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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Kristallnacht at Nine

I shared the following article with my fifth and sixth graders. I though it would be meaningful for them to read about the events of November 9th and 10th through the first hand experiences of a girl close to their age. The piece was written by Chamie’s grandmother, Mrs. F. Gottleib of Har Nof. May she continue to see many happy years. The article appeared in the Horizons magazine and is also available on as a PDF. Many thanks to Mr. Schor for providing the technology necessary to prepare this material.

By: F. Gottlieb
It was November 10, 1938, later to be called Kristallnacht. I was a young schoolgirl living in Mannheim, Germany, together with Mutti, (my mother), two sisters, and one brother. My second brother, the oldest of us five, was vacationing at the time in Bad Duerheim, since he suffered from asthma.
A few weeks before, on October 27, 1938, a Wednesday night, my father, z"tl, and a group of
other Polish nationals in Germany were arrested, each one walking between two Gestapo agents. We children were asleep, and thus were spared seeing this tragic event.
The next morning, October 28, 1938, Mutti broke the depressing news to us and took us with her to the jail where Papa was being held in custody with the other Polish Jewish men. We brought a suitcase for Papa and wanted to say good-bye to him. At first, one of the SS men refused to permit children in, but another SS man let us pass.
I’ll never forget the gloomy, dismal scene; it remains vivid in my mind. My father’s hair had turned white overnight. It was the first time I saw my father cry. (I had been under the impression that men don’t know how to cry.) We all were so sad, and tears were flowing freely. Bidding him farewell was devastating. I had so many unanswered questions. “What is going to happen now?” I felt like screaming, “No, no, don’t take him away. He is my Papa and I love him so.” These were my unspoken words, as I stifled heart-rending sobs. My anguish, grief and suffering were indescribable.
When we returned home, we children gave Mutti all the money we had saved, realizing the breadwinner was now gone. It wasn’t much, but we wanted to help. The Germans deported 1,925 Jews from Mamiheim and 1,906 from Karlsruhe to Zboncyn, which was on the border of Germany and Poland—“no-man’s land.” Germany wanted them out, and Poland didn’t want them in.
The hardships these people endured during and after deportation were often beyond description. For instance, for three months Papa didn’t undress. His jacket and vest served as his pillow. He intended to buy two rolls for supper one day, but needed the money for postage, and that he considered a priority. When he finally returned to us on July 19, 1939, he needed dentures. He’d lost all his teeth to malnutrition. Before his deportation, he never had a cavity.
On November 7, 1938, in retaliation for this event, Herschel Grynspan, the son of one of the deportees, entered the German Embassy in Paris with the intention of killing the German ambassador. Instead, he shot Ernst von Roth, the German third secretary. Von Roth’s death set off a day of anti-Semitic acts and riots that marked the beginning of the end of European Jewry: Kristallnacht.
The morning of November 10, 1938, I was walking to school. On the way, I met some Jewish acquaintances who cried, “Turn back! Go home! The synagogues are burning!” I didn’t need coaxing and immediately returned home. Of course, I was frightened. My mother, siblings, and another woman, who lived alone with her daughter, joined us to pass the uncertain and frightening hours. My mother, o “h, said Tehillim. The day dragged on and on.
In the early evening, we heard the SS men, with their heavy boots, stomping up the stairs. The landlord, a decent goy, tried to stop them by saying, “It is after 5:00 p.m. It’s past the curfew.” The SS men disregarded his warning and stormed in. “Wo ist der Jud?”—“Where is the Jew?” they shouted, marching from room to room, searching for my father.
This was the first time I was happy and grateful that Papa was in Zboncyn. Then, looking at the mezuzos on the doorposts, they asked, “What are these?” My mother calmly replied, “The ten commandments.” They tore them off and left. I guess that they, in a way, heeded the landlord’s words, “It’s past the curfew.”

During this “night of the broken glass”, nearly one hundred Jews lost their lives, over 30,000 were arrested, 191 synagogues and 75,000 Jewish stores were looted.
The SS men came to Uncle Hochmann’s house (my mother’s brother). He was sick in bed. One of the Gestapo men wanted to throw him out of the window, but another one remarked, “Forget about it, Der Jud wind so wie so verrecke—The Jew will croak anyway,” and they left. My aunt’s father in Duesseldorf did not fare as well. They threw him out of the window, and he was badly injured.
All meats and chickens were thrown out of the kosher butcher shop into the street. After that night, no more kosher meat products were available. Men were taken to Dachau, a concentration camp, store windows were smashed, and the riots continued uncontrolled.
This event changed my life. My childhood ended at nine and a half years.


