Inbox: Issue 961| May 16, 2023
“Rabbi Emanuel Feldman has seen it all, and getting to hear his perspective on Jewish life is invaluable”
Benefits of a Large Mix [The Alef-Beis of Chinuch / Issue 960]
Rabbi Neuberger always gets to the core of the issue. In highlighting the fact that in pursuing “alef students,” we are missing the great benefits of having an integrated student body, he addresses an issue long overdue.
For several years, I taught third and fourth grade English to boys at Bais Mikroh. In the early years, before formal report cards, I used to recognize assignments that were completed, not only work from the best students in the class.
One year, I focused on a different set of educational skills. At the end of the year, I gave a major award and a gift to one student. When I called Chaim up, neither he nor his classmates could figure out why he was being singled out. He was not a top student nor was he a “goody-goody.”
The award was for good sportsmanship, I explained. Recess and the schoolyard are important parts of education; lots of life’s lessons are absorbed in that informal setting.
I noticed that often, a game was interrupted by a fight: “Cheater, you cheated, not fair, I quit.” Down went the ball, the bat, and the glove. Sides were drawn, and the yelling commenced. But then there was Chaim. I saw that whenever the game was about to expire, he calmly addressed the point of contention, usually called for a “do-over,” and got the game back on the track. I was very impressed and felt that his behavior should be awarded and its value pointed out to his classmates.
Playing ball with two teams is not just a game. It is an opportunity to learn to play by the rules, to work together as a team, to compete honestly, to know what it means to win or lose and how far you can push before you get pushed back. Not a bad lesson for a 20-minute reprieve from the classroom.
Usually the teacher sees mostly the academic IQ. There are other forms of intelligence, however, among them the social/emotional IQ and survival IQ — the ability to organize, make decisions, and take risks.
Chaim’s mother updated me that her son has turned out to be an extraordinary adult — a blessing to his family and his community.
As Rabbi Neuberger points out from his school days, a large mix of classmates and friends makes for a wonderful experience.
He Had Time for Me [Man of Principle in the Halls of Power / Issue 960]
Has it really been 25 years since the passing of Rabbi Moshe Sherer? I still feel his presence in my life.
I came to Ner Yisrael in 1965 from Yeshiva Kerem B’Yavneh. That year, Rabbi Sherer spent a Shabbos at the yeshivah. He was concerned that the younger generation might not see the importance of being part of Agudath Israel. We started a Zeirei in the yeshivah and had a number of events to raise consciousness.
I still remember what he said during his visit. He quoted the pasuk, “these are the names of bnei Yisrael ‘haba’im Mitzrayma’ ” — who are coming, not who came. This vort encapsulated a hashkafah that was relatively new to me: We do not accommodate Judaism to fit America but we accommodate America to fit Judaism.
I kept up a relationship and was very honored that Rabbi Sherer came to Baltimore for my chasunah. I still use the Kiddush becher that he gave us as a wedding present. When we decided to go to Eretz Yisrael, he did more than write letters; he arranged for Rabbi Shaulson to meet us at the airport and take us to the dirah he had secured for us.
I cherish my memories of Rabbi Moshe Sherer. I asked him for a thought for a speech I was going to make at the graduation of the Ner Israel Machon. Several hours later, he called me on the phone and told me a gevaldige vort that I have since used many times. He had time for me. I value that.
One more thing: In much of what he did, his partner was Rabbi Naftoli Neuberger. They were in constant contact, lobbied government, and together, they saved Persian Jewry.
Rabbi Elchonon Oberstein, Baltimore, MD
I Appreciate the Honesty [The Rest is History / Issue 960]
Gedalia Guttentag’s article about Poland’s post-war policies and acceptance or lack of acceptance of its role in the murder of 3,000,000 Jews is quite elucidating.
I recently wrote a review of the traveling exhibit titled Auschwitz, presently at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. In my article, which was printed in the Los Angeles Jewish Home, I explained the educational value of the exhibit and noted the diversity of the crowd viewing the program.
One aspect that caused me some difficulty was also noted in Mr. Guttentag’s thorough analysis of Poland today and yesterday. Fairly recently, Poland passed a law making it a criminal offense to claim that Poles were involved in the killing of the Jews in the camps or in their towns or anywhere. Mr. Guttentag discusses the present-day Polish citizens, who do not accept the fact that their grandparents — some of whom did suffer from the Nazis — were overall part of the system whose goal was to eradicate every Jew they could capture. The exhibit I viewed likewise appears to minimize Polish participation.
I am thinking that if the world wants to see that Auschwitz and the other camps remain open for interested visitors, we need to rely on Polish cooperation. This was made evident by the Polish government canceling Israeli high school trips because of Israeli disagreement with the Polish revisionism that negates any Polish complicity with the Nazis.
While not part of the article and only mentioned peripherally in the exhibit, there were European nations who strove to help the Jews. France deserves special mention. Of the Jews who had escaped from their Eastern European nations and made their way into France, 75% were saved. We know that the other 25% that were sent east from internment camps, mainly in the Drancy area, is still a figure that is far less than other nations. Jews who were native citizens of France were generally hidden and saved.
