| Reel Chronicles |

Klal Yisrael’s Most Esteemed and Influential

This Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, I’d like to take the opportunity to take a more contemplative approach and share memories of some of the great people I’ve been fortunate to meet.

With Rav Shmuel after a film shoot

One of the best things about what I do is that in the ten years since I started, I’ve had the privilege to interview thousands of people, among them some of Klal Yisrael’s most esteemed and influential.

“Who’s the most impressive person you’ve met?” is a question I get a lot.

To be honest, it’s a tough one. The people I speak to range from the ziknei roshei yeshivah to industry leaders, from rising stars with bright futures ahead of them to venerable elders with rich and glorious pasts. How do you quantify greatness? I’m not qualified to make that determination!

I usually sidestep the question by sharing stories of people I’ve met who have made the biggest impression on me; there’s something about being exposed to greatness in the actions of real people that has a powerful impact.

This Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, I’d like to take the opportunity to take a more contemplative approach and share memories of some of the great people I’ve been fortunate to meet.

Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky

One of the first times I was asked to go to record divrei brachah at the home of the rosh yeshivah of the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia was a hot summer day in mid-August 2018. The Rebbetzin was alive then, and I remember seeing her when we walked in; she was sitting and knitting by the light from the window. The room was dimly lit, and the Rebbetzin turned on all the lights and the air conditioning only after we entered — she wouldn’t use it just for herself.

When Rav Shmuel arrived home from yeshivah, he was extremely solicitous, asking multiple times what he could do to help. He didn’t feel it beneath him to assist us in setting up our equipment. When I asked him where I could find an available electrical outlet, he immediately began clearing space to allow for easier access.

What stands out the most in my mind is the moment when we realized the old-fashioned air conditioning window unit was making too much noise and would interfere with our audio quality.

“Can we turn off the air conditioner?” I asked.

Rav Shmuel agreed, but then he immediately began apologizing to me and my non-Jewish crew that the house was uncomfortably warm. He and the Rebbetzin were fine without it, but they were not happy that the crew would not be as cool as they were used to — even though we had asked that it be turned off for our sake.

Rav Shmuel also made sure — in his unassuming fashion — to get the name of the cinematographer, and he even recognized him on subsequent visits.

The selflessness and level of caring for others made a profound impact on me. I interact with many people from all walks of life on a daily basis, and the way Rav Shmuel and his Rebbetzin treated everyone as their equals is something I try to emulate.

Senior Production Manager Moshe Niehaus interviewing Rav Elya Brudny in Passaic for Adirei HaTorah

Rav Elya Brudny

We were putting together clips for the Adirei HaTorah event in spring 2023, and we were asked to record divrei brachah and chizuk from roshei yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael and America, including Rav Elya Brudny, Rosh Yeshivas Mir Brooklyn and a chaver of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah. Senior production manager Moshe Niehaus took charge of all the production aspects of the event videos, and he reached out to Rav Brudny to arrange a time and location. They agreed to meet at Rav Elya’s home in Brooklyn, New York, later that week.

A few minutes later, Moshe’s phone started buzzing — it was the Rosh Yeshivah.

“Moshe, am I correct that you once mentioned to me you live in Passaic? I just remembered I have a wedding in Passaic tomorrow night,” Rav Brudny said. “Would it be more convenient for you if we filmed then?”

Traveling and setting up in someone’s home can take more time than the filming itself, especially when we’re dealing with city traffic and parking (or lack thereof), but that’s par for the course in our business. For the Rosh Yeshivah, who was doing us the favor, to be more concerned with our convenience than his own was something that made a real impression on both of us.

Reviewing historic Telshe photos with Mr. Benny Fishoff

Mr. Benny Fishoff

What immediately stood out about Mr. Benny Fishoff was his complete and utter self-effacement. His son was being honored in 2016 by the Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim, and we wanted Mr. Fishoff (Senior) to share his thoughts for the dinner video. When I reached out to schedule our interview, the phone was answered by Mr. Fishoff personally. There was no gate-keeping secretary for this veteran philanthropist and askan, a survivor who built an empire of success and chesed from literally nothing. No “I’m a busy man, try me later,” just “Hi, how can I help you?”

We agreed to meet in his office in Manhattan, and when I asked him for the location, he told me he “works for a bank.” I later found out he was actually the vice chairman of the institution, not merely an employee, as he had made it seem!

On the day of filming, I suggested that we film in the bank’s conference room. Mr. Fishoff, who held the highest position in the bank, approached the security guard to ask permission to use it. The fact that the guard was 60 years his junior and that his position was just about as low in the bank as Mr. Fishoff’s was high, didn’t seem to register with this humble giant.

I left that day in awe, and with the conviction that I must find an opportunity to meet with Mr. Fishoff again.

I would have my chance several months later when Telshe Yeshiva Chicago requested that I interview him about his memories of learning in the great Telshe yeshivah in Europe. Once again, Mr. Fishoff amazed me with his selflessness, behaving as if (and genuinely believing) I was his equal. It was during this second encounter that he shared with me a story about his rosh yeshivah, Rav Elya Meir Bloch ztz”l.

Mr. Fishoff was a young bochur when he arrived at Telshe in 1940. It was a tumultuous time, and the yeshivah building would be overtaken by the Russians shortly after his arrival. Seeing signs of the upcoming upheaval, Rav Bloch prepared to travel overseas to raise funds and awareness among his American brethren.

Before his departure, he called in the young Benzion Fishoff to inquire about his eating arrangements (Telshe at that time supplied lunch as the main meal of the day, and students would find their own way for supper). Mr. Fishoff did not have a ready response, and the Rosh Yeshivah immediately wrote him a note to present to the yeshivah cook with a personal request to take care of the bochur.

As Mr. Fishoff related this episode, he marveled at how this great Torah leader, the fate of the entire yeshivah on his shoulders, a talmid chacham to whom crushing issues were brought daily, had the time to worry about one lone young bochur’s suppers.

He ended his recollection saying that this made an indelible impression on him, and he would never forget that kindness, that warmth, that concern for the “small person” even in the midst of great challenges.

Everything suddenly fell into place.

I didn’t say it aloud, but as I agreed with Mr. Fishoff that his rosh yeshivah was indeed special, I thought, Yes, you have never forgotten this act that made a lifetime impression on you.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 979)

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