Monday, March 31, 2014

ACHDS and Blessing

ACHDS student Elisha Kirshner  (Hamodia)
Achdus. Unity. That is a recurring theme for me. The news of our day unfortunately seems to indicate that we are further away from that lofty Jewish goal than ever. It isn’t only a religious/secular divide. It is even a religious/religious divide. The issues which have always separated Charedim on the one hand and secular Jews, modern Orthodox Jews and religious Zionist Jews on the other – have made us now more divided than ever. The rhetoric on both sides has gone from mild disapproval and grudging acceptance to venomous attacks. 

I cannot tell you how much this pains me.  The question is, what does the future hold? Are we headed to a point of no return? Will our differences cause us to have an irreconcilable break? Will it be religious brother against religious brother?  

In my view the situation between religious factions is more dire than it is between religious Jews and secular Jews. I actually believe that secular Jews are more accepted by each religious faction than each faction is of each other.

But all is not lost. This morning I have been given some hope. I attended the Kriyas Shem (naming ceremony) of my latest granddaughter born to my daughter Tovi. It took place at Arie Crown Hebrew Day School (ACHDS). More about that later.

Just before the naming took place, the principal, Rabbi Eli Samber, took me aside and asked me to take a look at the students in one of their two Minyanim. He then asked me if I noticed anything special about it. I picked up on it immediately. The students in that Minyan represented the right, left and center. There were boys with black hats, velvet Kipot and Kipot Seruga.

ACHDS student Doniel Gutnicki (Hamodia)
One might think that school that is situated in the Hashkafic center of Orthodoxy would attract mostly Jews of the center. But that is not all they attract. Parents from both sides of the religious aisle send their children there. 

One might then think… OK, but these kids have different Hashkafos at home and really have nothing to do with each other outside the school. But that would not be true. In fact it is the furthest thing from the truth. What Rabbi Samber told me next is an amazing fact that should make us all cry. Not because it was bad. Quite the contrary, because of how good it was and compare it to what the rest of the religious world is going through today.

Not only are these students friends. They don’t even see the black hat… or the Kipa Seruga their fellow students wear. It wouldn’t surprise me if you took any one of them into a room by himself and asked him what kind of head covering one of their fellow students was wearing - that they wouldn’t be able to tell you.  Rabbi Samber then pointed to one boy who was wearing a Kipa Seruga and told me what a Masmid he was. And that the fellow wearing a black hat next to him was such a close friend that he would give up his right arm for him. And what is true about the students is true about the parents and board members.

This! ...ladies and gentleman is what Achdus is all about. Which is why Arie Crown’s acronym ACHDS practically spells out that word. I have always known this about Arie Crown, Which is why (among other things) I was so active in it in and continue to so strongly support it.

This is a tribute to Rabbi Samber’s predecessor, Rabbi Meir Shapiro. His decades long tenure as principal there set the tone for the school. One that is being perpetuated by Principal Rabbi Eli Samber, and Assistant Principal Rabbi Neil Kirshner-  who is my son in law (and the father of my new granddaughter). They are doing a magnificent job. 

ACHDS student Doni Miretzky (Hamodia)
Rabbi Shapiro’s mentor was R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky. He was his role model. Rabbi Shapiro did not make a move in the school without first consulting with him. So ultimately the credit goes to him. R’ Yaakov was the true prototype of a Gadol B’Yisroel.  If all religious school prinicipals would see him as their role model, there would be a lot more Arie Crowns, I think.

As I said earlier, I attended the naming of my new granddaughter. Her name is Baila. She was named for my mother, who passed away just over 5 years ago. My mother was a quiet woman who was completely devoted to her family. So much so that she practically had no ego. For her, everything was about her husband (my father), her son (me), and her 2 stepsons, my brothers, Jack and Barry. 

She was a bit shy and not a particularly social person. Her model of behavior to my father was that of Ruth to Naomi. Wherever he would go, she would go. So that even difficult decisions about my religious education that caused me to be away from home beginning at age 8 (during weekdays - home only for Shabbos) were accepted by her with equanimity. Never a fight. Never a bad word. Just quiet loving acceptance. She trusted my father’s judgment in all important matters, even when his decisions were difficult to take.  She was the classic Ezer K’Negdo.

In a world where everything is about me,me, me… where people are increasingly  saying, ‘What’s in it for me?’ even in matters of religion, my mother stood alone. She was the epitome of self sacrifice and doing the will of God the best way she understood it. A Tzanua till the end in every sense of the word. When I think of the phrase Kavuda Bas Melech P’nima, I think of my mother. She was the quintessential ‘princess of internal honor’. A woman who ran away from externals.

 It was a very emotional moment for me to hear her name called out at the naming ceremony. My new granddaughter has a lot to live up to.

Moments after the ceremony I received a phone call. My daughter Sari gave birth to a brand new baby boy. What can I say? I am overwhelmed with joy. Ken Yirbu to all of Klal Yisroel.