Mere days after the United Jewish Communities General
Assembly met in Atlanta to discuss how best to direct
communal funds raised by Jewish federations, a different sort
of asset, the most precious one any Jew can possess --
children -- occupied the hearts and minds of those gathered
for the opening session of Agudath Israel of America's 77th
national convention on Thursday, November 25.
As reported last week, the Thursday afternoon plenary session
began -- after greetings by Agudath Israel Vaad Hanhala co-
chairman Dr. David Diamond -- with a hazkara, delivered
by Rabbi Moshe Brown, rav of Agudath Israel of West Lawrence
and maggid shiur at Yeshiva Derech Ayson, for Rabbi
Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l, rosh hayeshiva of Yeshivas Ner
Yisroel in Baltimore. Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, mashgiach
ruchani of Beth Medrash Govoha, then set the tone for the
weekend gathering by addressing the convention theme, "A Time
of Prosperity, A Time of Need: Confronting the
The stage was then well set for the symposium that followed,
entitled "Nachas from the Children: Taking Pride, Facing
Problems" and chaired by Leon Melohn, Chairman of Agudath
Israel's Project Y.E.S.
The American Orthodox Jewish community is justifiably proud
of the powerful growth of Torah-chinuch in the decades since
the destruction of Jewish Europe, said the first symposium
participant, Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, rosh yeshiva,
Yeshiva Adas Yereim (Monsey). "The train is hurtling," he
asserted, "but not everyone feels they got a good seat." It
is our urgent responsibility, he insisted, to ensure that, in
this time of plenty, the educational and emotional needs of
all Jewish children are met.
Rabbi Wachsman stressed that we can and must provide
environments of kedusha. The children who, in order to
handle the water drawn for the poroh adumoh mixture,
the gemara teaches, were born and raised on a rock to
insulate them from tumah. Rabbi Wachsman wondered if
those children's isolation may have been considered abusive
by some. And aren't there those, he went on, "who consider us
abusive for keeping our own children from televisions, or by
teaching them to speak in Yiddish?" The bottom line, he
declared, is that "kedusha counts"; what a remarkable
merit it was, he asserted, for a child to spend his childhood
on that rock.
Happiness In The Home
The so-often overlooked but so critical need for a joyful
home atmosphere was a major focus of Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz,
director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. and menahel
of Yeshiva Darchei Noam (Monsey). The most powerful thing
a parent can possibly do to help his child develop into a ben
or bas Torah, Rabbi Horowitz asserted, is to provide a happy
home, where the simcha and beauty of a Torah life is
Rabbi Horowitz made reference as well, to a special issue of
The Jewish Observer, on the topic of "Children on the
Fringe... and Beyond" which presents the observations and
advice of gedolei Yisroel, as well as those of
mechanchim and other professionals, on how to address
the increasingly evident problem of out-of-yeshiva and "at
risk" youth. That issue, published only a few days before the
Convention, became the talk of the convention and has since
generated discussion throughout the Orthodox Jewish world.
The Community's Responsibility
Rabbi Yaakov Bender, rosh hayeshiva, Yeshiva Darchei
Torah, addressed the audience next, and stressed the
responsibility all Jews have to not abandon any Jewish child.
If we don't have place for all Jewish children to learn
Torah, Rabbi Bender said, quoting Rav Sholom Schwadron,
zt"l, then the future sins of those whose education we
did not adequately undertake become our own. He decried the
creation of what he called "ghettos" for children who are
capable but do not fit in to the standard yeshiva
environment. "They rarely work," he contended. "We must open
our own yeshivos' doors," he declared.
Emunah In Our Children
The recognition that "chinuch is belief in a child's
potential" was the focus of the afternoon symposium's final
presenter, Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, rav, Khal Bais Yitzchok.
Asking why Chazal portray Yaakov Ovinu's decision to hide
Dina from Esav as, lefi gadluso, an error, Rabbi
Goldwasser quoted Rav Eliezer Shach, shlita, as
answering that, while Yaakov's concern for Dina was proper, a
concern for the possibility of Esav's changing for the better
was called for no less. We ignore the potential of those who
seem unpromising, Rabbi Goldwasser continued, at not only
their peril but our own.
Trial By Wealth
A second symposium, entitled "Drawing Lines, Drawing Near:
Securing the Future of American Jewry," was presented at that
evening's plenary session. Greetings to the delegates were
extended by Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, rosh hayeshiva,
Yeshiva of Philadelphia, and chairman of Agudath Israel's
Rabbi Kamenetsky began by quoting a Tanna Devei Eliyohu
about Esav's offer to divide both this world with Yaakov
Ovinu and the next. "Esav does not understand," the
Philadelphia rosh hayeshiva, explained, "that this
world exists entirely for the sake of the next" and thus, in
the end Esav, who regards this world as meaningful in its own
right, doesn't really have true possession of even his
Worldly success and monetary wealth, he continued, are
trials, and all Jews must keep the ultimate goal of kevod
Shomayim before them always.
Rabbi Kamenetsky vividly illustrated the need to think of the
honor of Hashem, His Torah and those who exemplify it with
various examples. The rosh hayeshiva called attention,
too, to the dire threat posed to uneducated Jews by Christian
missionaries, and especially at the turn of the Christian
millennium. Here as well, he maintained, to effectively
counter the onslaught, we must be focused on kevod
Time To Wake Up
Though it might be assumed that the Torah-observant world's
mission is static from year to year, that Torah and mitzvos
are our sole agenda, that is not really the case, explained
Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe and Rosh Agudath
Israel of America, who delivered the Thursday evening
session's main address.