Posted on 11/09 at 06:42 PM • Permalink
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Friday, October 31, 2008

Nimrod the Orwellian

Several years ago the Norfolk Kollel was invited to Present in the Old Dominion University as part of their Jewish Symposium. I presented my understanding of the parallels between Orwell’s 1984 and the Dor Haflagah (Tower of Babylon). The main idea was based on the concept of Newspeak and the idea that “War is Peace” but there were many other fine parallels as well.

Most of the presenters were nerdy professors reading papers. I presented in the only way I knew how - just as I would deliver a class or a Dvar Torah. I felt a little unacademic but Professor Frederick Lubich (Head of Languages) made a point of complimenting my “disarming, off-the-cuff style”.

It isn’t very bloggy, but here it is:

The tower of Babylon is described in Genesis 11. 1787 BCE 3775 years ago (1973 years after creation).

The Torah records that at this time large populations migrated from the East and settled in Babylon, which is present day Iraq, probably around Baghdad . At this time all the people were of One Safah, one language and one manner of speaking.

At this point Nimrod who was the leader declared a war on G-d and had everyone build a tower. He was intent on rebelling against G-d.

The Jerusalem Talmud records an unusual argument between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yochanan, one said that they actually spoke seventy languages, while the other understood that they spoke only one language, that of G-d. I.e. Hebrew.

The field of Linguistics deals with the etymology of languages and seeks to explain the differences and similarities between various languages and cultures. Yiddish has many words that cannot be expressed in any other language, and there are many words that can not be described in Hebrew.

In days before people who were hard of hearing could be taught to read they were considered to be of lesser intelligence, simply because they possessed less words with which to articulate complex thoughts. The bible (Ester) refers to “every nation and their language”, in describing diverse cultures. Roget in his introduction to the thesaurus states that his main intention is not to make writing more colorful but rather to provide a vehicle in which thinking itself could be more creative. Rabbi Tzadok Hacohen (Kometz Mincha 20) writes that the tongue or the language is the quill of the heart. Just as the Quill is able to take thoughts and transcribe them onto paper, there is a step before this where the emotions of the heart are transcribed into words, thus language is to the heart what a pen is to the mind. The Chovos Halevavos (Bechina 5) enjoins man to meditate on all the good that G-d has given him. He writes, “Now think about the good which has been given to man through the power of speech and articulation. For with them he can present that which is in his soul and inner recesses, and with them he can understand the feelings of others. The tongue is the quill of the heart and the agent of his hidden thoughts. If man would not be capable of speech, we would be entirely unintelligent and animalistic. Speech is what separates Man from all other species; with it we make pacts among ourselves and with G-d, with speech we beg forgiveness, which is the highest indicator of our intelligence.”

In linguistics there are two schools of thought, one believes that all men are created equal and it is only the culture and nuances of society that cause us to be different than each other. The other, more realistic view is that we were all created different and it for that reason that many different languages and slang has evolved. Even if theoretically we could all speak one language and thus all think in the same way, there would be peace on earth but it last for only a short time because ultimately the uniqueness within us would awaken and new languages would emerge.

Both Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yochanan had difficulties with the idea of everyone speaking the same language. One resolves it by saying that perhaps they spoke the same language, but it was only a “Safah” from the lips outwards, inside they all had completely different emotions, which just hadn’t been articulated in to individual languages. Rabbi Eliezer preferred to take the verse at face value; at one point everyone was truly unified, it was only after this unity was used for the wrong purpose that we were split. Either way the pieces of the puzzle can be put back together.

Where Nimrod went about bringing unity in the wrong way, Abraham was able to welcome and respect everyone without losing sight of the reason for all our differences: together and praise G-d.

My father compares this to a bicycle wheel, composed of a hub, spokes and a rim. On its own the hub is quite useless, it can only be strengthened by a large number of spokes jutting from it each in a little bit of a different direction and finally being encircled by the rim. If any of the spokes disconnects itself from the hub the wheel will not be strong. At the same time if we are not all headed toward the praising of G-d the rim will be equally weak. Nimrod dealt with the spokes using his own personal hub and rim. This did not work. Abraham, his contemporary, allowed everything to work within G-d’s original design.

Vote Now, Vote Here, Vote Me (Thanks)

Posted on 10/31 at 04:20 AM • Permalink
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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Stop Kicking the Sukkah

If we wanted shelter we would stay at home. We go outside to the sukkah to show that G-d is in charge. We are at His mercy.

