Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Orthodox Union: Reaffirming the Standards

This was a great week for the Orthodox Union (OU). 

Despite enormous pressures that were brought to bear on the organization and its officers, they took the time, deliberated, and came up with a wise and compassionate decision, and re-affirmed my confidence in them.  I write this week to celebrate this great moment – but first, a bit of background.

From my earliest youth, the OU has been a major part of my life.  Long before most had heard of virtually any other Kashrus organization, we were trained, “if you want to know that a product was kosher, look for the OU symbol”.  I assumed that the OU was a Kashrus organization, and that was the extent of it.  I didn’t know how wrong I was.

As a young adult, I encountered the OU in a whole new light when I became an NCSY advisor on an Israel program.   The care and concern for all of Klal Yisrael, the innovative, spirited, the deeply spiritual way in which they demonstrated the importance of outreach and how to do it effectively, was a major influence on my life and that of thousands of others.  Around the same time, I witnessed the opening of the OU Israel Center in Jerusalem, and found a second home there attending many programs, and basking in the inviting and uplifting environment.  But I later found that I still had little clue of what the OU really represented.

When I became a Rabbi in Portland, Oregon, I began to more fully appreciate the raison d'être of the OU; what it meant to be a Union of Orthodox Congregations.  I discovered a large national framework that provided support and help for synagogues and shuls, with resources and assistance to help a broad range of shuls – a Big Tent – bring the light of Torah to communities large and small.   I realized that Kashrus, NCSY, Yachad, OU Torah, the wonderful magazine Jewish Action, and so many other “departments” of the OU were just parts of one overarching objective: Klal Yisrael.  I gratefully attended special “Mikdash Me’At” conferences tailored to help small communities, and benefitted greatly from the wise counsel of many great OU leaders in making my Rabbonus and our shul more effective.  In particular, I remember a talk given by Rav Nota Greenblatt שליט"א, who explained that he had to be at a conference, because “If the OU asks you to come, it is the Torah world itself that is inviting you”.  I became intimately involved in kosher supervision visiting many factories on behalf of several organizations, and saw that no matter whether the product carried a Kof K, or Star K, or Heart K, or many other symbols, it could do so only because a very large percentage of the ingredients were supervised by the OU, which is larger than all of the others combined.  Later, at the Young Israel of Forest Hills, I also was the beneficiary of OU help on many occasions – I was particularly proud to be part of the OU mission to Israel during the 2014 Gaza War, where I witnessed how much the OU does to stand up for Israel’s rights and provide support for her soldiers and citizens.

By virtue of its membership in the OU, a shul was saying that they adhered to standards and bylaws of the OU, and followed the recommendations of the Rabbinic leadership of the OU in regard to various issues of the day

But most of all, the OU has been important as a standard bearer.   Much like the trusted symbol on food items, it was a standard on the wall of a shul.   When a visitor walked into a shul and saw the OU symbol on the wall, they were assured that the shul is Orthodox.  Period.   By its membership in the OU, a shul was saying that they adhered to standards and bylaws of the OU, and followed the recommendations of the Rabbinic leadership of the OU in regard to various issues of the day.   In Portland there is a shul that once was a member of the OU, but refused to install a proper mechitza and had various other deviations from normative Orthodox practice.   When that shul left the OU and our shul remained, people knew which shul was the Orthodox, and which was only “Traditional”.  We were able to set certain policies and avoid arguments over them, by stating that we were acting as an OU-member shul where certain things were acceptable, and others were not.

Over the past few years, however, I  had begun to have my doubts.

I have written several times in the past about the plague caused by the so-called “Open Orthodox” (OO) movement, which has sought to introduce many negative changes and radical innovations into synagogues.  These changes included hiring female Rabbis (whether calling them Maharat, Rabbah, or Rabanit), having “partnership minyanim”, lowering standards for conversions, announcing mazal tovs for gay marriage members, publicly attacking the Chief Rabbinate, engaging in extreme leftist anti-Israel advocacy, and publicly denigrating many positions taken by Gedolei Torah, including the Roshei Yeshiva of Yeshiva University and poskim of the Orthodox Union.  In general, they flout established Rabbinic Authority, producing their “own poskim” and teachers who feel qualified to make changes against the stated positions of all recognized Torah authorities.   There is no need for me to discuss this unfortunate phenomenon at length, readers of this blog are well aware of the problem.

And therein lies the rub.  Unfortunately, several of the leading OO congregations, first and foremost the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, whose Rabbi Emeritus Avi Weiss is the founder of Open Orthodoxy, are longstanding members in good standing of the Orthodox Union.

As a two-term member of the Executive Committee of the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America), which has many unofficial ties to the OU, I have participated in countless difficult discussions over the past decade regarding the problem of how to deal with colleagues who support OO ideology.  There were discussions of whether to expel certain members who had publicly taken positions against established RCA policies; most of the more vocal ones thankfully left on their own accord.  But the festering problem that persisted was that several well established OO congregations remained as recognized members of the OU, and continuing to proclaim themselves as normative orthodox congregations.  Mounting pressure was brought to bear on the RCA and on the OU from both sides to define their standards and to decide whether or not OO innovations could be accepted within the “big tent”, or whether, by their actions, the OO supporters had defined themselves out of Orthodoxy. 

Much of the pressure was brought not only by Rabbis and members of those Congregations, but by their many friends and supporters in the Modern Orthodox world, who had been convinced that the innovations sought by OO were just efforts to provide more of a voice for women – an objective that all sides consider important – and therefore relatively harmless and not worth causing a rupture amongst Jews.  No one, after all, wants dissent or machlokes, and personal relationships especially make things difficult.  I saw this personally at the Young Israel of Forest Hills; the very week that an article that I wrote decrying OO was published in the Queens Jewish Link, a leading member thought it appropriate to publicly send their best wishes to Rabbi Weiss from the pulpit in response.  This dilemma has been the source of much angst and concern for the OU leadership, as they sought to balance the values of אמת ושלום (Truth and Peace).

