Monday, November 11, 2013

A Microcosm of Achdus

Rabbi Mordechai Raizman, Executive Director of Operations
Last night I attended the annual banquet of the Chicago Vaad HaChinuch – otherwise known as the Associated Talmud Torahs (ATT). The ATT is the umbrella organization for all the Orthodox schools in Chicago. I am not going to discuss what a fine organization this is. (And it is a fine organization). That is not the point of this post. I am going to describe what I saw there – which was a microcosm of Achdus. Something Chicago is noted for. 

Even though the Orthodox community has grown considerably since I immigrated here back in 1962 as a 15 year old teenager, there has been little change in this attitude despite the fact that there are now many schools catering to differing Hashkafos.

A lot was lost by that. And I protested every time a new break-away school opened up (usually by the right).They saw it as a step forward where their Hashkafa could be taught exclusively.  I saw it as divisive. To this day if I could re-integrate the schools I would do it. But I am happy to say that at least my worst fears never came to fruition here. We respect each other despite the wide range of differing Hashkafos. We are a united Orthodox community.

That was evident last night as speaker after speaker from widely disparate Hashkafos said the same thing. The ATT represents all Hashkafos left to right - right to left.

The dinner was attended by a such diverse educators as an Agudah Moetzes member who is also the Rosh HaYeshiva of Telshe, the president of the RCA who is also the principal of the co-ed Ida Crown Jewish Academy, and the principal of the Lubavitch Girls High School.

One thing that was nice about this event is that there was mixed seating. You got to sit with your spouse. It was also nice that the two main honoree couples - husband and wife - were each called up as a couple to receive their award. Instead of the current trend by the right of giving the wife a bouquet of flowers behind a curtain at her table out of view for most attendees. (I really don’t like that.)

The two couples that were honored are good friends of mine. One of them is Rabbi Jack (Yaakov) Reichjenbach and his wife Judy. Jack is also president of Torah U’Mesorah. It was nice to see them sitting together at the same table along with other couples. It was even nicer to see them both get up on the stage and receive their awards in full view of the attendees.

Rabbi Avrohom Moller, Superintendant of Education
It should be noted that the both the Executive Director of Operations and the Superintendant of Education are Charedi – the former having been a member of the Lakewood Kollel here. It was nice to see them both wearing Kipot rather than black hats and sharing the stage with women as presenters of the awards.

It should also be noted that the lay co-presidium includes a man who clearly identifies himself as a Centrist, and a man who is a Sephardi.

There were 3 ‘Teacher of the Year’ awards presented.  One was to a Rebbe at the Academy who also serves as the Limudei Chol principal at Yeshivas Me’or HaTorah. He is also the former executive director of the Lakewood Kollel here. He had no problem sharing the stage with the two female teachers that were his co-recipients.

All this reminded me of what could be in the greater Orthodox world. The Hashkafos in Chicago are just as wide and disparate as they are on the East Coast. And yet there was an atmosphere of respect, camaraderie, and a sense that we are all working towards the same goal. 

Yes our Hashkafos differ, sometimes in major ways. But everyone in Chicago – including its rabbinic leaders seems to get along and have respect for each other.  I am reminded of the photo taken of the Zidichover Rebbe and Rabbi Asher Lopatin. They were having a conversation at an event they both attended. I featured it in one of my recent posts. I think that picture demonstrates the kind of Achdus we have here.

I couldn’t help thinking about the contrast on much of the East Coast (e.g. Brooklyn, Lakewood, and Monsey - just to name a few East Coast communities). It seems to me that the various Orthodox communities there do not get along at all, and in some cases try to de-legitimize each other. The right de-legitimizes the left and the left de-legitimizes the right.

But the ‘Grand-Daddy of Discord Award’ has to go to the Israeli Charedi rabbinic leadership. This is what happens when one believes in the exclusivity of one’s own Hashkafos to the exclusion of all others. And it seems the further to the right one goes, the more that applies. The virtual war between Charedi leaders in Israel dwarfs anything I’ve seen here in the United States in my lifetime.

If this is what the Frumkeit chase leads to, then Klal Yisroel ought to reject it with all of its might. That’s because Frumkeit is not Yiddshkeit. As my Rebbe, Rav Ahron used to say in Yiddish ‘Frum iz a Galach (priest)’.  A Jew has to be Ehrlich. Being Erhlich means being sincere about serving God and respectful of those with whom you disagree. I don’t see much of that in Charedi Israel these days.