More accurately, we are at our own mercy. The Mishna (Sukkah 2:9) teaches us that when we are rained upon in the sukkah it is with water that we ourselves have drawn and brought before Hashem. Ultimately, it is Hashem and our actions before Him that effect our environment.

Nonetheless, we often miss the point of the sukkah. We blame our environment, the people around us and the people that are not around us for everything that goes wrong.

The entrance test of the future will involve a sukkah. Contestants will be in invited to partake in it’s shade and immediately forced to leave by an intense heatwave. Those who kick the sukkah on the way out are ineligible to join the chosen people.

Hashem keeps things cool and Hashem heats things up. Don’t Kick the Sukkah. 

Posted on 10/19 at 10:26 PM • Permalink
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Monday, October 13, 2008

Sukkos: Rosh Hashana for Aveiros

The Medrash writes that Sukkos is the Rosh Hashana for Aveiros, the New Year for Sins. The freshness and purity of Yom Kippur remain untainted in the days leading up to Sukkos. We are too busy preparing for the holiday to do anything wrong. It is only on the first day of Sukkos that we can begin to sin.

This Medrash supports a core precept of Chassidus that the preparation for the mitzvah is more important than the mitzvah itself. Building a sukka, choosing a Lulav, and cooking meals are only preparations for the holiday, yet they effectively shield us from sin. On Sukkos itself, when we are sitting in our sukkos, shaking our Lulavim and eating those meals we find ourselves beginning to sin.

The Chassidim extended this idea to exalt the preparations made for prayer, Bris Milah, and all Mitzvos.

The so called Misnagdim (opponents of Chassidus) were against this understanding of the Medrash. The Nefesh Hachaim considered it all but blasphemous to suggest that choosing a lulav and preparing for prayer could be more important than shaking a lulav and prayer itself. While preparing for a Mitzvah we are engrossed in an incomplete mitzvah. It is only when we see a mitzvah through to its’ completion that we can realize its’ true benefits.

We can spend hours and hours preparing for a Mitzvah, but the light that emanates from the Mitzva will not begin to shine until the Mitzvah is complete.

It is kind of like school: A person can spend twenty years of his life in a school environment. During that time period he is immersed in knowledge. His life is based on an academic schedule and he lives and breathes his studies. He exists in a framework of discipline and evaluation that encourages him to grow. When he finally graduates he leaves that intense and nurturing environment. He loses the benefits of the campus - but he is now a graduate. He can sleep all day and never open another textbook, but if someone needs a doctor or a lawyer or a toothpaste tester he is qualified and licensed to help.

The same is true of Mitzvos. While preparing for a mitzvah, we think of nothing but that mitzvah. Hashem protects and shelters us as we put effort into the mitzvah. But the real benfit is in the completion. When we complete a mitzvah, we often forget about it - but we are different people because of it. A completed mitzvah elevates us in a very real and permanent way. It envelopes us with holiness and brings us closer to Hashem. Upon completion, a Mitzvah leaves our physical lives but becomes a part of our neshamos.

In the days leading up to Sukkos we are physically busy with mitzvos but we have not yet upgraded our souls. When Sukkos finally comes, our mitzvos transform us into elevated and better human beings.

As the sukka forces us to reinvent our physical environment, the calm of Yom Tov challenges us to make full use of our new spiritual reality. Sukkos is our first chance to be tested. It is the Rosh Hashana for sin.

May we merit to see our mitzvos change who we are and penetrate to the depths of our souls.

Sources: Medrash Rabbah, Emor 30:7; Yayna Shel Torah, p. 6; Ruach Chaim, preface.

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Posted on 10/13 at 06:51 AM • Permalink
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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Be Matir Neder

