From the desk of Rabbi Leonard(Yehuda) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
September 17, 2020
This is the last article for the year 5780 Erev Rosh Hashana 5781. As, I began writing this article, I received a call Motzei Shabbos that Mrs Devorah Leah Hecht A”H daughter of HaRav Yeshaya and Rebbitzen Rita Siff well known and beloved Rav and Rebbetzin of the Young Israel of Manhattan on the Lower East Side, the wife of Rabbi Pinchus Hecht, Executive Director of Mirrer Yeshiva, the sister of Rabbi Yisrael Moshe Siff, Rabbi Azriel Siff of the historic Chasan Sofer synagogue on the Lower East Side, Rabbi Reuven Siff and Mrs. Pennina Mezi. She leaves a family of wonderful daughters and son Yosef Chaim who I wrote about the Asher the Yatzar video in one of my recent articles and the wonderful chizuk he gave through his own medical and spiritual experiences. Mrs. Hecht was a remarkable woman and so well loved by all who got to know her through the years personally or were touched by her many maysim tovim. She will be sorely missed by her family, the faculty and student body at TAG in Far Rockaway , the Far Rockaway community and Klal Yisrael.
So many have left Hawolom Hazeh to Hawolom Haba this year. On Yom Kippur and Shemini Atzeres the Yizkor is recited, We remember those who are no longer with us and we do not forget- not only in memories, but by giving tzedakah, reciting the kaddish, and many other mitzvos. We dedicate our lives for their neshamos, but also for ourselves as well. It is so easy to forget we are in the presence of our Heilika Tatte, our Holy Father, the Ribono Shel Olom, the Aibershta. We know He loves us, though it can be challenging, even difficult when things happen or our loved ones leave us, often when we least expect it. It hits us now Elul, by selichos, the Yomim Nearim, Aseres Yemai Tshuva, and Hoshana Rabba. We renew our closeness to H with all of our maysim tovim.
When I will return home the first night of Rosh Hashana, I will miss greeting my wife with the phrase of leshana tova tikawsaiv…….though just as, I recite the Friday night Aishis Chayil, I will greet my wife in spirit. I must continue not to forget where her neshama is. We are often reminded through various events, personal and otherwise that each day is precious, never knowing what will happen the next day, or anytime throughout the year. That is why we should not take anything for granted.
In my apartment, amongst the many pictures I have with my dear and beloved Aishis Chayil ,Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohen A”H, is the last official pictures of us together taken at the Siyum Hashas, just four months before she died. Looking at that picture one would not believe she was seriously ill. In the background you notice the thousands who were also there. All the naysayers who said it couldn’t be done. No one will come to a stadium if it is very cold and on the secular new year when no one wants to be out especially driving a car or taking public transportation. My wife was so proud to be there, together with all the thousands of others and especially proud because a son Rabbi Naftali Miller who is the National Director of Development for Agudath Israel was part of the team instrumental in the success of this magnificent event. My wife and I were so proud of this major accomplishment, but you could never tell by looking at my wife what she was going through. Both of us made up not to share with anyone how she was feeling, as she did not want to put a damper on this magnificent and exciting event. She was active as could be until the last month of her life when slowly things started to change. Even up to the last days she had that beautiful and bright sparkle and twinkle in her eyes, her smile so ever glowing, her heart continued to be filled with love and care for everyone in the family and most of all -her love of H. The last night of her life, I brought the candle to her as she lay in bed and said the brachos with her that Shavuos evening and then I lit all the candles for her. When we looked at each other especially the last days and nights of her life was so special, as if we were silently communicating our relationship with each other. I shall not forget. Even as tears roll down my cheek writing this ,yet, I look back and have so much appreciation to the Aibershta for giving her so many wonderful things that gave her simchas hachayim which I shared in previous articles and the strength throughout her life for all the remarkable mitzvos she did until the very end. She was so humble and modest. It was against her grain to be put on a pedestal for anything good she did and she always reminded me the same. She kept in one of our closets albums of our accomplishments, newspaper clippings, pictures, awards ,plaques, diplomas, degrees and certificates etc. Always a reminder that we are not any worthy than anyone else. Whatever we are able to accomplish in life, is to serve Hakadosh Boruch Hu and to thank Him for those opportunities to do so. The biggest joy was to have nachas from our children , grandchildren and great grandchild . We are all here on this world for a period of time, and we are mispallel He should give us the opportunities to fulfill whatever is necessary to have a meaningful life filled with all the brachos and much simchas hachayim this coming New Year and for 120 years. The Aibershta gave her those opportunities and even though at one point a short time before her demise when she was sadden after her final prognosis that all was coming to an end. She then rebounded with hakawros hatov to the Ribono Shel Olom even with changing medical challenges and to continue doing mitzvos for as long as possible.