One year ago, after many months of consultation and deliberation, the Orthodox Union published an simultaneous official statement and Halachic Ruling against hiring woman clergy, by whatever name they might be called, while at the same time calling for increased involvement of women in whatever leadership and Torah teaching roles that were proper within Halachic parameters.  There was hope in many quarters that this would put the issue to rest, and that the more “liberal” wings of Modern Orthodoxy would recognize that these statements, signed by a blue ribbon panel of Rabbonim and lay leadership, made it clear that the OO agenda was out of the bounds of Orthodoxy.

But for some, this was not enough.  Some statements coming out of the left included “The OU should stick to Tuna Fish”. . . “the OU will only divide the community if it starts to strip some of its member shuls which have female clergy of OU affiliation” . . . “Just as a Zionist would not ask the Satmar Rav for a psak regarding Zionism, the Modern Orthodox community should not look to [YU Rosh Yeshiva] for opinions on the role of women in our communities”, and even more intemperate comments.   More congregations announced they were considering hiring female clergy, and those Congregations that already had done so made it clear that they had no intention of complying with OU Policy.  The statement of last year seemed unserious – the OU was allowing member congregations to ignore its stated policy; implicitly saying that the policy would not be enforced.

As a result, more pressure built, both pro and con, for the OU leadership to draw a line in the sand, and to decide whether it would act to defend the sterling reputation that it had built up in over 100 years of representing the finest of what Orthodox Torah Judaism stood for.   Baruch Hashem, after much difficult deliberation and thought, the OU issued a statement this week, clearly stating that it will not allow any member congregations to hire woman clergy, while at the same time encouraging learning and positive roles for women.  As to the four OU congregations that now employ female clergy, a sunset clause was provided for a three-year time limit to allow those congregations to come into compliance with OU policy.   This was a difficult decision for the OU, given the great pressures put on them to not issue this policy, and they are to be applauded for it and supported.

We hope for a future in which these types of issues will no longer pull apart members of the Torah community, and we can focus on all of the laudable goals which the OU has pursued for these many years.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

In Appreciation of Rav Berel Wein, upon the passing of his wife Rebbetzin Mira Cohen Wein A"H

 I recently heard the devastating news of the passing of Rebbetzin Mira Cohen Wein, and I felt moved to write some words of chizuk to my esteemed Rav and teacher, who is going through this tragedy now for the second time.   It is self-evident to me that the wonderful teacher and mother-lode of inspiration who has greatly benefitted us all with much needed chizuk over the years, should surely be the beneficiary of whatever Chizuk we can offer to him in his time of need.

Although I met the Rebbetzin (and her predecessor Rebbetzin Jackie Wein) only very briefly, I was deeply impressed.  All the more so given the difficulty of being a zivug sheni (Second marriage spouse).  I hope that Rav Wein will take solace in knowing how much he means not only to his family, his direct talmidim and congregants, regular readers of his columns, books and essays, listeners to his shiurim, tapes, and lectures, but to many thousands of others who see him as a unique and special voice that represents -- more than anything else -- "common sense" (in Hebrew -- sechel hayashar) in the Torah world.  This quality is one that to this writer seems to have grown increasingly rare, in inverse proportion to the sheer vast amount of knowledge that is growing ever more prevalent.

This may seem counter-intuitive.  After all, clearly, the quantity, and even quantity, of learning and knowledge available in our world is unprecedented and growing at exponential levels.  In the secular world, the openness of society and tools such as the internet have made incredible amounts of knowledge available and useful to untold millions the world over, knowledge previously available -- if at all -- only to academics and experts.  Young children are knowledgeable about matters that seasoned adults could not fathom a generation ago; students have unbelievable resources with which to challenge their mentors.

In the Torah world, as well, although in many quarters the use of modern information technology is frowned upon, the amount and quality of learning is at levels not heard of for millennia.  While in our parent's generation there were less than two thousand yeshiva students in the entire world, there are now several Yeshivas that alone boast more than twice that amount; the total number of full time learners is closing in on 100,000.  The tens of thousands making a Siyum on Shas, the explosion of seforim being published, the unbelievable assortment of thousands of shiurim available for and by men and women of the highest levels of learning and scholarship, simply boggles the mind.

The primary reason that a person can attain great vast amounts of knowledge -- even Torah knowledge -- and yet not exhibit wisdom is that they lack one crucial ingredient -- common sense.

  And yet -- something is missing.  Without going into any specifics here, I am not alone in bemoaning that with all of this incredible knowledge, we are still too often confronted by far too many instances of statements of questionable wisdom, even as expounded by very informed individuals.   Although this is certainly not true of most of Jewish leadership, on some extreme occasions I am reminded of the Even Ezra quote I heard from Rav Wein regarding the  phenomenon of a chamor noseh seforim  (a donkey carrying books) -- a reference to someone with a great deal of knowledge, who remains -- a donkey.  I would venture that the primary reason that a person can attain great vast amounts of knowledge -- even Torah knowledge -- and yet not exhibit wisdom is that they lack one crucial ingredient -- common sense.

