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Invest in Eternity

Eytan Kobre

Rabbi David Ozeri, leader of Brooklyn’s Syrian Orthodox community, is still haunted by a childhood encounter in the principal’s office, when a melamed had to beg his boss for five dollars for a Yom Tov expense. Nearly half a century later, he’s galvanized his own community and the larger Orthodox world to join him in giving rebbeim back the stature and backing they deserve.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

It was the fall of 1967, and a young Syrian boy named David Ozeri was a seventh-grader in Boro Park’s Yeshiva Toras Emes, having transferred in from the Magen David yeshivah. He was in the school office working the mimeograph machine, the ancient forerunner of the copy machine, when in walked a rebbi on his recess break. The yeshivah’s administrator was on his way out, but the rebbi stopped him. “Excuse me,” he said meekly, “I know I’m not getting paid for Yom Tov. But can I at least have five dollars to buy the arba minim?” David — now Rabbi David Ozeri, who, as a rav and mechanech, has been a pillar of Brooklyn’s Syrian Orthodox community for decades — never forgot the 30-second encounter that unfolded before his eyes. “And,” he says, “it continues to haunt me every time I see a rebbi suffering financially.” Now, nearly half a century later, he is determined to do something about it, and is galvanizing his own community and the larger Orthodox world beyond to join him in the effort. As he relates the story for what must be the umpteenth round, he shakes his head as if telling it for the very first time. “Five dollars. These are the tzaddikim that we’re talking about. For years, I’ve watched rebbeim suffer in silence, not really complaining about their situation. But any time an extra expense comes up, a baby is born, a bar mitzvah, a chasunah, that’s when you see the extent of it, the pain and the anguish. It’s reaching a breaking point.

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