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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Simple Jew

Michael was on a mission. He was seeking the man deserving of the term, epithet, description, designation, characterization and appellation of The Simple Jew. He could conjure up an image of The Macher, The Askan and The Charismatic Leader, but he had yet to put his finger on the elusive creature known as The Simple Jew.

He was not after the men who flaunted dollars in millions and controlled people in the thousands. He was focusing this quest on the Simple Jew – the “One who Fears G-d and Yearns Only For His Grace ”, the “Humble One Who Will inherit the Land”.  Michael sought to describe, perhaps even meet, the Simple Jew who goes about his life seeking to serve Hashem to his utmost. He was seeking the Simple Jew with no fanfare or need for it; no apparent riches or desire for power.

His first stop was in Bnei Berak, where he was directed to the home of the greatest sage in town. The sage lived in a two room apartment and answered letters using used scraps of worn paper; he had only three chairs in his house and his dining room was just a bare table and a fold down cot that transformed it into a bedroom at night.

Michael took note of the holy man and traveled on to Sassov where he met the Rebbe, Reb Moshe Leib. The Sassover surrounded himself with the lowest of the low and called himself ‘the rebbe of the thieves’. Even if the gates of heaven would be closed to him, the rebbe claimed, his Chasidim would be more than prepared to pick the locks and let him in. The rebbe didn’t search more esteemed company - he was just a Simple Jew.

Michael took a train to Radin where he met the Simple Jew arranging books and benches in shul before leaving to work at his grocery store. He was the top Halachic authority of his day, yet he had the appearance of a Simple Jew.

In Novardok the Simple Jew claimed he knew nothing, in Kelm he would not even be interviewed. In Vilna, the Simple Jew was in a deep conversation with his passenger about the intricacies of Chometz Noksha.

In Jerusalem, the Simple Jew sat in the back of an unknown Shtibel and recited Tehillim every day, he had Shas at his fingertips but never volunteered to answer a question. In Lakewood, the Simple Jew knew only his house, the Yeshiva and the mechanic. His life was pure Torah.

At Yad Vashem he was shown names of thousands of Simple Jews who gave up their lives for no crime but their Jewish identity, in Tel Aviv he found the Jew who knew nothing but called himself a Simple Jew. In Tzfat, the Simple Jew immersed daily in the Arizal’s Mikva and spent his nights cloistered in the caves of Meron. In New York, the Simple Jew was a doctor by trade, but gave a Daf Yomi shiur every morning and evening.

Michael traveled through the provincial United States and heard about the Simple Jews who had preceded him, uninvited, armed with only tuna fish and passion. They spearheaded the Jewish day school movement, only to be forgotten a decade later. He met the elderly man who never missed a day of Tefillin despite six years of Auschwitz and he found the elderly woman who gagged at the thought of non-kosher food. He met the Simple Jew who had seen every hardship yet remained steadfast in his fear of G-d and rebuilt Judaism in an assimilating country. He met the mother who taught her children that nothing would make her prouder than to see them grow up to be Simple Jews.

In the music world, he heard Lipa assert his status as a ‘Pushite Yid’ with talent on loan from G-d. In the sports world, he met the boy who gave up a career for Shabbos and the boys who forfeited a game because the referee would not allow them to wear yarmulkes. On Forty-seventh Street, he met the man who refused a million dollar deal because it just didn’t smell kosher.

Michael was more flummoxed than before. Who was the Simple Jew? G-d asks for passion and admires sincerity – but how did it look? What was the end goal? Who should he strive to emulate? How should he live his life?

Michael went to sleep, weary from his journeys and frustrated in his search.

Sadly, he never woke up.

Those who found him did not know him well, but his obituary said it all:

“He appeared to be the quintessential Simple Jew”.

(With apologies to O. Henry)

Posted on 12/20 at 06:45 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