Although this sounds harsh, Victor Hugo said that in fact all too often, "common sense is in spite of, not as the result of education".  All of this knowledge may, in fact, be a mixed blessing.  Keeping one's moorings in the face of lightning speed shattering changes, in which values and "facts" unchallenged for millennia are being overturned, denied and uprooted, while the sheer volume data constantly streaming into our consciousness, is daunting.   Add to this the incredible pressures in the Orthodox world to conform to certain views and norms, which sometimes are the result of rulings by great Sages, but all too often are based on dubious reports regarding "Daas Torah" circulated by various self-appointed activists, or by people resistant to any type of change of views or practice, no matter how innocuous or necessary, simply because "that is the way we do things".  A great deal of wisdom is required to sort through all of this and to hold up the light of Truth and of the real call of our Mesorah, wisdom that is needed and all too rare.

Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls Wisdom

It is said that "Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls Wisdom" (Samuel T. Coleridge).   There is certainly more to it than that, but there is no question that this quality is at the core of what we celebrate as chochmah.   It is an exceptional quality, in addition to saintliness, erudition, diligence, and incredible concern for others,  that a special few of our greatest Gedolim had in abundance.   Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, Rav Mordechai Eliahu and the Pnei Menachem of Ger, were examples par excellence of this quality.  I daresay that the outpouring of grief and sadness at the very recent passing of Rav Shteinman zt"l was not so much because of the tragedy of his passing -- we did have the incredible gift of having him fully with us with all of his faculties intact until the age of 104, what more could one ask? -- but rather due to the fact that he possessed this quality of common sense wisdom, which is so often lacking.   It is this wisdom, which as Emerson put it: "Common sense in genius dressed in its working clothes", that we need so much, and which Rav Wein has been a grand source of for all these years.

As a Rav and Rosh Yeshiva and lehavdil  as an attorney, historian and astute observer of world events, Rav Wein has accumulated a great deal of yedios and bekius  in Torah and much knowledge regarding the world and the highs and lows of human foibles. But it his "common sense" wisdom that comes through in all of his amazing teaching and accomplishments, inspiring us to look beyond the often foolish and small minded statements and issues that so many get caught up with, to focus on the ultimate issues that matter, and to strive to make a positive difference in the world.  To enjoy and celebrate the beauty that Hashem has so bountifully placed in this world; to know and appreciate the timely lessons and wisdom that we should draw from knowing our history and the lives of great people; to recognize the good in ALL sections of the Jewish world -- these are some lessons that Rav Wein has taught me and so many others, and which has given us the chizuk to continue striving for sanity in this often crazy world.

May Rav Wein find comfort among the mourners of Zion, mourners who were so often inspired  by him to appreciate what mourning for Zion truly means.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Chaos in Jerusalem

It is a Friday afternoon in Yerushalayim, and I do not have much time to write and edit this piece.  Nevertheless, since I received some requests from acquaintances to comment on the malicious and awful events yesterday of the Peleg Yerushalayim group, may their name be blotted out, I wanted to at least write something.

Readers of this blog know that I am very much for needed change in the Chareidi world, particularly in regard to their stance of total rejection of army service for any young man, no matter what up until now.   While I believe that we very much need a cadre of special scholarly students who devote their lives to Torah only, surely times have changed greatly since the 1950s.  Then, in the post Holocaust era, many Gedolim felt that all hands were needed on deck.  Furthermore, the army was (in those days) actively trying to reeducate young men away from "Galut mentality" and religious observance; they argued that no young men should be allowed to enter the draft.

Fast forward 70+ years to our time.  There are hundreds of thousands of Chareidi men of military age who are not serving, and then who cannot get meaningful lucrative employment.  This in turn causes-- among other things -- a terrible  economic model of poverty and reliance on charity and government largess which is clearly unsustainable.

All this is well known.  If I had my druthers, many young Chareidi men would serve in the army, in special units where Kashrus, Shabbos, Teffilah, Torah learning are provided in a positive way, and only a minority be totally exempt.   Many such efforts have taken place in the political realm.  

But I write today not to discuss my druthers (whatever that means).  Instead, the majority of Chareidi Gedolim, including most Roshei Yeshiva, the Degel haTorah party, and significantly the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, headed by Rav Aharon Shteinman and Rav Chaim Kanievsky, have agreed on a compromise, whereby all Yeshiva students should register with the Draft board, and they will then be entitled to a deferment until age 23, and probably more after that.  Included in this deal is that all those older than 25 will receive a permanent exemption from service, and other advantages.  (I will not go into all the details here, because it is not my point).  Although non-Chareidi people feel that this deal is another sellout to the Chareidim and perpetuates their non-service, this path was agreed to by most of the Chareidi leaders, who are happy that this has taken the pressure off the draft issue.

Enter Shmuel Auerbach, son of Harav HaGaon Shlomo Zalman Auerbach זצוק"ל (a champion of love and peace who is surely turning over in his grave), and decided this is not good enough.  He formed a breakaway party HaPeleg Hayerushalmi, which runs its own candidates for office competing with Degel HaTorah and which has its own yellow smear rag of a newspaper called HaPeles, and with ugly and depraved methods have time and again not only rejected the approach of the other Gedolim, but besmirched and slandered them, including Rav Shteinman and Kanievsky, in ugly and depraved terms.

I do not have the time or the stomach to document here all of this ugliness today.  

