Sukkos Blogging

1) We just hit the hoshanos against the floor this morning.  My father always said that you can determine a person’s lack of intelligence by  the amount of force he uses in smacking the aravos. The harder they hit it, the less refined they are. This really bothered him. He saw the anger during the hoshanah strike as ignorance.  

The early protagonists of Refrom- or Liberal Judaism- were utterly embarrased by the banging at the mention of Haman in the Orthodox synagogues. They juxtaposed this wild revelry with the decorum held sacrosant at the Christian houses of worship and Judaism seemed primitive and folksy in comparison. Of course, history has mostly proven them wrong in their search for a sanitized religion. But there was a general need to improve our worship in the places where a lack of a good Jewish education left the masses to revel in pettiness. The answer, as it turned out, wasn’t to Christianize Judaism, but to Judaize it. It would take a century or two for that to really happen.  

Nevertheless, it is through my father’s disdain for wild engagement in ritual- WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING- that I see some of what bothered the discerning eyes of  those who left the shul for the “House of the Organ, and eventually for the Church itself. 

2) I cancelled my almost-annual trip to KAJ for Hoshanos this morning because I live in a hotspot, and, although I have been davening almost exclusively outdoors since Yom Kippur, my wife felt that my presence might make others uncomfortable. You’re welcome. 

3) Mr. Marc Breuer s’l (that is z’l in German vernacular and not my usual way of writing it except when I want to feel heimish) was a Jewish educator while fleeing the Nazi’s through Vichy France. His lectures from that period were published in his “La Tohrah Commentee” (I have a copy of my own!) and are available online in English. In this week’s sedrah (Vezos Haberachah) he has an explanation for the unusual order in which Moses blesses the tribes at his death. See here:  http://www.cojo.net/VezosHabracha.pdf 

The bulk of his thoughts are in the epilogue with a tidbit beforehand explaining why Shimon is not mentioned. An alternate – slightly similar idea is found on OU Torah, here:  https://outorah.org/p/37748

My father z’l as a young single entering a sukkah on a rooftop on Bennett Avenue. Possibly the Sukkah of Mr. Carl Stern z’l.

Refusing the Amud

I am in the year of mourning for my father – (H’KM). I daven in a shul where the various mourners are very respectful towards each other’s “chiyuv” to lead the davening. That said, I had the opportunity several times- so far- to refuse the amud- even as it was offered to me:

For instance, on a day that tachanun is not said- including the mincha just before Shabbos -is not a time that an aveil is an appropriate candidate for the amud according to our tradition. When offered the amud on the morning of Erev Rosh Hashanah for part of the davening I declined for this reason- as well as the reason that the selichos chazan is meant to daven that day. The gabai was surprised that someone would refuse for these reasons.

I often tell people that “where I come from” at the beginning of one’s aveilus – bar minon- the “gabbaim” (read ‘ Synagogue committee member; vorstandt?) infrom the aveil that they might come to shul on some occassions and receive neither the amud nor the chance to say kaddish- if there are others with priority. Once one has come to accept that this is a possibility- they are less likely to “look for” an amud in circumstances that are not perfect.

By having limits and rules about when we daven, we come to appreciate the importance of our service. It is a service- and it is the generosity of the communtiy- that bring us to the amud. It is not a privilege.

A friend of mine who was raised in another community once complained to me that a gabai didn’t give him the amud (in a Brooklyn shtieble) on Chol Hamo’ed! I explained to him how inappropriate it is to send an aveil up at that time. He replied, “But what does he care if I go to the amud? ” I could not answer this misguided approach to the “chiyuv” of the amud.

In Devarim 18;14 וְאַתָּ֕ה לֹ֣א כֵ֔ן נָ֥תַן לְךָ ְד אֱלֹקֶֽיךָ

“The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your G-d has not permitted you to do so”. The Chasidic reading of this is (Rabi Bunim MePeshischa brought in Lekutei b. lekutei):

“Hashem your G-d “lo kein nasan lecha” He has given you prohibitions! Do not engage in sorcery or idol worship in which the religion was created to the whim of the followers. We were given “לא” -things that we can’t do. It is these things that give importance and meaning to that which we “can do” .

Shana Tova and Good Tidings to all!

The Rav and the Rebbe?

(If someone here doesn’t know me personally- I lost my father, Mr. Manny Meyer, hareini kaporas mishkavo.)

As I sat shiva  many old family friends filed in (outdoors) – a close friend, a former supervisor in the kehilla’s shechita operation- visited. 

He told the following story about the kehilla hiring him despite his being a Lubavitcher chosid.

