“This letter writer... seems to be seriously misinformed regarding the nature of woke ideology, Jewish history, and Torah hashkafah”
Bonded to the Land [For the Record / Issue 974]
Thank you for an excellent historic article on Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, the “Father of America’s Yeshivos.” The authors mentioned many yeshivos with which Mr. Mendlowitz shared his own talmidim, helping so many yeshivos in America get started.
I heard from Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman ztz”l who told me personally about Rav Shraga Feivel traveling a number of hours by train for the groundbreaking or possibly the inauguration ceremony of Yeshivas Ner Israel in Baltimore in the 1930s. Rav Shraga arrived with a generous donation for the new yeshivah and also sent talmidim to learn there.
Missing from Mishpacha’s article is Rav Shraga’s love for Eretz Yisrael and his dream of entering the Land. When Rav Yitchok Gerstenkorn, the founder, builder, and first mayor of Bnei Brak, came to the States to raise funds for the city, he was not successful — until Rav Shraga befriended him and introduced him to family, friends, and contributors to participate in building the agricultural settlement on the sand dunes near Tel Aviv.
Rav Shraga was niftar in August 1948, three months after the declaration of the state that he strongly advocated for. Israel was at the height of its War of Independence, therefore his wish to be buried in Eretz Yisrael could not be fulfilled. Rav Shraga was buried al tenai in America, and after the war, once air travel was resumed, his son-in-law, Rabbi Alexander Linchner, brought his remains for kevurah to Eretz Yisrael, to Bnei Brak, the city he helped build.
Faigie (Mendlowitz) Heiman
Old-School Lesson [Guestlines / Issue 974]
Thank you to Rabbi Efrem Goldberg for another thought-provoking article, and for highlighting the increasing trend of bulldozer parenting. The paragraph about parent-teacher night very much resonated with me.
I was a bas zekunim, born in the late 1970s to “old school parents” who had already raised a house full of children in the 1950s and 1960s, and were already grandparents when I was born.
My parents taught me, as they did my older siblings, who were all a full generation above me, to always respect my elders, especially authority figures. I was a bright child, but like most preteens, keen to join my peers in taking advantage of situations in which there was a lack of discipline — such as occurred often in my fledgling school.
One day in seventh grade, I don’t recall what happened or why I was chosen as the class korban, my mother got a call from my science teacher. He wanted to inform her that I had misbehaved, and he had assigned me a 100-word composition on why I must behave in class. He told my mother that I was a bright child and could be applying myself more.
It did not matter that I was not the only troublemaker, and not even the main perpetrator; it was simply unacceptable that my behavior had resulted in a teacher feeling disrespected, and my mother expected me to take achrayus for my misbehavior. As my mother tells the story, she told this teacher that she was sorry for my behavior and that if I were to misbehave again in the future, I should receive a consequence, and she should be notified.
It was almost a decade later when my mother met this teacher again, and he told my mother, “In all my years subsequently at the school, I have never called a parent about their child and had the parent listen to me, support me, and even give me permission to continue to discipline a child. Usually the parent is angry that I have called, and the call is instead turned around to what I am doing wrong.” And this was 30 years ago....
I am sure that as a child I found it frustrating, but now, as the mother of children, I have never forgotten the message that my mother relayed though her interaction with the teacher, which the teacher later repeated to my mother.
Even when I feel a teacher is not justified (and obviously I am not referring to situations where a child is physically or emotionally in danger), I always hear the teacher out and speak with the utmost respect for their authority and position as someone who is being mechanech my child. And this is the message that my children hear. I am 100 percent their mother and support them, but at the same time their teacher deserves 100 percent of their respect and that is their achrayus.
Thank you, Mom, for that “old school” lesson of respect for authority that you taught me at the age of 13, and that I continue to live by and teach to my children. And thank you, Rabbi Goldberg, for giving voice to this adage of old.
A mother trying to teach the “old school” message to a new generation
Keep Them Separate [Dream Vacation / Double Take — Issue 974]
Rochel Samet’s “Double Take” stories are always a treat to read. Her characters and descriptions are so vividly depicted, it’s hard to remember they’re all fictitious!
This past week’s edition really spoke to me, as I’ve seen this scenario play out plenty of times. I live in Switzerland, and of course, everyone associates Switzerland with picturesque outings. So when there is a simchah in Switzerland, the Jewish reaction is, “Great, now I can combine the simchah with a vacation!” In my experience, this often leads to disappointment.
Simchahs are beautiful, but they’re also time-consuming, hectic, and demanding in terms of manpower. This is especially true when a close relative is making the simchah, and parents or siblings may need help with errands before and after the event.
I am not saying it is impossible to squeeze in some small trips here and there, but dreams of a week’s worth of outings while simultaneously celebrating a chasunah and sheva brachos will likely only cause resentment when those dreams rapidly evaporate.