I do mention it, however, in order to explain what happened yesterday, which was only the largest such outrageous travesty perpetrated by Peleg.  In a concerted effort they called "A Day of Rage", the Ketanim who lead Peleg thought it was a good idea and a Kiddush Hashem to send thousands of young impressionable mostly teenage and twenty-something hotheads into the streets to essentially shut down traffic in Jerualem, Bet Shemesh, Bnai Brak, and Modiin, inconveniencing thousands of people, turning the vast majority of them into even greater opponents of Chareidim and what they stand for, and acheiving massive Chillul Hashem.  It took hours to get anywhere, if one could at all, as they shut down the major arteries at the entry to Yerushalayim

I have no words to describe my contempt for the "Rabbinic" leaders of the Peleg, who -- in their unbelievable arrogance and shortsightedness --  have stood by and not only allowed but encouraged this desecration of G-d, including fighting police and army, while in turn often calling them murderers and Nazis for simply trying to move them out of the way of traffic.  (The police, in my view, exercised great restraint -- I would not have been surprised if they had busted a few heads).  The ugliness was horrible . . . and I fear greatly how much damage this has done to any efforts at outreach and presenting a positive view of Torah Judaism.

I only hope that people realize that although they are a group comprising several thousand supporters, they are a small minority of the Chareidi community, who are shocked and appalled at these actions, and are very angry saddened by it.  It behooves anyone with the power to do so to stand strongly against this terrible group and their leaders, and for the restoration of Kovod HaTorah

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Rabbi Monni Weisberger of Blessed Memory

This is the most painful "essay"  I have ever published on this blog.   It is a Hesped (Eulogy) that I delivered at the funeral of my very dear father in law, Rabbi Monni Weisberger ע"ה, this past Sunday.

It is followed by an achingly beautiful tribute written by my dear daughter Diti on this occasion.  This is then followed by the very heartfelt and well-received words that my dear son Shimshon said at the funeral


     As a Rabbi, I have had the dubious honor of writing and delivering many hespedim. People I knew well, people I knew not so well; people I loved dearly, people I had a more distant relationship with…I had to find the right words to say to honor them and the loved ones they left behind at such a tragic time. It was always a difficult task, but I felt Hashem helping me to put the right words in my unworthy mouth.

     But this is different. . . and so much harder.  I feel at such a loss to find a way to write a fitting tribute to the man I loved more than any other man in the whole world, and who I know loved me deeply and totally. . . Words that could somehow capture the essence of a man who was so multi-faceted: kind, generous, wise, funny, deep, gregarious, knowledgeable, eccentric, bold, unselfish, tolerant yet impatient; opinionated yet accepting of others; an amazing Talmid Chochom (Torah Scholar) whose greatest love of all was learning and living Torah at a very high level of amkus (depth), and  yet who could relate to the simplest of people with his sophistication and charm; a tremendous masmid (diligent scholar) who made time for everyone who needed him and to enjoy life to the fullest; a master storyteller who would hold old and young spellbound for hours with mesmerizing and wonderful recountings of episodes in his amazing life; outspoken and ready to stand for principle while simultaneously deeply modest and self-effacing, never taking credit for himself and always careful to never unnecessarily cause anyone bother or delay; outwardly often grumpy ,but always deep down affectionate. . . It is a huge task.  As Ema would always say, “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore”.  But most of all, to honor the most wonderful and devoted husband, father, grandfather, uncle, friend that I ever met  -- I have never witnessed a more loving and devoted father and grandfather --  a man who truly loved Lonni and me and our kids and all of his family and Klal Yisrael totally, warmly, unconditionally.  His loss is truly unfathomable and irreplaceable

חבל דאבדין ולא משתכחין
לא קם בישראל כמשה עוד
Woe to us to lose a person like whom cannot be found.

I had the privilege of accompanying my father in law z"l as he was honored to
recite a blessing at a wedding in his last public appearance, 3 days before his final injury

     Abba – and you were truly an Abba; a real second father to me – you are probably wanting me to get to the point and finish already.   I must indeed be brief, but
פטור בלא כלום אי אפשר

     As others mentioned, it is a special זכות (merit)  that after the long, long last six  months of  ייסורים (suffering)  he returned his holy Neshamah to his Creator at the very beginning of the Rosh Hashanah, after complete כפרה (Atonement)  for any possible shortcoming was surely achieved.  Surely, he was immediately judged in the book of Tzadikkim Gemurim (the Wholly Righteous) as he completed his task in this world.

     But actually, his passing on Rosh Hashana was fitting in another way as well.  There is an enigmatic verse in the Book of Nehemiah regarding Rosh Hashanah.

     Ezra and Nechemiah, without going into the story, were faced with a people that were terrified of Rosh Hashana, and the feelings of inadequacy that was profoundly felt caused the people to experience Rosh Hashanah, Judaism and life in general with great sadness and mourning.   Ezra said to them:
וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם לְכוּ אִכְלוּ מַשְׁמַנִּים וּשְׁתוּ מַמְתַקִּים וְשִׁלְחוּ מָנוֹת לְאֵין נָכוֹן לוֹ
 כי קָדוֹשׁ הַיּוֹם לַאֲדֹנֵינוּ וְאַל תֵּעָצֵבוּ כִּי חֶדְוַת ה' הִיא מָעֻזְּכֶם.

And he said to them, "Go, eat fat foods and drink sweet drinks and send portions to whoever has nothing prepared, for the day is holy to our Lord, and do not be sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)

Ralbag comments on the final words 
חֶדְוַת ה' הִיא מָעֻזְּכֶם:

ר''ל המבצר והחוזק שתתחזקו בו הוא שתשמחו במה שרצה ה' יתברך שתשמחו בו

    The stronghold and strength that you should depend on is the joy in engaging in what Hashem wants us to enjoy, 

knowing that we are doing His will

ואפשר שנאמר שהרצון בו שהוא ראוי שתשמחו במה ששמעתם מהתורה כדי שתתישרו לשמרה והוא המעוז והחוזק שתקחו מזה כי שמחתכ' בו תורה שרצונכם לנהג לפי התורה

We might say that it is fitting that you should rejoice in what you have learned from the Torah, so that you will be straight in keeping it and that is your greatest strength -- that your joy comes from Torah and your desire to conduct yourself by the Torah

     This directive, to treat Rosh Hashanah as a כי הוא נורא ואיום, deserving the greatest seriousness and awesome respect, while at the same time, being a time of enjoyment, pleasure, and loving interactions with others . . . is how Abba/Saba/Manoon lived his life, pursued his Avodas Hashem, and taught us by his amazing example.