How should we be humble, how should we feel we are all equals. How should we feel about others I am quoting the following from Lilmud Ulilamaid From The teachings Of Our Sages. By Rabbi Mordechai Katz from the Jewish Education Program.“ You are standing this day, all of you, before H your G and your officers, all the men of Israel. Your little ones, your wives, your stranger that is in your camp, from the cutter of your wood to the drawer of your water. (Dvorim, 29: 9-10}. So begins Parshas Nitzavim. This passage notes that all members of Klal Yisrael, from the greatest leader to the simplest wood cutter, stood together as equals before H. This was a dramatic proof that to H each individual, no matter what his station in life, has the same potential for spiritual greatness. Every person can, in his own way, rise to the summit of holiness. Thus, the poor woodchopper who is devout in his ways and who raises his children as true Jews is elevated to the same level as the wealthy supporter of Jewish causes. No man ( I would also include no woman) should consider himself too insignificant to be a partner in the Covenant between the Jews and H. On Rosh Hashana, Rabbi Levi Yizchok of Berditchev rose to blow the Shofar, He ascended the Bimah, led the congregation in the prayers of Lamenatzeiach and Min Hameitzar, and then waited until the congregation stood silently and expectantly. All waited without a sound for the blowing of the Shofar to commence. Then, to their consternation, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok stopped, removed the Shofar from his lips, and put it down. He seemed to be pausing, waiting for something to happen. The people grew restless. Had the great Rabbi forgotten what to do? Finally, he smiled, and began to offer an explanation. My dear friends, he said, in the rear of the shul today sits a Jew who spent his early years among the gentiles. He had been kidnapped as a child, brought up by a gentile family, and placed into the king’s army. When he was 40 years old, he was finally freed and allowed to return to his people. This man had not been inside a shul since he was a youngster, until he joined us today. He could not possibly remember the prayers that he heard so long ago, and yet, he was overcome with emotion at his return to the House of G. He yearned to join in the expressions of devotion to the Holy One, Blessed be He. And so, I saw him speaking the only remnants Hebrew that he recalled from his youth, the letters of the Alef Bais. But he said these with such feeling that they have risen straight to the heavens. I therefore paused before blowing the Shofar so that the letters would have time to reach H Yisbarach, Who will Himself form them into the words of our prayers. Now we can begin the blowing of the Shofar.” To the Rabbi what mattered was this man’s devotion that counted not his lack of knowledge. Someone once asked HaGaon Harav Mosh Feinstein about being like the Vilna Gaon or Rabbi Akiva. To paraphrase his response, not everyone has the same potentials in their abilities of learning, but everyone has the potentials of reaching high levels in emunah and betachen in the Aibershta. In Pirkei Avos, chapter 4;17 “ Rabbi Shimon says, three crowns are there, the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of kingship, but the crown of a good name rises over them all” “But the crown of a good name. This crown adorns someone whose deeds and behavior earn him the respect and affection of his fellows. Even scholars, priests, and kings are lacking if they fail to earn this crown (Artscroll Series, The Schottenstein Edition Siddur with an Interlinear Translation. Mesorah Heritage Foundation). Though we often use the words him and his, the same applies for women in having a good name, having emunah and betachen, and devotion to H. Both men and women have the same wonderful opportunities of being Mekadeish H.
I mentioned Rav Yeshaya and Rebbetzin Siff, parents of Mrs. Devorah Leah Siff A”H in my first paragraph in this article. They are so beloved throughout the Lower East Side. Rav Siff and his Rebbitzen have been instrumental in helping guide, educate, and inspire generations of mispallim. They helped weave and craft the Young Israel of the Lower East Side to a beautiful and meaningful relationship with the Aibershta bringing pride and joy to community residents. What is so endearing about Rav and Rebbetzin Siff is how modest and humble they are, caring and respectful to one and all. Rav Siff was a military chaplain years ago and still retains that aura of what a chaplain was and is all about. Both Rav Siff and Rav Zvi Romm who I wrote about in my last weeks article are renown in Yeshiva University. Rav Siff has since retired, but still respected in the halls of Yeshiva University, as is Rav Romm, both Rabbaim held in high esteem by the talmidim, faculty and hanhala of YU. Rav Siff who was at YU for 50 years also held the prestigious Schottenstein Family Chair as Associate Professor of Talmud. Rav Siff until COVID-19 came to visit, in addition to his shiurim, would also be found in the Yeshiva MTJ bais medrash learning. His relationship with the HaGaon HaRav Dovid Feinstein continues and he is one of the senior rabbonim In the Lower East Side.