I had lived in Norfolk for a while when I met a “frum looking” Jew that I had never seen before. After the usual greetings, I asked him if he would like to spend some time learning with me once or twice a week. He responded in the affirmative and soon he was coming to my house two evenings a week to learn Mishnayos. It turned out that he had spent some time in yeshiva, was observant, wore a Yarmulke, kept all of the mitzvos, davened three times daily and learned regularly. The odd thing was that he never came to shul. Not once.
As we became friends I mentioned that I had never seen him in what was the only Orthodox shul in town. He gave me a vague answer. I suspect that there was another answer too, but not wanting to pry I didn’t pursue the issue.
We continued to learn every week, always at my home. Rosh Hashana came and went. My friend was very much in the High Holiday spirit and had blown the Shofar and davened, but he had still not come to shul.
A day or two after Rosh Hashana as we got together for our learning session, my Chavrusa asked me a favor. “Could you get a Beis Din together for me? I need to annul a vow”. (A Beis Din is a court of law, in this case three adult males). We set a date and place and I promised to be there with my fellow Kollel members.
It turned out that my Chavrusa had made a genuine Neder never to step foot into shul!
As a Halachic Jew he felt that he needed the dispensation of a Court of Jewish Law to allow him to come to shul on Yom Kippur.
We indulged him, and with a ‘Mutar lach, mutar lach, mutar lach” the vow was annulled.
A few nights later at “Kol Nidrei,” a large crowd gathered at Bnai Israel to recite the prayer nullifying any vows made in the past year. I took a peek out of my Talis and saw my chavrusa, a man whose religious landscape had changed with the rejection of a vow.
I still don’t know what kept my Chavrusa away from our shul. I do know that he got over it.
We all have our hang-ups and Mishegassen that are stunting our growth. Sometimes we need to take a step back and say ‘that’s not me – it’s just a vow that I have made’. We need to be “Matir Neder.”

(Originally written for the Norfolk Stories blog)
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Posted on 10/07 at 10:58 PM • Permalink
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Monday, October 06, 2008

The Door

Calvin Bakov supplies liqueur to the military. He owns thousands of dollars in alcohol which he keeps in his warehouse. He is not allowed to touch it.

Because the liqueur is exempt from certain taxes, the government keeps Mr. Bakov’s property under lock and key. It is his liquor but he is not allowed into the room.
While Mr. Bakov is a personal friend and a very honorable man, the Talmud likens his situation to one who has much Torah but no fear of G-d. He has all of the keys to the inner chambers but he has no access to the main entrance.

This is a situation in which so many of us find ourselves in the days before Yom Kippur. We know what Hashem wants, we know about the treasures and the joys that are in the Torah, but we can’t seem to get in the front door.

The Gemara tells the story of Nikanor. Nikanor was a special man who was determined to create something special for Hashem. He undertook to craft the worlds finest copper doors and transport them from Egypt to Yerushalayim. The doors were his project, his contribution to history and his way of coming close to Hashem. After months of work he loaded the finished doors onto a ship and headed through the Mediterranean. As he was traveling the ship encountered a storm and was in danger of sinking. In an effort to save the tanking ship the panicked seamen threw one of Nikanors beloved doors overboard.
Nikanor took solace in his one remaining door, but before long that door too was slated to be thrown overboard. In an act of desperation, Nikanor clung to the remaining door. Life did not seem worth living if his dreams were to be dashed to the sea. Finally, Hashem had mercy and the storm subsided. When Nikanor reached the port in Akko he was pleased to find that his lost door had miraculously remained in the undertow of the boat and followed him to the port. Both doors made the journey across the sea.

Reb Shalom Schwadron points out that this story happens more often than we might think. We all have ambitions, goals, and grand plans. Often, we are successful in seeing our goals through to accomplishment. But sometimes a storm breaks out, turbulent times strike and we have no choice but to surrender our dreams to the winds and the waves. We struggle just to survive. Nikanor worked hard but his plan became unfeasible. After weeks of work and months of dreaming he was forced to throw his precious doors out to sea.

Lofty goals are hard to attain and easy to lose. Like Nikanor, we need to show determination and a willingness to sacrifice for even just one part of our dream. If we can do that, Hashem will open the storehouses for us and allow us to access all of our aspirations in the coming year.

Bose claims that if you haven’t used a Bose Sounddock, you haven’t truly heard your ipod. Let’s hook up our sounddocks, amplify our dreams and give our Neshamos a chance to shine.


Posted on 10/06 at 03:55 AM • Permalink
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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Cry of the Shofar

