"None of us can free prisoners from the Soviet gulag...as Rabbi Greenwald did. But we can all borrow his rose-colored glasses"
The Real Celebrities [Screenshot / Issue 865]
In her always enlightening Screenshot column, Shoshana Friedman wrote about cover images, specifically about a staff member who felt that covers with pictures of gedolim don’t sell magazines.
I found myself applauding for her conclusion. Please don’t change. There is enough hero worship out there for politicians and celebrities, and we need to hold on tight to our mesorah about where true celebrity lies.
As hashgachah would have it, the wider American yeshivah world had an “off-Shabbos” this week, and the boys were home for Shabbos. My son came home with five friends who live out of town, so they joined us for Shabbos. I was gratified to watch them devour the magazine and discuss Rav Elchonon in depth, as if he were a popular rebbi. They saw me watching, and one of the boys explained, “We hear his name three times a week, so this makes him all the more real to us.”
The “men with beards” on your cover continue to teach us, their relevance proven a million times each day. Please, please don’t change.
Perfectly Calculated [The Eternal Flame / Issue 865]
Thank you, Reb Dovi Safier, for the outstanding piece on Rav Elchonon ztz”l and his journey to America.
His commitment to punctuality and exactitude was not just something Rav Elchonon exhibited in his delivery of divrei Torah, but in his entire approach to avodas Hashem. I heard from Rav Mendel Kaplan ztz”l that when “dem Koivetz” (his way of referencing his great rebbi, as the author of Kovetz Shiurim and other seforim) would go for a drink of water, he would first decide exactly how much he needed in line with the Mishnah’s mandate in Pirkei Avos, “U’mayim b’mesurah tishteh — the way of Torah is to drink in exact measure, not a drop more than necessary.” Rav Elchonon was perfectly calculated in every move he made, even and especially when deciding to go back to the inferno of the churban.
It is no surprise that his Torah is basic fare in every beis medrash in the world. Reb Yankel Zaretsky, a Baranovicher talmid as well as a very close talmid of Rav Aharon Kotler ztz”l from Kletzk through Lakewood, once told me that Rav Elchonon would say the shiur two times in a row at the same sitting, the second one a verbatim repetition of the first. Every word he said was measured and precise. This is why they live forever.
Rabbi Henoch Plotnik
Keep Giving Us Nachas [The Eternal Flame / Issue 865]
I try to avoid writing letters to the editor, but I couldn’t hold back after reading the magnificent piece on Reb Elchonon Wasserman Hy”d. It is so important to be connected to the extraordinary previous generation of Torah Jewry. And to have read this very special article made me personally very proud.
The writer, Dovi Safier, grew up in our yeshivah for 16 years. He was an outstanding talmid in Torah and yiras Shamayim, and most of all, he has it in his genes, inherited from his special parents, to help Klal Yisrael. His father and mother gave us a great young man who continues to make myself and Yeshiva Darchei Torah very proud. May he continue his avodas hakodesh, together with his wonderful family for many happy, healthy years to come. And may Mishpacha magazine continue giving us such magnificent articles.
Rabbi Yaakov Bender
Rosh Yeshivah, Darchei Torah
His Happiest Day [StanDING Ovation / Issue 865]
Last week’s column about entertainers who never say no when it comes to cheering up the sick, and Simchas Chava, the organization my brother Ding and I founded in our mother’s memory, impelled me to look for a particular photo from some 20 years ago. If memory serves me correctly, the child was an Israeli patient with a rare genetic disease, whose last hope was at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
I left a message on Avraham Fried’s phone, and he called back a day or two later, apologizing that he was in Vienna, but would sing for the boy upon his return.
True to his word, as soon as he arrived back in the US, Avremel flew down to Baltimore and entered the boy’s room. The child was listless and barely moved. Avremel sat down next to him and started to sing his signature “Shabbos kodesh hi milizok, u’refuah sheleimah krovah lavo...”
To the amazement of all present, especially the doctors and nurses, the young child slowly lifted his frail arms and started to clap his hands along with the song.
Less than a week later, the little boy entered the Olam HaEmes.
After shivah, the mother sent a letter, thanking us for giving her son the happiest day of his life.
Rabbi Yosef C. Golding
Music out of Tears [StanDING Ovation / Issue 865]
The little girl injured in the Sbarro suicide bombing, mentioned in last week’s column, was an eight-year-old whose parents and three siblings were killed in the attack. I was there, with Avraham Fried, waiting outside the hospital for 90 minutes until it was clear for us Kohanim to enter, while Suki Berry was inside, setting up his musical equipment.
It was the most amazing performance, and just for her. It started when Avremel gave her a package of all of his CDs and ended only when he had to leave to go to another hospital to sing for someone else.
My Mother’s Example [Going the Extra Mile / Guestlines — Issue 865]
To my mechutan, Rabbi Ginzberg,
It’s only fair to redirect the credit you bestowed on me to my dear mother, Rebbetzin D. Zoberman. My mother taught at BYHS in Boro Park for close to 50 years. Her hachnassas orchim was legendary. Anyone who knew my mother can testify that she personified this middah and was a living example of someone who went above and beyond.
There is one particular story, of the many I heard and witnessed: The first number of years after her wedding, she hosted a single girl, a war refugee, every single Shabbos. The guest never realized that the mattress she was sleeping on was my mother’s while my mother slept on a box spring. And she never breathed a word. May I merit to emulate her incredible ways.
Not in Spite of but Because [His Secret to Success / Issue 865]
Yonoson Rosenblum seems to view the fact that Rabbi Meir Schuster wasn’t cool or with it as a hindrance to his ability to influence others to teshuvah, and a great part of his narrative seems to be based on the unlikelihood of someone like that being effective.
