HaRav Shmuel Wagner, with no media background or political experience whatsoever, is convinced that he knows at least one of the reasons behind Donald Trump's stunning victory in the recent US presidential elections: the good deeds of his father, Fred Trump.
In a special interview which he gave to Yated Hashavua the weekly news magazine of Yated Ne'eman in Israel (no relation to the paper of the same name published in America), HaRav Shmuel Wagner, Mashgiach of Ohr Yerushalayim in Beis Meir for American students, unfolded an amazing story about Donald Trump's father, Frederick-Fred, who donated a shul to his father HaRav Yisroel Wagner, continued to support it over many years and also helped poor Jewish families in his father's community.
HaRav Shmuel Wagner with his father HaRav Yisroel Wagner zt"l
Pictures have appeared in the media showing Fred Trump in a shul in Flatbush. Few details were given, but they are revealed here.
HaRav Wagner: "In order to receive some background to Fred Trump's noble donation and the unusual bond which was forged between him and my late father, let me go back several years: My father was born in Galicia. He was an outstanding genius, one of the yoshvim in Belz and amongst the chosen few close to the Belzer Rebbe, the Admor R' Aharon who showed him particular favor. The war broke out when he was eighteen. My father was already engaged to the daughter of R' Shraga Feivel Willig, Rav of Butchatch, Galicia. [Note: The "yoshvim" were a group of special chassidim who were supported by the community to sit in the beis medrash and to be an example to the community.]
When the war broke out, my parents went separate ways, but they were both saved through miraculous events. My father and his fiance were reunited after the Holocaust, again through literal miracles. Amazingly, they met in a D.P. camp and were married in Salzburg, Austria.
Rabbi Wagner moved on to Bolivia where he served as the rabbi of the Jewish community. "My parents only had documents allowing them to immigrate to Bolivia but after two years they were able to move to California in 1950 where I was born. Here, too, my father served as rav of a shul, but since there were no suitable educational institutions, the family relocated to New York where Yiddishkeit was established with chadorim, schools and yeshivos."
Only a few weeks after they arrived in New York City, Rabbi Wagner was appointed rav in a neighborhood which was owned by businessman Fred Trump, father of the new U.S. president.
"Fred owned thirty-one apartment buildings in this area, the outskirts of Flatbush close to the sea, whose units he rented out. The tenants were mostly Jewish but almost all were not religious."
Despite this, these residents were drawn to Rabbi Wagner's shul, as his son tells: "As soon as it was established, this shul already had a minyan. These were European Jews who cared. The shul was located in a parking lot of one of the buildings and its members were looking for a rav. My father was appointed to the office through the help of a relative.
"It began with thirty members but grew very rapidly to include one hundred families. Many of the worshipers still maintained a secular lifestyle even though they were drawn to the shul. My father exuded warmth and friendliness and they loved the experience of the shul, my father's heartfelt manner, his divrei Torah and his Chassidic ways. He managed to convey to them a measure of Torah and Chassidus."
At one point, the congregation realized that they needed more room and they wanted a regular building for the shul. "My father had an idea," recalls HaRav Wagner. "He did not know Fred Trump personally, even though he was his landlord, but he felt that he could approach him and ask that he build the community a shul. He felt that if he explained to him that his tenants, the vast majority of whom were Jewish, needed a synagogue nearby, it would mean something to him. He also knew that Fred Trump was a religious man and this would appeal to him.
"My father approached him from a business angle as well as with an emotional appeal. Both my father and Fred knew that a community centered around a synagogue would radiate spiritual energy and its members would be decent, upright people. Fred would also benefit financially from such a population who would be good tenants. My father succeeded in convincing Mr. Trump, who was very moved by his appeal and impressed by his personality, and the two became good friends. Fred donated land for the synagogue and even gave a large donation towards the construction of an imposing building. Located on Avenue Z, it became known as the Beach Haven Jewish Center.
HaRav Yisroel Wagner with Fred Trump at the cornerstone laying of the talmud Torah.
Fred even attended the cornerstone laying. "Fred was very moved by the droshoh of my father at that time. They met over and over again. Trump saw my father as a holy person and a very wise man. He used to call him, "My rabbi."
"The president's father was a religious man and a dedicated Christian, so that beyond the appealing business aspect of a cohesive community of his tenants, he believed in the focus around a place of worship. For years, he and my father met throughout the year, but officially as well, once a year when Fred would ceremoniously donate a sizable sum for the shul. In reality, most of the money the shul needed came from Mr. Trump."
Rabbi Wagner tells that these generous donations swelled in size over the years. "My father occasionally told him about various Jewish families in need living in the neighborhood. Fred always came through when approached with generous sums for them."
How do you explain a Christian giving this way to Jews?
"He simply was very close to my father. He used to think the world of him and often asked him for advice. He was very impressed by the fact that my father, a European Jew from Belz, had become the rabbi of a modern community and had managed to influence many of his members to keep Shabbos and some even to become chareidi.
"Our neighborhood also boasted a Talmud Torah afternoon school for Jewish studies catering to Jewish public school children. Fred Trump supported this very generously as well. He had a very pleasant, likeable personality. Unlike his son, he was very refined and even tempered. It was he who launched his son Donald's successful career."
Donald and Fred in 1973. It's obvious who is who.
Rabbi Wagner remembers Donald very well as a rambunctious blond kid. "Donald's father bequeathed to Donald and his brothers a billion dollars and this helped set him up in business. I remember accompanying my father to shul on Sunday mornings. In the basement of the shul was a laundry room with coin-operated washing machines and dryers. Who do you think emptied out the coins from the machines? Donald and his brothers. Donald was the second son. I remember him at the age of fourteen with a big shock of blond hair, energetic and mischievous. His father trained his children from an early age to be fully responsible, without cutting any corners. Donald was roguish but he absorbed his father's uncompromising education."
The signed picture sent by Donald Trump at the 90th birthday of Rebbetzin Wagner o"h
The son of `Fred's rabbi' shares another interesting anecdote which took place two years ago. "Fred Trump referred to my mother, who died about ten months ago, as `the Rebbetzin.' We celebrated her 90th birthday here in Israel around two years ago and sent an invitation to Donald Trump. We told him about our mother, reminded him of our relationship with his father and him from our childhood years and asked him to send a few words of congratulations. He remembered the shul and sent a very warm message with an autographed photograph to my mother, o"h."
HaRav Wagner, did you know Fred Trump personally?
"I used to learn in Mir Yeshiva, and on Sundays I used to come to daven with my father, at his request. Several times I went with him to meet with Mr. Trump.
"Fred always declared that he believed firmly in G-d. He would often state that in his eyes, my father was a perfect example of how a representative of religion should be. Fred was very honest and ethical and tried to raise his children to incorporate work ethics, good morals and responsibility."
Rabbi Wagner has no doubt: "This is the reason behind Donald's merit to success and his dizzying triumph in the U.S. presidential elections. I am convinced of this. His father was a noble person who was privileged to help establish a shul and contribute generously to its support for many years. He also gave money to help indigent Jewish families and showed tremendous respect towards the rabbi of the shul, my late father, and to Jews as a whole. Donald has zchus avos, merit from his father, and this is what propelled him into the White House."