Wednesday, Aug 10, 2022

My Take On The News

 

Violence at the Kever of the Ohr Hachaim

Last week, I predicted that the yahrtzeit of the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh would give the police another opportunity to demonstrate their complete lack of understanding of the chareidi public and the people’s need to visit the kever of the Ohr Hachaim. Unfortunately, what actually transpired was even worse than I had expected.

On the yahrtzeit of the Ohr Hachaim last Thursday, mispallelim at the kever on Har Hazeisim were viciously beaten by police officers. Many complaints about the police brutality were forwarded to the organization known as B’Tsalmo. (I have written about this organization and its director, “Zangi,” in the past.) According to the complaints, the police switched off their body cameras, which they are legally required to wear, and began circulating among the mispallelim with their truncheons drawn. Some of the police officers were not even wearing the name tags that they are required to display. Before long, the police began actually attacking and beating the mispallelim.

One of the complainants related the following: “I arrived at the site in the evening to daven, and I suddenly felt something strike my leg with great force. To my surprise, a policewoman had suddenly hit me with her club, without saying a word to me or asking me to do anything.” This was only one of many testimonies regarding the brutal behavior of the police.

MK Yaakov Tessler (UTJ) declared in outrage, “It is simply unimaginable that innocent civilians can be beaten, dragged around, and demeaned for no justifiable reason. I intend to demand answers from the district commander.”

MK Itamar Ben-Gvir was also quick to respond, and MK Moshe Abutbul of Shas submitted an urgent message to Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev and to the chief of the police force voicing outrage over the incident. “The testimonies and video evidence of police violence against mispallelim at the hillula of the Ohr Hachaim have been brought to my attention,” Abutbul wrote. “My parliamentary aide, who was present at the site, was one of the people who were beaten. These people went there to daven and were the victims of beatings and shoving at the hands of the police. You can see that the police were walking around with their truncheons in their hands and looking for people to hit. A Border Guard policewoman struck my aide without any provocation at all, while he was doing nothing but standing and davening. This was chutzpah on the part of the police officers, some of whom weren’t even wearing their identifying badges, and who had the audacity to tell people, ‘We are not afraid of you; there is nothing you can do to us.’ Apparently, this was the attitude that their commander had conveyed to them: that the police can do as they please without facing any repercussions.”

In response, the police trotted out the same tired response that we always hear, claiming that they were trying to maintain order and that the chareidim were being unruly. On Thursday afternoon, they released the following statement: “The police were forced to repel the people who were disturbing the order and to restore peace in order to make it possible for the hillula to continue safely. We call on all visitors to the site to continue obeying police instructions and to avoid jostling, vandalism, and any kind of disruption of the public order. Anyone who violates the law will be dealt with accordingly. We will continue to operate at the site throughout the day in order to maintain safety and security during the hillula of the Ohr Hachaim.”

The Main Issue in the Election: The Soaring Cost of Living

It is widely believed that the upcoming election will not revolve around the ideological issues of the past, such as the controversy over the idea of “two states for two peoples,” the clash between capitalism and socialism, or the differing views of the right and the left. Rather, this election will focus on a very basic issue: the rising cost of living. The high expense of living in Israel today is a matter of concern to every citizen, regardless of his political views. And in that sense, Israel is dealing with a national catastrophe today. People are standing in gas stations every day and cursing the government and its finance minister while filling the tanks of their cars. They do not care about the finance minister’s views on Israeli settlements; they are concerned only with the depletion of the money in their wallets. You may not be used to thinking in terms of Israeli currency, but I can tell you that a full tank of gas for the average Israeli car today (not a Cadillac or Chevrolet, but the typical small European car sold in Israel) costs a bit more than 400 shekels. This is an unprecedented state of affairs.

A simple price comparison shows that inflation in Israel has reached an extreme. The price of a dozen eggs in Israel today is higher than anywhere else in the world (except Australia). Incidentally, America is right behind us in that respect. A loaf of bread costs more in Israel than anywhere else in the world, except Australia and the United States. And a liter of milk is likewise more expensive in Israel than in any other country in the world, with the exception of Japan. As for gasoline, Israel is leading the world in the price per liter. (Gasoline is priced at over 8 shekels per liter in Israel today, while a liter—not a gallon—of gas in America sells for the equivalent of 4.5 shekels.)

We are now facing a hike in the cost of electricity, which is bound to generate price increases for a wide range of products. When the price of electricity rises, it leads to corresponding hikes in the cost of products that require electricity for their production. The country’s economic woes are dominating the headlines and infuriating Israelis, and this is likely to be the single issue that will decide the election. In this respect, at least, the government has earned the public’s loathing.