When the subject of his hiring was brought up, and Rav Breuer was told that the candidate belonged to Lubavitch, the supposed reply came, “I am okay with Lubavitch.”

The explanation dials back to a certain Mr. Phillip Wolf (father of Bella Caro) who was a host for the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Europe. (The Caro family say that it might have been for some 10 months!) (I am told Mr. Wolf may have been from Frankfurt.) According to my visitor it seems that Mr. Wolf might have acted together with the rebbe in building mikvaoth.

Anyhow, when the Rav came to America it is known that he set out to build a mikvah, a yeshiva, and a shul; in that order. He consulted Mr. Wolf for assistance because he had some experience (per this story). As they went along there was a budget shortfall of 8,000$. Mr. Wolf approached the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and he assisted in closing the gap. 

This is the story as told to me. I have a great amount of skepticism for stories by chassidim about their rebbes. But I wanted to document the story as I heard it.

That said, quite the opposite story is told in the “”Rav Breuer; His Life and His Legacy” book. There it says that Rav Breuer indeed took a bus to Lakewood, New Jersey to visit the penultimate Lubavitcher rebbe, who had funds available for building mikvaoth. (The rebbe was vacationing there.) The rebbe told him to approach the wealthy German Jews in Manhattan, but gave him a donation of 25 dollars to kick-it-off. The meeting was arranged by Rabbi Mordechai Chodakov per the footnote (p. 141) and no mention of Mr. Phillip Wolf. (Mrs.Meta B. corroborates this as written.)

The Caro family are unaware of this. They did confirm their grandfather’s connection to the rebbe, though. They further added that Mr. and Mrs. Wolf were childless. Before the rebbe left from his stay they asked him for advice. He told them they need to move from their city and they will incur a loss of their wealth, but they would have children. They had six children.

For the sake of history, the plaque that hung in that original mikvah on Audubon Avenue is pictured below. (Screenshot from a vid on my channel.) Several benefactors are listed for having paid for the property: Messers. Jaques and Leon Schwalbe (the Rav’s son-in-law= Jacques), Mr. Ivan Salomon, Mr. Nathan Miller, and a once well-known philathropist Mr. Joseph Rosenzweig. Some more senior members have told me that it was common practice for men in the community to sit in the pizza shops of Amsterdam Avenue while their wives used the mikvah. Was there a special on the menu for husbands?Screenshot (17)

 

Some Dinner Stories

The story behind the picture.

 

At the annual dinner this week I showed the above photo to comrade Sidney G. and asked him if he remembers that dinner meeting celebrating the 200k mark.

 

Sidney says that he remembers that the ad that put them over the 200k was solicited by Sonja W. May she rest in peace.

events57

Another picture shows a woman addressing the dinner meeting. Sidney says she was the head of the Bais Medrash committee. Anyone?

 

Comrade Pinchas K. shared this: One year in the early 60s his grandfather, Manfred zl, was dinner chairman. Now, Mr. K. was a big admirer and supporter of Rav Shlomo Breuer. So…he was used to saying “Rav Breuer sichrono levrocho”. So he gets up to announce him the Rav, (Rabbi Joseph Breuer) and he calls him Rav Breuer Sichrono Levrocho”!!!

 

The Rav mounts the podium and jokes,” I don’t like to be rushed!”

 

Pinchas also remembers the first year he and his wife organized the car raffle. They draw the winner and Edwin says to his neighbor on the dais ” I have a funny feeling…” Sure enough the winner is Edwin zl, and this after Pinchas was praised extensively for “arranging” the raffle!

 

Rav Schwab at the Siyum

As I remember it Rav Schwab was among several speakers, each spoke about the Holocaust. The Siyum HaShas evokes this collective memory sharpest. He told a story that had the whole arena crying. I can’t even repeat it without shaking. (https://youtu.be/lcD2_Qz4qPY)

He also spoke about how he remembers learning a mishna  as a young boy, that tells of  a special bracha for the occasion of seeing 600 thousand Jews at once. He couldn’t fathom even seeing a few thousand Jews together. That night, the first time MSG was procured for the event, he felt a little closer to the dream.

Besides Rav Schwab several others spoke about the level of shechina that resides with 22,000 Jews. This is indicated in the verse (Numb, 10;36) ” Shuva Hashem, rivavos alfei Yisrael” “Return, Hashem, (upon) tens and thousands of Israel.”

I haven’t been to the Siyum since 1991. This year I plan to attend and look forward to it anxiously.