It is true that this was the second time in the 20th century that Germany had invaded and conquered France, and they were long-time enemies, nevertheless it is significant that average citizens formed their own partisan groups to a much higher extent than many of the nations further east, including Poland.
It was gratifying, albeit sad, to read in Mr. Guttentag’s article that Polish citizens are not so accepting. I truly appreciate the intellectual honesty and detailed reports and interviews provided by Mishpacha’s writers.
Sweet but Not Fun [Second Thoughts / Issue 960]
Rabbi Feldman nails what Torah is all about, and every person who tastes the sweet waters of Torah knows that fun isn’t the name of the game. Enjoyable, exiting, profound, yes.
On a more general note, it’s so enjoyable to read and experience Rabbi Feldman’s perspective on so many topics. Not just a brilliant writer, here is a rav who has had a front row seat watching and playing a part in our miraculous growth from the 1930s (!) until today. From his writings, one sees how he is a product of all that experience. He’s seen it all, and getting to hear his perspective on Jewish life is invaluable.
Thank you, Rabbi Feldman.
Y. G., Jerusalem
Meant as Punishment [Inbox / Issue 959]
In response to the letter-writer who pointed out that Israel’s plastics tax is actually for our good: It would be hard to find anyone who would not like to use less plastic, to recycle more, and to guard our children’s health. However, like Lavan with his derech eretz and Eisav with his kibbud av v’eim, the previous government’s policies had everything to do with punishing chareidim in the guise of “concern for health and the environment.”
Firstly, the tax on plasticware. If the government really wanted to reduce use of plasticware, the initial step would be to subsidize the production of cardboard plates and bamboo cutlery. These already exist but at a much higher price point. Were the market for alternative disposable plates and cutlery to become competitive with plasticware, then the time would be ripe for the government to begin phasing out single-use plastics. Clearly that was never the previous government’s plan.
Secondly, with regard to sweet drinks, the argument is more nuanced. For many families, Shabbos or a simchah is the only time that children (and many adults) enjoy this treat. During the week, water or milk are often the only beverages served. For the many for whom it is the case, the tax just felt mean, and definitely was an attack on oneg Shabbos. There was not even a single idea put forward as to what could replace them.
This was the same government that wanted to take full-time childcare subsidies away from women whose “husbands didn’t work.” The potential loss to the economy of so many professionals made it a short-lived enterprise. But it was, again, only brought forward to punish the chareidim.
There is a possibility that the present government could lead the way in sustainability. There are many things that could be done to benefit everyone without singling out any group for punishment, and that would be something that we all could support.
E. M., Jerusalem
Everlasting Chesed [Where Meron Lives On / Issue 959]
Last week you wrote about Yossi Reit and Elazar Berger, who are still recovering from the tragedy in Meron. The words of emunah and bitachon of the Reit family are powerful words of chizuk for us all.
On a personal level, our family received tremendous chesed from Dr. Yechiel and Michal Reit. Twenty-four years ago, on March 4, 1999, our family was in a very serious car accident near Syracuse, NY. When heavy snow struck, we were traveling south to Baltimore, and our car skidded into a camper. It was a very serious situation. We were taken to different hospitals. Some were taken to SUNY Medical Center in Syracuse, NY. The situation was overwhelming and critical.
Suddenly, a medical student (looking more like a yeshivahman) appeared. He introduced himself as Yechiel Reit. Yechiel was a true malach Hashem, who guided and led us in all areas of the hospital experience.
Dr. Yechiel stayed with our son — who was in critical condition — all night, until our parents came to help out. He was there to talk and be mechazeik when needed. It was obvious his goal in becoming a doctor was to help people.
Many nights, when I was sitting in the hospital lost in thought, Yechiel showed up and gently asked if he could join me. He’d appear from nowhere when needed and disappear just as quickly. He had a sixth sense to know just when he was needed — always the “Reit person at the Reit time”! His wife Michal also did all she could behind the scenes to help us.
When our son passed away, Dr. Yechiel and Michal came to be with us. For years after, when we, baruch Hashem, made simchas, they joined us as well.
We will always have tremendous hakaras hatov to Yechiel and Michal for their genuine kindness. Just as they were there to be mechazeik us, Hashem should be mechazeik this very special family.
May Hashem repay their chesed,
Noson and Tovi Kulefsky
Not Just Ramat Eshkol [Inbox / Issue 958]
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for an amazing magazine full of a massive variety of quality reading on numerous subjects. The recent serial about the couple in Ramat Eshkol touched on many points that bochurim and young couples with varying backgrounds face today. Similarly, the work of historical fiction by Leah Gebber, which weaves a tapestry of imagination and history, brilliant opinion columns in different styles by talented writers of varying backgrounds, fascinating articles, and Riki Goldstein’s information about both well-known and lesser-known composers, come together to create a magazine that really has something quality for everyone.
