"Anything you are uncomfortable wearing, seeing, or doing at home should not be done on vacation"
The First Maggid Shiur [Leader of the Lions / Issue 878]
I was thrilled to read the wonderful article on Reb Leib Malin ztz”l by Dovi Safier and Yehudah Geberer in your Succos magazine. I would like to point out a grave omission in Part III.
The article states that in the early years, “There were fewer than a dozen American-born talmidim. Beis HaTalmud remained small, unchanging, and elite. But with the arrival of the younger students, Rav Leib instituted a formal system of shiurim. Rav Levi Krupenia, Rav Binyomin Zeilberger, and Rav Gershon Weisenfeld were among the early maggidei shiur.”
Actually, the first maggid shiur chosen by Reb Leib to teach the American boys was my father, Rav Noson Kamenetsky ztz”l. My grandfather, Reb Yaakov, once told Rav Shaya Portnoy shlita that Reb Leib said that he chose my father because “he would know how to give over the mesorah to the American boys.”
It’s possible that Reb Leib felt that my father, who was born in Lita and grew up in a true litvishe, Torahdige household, yet was exposed to America at young age, would know how to relate to the American boys and succeed in correctly conveying the mesoras haTorah from Europe.
Among the talmidim in my father’s shiur were Rav Yisroel Meir Weiss shlita (rosh yeshivah of Nachalas Haleviyim in Haifa) who would call him “Rebbi u’mori”; Rav Avrohom Dov Litmanowitz shlita (a dayan in the Eidah Hachareidis), who would always honor my father with a brachah at the chuppah of his children as hakaras hatov to his rebbi, Rav Menachem Mendel Bromberg shlita (presently in Beis HaTalmud); and Rav Yankev Eliezer Schwartzman (rosh yeshivah of Lakewood East).
My father ztz”l told me that Reb Aharon Kotler ztz”l once thanked him upon meeting him when his grandson was in the shiur with the words: “Ich hob hakaras hatov tzu dir veil du host ge’efent mein einekel’s kup in Gemara.”
These are some of the people I know of personally, but there were other gedolei Torah today who started out in Beis HaTalmud in my father’s shiur.
Disrespect for Shul Itself [Perspective / Issue 878]
It was with great interest that I read Rabbi Motzen’s opinion piece about kiddush clubs. As a member of the board of my shul, a shul that also has a kiddush club, I was curious to read a rabbi’s opinion on this issue. Unfortunately, I feel like Rabbi Motzen is missing a crucial point.
What is a shul? Yes, he mentions that a shul is a place to daven, but he then points out that as a communal gathering place, a shul can be used to model proper behavior. I’d like to address the question of what a shul is.
A shul is supposed to be a makom kadosh. It takes the place of the Beis Hamikdash until Mashiach arrives. How can we be so indifferent to the respect we owe such a place? Yes, it is a place where people gather, for various reasons. Yet the lack of respect shown by kiddush clubs cannot be overlooked.
Let’s examine a different question: What is a kiddush club? I can only answer based on the ones I’ve seen. When a shul has a kiddush club, I’ve observed that people will walk out of the shul during davening or leining. They usually skip the haftarah and the rabbi’s speech. They drink, eat, and just enjoy themselves. Some of the people are responsible with the amount they drink, others are not. They are also often late in returning for Mussaf.
Is this the type of responsible drinking you want to model? Do you want to broadcast that it is okay to show disrespect to the rabbi, to the tefillah, and to the Torah itself? Is this how we want to treat our mikdash me’at? If we want to model appropriate drinking, then do so during a kiddush after davening ends. Let everyone partake, including those who actually care about the entire davening.
Let’s model responsible behavior by showing what it means to respect a makom kadosh. How can we expect to be given a Beis Hamikdash when we can’t treat the replacements properly? Let’s treat our shuls as they should be, give the seder hatefillah the respect it deserves, and leave the drinking for after davening is over.
