Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

2 Kislev 5761 - November 29, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Aditional Comments about the Aguda Convention

U.S. Aguda Convention 2000: Reflections by H. B.

When an almost last-minute opportunity to participate in this year's Aguda convention arose, I was thrilled. After all, who wouldn't be? The prospect of joining with literally thousands of Torah Yidden for a holiday 'retreat', addressed by leading roshei yeshivos and rabbonim of the Torah world, can be nothing but thrilling. All the same, I was nagged by the fear of being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event, with its multiple locations, diverse program, and dazzling array of guests. Would I, as a first timer, be able to get something from the convention -- or would it be merely a relaxing vacation with Torah balebattim in an opulent setting?

My four days at the Garden State Exhibit and Convention Center at Somerset, New Jersey, answered all my fears. True, the event was vast and somewhat spread out, the large numbers making necessary the use of three local hotels, with the program often divided between the three. True, also, that the guest list read like a glittering 'Who's Who' of American Torah Jewry, replete with famous educators, professionals and askonim.

But it was anything but true that, at any time, I felt lost, confused or uninspired. From the impeccable organization and precise planning of Agudas Yisroel, to the riveting speeches of our Torah giants, the Convention was all that it's made out to be -- and more! Who could not be shaken by the imploring pleas for integrity made by both HaRav Pam and the Novominsker Rebbe? Who could not be moved by Rav Yaakov Horowitz's request for more mentors to help rehabilitate our many disgruntled youth through Project Y.E.S.? Whose heart could not be warmed by the unmistakable Hashgocho protis that led Rav Yaakov Asher Sinclair, once a successful entertainer, on the path from Hollywood to the Holy Land?

With the title of this year's convention, `Making a Difference, the role of Reb Yisroel in Klal Yisroel,' one came out not only with the clear conviction that Reb Yisroel can make a difference, but with the determination to act upon it.

And then there was the achdus, the renowned achdus I'd read about in so many previous convention reports. If I'd been inclined to feel it was overrated, I was wrong. Whether at davening at the Convention Center or relaxing in the dining rooms, there was a palpable feeling of warmth, holiness and, yes, achdus. Nearly five thousand Torah Yidden -- some famous, many unknown. Some prominent and successful, many unsung. But all of us bound by a shared purpose -- the urge to come together for a few days to hear what our Torah leaders have to say, and to bask a little in their light. Mi ke'amcho Yisroel!

Mr. H.B. is a resident of Lakewood, New Jersey.

From Hollywood to the Holy Land

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair, Senior lecturer at Ohr Somayach (Yerushalayim), originally from Manchester

Five years ago I was in Lod Airport in Israel. When I showed the Customs Officer my passport, she looked at me with sympathy, as my name was listed as John Sinclair -- not a very Jewish name -- and my picture showed a Hollywood star looking very self-satisfied.

"What happened?" she asked, aghast.

'Pintele Yid".

How does a high-flying singer and actor from Hollywood turn up as a frum Yid in the Holy Land?

It was a sense of feeling empty. I tried vacations, adventure, but the emptiness remained. One day I was reading a book about a baal teshuvah from prewar Europe who became totally assimilated during the Holocaust and made his way to America after the war. Many years later, he was in the Lower East Side and he passed a shtiebel where they needed a tenth man. Before he knew it he found himself inside and for the first time in 23 years he heard Kaddish. He cried and cried!

A few days later he bought a ticket to Eretz Yisroel, where he met Rabbi Meir Shuster at the Kosel and accepted his invitation for Shabbos. Together they made their way down the streets of Yerushalayim, and he knew his life was forever changed.

This story made an enormous impression on me, eventually leading me to a Jewish book store where I bought a Mesilas Yeshorim with an English translation. A short while later I was in Copenhagen filming a movie, and I met another Jewish fellow from my home town of Manchester. We decided to go to the local shul that Shabbos morning -- and the gabbai gave me an aliyah. That was the first aliyah I'd had since my bar mitzvah 23 years earlier.

One thing led to another. A few days later I got a call from my agent back in Hollywood who informed me that I had to go to New York City for a theater performance. The studio apartment I rented was only two blocks from the one Orthodox shul in the area. I went that Shabbos and the rabbi convinced me to come during the week as well. Until then I never even knew there was such a thing as services on the weekdays. There were many surprises awaiting me.