The Ramat Eshkol story — which touched upon many points — has obviously struck a chord with many concerning the unbelievable rental market in Ramat Eshkol. But all I can say is, kudos to Y. M. G. for his letter entitled “The Most Pressing Crisis,” that points out that the problem is far deeper than a specific neighborhood or a specific community.
As he points out, the population of Israel is growing unbelievably. Massive fertility rate and unbelievable immigration, alongside increased longevity, are creating an insatiable demand for housing. Yet successive governments have simply failed to take even the smallest step to rectify this. How can anyone understand that the Belz community, by way of example, have managed to establish housing developments in both Lakewood and Southeast England, but cannot do the same for their far larger community in Eretz Yisrael? Both Telz-Stone and Beitar Illit laid out plans over a decade ago for significant expansion — in terms of tens of thousands of units — yet nothing has been done about them. Even with the baby steps taken so far to alleviate the housing crisis, unbelievably less than four percent of housing was earmarked for the chareidi public.
Y. M. G. further makes an oft-ignored point. Besides housing, the transport system is both wholly inadequate and again fails to focus on the needs of this massive part of the population. This is despite the fact that a large proportion of chareidim have neither cars nor driving licenses!
The high-speed train built from Yerushalayim to the airport fails to connect Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak unless one enters Tel Aviv and repeats part of the journey. Additionally — astonishingly for a train serving an airport — there is simply no physical way to take a luggage cart down to the platform. This means that while the train may be ideal for a lone businessman, it is simply not a practical solution for a young family with children and suitcases.
Although not enough attention is given to these points, a serious improvement to the transport system — including making Kiryat Sefer and Beit Shemesh far more accessible — would somewhat increase cheaper housing. A significant drop in transport costs would also undoubtedly lower the shelf price of every single product.
Many — especially the Kohelet forum — have spent years lobbying and advising what needs changing in the judicial system, and as soon as a right wing government came into place, set out to achieve their goals. Yet the housing market seems to have been entirely ignored.
These factors have come together to create an extremely difficult situation for many people, far beyond the English-speaking kehillah in Ramat Eshkol.
Ve’ani tefillah that we should be zocheh to be able to live in Eretz Yisrael with peace from our neighbors and peace in our camp.
Like So Many Wives [Last Stop Serial]
While “Last Stop” is just a serial, I think Naftali and Chana’s relationship is ever so realistic. So many wives walk around, wishing their husbands were something “more,” something “better,” or, let’s say it bluntly, would do things that would make the couple look more “the part” or “frummer.”
What we see here is that Naftali is in fact extremely happy and content with life. A wife’s role is not to change her husband, most definitely not when it’s coming from her sister-in-law (or friend, or mother). All a husband needs is someone to believe in him. He will go way farther in life if not pushed into the vision his wife wants him to be. A husband will thrive if left alone and trusted that he is doing what’s best for him.
Not everyone fits into a perfectly molded box of a rebbi or rosh yeshivah. Not only is that okay, it’s admirable to let each individual use his strengths and support him. Husbands are not children; they are grown adults who need the respect and support and trust of a wife.
More Honey, Less Vinegar [Last Stop Serial]
I am writing to tell you how much I am enjoying “Last Stop.” By reading about Naftali’s interactions with Yudi, I have learned a valuable life lesson: We all have the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child.
Through his warm and compassionate personality, Naftali has befriended Yudi and sees him in the way that Yudi needs to be seen in order to be successful. If a child feels only rejection and criticism from authority (i.e.: Eliezer’s way), the child will not only be unmotivated to change for the better, but the child will usually continue to act out in negative ways.
A child’s behaviors usually mirrors what are the adult’s expectations for the child. If a child is getting negative reinforcement from adults in his life, he will continue to act negatively. If a child is getting positive reinforcement (Naftali’s way), a child has more chance of changing his behaviors in a positive direction, because a child (Yudi) sees that an adult believes in him, even if at the moment he is so sad that he doesn’t believe in himself.
We can all be that adult to children in our neighborhood. Please smile at your neighbor’s struggling son even if his head is bare. Please wish your neighbor’s struggling daughter a “good Shabbos,” even if she is dressed immodestly. As we can see from the story, an adult doesn’t need to be a genius or any kind of expert in education to show kindness to a child. These struggling children need kindness in their lives more than anything else.
In addition, I hope all educators reading this story will take a lesson from Eliezer’s ways. His ego-driven stern discipline of Yudi is not only not helping the situation, it is making the situation worse. As Yudi said this week, he think his menahel hates him. There is no option for a child to succeed in a school when the child thinks his menahel hates him.
As my mother always said, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” If you are an educator, please take a lesson from this story and approach the struggling children under your care with more honey and less vinegar.
Note: In last week’s feature about Warsaw, “The Rest is History,” the photo credits were inadvertently omitted. The photos should have been attributed to Eli Itkin and the CER.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 961)
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