Category Archives: Personal Reflections

Us, Them and the Deep State

Hamodia opted to not publish my column submission for this week, so I post it here instead.

The two thirds of the American populace that objected to the policy of removing children from their illegal immigrant parents at the southern border emitted a collective sigh of relief last week. President Trump, in a stunning turnabout, signed an executive order intended to stop the practice.

Although there are logistical and legal issues still to be resolved and subsequent presidential tweets to try to reconcile with the executive order, the president demonstrated the courage to publicly jettison his repeated claim that he was powerless to act, that only a larger action by Democrats in Congress could end the separation policy. He deserves credit for that move.

Before his reversal, though, the administration’s policy was to treat people who entered the country illegally as felons rather than civil violation offenders (first-time illegal entry is a misdemeanor). Children, even very young ones, were taken from their parents against their will, and the policy was broadly decried. Among the decriers was Agudath Israel of America, which expressed its “deep concern and disappointment” over the resultant “profound suffering and pain to both parents and children.”

The Agudah statement acknowledged that the “problem of illegal immigration is a serious one, and we support reasonable efforts by the administration and legislature to effectively stem the flow of would-be immigrants who have not been accepted through the legal immigration system.” But it contended that “seeking to enforce our statutes does not relieve us of [our] moral obligation” to prevent “the extreme anguish, fear and trauma born of separating undocumented immigrant family members, which is particularly harmful to children.”

The reaction to Agudath Israel’s statement was broad and diverse. There were many expressions of gratitude for its issuance, from both members of our community and others. But there were a number of negative reactions too. I serve as the Agudah’s liaison with the media and public, and so those reactions landed in my inbox, some with quite a thud.

They confirmed something that (as regular readers of this space well know) has pained me for years: the prevalence of gross, fervent and unthinking partisanship.

A legitimate question asked by several people was why the Agudah felt the need to comment on the situation at all. The organization does not, of course, regularly comment on events that lack direct impact on the Jewish community.

The knowledge, though, that wailing children were being taken from their parents was wrenching not only to a broad swath of the larger American public but to a wide swath, too, of Klal Yisraelrachmanim, after all, bnei rachmanim. So, it was not inappropriate for us to register our pain. And, with scores of religious groups registering their own protests of the policy, some of them quite harshly, it was felt that, should the Agudah say nothing, it would be assumed to approve of the policy.

Striking, though, was the lack of information that underlay some other (often vociferous) complaints. Several people, “informed” presumably by news sources that richly deserve the adjective “fake,” insisted that “the law” requires family breakups, and that the policy of considering unlawful entrants to be criminals had been in place under previous administrations.

When I explained that there was and is no such law, and that the policy of automatically considering illegal entrants to our country deserving of incarceration and the seizing of their children was mere weeks old, they seemed taken aback.

Others apprised us that a “deep state” plot, or Democratic Party conspiracy, was clearly at play; others were upset that we dared “attack” a sitting president, although we took care in our statement to not even mention the president or attorney general, and lamented only the upshot of an unfortunate policy. When, in past years, the Agudah issued statements critical of the Obama administration for joining the U.N. Human Rights Council or fostering the Iran Deal, no complaints, to the best of my memory, were registered.

Some correspondents, seemingly having read only part of the statement, interpreted the Agudah’s expression of humanitarian concern as advocacy for “open borders.” As if there are only two options: wrenching kids from their parents’ arms or having the country overrun by a horde of Aztec invaders.

The acutely politicized, black-and-white, “us-and-them” and often woefully misinformed mentality in parts of our world is lamentable. Intelligent, informed opinions on current events cannot be gleaned from talk radio hosts or blatantly partisan news organizations. Astuteness requires middos tovos, the consideration of different points of view and the application of that most important of skills: critical thinking.

And their lack poorly serves the mission of Klal Yisrael.

© 2018 Rabbi Avi Shafran

Human Uniqueness

In the course of a public roundtable discussion about immigration and crime, a few days before Shavuos, President Trump made a comment that provoked some outrage.

“You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” he said, about certain illegal immigrants. “These aren’t people, these are animals.”

The president was immediately assailed for what critics assumed was a crass dehumanization of foreigners. Stress on “immediately” and “assumed.”

Because had the critics taken the time to examine Mr. Trump’s comment in its context, they could have based what comments they had on facts, not assumptions.

