"In today’s age of lavish kiddushim, my best memory of this shtetl shul was entering the little kiddush hall and seeing the survivors drinking a l’chayim"
Nothing More Jewish [No Other Solution / Issue 876]
Your Rosh Hashanah magazine was bursting with appropriate, inspiring material. I especially wish to commend your choice of a cover.
There is nothing more Jewish than taking a blow and rising up to sing of emunah. The Toldos Aharon Rebbe’s niggunim of faith and chizuk before that hadlakah were inspiring, but his decision to sing after even more so.
Secular magazines crown a man of the year. Our media has a different gauge, but there is no question that the image of this tzaddik, who suffered and wept and continues to grasp tightly to emunah, symbolized a year that was not easy.
May the new year be pleasant, easy, and filled with good news, and emunah that is not a nisayon at all.
Hershel Weiss, Brooklyn NY
Our Secret Benefactor [No Other Solution / Issue 876]
Thank you for your powerful and informative magazine.
I was thrilled to see Rav Dovid Kohn, the Toldos Aharon Rebbe, on the cover, and eagerly read the poignant article about the Admor. I do not know him, nor have I ever met him, but this extraordinary person has made it his business to make sure I know that he cares so much about me and my orphaned children, among many other families.
Every single Erev Yom Tov for the past few years, since I lost my beloved husband Yosef ztz”l, the scene repeats itself: a terse knock on the door, and on the threshold awaits a beautiful, generous and significant gift in honor of the Yom Tov together with a personal, uplifting, empathetic letter from the Rebbe. With deep compassion of our painful reality and identifying with our constant challenge to attain simchas Yom Tov, his effort and resolve to generate much needed light into our hearts is overwhelming.
Only once did I manage to follow his messengers outside to thank them, though they were clearly uncomfortable at having been “caught”!
I have no idea how to express my gratitude to him nor do I know how he even knows about my situation. I do not belong to his chassidus, yet this does not seem to concern him at all. For this exceptional Rebbe, the numerous unaffiliated widows and orphans he cares about who are steady recipients of his kindness are all that matters.
May we all be zocheh to learn from his genuine ahavas chinam.
Naomi Knobel, Yerushalayim
Legacy of Greatness [Last Ne’ilah in Telz / Issue 876]
The article on the heroic women of Telz was breath-taking in many ways. Not just the writing and research, which was impressive, but the fact that we got to read about the spirit and stamina of noble women was also refreshing.
The article especially helped me understand something else. I have siblings, cousins, and now, baruch Hashem, children who learned in the Telshe Yeshiva, and there is clearly something in the air in that yeshivah — a certain pride and appreciation of the mesorah. I didn’t always understand where it comes from, but I think that now I do.
It’s a yeshivah that carries on a legacy of a town of spiritual greatness. When you feature these kinds of articles, you don’t only help us understand the past, but also the present.
P. B., Lakewood, NJ
Real Role Models [Last Ne’ilah in Telz / Issue 876]
I couldn’t stop thinking about the very special women described in the article about Telz.
I come from Hungarian stock, and my grandmothers were incredible women with authentic emunah peshutah. They did not have much formal learning, but we grandchildren were so inspired by the care they took to keep halachah and to preserve family minhagim, and by their emotionally charged tefillos.
Still, if I can be honest, I will admit that since we girls received a high-level education in today’s Bais Yaakov system, we had much more knowledge than they did. My sisters and I know Tanach, we can read seforim in the original Hebrew, we know halachic terminology, and we feel comfortable listening to sophisticated shiurim.
I always saw my grandmothers as role models for the “heart” of Yiddishkeit, in contrast to our generation that has a lot of the “mind,” and I wondered whether our generation could achieve that emotional connection, too.
I think that is why it was so refreshing to hear about the women of Telz — women who mastered Tanach, who knew how to apply halachic principles, and yet sacrificed so much to daven and do chesed. They lived both the “mind” and “heart” of Yiddishkeit.
Reading about these women encourages me. It shows me that there are real role models who lived not all that long ago, who fused both those aspects in their avodas Hashem.
Thank you for highlighting that. It was a true inspiration.
Miriam Rabinowitz, Lakewood, NJ
Recreating the Shul Experience [One of the Flock / Issue 876]
Reading the impressions and memories of what shul was like on the Yamim Noraim for your gifted writers was depressing, but not in the way you think. The pieces themselves were uplifting and delightful to read. But they left me pondering whether we are doing a good job at creating similar atmospheres for our children in our shuls today.
This is especially so given the fact that this is the generation of convenience, where we daven Friday night in one shul, Shabbos day at another, if it doesn’t rain, and let’s chap Minchah at the corner.
Today our shul buildings look much more impressive, and the gabbaim arrange five minyanim for Chol Hamoed and tekios for women as well. There is extra parking in the rear. We’re efficient and well-funded. But do our shuls have half the personality that they did a generation ago? There are precious few survivors left, and just about none who can tell their stories to the younger generation.
I feel like we need to bring back the people, to let the “simple” balabatim talk (even if not during davening). Let it be during Kiddush, or let’s create other opportunities: Melaveh Malkah gatherings, siyumim, etc., so that the members of a shul should get to know one another, hear their life stories, and appreciate the greatness of the people around you.
