By Larry Gordon
There are so many thought provoking, entertaining, and intellectually stimulating things taking place in our area over the next few days that merit editorial space so that we can shine a spotlight on them.
Let’s begin with the Israel Day Parade on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan scheduled for this Sunday at noon. It’s an important event inasmuch as it allows New Yorkers of all stripes to step out of their usual routines and demonstrate support for the State of Israel during these trying times.
And these are indeed pressurized times for Israel, on one level no more intense than any other time over the last 65 years, but on another level more complicated than ever before. There are many questions about American Jewish support for Israel. An article on the subject published a few weeks ago in this space highlighted remarks at a conference by noted attorney Alan Dershowitz on the subject of American Jewish support for Israel.
Dershowitz has of late adopted a weak, concession-oriented posture on Middle East peace, supporting extricating Jews from their homes and relinquishing territory to an implacable and determined enemy, and he said that over 70% of Jews in the U.S. agree with him.
Of course that doesn’t mean that if you subscribe to that way of thinking that you have no place at the parade. I prefer thinking of this annual event as a salute to Israel with all its complexities and blemishes and an overall expression of our solidarity with her safety and security. I just don’t see how taking chances with vital territory or divorcing Jews from their historical connection to any part of Jerusalem accomplishes anything constructive.
And of course there are a great deal of debates and internal conflicts within our Jewish community which are perhaps little more than a testament to our vitality. So, you might ask, how can we march for Israel as one when there is so much division within our midst?
I believe that this singular annual event is something that transcends those divisions and differences. The Celebrate Israel Parade is about the outside world observing how the Jewish community in New York is supportive and interested in the well-being of our brethren in Israel. Highlighting that theme as well is the annual Israel Concert in Central Park, taking place this year at the Central Park Bandshell, Fifth Avenue and 72nd Street, 2:30–7:30 p.m. following the concert. According to organizers Dr. Joseph Frager and Dr. Paul and Drora Brody, this year’s theme is “Israel And Jerusalem: Ours, United, Forever.”
I don’t want to go off on a tangent about the fact that there will be those that look like chassidim protesting alongside Arabs who are virulently against the Jewish state. But along with the 30 seconds of coverage of the parade on the nightly news will be the usual quick shot of the group protesting just to illustrate that not all Jews in New York are supportive of Israel. It is a distortion, of course but that’s what most of the media does.
Let’s get out there and march.
Breakfast Reception For Yeshiva Bais HaTalmud
This Sunday morning, June 9, Rabbi and Mrs. Moshe Leifer will be hosting the annual breakfast at their home for the Brooklyn-based Yeshiva Bais HaTalmud, which is steeped in European tradition. After meeting with its director, Rabbi Mendel Bromberg, a few times and speaking with Rabbi Leifer, it becomes abundantly clear that while the yeshiva does not necessarily share the limelight with other world-renowned yeshivas, it seems to serve as the engine or even the conscience of the best of the yeshiva world.
“Every yeshiva is kodosh,” says Moshe Leifer, “but Yeshiva Bais HaTalmud is kodosh kodoshim.” He recalls that this sentiment was expressed many years ago at the first Bais HaTalmud Five Towns reception by Rav Binyomin Kamenetzky, who attributed those words to his father, Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky, zt’l. Rabbi Leifer speaks glowingly about how the yeshiva replanted its European traditions here in New York and how Bais HaTalmud is the yeshiva of choice where leading roshei yeshiva have always sent their children to learn. Rabbi Bromberg relates that the children of Rav Shneur Kotler, Rav Shmuel Berenbaum, Rav Elya Svei, and others all sent their children at one point or another to Bais HaTalmud.
The personalities who came from the Mir and attached themselves to Yeshiva Bais HaTalmud in America are an outstanding array of men who did not just study or teach Torah, but rather Torah was the only way to define who they were.
In Europe they frequently endured uncertain as well as extremely difficult and dangerous times, but their connection to their yeshiva and their roshei yeshiva was always an unbreakable one. Whether it was the humble and sagacious Rav Leib Malin, zt’l, or Rav Menashe Gottlieb or Rav Binyomin Zeilberger, Rav Shaul Brus, Rav Chaim Wysokier, or Rav Yisroel Perkowski, the commitment was to be steeped in Torah and to teach their students to submerge themselves with every fiber of who they were in the hasmada of Torah.