But, no doubt recollecting some of presidential candidate Trump’s harsher campaign declarations about Mexicans, Muslims and others, some of those who see him as a danger to democracy didn’t look at what he actually said but, rather, chose to suppose.

“We are all G-d’s children,” scolded House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum declared that “Stalin, Mao, Hitler and Pol Pot all called their opponents ‘parasites’ or ‘vermin’ or ‘animals’.  Dehumanization is what you do to unwanted social groups before killing them.”

The Trump-Hitler comparison became a meme of the moment in certain parts of the social media planet.

The president took delight in exposing the overreaction, since his “animals” comment was clearly made with reference to violent criminal elements, some of whom have committed unspeakable acts of murderous, cruel violence. Earlier at the event, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims had referred to the violent criminal gang MS-13. While the gang started in Los Angeles and includes many American citizens, its members are ethnic Central Americans, and the need to prevent suspected members from coming across our border illegally is a no-brainer.

But I still have an objection to the president’s characterization of violent criminals.

It’s unfair to animals.

My family has played host at various times to a goat, an iguana, assorted rodents and a tarantula.  (Witnessing the large spider’s shedding of its skin to emerge with a new, radiant one is an unforgettable experience.) I exult at watching the inhabitants of my aquarium (we recently welcomed new brood of baby guppies and mollies – mazel tov!), and the birds, squirrels and deer that pass our way are always appreciated.

I recently watched a carpenter bee excavate a perfect circle on the underside of the wooden maakeh on our deck, knowing that she will abruptly turn at a right angle to continue her tunnel horizontally, and create a tunneled-out bedroom for her progeny.

The wonders of the world Hashem created are ceaseless, and the amazing behaviors of the countless creatures He placed on earth, if viewed with honest eyes, must astound.

And each of those behaviors is ingrained in the species. To be sure, some are violent; Tennyson’s observation of nature’s being “red in tooth and claw” holds true. But animals who kill do so for food or survival, and act out of instinct, not as a result of choice.

Unlike humans, who can never be deemed innocent of horrific crimes on the claim that they were compelled by their nature. The specialness of the human lies in his ability to resist base inclinations, to use the astonishing gift we have been given: free will.

Calling a human who has made a choice to act cruelly or to wantonly maim or kill others an animal does an immense disservice to the animal kingdom, whose members do what they do because it is their immutable nature. And, worse, it subtly muddles the meaning of the outrage we should feel at human acts of violence or cruelty.

We live in times when some contend that there is no qualitative difference between an animal and a human being, that we are as hard-wired and predictable in our behavior as any lion, tarantula or carpenter bee. The upshot of that view is a world where there is no more meaning to right and wrong than there is to right and left.

That amoral philosophy stands in the starkest contrast to what the Torah teaches us: We are not animals but choosers, owners of our actions.

President Trump was riffing, of course, not philosophizing, at the recent public roundtable. And his point, no matter how one may feel about immigration policy, wasn’t to sow hatred for foreigners, much less to dehumanize any “unwanted social groups before killing them.”

He was just trying to express the depth of his contempt for people who have made the choice to profit from the torture and murder of others. The truest description of such people, though, isn’t “animals” but “choosers of evil,” something more heinous by far.

© 2018 Hamodia

A Tale of Two Speeches

I had the honor of making two public presentations in recent days, one to second grade students at the impressive Yeshiva Beth Yehudah in Southfield, Michigan; and the other, to students and members of the public at the University of Maryland.

The first gig was dearer to me, since the members of my audience were people not set in their ways and thus open to my message, which was about what makes kids kids and grownups grownups. (The boys shared various ideas and I, mine: Awareness of Consequences – hey, it’s never too early to learn a new word.) But the class has a wonderful Rebbi and really didn’t need my own input.

By contrast, the audience at the second presentation, which was sponsored by the Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies, included many middle-aged and older members, less open to changing their attitudes, which are largely and unfortunately detached from the Jewish mesorah. They were proud Jews, to be sure, but with an assortment of misguided notions of just what living Jewish really means.

And yet, from the sentiments conveyed by attendees who approached me after my participation in a panel discussion of whether there is a divide between American Jews and Israel, the presence of an unabashedly Orthodox participant in the day-long program was appreciated. And I am grateful to Professor Paul L. Scham, the institute’s executive director, for inviting my participation. Especially since other parts of the day included a strident speech by the president of the New Israel Fund and what struck me as an attempt to upholster the deck chairs on a theological Titanic by the head of the American Reform movement.

