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Friday, October 26, 2012

When Different Isn’t Done

I met a frum pirate the other day.

He has never boarded a ship with intent to plunder, but he will be following a full size pirate ship from port to port for the next few months. He gives tours, exhibits cutlasses and puts on a pirate costume every now and then.

When I first saw the yarmulke on his head, I assumed something was wrong with him. Guys with black velvet yarmulkes don’t sign up with Long John Silver. They certainly don’t keep parrots. They don’t dress up. It just isn’t done.

There are other things that aren’t done.

When I was learning in the Mir there was a guy called The Tie. Other people also wore ties, but they were all old (above 35) or on staff. The Tie was one of us, except that none of us showed up daily with a clean shave, an attache case, and a Tie. It just wasn’t done.

One day, The Tie tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to learn with him. He was one of the best Chavrusos I ever had. People would identify me in the hallways as the guy who learned with The Tie. I remember visiting The Tie at home, fully expecting to meet a Mrs. Tie and a bunch of Little Ties running around in diapers (they weren’t).

One day a random fellow walked over to our seat and popped the question:

“Why do you wear a Tie?”

It may have been my imagination, but I think I heard all 5,000 students in Mir hold their collective breath and move forward in their seats. Why Did he wear a tie?

“Well”, The Tie said simply, “If I worked in a bank I’d wear a tie. Learning Torah is more important than learning a bank”.


I’ve often thought about The Tie. He went on to bigger and better things, but he taught me an important lesson: Don’t be a wimp. If it isn’t done - do it anyway.

A special man that I knew turned around his entire life to become frum. Holy things were dear to him and he filled his life with holy things. He built a beautiful household, grew a beard and peyos, and sent his children to the best yeshivos. He even moved to Yerushalayim.

Fifteen years later, his Yerushalmi son came home from Yeshiva with some news.

“Dad”, he said, “I want to cut my Peyos off. The good guys in the Lithuanian yeshivos don’t have long peyos. It just isn’t done.”

Dad’s answer should be in the textbook of every father:

“You can do what you want”, he said, “but I want you to know that those peyos and the holiness of the mitzvah that they represent inspired me to turn my life around. I gave up my lifestyle for those peyos. Those peyos inspired me to raise you to be the frum Jew and Torah scholar that you are. That isn’t done where I come from - but I did it anyway.

That son kept his peyos, but so many of us aren’t unique and special because “It just isn’t done”.

When I was a youngster in Buffalo, I was one of a handful of boys who wouldn’t walk four steps without a yarmulke. My classmates would take advantage of my limitations and grab my yarmulke for a game of Kipah-way while I stood helpless in the sidelines.

One day I went home and cried. My father shared with me that in his day he was the only boy his age in Buffalo with a yarmulke. Even his teachers would politely “remind” him to remove his Kipah. Keeping that Kipah on was tough, but it made him strong. That Kipah would never come off.

My father made me feel good about my Yarmulke. He also gave me some father-to-son strategy. The next day in school I didn’t just stand there with my hand on my head. I reached nonchalantly into my right pocket and took out a backup yarmulke. I walked away smugly while my oblivious friends continued to hoot and toss the Kippah to and fro.

I had a third yarmulka in my left pocket, but I never needed it. I don’t know whether my friends felt like losers because they had been outsmarted or they began to respect my conviction. I do know that they never played Kipah-way again. When Rosh Hashana came they asked for forgiveness and we all ended up a little bit smarter.

Avraham Avinu lived in an age when the whole world gathered together to build a tower and fight G-d. Avraham went in the other direction. He built a tent and taught the beauty of Monotheism. He did what wasn’t done.

Lech Lecha - Go for Yourself:

If you have convictions, stick to them. If someone knocks you down because you are a little bit different, just ignore them. Put on another Kipah, wear a nicer Tie, grow your peyos longer, be a pirate.

It’s done. And it’s the only way to get anything done.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated by my friend Dr. Jeff Zucker in the memory of his beloved mother, Ita bat Shalom, A"H, who shares her Yortzeit with Rochel Imeinu.  May her neshama have an aliya.

Posted on 10/26 at 01:10 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