As a veteran kiruv activist, I can tell you that the opposite is true. Rabbi Schuster is the rule, not the exception. Charisma and color are great, even necessary, at times, but when it comes to being viewed as authentic and sincere, they can actually get in the way. A great salesman runs the risk of short-changing his own product, because the consumer realizes that the sales pitch is so perfect and it makes them wonder.
If you believe in Torah, as Rabbi Schuster did, then no gimmickry is necessary. He didn’t shine despite his “plainness,” but because of it.
I’m very much looking forward to reading what promises to be a great book.
Thanks for Slipping It In [Day in the Life / Issue 865]
I enjoyed reading the article about Coach Menachem and Usher Parnes’s show, which I’ve logged into in the past. To me, the best line in interview (and maybe in the whole magazine), was the recollection by Usher Parnes: “Once a woman called in and said she wants to work on her marriage but can’t afford therapy or a cleaning lady or extra help to make her life easier. Within a few minutes, three people texted me they want to cover the costs for her.”
It’s not surprising, but it’s still amazing and beautiful. We can never, ever take for granted that we are a special nation and what it means. These behind-the-scenes moments aren’t always reported or even noticed (although in Shamayim they’re all written down, of course), so when you have a chance to slip it into an article, we appreciate it.
Yes, the show deals with painful topics, abuse, addiction, struggle, frustration too… but at the core, it’s about our shared family, the greatest family in history.
Why Didn’t We Learn? [The Moment / Issue 865]
I read with interest how directors of the most respected camps in the industry all echoed the same thought, that the summer of 2020 left them with a very clear idea of how they want summer of 2021 to look, even if there are no more restrictions.
They all long for a simpler day, less crazy trips, less commotion and late nights, and more simply enjoying sports, nature, and each other.
So why, when it comes to simchahs, have we apparently learned absolutely nothing, and in many communities, weddings look exactly as they did before the pandemic entered our lives? It behooves all of us to learn relevant lessons, not just camp directors.
Let’s All Put On Rose-Colored Glasses [Blacklisted /Double Take — Issue 864]
Although the recent Double Take feature about the camp that refused to accept a blameless girl due to the sins of her sister is fiction, it serves as a valuable springboard for thought and discussion in its real-life counterparts. Before even touching on the rejection of the younger sister, I believe there is much to be learned by the way the camp handled — or mishandled — the older sister.
Having spent close to four years researching and writing the biography of Rabbi Ronnie Greenwald a”h, camp director extraordinaire for over 50 years — first in Camp Mogen Avraham and then Camp Sternberg — I’m struck by his laser-like focus on the pure essence of every girl’s neshamah, and his ability to completely dismiss the outer shell.
He would often refer to himself as a “psychiatric ophthalmologist,” an allusion to the rose-colored glasses permanently affixed to his field of vision. I’ve heard stories from former campers who committed transgressions that would have gotten them booted not only from any other camp, but completely from the ever-tightening box of contemporary frum society. Again and again, I heard how Rabbi Greenwald’s uncompromising, almost belligerent belief in their essential ability and goodness empowered lost and struggling teens to find their way and build healthy and successful lives.
Here is just one story (out of hundreds) told to me by a staff member:
“Rachel* came to camp with a crew cut, multiple piercings, a defiant attitude, and an inability to conform. She rode her skateboard through crowds on Visiting Day, painted the shul walls without permission, didn’t keep the curfew, and used bad language. We bent over backwards, but nothing was working.
“Rabbi Greenwald asked me, ‘What can I do so that you won’t send her home? How about if I become her counselor?’
“I rolled my eyes. But he took personal responsibility, and spent hours with her. He gave her paint, and told her to paint a mural at the back of the basketball court. He would take her with him as he drove around camp on the golf cart, and let her sit in the office.
“Some years later I met her in Lakewood. She looked the same. My kids were confused. ‘Is that a boy or a girl? Is she Jewish?’ they wanted to know.
“And yet, when Rabbi Greenwald died, she asked me for a ride to his levayah. When I asked why she wanted to come, she said, ‘He believed in me.’
“I met one of my former students at his levayah, and she reminded me that she had been on probation in camp and had blown her last chance. When she was brought to Rabbi Greenwald, I pleaded her case and asked for one more chance. Standing at the levayah, she told me, ‘I walked out thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, they really don’t want to kick me out.’”
The realization that there were people who refused to give up on her helped her believe that she had a future.
None of us can free prisoners from the Soviet gulag, from Mozambique, or from the chaotic banana republics south of the border, as Rabbi Greenwald did. But we can all borrow his rose-colored glasses.
Suri Cohen, Monsey, NY
The Wonders of Cicadas [Cut N’ Paste / Issue 864]
A comment on Rachel Bachrach’s albeit tongue-in-cheek challenges of living with the influx of the cicadas: Although the 2021 Brood X harmless cicadas have admittedly been annoying to those who spend time outside, if you do a little research on the periodical cicada, you will be amazed at how many species there are, why they must emerge in such huge numbers, how they instinctively know to emerge after 17 years, what they do for nourishment underground for 17 years, and that only two percent of the newborn nymphs survive after they hatch and drop down from the trees to dig back into the ground. They don’t bite, they don’t sting, baruch Hashem — what a chesed! Mah rabu maasecha Hashem! Yes, even cicadas!
Perhaps next time you’ll write a wonderful article conveying how we can appreciate everything Hashem has created in His world, even if it has been a bit inconvenient for some of us grown-ups these past few weeks.
Mindful in Maryland
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 866)
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