[By Rabbi Yair Hoffman]
Every so often a speech comes along that not only has a remarkable impact upon its audience, but it changes the trajectory of where that society is heading.
Churchill gave such a speech in May of 1940 to the House of Commons. England was at the point of yi’ush – giving up hope in light of Nazi victories. Churchill gave his promise of nothing but blood, sweat, toil and tears. The trajectory changed. The British were inspired to a level of resiliency that eventually carried them to victory over the Nazis.
There have been others as well. Patrick Henry’s speech against the Stamp Act of 1764. His speech of “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” inspired the colonists to eventually cast off the oppressive British government. That speech too, changed the trajectory of apathy and hopelessness in the face of oppressive tyranny. And America was born.
Last night too, a speech was delivered in Lakewood, New Jersey. It was a powerful, emotional speech that cut to the very heart of a grave and critical problem that is uniquely affecting the Jewish community in Lakewood. It was delivered by Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz.
It was a speech that will, no doubt, change the trajectory.
The problem Mr. Rechnitz addressed was the growing number of rejected children – children that have been excluded or precluded from attending any of the fine mosdos in Lakewood. He addressed the bullet-like blow to the self-esteem of these children – to the instantaneous destruction of the self-worth of our youth, possibly never to be restored again.
He first spoke of almanos and young children who have lost their fathers. He spoke of the daily tzaar of the almanah. How they had lost the man who stood with them under the Chuppa not so long ago.. Who smiled, laughed, and danced before them. He spoke how he had spent Shabbos with yesomos and yesomim. Young boys under Bar Mitzvah, who don’t have a hand to hold onto, when they walk to Shul on Shabbos.
And then, Reb Shlomo Yehudah spoke of our own self-made problem – a problem we ourselves have created because of our attitudes. He spoke of fathers who don’t know where to turn, who were made to feel that they failed their innocent children. Of Mothers who cry themselves to sleep every night. He spoke of the children who at a tender young age, try to put on a normal face, but hide in their room and cry and cry more. This child’s parents have already cried their hearts out to their Rabbanim, to the school administration. “Please, please take our child. It’s six weeks, and he’s still not in school.”
He spoke of a 13 year old girl, who clearly sees that nobody wants her. She’s the town’s Pesoles. “Can you imagine,” Mr. Rechnitz asked, “an innocent Bas Yisroel, putting on a face for her friends, claiming she hasn’t had enough time to decide which school to go to, only to lay her head down on her pillow at night, the pillow which is still wet from the tears of the night before?”
He remarked that just on his drive into Lakewood that day, he receieved three calls from parents who asked him, “I hear you’re coming to Lakewood, can you speak to so and so. And I will address every one of them, because how can I not? We are a nation who is Noseh B’oel Chaveiro. How can we be comfortable just because everything is fine and dandy by us, while someone else is clearly suffering. Forget Ahavas Yisroel. I won’t ask for that much, but another Yid needs us, another Yid is crying out to us. How can we not answer him, yet expect Hashem to answer us, to take care of our needs?”
Reb Shlomo Yehudah explained the rishonim on the Takana of Rav Yehoshua Ben Gamla, “Even if ONE child in not in school, any child, Nishtachach Torah M’yisroel.”
“Yehoshua Ben Gamla, as the Kohen Gadol, under Roman rule, knew that it was incumbent on him to make sure that every last child had a Cheder to go to. Zachur oisio ish l’tov, because if not for him, Nishtachach Torah M’Yisroel,” Reb Shlomo Yehuda continued.
And then he delivered the death thrust – the unmitigated, unvarnished truth, designed to open every one’s eyes to the tragedy unfolding in the heart of the greatest Torah city in the country.
“L’tzaareinu Harav, we have a Machla in Lakewood. No other out of town community would ever allow a child to be left without a school. In Los Angeles, if a child wouldn’t have a school the first day, the whole community would be all over it. The same thing would happen in Baltimore, Chicago and Toronto or anywhere else. This is basically a Lakewood Machla. Yes, there’s a few kids in Monsey, more than a few kids in Brooklyn, but nowhere else and in no other time in history was this problem close to the magnitude it is in Lakewood..Even the children that get in, how many of them and their parents shvitz for months, making phone calls, waiting for phone calls?”
He explained, of course that, “No one will dispute that Lakewood is everything right.. There is nothing as beautiful, no picture or painting, no scenery in the world that even slightly compares to the beauty of Lakewood. Walking into the multiple Chadorim and hearing the chorus of Komitz Aleph-Uh, Komitz Bais-buh, the angelic tune of our Tinokos Shel Bais Raban repeating pasuk after Pasuk after their Rebbe. The Rebbeim have a special place in their heart, a unique love for every single Talmid. You walk into the Kollelim..they’re so arayngetun in their learning. Their Ahavas Hatorah, their Simchas Hachaim. Chaim sheyesh bohem ahavas Hatorah V’yiras Shomayim…
But when it comes to schooling, we become Meshuga L’oisoi Davar.. We profess to teach Torah, and the importance of Daas Torah, yet when any Rosh Hayeshiva calls up a mosad to try to get a child in, they’re turned down with the swipe of a hand. How hypocritical can we be?”