A Prime Minister Without Sense

It is maddening to ponder the fact that Yair Lapid is the prime minister of Israel. This week, a journalist in Israel published the following takeoff on the formula for sefiras ha’omer: “Today is nine days, which are one week and two days, of the term of Prime Minister Yair Lapid. May the Merciful One protect us from him….”

On Monday, Lapid met with Deborah Lipstadt, the United States government’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. According to a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office, Lapid stressed the importance of “collaborating in the fight against anti-Semitism in all of its forms.” This choice of words was an echo of a comment he made in the past, which might have been amusing if it weren’t so sad. Last year, as the foreign minister of Israel, Lapid caused irreversible damage to the battle against anti-Semitism when he decided to radically redefine the concept itself, asserting that it is not limited to the persecution of Jews and that the term includes any form of oppression of any people. “Anti-Semites were not only in the ghetto in Budapest,” Lapid declared at the time. “They were the slave traders who threw slaves in chains into the Atlantic Ocean. The anti-Semites were the Hutus in Rwanda who slaughtered the Tutsis. The anti-Semites are the Muslim zealots who have killed over 20 million other Muslims over the past decade.”

Lapid was lambasted for his ignorance at the time; his remarks were slammed as shallow, foolish nonsense. Some also accused him of cheapening the concept of anti-Semitism, and Simcha Rotman wrote vehemently, “The Israeli Foreign Ministry has never been in the hands of such an irresponsible person.” Dr. Gadi Taub, a historian and publicist, wrote, “This is a post-Zionist government, and it should not surprise anyone that its postmodern, ignorant foreign minister is busy trying to obscure the unique nature of anti-Semitism. He is the son of a Holocaust survivor who has bought into the propaganda of those who deny the uniqueness of the Holocaust. Lapid serves an ideology that will ultimately lead to the delegitimization of the national identity of Israel and of Zionism itself.”

Netanyahu likewise slammed Lapid for his comments. “This is an outrageous and irresponsible statement that distorts history and empties the concept of anti-Semitism of all meaning,” he wrote. “If all terrible violence is anti-Semitism, then everyone becomes an anti-Semite, and anti-Semitism ceases to exist.”

One thing was certain: With his foolish comments, Lapid did terrible damage to the global battle against anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, President Yitzchok Herzog and President Andrzej Duda of Poland have agreed to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries after a major crisis developed between them. I will leave you to guess who was responsible for that rift….

Every Vote Counts

Over the past few election campaigns, I have repeatedly emphasized in every possible venue that every single vote is of critical importance. I have written time and again that the Israeli electorate cannot afford to be complacent. A government may rise or fall by a margin of a single vote; in order to take control of the Knesset, the right-wing bloc must reach the threshold of 61 mandates without the inclusion of ersatz right-wingers. The gedolei Yisroel have called upon the chareidi public to vote in every election, repeatedly reminding them that the most fundamental religious principles are at stake whenever the country goes to the polls. The chareidi voters’ diligence will determine how many mandates are received by the chareidi parties, which will directly impact whether they will be part of the coalition or the opposition. The fate of the weaker sectors of society is also at stake. And while the voters are repeatedly reminded of this idea, it has been made tangibly clear to us over the past year. Everyone in Israel experienced the impact of the recently dissolved government; its heavy-handed decrees burdened us all, and the religious public was outraged over and over by its attempts to introduce anti-religious “reforms.” But has the lesson been learned?

According to researchers, the chareidi parties lose an entire mandate every election due to the people who do not go out to vote or who vote for other parties or, even worse, for parties that fail to cross the electoral threshold. This causes a loss not only to the chareidi sector but to the entire right-wing bloc, and the loss of even one or two mandates may make a critical difference.

As it turns out, this is also a problem for the Likud party. According to recent research, 320,000 Likud supporters simply stayed home (or went to the beach) on the day of the last election. Their votes could have been worth five or six mandates for the party—the exact number of seats that would have been needed for the right-wing bloc to make it to 61 mandates without receiving any favors from the likes of Benny Gantz or Gideon Saar. That means that if those Likud voters had gone to vote, this country could have been spared the ordeal of the past year and the high price that we are all continuing to pay. While we have always known that every vote counts, this year has brought the message home to us in a most painful way.