My advice? As with so many things in life, lower the expectations and increase the happiness level. Keep simchahs and vacations separate.
Come with the expectation to be at the simchah and lend a hand if necessary. After all, that’s why you’re coming! Some of the best memories are built on the family togetherness before or after a simchah, even if that togetherness is setting up a sheva brachos or just sitting around at the baal simchah’s house doing nothing.
And then, if you do manage to squeeze in some vacationing, you’ll feel like you got a real bonus.
Where Progressivism and Liberalism Diverge [Inbox / Issue 973]
I would like to respond to the well-written, thoughtful letter of the “liberal Yid from Monsey” who defended progressivism.
While I agree that an over-identification with the “conservative” side and especially Trump Republicanism in the pages of a frum magazine is misplaced, I am disappointed by the misuse and confusion over the terms “liberal” and “progressive,” which were wielded interchangeably.
While this is not the forum to fully explicate political theory, it is important to recognize the distinction between liberal and progressive ideology. I am a classical liberal when I am in a non-Jewish polity not governed by beis din or the Sanhedrin; I believe in small government, free trade, and individual rights in a culture that should tolerate but not necessarily endorse differences.
The liberalism (often biblically derived) of England and America that allowed for the toleration of dissenters, Jews, and eventually ethnic minorities should be rightly celebrated. That is not the same, however, as the progressive movement.
The progressive movement hijacked the civil rights movement into a focus on dividing us into groups and coercing endorsement, rather than honoring the inherent dignity that derives from the tzelem Elokim of every individual. Jews will not benefit from a group-rights regime.
Finally, without engaging on all the issues the “liberal Yid from Monsey” brought up, it is important to recognize that tzedek and mishpat do not necessarily mean big government or high spending (though some forms of simple redistribution might be appropriate, such as the EITC or negative income tax).
On a theoretical level, we should recognize that it is better for people to make imperfect decisions about their own lives than having government (whether through elected officials or unelected bureaucrats) make imperfect decisions about the lives of others. The world is too complex for large systems to accurately move the levers of society. Of course, when big business or powerful elites influence decision making, government is even less perfect.
On a practical level, as someone who works for the government in a public school, I see firsthand how resources, efforts, initiatives, and intentions are warped and impeded by large systems that are not responsive to those using their services.
Finally, condescendingly invoking the Neviim or any single portion of Tanach or Chazal (while conveniently ignoring the complaint about ten percent taxation in Shmuel Alef), and assuming they can be easily mapped onto either right-wing or left-wing policies, is incredibly disingenuous.
K.M.C., Baltimore MD
Gross Misunderstanding [Inbox / Issue 973]
In his Inbox letter, the “liberal Yid from Monsey” objects to the fact that most frum Yidden strongly reject woke ideology and argues that even if it has negative aspects, we should still appreciate the positive aspects.
While this letter writer may be a well-intentioned person, he seems to be seriously misinformed regarding the nature of woke ideology, Jewish history, and Torah hashkafah.
Mr. Y.S. feels that woke ideology is an extension of the liberalism that in some ways benefited the Jewish community in the United States during the last 70 years. This is a gross misunderstanding of what wokeness is about. It is a hate movement that explicitly rejects classical liberal ideology of tolerance in favor of disdaining and even persecuting those groups that are not endorsed by wokeness.
While the primary victims so far have not necessarily been Jews, there is no doubt that their hate extends to all conservative religious people, including frum Jews. It is only a matter of time before they will turn this hatred into outright persecution.
Which brings us to our second point, the misunderstanding of Jewish history. It is unlikely that there was ever a society in the entire history of mankind whose declared values were closer to wokeness than the Soviet Union. It shared with wokeness a disdain for religion, for the most productive elements in society, for traditional values, and ultimately it even turned against what it viewed as the privileged races. Yet one would be hard-pressed to claim that Jewish history would have been prettier had there been more countries like the Soviet Union.
The third area that I mentioned, Torah hashkafah, is probably best illustrated by the misuse and misunderstanding of the Navi Yeshayahu’s admonition to care for the unfortunate. It is a grave error to think that Hashem commanded us to care for the poor and the unfortunate because if not, no one else will care for them. In fact, Hashem is perfectly capable of providing for them without our help. The reason Hashem commanded us to help the less fortunate, and the Navi exhorts us to do so, is that our spiritual success depends on our learning to imitate Him, including in His concern for the downtrodden.
Wokeness, by discouraging personal charity and replacing it with government aid that is paid for by mandatory taxes, removes the entire element of spiritual growth that is the primary purpose of charity. When the government takes taxes from an individual without his consent (which is by definition what taxes are), the person giving the money does not grow spiritually from a sense of having imitated Hashem and taking responsibility for the poor. It is only voluntary charity that gives one that opportunity, and voluntary charity is one of those conservative values that wokeness is ideologically opposed to.
