A week ago, I had the sad opportunity to be driven to the burial of one of the most amazing people that I had known, Mrs. Isabelle Cohen-Adler. As I said at her l’vayah, there probably will be no ArtScroll book written about her life, but her life was one of inspiration that would take volumes to capture. The greatest rabbis and spiritual leaders could not be as inspiring as her life was. She taught us how to take the most difficult situations and move on in life, with a smile.
Isabelle lost her husband, Herbert, at a young age. Years later, she married a wonderful man named Arthur Adler and had a wholesome marriage with him, as well. Unfortunately, he, too, passed away a few years ago. Isabelle lost three children in her life, as well as a beloved sister. She is survived by her son Benjamin and her extraordinary daughter-in-law, Janice yblc”t.
The hearse driver was Anthony of Sinai Chapels, a fairly young man whom I know moved from New York to the Poconos a good few years ago to get away from the City. I asked him how things are going with the kids there, and if it’s great for them to be part of the wilderness. He told me that when he first moved there, the kids enjoyed every minute of living there. They could not get enough of the big outdoors.
That’s all changed, he told me. Now, the only exercise the kids get is with their thumbs. They are busy with their smartphones all day and have little interest in the outdoors or any activities, including organized sports. He said he might as well be back in Brooklyn. I felt bad for the guy.
But this is what we face today. Everything is social media. Our kids have become enslaved to their electronic devices. I know I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know. But I found Anthony’s words very unsettling. It means there really is no escape from the magnet of our newfound idols.
That is why Shabbos is so important. It forces a break and forces us to communicate with our children and family. And that is why Pesach is critical. It is the Yom Tov of communicating with our family. The entire theme of the Seder evening is v’higadeta l’vincha – of sharing with our children our past history. We sit around the table, surrounded by our family and friends, and talk – directly to each other!
On my way to the Nachum Segal Pesach program the other morning, I was driven to the Lower East Side by a toothless, smoking, African American female driver. I was not very happy that she was a bit late, that the car reeked from leftover smoke, and that she didn’t even bother to say “good morning.” But it was fine with me that she didn’t talk, because I had some reviewing to do for the show.
Suddenly, on the BQE, she asks me if I celebrate Palm Sunday. I said I do not, I am Jewish. She said that’s fine because the only thing she celebrates is her birthday. She went on to tell me that after she finishes her time driving every day, she cares for an 87-year-old widowed Jewish woman named Bertha in Forest Hills. Bertha, it seems, has a daughter in Westchester who refuses to visit her mother and even refuses to let her in her spacious house, all over an inheritance fight from the money left by the departed father. The daughter is upset that the father left too much money for his wife and not enough for her, despite her being a successful lawyer.
The driver also told me that Bertha has no idea what Passover is all about. Imagine an 87-year-old woman in Forest Hills not knowing a thing about Pesach! That really explains a lot about this mother-daughter relationship. The driver asked me if I could quickly tell her what Passover was about, which I did, as she took notes while driving. I said it is the celebration of our emancipation from slavery under Egypt over 3,000 years ago. “Cool!” she said. She could not get over the fact that Jews, too, were slaves once upon a time. The slavery part absolutely resonated with her. And she could not wait to share the Passover significance with Bertha.
Then it resonated with me. Yes, we were slaves – and for over 200 years. But we built our lives from there and succeeded in every endeavor, no matter where life took the Wandering Jew. What was the key to our success? Family values. Yes, talking about our slavery and celebrating the Exodus. Most importantly, connecting to our kids.
That is why it is so disturbing to see a new meaning of Exodus today: the exodus to Croatia, Greece, Spain, Hawaii, Florida, etc. We have robbed the holiday of all its meaning. One rabbi of a major Orthodox community told me that he is going to a certain hotel for Pesach. What about all the sh’eilos (halachic queries) that his congregants will need to ask him over the holiday? “No problem,” he said. “They all leave town for Pesach!” Really a sad situation. Think about it. How far off are we from becoming Berthas?
A Question for My Satmar Friends
It’s Pesach, so we are allowed to ask questions. This one is not related to the above topic. But it is related to slavery. That is, slavery to an irrational way of thinking. So here is my question to the non-vaxers of Williamsburg.
The Satmar Rav, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum zt”l, was a fierce fighter against Zionism. One of his often-quoted reasons was the Gemara in K’subos (111a), which mentions “three oaths” that Hashem held us to before we could return to Israel. Among the oaths was the oath not to rebel against the Nations to achieve our goals. The Zionist ideology of fighting our way into statehood was in contrast to that sacred oath, maintained the Rav.
So here’s my question: Why is it okay for the Satmar community to rebel against the wishes of the local and state governments? Why do they openly defy the city’s call to protect themselves and others by having their children vaccinated against measles? Why can a Satmar spokesman on public television call the mayor of New York City “an idiot” for insisting on vaccinations for kids in the Satmar community? Sounds rebellious to me. And what about the kavod ha’malchus, the awe of government, that we are supposed to exhibit, even for despots, as Moshe did for Pharaoh (see Z’vachim 111a)?
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.