     I want to express our appreciation for all the amazing caregivers who helped Anna during his long final illness. I want to give voice to the terrible pain of all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will never again feel the nurturing of the magic shoulder and hear his singing and humor to cheer them up and make them feel so valued and important.

     I cannot begin to express the pain felt by his loving children, each of whom is unique and different, but nurtured and encouraged by him to express their own special nature and individuality confident of his love.  The endless longing that Lonni and her siblings exuded at his bedside, hoping for the tiniest glimmer of hope that they could connect with him, just one more time, for just one brief moment was so heartbreaking to watch….and such a tribute to the incredible love that they felt so deeply.

     And אחרונה אחרונה I cannot even imagine how Ema תבדל לחיים טובים וארוכים feels today.  The many hours she spent sitting next to him, holding his hand, caressing his cheek, singing to him and begging him to respond…the pleasure she took when she felt a little pressure or squeeze of his hand, or a tear on his cheek when we sang zemiros for him…after 63 wonderful years together…it is so hard to imagine the depth of her pain

     We only hope, together, to draw strength from each other, and to look forward to the time we are reunited after תחיית המתים  (Reincarnation). Abba always said that when Nanny and Grampy passed he took tremendous solace in the concept of תחיית המתים . . . Is it not fitting that we just read about that yesterday in Haazinu, אני ממית ומחיה, G-d causes Death and grants Life (Devarim 32:39); one of the prime sources in the Torah for this concept!

     It is fitting, as well that we also read on Shabbos the beginning of וזאת הברכה, which contains the verse

'וַיָּמָת שָׁם מֹשֶׁה עֶבֶד ה
And Moshe, the servant of Hashem died there

 A passuk that would describe well this week’s events.

     Finally, Moshe Rabbeinu merited to die במיתת נשיקה  - (Death by the Kiss of G-d).  While you, Abba dearest, had a more difficult challenge at the end, you always signed off your letters to us נשיקות עד בלי די (Never enough kisses)

     We love you עד בלי די endlessly, never enough, always and forever.

     May his memory be a blessing and source of chizuk to us forever

בִּלַּע הַמָּוֶת לָנֶצַח וּמָחָה אֲדֹנָי ה' דִּמְעָה מֵעַל כָּל פָּנִים
 וְחֶרְפַּת עַמּוֹ יָסִיר מֵעַל כָּל הָאָרֶץ כִּי ה דִּבֵּר


My Superman
By Diti Oppenheimer

When I think of Superman, I think of someone who is:

Confident Strong Determined
Dignified Tough Cool

My Superman stands strong and tall in my mind. There is a fire burning in his eyes. Never wavering to what the winds may howl. Never losing his ground. Never looking down.

He has the confidence of a man who knows exactly what he's doing. He has wit that is razor sharp. He has the toughness of a man that doesn't let anything in the world deter him.

But my Superman is not aloof.   In addition to the above, he is

Caring Loving Adorable
Selfless Patient Huge-Hearted

My Superman is tough on the outside but a teddy bear on the inside. He cares so much about his loved ones and stands up for them. He loves them so deeply and shows it in so many ways. Somehow he makes each and every one of them feel special to him.

There are some supermen that are fiction, a yearning and fantasy of desperate people for a savior and hero.

My Superman is real. His strength is not made up of muscles but of willpower. His confidence is not from the praise of others but from an inner sense of self-worth and purpose. He doesn't wear a cape because real men don't wear capes.  

He has been my hero my entire life.

My Superman is my Saba.

To my precious Saba,

Saba I feel like I'm living in a daze, a horrible nightmare that is totally disconnected from reality. Because it can't be true. My superman is invincible. These kind of mortal things don't happen to him.

But, Saba, you will always remain in my mind as the invincible hero that you were. Only, Hashem decided it was time to take away your terrible pain because He wanted Superman back in the heavens.

Saba, I love you so much it's totally beyond words. I can't thank you enough for the treasure house full of precious memories and stories and a legacy that you have left for me to hold tight to for the rest of my life.

The memories. Oh, Saba, how many sweet memories I have with you. From Godiva chocolates to shnaps with my pinkie. From bonkos to my big nose poking you at night. From singing with you to dancing with you (on the women's side) at weddings. Holding our breath contests that you always won to sucking on our candies and making them sharp. From A Sukalah to wearing the Challah cover on your head.

Saba, growing up, you were literally my hero. I just admired you so much and always wanted to spend time with you.

I remember going to friends houses and seeing them treat their grandparents like old people that they unfortunately had to care for. I couldn't believe it. Because, Saba, you were never old. You were a giant in my eyes, someone who was always in control. And, Saba, you just made it so so easy to love you. Because your love for us knew no bounds.