The Talmud tells us that the pattern of shofar blowing in each congregation evolved over time. The long, trumpet-like tekiah was used by all, but the teruah took on many different forms, varying with time and geographic location. Amazingly, after several generations the result was invariably corresponded to one of three basic sound patterns. Every congregation independently arrived at either the wailing, three-part shevarim, the pleading whimper of the teruah or a combination of the two.
The Talmud reports that upon witnessing this incredible phenomenon Rabbi Avahu instituted these three basic patterns worldwide. Rabbi Hai Gaon (939-1038) explains that this ruling was not the result of compromise (in a case of halachic disagreement). Rather, it was intended to promote unity and solidarity in the global Jewish community. In addition to our “personal” shofar sounds, we include those of the entire nation as well.
Our desire is for the feelings and yearnings of every Jew to be heard. A Jew is never left to cry alone.
The story is told of a young boy who people noticed standing alone in the synagogue on Rosh Hashana. Although no one recognized him, he was quite obviously troubled. They watched as the poor child tried unsuccessfully to articulate his problems. Becoming increasingly frustrated and upset, the boy began to cry. Finally, in desperation the boy removed a whistle from his pocket and began to blow it with all his might. The congregation stood still and watched as the boy blew with all his heart and soul, releasing pent up emotions and conveying his pain with more clarity than any words could have. When he was done, the boy turned, and with a shining face and a bounce in his step left the sanctuary, mission accomplished.
We have all experienced moments of extreme emotion, whether in joy, pain, relief, fright or sorrow. At these instances our feelings are so powerful that we can do virtually nothing other than scream. Similarly, the blowing of the shofar is not a logical expression of thought, but an emotional one. It has the potential to convey prayers that are too complex and deep for words or even song.
King David wrote (Psalms 89:16) “Fortunate is the nation who knows the shofar blasts.” We are fortunate when we are in touch with our own hearts and our personal shofar blasts. We are even more fortunate when we are united enough to anticipate the needs of another.
This Rosh HaShana as we listen to the shofar being blown, let us remember that these blasts are the vehicle with which we offer up our deepest emotions, those that words cannot verbalize. And let us pray that the sounds of the shofar carry not only our feelings but the suffering and yearning of Jew everywhere whose heartfelt “shofar sounds” may be different than our own.

This article first appeared in the Debut issue of NickNacks, a publication of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel.

Posted on 09/23 at 03:54 AM • Permalink
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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Elul Smackdown

If something is worthwhile then it is worthwhile to do it right.

I got a letter from a Yeshiva. They don’t feel that their dinner is worthwhile so they are just sending out nice letters asking everyone to match last years donation. The assumption is that nobody is really interested in Dinner anyway.

In contrast, two guys in Norfolk had a face-off this week to see who could sizzle the best steak. They prepared the marinade on Friday and spent the entire shabbos among friends, talking trash and feeling manly. They had a Native Texan taste the steaks and rate them expertly based on Taste, Texture and Presentation.

Through it all I heard a voice from my (now dinnerless) yeshiva yelling “ELUL!!” My heart told me that the carnivorous competition was good, but my memory told me that T-bones and Teshuva do not usually go together.

My fellow Norfolkians finally ended their personal drama in a draw (the southern type - not the dueling type), but I think that when it comes to Elul activities, they won against the foodless fundraiser without question.

Anything worth doing is worth doing right. If you don’t think that your dinner is worthwhile, make it worthwhile - or skip it. Why ask people to pretend that you had a dinner if it wasn’t worthwhile anyway? The focus of the Bar-B-Q may have been dead meat, but at least the goal was perfection.

I believe that Hashem wants to see our best steak. In ancient, holier, times men would spend their entire year raising cows, slaughtering them, preparing them and finally bringing the creme de la creme (so to speak) to the Bais Hamikdosh. They would eat in holiness, put a portion on the Mizbe’ach and donate cuts to the Kohanim. It was known as the Korban Shelamim. Bikurim (featured in Parshas Ki Savo) were not very different: the First Fruits would be proudly presented in fancy baskets and placed on Oxen with gold-plated and elaborate necklaces. Proudly and joyously, they would march up to Yerushalayim. Nobody sent a check or skipped the food and entertainment portion of the event. The inspirational and the mundane worked very well together to create a spiritual experience.

Of course there is a very big difference between a BBQ in the Backyard and Bikurim in the Beis Hamikdosh. The point is that we need to train ourselves to do things right. If something is worthwhile then it is worthwhile to do it right.

(Warning: This blog is getting popular. Watch for upcoming Kollel Cookoffs: BLT with BMG, Smackdown for Stamford, Brisket with the Soleveitchiks...)

Posted on 09/17 at 05:19 AM • Permalink
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Friday, September 12, 2008


“Most bothersome to me is that this occurred during Chodesh Elul, when we all need to be doing some self-exploration – cheshbon hanefesh and teshuvah. We will need to face the upcoming yemai hadin, where we will each stand in our individual judgments. I will face Avinu Malkeinu with the position that “I tried to help Your children but they refused to let me.” What will the “holchei rochil” offer in their defense? “Hashem, we just shot down an “osek betzorchei tzibbur be’emunoh”. You shot the wrong person.