We Jews live today, Rabbi Perlow maintained, in relative
prosperity; the facilities of Torah and mitzvos are more
accessible than ever, and we take full advantage of them all.
At the same time though, he reminded his listeners, we must
ask, "Why are so many young people, R"l, getting sick
and dying?" and "Why are youth from good families falling
through the cracks, veering from the derech?"
The key, the Novominsker Rebbe asserted, is to realize that
"we are in need, not just others." Hashem's actions are
certainly beyond our comprehension, he went on, but "a time
of tzoro clearly requires cheshbon hanefesh,"
deep and meaningful introspection. "We had better wake up
One goal that Rabbi Perlow stressed should be at the top of
the community's agenda is good will. He read from a statement
made several weeks earlier by HaGaon Rabbi Aharon Leib
Steinman, expressing "anguish at the arguments among people."
"Everyone is convinced of his own needs and the justice of
his own claims," Rav Steinman lamented, "and doesn't consider
the possibility that he can be wrong.
"Who can know if the widows and orphans we see are not the
result of this? . . . The only eitzoh is to cede our
positions . . . godol hasholom."
Standing On Principle, Looking Beyond
Then Rabbi Perlow moved to the stances we must make as a
community, the need to express our positions on matters of
principle, to take issue, even publicly when necessary, with
those who misrepresent the Torah viewpoint. While "we have
only love, friendship and hope for the tinnokos
shenishbu," Rabbi Perlow said, "we must embrace emes
in Eretz Yisroel and wherever Jews live." He decried
"apikorsus that has found its way into Orthodox
journals and Orthodox homes," "new footholds" gained of late
by "Orthodox feminism" and the "hospitality of Reform
seminaries" enjoyed by some Orthodox leaders -- "a parody of
"Emes," he asserted, "cannot be overlooked in the
pursuit of sholom."
At the same time though, Rabbi Perlow declared, we must reach
out to other Jews. In years past, he noted, we were, by
necessity, focused inward, on building a Torah infrastructure
in America. Now, though, that "we have great affluence,
mosdos Torah, Chassidus and gemilas chassodim . . .
the time has come to look beyond, to expand kevod
Shomayim" to other segments of the Jewish world.
The Novominsker Rebbe then addressed the closing of two Shuvu
schools in Eretz Yisroel, attributing the closures to the
fact that secularists in Israel are frightened at the growth
of Torah there. "American Jews," he went on, "should not be
The "half-million gentiles posing as Jews" from the former
Soviet Union who "have been welcomed to Eretz Yisroel under
the guise of the Law of Return" were also a focus of the
Novominsker Rebbe's remarks, as was the angry reaction "when
a Knesset member dared to speak up" about the issue.
Actual Jews though, he continued, from and in former Soviet
lands "desperately need our help." Lauding groups like the
Vaad Lehatzolas Nidchei Yisroel, Operation Open Curtain in
Moscow, and Yad Yisroel in Ukraine, Rabbi Perlow declared
that "every individual must feel an achrayus for these
efforts; there is so much more to do."
"Why didn't I mention Agudath Israel?" he then asked.
"Because its zchus is that it is the medium for efforts
that transcend the organization. Agudath Israel is an eved
ne'emon. Indeed, one way or another, it has launched many
of those efforts, and is the father of several."
Redrawing Blurred Lines
The next speaker Thursday evening, Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller,
rosh hayeshiva, Telshe Yeshiva-Chicago, began his
remarks by focusing on the American chareidi community's
great strides in recent decades and concurrent developments.
One noteworthy development, Rabbi Keller noted, is the Reform
movement's move toward "spirituality" through the performance
of mitzvos. Another, he pointed out, is the movement of
groups within the broader framework of Orthodoxy away from
These attitudes, Rabbi Keller asserted, seep even into our
own kiruv efforts. Employing "mysticism" or "feminism"
as tactics to entice people into Torah-study is not only
"bait and switch" but doomed to failure. Those seeking such
fare, he said, "will not like emes." Lines, Rabbi
Keller declared, are blurred, and must be clearly drawn. What
is more, he continued, the future of American Jewry depends
on our maintaining our own spiritual integrity.
Rabbi Keller went on to explore a major "risk factor" we
face, the nisoyon of wealth. Chazal consider poverty an
adornment for Jews; the message there, he asserted, is that
prosperity is a danger.
Satiated Stomachs, Starving Souls
That idea led seamlessly into the remarks of the evening's
final speaker, Rabbi Dovid Ordman, senior lecturer, Arachim
and Gateways, who explained the words of the novi, "lo
ro'ov lalechem" as an indication of when it is that Jews
will hunger for truth -- when there is no lack of food, amid
prosperity. Rabbi Ordman made a strong case for both communal
and individual responsibility to reach out to other Jews and
helping them see the beauty of Yiddishkeit.
Earlier in the Thursday evening session, Avodas HaKodesh
Awards for outstanding community service, were bestowed by
Rabbi Yonah Feinstein, Agudath Israel's director of special
projects, on Kenneth Broodo (Dallas), Boruch Y. Levine
(Baltimore), Chaim Manela (Los Angeles), Dr. Ned Mehlman
(Cincinnati), Dr. Jonathan Rubin (Miami Beach) and Dr.
Michael Weiss (St. Louis).
Rabbi Lipa Geldwerth, maggid shiur, Yeshiva Torah
Temimah, chaired the Thursday evening session, which also
featured remarks from convention co-chairman Michael Kaiser