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His Father’s Son

Yisroel Besser

Rav David Lau, the chief rabbi of Israel, resembles his famous father, dresses like him, and now even holds the same high position. But the challenges he faces are vastly different, and in some ways more daunting than those of Rav Yisrael Meir. In an age when the chief rabbinate must fight for its legitimacy from both corners of the religious spectrum, Rav David says he’s up for the task and energized by the mission.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Rabbi David Lau even handles bedlam with decorum. When I enter the office of Israel’s Ashkenazic chief rabbi, I find it in a bit of turmoil — meetings running late, a tense conference in a side room, raised voices from within causing everyone in the waiting room to squirm. Soon enough Rav Lau comes out to apologize and reschedule our appointment. His hat is off and his frock blows behind him as he walks, but that’s the only indication that he’s rushed; in both composure and expression, he might as well be going to hand out certificates to children at a siddur party. “Come to my house Friday,” he suggests. “It’s my free day, and we’ll speak then. Maybe there’ll even be kugel.” I arrive punctually Friday morning, and the Rav enters his home a moment after I do. He takes off that immaculate frock (the custom cut and velvet lapels popularized by his father have given the garment its name, the “Frock Harav Lau”) and now in shirtsleeves, forfeits none of his dignity. Though his resemblance to Rav Yisrael Meir Lau is remarkable, Rav David has something his father does not. The senior Rav Lau often notes that he was “never a child,” interned in a concentration camp at the age when most children are learning to ride a bicycle. His son, though, is all youthfulness: tall, vibrant, optimistic. His eyes sparkle as he unfolds his vision for his rabbanus, for his office, for his country.

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