“...In reality, every frum Yid benefits from the things that askanim do. From intervening with governmental matters, legal issues, dealing with yeshivos, getting streets blocked for various events, and others too numerous to mention, we all derive much benefit from what they do. Nearly all, or perhaps absolutely all, function selflessly. Hatzoloh, Shomrim, and Chaverim are totally volunteer staffed. Since when do we carelessly and viciously attack an askan? ... I have been sensitized away from participating in askonus.

“I already contacted others whose projects are precious and worthy, and withdrew from taking any askonus role…

“To all the voices in the street that made this happen, my conscience is clear entering the days of selichos and yemai hadin. Are yours?” - Rabbi Dr. Bentzion Twersky, Brooklyn

I do not know Rabbi Twersky and I am not familiar with the issues involved, but I starting thinking about the potential difficulties of “Askanus”.

Jews are stiff-necked and stubborn people. We lasted this long because we are sure of the truth and willing to stand up for it. When someone else has a different take on that Truth we do not give in quickly. In many cases we never give in. We protest in many ways and it is often the askanim who suffer.

I draw my inspiration from the leadership of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim. I may have some details wrong, but at one point the Yeshiva was led by Reb Beinush Finkel, Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz and Reb Nachum Percovitz. Reb Nachum gave one of the most popular shiurim in Eretz Yisroel, attracted students to Mir and generally influenced the learning Style in the Yeshiva. Reb Beinush ran the Yeshiva and worked hard to keep the lights on. He was a true Tazaddik Nistar. The biggest secret was that Reb Beinush was absolutely opposed to Reb Nachum’s style of learning and the way that he trained the Bochurim to learn. When Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz was no longer alive and Reb Nachum was no longer able to say a shiur it was suggested that Reb Nachum’s son-in-law (Reb Asher) take over his shiur. Reb Beinush was emphatic “I have had enough of these people!”.

Think about that: For most of his career Reb Beinush Finkel took responsibility for the yeshiva while disagreeing vehemently with it’s methods. Reb Beinush thought the others were dead wrong - but he supported them anyway.

We can be stubborn, but we need to remember that other people have the right to be stubborn too.

It is hard to be an Askan because people don’t recognize an askan’s right to disagree. Barring heresy, we need to respect the reality of others having opinions.

Be right and Be stubborn - but be realistic too. There are other people out there who have the ability to be just as Right and just as Stubborn. You will not always get your way (so don’t ruin it for everyone else). 

Disclaimer: Despite the use of several examples in the above lines, this is an examination of disagreements in general and not a reflection on the specific incidents.

Posted on 09/12 at 04:49 AM • Permalink
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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Phd Study on Preparing for Yom Tov (Please Participate)

My friend, David Richels is a doctoral candidate, at Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, VA. For his dissertation research, he will be conducting a study of expressive writing as a way to promote wellness in preparation for the holidays. He needs Orthodox Jewish wives to complete 3 short surveys and do some writing (writings will not be collected). Participation is done through the use of the internet. Participants will complete the surveys by anonymously logging into
The study will be available beginning September 8, 2008, at 12:00 AM. Your participation is needed once each calendar day for 3 consecutive days. The entire process will take no more than 30 minutes on day 1, 20 minutes on day 2, and 30 minutes on day 3. Fifteen minutes of each time frame is you writing. As you can see, the time you will actually spend on the internet completing the surveys is very limited.
The results of this study will be made available at the same internet address, January 2009.
All information will be anonymous and confidential!
The information you supply can help improve the understanding between the connections of religion, writing, and wellness. David is an Orthodox Jew, and he is vested through my work toward making the Jewish community a better place to live.

Posted on 09/10 at 05:50 AM • Permalink
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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Wrap the Grizzly Bear in a Towel!

The Parsha begins by discussing the rules of voluntary wars. The Torah is not against war and weapons but there are guidelines.

My former Monday night Chavrusa was once innocently carrying a sword down Granby Street when he was detained by the authorities. He had responsibly wrapped his sword in a towel but one of the obnoxiously nosy neighbors mistook the sword for a rifle and called the police. At the time, the police were frantically searching for the “beltway sniper”. For a tense fifteen minutes my chavrusa was compelled to explain that he was not secretly killing people and that he was late for his seder in Mishnayos. We had to catch up the next week.