On the panel, I attempted some humor to convince the audience that underneath my black suit (and sefirah-overgrown beard) was a normal human being. Then I made a serious case, that a connection to authentic Judaism empowers dedication to the Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael – and that the demographics of the American Jewish community, which indicate a clear waning of non-Orthodox movements and a waxing of Orthodoxy, heralds a stronger pro-Israel future American Jewry.

And I took the opportunity to assert that the true preserver of the Jewish people, and the true ensurer of its integrity and unity is our mutual religious heritage.

In that context, I highlighted groups like Partners in Torah, and the way they non-judgmentally bond Jews through the study of traditional Jewish texts. I cited the example of my wife, who has for years studied weekly by phone with an intermarried Jewish woman in Arizona whom she has not yet met.

I knew I wouldn’t likely convince those present who were long invested in Reform or secular Jewish culture. But planting seeds, I learned from my years in chinuch, is always a worthy thing. Sometimes seedlings sprout down the line.

The best part of such conferences, though, is the opportunity they present to speak with Jews whom I would otherwise not likely ever meet. I cherish those chances to engage fellow Jews very different from me in friendly conversation. (And there’s always the amusement afforded by the reaction of the inevitable question about my college alma mater; when informed that I just managed to graduate high school and thereafter studied only in yeshivah, the questioner seems shocked that I speak English competently.)

The most memorable conversation I had at this particular conference was with a lady somewhat older than I and with a very serious demeanor who recounted an experience she had had over Pesach, on the street of a Florida city where she had spent the holiday.

She described how she went for a walk on the first day of Pesach, in clothing suited to the climate, and saw a man, whom she described as “a Satmar Chassid in a big fur hat,” coming toward her from the opposite direction.

“And I said to him,” she told me, “‘Gut yontiff.’”

My “justification mode” kicked right in and I prepared to explain to her how there are different norms in different communities, and that some Jewish men, out of tzenius concerns, don’t address women directly, and how, in other circumstances, surely, the gentleman would have acted differently…

But as my head was churning out the hasbarah, she continued her story, describing how the man stopped, smiled at her and – here she imitated the man’s motions – bowed to her three times, and heartily said “Gut Yom Tov! Gut Yom Tov! Gut Yom Tov!”

It was worth all the time and shlep and speeches just to hear that account.

© 2018 Hamodia

Habeas Corpus for Horses?

Over the years, thanks to some creative, unusual talmidim I was privileged to teach when I was a mesivta Rebbe, I have had an assortment of pets (the animal sort). Each of several Purims, my shiur would give my wife and me, in addition to mishloach manos, a living gift.

We thereby became the proud caretakers, at various points, of a goat, an iguana and a tarantula. In addition to the tropical fish we’ve always kept, and the occasional hamster or mouse one or another of our children cared for.

I honestly appreciated each of the creatures; they evoked in me amazement over the variety and abilities of Hashem’s creations. Likewise, the birds and squirrels outside our dining room window during breakfast are an endless source of beauty (and, even sweeter, needn’t be fed). My wife is particularly partial to the graceful deer that sometimes venture from nearby woods to visit.

But animals are animals. Not, as some increasingly assert, beings less sentient than us but no less worthy of being treated as human.

The more than two thirds of American households that own pets spend more than $60 billion on their care each year, up sharply in recent years. People give dogs birthday presents and have their portraits taken by professional photographers. According to at least one study, many Americans grow more concerned when they see a dog in pain than when they see an adult human suffering.

That’s bad enough, but the law, too, is being enlisted to obscure the bright line between the animal and the human spheres.

Last year, the Illinois legislature passed a law that would force courts to give “parents” joint custody of pets in divorce cases. “It sort of starts treating your animal more like children,” says an unembarrassed Illinois State Senator Linda Holmes, the bill’s sponsor.

The nonprofit Nonhuman Rights Project promotes the idea that animals should be entitled to the right to not be unlawfully detained without a judge’s order. Habeas corpus for horses.

New York University law professor Richard Epstein sees the implications, and skeptically observes that “We kill millions of animals a day for food. If they have the right to bodily liberty, it’s basically a holocaust.”

Shades of the 2002 book that made precisely that case. It bears a truly obscene title: “Eternal Treblinka.”

And then there is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals founder and president Ingrid Newkirk’s declaration a few years back that “Six million Jews died in concentration camps, but six billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughterhouses,” and her infamous aphorism “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”

We are required by halachah to protect animals from needless harm or unnecessary suffering when they are put to our service or killed for food. But that is a far bark from assigning them “rights.”

