Although that I am aware that my positions on various issues, especially those concerning Donald Trump, cause extreme reaction in many people, it is rare that anyone on the street comes over to me to say anything. A few weeks ago, someone stopped me on Main Street to chastise me for criticizing Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld. What upset him was not the merits of my criticism but the fact that I criticized him. I learned two things from the incident. One, it shows the devotion that this individual has for Rabbi Schonfeld, and two, that disagreeing with someone is considered by some people as equivalent to a personal attack. The irony, I told the person, is that Rabbi Schonfeld never looked at it that way. Unlike other individuals who I was not sure of their reaction if I disagreed with them, I knew that Rabbi Schonfeld would not take it personally, so that was why I would name him in my column.
Although we may have disagreed on many issues, especially as they related to politics, Rabbi Schonfeld and I have had a very good relationship. I would frequently see him by his house when I walked to work, and we always greeted each other warmly and chatted.
When I was attacked in the Queens Jewish Link in a manner he thought was too nasty, Rabbi Schonfeld publicly defended me. When I was part of a program at his shul and some people were upset that I was invited, he got up and praised me. We live in a society where the person who disagrees with you is your enemy. Even if you are on good terms, you must keep it quiet. You can’t publicly defend the person. Rabbi Schonfeld did not care about these “norms.” He did what he thought was the right thing to do, even if it may have upset some people.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld never received enough accolades and the credit for his many accomplishments, which include being the rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and holding leadership positions in many organizations, such as the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, the Orthodox Union, Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), and the Coalition for Jewish Values. I believe that it was due to his being the son of Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, who was a legend in our community and throughout the country. It is a difficult position to be a child of such an important person. If that person is successful, many people say, “what’s the big deal; he had the help of his father.” If he is a failure, then they say, “look how great his father is (was) and how little he accomplished.” Furthermore, if they are in the same field, the child is always going to be compared to his father. The successful parent has demands on their time so they cannot spend the same amount of time with the child as a typical parent would. Moreover, the child is put under additional pressure to be like their parent.
Thus, there are children who do not want to put themselves in that position and go off in a different direction than their parent. Many great people had children who did not measure up to their standards. You don’t have to look past the avos. Avraham had Yitzchak but he also had Ishmael and six other children (with Keturah), and Yitzchak had Eisav. Moshe had two sons, neither of whom garnered much attention.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld decided to follow his father’s footsteps, with all the risks. He did what he wanted and did it well. The Queens Jewish community is a better place because of Rabbi Schonfeld.
I conclude with a recent event that both Rabbi Schonfeld and I can agree had a good result. It was the Democratic Primary in Michigan for a congressional seat between two incumbents, Andy Levin and Haley Stevens. Levin was a two-term congressman who succeeded his eighteen-term father, Sander, and whose uncle, Carl, was the longest serving U.S. senator in the state’s history. Levin was the progressive candidate supported by J-Street and progressives such as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Stevens was the moderate candidate supported by AIPAC. Both J-Street and AIPAC put significant money into the race. Ms. Stevens trounced Levin by about 20% of the vote, a significant victory for the moderate wing of the Democratic Party and for Israel.
Good luck to Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld on his move to Baltimore. I know he may be physically leaving our community, but he will still be involved. He will be missed but will not be forgotten. His accomplishments remain even if he doesn’t.