I am totally for the right of citizens to bear arms. The fact that the police could stop a Jewish boy carrying two firearms (not to mention a sword) and let him drive away a few minutes later (to my house) says a lot about the country we live in.

At the same time, I will point out that he DID wrap the sword in a towel. Many responsible people carry guns, but you would never know. Even the military in this country do not walk around flaunting weapons off base. There is a certain reserve and sense of appropriateness when it comes to tools of destruction.

I can understand that in a country at war, like Israel, there is a need to carry weapons openly, but why does Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin have a DEAD Grizzly bear in her office?  I may vote for her, but I cannot begin to comprehend why it is fun to take a picture of yourself and your eight year old daughter with a bleeding moose. Did she wake up one morning and say “I must shoot a moose today and show my daughter how to tear it’s throat out”? She probably did.

(Admittedly, a vice president who shoots moose and bears would be an improvement over our current VP who shot his best friend, but that is besides the point). Americans are so proud of that heartwarming story of President Teddy Roosevelt who was too gentle to kill a bear in cold blood after his devoted aides tied it to a tree. It was so funny and special that it inspired the Teddy Bear. What kind of people are we if that is a sign of a gentle president? He was too gentle to shoot a tied up bear in cold blood. Wow.

We slaughter animals to eat and we carry guns for protection. I am seriously considering walking three blocks south to do kapporos on the front lawn of the PETA national headquarters. I have trouble, though, with a governor who spends her day at the office staring at the corpse of a one thousand pound animal who her father shot for fun.

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Posted on 09/07 at 10:26 PM • Permalink
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Monday, September 01, 2008


Is Elul the end of Last Year - or the Beginning of Next Year?
Posted on 09/01 at 07:50 AM • Permalink
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Is It OK To Cheat?

Last week I experienced a brief moment of intense disappointment. I bought the latest of Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s trademark encyclopedic works, Derech Chochma and found the following introduction: “My goal was to compile the various commentaries on the words of the Rambam … I made extensive use of the index of Rabbi Shabsi Frankel. I did not own all of the works cited, so I depended on citations in the index.” Rav Chaim Kanievsky wrote a sefer based on an index. Indeed, throughout the sefer he constantly quotes the index as the basis of his anthology.

Every year we are treated to countless study aids to save us from actually having to know something. Whereas twenty years ago a Rabbi (or lawyer for that matter) needed to have a very broad knowledge base, a researcher today only needs to know which index, anthology or software program to use.

Of course, to really know and comprehend the material you need to work hard. We are taught not to depend on crutches or training wheels in our learning. We put our noses to the grindstone because true knowledge comes only from hard work.

Ask anyone in the know to list the top ten Torah scholars in this generation and they are guaranteed to mention Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Rav Chaim has devoted his life to attaining real knowledge. He studies and reviews every major and minor work in our literature on a regular basis. Rav Chaim Kanievsky wrote encyclopedic works on many topics from the Laws of Grasshoppers and Agriculture to Gematria and Medrash. He is considered to be knowledgeable in the entire Torah.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky has always been my role model for doing things the right way. He does not take shortcuts; he just studies and studies and studies. When he finishes one book he begins the next, and when he finishes everything he starts again. He has been at it for over fifty years.

So, what happened to Rav Chaim Kanievsky?! Students around the world mock the index of Rav Shabsi Frankel as a crutch and a substitution for “real” learning, but Rav Chaim is teaching us that the role of a new study aid is not to let us learn less; it is to help us learn more.

In Vizhnitz (Monsey) there is a group of fifteen men with long white beards who study Daf Yomi together. They are learned men and have probably reviewed Shas three or four times in that Daf Yomi Shiur alone. I joined them last week and found that, without exception, they were all using “cheating gemaras”. Older Men who were able to quote obscure sources and argue about them intelligently chose to use the latest in study aids to make their learning experience even better.

We cannot get lazy, but we also cannot ignore opportunities to get better.

I still try not to use the “cheating Gemara” but when other guys in Daf Yomi insist on interjecting with “note 92 in the Artscroll” I welcome it as a perk, not a nuisance.

Posted on 09/01 at 07:23 AM • Permalink
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Friday, August 29, 2008


I was just talking with Nick the Caretaker over at United Methodist Church on Colonial. Nick lives in Norfolk now, but he used to be the valet guy up in Woodbury Commons. Nick’s seen the Jewish communities of New York, Spring Valley, Kiryas Joel, and “all of them places”. He had one comment: “You guys are G-d’s chosen people”. He asked if it was hard to be chosen.

