Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
The annual Agudath Israel Convention was held at the Hilton in Woodcliff Lake, NJ. This year’s theme was “Shouldering Responsibility.” As in years past, the prominent speakers were enthralling. The Thursday evening plenary session, as well as the melaveh malka keynote session, had an overflowing attendance of enthusiastic participants.
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Rabbi Shlomo Gertzulin, Rabbi Leibish Becker, and Rabbi Avrohom Nissan Perl continue to serve the observant Jewish community. Through their combined efforts, Agudath Israel affairs and gatherings across the United States continue to increase. In his remarks on motzaei Shabbos, Rabbi Zwiebel noted that, when possible, Satmar and Chabad work together with the Agudah.
The main Thursday-evening event, titled “Plenary Session,” opened with an audiovisual presentation “To Save a World—Reb Elimelech (Mike) Tress and Agudas Yisroel,” produced by the Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center (KFHEC). The video was an emotional compilation of the selfless efforts of Mike Tress, zt’l (1909–1967), to save Jews during the Holocaust and to help survivors. He gave up his lucrative business pursuits and dedicated his every breath to the holy effort. Rabbi Aaron Kotler, zt’l (1891–1962), forbade Mike Tress, who lived in Williamsburg, to daven an entire Shacharis during the Holocaust, since his every moment was needed to save lives.
Thursday’s evening session heard Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Levin, rosh yeshiva Telshe, Chicago; Rabbi Yissocher Frand of Yeshiva Ner Yisrael and celebrated orator; and Rabbi Noach Issac Elbaum, rav of Congregation Nachlas Yitzchak, author of Minchas Chein, and spellbinding speaker. The session was chaired by Rabbi Mordechai Levin, son of the Telshe Rosh Yeshiva. Rabbi Elbaum noted that the function of yeshivas is to educate all of our youth, not to concentrate all of its resources exclusively on super-high-achieving students to the exclusion of everyone else.
Amongst the many important sessions, the plenary session was followed by meetings titled “Parenting Perplexities,” by Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein; “Jews in Politics: Opportunities and Pitfalls—Putting Judaism Back in the Jew,” by Rabbi Y. Y. Rubinstein; and “Marriage: from Good to Great,” by Dr. David Lieberman, Ph.D.
Those meetings were followed by “Family First—Our Vital Responsibility to our Spouses and Children,” by Rabbi Yosef Elefant and Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman; “The Pressing Problem of Parnassah: Getting Klal Yisrael to Help Reb Yisrael,” by Dovid Honig and Rabbi Paysach Krohn; “The Next Great Initiative,” by Chesky Kauftheil, Leon Melohn, Yaty Weinreb, Shlomo Werdiger, and Rabbi Gavriel Friedman; and “The Vital Work of Chayim Aruchim—an Update and Discussion,” by Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, Rivie Schwebel, and Rabbi Gedaliah Weinberger.
The meetings of Thursday, Shabbos, motzaei Shabbos, and Sunday were all of equal importance. The quality of the speakers was superb. Leading roshei yeshiva, world-class rabbinical leaders, and renowned Torah personalities shared instructions and insights of what is needed in observant communities. Whether speaking about shidduchim, daf yomi, or parashas ha’shavuah, their impact was inspiring.
“The Next Great Initiative” meeting heard pre-vetted suggestions on what the Agudah, as the premier orthodox Jewish organization, should undertake. During the discussions, Chaskel Bennett could not restrain himself, stood up, and proclaimed that the single most important ingredient in all of the Agudah’s public effort would be voter registration. With the power of the full registration of all eligible voters in the Orthodox community, the legislation that everyone expects the Agudah to achieve is easily within our grasp.
