which obviously occur twice every seven years. 7. Rashi (Yoma 11a, s.v. â€œnivdeketâ€?) says there are two rea-
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sons for the inspection: to make sure it has not become pasul and to verify that it was not stolen from the case. 8. This is codified as the halachah (Rambam, Hilchot Sefer Torah Uâ€™Mezuzah 5:9; SA, YD 291:1); thus, mezuzot should be checked every three-and-a-half years (AH, YD 291:1). 9. He includes these laws in his Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (10:26). 10. He similarly says (ibid., n. nun-bet) that a mezuzah securely placed in a glass case in the wall (as is the practice in Israel) does not require checking twice every seven years. It would seem that the same would apply to one wrapped in plastic. 11. Unlike mezuzah and tefillin, the strings of a tallit should be examined daily (Shulchan Aruch, OC 8:9). The Magen Avraham (8:11) explains that because they can easily be damaged, the assumption that they are kosher doesnâ€™t apply. His argument is attacked by many (e.g., Gra, OC 8:9), but the halachah stands and the Taz (8:8) offers a different explanation for it (see also MB 8:22; Machatzit Hashekel 8:11; Shev Shemaâ€™tata, shaâ€™ar 3; perek 11 and n. 52 in Mâ€™luei Shmaiyta; Shuâ€?t Zkan Aharon [2:OC:2]). 12. On the inheritor (or anyone) selling tefillin, see MA 153:23, Biur Halachah (commenting on 153:10) and Shuâ€?t Shevet Halevi 1:41. 13. See also Har Zvi 1:35 and Shuâ€?t Chemdat Moshe (Rav Moshe Yaakov Beck, p. 34).
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Shadchan I’ve always been skeptical about “love at first sight” stories. Instant attraction is one thing, but I never believed that true love, the real deal, could blossom the instant one person first set eyes on another. But then it happened to me. I hadn’t even been wife shopping. But three years ago, a beautiful, bright and charming twenty-year-old named Aliza waltzed right into my living room. She and her parents, Sharon and Manny, were staying with us over Rosh Hashanah, as they had done off and on for several years. They had moved to another Orthodox enclave of Los Angeles years earlier, but maintained close friendships in our neighborhood. The last time I had seen Aliza, she was so young that the idea of matching her with one of my sons didn’t even register. This time, almost instantly, bells went off in my head: I think she’s the one for Avi! I loved many things about her, including her genuine smile, sense of self, Judy Gruen is the author of Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping (2012), and writes the Mirth and Meaning blog on www.judygruen.com.
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By Judy Gruen
sincerity, grace and smarts. I had a sixth sense that Avi would love her too. Our families also had much in common, including two sets of “BT” parents who raised their kids as “FFBs.” On paper they seemed perfect, but I had to finagle a way for them to meet, since Avi lived in New York and Aliza was in nursing school in Baltimore. Avi was planning to use a shadchan when he was ready to date; I was less than thrilled with the idea. The highly orchestrated business of frum matchmaking felt too business-like to me. “Avi,” I said, “a shadchan doesn’t know you or love you like I do, and when the time comes, I want to be involved.” I didn’t know exactly what “being involved” would look like, but I wasn’t willing to outsource the most important decision in my son’s life to an outsider, no matter how well intentioned or experienced. My sense that Aliza could be my son’s “bashert” was so compelling that I sidled over to Sharon and shared my brilliant idea. When she reminded me of the protocol, I said, “People who have been friends for nearly thirty years can afford to bend the rules.” She smiled, and we agreed to keep the idea under our wigs. Sharon and I had been college housemates in a Jewish co-op at UCLA. Neither of us was Orthodox at that time, and after college we bumped into each other now and again. One night, as my husband, Jeff, and I were leaving a restaurant, in walked Sharon on the arm of a young man, both of them smiling broadly. Sharon wore a flower garland in her hair and proudly introduced us to her husband, Manny. They had been married that afternoon. I thought about Aliza frequently after that Rosh Hashanah visit, and hoped she wasn’t “busy.” When I saw her again at a bat mitzvah five months later, I was relieved that she was not sporting an engagement ring. The following summer, Avi announced that he was “ready.” I called Sharon and Manny, who checked out Avi’s refer-
ences and resume. I did the same with Aliza, only because Avi insisted. With the “vetting” completed, the kids went on their first date, and I started fantasizing about a wedding. I was gratified that Avi trusted my judgment. His only complaint was the travel time: “Why do I need to go to Baltimore to meet a girl, Mom?” he asked. “I’m in Brooklyn!” Across the miles, I smiled and said, “Just go meet her. If I didn’t think she was special, I wouldn’t have suggested it.” Avi and Aliza dated through a long, muggy Baltimore summer. Avi became a regular on the Thursday night bus to Baltimore, but no longer complained about the travel time. On our family vacation that summer in Yosemite, Avi talked to Aliza while we were hiking, boasting that while his cell phone was more antiquated than ours, he had the best reception from high mountain peaks. He spaced out during family Boggle tournaments, distracted by his long-distance romance. Aliza came home to LA that summer too, and the night before she returned to school, Avi proposed to her on the same bench in Marina del Rey where Jeff had proposed to me twentyfour years earlier. While the kids were busy getting engaged, our two happy families set up a joyful “L’chaim” at our house. They were married the following December. I became the envy of several other mothers not only for having picked my son’s wife, but having found a local girl to boot. It makes it much easier to share married kids when the distance between the in-laws is only five miles and not 500 or 5,000. However, Avi and Aliza have a beautiful baby daughter, Ahuva, and it’s hard to get enough of a first grandchild. With three more kids to marry off, I’m under some pressure to repeat this matchmaking feat. Could I do it? Only Hashem knows, but I’ll do my part by keeping my door open to hosting Shabbat and yom tov guests. g
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