I didn’t respond to Nick, but I thought of my recent vacation in Lancaster County, PA. After shacharis at Congregation Degel Israel of Lancaster, I overheard an intense Halachic discussion. The issue was batteries and how the Amish people found a Heter (dispensation) to use them. A local was explaining that the really frum Amish (takeh) do not use batteries and that the permissibility of running water is dubious (“a big Shaila” ) as well. Somebody argued that batteries were never a problem and that the prohibition only began with the advent of centralized electric plants. Others invoked the concepts of ‘Shaas Hadchak’ and Gezeiros that are not practical to uphold. 

It seems that Amish Country, PA is a favorite destination for religious Jews. The people are dressed modestly and the Pennsylvania Dutch way of life is intriguing. The locals even speak a little Yiddish. (Not that Yeshivish/ Chassidish people were the only tourists. At a souvenier shop in Bird-in-hand, we met some Amish tourists who were visiting from Ohio).

We learned that the Amish have a very high retention rate, with most Amish children settling down (eventually) to an Amish way of life. Children are obligated to live Amishly, but once they reach adolescence they are allowed to make their own educated decision about their chosen religion. Many Teenagers go through a period of ‘Rumspringa’ (from the Yiddish ‘Arum-Shpringen’ – jumping around) before signing up with the Amish faith for life.

Recently, a Jewish educator cited the success of Amish Chinuch and wondered why we do not implement some of their policies in our own schools. The point was also made that many sheltered Jewish communities, particularly Chassidish ones, are already very similar to the Amish.

Well, The new school year is just starting and I suppose we could give it a try: All the students could wake up early to do their chores on the farm before riding their buggies (barefoot) to the one room schoolhouse where learning is prohibited after eight grade and quoting too much scripture is frowned upon. We could encourage adolescents to completely disregard our value system while “Shpringing Arum” for a couple years and then, after they rejoin the community, we could shun them and put them into Cheirem if they ever try wearing a button-down shirt or driving a mini-van or getting health insurance.

The truth is that most outsiders have no idea why the Amish do what they do, and I’m not sure the Amish know either. While they can be respected for finding a way of life that works for them, they are not role models for an idealized Jewish life. The fact is that almost all of the beliefs and practices that are unique to the Amish are based on the New Testament. The Amish are traditional and decent people, but their values do not even claim to be Torah values. What works for the Amish does not work for us.

Last week, I was invited to New Square for the Skvere Rebbe’s grandson’s Sheva Berachos. I watched the Chassidishe version of Arum-Shpringen as a thousand adolescent Chassidim jumped up and down on the bleachers singing tefillos with tears in their eyes and passion in their words. The Amish are against lively songs and they are against congregating for prayer. They are probably against bleachers too.

To quote Nick the Caretaker, “The Jews are the chosen people”. We have our own unique and special way of coming close to Hashem and it goes far beyond what we wear and where we live and whether we have televisions. In my humble opinion, an educator who compares the Amish to the Chasidim is misinformed and, frankly, a little bit too sheltered.

Posted on 08/29 at 05:33 AM • Permalink
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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Shabbos Nachamu Meets the Fifteenth of Av

Av is the month of the Father. For the first two weeks Hashem deals with us a strict father, punishing us when necessary. For the second half of the month G-d draws us closer. As the Mishna records, “there is no happier holiday than the fifteenth of Av”. (Kedushas Levi).


“Nachamu, Nachamu, Ami”. 

Stranded just outside the city limits at 7:56, they welcomed Shabbos as they trudged over the rivers and through the ‘hoods through a town they didn’t know. And at 11:00 this past Friday night they burst into my house in the person of five wet, sweaty, smelly, desperate and singing Yeshiva Boys. 

Their car was broken-down, their possessions abandoned and their muscles aching, but they were able see the comfort in it all as they danced and sang and davened in a way that would have made Shlomo Carlbach and Yirmiyahu Hanavi proud. After Maariv, we welcomed the malachim with Shalom Aleichem and enjoyed a sumptuous seudah punctuated with Divrei Torah and Niggunim. It was well into the morning hours when we took to the streets, armed with pillows and blankets to finalize the boys’ sleeping arrangements. 

The Jews have traveled a long journey through many tough neighborhoods and stormy nights. It’s not always easy, but we’ve learned to dance and sing anyway. 

Is Shabbos a burden? Not if you ask the old man with gold teeth by the tunnel into Norfolk. You see, his mother was Jewish.

Posted on 08/17 at 09:53 PM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at