Daniel Fleisher, Hillside, NJ
Moderation Is Not an Option [Perspective / Issue 878]
Thank you for bringing the important topic of kiddush clubs to light. My husband is an addict in recovery. He’s had issues with alcohol abuse as well as with other processes that I will not enumerate here. Coping with my husband’s addiction and its repercussions has been, by far, the most difficult nisayon of my life. For this reason, I deeply appreciate Rabbi Motzen’s efforts to combat addiction and encourage moderation.
Here’s the thing: Addicts are incapable of moderation. They need to avoid their “drug of choice” completely, whether substance or behavior.
Combating addiction in our community would entail a few things, including:
- a) a better understanding and literacy about what constitutes substance abuse;
- b) fostering a culture where we stop fearing our feelings and, instead, allow ourselves to feel our feelings;
- c) each person having a real, actual, personal relationship with Hashem (known as the “Higher Power” in addiction circles), above and beyond just being religiously observant.
Vacation From What? [Voice in the Crowd / Issue 878]
I felt that Yisroel Besser’s piece “Take a Road Trip” excused the behavior of not just bochurim, but of all frum Jews on vacations. One line in particular — “You wouldn’t want people to form their opinions of you based solely on how you appeared or acted during your most recent vacation. Why don’t our bochurim deserve a similar courtesy?” — was shocking to me.
Yes, on vacation we want exactly that — a vacation. But from what? From the ins and outs of life, but not from Judaism. Anything you are uncomfortable wearing, seeing, or doing at home should not be done on vacation. Vacation is not a time to be lax on tzniyus, davening, or the like.
It really is quite simple: If you’re not comfortable doing something at home, don’t do it on vacation. Furthermore, if you are doing something on vacation, but wouldn’t do it at home, why is that? Are you being honest with yourself, or are your standards only different because the neighbors aren’t around?
I believe that the Jew who is holding on to all his standards on vacation is someone who is living by the words of “v’chai bahem.” He is living an authentic Jewish life wherever he goes and doesn’t need a “vacation” from it.
So please come on vacation with me and my family. We have nothing to hide or to be judged on, as we live authentic lives all year round.
J.K., Ramat Beit Shemesh
The Only Valid Tour [Scroll Up / Issue 878]
Your article on Yehoshua Yankelewitz was great. But it only mentioned in passing his great tours of the Old City; should I say, the only valid tour of the Old City that I’ve taken. His knowledge is outstanding.
Let me give you one small sample. My wife and I once took a tour during which the guide produced lead disks and told us that these were the korbanos vouchers.
The Mishnah explains that one family of Kohanim sold vouchers to those wanting to bring korbanos. The vouchers were then traded to another family of Kohanim who provided the actual animals and nesachim to the purchaser. The two families then compared the vouchers to the money for full end of day accounting. According to our guide, these lead disks were the actual vouchers described in the Mishnah.
When we mentioned this to Rabbi Yankelowitz, all we got back was a guffaw. He explained that when moving the gigantic wall stones into place (some so large that even modern-day equipment couldn’t handle them), the ancient workers slid lead ball bearings on top of the lower stones, so that the upper stones could be rolled into place. Over time the ball bearings flattened into discs, and were excavated with the remains of the Southern Wall.
Rabbi Yankelewitz’s tour takes a few hours and starts right after davening vasikin at the Kosel. The guards know him well and give him leeway when he needs it. The walk encompasses the entire Old City and its history from ancient times to the present, truly a “don’t miss” opportunity.
The article also mentioned that Rabbi Yankelewitz learned in Stamford and Paterson, but didn’t mention that his father was a rosh yeshivah in Stamford (he is now the rosh yeshivah of his own yeshivah in Monsey) or that his uncle (mentioned in the article on Rav Leib Malin) is the rosh yeshivah of Paterson, or for that matter that his paternal grandfather was a rosh yeshivah in RIETS and his maternal grandfather was Rabbi Wiesenfeld (also mentioned in the article on Rav Leib Malin), one of the original maggidei shiur in Bais HaTalmud, whose wife was the granddaughter of the Chofetz Chaim.