Here is an incredible story. My friend and Partners-in-Torah chavrusah began wearing a kippah a few years ago. Recently, his physician told him that he, too, is Jewish. He also told him that while he does not observe mitzvos at all, he studies Daf Yomi daily and will finish with tomorrow’s cycle! ( He uses the Korein Talmud.)

My friend asked him if he will attend. He said, “No way!”

This should be informative in the way of helping us understand how  much of a divide exists between us and our secular brethren.

The New Rav Schwab Book

There have been some murmurings by friends of mine in the greater Breuers community, both in and out of the Heights, about the newest addition to the Yekke bookshelf. I refer to Rabbi Dr. Chaim Ehrman’s recet work, “ My Rebbe Rav Schwab” (Menucha Publishers, 2019). 

 

The murmurings are over the inclusion of a section on “Minhagim of KAJ”. The book is written by someone who moved away over 40 years ago, and even when living in the Heights was not a regular at the main minyanim at 85-93. Further, there is no indication that anyone was consulted from within the small group of reliably careful people who have been reviewing and editing copy for the various kehilla publications, or for that matter anyone in the Schwab family.

 

Now, I have not contacted any Schwab representatives but if you buy the book you will quickly discover that he received a mandate from Rav Schwab z’l to publish his meticulous English notes and even received a nod of approval from the late JGB z’l.

 

Next, you will notice that the minhag section is light on details. It doesn’t tell you to switch the ma’aravos for the first night of Sukkos or where the chazan begins to read aloud at the end of az yashir. It is rather a loose collection of notes and background on some general guidance he has received regarding minhag and Halacha from the Heights.

 

Now, speaking as a guilty party myself- for if anyone has written, produced, disseminated, and cyber-ized vast amounts of information and history of our kehilla, without consulting the carefully circumspect inner-circle of auskim betzorchei tzibbur, those who are normally responsible for the veracity and tactful dissemination of kehilla documentation…IT IS I. GUILTY. GUILTY AM I.

 

So, I take my soiled finger and point at this work and add it to the voices from without. The unofficial biographers. The uncertified and the unauthorized…but the well meaning. We have a voice too. And, alas, we have spoken.

I don’t expect, nor would I want, my content to be treated as seriously as the serious volumes of literature produced by and through the Kehilla and its worthy representatives. The existence of one need not preclude the other, though.

 

In the spirit of unauthorized biographies, I am turning to my readers and asking them to submit their personal interactions and received Torah of Rav Schwab. I will add some of my own. In the spirit of friendly blogging, I will only publish positive interactions. So if you need to vent, please choose someone else’s platform.

 

Write away….

 

Jahres Yigdal of Moshe Schnerb

Every year, once a year, the jahres yigdal is sung on the festival of Simchas Torah. Jahres refers to the custom of incorporating all the tunes of the yearly cycle into the various tefillos of the day, often by the chazan masterfully switching between tunes of the holidays and such- 

 

There is a Yigdal sung on the eve of Simchas Torah in Breuer’s that  creatively and seamlessly switches between the tunes, subtly- weaving the motifs into a continuous melody. This jahres Yigdal was composed by the choir leader in Frankfurt, Moshe Schnerb. Moshe Schnerb was the son of Godschaeu or Chaim Gershon Schnerb the well known Chazan and choir leader  of Merzig, originally from Alsace. 

 

Moshe’s son – Dr. Godscheaux Schnerb was the first choir leader in the Breuer’s shul in New York, and his son Walter succeeded him in this task. 

 

When I was a young adult, I asked MR. Walter Schnerb if he could write out the list of tunes incorporated in the jahres Yigdal. Mr. Schnerb, a skilled bookbinder by profession, took the time to photocopy and cut out the lines of Yigdal from a Roedelheim siddur, and paste them to a paper and write the names of the melodies below each line. 

 

In the spirit of Jahres the tune flows in the order of the Jewish calendar from Simchas Torah, through the year, and back again to Simchas Torah. In the recorded version presented hereschnerbyigdal-2, the piano intro is taken from maoz tzur. I don’t know whose arrangement that was. 

The Legend of the Rascal

Here is what I sometimes think about since I’ve begun teaching middle school recently.

Do nice guys really come in last?

The nice guy is the one who does everything right all of the time. He plays by the rules and in the end he reaps his reward.

But then there’s the guy who already broke all the rules, but pulls himself together and applies  himself when duty calls.

This “guy” has something the nice guy lacks, and eventually it works to his advantage: The ability to have broken the rules, and to use that same mischievous edge for his own survival, and the good of others one day.