Chaskel Bennett’s opinion is not only reflective of tomorrow’s Agudah leadership; his opinion is blatantly accurate. He is the founder and CEO of MBA Supply Company, a janitorial supply and consulting group, serving the New York real estate and apartment-building industry. He is a noted community activist and writer whose passionate articles on timely issues are well received. Admirably, he is a 19-year Hatzalah member who was amongst those who responded to the 9/11 terror attacks at Ground Zero, and he serves on the boards of several community organizations including Keren Aniyim and COJO of Flatbush. Mr. Bennett is an executive member of the Agudath Israel of America Government Affairs Committee and the youngest member to ever serve on the respected and prestigious Agudath Israel Board of Trustees. Not only must his opinion be embraced, but it must become the operative agenda of the Agudah and every Jewish organization.
On Sunday, October 12, Mark Meyer Appel launched the Bridge multicultural advocacy project. More than 300 community activists participated in the grand opening of his facility on Flatbush Avenue in Flatbush. Program speakers included NYS Assemblymembers Dov Hikind, Rhoda Jacobs, and Rodneyse Bichotte; NYC Councilmembers Mathieu Eugene, Chaim Deutsch, and Jumaane Williams; Public Advocate Letitia James; Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson; Rabbi Yeruchim Silber of the Boro Park JCC; and Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of the NYC Fire Department.
The Bridge Project aims to unite the diverse communities in improving life for all of Brooklyn’s citizens by bringing the political and community representatives together to speak to each other, to listen to each other, and to help everyone realize that many of the needs and desires of different communities are actually the same. With that understanding, working together makes success much more achievable. Rather than seeking to outmaneuver each other, working together and supporting each other is not only more pleasant, it’s overwhelmingly more productive.
During his remarks at the event, Mark Meyer Appel outlined his ideas for the center. He hopes to bring together diverse elements of the communities—Black, Indian, Jewish, Pakistani, Russian, and others—through art shows, music and dance concerts, and advocacy efforts addressing all issues affecting Brooklyn. He stressed that voter registration efforts would be front and center. The diverse voting bloc united would overcome opposition and bring spectacular results to every Brooklyn community.
One of the first developments following the opening of the Bridge multicultural center was an invitation to a select few community representatives to meet with District Attorney Ken Thompson and each other and to speak freely on how improvements can be brought to Brooklyn. On Tuesday, November 11, Veterans Day, in addition to the district attorney and Mark Meyer Appel, also participating were (in alphabetical order): Ben Barber, manufacturer of Elegant Linen bedding and Ben Barber shirts and known as the “foreign minister of the Chassidic community”; Rodneyse Bichotte, newly elected NYS assemblymember for the Brooklyn’s 42nd Assembly District (Flatbush); Ezra Friedlander, CEO of the Friedlander Group, a full-service public relations agency providing communications counsel and services for government, corporate, and non-profit clients; Rabbi Yaakov Klass, of the Jewish Press and rav of Kahal Bnei Matisyahu of Flatbush, a presidium member of the Rabbinical Alliance of America; Mohammad Razvi, executive director, Council of Peoples Organization (COPO); and this writer, Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights and director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America.
The second intifada began in 2000 and ended in 2005. During that time, more than 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis were killed. When incidents in Brooklyn seemed to stem from that intifada, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the NYPD responded immediately. Simultaneously, Jewish and Arab community leaders met in the offices of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz on a regular basis to resolve any misunderstandings. The discussions were not always genteel. However, the courtesy and respect accorded each other ultimately translated into good relations between the Brooklyn Arab and Jewish communities, and peace reigned in Brooklyn.
Mohammad Arzi and I were participants of those meetings and suggested that, in light of the current situation in the Middle East, the meetings be renewed under the auspices of the office of the district attorney. Mr. Thompson readily agreed.
A number of other intercommunity understandings were agreed upon with the overwhelming approval and support of all participants. Mark Meyer Appel again stressed that a key component of intercommunity cooperation will be strengthened by a continuous voter registration drive.
Stepping back and assessing both the Agudah Convention and the launch of the Bridge Project, the statements of Chaskel Bennett and Mark Meyer Appel are the building blocks of future growth and intercommunity success. Agudath Israel continues its remarkable success in uniting and serving diverse Orthodox Jewish groups. The Bridge Project strives to unite Brooklyn’s communities of various ethnic, religious, and national populations. With much hard work and a little mazel, success is there for the taking.
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.