Squabbling on the Left and Right

Meanwhile, the various political parties are being racked by chaos and infighting. I wrote last week about the union of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party and Gideon Saar’s New Hope party. The truth is that no one really understands Gantz’s motivations. With all due respect to Saar and Zeev Elkin (and Sharren Haskel and the other members of his party), it is hard to understand what they can offer Gantz that he doesn’t already have. They certainly will not bring in enough votes to offset the number of mandates that he will have to allot to them on the two parties’ combined slate. What, then, will be Gantz’s benefit? Is it that Gideon Saar will add a certain right-wing element to his party? I doubt that. Saar and Elkin no longer have much of a right-wing tone themselves, and in any event, Benny Gantz has no need for right-wing elements in his party, which might actually be to his detriment. It is also unclear how it makes sense that the polls show New Hope failing to cross the electoral threshold on its own, while at the same time indicating that it would bring in more than four mandates if it joined forces with Blue and White.

Another person receiving significant attention these days is Ayelet Shaked, who has inherited control of the Yamina party following Bennett’s departure. But there is very little benefit to being the head of a party that barely exists. The odds of Yamina crossing the electoral threshold seem to be very low. Nevertheless, Shaked seems to be negotiating with Matan Kahana and Yoaz Hendel, neither of whom is desired by any other party. Perhaps she will cross the threshold, after all, but the real question is what she will do if that happens. And if she fails to make it across the threshold, the Yamina party might still cost the right-wing bloc the full 61 mandates that it needs by attracting right-wing voters whose ballots will simply go to waste.

The left is not in any better shape than the right. Nitzan Horowitz, chairman of the Meretz party, recently announced that he does not plan to vie for the leadership of his party in the coming election. In his place will be Deputy Minister Yair Golan, who is a radical leftist. Esawi Frij, the Arab minister in the Meretz party, announced his own departure from political life, and Minister Tamar Zandberg is making her own exit as well. The leaders of Meretz are creating the sense that their party is a sinking ship; they have been begging the party’s former chairman to return, in the hope that that will boost their standing. However, if Meretz does not cross the electoral threshold, it will be a good thing for the right and the chareidim.

Feeling the Churban in Yerushalayim

Once again, we have arrived at the most somber time of year, when the atmosphere of mourning is felt most keenly in Eretz Yisroel and Yerushalayim. The Three Weeks have begun, and Tisha B’Av is on the way. Once again, we will be fasting, mourning, and sitting on the ground to lament the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh. Legend has it that when Napoleon witnessed the Jewish observance of Tisha B’Av, he declared, “A nation that remembers its past is a nation that has a future.” This year will mark the passage of 1953 years since the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash, but we will mourn it as if the tragedy has just befallen us.

In honor of the Three Weeks, I took a virtual tour of Cracow and Auschwitz, which exposed me to a vivid depiction of the results of Divine judgment. It was the tochacha, with all of its dire warnings, coming to life in our own times.

This stunning production, a project known as “Nitzcha HaRuach—360 Degrees in Auschwitz: A Journey of Faith with Rabbi Yisroel Goldwasser,” took place in a large courtyard in Yerushalayim. Every participant was given a pair of virtual reality goggles, which allowed him to “visit” the Jewish cemetery in Cracow, the ancient shul of the Rema, and other locations. The goggles also took us on a tour of the concentration camps, where we practically smelled the acrid smoke of the crematoria, we heard the anguished cries of the victims, and we trembled at the enormity of the sights.

It was all a digitized production, of course, but it seemed absolutely real. Sitting on a plastic chair in that courtyard in Emek Refaim, I was able to feel as if I had actually been transported to the European locales shown in the production. One of the participants actually jumped backward upon seeing a river rushing toward him and fell out of his chair. The panoramic images made it possible for viewers to be immersed in the experience; one could turn to the right or left and view the sights on either side. This type of experience may be familiar to my readers in America, but in Israel the technology is relatively new.

After 70 minutes of a riveting journey into the past, featuring high-quality images and a compelling narration, I removed the goggles and was almost surprised to find myself still sitting on the same plastic chair in Yerushalayim. But at the same time, I felt as if everything had changed. I had witnessed the Churban with my own eyes; I had been there, in Europe, with the victims of the Holocaust!

Bennett in Yeshivas Mir

At the beginning of this past week, I attended a dinner for Yeshivas Mir. Of course, I could easily write an entire article about the event, but I will focus on one particularly fascinating aspect of it—another virtual reality production. In this production, the expertly designed film placed the viewer in the middle of the bais medrash of Mir, watching the thousands of talmidim immersed in learning and listening to the reverberating kol Torah. One could turn around and look at every part of the bais medrash and even walk among the bochurim and yungeleit. This project can transport a person to the Mir bais medrash even from faraway America. If you have the opportunity, I would advise you to try it.