I am writing this now because we are approaching Rosh Hashanah, and I am writing it here, because, on my first trip back to the schoolroom this September, I needed to remind myself of the legends of Washington Heights.  I needed to remember that behind every rowdy boy is a future success.

The legend had it that the worst kids in our Yeshiva grade school, the terrorizers – if you will, grew up to be the most successful. I can think of two in my era, and my mother always talked about the grandson of a board member who was kicked out of the school (or almost was?) And then, as life progressed, some of these children found a way to express this excess energy in a way that no one could have ever foreseen. They wound up making their first million while the nice guys continued punching the clock. Now, success isn’t measured in millions, (or it shouldn’t be,) but you can’t call them  failures either.

I am trying to keep this in mind when mentally evaluating the different boys in the classroom.

I suggest that we take this approach to Teshuvah. And- at the risk of preaching- I suggest that we look at our own shortcomings as our key to our future successes. We can use this for the good, if we just realign our intentions for the Honor of Heaven. Kesiva VeChasima Tova.

Funny German City Names

I have made aquiantance with a young college/rabbinical student in Berlin. I was picking his brain, and I mentioned that I came across a German city called “Nidah”. I asked him for other funny names of actual cities and he produced a whole list. Find them below…

Muckenloch=gnat hole
Deppendorf= village of idiots
Deppenhausen= house of idiots
Dummersdorf= dumbers village
Kotzen= to puke
Schmedeswurtherwesterdeich= Speaks for itself

(Two more I had to leave out of this post out of good judgement.)

And runners up are:
Windischeschenbach
Bad Gottleuba-Berggießhübel
I will add:
Nekkarbischofsheim

Anyone have a favorite?

Photo: wiki commons. The Court Jester, W.M. Chase

Professor Leo Levi z’l and a Bygone Era

There was once a little street in a small neighborhood on the edge of Jerusalem.On this little street, where trees threw shade on courtyards and alleyways of Jerusalem stone, children played and buses rumbled by a small kiosk across from the Swiss butcher Rosenbaum and a small stationery store where little girls bought pencils for school; and women felt the vegetables at the stoop off the fruit store adjacent to the kiosk where Donny would place a soy frankfurter inside a boureka for three shekel, as Yeshiva students waited and seminary girls picked out a gift for their Shabbos hosts. 

Across from all this stood a tall shul with immaculately shined floors and a view, from between its tall and narrow windows, of the entire center of Jerusalem. But when these windows were closed it was just a neighborhood shul where fathers sat next to sons and older men hushed the children.

On this little street, with the kiosk and the Swiss butcher and the shul and the buses, lived some of the most interesting and prolific writers of the type that contemplate science and Torah with an eye to self-improvement and adherence to the holiness and piety espoused by the Torah sages of every generation.

These men were Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, Professor Cyril Domb and Professor Leo Levi, zichronam levrachah.

I am not going to launch into biographies or eulogies. These men were Heaven-fearing, they were friends, chavrusos , and belonged to an early wave of brave and unique English language Torah purveyors. Two of them were celebrated scientists, founders of the movement of Orthodox Jewish scientists in America and Britain, and eager to apply the Torah perspective to the medium of science. Not looking to disrupt the scientific process, nor apologize to it or for it — but to give a reassuring perspective to the Torah student that science is the study of G-d’s world and Torah is the study of G-d’s word, and one need not fear the existence of the other. Filing through several volumes of their combined works, I do not know if they ever said this in these words, but as sure as they walked the planet this was what they came to proclaim.

In fewer words, they were the purveyors of Torah im Derech Eretz in its rawest form. While we would quicker describe TIDE as the Torah’s relevance to every aspect of our lives, i.e. our day-to-day lives, they looked at the Torah’s relevance to the world we stand upon and the discoveries of those who observe it. (In his work,  Masterplan, Rabbi Carmel espouses the ideas of R.S.R.H.’s Horeb — so there is conventional TIDE here, too.)

On this same bucolic street, reminiscent of something European, lived a saintly chasidic rebbe of advanced age, the Tolner Rebbe, and ybc”l , still lives the great Posek, Rav Azriel Auerbach shlita. Recessed behind that street stands the famed Yeshiva of German rabbinic founding, Kol Torah. And in one of the alleyways resided the early compiler of Hilchos Shabbos, the Berlin-born Rav Yehoshua Yeshayah Neuwirth. Indeed this was a sweet Gan Eden of Torah and Eretz Yisrael, and three men, friends, and co-authors, were among the great adresses on the lane. Now with the passing of Rabbi Prof. Levi, it is a bygone era.

Yehi Zichro Baruch