“Our Job is Not to be Afraid!” – Teshuva, Hate Crimes, Yeshiva Funding and More on the Front Burner at Igud HaRabbanim’s Siyum HaShas
By: Shimmy Blum
A new year is around the corner. Members of Klal Yisroel are pulling out all the stops to merit a Kesiva V’chasima Tova. Both at the individual and communal levels, there are so many berachos and yeshuos that are so badly needed. As always, Klal Yisroel looks towards its rabbanim for leadership, guidance, advocacy and chizuk.
In front of the ornate Aron Kodesh of the Sephardic Lebanese Congregation on Avenue T in Brooklyn, and later in the simcha hall downstairs, leaders of the Igud HaRabbanim/Rabbinical Alliance of America and other distinguished guests crystalized the calling of leadership in our day. This has been the Igud’s mission since 1942, when it was founded by gedolim such as Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l, Rav Gedaliah Schorr zt”l and Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz zt”l, and later encouraged and guided by the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l & Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. The Igud currently has a growing network of nearly 1,000 diverse rabbanim across the country, as well as a Beth Din led by Rav Herschel Kurzrock, and a robust government advocacy operation.
For the 31st consecutive year, the Igud held its flagship gathering on Chai Elul, the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov and Baal HaTanya zt”l. The annual gathering’s highlights include a Siyum HaShas, cumulatively completed by the Igud’s rabbanim; a “Chomer L’Drush” session, where rabbanim share thoughts ahead of the Yomim Nora’im; and a convocation summing up the Igud mission for the year ahead.
Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, Executive VP of the Igud, highlighted the consistent and fearless leadership that the Igud’s rabbanim represent regardless of the issues of the day. “Rabbanim must often take unpopular positions,” he candidly explained. “The Igud provides the tools for them to succeed.”
“Jews are being killed in Shul – in America!”
Rabbi Yaakov Klass, Presidium member of the Igud, and Mara D’asra of Kahal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, chaired the Chomer L’Drush session. For the past few years as well as this year, this session was sponsored by Rebbetzin Faygie Eisner and family, in memory of her late husband and Executive Vice President of the Igud, Rabbi Shlomo (Saul) Eisner Zt”l.
Rabbi Klass stressed the importance of working on issues of bein adam l’chaveiro as a zechus for the Yomim Nora’im. He cited how the Chasam Sofer zt”l, shortly before Kol Nidrei, asked his daughter to work on a shidduch between a ger and giyorus who were both orphans.
Rabbi Binyamin Hammer, Director of Rabbinic Services of the National Council of Young Israel, spoke of how within the past year, we the saw the unprecedented phenomenon of synagogue shootings in America. Rabbi Hammer stressed the need to appreciate that a root of anti-Semitism, back to the days of Mitzrayim, is the fact that Klal Yisroel manages to maintain our morality even in the most hostile environments. “We need to know who we are and build up our baalebatim,” he said.
Rabbi Yaakov Lehrfield, Rav, Young Israel of Staten Island, explained that our key zechus on the Yomim Nora’im – when we asked Hashem for so much – is all the mitzvos and maasim tovim that we’ve “invested” throughout the year. Rabbi Dr. Hanania Elbaz, Presidium member of the Igud, and Rav of Congregation Ahi-Ezer in Brooklyn, elaborated upon the importance of malchus on Rosh Hashana. Whereas teshuva can remove the damage of aveiros, crowning Hashem as King plugs the figurative hole that’s left – meriting us a Kesiva V’chasima Tova.
Rabbi Yaakov Spivak, Presidium member of the Igud and Rosh Kollel of Ayshel Avraham Rabbinical Seminary of Monsey, spoke bluntly about current events, how anti-Semitism is increasingly mainstreamed in the American government. Pointing to the teshuva done in response to Haman’s decree, Rabbi Spivak exclaimed, “We need to use this fear to become better yidden.”
“The Igud does the will of Hashem!”
When the ceremony moved downstairs to the Ulam, each table proudly featured certificate that the meal was prepared under the Hashgacha of “Alef-K”: the Igud’s revitalized kashrus branch under the direction of Rabbi Moshe Wiener. Israeli Consul General Dani Dayan, New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill, Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, Councilman Kalman Yeger and Mr. Pinny Hikind, representing Comptroller Scot Stringer were among the dignitaries to attend the event and discuss the concerns of Torah Jewry with the Igud. The dinner was dedicated in memory of Rabbi Meir Shapiro zt”l, Chief Rabbi of Buenos Aires and Igud Chairman, by his family.
Following an invocation by Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank, MS, BCC, Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs for the Igud, Commissioner O’Neill addressed head-on the startling rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York. Commissioner O’Neill assured the rabbanim that the NYPD and its Hate Crimes apparatus are taking the issue seriously. “We are not going backwards as a city,” he said.
Rabbi Mirocznik presented an award to Larry Gordon of the Five Towns Jewish Times and to the Jewish Press accepted by Joey Aaron, Esq., for their fearless reporting on pertinent community issues.
Rabbi Yehoshua Hecht, chairman of the Igud presidium, Rav of Congregation Beth Israel of Norwalk, CT, passionately articulated the Igud’s official Convocation agenda for the coming year. Top agenda items include: lobbying for a mandated daily moment of silence, recognizing the Creator, in educational institutions across America; urging the Jewish Federation and other non-Orthodox Jewish organizations to increase their support for Torah education; supporting the integrity of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and its fealty to Halacha; and promoting awareness that the Igud, rather than major secular organizations, are the authentic voice of American Jewry, whose Torah observant bloc is fast growing.
The highlight of the multi-hour event, no doubt, was the Siyum HaShas. Rabbi Yaakov Shulman, Rav of Congregation Talmud Torah and Menahel of the Igud Bais Din, served as the Siyum HaShas Chairman. Rabbi Leibel Wulliger Rosh Kollel, Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, made the Siyum. Rabbi Wulliger explained that the Siyum symbolizes that the Igud’s rabbanim are not content merely with learning and leading the tzibbur around the clock. “The rabbanim show that they want to do ‘retzono shel makom,’” he exclaimed. Rabbi Eli Baruch Shulman, Rav, Young Israel of Midwood and Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshivas Yitzchok Elchonon, made the has’chala.
A special guest speaker, Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Executive Vice President Emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel and president of the Coalition for Jewish Values, implored the Igud to promote greater involvement of Torah-true communities in the affairs of the World Zionist Organization and other powerful Israeli organizations. “We can’t stand on the outside and just complain about what they do,” he stressed.
As the inspirational ceremonies concluded, the Igud’s rabbanim returned to their respective communities, with chizuk and a clear mandate for their avodas hakodesh in the year ahead.