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The Voice at the Other End

Yisroel Besser

For too many kids today, the scourge of abuse leads to harmful behaviors like drug addiction and worse. Zvi Gluck is the man at the crossroads

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

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NEVER TOO LATE Zvi Gluck, at the crossroads of the chareidi netherworld: “I learned that it’s never too late to try”

Zvi Gluck drops the statistic with the detached air of a clerk doing inventory. “Seventy-five, since Rosh Hashanah,” he says flatly. 

If you look closely, you can catch the cloud that crosses his face and shows you that inside, he’s shaking. He might have the eager look of a helpful neighbor — Can I carry your bags for you? Push your car out of the snow? — but the help he offers is really a different sort. He is the ghost, the figure moving among the shadows of the Orthodox netherworld, offering not just a listening ear, but a path to recovery. The things no one will touch — drug abuse, molestation, suicide prevention — are his nine-to-five job. Five-to-nine, too.

At the head of the table, his father heaves a sigh.

“Have a piece of cake,” the elder Rabbi Gluck says, moving a tray toward his son.

“I can’t, my diet,” Zvi protests.

“Ha, what diet?” the father quips.

“Thanks, Tatty,” Zvi says, your typical heimeshe father-son banter.

“Seventy-five deaths in our community since Rosh Hashanah,” Zvi says again, giving in to the cake. “We keep count — some suicides, some of them overdosed… Each one had a death sentence that might have been avoided had someone intervened.”

Drama has always been dinner-table conversation in the Gluck home. When other families along the Boro Park block were discussing the parshah or weather, the Glucks were talking about posting bail, avoiding autopsy, and placing a kid in the right rehabilitation facility. 


In a Good Way

It’s hard to imagine it today, when we have “message control” professionals managing PR emergencies and crisis counselors in sleek offices on call 24/7, but once upon a time, there was just Rabbi Chaim Boruch (Edgar) Gluck.

Familiar to the power brokers at Gracie Mansion, respected in Albany, well-known in Washington, Edgar Gluck used his Rolodex to great effect. The large pockets in his vest — a telltale bulge caused by the then-novel beeper beneath — were stuffed with secrets. Well-spoken, astute, but most of all connected, Rabbi Gluck brought messages from the backrooms of chassidic courts and yeshivos to the Irish cops at the precinct. He posted bail and arranged for kosher food in prison, he prevented autopsies and expedited burial. Like an Olympic skier sliding between the orange cones, Edgar Gluck danced around red tape. 

MY FATHER, MY TEACHER Rabbi Chaim Boruch Gluck says he had “insurance” that Zvi would give him nachas

Reb Chaim Boruch Gluck learned how to play the game on the rough streets of the Bronx. His foray into askanus came when one of the local Jews opened his store on Shabbos, just under Rav Moshe Bick’s shul. The child stood on a soapbox, urging passersby and would-be customers to return after Shabbos. Later, as a talmid in Beis Medrash Elyon, he was tapped by the roshei yeshivah as a kind of ambassador, working with local politicians on behalf of the nascent Monsey community.

Efficiency and a creative approach to bureaucratic hurdles saw the teenager become a formal chaplain, the liaison to the Jewish community. Soon, he was the address for politicians and officials seeking the Jewish vote, the trusted confidant to rebbes and leaders seeking the right candidate.

His son, Zvi, shares the same sense of mission, but while the father has the face of a secret-keeper — windswept, worn, a mysterious half-smile its default setting — the son is still learning to hide his emotions.

“My father,” Zvi explains, “was a yasom, orphaned of his mother at a young age. So he had something to prove, you know? I always tell children in pain, ‘Show me a resilient adult and I’ll show you a child who suffered.’ Not all of them grow from their challenges, but my father did. He’s tough.”

He pauses for a second. “In a good way.”

eb Chaim Boruch Gluck learned how to play the game on the rough streets of the Bronx. His foray into askanus came when one of the local Jews opened his store on Shabbos, just under Rav Moshe Bick’s shul. The child stood on a soapbox, urging passersby and would-be customers to return after Shabbos. Later, as a talmid in Beis Medrash Elyon, he was tapped by the roshei yeshivah as a kind of ambassador, working with local politicians on behalf of the nascent Monsey community. Efficiency and a creative approach to bureaucratic hurdles saw the teenager become a formal chaplain, the liaison to the Jewish community. Soon, he was the address for politicians and officials seeking the Jewish vote, the trusted confidant to rebbes and leaders seeking the right candidate. His son, Zvi, shares the same sense of mission, but while the father has the face of a secret-keeper — windswept, worn, a mysterious half-smile its default setting — the son is still learning to hide his emotions. “My father,” Zvi explains, “was a yasom, orphaned of his mother at a young age. So he had something to prove, you know? I always tell children in pain, ‘Show me a resilient adult and I’ll show you a child who suffered.’ Not all of them grow from their challenges, but my father did. He’s tough.” He pauses for a second. “In a good way.”

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