The Lawrence breakfast at the Leifer home for the last several decades is the most important fundraising event of the year for the yeshiva. Today the beis medrash in Bensonhurst in Brooklyn is dedicated in memory of Rabbi Leifer’s parents and the parents of his brother-in-law, Rabbi C.J. Levovitz.
The kollel of over 100 young men continues to thrive as a tribute to the depth and the all-encompassing dedication to studying Torah the way it was learned in pre-war Europe. Sure, it may be a throwback to the past, but it was not all that long ago. If we try, we can still reach out and touch and even savor the specialness of what once was. On Sunday June 9 at Rabbi Moshe Leifer’s home, we can revisit that past and discover that the derech of Bais HaTalmud is alive and thriving like never before.
Next week at Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence we are in for one extraordinary treat as some of the world’s most talented chazzanim come to town for an evening of fabulous music. Led by the inimitable Cantor Itcha Meir Helfgot of the Park East Synagogue, the event on Tuesday night, June 4, will also feature Cantor Aaron Bensoussan, Cantor Simcha Leiner, and the one and only chazzan of Beth Sholom, Cantor Joel Kaplan.
Needless to say, if you have never heard the voice and rendition of some great cantorial pieces by Cantor Helfgot, this is a wonderful opportunity to do so. Earlier this year the cantor embarked on a tour of American cities with internationally acclaimed virtuoso violinist Itzhak Perlman and they performed before sold-out audiences at some great venues around the country including the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The duo also recorded an album that is being distributed by Sony Music.
How the two teamed up is a story in and of itself. Apparently Mr. Perlman, who was born in Israel, attended a Helfgot show in Los Angeles. Afterward he went backstage to meet the chazzan and a relationship developed from there. Helfgot is an amazing talent who performs the great and popular liturgical pieces in an awe-inspiring fashion.
Helfgot, who hails from Bnei Brak and commuted every other week between Israel and New York, can be seen and heard on alternating Shabbosos at Park East. The commuting, he says, stopped a few years ago and he now resides in Boro Park.
“Helfgot has forged a very special connection with Congregation Beth Sholom and this year’s appearance will be his seventh at the annual concert event,” says Cantor Kaplan. He adds that this year’s program also includes the fabulous voice of Cantor Bensoussan who will add a new and unique dimension to the program with the rendition of Sephardic and Ladino pieces.
One of the additionally remarkable aspects of the program, Kaplan says, is the participation of the Jesse Aaronson Choir under the direction of Cantor Eric Freeman. “The dedication of the twenty-man strong choir is extraordinary,” Cantor Kaplan says. Another new addition to this year’s program will be the performance of the young and talented Cantor Simcha Leiner who will lead the services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at the Irving Place Minyan in Woodmere.
The concert chairman is Alan Bankhalter and the co-chairman is Bernard Fuchs.
Today Yosef Mendelevich teaches Torah mostly in the Russian language to the children and grandchildren of those who emigrated to Israel from the FSU—the former Soviet Union—decades ago. A million Jews from Russia and its territories arrived in Israel mostly during the 1970s and 1980s. It is difficult to fathom the type of religious vacuum most were raised in. To many, the idea of Torah or anything resembling a halachic lifestyle was as foreign as it would be to someone who fell to earth from some distant planet.
Everything about the evolution of Yosef Mendelevich as a Jew is both fascinating and spellbinding. His story runs from his imprisonment for eleven years for plotting to hijack an airplane so that he and his associates could live in Israel to his escapades in prison in an effort to live as a Jew under the most trying of circumstances.
Rabbi Mendelevich will be delivering a derashah at Congregation Shaaray Tefila in Lawrence this Shabbos morning, June 1. He will be speaking at 7:30 p.m. after Minchah at Congregation Beth Sholom, and will be signing copies of his book, Unbreakable Spirit, from 10 p.m. to midnight at Central Perk in Cedarhurst. For more information, see the article on page 65. v
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