Saba, I loved your stories. I could hear them again and again and never get bored. I would sit, wide-eyed and fascinated and watch in amazement as you would paint an animated, detailed, and colorful story for us that always left all of us wondering how one person could accomplish so much and live such a full life. From the opera story to the Marilyn Monroe story, that were so unbelievable. From the bananas story to the kasha in your pockets story that made us laugh so hard. From the “Moshe Moshe” story to the speeding in Arizona story that showed your razor sharp wit. From the Shepsel story to Kosher Pizza story which showed your ingenuity. The meatball story on the first day of Yeshiva showed us your commitment to Torah. And more -- getting locked in a building, the 3 dates in one day, courting Savta -- and so much more. No one could believe these stories if they hadn't heard it from you. Saba, you were a king. And I always felt so proud to call you my Saba.
And then, Saba, as I grew older, I got to know so much more about you and appreciate you on a much deeper level. Saba, I learned how much you valued Torah and how it was the center of your life. I learned how much of an anav you were -- doing so much yet never ever bragging about it. Never wanting to be מטריח anyone else -- even though we were always so happy to make you sugar-free cookies or give up our beds for you, you always felt so bad that we were doing that for you. I learned simchas hachaim from you -- how to really live each and every day to its fullest. I learned ahavas Yisrael from you -- how to love each and every person and to give them endless love and patience. I learned how to have beautiful shalom Bayis. I learned how to be mechanech children from you; how to allow everyone to express their individuality.
And Saba, I learned what pure, unadulterated and endless love is. Saba, I will never, ever forget that you came to my graduation. I know you hate these things and never wanted to go to them but you did it for me. Because you love me. I felt like I was your only granddaughter because that's how much you showed you loved me. I'll never forget how you and Savta took me out to dinner just to spend time with me. How you patiently listened to me and gave me advice. I always left you feeling heart warmed, feeling so enveloped in your love. I'll never forget those birthday songs I anticipated hearing from you the whole year. Oh, Saba, how I wish I could've heard that song instead of the heart-wrenching news I got this year on my birthday.
Saba, I can go on and on about you and the memories that have been filling my mind that will remain with me forever. I really can't imagine going on without you anymore. Saba, I so badly wanted you to be at my wedding. I wanted to dance with you and get a Bracha from you underneath my veil.  I feel like there's a gaping hole in my heart that no one but my Saba could ever fill.
Saba, I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for being my Superman, for teaching me invaluable lessons that have made me into who I am, for loving me unconditionally, and for never ceasing to give to me. The fact that you have such a legacy of descendants that are all shomer Shabbos and amazing people is such a testament to the incredible person that you were. Thank you for truly being the best Saba in the world.
I guess the last thing I can say are the last precious words you ever said to me. "I love you so much and I am so proud of you."


"The Man"
A Tribute to My Grandfather

by Shimshon Oppenheimer

If I had two words to describe my grandfather they would be.

The MAN.

I say this on behalf of all of his descendants. Particularly my siblings who can't be here on this tragic day.

I knew No more honorable man, or honest man. He could give Honest Abe a run for his money.

If he owed you $2.37 cents he'd pay you EXACTLY $2.37Cents.  I remember he even returned a pair of socks he'd borrowed. (I don't know if he hand washed it, but it was clean.)

He was a symbol of strength, fire, and integrity. I  always always looked up to him as my role model, he taught me what it meant to be a proud Jew. I'll never forget the fire in his eyes when he spoke of the Nazis, WWII or Medinat Yisrael.. I'd be talking to him unsure of my future, and he would always be telling me to go to Machal.. -My cousin Ari took up the call to battle-  but Saba always inspired me to fight for the Jewish people, and still inspired me to this day, I still I hope one day he will see me from Above with a Beret on too...

He was more than just my hero and Godfather, he was a living example of a life to lead. Being a man of tremendous Torah knowledge and fear of G-d yiras shomayim (he could have been a Rosh Yeshiva..) as Rav Mendelovich would have wanted... but he liked to laugh and say he loved the gashmiyos in this world too  much... He enjoyed football, classical music, opera, schnapps, fast cars... all types of worlds things .... he showed You can be a man of G-d and enjoy the good life. There's no one like him.  Kind of old school Yeshivish if you will.

We would sit there captivated by his stories, even if we'd already heard it 10 times.
Stories flowed from him.... From 3 dates a day (I hoped to one day reach his madraiga), smuggling guns to Israel, to knocking out Nazi flight attendants... He was a boss through and through.

I often complained jokingly that he made my life seem so boring In retrospect. I never got to pass up a date with Marilyn Monroe, or (smuggle guns to Israel, get caught , get his guns back and continue to smuggle weapons to Israel) , or learn to fly planes (until Savta caught him)

I remember him noting when he turned 90 that he liked this world and He enjoyed it too much to leave just yet... I smiled and prayed G-d would agree with this sentiment.
The day I have feared in the darkest recesses of my mind has come. The day I no longer have my Saba around. I day would I never ever hoped would come, but knew deep down that it was the way of all man... 

As the Patriarch of the family he is simply irreplaceable and jointly responsible for our spiritual live and our physical lives as well (well at least those of us who share his DNA, )... We are all a testament to his greatness, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren... All of his descendants shomer Shabbos, Torah and Mitzvos. Every single one.

A man truly like no other. Loved by all. From family to neighbors, mechanics, lawyers, coworkers , congregants, even “Berman."

Saba, you passed on from this world Lail Rosh Hashana, the heavenly courts pushed you to the head of the line, as it says Tzaddikim Gemurim and Reshaim Gemorim are judged first and you were stamped a Tzaddik Gamur, of that I have no doubt.

You were always my #1 fan and I could count on you to take my side whether it be my latest  hairstyle or Donald Trump. You almost always supported me and made me feel like you had my back, man to man. A special bond we shared... 

Saba, I can't bear to say goodbye. It's too painful to even think about. I find solace in knowing that this is not the end. That I will get to see you one day again and give you a  big ol' bear hug. And perhaps if I'm “Zocheh", to even get near your box-seat in shomayim, (if not at least wave from the bleachers)- though I hope for your sake Saba, they have football up in Shomayim- and maybe even some schnapps.