Every Yid is special, and if we went back to the same model that we grew up with — the same shul for all tefillos, people free to be themselves and let their personalities show — our children will one day look back with longing at a place of real holiness.
Aryeh Leib Klein
Perfect Description [One of the Flock / Issue 876]
As a fellow Montrealer (I now live in Baltimore, Maryland), I couldn’t help but smile as I read Shoshana Sperling’s article about the memories of the ezras nashim in the D’zhibo Shul, fondly known to Montrealers as Rabbi Katz’s Shul.
She perfectly described the sounds, sights, and smells of one of the shuls of my childhood. I remember going to say gut Yom Tov to my late paternal grandmother, a Holocaust survivor who davened there, on the Yamim Noraim and other Yamim Tovim of the year. I also remember my very own Shabbos sheva brachos, which was held in the basement of the shul on a cold winter Shabbos in December.
Thank you for the stroll down memory lane and may the D’zhibo Shul of my youth continue be a source of tefillah and Torah to the wonderful community of Montreal.
Mrs. Toby Sauer, Baltimore, Maryland
Shul of Survivors Down Under [One of the Flock / Issue 876]
Thank you, Mishpacha, for your wonderful variety of stories about shul memories. The pieces “Wearing Our Best” and “The Baal Tefillah’s Daughter” struck such a chord for me.
As a son of Holocaust survivors who was brought up in a heimishe shul full of Holocaust survivors, the memories never leave me. The shul was called the Bondi Mizrachi, and three people in particular gave it a special flavor. The wooden shul had one long level with the ezras nashim at the back. On the other end of the shul was a small kiddush room that doubled as a succah, with a roof that could be opened with a pulley system.
The rav, Rabbi Osher Abramson, was a Chabadnik hailing from Russia. Sadly, he was never blessed with children but come Simchas Torah, during the hakafos, he would dance energetically with all the children and give them all hugs and blessings. His rebbetzin was so educated that when he forgot a section of his derashah, she would call it out from across the mechitzah.
The second individual was my dear father of blessed memory, Reb Moshe Lederman, the chazzan. Having lost his whole family in the Shoah, he married again, came to Australia, and began a new life. As a child I would witness him on the Yom Hadin clothed in his kittel, with handkerchiefs all around his machzor.
I never understood this as a child, but as I grew older, I saw him wiping his eyes after the Unesaneh Tokef, while in song he was conversing and pleading with the Eibeshter for a better year. The unique nusach and niggunim that he used were not only musical masterpieces, but emanated from his broken heart.
The third individual was another Holocaust survivor, Reb Moshe Zylberfyn, who doubled as the shamash and second chazzan. He loved to prepare the kiddush after davening, and no one could cut the schmaltz herring as well as he did. He was only as tall as the average bar mitzvah boy, and after the kiddush no one knew how he was able to stack 20 chairs on top of each other.
The new generation wanted a more modern shul, and in 1973 the Mizrachi was rebuilt further down the road. But the older members were not in favor of leaving their beautiful wooden house of worship, where tears flowed on the High Holy Days, and where all the youth of the area poured in to dance on Simchas Torah. A block of housing units was built where the shul stood, and legend has it that none of the units sold for five years because it was the holy site of a shul.
In today’s age of lavish kiddushim, my best memory of this shtetl shul was entering the little kiddush hall and seeing the survivors drinking a l’chayim (Vat 69 was the whisky they drank). One of the elderly mispallelim would call me over each week and say to me in Yiddish, “Velvele, vilst a shprotel? [Velvel, do you want a sardine?]”
And at each kiddush he proceeded to put a sardine on top of a piece of sponge cake! The sponge cake was like taam Gan Eden.
Now I daven from the amud with all the same tunes I learned as a child standing next to my father, which I have thankfully passed on to my children. That taste of the schmaltz herring will never leave me.
Shul memories are so wonderful. Thank you, Mishpacha, for reminding me of them.
Velvel Lederman, Sydney, Australia
Not Their Job [Inbox / Issue 876]
I’d like to respond to the letter writer who laments that schools do not teach a “psychological” or “psycho-educational” curriculum that “teaches children about emotions and how to manage them.”
To quote: “Academic education is important... but what’s more important is teaching our children how to tolerate distressing emotions.” The letter writer is “baffled” as to why this is not part of the curriculum.
My answer: School was created to provide academic education. Teaching children about emotions and how to manage them is the parents’ job. I agree with the letter writer that it would be “unfair to deny [them] this gift.”
Part of the Curriculum [Inbox / Issue 876]
In your last issue, a letter to the editor suggested that our schools lack psychoeducation, and that we should make it a priority. I agree that psychoeducation is extremely important, and I just wanted to let the writer know that many schools are starting to embrace this path.
My daughters attend Bnos Orchos Chaim in Lakewood, and we are extremely appreciative that the school has Dr. Tzipora Koslowitz come in and teach a psychoeducation curriculum to the third and fifth grades. My daughters love the lessons — they are not at all corny or overly full of mussar. Instead, Dr. Koslowitz explains to them concepts like bullying, the difference between affectionate teasing and malicious teasing, effective communication, or how to gently give a friend feedback.