Not long after that I went to Baltimore, Maryland, where I came across an old, rundown shul. I heard a conversation between two elderly congregants that went something like this:

"One day I want to go to Israel" said one.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" asked another.

"Till its too late!" replied the first.

It set me thinking. What was I waiting for? So I packed up and went to Ohr Somayach and I've been there ever since!

"Bederech she'odom rotze leilech, molichin oso."

Excerpts from Remarks of Eddie Betesh, Convention Chairman

It was three months before the end of the school year and I was in the principal's office again -- for misbehavior. My mother was summoned to the school to be told that I was going to be expelled.

Now this was only three months before graduation and my mother was quite desperate. For three hours she begged and cajoled, the principal to allow me to finish -- to no avail. As we left, the principal said to my mother with a sneer: "That Eddie of yours will never amount to anything!"

And for the next 10 years, true to the principal's words, I didn't. All too soon I was out of school, out of work, and hanging out with bad friends. I fell far from the childhood standards I was raised with.

One day I had to return to my old neighborhood and as I was walking down Kings Highway in Brooklyn, I encountered my family's rabbi. He greeted me warmly. That was just the beginning. He kindly opened his home and heart and slowly brought me back to Yiddishkeit.

Boruch Hashem my former principal turned out to be a novi sheker and today I am able to help some of our youth who are similar straits. Our yeshivas and schools are the heart of Klal Yisroel. If our heart is healthy -- our nation will be healthy!

Today Eddie Betesh is a leading askan and benefactor of Torah causes.

The Success Story of Dallas, Texas

The National Convention discussed the topic, "The role of Reb Yisroel in Klal Yisroel." The spiritual revolution which has taken place in Dallas, Texas as a result of the establishment of a kollel there was cited as an example of a few individuals, "one Reb Yid," affecting the whole surrounding community.

The story started when several graduates of Ner Yisroel Yeshiva, Baltimore decided to found a kollel in this distant, spiritual desert, hoping to affect the surrounding Jewish population in the same way that Baltimore Jewry had been affected by Ner Yisroel. A young talmid chochom, Rav Yerachmiel Dov Fried, was chosen for the mission. He is known for the important books he has put out, especially Yom Tov Sheni Behalocho. When he was offered the position, he asked his rov, HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l, for advice, and was told, "In practice, not everybody is suited for such a job, but whoever is suited, is obliged to undertake it."

He opened the kollel with another three avreichim. Within just a few years of their arrival, there was a noticeable change in the city. Dozens of families started becoming religious. The number of shomrei Shabbos in the town doubled and more. The newly observant opened their own shul, appointing one of the avreichim rov of the community. Another avreich serves as rov of the Vaad Hayeshivos, and the third one as the leader of the outreach activities. The baal teshuvah shul has an active daf yomi shiur, as well as other regular shiurim given by the avreichim and chavrusas on a daily basis. The kollel maintains regular contact with more than a thousand members of the community, all of whom have started an observant lifestyle or are somewhere on the way.

It should be pointed out that the kollel is unique in that all its activities do not come at the expense of the kollel's curriculum. There are two complete sedorim, chaburos and a seder mussar: a kollel for all intents and purposes, whose main aim is the clarification of sugyos haShas. It is in this kollel that Rav Fried is editing the third edition of his book on the laws of ribbis. The well-known more horo'oh, HaRav Hillel Davis has tested some of the kollel yungerman and granted them semichah. The outreach activities only take place in between sedorim and at night.

A member of the community received the avodas hakodesh award given out every year at the Convention. This man was married to a non-Jew until he drew closer to Judaism through the influence of the local kollel. He underwent a process of introspection, and today he is a full-fledged chareidi Jew, running a kosher catering business.

A few months ago he was one of the organizers of a chizuk Shabbos which took place in Dallas at the initiative of Agudas Yisroel in America. The participants were honored by the presence of HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky. In his sholosh seudos speech at the Convention, Rav Fried related how, a day before, he had travelled to Monsey to participate at the bris of a son of a former kollel student. Amongst the guests there were two former members of the Dallas community who had been married to non-Jews and had now set up families al taharas hakodesh. No one could tell their background, since they looked like bnei Torah from birth. Their faces shone with happiness and purity as they talked about their children who had begun studying in chadorim in Flatbush and Monsey.

The story of the Dallas kollel has become a symbol and serves as a prototype for other kollelim with the same aims. It shows how a kollel can have a major impact on the whole environment without compromising on its main goals.


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