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My Snapshot Moment

Mishpacha Contributors

What’s your singular snapshot moment of 5778, the encounter, experience, or epiphany that will always wield a lasting impact?

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

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Rabbi Manis Friedman: Who Asked You?

The bereaved mother wasn’t impressed. So I had to throw away the prepared script

Several years ago, I accepted an invitation to spend Shabbos in Argentina to speak to the community. It was a long, miserable flight: Minnesota–New York, New York–Miami, Miami–Buenos Aires.

I arrived in Argentina completely wrung out, focused only on getting to the hotel so I could rest a bit before starting a full weekend of speeches.

The local rabbi picked me up at the airport, and I climbed into his car, dizzy with exhaustion. He started right in, telling me about a woman in his community who’d endured a terrible tragedy and had fallen apart, crippled by depression. She wouldn’t leave her apartment or speak to anyone.

Then he sprung it on me that she’d agreed to speak to me, for some reason, so we were headed there right away, even before going to the hotel.

I was not pleased, to put it mildly.

I’m not a psychiatrist, and I have no training in what to say to someone who is depressed. Also, no one had asked me. I didn’t feel up to it, and it had been decided without consulting me, so I was annoyed.

We came to the apartment, and the woman opened the door, a picture of complete desolation. There was no life in her eyes, no passion in her voice. She looked vacant and broken, like she’d given up completely.

We sat down, and she told me about her son, a delightful young man who’d been driving home for Rosh Hashanah and been killed — lo aleinu — in a car accident. She spoke of his wisdom and maturity, his kindness and depth. He truly seemed like a unique young man, and I told her so.

“What a kid!” I said. “And he was yours for 19 years!”

She wasn’t impressed. 

I suggested that it was the shock that was breaking her. “If G-d had come to you and told you, ‘Listen, I have this great soul that needs a mother for 19 years, and then I’ll have to take him back,’ ” I asked her, “you would have accepted His offer, right?”

She looked at me and intoned, “Absolutely not.”

It was quiet for a moment, and then, words came out of me that I hadn’t prepared.

“Well, then, it’s a good thing He didn’t ask you,” I replied.

She said nothing, but she started to cry. And cry. Tears flowed for the first time in months. For 20 minutes, she sat there shaking with sobs, crying out all the grief that had been collecting inside of her.

It was like seeing sort of a techiyas hameisim, the color restored to her skin, a light go on in her eyes.

Her pain hadn’t gone away, of course, and she was just as broken as she’d been, but she had something to hold on to. Hashem had not asked her before. He had given and He had taken, for reasons known only to Him. 

After leaving the apartment, back in the car, a thought struck me.

If the local rabbi had asked me if I wanted to visit that woman when I’d arrived, I’d have answered, “Absolutely not.”

It’s a good thing he didn’t ask me.

Earlier this year, Chabad’s Jewish Learning Initiative (JLI) prepared a trailer for a speech I would be giving, an animated version of the above story and the lesson I had learned.

The reaction to the story and its message overwhelmed me.

In 50 years of speaking to people, I’ve never experienced anything like it. People from all over the world reached out to say it had opened the floodgates within them, allowing them to move past pain, to accept circumstances and move on, to seize new opportunities and try to make the best of them.

It taught me a lot about what people are looking for and the power of a positive message to spread, to “go viral” and change the world that way.

And that moment — the story, its being publicized and the reaction — a high point in the year that passed, leads me into this new year, 5779, with a resolution: When an opportunity to do chesed, to show responsibility for others, to make a difference, comes my way, I will try to respond by saying, “Absolutely yes.”

Rabbi Manis Friedman is a shliach of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, best-selling author, and public speaker. He is also the dean of the Bais Chana Institute of Jewish Studies in Minnesota

 
Rabbi Aaron Kotler: Bikes in Berlin

I didn’t expect to hear it — kinderlach laughing. But I did, and it demanded a response 

It was the tangle of kids’ bikes and trikes that first drew me.

I was used to seeing bicycles lining the streets of Lakewood, often left out overnight without worry. But here in Berlin, right across the street from the former no-man’s land of the Berlin Wall, it was entirely unexpected.

My image of Eastern European Jewry was of aging seniors gathered in sulking relics of once-grand, once-vibrant synagogues. For Western Europe it was of unmarked shuls, heavily guarded like fortresses.

