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With All Due Respect

Those in the know were shocked to their core yet remained physically paralyzed. All except for Mendele Kirchenfeld



Mendele Kirchenfeld is a natural helper.

I remember walking into an unfamiliar beis medrash three decades ago, unsure where I could sit. Within 30 seconds, Mendele was by my side. After a quick “Shalom aleichem,” he got right down to business.

“Would you like a seat on the right or left side? Would you prefer a place closer to the front or the back?”

The next thing I knew, I was sitting in a choice seat.

There are many chasadim Mendele has done over the years, most of them on the q.t. However, one incident that occurred during Covid was, as they say, over the top. I had heard bits and pieces of the incident, so I called Mendele and twisted his arm to get the details.

A year ago, as shuls were reopening, attendance was limited to members only, and they needed to sign up in advance. Guests were discouraged or outright banned, and the minyanim were usually quick and to the point.

Leible Miller (all names changed), a 16-year-old struggling with his Yiddishkeit, arrived for Minchah. Leible was socially awkward and pitied by most people. He lost his father five years ago, and his life has been one long challenge.

It so happened that Leible had yahrtzeit for his father during the pandemic. He dutifully donned a mask, and as he has done for the past three years, he went to take the amud for Minchah on the yahrtzeit.

All the men in the shul had known Leible’s father, a kind and gentle man who was very generous with whatever money he had. He had been one of the regulars at the shul.

All the other mispallelim also knew Leible; after all, his bris and bar mitzvah had both been held in the shul.

Leible shyly took the tallis, placed it over his shoulders, and reluctantly yet resolutely opened the chazzan’s siddur, and was about to start Ashrei.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Shimmy Blumstein appeared and whispered to the gabbai, “I have yahrtzeit today for my alter bubbe (great-grandmother), and I will daven from the amud.”

Leible responded meekly, “I have yahrtzeit for my father. For the last few years, I have always davened for the amud on his yahrtzeit. I am an only child, and there is no one else to daven for him on his yahrtzeit.”

Mr. Blumstein then whispered — much louder than required, and plenty loud enough for some men to hear — “Listen, Leible. The rule is that only paid-up members get to daven. Your mother has not paid dues since your father was niftar. You are not a member here, and you have no right to take the amud.”

Seeing that something was going on at the amud, the shul went quiet. Then a buzz began to spread like a virus among the men. Technically, Blumstein was right, and since it was during Covid and only 15 men were allowed in the shul, they couldn’t even break off into two minyanim.

As everyone stood there speechless and stunned, Shimmy Blumstein grabbed the tallis off Leibele’s shoulders.

Those in the know were shocked to their core yet remained physically paralyzed. All except for Mendele Kirchenfeld.

Mendele raced to the amud. “How much is a full membership for the year?” he quietly asked the gabbai.

The gabbai, surprised by the seemingly random question, responded, “Seven hundred and fifty dollars.”

Without hesitation or fanfare, Mendele Kirchenfeld wrote a check for $750 and handed it to the gabbai.

Mendele then placed the tallis back on Leibele’s shoulders and thundered, “Ashrei yoshvei veisecha…”

As Leible turned to face the amud, everyone in the shul adjusted their masks to wipe away the tears running down their cheeks.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 867)

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