I must say, I am grateful to Hashem I missed my connecting flight to Seattle just so I could see you one more time... wish you a Shana Tova and hold your hand one last time... My only regret is that I didn't stay just one minute longer...

I will miss your stories.
Your power and charisma.
Your witty jokes.
Your guidance , support, and humor.
I will miss your loving smile.
Your full rich beautiful special  zeideh-like aura...

Most of all I will just miss your warm-loving presence and having you around.

Love you more than words can every say.

Your loving Grandson, 


Friday, September 8, 2017

Teshuva from the School of Hard Knocks

I’m sure hoping for a sweeter year this year.

Rosh Hashanah looms, and we struggle to make sense of the past year – the trials and tribulations, the insanity that has taken hold of our nation’s politics; the sicknesses, financial difficulties, pain and suffering that have afflicted so many; the ongoing disasters in Florida and Texas, the danger that is North Korea; the ugliness on display in Charlottesville – where does one begin in preparing for the Day of Judgment?

Personally, I am trying to look at the year I just experienced, and attempting to learn from it.   I write these lines to help myself focus, and hope that others might perhaps find some of this relevant to themselves as well.

We pray Zochreinu L’Chaim – for Life itself, but also that we might live in good health and that our bodies continue to seamlessly function – this gift for ourselves and our families we need to literally beg Hashem for and not take for granted.

I had a “rough year”.  Of course, compared to what so many others endured – including friends and family who have lost close relatives, or agonized with children with chronic and debilitating illnesses, physical or spiritual, or who have suffered financial calamity, or other suffering ר"ל – I have had a fantastic year, and should do nothing but get down on my knees and gratefully count my blessings.  Nevertheless, for me personally, this was a rougher year than usual, with some special challenges.

I resigned my position as Rabbi of the Young Israel of Forest Hills last summer, intending to make Aliyah within a few months.   But we nevertheless are still living in Brooklyn, due primarily to two occurrences that I did not anticipate last Rosh Hashana.

First, my dear father-in-law, Rabbi Monni Weisberger, had a tragic fall leaving him with a terrible injury from which he has not (so far) recovered.  (Please daven for Moshe ben Yehudis, amongst all Cholei Yisroel).

Second, I received a jarring diagnosis – I had contracted prostate cancer – the same illness which was the final undoing of my father ז"ל.

I won’t go into any details here, but dealing with the issue – the biopsies and MRIs, the agonizing over the decision regarding which unpleasant treatment to pursue, the scare of additional symptoms that suggested I might have more extensive cancer (thankfully not) and much else – took many months and lots of energy.  Baruch Hashem, I underwent a successful prostate removal surgery, and am well on the road to recovery.

But in many days of convalescing, I had some “Hirhurei Teshuva”, or spiritual thoughts to ponder:

    1. Gratitude to Hashem for watching over me – this could have been so much worse.

A cursory glance at Florida and Houston suffices to realize how fragile our lives are. This essay is not the place to speculate on faith issues (Emuna) in the wake of large natural disasters, which in any case can lead only to the conclusion that we are privy to no real answers in this world.

However, one thought offered by many of our Sages is that sometimes Hashem sends us overwhelming events to (a) humble us from our arrogance in thinking we are in control of the world and our lives, and (b) as a reminder that we ought not take our “normal” pleasant lives for granted.

Up until this time in my life, I was certainly aware of prostate cancer due to my father’s illness, but it seemed much removed from me. My prostate – that was just part of my plumbing that I knew little about, nor cared much for . . . I assumed that it was doing its job – whatever that is – and we had best leave each other alone.

I found out quickly, however, that my prostate was in fact something that deserved a lot of concern; left alone it would literally kill me, and not in a pleasant way.  Baruch Hashem, I have now been declared (with a 99% probability) cancer free.  Compared to so many who suffered so much from this frightful illness, I got a wonderful reprieve.

This was brought home even more deeply with the tragic passing of Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz ז"ל, son of my very dear friends יבדלו לחיים Shalom & Sheila  Simanowitz.   I don’t have the words to express the pain that I feel for them and the extended family on this tragic loss.   And it only redoubles my feeling of “There but for the Grace of G-d, go I”.

My takeaway for Rosh Hashanah is quite clear.  Serious illness is not something that only happens to other people; it might be a lot closer than one realizes.  In fact, none of the amazing systems in our bodies should be taken for granted.  That “strange” Asher Yatzar blessing that we say upon going to the bathroom is so sublime and real, expressing the vital lesson that we literally could not last for even one moment, but for the Grace of G-d who makes it all work seamlessly – until it doesn’t.  I learned how very fragile life is – what a lesson for Rosh Hashana!

We pray Zochreinu L’Chaim (Remeber us for Life) – for Life itself, but also that we might live in good health and that our bodies continue to seamlessly function – this gift for ourselves and our families we need to literally beg Hashem for and not take for granted.

We assume that we will be healthy, that rivers will not overflow, that the winds will not pummel us: Rosh Hashana is a time that we must realize how very dependent on Him we are for every moment

(English - May we forget this year what our doctors look like)

    2. Gratitude to the special people in life who cared for me
Laying in my hospital bed, too weak to lift my leg, unable to walk without enormous effort, I came to appreciate the wonderful people in my life who love and care for me and without whom I really could not go on.  Where would I be without the love and concern of my wonderful wife and children and sisters?  How amazing it is to hear the soothing voice of my mother and mother in law encouraging me!  How incredibly special to get chizuk from my Rebbe and Rebbitzen, Rav Michel & Faige Twerski שליט"א, who made me feel loved and worthy of recovery!   How fortunate I am to have the care of wonderful physicians and nurses who went above and beyond in advising me, helping me, and making sure that I got far better care than I deserved!