In Vilna and Kovno, I had davened with World War II veterans paid by the Lithuanian government to keep a notional Jewish presence alive. In Munich, on the other hand, I had absentmindedly carried my tallis to shul in a shopping bag, drawing the suspicion of the watchful Israeli security team. They intercepted me, nearly tackling me to the ground.

But in Berlin — steps from the source of darkness — the bikes. And the strollers. And the noise of the kids’ chatter and laughter.

Forgive my sentiments; my mother’s father was brutally murdered in 1941 in the Kovno Ghetto, and my grandmother on a freezing winter day at the end of 1944, in a betrayed bunker, among the partisans, in the forests of Lithuania. Born 18 years after the Holocaust, when the fires of Treblinka and Auschwitz had barely gone cold, I grew up with the daily presence of the Churban.

And yet here in 2018, in Berlin, were beautiful pure Yiddishe kinderlach, riding their bikes, while their mothers chatted around the strollers. Just like in Lakewood.

Berlin today is home to a thriving Yiddishe kehillah. Moscow, too — with a kehillah and kollel in the shadow of the Kremlin.

There are those who say that those Jews don’t deserve a future and we should all let those kehillos die.

It was on that day, when we saw the bikes in Berlin, that we decided to open a Lakewood kollel there.

Not in Detroit. Nor Minneapolis, Atlanta, Houston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Miami, or Denver. Not in any of the Jewish communities in North America. Those mostly have Torah to light their way, brighten their path, and chart their future. Those communities already have kollels — along with 80 other communities in the US, all adopting the model created by my holy father, the great builder of Klal Yisrael, Rav Shneur Kotler ztz”l, together with the legendary Mashgiach of Lakewood, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel ztz”l.

These two, supposedly fully occupied with building Lakewood, instead scoured the globe, finding pintele Yidden who wanted to open Torah institutions — and they did just that. They built kollels across North America at a time when that was seemingly impossible. Then they opened kollels in Australia, and Mexico, and South America, too.

 

And now, here we were, a few months after seeing those bikes and trikes, gathered with the kehillah of Berlin, together with the Lakewood Rosh Yeshivah, together with six valiant kollel families who had moved from Lakewood to Germany, marking the opening of a makom Torah for Yiddishe kinderlach and adults in Berlin.

It’s simple. Every Yid. Every child. Every kehillah. One Torah to unite, bond, and heal us all.

Rabbi Aaron Kotler is CEO of Lakewood’s Beth Medrash Govoha 




Jason Greenblatt: Brave Steps Toward Peace 

It takes courage to recognize reality, especially in the Middle East

IT was a day of pride. When I attended the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem, Israel, I was so proud to be there as an American. I was so proud to be there as a Jew. It was a very moving experience and ceremony. I serve a president and an administration that are not afraid to speak the truth.

The president made the choice to recognize reality — Jerusalem has been and will always be the capital of Israel. As President Trump said in his speech on December 6, 2017, when he made his bold, courageous, and historic decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he “judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians” and that “acknowledging this as a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace.”

My personal experiences in this endeavor illustrate that among ordinary people and many regional leaders, the desire for peace is real and powerful. I have been fortunate to have had many powerful experiences with people in the region. Israelis and Palestinians are uncertain about the prospects for peace, and their skepticism is certainly warranted. Despite well-known challenges, the people of the region, and their dedication to the pursuit of peace have inspired me. It is the regular Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the people of the region, who give me the strength and courage to keep trying.

I think my belief in G-d, and who I am as a Jew, gives me the faith to keep trying. We owe it to Israelis and Palestinians to continue our efforts in the pursuit of peace. They deserve better than what they have now.

The people understand that achieving a comprehensive peace agreement is an extraordinary challenge, full of evolving complexities, but they support our efforts and believe there is a path to peace. History will judge us if we do not try.

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur I will pray for G-d to instill in me, and in all those involved in this effort, the wisdom, skill, patience, fortitude, humility, and kindness necessary for us to achieve this noble goal.

And of course, I will pray for our success.

Jason Dov Greenblatt is assistant to the President of the United States, and Special Representative for International Negotiations

(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 726)

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