Wednesday, Sep 28, 2022

Worrying About Klal Yisroel

Zev Wolfson z”l was a man who thought in terms of the big picture. He thought in terms of Klal Yisroel. He thought of addressing the decline of observance amongst certain sectors. He thought in terms of hundreds of thousands of neshamos and hundreds of millions of dollars. He pondered the huge power of government funding and focused on making an impact that would accelerate the arrival of the Moshiach. Mr. Wolfson was an intimidating man because he didn't waste time or energy on anything other than his core goals. He brooked no arguments and allowed no small talk. He had few interests other than achieving big things.

I remember being introduced to him for the first time as a rookie in my mid-thirties. The meeting was over in a couple of minutes – and he had called it!


A year or two later, he called my house and asked me why he hadn’t seen me for a few months. Why, he asked, was I no longer active in working for the tzibbur? He told me to be in his office in an hour. I walked in and he asked me what good ideas I had. He admonished me for thinking far too small and got me to undertake concepts on a larger scale, which he then promised to fund. The meeting took under ten minutes and he kept me on my toes for its entirety. He ended the meeting by offering funding to the tune of many hundreds of thousands of dollars. What was most amazing was that he was the one who insisted on the meeting and that he offered the funding once he thought that I was proposing something big.


Years later, when I first mentioned the concept of opening a day school in Florida for Israelis currently in public school, he yelled at me, “Why one? Why not ten or twenty? You do ten or twenty and I will pay for them!”


My many friends and contemporaries who benefited from his enormous largesse were always astounded by his ability to take their ideas and demonstrate how they could be more effective if they were bigger and more encompassing.


He was uninterested in funding something for a few thousand dollars. He wanted something earth-shattering for a few million. He wanted you to find matching funding so that there would be more people invested. He wanted you to reach out to the widest number of Yidden through your programs. He wanted you to get more people involved in outreach so that the frum world could shake the non-observant world out of its apathy.


One couldn’t say no to his demands, because he clearly made them of himself, too. He was enormously frustrated by people who gave less than their all – bilvovom, binafshom ubime’odam – because he knew what he gave.


He famously once flew to Switzerland to wait at the gate of an incoming plane for a gadol whom he admired, so that he could greet the gadol as he disembarked. He wasn’t there to give shalom. He was there to offer to fund a large kollel to be run by the gadol. 


He taught us not just how to think bigger. He taught us how to think huge. If one were to tabulate the number of Jews directly affected by the programs he funded, it is easily in the many hundreds of thousands, of which many became shomrei Torah umitzvos – his only benchmark for success.


If one were to tabulate how much money he donated to tzedakah over his lifetime, it would be in the many hundreds of millions or more. And if one includes the amounts he raised through matching funding, it would be in the billions. 


May his efforts be successful in bringing Moshiach soon.


Yehi zichro boruch.



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