We who have been gifted with the Torah, as well as all people who are the product of societies influenced by Torah truths, have no problem distinguishing between animals and human beings.

But some secularists reason that, since animals have mental abilities, if limited ones, they should be treated like human infants.

If such people’s minds are open even a crack, though, they should be able to realize that considering animals qualitatively different from humans isn’t “speciesism” but a truth born of observable facts.

Yes, animals think and communicate. But conceiving or conveying abstract but important concepts like “right” and “wrong” and “responsibility” and “wantonness” – is something quintessentially, and pointedly, human.

Humans, moreover, have what philosophy calls moral agency, the ability to choose to act even against instinct.

And something else.

In a recent conversation with an eldercare professional, I pointed out something she had never considered.

Seen through a secular lens, biological species are “interested” only in preserving their own lives and those of their progeny; their behavior (consciously or not) serves the biological goal of the species’ perseverance. The previous generation has no value; it has served its purpose. Animals care only for their young, not for their parents.

Humans, though, at least in normal circumstances, feel an obligation to care for those to whom they owe their lives.

It will have to be seen whether or not such compelling distinctions will put brakes on the misguided idea of a smooth animal-human continuum. And, if it doesn’t, whether those who see animals as human (and vice versa, the inevitable other side of that counterfeit coin) will be able to enlist lawmakers in their goals.

More than we might imagine will hang on it.

© 2018 Hamodia

Hazards, Hazards Everywhere

My first earthquake was, as you might imagine, unsettling.

I was part of a yeshivah in Northern California in the 1970s, and my wife and I spent our first five years of marriage there, in the lovely Tanteh Clara Valley (yes, it’s officially “Santa” but we renamed it). Temperate clime, brilliant blue skies, enchanting mountains off in the distance.

And earthquakes.

It’s hard to convey the helplessness one feels when the very ground beneath slowly shifts this way and that. During that first temblor, we were in our second-story apartment. Strange, I thought, looking out a window, how the framed vista seemed to move up and down repeatedly as the building gently swayed. In a few minutes it was all over, but the feeling of powerlessness remained, and its memory has stayed with me over the decades. There’s nowhere to escape to, after all, when the very earth under one’s feet is expressing discomfort.

We later moved into a rented house, and its back yard abutted a dry gully. Dry, at least, in the summer. In the winter, when the Bay Area weather turns rainy, it morphed into a raging river. I loved listening to its roar, audible even in the house.

Our private river at times seemed poised to overflow its banks and come rushing into our living room but, baruch Hashem, it never did.

I was reminded of it recently, when heavy rains in the south of the state followed terrible wildfires that destroyed ground-stabilizing vegetation. The resulting mudslides – even more horrific to contemplate than earthquakes – devastated the Santa Barbara County community of Montecito, killing at least 20 people. Aged 3 to 89, the victims were buried alive in their homes or carried away by the mud.

Then there were the recent disasters that seemed imminent, but blessedly weren’t.

Like the public alert in Hawaii warning that a ballistic missile was headed toward the islands. The alert, understandably, terrified the state’s residents, especially in the wake of the past months’ chest-thumping and nuclear button braggadocio in Washington and Pyongyang.

“This is not a drill,” the official message misinformed Hawaiians, sending people into closets and basements and prompting countless citizens to write heartfelt goodbye notes to their loved ones. No one died as a result, but one man suffered a heart attack, and a woman became violently ill from shock. Many others feared the worst for the 38 minutes it took for state authorities to retract the public notification.

And then, mere days later, Japan’s public broadcaster accidentally sent its own alert that North Korea had launched a missile its way and that citizens should take shelter.

That panic lasted only five minutes, at which point the station apologized for the false alarm.

But, of course, in August, 1945, even though two initial alerts were followed by “all clear” signals in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all was not clear, and 129,000 people were killed, and countless others poisoned by radiation. Nuclear attacks are not unthinkable today either, and contemporary nuclear weapons are vastly more destructive than those of 1945.

Confronted with disasters, actual or averted, should make us think. We readily recognize the dangers of everyday life, the “kol minei puraniyos” we reference in Tefillas Haderech, the she’im yipaseiach echad meihem of Asher Yatzar.

But a truly sensitive person doesn’t just acknowledge the dangers of travel or the menace of maladies. He takes nothing for granted. Nothing. Not the stability of the earth under his feet, nor the absence of mass destruction raining from the sky.