In last weeks article and earlier articles I wrote about different aspects of 9/11. However, I do want to make mention about one of the victims who made the supreme sacrifice of his own life, making one of the greatest kiddush H to such a degree, that former President George Bush spoke about him that year. This persons name and picture was a blazed on television, news media, and heard on the radio the world over. He was and still is a role model of being a modest and humble person the years he was alive as he will always be for years to come.
In Memory of Avremel (Abe) Zelmanowitz HYD, 9/11 Terror Victim
September 11, 2020 8:55 am
When the terror attack occurred, Avremel was fifty-five; his friend Ed, a quadriplegic, was forty-two. Both worked at Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield as program analysts on the 27th floor of One World Trade Center.
By Chavie Zelmanowitz (sister-in-law), as told to Bayla Sheva Brenner
On the morning of 9/11, Avremel davened in the same shul with my husband, Yankel, which was unusual. Usually, whenever they said goodbye, they would shake hands. That morning, however, Avremel came toward Yankel and hugged him tightly before he left for work.
While driving home after taking me to work, Yankel heard that something had happened at the World Trade Center. He tried to call Avremel. I also tried. We couldn’t get through. Then Avremel called Yankel. He said, “I’m here with Ed. We’re waiting for help and then we’re going to leave.” Yankel called me and said, “I heard from Avremel—he’s going to leave.” I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I got a phone call from Avremel. I asked, “Where are you calling from? I thought you were on your way home.” He reassured me that the air was clear where they were, on the 27th floor. “I’m waiting here with Ed for someone to come help.” He said that Ed wanted to wait for a medical team, because in the past when people lifted him improperly, his bones would break.
Edward Beyea, who became disabled after a diving accident at age twenty-one, was a large man. He used a wheelchair with all kinds of contraptions. He had no arm or leg function, and operated his computer with a mouth stick. An aide accompanied him at all times. The normal routine was that the aide would bring him to work, set him up in his cubicle, and go up to the 43rd floor to the cafeteria. That’s where she was when the plane hit. There was water coming down, things were falling, smoke was filling the room. She immediately ran back down the staircase to the 27th floor and found the two of them together. Avremel assured her that he would stay with Ed and that she should leave. She barely made it out. Avremel is responsible for her survival.
Avremel told me, “The fireman is here and he wants me to move to another area.” That was the last we heard from him. No one had any idea that the buildings were going to go down. He didn’t stay to die; he stayed to help. That was his intention.
Avremel and Ed had worked together for twelve years. They traded books and tapes and played chess together. Avremel was a master carpenter; he built Ed a cigar stand and a book stand so that he would be able to read in bed. He used to visit Ed during his numerous hospitalizations. It was a friendship that culminated with this extraordinary act.
Initially our son-in-law made up a flyer; everyone was posting flyers for missing relatives. The flyer mentioned that Avremel was together with a quadriplegic friend. Immediately, we were bombarded by reporters. They wanted to hear details of the story. We were interviewed on a few news programs, at one point three in one day. A week after 9/11, our rav told us it was time to sit shivah. Rescuers were not finding anyone alive any longer. We knew Avremel had been in the building at the time. It was time to make a decision.
By Yankel (Jack) Zelmanowitz (brother), as told to Bayla Sheva Brenner
Avremel lived with us. When my parents went to Eretz Yisrael in 1973, just before the Yom Kippur War, he moved in. I was his big brother; I’m twelve and a half years older. We were very close. I took him into the textile business with me, and then he learned programming. He was really a wonderful human being. He had a lot of friends. Always friendly, always doing ma’asim tovim, favors for people, giving tzedakah, going to shiurim; everybody liked him. He was a simple guy who never looked for praise. His death made such a roshem, such an impression on people. Letters came in from people all over the world. A woman in Canada contacted us. She has a son with cerebral palsy who was fifteen-years-old at the time. She worried about him going into the workforce. “I hope I meet someone like Abe,” her son said.
That week, when President Bush spoke, he mentioned Avremel. He said: “We are here in the middle hour of our grief. So many have suffered so great a loss, and today we express our nation’s sorrow. . . . We have seen our national character in eloquent acts of sacrifice. Inside the World Trade Center, one man who could have saved himself stayed until the end at the side of his quadriplegic friend.”
My son, Chaim Shaul, was there when the president came the week of 9/11 to visit Ground Zero. He was told to stay behind to tell the story to the president. He called us and asked what he should do since it was erev Shabbos and time was short. We said, “Stay as long as you can, leaving yourself enough time to get home for Shabbos.” In the end, he had to leave before speaking with the president. We received a phone call from the president’s staff. “We’re looking for your son to meet the president,” they said.
On the first anniversary of 9/11, all of the victims’ families were at Ground Zero. The president spent time mingling with the families and made special time for us. He is a person with a heart; he is very compassionate. He didn’t know what to do for us.