He explained that the Roshei Mosdos shouldn’t take the blame. “They know that it just takes a few missteps, a few wrong decisions, a few wrong children, and next year, they quickly become the nebech school.”
He explained that the blame lies mostly on our shoulders. He said, “Many of us have created for ourselves a new Torah, a new Yiddishkeit, that makes us feel good about ourselves, but has little to do with Hashem’s Torah that He gave us 3300 years ago. We turned our Frumkeit into an idol, and we have forgotten some of the basic tenets of Yiddishkeit.”
He presented a list of five very false Ani Maamins:
1. I believe that “I am better than you.”
2. I believe that I have to show all my chumros, so everyone can see how frum I am.
3. I believe that “your children are not good enough for my children.”
4. I believe that the Torah was given to perfect children and perfect families.
5. I believe there is no room for individuality; we must all fit into the same perfect model.
And then he asked all present to declare the truth:
“1. We believe that Hashem loves every Yid, adult or child, unconditionally, and with tremendous Ahava. We can never know the value of a particular Neshama. Every neshamah is a “chelek elokah memmaal.” Someone who is really frum loves every Yid with all his heart and all his soul. The notion that some of us are “better,” holier, and superior than others, is primitive, false, and simply foolish. Hashem calls each Yid his only child, yet we say, “You are not really that worthy.”
B’michilas Kvoidchem, we’ve skipped over the fundamentals and went directly to the Chumros. Bein Adam L’chaveiro is a nice thing if we can work it into our schedule, but Chas V’shalom, if my neighbor is struggling, instead of opening my heart to him, I become a cruel and arrogant Jew, and I think I am frum!
This is our Ani Maamin #1. Don’t tell me, you love me and you hate some of my children.it means you do not love me. Do not tell Hashem, I love you but I dislike some of your children.
Ani maamin #2. We believe that Torah is based on humility, on genuine relationships and dedication.. But if a yid is arrogant and elitist, Hashem runs away from him. It is time to realize how our elitism has destroyed our ruchniyus.
Ani maamin #3. We believe that every child is priceless, his or her value is infinite. For every child we need mesiras nefesh. The Midrash says, if one of the 3 million Jews were not by Sinai, the Torah could not be given. Everyone had to be there. How we can say, that some of our children do not belong in our schools? If we would have said that at Har Sinai, we would have never had a Torah!
Ani maamin #4. I believe that we all struggle. Torah was not given to perfect people. It was given to people who struggle with life and who have ups and downs. We all need each other and must learn from each other. The Gemarah says in Shabbos, that Torah could not be given to angels; only to people who fall and stumble. Yet we.. invented that Torah is only for angels!
Ani maamin #5. I believe that not everybody has to be, or even can be, the same. The Mishnah says in Sanhedrin that Hashem created every person different. Why? Because he wants us to be different. Let us respect differences. Let us respect individual journeys. Let us respect Neshamos not only robots. Let us respect hearts not only machines. Let us not crush every kid into a particular box even if he is sticking out. Let us be a little more confident and secure, and tolerate different types of people.
Reb Shlomo Yehudah continued, “I am heartbroken for one particular conversation that occurs nonstop in Lakewood. Parents call up a school and say: if you take in so and so, I am not sending my child. The school buckles under and rejects that child.
I tell you today with all my heart: SHUMU SHAMAYIM AL ZOIS! This is a churban for klal yisroel! How dare you destroy another child’s life because if your opinions of the other child?! How dare you become a murderer like that? How dare you face Hashem by davening when you snuffed out a Yiddishe Neshama? How DARE you?”
He exhorted the listeners, “This is mammash shefechus damim. If the school isn’t good enough for your child, shut your mouth and go find him a school that does work, or create your own school just for your child. Make a yeshiva just for him.
I call on every principal, every Rosh Hamosod, no, I’m not calling on you. I’m munning you. That from today on, if you ever get such a comment, that if you take in that kid, the other family will not send their kid to your school, have the courage to tell them, “We apologize, but we clearly are not the place for your child prodigy.”
And then he added, “And if you are afraid of the money.. you call me. I will supplement!”
Reb Shlomo Yehudah ended with the following thought, “Suddenly, when it comes to the most important thing, we leave out Hashem from the entire picture!…There goes that Bitachon.
Well, we all know, the freezer in lakewood opens tonight. The boys come out of the freezer on 15 Shevat and make sure to get a date.. But let’s make this Tu B’shvat the day when we can celebrate our new fruits.., all of our children, our most precious fruits who will blossom in our schools, as we change our perspective. Tonight I want to make a shechayanu on a new chapter IN LAKEWOOD. A NEW BEGINNING. A new era. One in which no child will EVER be rejected again.”
A great majority of the audience internalized and appreciated it by show of a standing ovation, but whatever your thoughts were regarding his speech, we can all agree that the intentions behind it were sincere. They came directly from his Neshama pained by the Tzaar of his people.
It was a speech like no other. It was a speech that B’Ezras hashem will change the trajectory.
The author can be reached at [email protected].
(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)