It Still Exists [Inbox / Issue 878]
I loved reading the collection of Yamim Noraim shul memories. It really brought me back to the shul of my youth.
I’m writing in response to Reb Aryeh Leib Klein’s letter, in which he claimed that today’s shuls no longer recreate that all-encompassing experience. While I hear his point, I must mention that our shul in Baltimore, Mercaz Torah U’Tefillah, led by Rav Yissachar Dov Eichenstein, provides that very shul atmosphere of our youth that is beautifully described by your writers.
Rav Eichenstein speaks constantly about the importance of being part of the kehillah — not just on Shabbos, but also during the week. The shul is bustling and hopping at all hours of the day and night with shiurim, numerous minyanim, and programs for the kids.
We are proud members who are forever grateful for the heart and soul that our rav puts into the shul so that the kehillah will be strong together, and so that im yirtzeh Hashem, our children will grow up with the warm memories of their shul being front and center in their lives.
So, yes, the shul atmosphere of our youth still exists!
R.L.H., Baltimore, MD
Yom Kippur in Isolation [Perspective / Issue 877]
I wanted to email you after reading Rabbi Ezra Schwartz’s article about experiencing Yom Kippur in isolation.
I am writing from Sydney, Australia where we are locked down and all the shuls are closed up. I read Rabbi Schwartz’s article Erev Kol Nidrei and want to thank him for the amazing chizuk, which we took with us through the entire Yom Tov.
As he said, and we agree, “I don’t recommend it, but a Yom Kippur spent in isolation, alone only with the Ribbono shel Olam, can be a very powerful and uplifting experience.”
Paul Meyer, Sydney, Australia
Missing Succah Scheme [The Kichels / Issue 877]
I was shocked that the Kichels’ comic depicting succah decorating styles omitted my succah decorating scheme.
It is the one with five almost-identical “v’samachta” signs that each child made in fourth grade. It is where I can show my eight-year-old eineklach the Ushpizin posters their fathers made in primary. It also showcases laminated apple simanim charts, shofaros, kapparos chickens, and Yonah’s whale, which is sometimes confused with the Leviyasan.
It includes a stop sign on the door made by my son back when he was a teenager, reminding people how to talk and behave in this makom kadosh. The most unique decoration is a copy of a citation issued to my great-grandmother in the 1950s regarding an “illegal shed” built on her porch. (They gave her a few weeks to take it down, which got her through Yom Tov with ease.)
Paper chains are required to be made fresh each year. Nothing store-bought is allowed on the walls. Every year my kids manage to throw out a few more rained-sodden decorations... but this decorating scheme shows that my family is the ultimate noy succah.
Thanks for a wonderful magazine. We have been reading it since your very first issue.
To Live There, Too [Inbox / Issue 872]
The anonymously written letter asking why “the yeshivish community in America does not seem to prioritize aliyah on a large-scale communal level” reiterates the same reactions my husband and I encountered from family and friends when we made aliyah 11 years ago. They thought we were crazy.
To be truthful, we also did not consider aliyah until we bought kevarim on Har Hamenuchos 20 years ago during a Succos visit to Eretz Yisrael. As soon as the purchase was made, I had an epiphany: I thought about my davening since I was a child and how the meaning of what I had been saying, daily, for over 60 years went in one ear and out the other. Suddenly, we owned karka there and I realized that I didn’t want to just be buried there but also wanted to live there.
Then an opportunity was presented by dear friends to buy (“on paper”) in a building that was going to be built in four years. It was the blindest purchase we ever made and the best deal of our lives. We take no credit for it and thank Hashem for guiding us.
Tirtza Jotkowitz, Jerusalem
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 879)
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