And, last and far from least, how encouraging and heartwarming it was to hear from my friends and extended family the sincere wishes that I recuperate and to know how many prayers and chapters of Tehillim were said on my behalf . . . how truly blessed I am!

Certainly, on Rosh Hashanah it is time to try to reciprocate, in the small way that I can, and to pour out my heart to Hashem for all of these wonderful people in wishing that they – and all of Klal Yisrael and good people everywhere – be inscribed for Life, for Health; that they should not have to face the very difficult challenges that, but for the Grace of G-d, can happen so easily.

Bringing me to:
    3. Resolving that I have been granted renewed Life for a greater purpose
It is critical to consider the importance of Bitachon – living in Trust of Hashem – as we are reminded constantly during this time of year.  The Haftarah of Parshat Shoftim (Yeshayahu chap 51) exhorts us to trust in Him, and Him alone.
אָנֹכִי אָנֹכִי הוּא מְנַחֶמְכֶם מִי אַתְּ וַתִּירְאִי מֵאֱנוֹשׁ יָמוּת  
 I, yea I am He Who consoles you; who are you that you fear man who will die?

וַתִּשְׁכַּח ה' עֹשֶׂךָ נוֹטֶה שָׁמַיִם וְיֹסֵד אָרֶץ וַתְּפַחֵד תָּמִיד כָּל הַיּוֹם  מִפְּנֵי חֲמַת הַמֵּצִיק . . . וְאַיֵּה חֲמַת הַמֵּצִיק
 And you forgot the Lord your Maker, Who spread out the heavens and founded the earth, and you fear constantly the whole day because of the wrath of the oppressor . . . Now where is the wrath of the oppressor? 

וְאָנֹכִי֙ ה' אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ רֹגַ֣ע הַיָּ֔ם וַיֶּהֱמ֖וּ גַּלָּ֑יו ה' צְבָא֖וֹת שְׁמֽוֹ
  And I am Hashem your Lord who wrinkles the sea and makes its waves stir; the Lord of Hosts is His name

To paraphrase FDR, we ought to have

 “Nothing to Fear but Lack of Fear of G-d”.   

Dovid HaMelech in Psalm 27 (that we are now saying twice daily) asks:

לְדָוִד ה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא ה'מָעוֹז חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד
 “if Hashem is my Light and my stronghold,
from whom would I fear?

אִם תַּחֲנֶה עָלַי מַחֲנֶה לֹא יִירָא לִבִּי אִם תָּקוּם עָלַי מִלְחָמָה בְּזֹאת אֲנִי בוֹטֵחַ
 In Him and Him alone I place my trust

כִּי אָבִי וְאִמִּי עֲזָבוּנִי וַה' יַאַסְפֵנִי

When even my mother and father have been rendered powerless to help me, Hashem will gather me in . . . 

קַוֵּה אֶל ה' חֲזַק וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ וְקַוֵּה אֶל ה

Place your hope in Hashem, strengthen your heart and be courageous . . . place your hope in Hashem”.

The message is clear: a central tenet of Rosh Hashanah is for us to bolster our sense of Bitachon.  To know that wherever G-d places me is for the best, that He has plans for me; if I trust in Him and only Him, my life will have joy, contentment, meaning and purpose living in His plan.

I am not sure what life has yet in store for me.   We will hopefully be finally moving to Eretz Yisrael after Succos.   I do not know where and how life will lead us, but I am confident that this year helped me prepare for some yet-to-be-accomplished worthy things.  Certainly, on Rosh Hashana, when מעשה איש ופקודתו, the actions of Man and his mission are judged and determined, we must beseech Hashem for a life of not only physical health and well-being, but of meaning and purpose and accomplishment; knowing that:

הַשְׁלֵךְ עַל ה' יְהָבְךָ וְהוּא יְכַלְכְּלֶךָ לֹא יִתֵּן לְעוֹלָם מוֹט לַצַּדִּיק  
Cast your burden on Hashem, and He will bear you;
 He shall never allow a righteous man to falter
(Tehillim 55:23).

Our task is to get ready for His service; to do the best we can, and then get out of the driver’s seat and let Him drive the bus. 

Finally, I heard a beautiful insight from Rav Yaakov Glasser regarding the cloud on the mountain that could be seen on the way to the Akeida.  The Midrash relates that Avraham asked his companions, if they too saw the place that Hashem wants them to arrive at.   Yitzchak said yes, the others said no, and stayed behind.

 What did Avraham and Yitzchak actually see?   A cloud.   

The others saw the cloud as well, but they saw it as a gloomy impenetrable place to be avoided. Avraham and Yitzchak embraced the opportunity in the cloud, knowing that if  they entered there with confidence, Hashem would guide them to their ultimate goal. 

We are all at times faced by clouds, places which seem dark and gloomy.  We wonder why Hashem has placed them there; why He makes it difficult to see the way forward in His service, and so challenging to persevere though the obstacles that have been placed in our path.   But the lesson of the Akeida is that Hashem wants us to be willing to have Mesirut Nefesh (self-sacrifice), often in the form of proceeding to follow the quest for purpose in Life “no matter how hopeless, no matter how far”, and hope that the bright light of his Presence will make those clouds disperse, and eventually 

וְזָרְחָה לָכֶם יִרְאֵי שְׁמִי שֶׁמֶשׁ צְדָקָה וּמַרְפֵּא בִּכְנָפֶיהָ 
And the sun of mercy shall rise with healing in its wings  for you who fear My Name 

May we all merit to have a sweet and good year, filled with good health, purposeful meaning, and a contented sense of living in His presence.