The Bigger Picture| March 12, 2019
Photos: Yosef Chaim Goldschmidt
Laugh the Pain Away
Among an array of intriguing pictures as part of an exhibition of photographer Yosef Chaim Goldschmidt, there is one that especially captures visitors’ attention. It’s a group of Yerushalmi children gazing longingly at a huge heap of sugar slowly being turned into cotton candy inside a large cylinder. Their eyes are filled with anticipation as they wait, watching the seller — who doesn’t seem much older than they are — take a wooden stick, insert it into the spinning strands of hot sugar, and a minute later handing the coveted sticky confection to another excited child.
But who’s the shtreimel-wearing bearded man standing behind this eager little crowd, whose eyes seem to hold that same excited gleam of anticipation although he’s two generations older?
His name was Reb Kalman Goldschmidt a”h, a remarkable individual who captivated the hearts of all those who came in contact with him over the last few years until his petirah last summer. He was also Yosef Chaim’s Goldschmidt’s father.
The Goldschmidt home in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood became a wellspring of encouragement and succor for hundreds of Jews seeking a path for navigating the challenges of This World. And in the three years from the time he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given just weeks to live, he would become the “Cancer Rebbe,” sitting there in his tefillin, a broad smile on his face, laughing away his diagnosis and infusing incredible strength in people who were on the verge of despair.
During that time, Reb Kalman — who became a baal teshuvah over 40 years ago and had over the years become a well-known Breslover mashpia — told an interviewer, “My dear young friend, you are also going to die, with Hashem’s help. I do not know anyone who has succeeded in avoiding that fate…. I want beautiful images to emerge from here. I want people to understand that This World has a Master Who does not consult with doctors. You must recognize this: A Jew never dies. He simply goes home. And you can derive real joy from that awareness.”
That interview helped launch a new career for Reb Kalman: He, and his Har Nof apartment, would become public property. He would welcome people who looked whole but were really broken — anonymous faces who came to hear his message and tap into his faith.
“This picture of my father speaks volumes about him,” Yosef Chaim Goldschmidt, Reb Kalman’s oldest son, remarks. “It was taken a few years ago, when I was walking with my father in Meah Shearim on Chol Hamoed Succos. We ran into a group of children standing around a cotton candy machine. I asked my father to stop for a moment because I wanted to capture the picture. Without even thinking twice, he hurried over to the group of children and stood beside them like a comrade-in-arms, taking part in their joy, regardless of his kavod or stature. I love this picture because it captures such an essential part of him.”
Two Sides of the Coin
Reb Kalman had already defied the doctors’ prognoses by a year when he dressed up as Donald Trump for Purim on 2016. It was half a year before the elections, and at that point, Trump was still considered the joke of the presidential race. Most pundits didn’t give him a chance, but Kalman Goldschmidt predicted his win — and dressed up like him in order to create the spiritual energy of what his son calls “Trump d’kedushah.”
“People were initially surprised to see my father like this,” Yosef Chaim explains, “because our costumes are supposed to reflect some spiritual message. At first it looked like he was just clowning around, but this getup of his was really very deep. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains that there is a certain spiritual power that comes from wealth, and it’s related to the idea of getting intoxicated on Purim until ‘one doesn’t know the difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai.’ The key is ‘daas,’ meaning our intellectual capacity — which is limited by our own human limitations. When we relinquish holding onto our daas, the way we try to figure things out in our rational, limited, human terms, we open ourselves up to unbounded blessing, both in the spiritual and physical realms. And as Abba explained it, Trump’s immense wealth is what gives him a feeling of power, and that feeling is actually a special gift. Abba wanted to access all the hidden Torah of Purim that comes down when one feels his wealth and blessing is all from Hashem’s pipeline, and that’s what he called ‘Trump d’kedushah.’ ”
(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 752)
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