Jews worry. It’s a stereotype exploited by comedians, impolite pundits, and anti-Semites, but it contains a grain of truth. And it derives from a fundamental Jewish middah, hakaras hatov – in the phrase’s most literal, most fundamental, sense, “recognition of the good” – the good that Hashem bestows on us daily, indeed every hour, every minute, every second the earth stays still and the only clouds on the horizon are made of water droplets.

To be exquisitely makir tov to Hashem for all the brachos from which we constantly benefit requires us, on some level, to realize all that could go wrong. There are people, after all, who are jarred from their sleep by earthquakes or fires or mudslides, or who don’t wake up at all. Only a keen recognition of dire possibilities can lead us to fully appreciate what so many mindlessly take for granted.

Nothing, in truth, can be taken for granted.

And that realization should imbue us with hakaras hatov.

© 2018 Hamodia

Remarkable Bordering on Incredible

Senator Orrin G. Hatch’s announcement of his retirement at the end of the year brought me back to the summer of 1995. That’s when I returned to my family’s former home of Providence, Rhode Island to visit, for the last time, the Utah senator’s former speechwriter, one of the most fascinating people I have had the fortune of knowing.

A scion of the Zhviller Chassidic dynasty, Rabbi Baruch Korff lay on his deathbed.

It was back in the 1970s that the erudite, eloquent Rabbi Korff worked without fanfare for Senator Hatch. To this day, the Mormon lawmaker, whose affinity for the Jewish people and Israel is legend, wears a “mezuzah” necklace given him, I believe, by Rabbi Korff.

Rabbi Korff was best known to the American public as “Nixon’s rabbi” – a title given him by President Richard Nixon himself, with whom Rabbi Korff developed a deep personal relationship. It is widely believed that the rabbi had an influence on Nixon’s strong support for Israel and on efforts to allow Soviet Jews to emigrate.

When the Watergate scandal broke in 1973, Rabbi Korff staunchly defended Mr. Nixon, founding the National Citizens Committee for Fairness for the Presidency. He admitted that Nixon had “misused his power” and that Watergate was “wrong,” but felt that the president hadn’t committed any crime and deserved to remain in office.

But Rabbi Korff’s early years were even more remarkable, bordering on incredible.

In 1919, a pogrom was launched by Christian residents of his birthplace, the Ukrainian city of Novograd Volynsk. Jewish homes were ransacked and Jews killed where they were found. Five-year-old Baruch’s mother Gittel fled with him and three of his siblings.

The little boy watched in horror as a rioter ripped his mother’s earrings from her ears and then murdered her. Writing 75 years later, Rabbi Korff averred that he had branded himself a coward for being too frightened to protect his mother. “My life ever since,” he wrote, “has been a quest for redemption from that charge.”

The activist life he lived reflected that quest.

In 1926, the surviving family members immigrated to the United States but, after becoming bar mitzvah, Baruch journeyed to Poland, where he studied in yeshivos in Korets and then Warsaw. Upon his return to the U.S., he attended Yeshiva Rav Yitzchak Elchanan, where he received semichah.

During World War II, Rabbi Korff, who had become an adviser to the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the U.S. and Canada, and to the U.S. War Refugee Board, petitioned European dignitaries, U.S. congressmen and Supreme Court justices on behalf of Jews in Europe. He even held clandestine negotiations with representatives of Gestapo head Heinrich Himmler, ym”s, about the purchase of Jews from Germany.

One of his wilder exploits took place in 1947, when, working with the militant Lehi group (derisively called the Stern Gang), he plotted to set off bombs in London (placed and timed to prevent human casualties) in protest of British policy in Palestine, and to drop leaflets over the city from a plane.

The leaflets began: “TO THE PEOPLE OF ENGLAND! To the people whose government proclaimed ‘Peace in our time’: This is a warning! Your government had dipped His Majesty’s Crown in Jewish blood and polished it with Arab oil…” The pilot he engaged in Paris, however, tipped off authorities and Rabbi Korff was arrested. After a 17-day hunger strike, he was released, and charges against him were dropped.

After the war ended, Rabbi Korff continued his work on behalf of fellow Jews, presenting a petition with more than 500,000 signatures to the U.S. government, urging that Hungarian Jews be permitted to enter Palestine.

Eventually, he served as a congregational rabbi in several New England cities, and as a chaplain for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health. I met him in his retirement, when he employed me to edit one of several books he had written about his experiences.