Recognize the Truth [Inbox / Issue 973]
In an Inbox letter, a “liberal Yid from Monsey” elaborates on the positive aspects of wokeness and liberalism as far as it affects religious Jewish practices. I find it hard to support that view.
Today’s liberalism, with its ever increasing radical agenda, has moved far left from its former political position, which used to be more aligned with Torah values.
The agenda these days is to promote hedonism in ways that couldn’t be fathomed a mere few years ago. Actually, it’s more than being promoted — it’s forced upon society to not merely tolerate but celebrate the most perverse forms of self-identity. Refusal to join or daring to question this perversity results in all sorts of punishment: harassment, threats of violence, or being deplatformed online (which could cause monetary loss).
Downplaying this terrible state of affairs by using words like “protecting vulnerable groups” is a euphemism of the highest order.
Who, may I ask, do you refer to as being vulnerable? People who brazenly celebrate in public that which the Torah punishes with kareis? Is that what you casually refer to as an “alternative lifestyle,” another euphemism for practices the Torah abhors? And what about “the right to choose” or “reproductive rights,” which (in its most extreme form) promotes abortion up to birth?
Respect for religious practices? Tolerance? Not if they collide with the current agenda!
You mentioned tzedek and mishpat; are the lax punishments for crime creating a society that practices that?
Whether or not a different party holds the answer is not the point, but if we are truly meant to be an am kadosh and a light unto the nations, then it is incumbent upon us to recognize the truth.
R. R., Yerushalayim
Down Memory Lane [Screenshot / Issue 973]
I remember Mrs. Shoshana (Cofsky) Friedman from those days in Bayit V’Gan Bungalows, and this past Shabbos, her column was the talk of the town. You see, I still go to Bayit V’Gan, and this year is the first in 39 years that my parents have not returned.
As the column was discussed in the colony, we realized that of the 80 families currently in Bayit V’Gan, at least half, if not more, are families who have been here since the Cofskys were here, or are the next generations of those same families.
While not everything has stayed the same (the store is no more, the men’s pool is broken, and the paddleball court hasn’t been used for paddleball in years), Bayit V’Gan is still the summer home of people who want to give their children the amazing experiences that Mrs. Friedman described and that these parents enjoyed as children.
When the devar Torah at the B-Section kiddush finished last week, BVG veterans were milling about, talking about how much has changed and how much has stayed the same. We don’t have many chances to reminisce, and we thank you for the walk down memory lane.
If you would ever like to come down for a Sunday barbecue and a walk down Geiger Road to the stop sign and back, you will find many familiar faces welcoming you to the old haunts that still resound with happy kids having the summer of their lives.
Proud summer resident of Bungalow C-26
The Memphis Connection [Standing Ovation / Issue 973]
I always enjoy reading Ding’s “Standing Ovation” and the memories it stirs up. This week’s tribute, to Big Gedaliah Goomber, was no exception.
One small correction, though: Rabbi Yosaif Silverman a”h wrote the timeless song while he was a teacher in Memphis, Tennessee, where he raised his family. He was a first-grade rebbi in the Memphis Hebrew Academy and we were the recipients of his creativity, which covered many areas.
It was only later, in the early ’90s, that he and his wife moved to Toronto, where he continued his career as a mechanech.
A former talmidah
Why Can’t You Understand? [What Happened to Aveilus? / Issue 972]
Dena Mason’s gave me so much chizuk. I recently lost my father, and in my circles, it’s become accepted to invite mourners to family simchahs, but seat them at a separate table in the hallway. This makes me so uncomfortable.
Recently a cousin made a vort and sent a message to please come, as there would be a table outside in the hallway, and she’d make sure we didn’t hear any music. I had zero desire to get dressed for a vort and greet people and look happy when all I want to do is stay home and not socialize right now. A bunch of my siblings went, and as it happened, the music was playing in the hallway and they felt funny being there.
I actually sent Dena’s article to those of my siblings who stayed home, and we felt very validated. Why all the pressure to come to your simchah? Why can’t you understand we’re not in the mood?
Don’t Withhold the Gift [What Happened to Aveilus? / Issue 972]
I just wanted to add one more point to the crucial conversation about aveilus.
When I was sitting shivah for my mother ten years ago, our rav explained to us how the entire year of our aveilus, beginning with shivah, is a reflection of the journey the neshamah takes.
Aveilus is really not as much about the aveil as one thinks. It takes a year of “cleansing” for the neshamah until it reaches its rightful place. Our aveilus is essentially a reflection of the neshamah’s aveilus and it’s a rachmanus if not practiced properly.
It’s so unfortunate that because people don’t know this bit of information they expect the aveil to slack off, or look for loopholes, not realizing that the strictures of this year actually benefit the neshamah!
Yes, there are heterim for those unique situations, and it’s not for anyone to judge when someone attends a simchah during aveilus, but realize the gift one is giving the niftar by practicing aveilus according to halachah whenever possible.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 975)
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