Notes From the Road
A few brief episodes looking back at a long road trip to different parts of the United States. The trip, which forced my wife and I to miss what people widely agree is the most beautiful Yom Tov in Israel, was necessitated by a combination of professional and personal interests. The latter aimed to avoid certain legal problems. Namely, we had a bunch of kids who were planning a class-action lawsuit against us, alleging abandonment (for leaving them behind when we moved to Yerushalayim).
- Israeli taxi-drivers continue to be a font of wisdom and inspiration. I used to think that only tourists felt that way. Now that I live there, I can vouch for continuing to find them sometimes inspirational, sometimes just reservoirs of uncommon common-sense. In Norfolk, Virginia, I learned that Israelis don’t have a monopoly on vehicle operators who can toss off the pithy comment that nails it. My purpose in passing through Norfolk was to serve as a scholar-in-residence role at B’nai Israel, the local Orthodox shul thriving under the stewardship of R. Sender Haber. Once there, however, I knew that I had to contact Gordon Robertson, the genius behind the Christian Broadcasting Network, and a friend of Israel who has contributed immeasurably for decades to presenting a picture of Israel to millions of people very different from CNN, MSNBC, and the NYT. That meant an early-morning appearance for the live broadcast of the famous 700 Club television program. Guests on the show are treated royally, and they provided a van and driver to take me to visit the local day school after the program.
I made a point of opening a conversation with the van driver, a late middle-age African-American woman. (Evangelicals are roundly criticized in the media hostile to them as being a white male enterprise. After arriving at the studio, I passed through many doors before going on camera. It was a full 45 minutes before I met the first white person. I can’t weigh in on all the security people, but those involved in the actual production – with whom I interacted much more – were all evangelicals themselves.) I asked her if she had to drive around boring people like me, or whether she got to transport some real celebrities. Without the briefest hesitation, she replied:
“Rabbi – if a person fears G-d, then he is a celebrity in my eyes. And if he doesn’t, I don’t care what he does. He’s no celebrity.”
(I found the community thoroughly delightful – a rich mixture of many seasoned FFB bnei Torah, and a greater number of serious, long-term baalei teshuvah. The visit afforded me an opportunity to encounter the unexpectedly full assortment of Torah institutions: a day school in frum hands, boys’ high school and yeshiva, girls’ high school, chesed organizations. It seemed to me to be a community that is underappreciated as a place that should attract young couples wishing to escape the congestion and pressures to conform of the Tri-State area without compromising the chinuch of children. Virginia is a voucher state, so chinuch is affordable, while housing is reasonable.)
- My youngest son is one of the founding members of the kollel that opened in Berlin a year ago, serving a diverse community, the largest component thereof consisting of émigrés from the old Soviet Union who arrived decades ago and never managed to move on. The Berliners are the lucky ones, because they have access to a range of Torah services. One fellow who lives in Nuremberg used to order his four minim from the local merchant in Berlin. Last year’s lulav arrived damaged in the course of shipping. So this year, he got on a bus and travelled eight hours to participate in the one-day “esrog market” at a Berlin shul. It did not take long for him to make his selection, at which point he turned around, and took an eight hour bus ride back. It is hard not to stand in awe of such unsung commitment.
- The Yom Kippur daytime drashah at Ohr HaTorah, a very large kiruv– and community-oriented charedi shul in Dallas offered a story that few expected to hear, and was remarkable for its courage. It was delivered by the assistant rabbi, Rabbi Ezra Sarna, who told of the time he and some Ner Israel talmidim were gathered around R. Shragi Neuberger’s table. A call came in, which the rebbi felt compelled to take. The talmidim could only hear R. Neuberger, but not the voice at the other end. “No, you don’t. [Pause] It is not a mitzvah. [Pause] Gehinom? I would pay to get such a gehinom!” The talmidim were naturally curious about what they were missing, and R. Neuberger agreed to share the other half of the conversation. “A woman called. Some of her ribs were broken. She wanted to know if she was supposed to be mochel / forgive her husband. I told her definitely not. She persisted – isn’t it a special mitzvah, close to Yom Kippur, a segulah that Hashem should forgive us for all our wrongdoing? It told her that it would be no mitzvah at all. She wouldn’t relent. He asked for forgiveness. If I deny it to him, doesn’t it put me in danger of winding up in Gehinom. I told her that I would gladly acquire such a Gehinom.
If we had more people like R. Neuberger, we’d be ahead of the curve in addressing the problem of domestic abuse.
End of stories. It’s great to be back home.