In Praise Of D’Amato
I was delighted by your account of the D’Amato tribute at the Reagan commemoration (“Reagan at 30,” December 19). He might be counted as one of the chasidei umos ha’olam. Somebody needs to apologize to D’Amato for the disgraceful way that Schumer exploited an obscene fraudulent “bigot card” in 1998 for the media to pounce upon. I bow to no one as a Jewish booster, but I have been waiting for all of those years to accidentally run into the senator, just so I could tell him that I would trade all of the fair-weather Jews in Washington for one Al D’Amato, and that includes Lieberman and Cantor in their day. Jewish politicians ultimately exist to represent them to us, rather than us to them.
When D’Amato grilled IRS officials over abuse and overreach, one could smell burning flesh. Fundamental transformation took place. When gasoline reached price-gouging levels, D’Amato just had to hint at a Senate investigation and prices fell immediately. No talk of supply and demand, seasonal patterns, the spot market, Middle East politics, or the rate of supertanker construction. “Just a whatchamacallit, a fluctuation, that’s what it is, Senator. See? Prices are lower already . . .” Darrell Issa puts on a great show, but when the show is over nothing happens. D’Amato would have had Lois Lerner and Jonathan Gruber and Hillary Clinton down in Guantánamo being water-boarded for information.
My father told me of less-public interventions D’Amato performed on behalf of (Jewish) constituents. They didn’t call him Senator Pothole for nothing.
Another Presidential Visit
Contrary to your statement that Ronald Reagan was the first sitting president since George Washington to visit a synagogue, President Ulysses S. Grant visited a synagogue. It occurred on June 9, 1876. Indeed, he was also the first U.S. president to attend services in a synagogue. Here is a portion of an article from the online edition of Jewish Daily Forward of June 15, 2011. It was written by Samuel D. Gruber.
“Adas Israel was established as a traditional (Orthodox) congregation in 1869. The synagogue was built at the corner of 6th and G Streets, NW, then part of the city’s residential and commercial center, after many years of planning and fundraising. The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington now maintains the former synagogue, which was moved to a different site in 1969, as a museum.
“I have a special interest in this synagogue and its survival. It was one of the first historic American synagogues—and restoration projects — of which I learned when I first began work as historic preservationist more than 20 years ago. I later had the privilege of contributing to the Historic Structures Report prepared about the building’s history, architecture, and condition.
“Grant was the first U.S. president to attend synagogue services in the United States. He sat at the front of the sanctuary on a sofa rented especially for the occasion and even donated $10 to the synagogue’s building fund, the equivalent of $200 today. The room was filled to capacity and latecomers were turned away.”
I would like to add my memories of your father to the list you alluded to in your column of last week (“My Chanukah,” December 19). Your father was a principled individual who wrote what he believed. When he had to criticize, he criticized, and when he wanted to praise, he praised.
My uncle Toviah Halberstam, who also wrote periodically for the Tog-Morgan Journal, befriended your father. I think he sometimes even smuggled him in to see our uncle, the Bluzhover Rebbe, zt’l. I also remember a serious incident about which he wrote and about which he told us. He was viciously mugged on the way from Williamsburg to Crown Heights. He apparently was ambushed when a child stole his watch and an adult ostensibly caught the child and was about to return the watch. Your father was jumped, bruised, and robbed. He, touchingly, missed more than the cash. He wrote that he had a letter from his grandchild in his wallet (your child, perhaps) asking him, since he had some connection with the tooth malach, whether he could set up a certain deal for his latest tooth. He found the police completely unsympathetic when he made his way to a police precinct to report the crime only to be told that the crime did not occur in their jurisdiction.
I was not in New York when your father was niftar, but I heard from my aunt about his petirah so many years ago, and I was sorry that he was gone so quickly. So when you keep his memory alive through your observance of his yahrzeit and your writings, you’re doing it for more than just his family. There are lots of us who like to be reminded.
Good chodesh and Chanukah.
Tu B’Av Says It All
For some reason it seems like Rabbi Hoffman seems to revel in the art of understatement, leaving his readers with enough rope to continue to “hang themselves” if they so choose.
Despite all Rabbi Hoffman’s halachic citations (“The Picture of Perfection,” December 19), the issue of whether a prospective kallah’s picture should be sent to a chassan’s family before they have met is one that is intrinsically based more upon hashkafah than halachah. In describing the scene which takes place on Tu B’Av, the Gemara in Taanis ever so poignantly describes how each Jewish maiden promotes her own best qualities while importuning the young man to cast aside the longings of the physical.
The purpose of the white attire, elucidated more clearly, is to blur the distinctions between the Jewish maidens so that only the qualities best suited for each individual man would stand out. Interestingly, at the same time it reduces the competitive aspect of finding a mate, while creating a sisterhood amongst Jewish women first defined by the relationship between Rachel and Leah. This paradigm, which gave birth to the Jewish nation as a family in more aspects than one, when combined with the entreating of the souls of each maiden toward each young man, forms a kind of Divine force that propels each one with a sense of destiny toward his zivug.
Despite the fact that we no longer celebrate Tu B’Av in the same fashion and will not again perhaps until Mashiach arrives, the description the Gemara gives of that day provides us with our hashkafic identity as a people. That which distinguishes us most is the very fact that we as a people are transcendent of the physical, which also goes a long way toward explaining our historic maintenance. Any parent who requests a picture of a young lady not only insults and reduces her to a mere physical specimen, but also blurs perhaps the one major distinction between Jews and the rest of the world, which has enabled us to survive the millennia.
Do we really need halachah to tell us this?