Avremel’s actions that day are what defined him. He lived his entire life that way, always caring about people, always anticipating people’s needs. You wouldn’t have to ask Avremel for something; he’d understand that it had to be done and he’d go and do it. This was who he was. He was an extremely devoted son; his kibbud av va’eim was extraordinary. He never married or had children, but our children and grandchildren are following in his footsteps in their gemilut chasadim. How proud he would be to know that.
We were called upon to speak about Avremel very often—at shuls, dinners, et cetera. A library at a nearby yeshivah was dedicated to him. We were constantly on call; that helped us get through the initial period.
In August 2002, the police came to our home to inform us that they had identified Avremel’s remains. We were able to have a kevurah. He had always wanted to be buried in Israel; we asked someone to arrange for a plot on Har Zeisim. When we got there, we were amazed that he had found a plot available right at the foot of our parents’ graves.
In 2006, a street was dedicated to Avremel. The street, on the corner of East 35th Street and Kings Highway [in Brooklyn], our corner, was renamed Abe (Avremel) Zelmanowitz Way. One of the speakers at the dedication, Rabbi Shlomo Zucker, said it is so fitting that the street is called “way” rather than “lane,” “drive,” or “street,” because Avremel showed us the way to live, the way a person should conduct his life, and how he should interact with Hashem and his fellow man. That is his legacy. He led by example.
We have letters from people he worked with. One of his colleagues wrote, “We knew he was a religious man, but he never preached. He was always aware, thinking ahead, thinking of others.”
The effect that Avremel continues to have is amazing. After I heard the news about Bin Laden, I wanted to go down to Ground Zero. It was a relief; we felt a need to share it with those who had lost family members, to be close to them. While we were on the train to Manhattan, my son called us. He said he just got a call from NBC News. They wanted to interview us, find out about our feelings. Avremel’s story is out there.
While at Ground Zero, we must have given twelve or fifteen interviews. Reporters from all over sought us out, wanting to hear the story. We told them the story of Avremel. We always try to point out that it was an Orthodox Jew and a non-Jewish friend and this is what Avremel did because of his friendship.
The Shabbos before 9/11, Avremel had gone to a shiur. He was a very reserved person. He wasn’t pushy in any way. When the rav started to speak about Kiddush Hashem, Avremel interrupted him and said, “How could an ordinary person make a Kiddush Hashem?” He got an answer but wasn’t satisfied. Avremel interrupted him another time; again, the rav gave him an answer. Then he asked a third time. It wasn’t like Avremel to do that. Three days later, he got his answer.
Every rav has told us the same thing: it’s an obligation to perpetuate Avremel’s story. No matter how painful it is for us, we do it l’shem Shamayim. I feel it is our responsibility to perpetuate his Kiddush Hashem.
Chavie and Yankel Zelmanowitz live in Brooklyn, New York.
Excerpted from Jewish Action, fall 2011
For me as it will be for so many whose loved ones are not with us these forthcoming days of holiness and joy, it will be much different. For the millions the world over, these holy days will surely be different in the synagogues we will be attending such as social distancing, seating arrangements, in door and outdoor minyanim, shortened drashos, less singing, Kaparos and Tashlich might be different ,and of course mask vs no mask wearing. What about communal sukkos, hakafos with the arba minim and Simchas Torah etc. ? What is being done throughout the world is trying to make things as normal, spiritual, meaningful and as comfortable as possible. Our heartfelt concerns and feelings for those in Eretz Yisrael with a nationwide lockdown that might be occurring now until after Sukkos.
There might very well be individuals who are not attending any minyanim and are home bound. It is also possible for some of those individuals might need shopping or cooked meals. I can tell you of an elderly couple who recently were told by their doctor not to attend any services if they could avoid going or at least make sure to wear a mask, to attend a synagogue were everyone is wearing a mask and social distancing. This couple, especially the husband has serious medical conditions and even though the chances of contracting the coronavirus might be small, nevertheless the doctor does not want to take any chances. With all the different opinions mask vs no mask, in door or out door minyanim one could say it is quite confusing- at least it’s not “Fiddler On The Roof”. But it really isn’t. All someone has to do is speak to their doctor and speak to their rav. Since most of our readership are rabbonim, then you will be guiding your mispallim what to do and or to speak to their doctors for their advice.
May the dreadful disease and all illnesses be eradicated forever. May we continue to be free of any and all machlokes and be zoche to have Shalom al Yisrael. May we be zoche Moshiach Tzedkeinu Bimheiraw Veyawmainu, the Geula Sheleimaw Bikarov Venomar Amain. Sincerely Yehuda Blank
Kesiva Vechasima Tova A Shanah Tova Umesukaw.
Please read the flyers from TTI, CAHE