Now that we are speaking about Yeshivas Mir, let me share a fascinating story that I heard this week from a grandson of the late mashgiach of the yeshiva, Rav Aharon Chodosh.

The year 5773 was a highly eventful time. At the beginning of the year, our community suffered the tragic loss of a number of anoshim chashuvim: Rav Avrohom Genachovsky, Rav Mendel Weinbach, the Sadigura Rebbe, Rav Moshe Ernster, Rav Shlomo Brevda, Rav Yaakov Blau, Rav Yaakov Yosef and Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth. The current chief rabbis were also elected in that year, and a government headed by Bibi Netanyahu was sworn in. The election for the 19th Knesset was held in Shevat of 5773. Two months later, primaries were held in the Bayit Yehudi party. The outgoing chairman, Herskowitz, supported a candidate named Orlev, but a new contender for the position, a (seemingly) charming young man named Naftoli Bennet, won the position by a landslide. In Nissan, the new government was sworn in; this was the government of the infamous “Brothers’ Pact” between Bennett and Lapid, who conspired to rid the country of everything that could possibly be deemed holy. A month or two earlier, at the beginning of Adar, Naftoli Bennett visited Yeshivas Mir, before anything was known about his corruption or his nefarious intentions.

Chazal tell us the story of Yosef Meshisa, a wicked informant who was sent into the Bais Hamikdosh by the Romans to take something as a reward for collaborating with them. He entered the hallowed confines of the Bais Hamikdosh and returned carrying the golden menorah. The Romans, however, refused to allow him to keep such a valuable prize and instructed him to find something else to steal instead. Suddenly, Yosef Meshisa stood firm and refused to sin again by entering the sacred domain, and he was killed for his refusal. Baalei mussar famously explain that even a momentary exposure to the Bais Hamikdosh was enough to transform him into a Jew who was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for kavod Shomayim. Rav Shlomo Wolbe once made a similar comment about Yeshivas Mir: Even entering the bais medrash of the yeshiva is a powerful enough experience to transform a person into a ben Torah.

But that was not the case for Naftoli Bennett. He was received with great honor by the rabbeim of the yeshiva, at the request of the leaders of the chareidi parties, who hoped that a visit to Mir would imbue him with respect for the Torah and for those who learn it. But Bennett saw the bnei Torah in the yeshiva and insisted on “teaching” the chareidi community a lesson of his own—that Torah learning should be combined with military service, and that it is imperative to find a middle ground between the two extremes. “We are brothers, not enemies,” said the man who ultimately made himself into the chareidi community’s greatest enemy.

One of the rabbeim made a prescient comment: “Yair Lapid hates us just as his father did, but betrayal by those who wear kippot serugot is even more painful. Bennett will become even more hated by the chareidim than Lapid.”

Before leaving the yeshiva, Bennett remarked, “I am impressed by the learning here and the number of talmidim, but I have no doubt that they aren’t all elite students. The elite should remain in the yeshiva, but the weaker boys ought to join the army or go out to work.”

Rav Aharon Chodosh replied instantly, “That is exactly what Amalek wanted.”

“Amalek?” Bennett repeated in surprise.

“Yes,” Rav Aharon replied. “That is what the posuk tells us: Amalek struck at the rear of Klal Yisroel. They wanted to take away the weaker elements.”

Bennett left Mir and made his way to Chevron, and then he hurried to seal his pact with his partner in fraud. A charlatan like Naftoli Bennett does not repent even when he is given an opportunity to stand at the entrance to Gan Eden itself. But the government of the Brothers’ Pact collapsed before its time; falsehood cannot endure, and Bennett and Lapid have always lacked siyata d’shmaya.