I love that my daughters have the benefit of these lessons, and I love that they can come home and tell me exactly what they learned. We often have conversations with the whole family about the concepts. Dr. Koslowitz uses children’s books and other cute little gimmicks to make the lessons come alive, so it’s easy for the girls to remember them. The only problem I have with this program is that it’s not in every grade and she doesn’t come every single week.
I know that her program is in use in other schools in Lakewood. Don’t think that schools are not embracing the psychoeducation concept; they are, but like every innovation, these things take time. Personally, I feel lucky that my daughters’ school is so forward thinking!
A Grateful Mother
Power of a Shusher [Voice in the Crowd / Issue 875]
I want to thank Yisroel Besser for his article expressing the thoughts of a shul-shusher. As the daughter of one such shusher, it took me a long time to finally appreciate that my father was standing up not for his own kavod, but for kevod Shamayim.
I would like to add that while we may not want to admit this, there is a strong correlation between one who takes his davening seriously in particular, and one who takes his avodas Hashem seriously in general.
Growing up in a New York suburb, I often went to shul with my older sister on Shabbos (not the shul where my father davened). One week, she started davening at a new shul led by a young, sincere, and dynamic rav, hosted in a small house a few blocks from ours. It quickly earned a reputation for being a no-talking shul, which inevitably attracted a certain kind of crowd — the kind who didn’t want to go to a shul where there was any talking. This was just as true in the ladies’ section as it was in the men’s. I remember there was an elderly woman — the female shusher — who made sure it was quiet. (I never knew her name, but her zechuyos in Shamayim must be huge.)
Over time, this shul grew and grew, as it moved to a larger location and eventually to its own building. Today, Aish Kodesh of the Five Towns is world-renowned not only for its beautiful (quiet) davening, but for the sincere ovdei Hashem who populate it. The presence of Rav Moshe Weinberger (in addition to other amazing personalities) has spurred tremendous spiritual growth in my hometown, and much of it can be attributed to the original group of men who committed themselves to a davening of kedushah.
Don’t underestimate the power of talking — or not talking — in our shuls.
Center of the Trauma [Still His Children / Issue 870]
The last two months have seen such a powerful outpouring of empathy and concern for OTD teens. Center stage is the instruction to respect the trauma of their life experience and to learn to provide them with unconditional love. Yet as the joyous holiday of Succos approaches, I can only imagine how hollow those instructions might ring in the ears of parents who have experienced their child or children being literally ripped out of their hands, and perhaps permanently uprooted from their base of Jewish observance, and worse, their functional ability altogether.
This helpless feeling is not a new phenomenon in the annals of our history. I have a sense of an almost eerie similarity to the horrific recruitment decree of the Russian Czar Nicholas that began in 1827 and spanned nearly 30 years until his death. During that time, 50,000 Jewish children, known as Cantonists, were abducted from the arms of their parents to be tortured, forcibly baptized, and by and large, completely uprooted from their Jewish identity.
When I was very young, the saga of the Cantonists made a deep impression on me. I came to believe that as much as the children appeared to be the center of the trauma that occurred, indeed it was the parents who, in one moment, and then for a lifetime, endured a far deeper trauma than the children themselves. A mother’s pain in the face of the forced separation of her child from all that is vital to him is a trauma that knows no bounds.
Imagine if the experts of today were somehow transported back through time to the Russian shtetlach of the 19th century, and were given the task of instructing the parents of the abducted children on how to relate to their children. Imagine that they went from shtetl to shtetl and said, as they do today: “You had visions of that bar mitzvah, but that picture wasn’t meant to be. Trust me. Let go of your picture. Mourn the loss. Move on in your journey with a new picture of your child. And make it special.”
How would those parents respond or feel? “My child has lost his Jewish soul and now I’m supposed to embrace a new picture of him? Gevalt!” This agony is the center of the trauma, and unique to parents. The children do not experience this agony.
We as a nation must embrace the parents who suffer through that level of trauma, for that kind of pain is not survivable alone. That embrace is the embrace of unconditional love.
After Meron and after Surfside, Jews from all walks of life came together in a massive outpouring of unconditional love to the families, an outpouring the likes of which Klal Yisrael has never seen. But what made it unconditional? I believe it was our collective helplessness, and the realization that there is nothing we can do but love our fellow Jew and daven to Hashem.
If we can view the OTD crisis through the same lens as the Cantonist decree, if we can view the perfect storm of yetzer hara that is accessible to the hands and eyes of our children as a giant far greater than ourselves that renders us helpless, if we can place the parents of the OTD children at the center of the trauma experience, and if we can learn from Meron and Surfside to go to a place of powerful unconditional love, we can help bring them to tremendous healing and strength.
With that powerful connection, we can help bring joy to one another this Succos, and help add meaning and strength to the ongoing saga of struggle, one day at a time. And hopefully very soon, Hashem will provide the Divine Intervention and the permanent solution that we all long for.
A Fellow Parent
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 878)
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