During that final Providence visit, he lay in bed holding a morphine pump, but was still engaged with the few of us who had gathered to pay our respects. I remember him asking us to sing Adon Olam, and we obliged.

And I remember, too, a phone call he took from Eretz Yisrael, from someone clearly distraught at the rabbi’s dire situation. When the choleh hung up, he explained that the caller was a kollel man whom he had been helping support for a number of years.

So Senator Hatch’s announcement brought me to the brink of a thought that I often think, about how astounding were the lives of some who preceded us.

© 2018 Hamodia

Veiter Simchos

My brother, a rebbe in Yeshivas Ner Yisroel’s Mechina high school, and his wife, the daughter of the legendary Menahel Rav Yosef Tendler, z”l,were recently blessed with two new grandsons. Both were named Simcha Bunim, after my father, hk”m, whose first yahrtzeit will be observed on 20 Kislev.

When I wished my brother and his wife “veiter simchos!” – “further happy occasions! – I wondered if I had inadvertently uttered a double entendre. It turns out I did. My wife and I just returned from Milwaukee, where another bris took place, as our daughter and son-in-law welcomed their new little boy to their family; he, too, is a Simcha Bunim.

I’ve been thinking, as you might imagine, about the name.

Firstly, what exactly is “Bunim”? My father always assumed that it derived from Binyamin, and there are sources that indeed assert that. But another possibility was suggested to me by a brother-in-law’s brother, Tzvi West, who thinks (very plausibly, to me) that, like many double names (e.g. Zev Wolf, Dov Ber, Aryeh Leib…), “Simcha Bunim” may be a vernacular translation added to a Hebrew one. Because, in French, bonhomme means “a good-natured man” or “a man of good cheer.”

If that theory is right, though, both names are uncannily descriptive of my father.

He was renowned for his ready, radiant smile, and over the more than sixty years he served as a shul Rav, countless congregants and strangers alike were greeted with his sever panim yafos. He was a reservoir of friendly, encouraging words for all who sought his counsel.

But simchah isn’t only an interpersonal ideal. We exist for avodas Hashem. And Dovid Hamelech reveals that our lifelong service be done with simchahivdu es Hashem bisimchah. Jewish joy occupies a very high plane indeed.

I don’t know if my father was able to embrace simchah as he fled as a young teen with his family from their Polish town before the invading Nazis in 1939, or when he saw his uncle shot dead before him, or when he and other Jews were locked in a shul that was set aflame (though I imagine he must have smiled when a German army officer – Eliyahu Hanavi, the Jews suspected – passed by and ordered the Jews released). Or if he attained moments of joy during the years he and his Novardok chaverim spent as the guests of the Soviets in a Siberian work camp. But knowing Norvardok’s stress on making the most of every moment of life, it’s entirely plausible.

What I know for fact, though, is how Simchas Torah was his Yom Tov. He rejoiced then with vigor that left anyone who witnessed it astonished. And how delighted he was during his long career to be able to provide a spiritual home for a congregation of Yidden of widely diverse backgrounds and levels of observance.

When my siblings and I were young, it didn’t occur to us that a Rav davening all the Yamim Noraim tefillos (and blowing the shofar) himself was unusual. When, eventually, he trained others to daven for the amud, he took great joy in that, too, and always happily encouraged the new baalei tefillah.

He also undertook the most menial tasks of maintaining a shul with joy. The shul had no shamash, only a rabbi who saw honor in every shul chore.

A congregant recounted seeing him in the shul perched on a 20-foot ladder, changing a light bulb.

“What are you doing?” the man asked him. My father looked down and, wondering at the question, said, “changing a bulb.”

“I know. But why are you doing it?”

“Because the old one burned out,” he explained patiently, with his characteristic smile.

Leaving a neighbor’s shivah house five or six years ago, I was stopped by a gentleman who said he recognized me from a recent chasunah we had both attended, of a relative of mine (the man had a connection to the other family). I confirmed I had indeed been there. He then he took out his phone and said “I have to show you a short video from that chasunah. This zaken was dancing so gracefully, like a young bachur!”

My suspicion of what might be coming was borne out. The video was of my father, well into his 80s at the time, being mesame’ach the chassan and kallah with vigor and joy.

At present, he has five little boy descendants who carry his name (and one little girl who was named Simcha). May they, and, be”H, veiter simchos, herald a new infusion of joy into our world.

© 2017 Hamodia