The Mir dinner last week gave us an opportunity to show gratitude to the bastion of Torah learning that has shown us the incredible heights that human beings have the ability to scale. It isn’t just a matter of power, depth, or achievement; it is the very nature of the yeshiva itself. There are times when I feel compelled to visit the edge of the Bais Yisroel neighborhood and simply to watch as thousands of yungeleit hurry to the yeshiva to immerse themselves in Torah learning. The sight is always moving and inspirational. This year, I also had the privilege of attending siyumim held by two of the dozens of chaburos included in the yeshiva: Rav Nosson Abramovsky’s chaburah on halacha and Rav Moshe Finkel’s chaburah on Shabbos. These chaburos are groups of young men who spend their days so fully immersed in learning that they do not even know the name of the prime minister of Israel. The Torah is the sole focus of their lives and the ultimate objective of everything they do. To illustrate this point, consider this remarkable story: A yungerman once knocked on the door of one of the dozens of buses lined up near the Mir, which transport its talmidim to their homes every evening. The driver, who had been about to pull away from the curb, opened the door and demanded irascibly, “Why didn’t you simply get on the bus behind this one?”

“My chavrusa is here!” the yungerman replied. He and his chavrusa maintain a regular learning seder on the bus, taking advantage of the drive from the Mir to Ramot to learn Mishnah Berurah. Such is the life of a dedicated yungerman in Yeshivas Mir.

Missing the Point in Meron

This Wednesday, Bibi Netanyahu is scheduled to testify before the state commission of inquiry into the Meron disaster. The committee is also scheduled to hear from Tzvi Tessler, the former director of the National Security Council and the man who served as project coordinator in Meron this year. Personally, I am afraid that the committee is forgetting its mission. As I understand it, the function of the committee is to try to understand the cause of last year’s tragedy and perhaps to identify the people who were at fault. It has also been given a mandate to recommend new steps to take to prevent a similar tragedy in the future, chas v’sholom. But neither Netanyahu nor Tessler have any connection to that task.

Last year, there was a dispute before Lag Ba’omer regarding the size of the crowd that should be permitted in Meron. However, that dispute had nothing to do with the conditions that led to the tragedy; it revolved solely around the restrictions relating to the coronavirus. The chareidi political leadership rightly tried to prevent the police from being their usual shortsighted selves, and Minister Ochana agreed to adopt a reasonable position and to refrain from placing limits on the crowding as if the pandemic was still at its height. Netanyahu likewise accepted this approach. But that had nothing to do with the tragedy that took place in the “passageway of death,” which seems to have been the result of police negligence. As for the guilty parties, the police did not accept responsibility for the events in Meron, although they are the most likely to be at fault. But I cannot see the logic in summoning Netanyahu, Deri, Ochana, or Ben-Shabbat to appear before the committee. And as for Tessler, he had nothing to do with Meron in 5781, and this past year he was a resounding failure. The only purpose for which the committee might have asked him to testify is to learn what to avoid in the year 5783….

Speaking of Meron, Police Commissioner Shimon Lavi, commander of the Northern District, had the following to say: “One of our mistakes was stationing ushers from East Yerushalayim in Meron instead of using chareidi ushers. Our original plan was to use ushers at the front of the crowd and to keep the police out of the public eye, but that became impossible.” The reasoning behind the original plan is not exactly clear to me, and I have a feeling that Lavi himself didn’t exactly understand it. Why was it preferable to use ushers from East Yerushalayim rather than stationing police officers in Meron?

Lavi’s admission of this error reminded me of a comment made by Rabbi Yosef Matalon. Rabbi Matalon is the father of Shimon Matalon, who was one of the victims of the disaster in Meron last year. In an interview with Yated Neeman this past May, Reb Yosef decried the involvement of the police in the hillula. “I am worried about how the police will behave on Lag Ba’omer this year,” he said. “If you really want what is best for us and you want to help us, then you should place us in control of the entire area, from the roads leading to Meron to the tziyun itself. We will hire Rav Ahrelach chassidim to serve as ushers, and you will see that everything will flow smoothly. There will be no admission tickets, no roadblocks, and no traffic jams, and everything will move nicely. Let us do this in our own way, in our own language. Not only are you not helping, you are actually interfering. Besides, when a chareidi Jew sees a police officer, it does not make him feel comfortable. But even if we put that aside, it is important to realize that the police do not understand us or our way of life.”

An Unusual Shabbos in Yerushalayim

I never imagined myself visiting the Yeshurun shul in Yerushalayim. What could possibly bring me to that shul, or anywhere in the neighborhood of Rechaviah? But life is full of surprises, and I found myself there after all, for a family simcha this past Shabbos. I found it to be a large, impressive shul where many shiurim are offered. Rabbi Shmuel Hirschler delivers several shiurim every Shabbos, Rabbi Eliav Miller delivers a daily shiur between Mincha and Maariv during the week, and Rabbi Yaakov Katz delivers a shiur every Monday on Maseches Moed Katan. On this particular Shabbos, the davening was led by Chazzan Asher Heinovitz. I also came across a copy of a lengthy essay about the parshah of the week by a certain Asher Heinovitz—presumably the chazzan himself. I also found a list of mareh mekomos for a shiur on the halachos of Kiddush that was scheduled to take place at the Yeshurun Friday kollel.

At the entrance to a smaller sanctuary next to the shul’s main room, I discovered a set of cubbies overflowing with an assortment of pamphlets and publications. Apparently, the dati leumi community is very fond of these weekly publications. But whereas the publications in high demand in the chareidi world include Divrei Siach, Darkei Hachizuk, and Toras Avigdor, as well as offerings such as Ish L’Re’eihu and Hashgocha Protis for those who are fond of stories, the national religious community seems to prefer publications that focus on politics or advertising. One publication featured a picture of Bennett on its front page, along with a caption reading, “We brought this on ourselves.” Another publication consisted entirely of advertisements for various vacation destinations, and a third was a mixture of political pieces and advertisements. There was a short article about the parsha, and the rest of the publication was dedicated to advertisements concerning vacations, health care, and real estate. I also came across a supplement aimed at senior citizens. For those who are interested in a publication with more Torah content, however, there is also Bamah, published by Rabbi Yechiel Sever, which I found quite refreshing.

On Shabbos, I davened in Renanim, another shul located in the Great Synagogue complex, which is likewise housed in an impressive building. The chazzan was Avi Miller, whose presence drew hundreds of mispallelim. All in all, it was a fascinating Shabbos. Avi Miller attended all of the seudos at our simcha, and I discovered that his presence enhanced both the zemiros and the spiritual atmosphere of the day.

The rov of the Renanim shul is Rav Avigdor Bornstein, who graciously welcomed the participants in the simcha. He delivered a nice drosha, and we attended a nice kiddush after davening. It did not surprise me that the massive shul is often packed to capacity. Rabbi Bornstein is a man with many accomplishments to his credit; in his younger years, he oversaw a pioneering kiruv initiative, and today his powerful personality infuses life and vitality in his kehillah and shul.

Rav Yaakov Avoids the Kitchen

This week, my family suffered the loss of my Aunt Miriam. Why am I telling you about this? You have probably heard of her only son: Rav Gershon Bess, the renowned dayan from Los Angeles. My uncle, Reb Avrohom, and his wife, Aunt Miriam, were blessed with a distinguished son who has become a prominent figure in the Torah world. I was surprised to encounter Rav Yosef Efrati at the funeral in Yerushalayim, and when I asked what had brought him there, he replied, “I came to honor my good friend Rav Gershon Bess.” During the shiva at my aunt’s home in Bnei Brak, many gedolei Yisroel came to pay their respects to Rav Bess. I also encountered many yungeleit who had arrived to offer their condolences; virtually all of them explained that “Dayan Bess” had been an important figure in their lives for many years.

My aunt was blessed with a long life and passed away at a ripe old age. My aunt and uncle, the Besses (a shortened form of the name Bessborda), lived in Boro Park for many years until they emigrated to Eretz Yisroel. The Bessborda family hailed originally from Copenhagen, Denmark, where they first became acquainted with the Yaakovson family.

On my visit to the shiva house, I had the opportunity to tell my cousin, Rav Gershon, some remarkable stories about his father-in-law, Rav Reuven Shimon Beck, who was the right-hand man of Rav Avigdor Miller in his shul in Flatbush. You may remember that I spent an entire year in America as a bochur in yeshiva, first in Lakewood and then in South Fallsburg. During the Shabbosos when I did not stay in the yeshiva, I visited the Beck family in Flatbush and davened at Rabbi Miller’s shul. Rav Beck, after all, is my brother’s father-in-law as well; his shidduch was made by Rav Bess.

But I also had the opportunity to hear some fascinating anecdotes. Rav Gershon is a veritable wellspring of stories. He spoke about the gedolei Yisroel whom he has known, and especially about Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky, with whom he had a close connection. The following story, in particular, caught my attention: Rav Gershon recalled that he was once visiting Rav Yaakov in his home immediately before Pesach, and Rav Yaakov needed to consult a certain sefer that was kept in the foyer of his home. Instead of walking directly through the kitchen to the foyer, Rav Yaakov took a circuitous route. Rav Gershon couldn’t resist asking him about his actions, and Rav Yaakov explained, “The rebbetzin doesn’t want me to walk through the kitchen now that it has been cleaned for Pesach, in case there is chometz on my shoes….”

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