Last week, the country sat riveted through two sensational trials. One had nothing to do with race – as the accused and the victims were all White – yet it became a racial trial. The other one had racial overtones, as the killers were White and the victim was Black.
Then there was another horrible incident where a Black motorist purposely drove his car into a holiday-celebrating crowd and killed five [now six] Whites. Race never entered the discussion, as it should not have. And it should not have been in the two trials either. Whites do good things and bad things to Whites and to Blacks. Blacks do good things and bad things to Whites and to Blacks. Until we learn to get skin color out of the discussion, we will never get racial barriers out of the way.
What did emerge from these awful experiences is that violence remains the bane of American society. It creeps into all segments of our lives: entertainment, our streets, and even our school systems are overcome with violence.
There is one very outstanding exception. About ten days ago, someone sent me a brief clip of the renowned speaker Rabbi YY Jacobson. If you have ever listened to Rabbi Jacobson, you know that he is humorous, entertaining, educational, and fearless at once. He is the type of speaker that you just wish did not end his talk.
In this clip, Rabbi YY, who is not afraid the be critical of the yeshivah system when necessary, told of a parent who complained about the high cost of tuition in yeshivos and threatened to place his kids in public school as a result. This is a ploy often used by parents to bargain down their tuition fees.
Rabbi Jacobson told them in his inimitable style: “I understand your problem. But understand, as well, that when you send your child to a yeshivah – be it Litvish or Modern Orthodox, Lubavitch or Satmar, yeshivah with no secular education or a day school with a serious secular program, kipah s’rugah-wearing students or black-hatted – there is one thing you will not see in any of these yeshivos that you will see in public schools: metal detectors!”
Rabbi Jacobson explained that in every one of our Orthodox institutions, “Lo tirzach, Thou shalt not murder” becomes engrained into each boy’s or girl’s psyche.
The argument seemed to have worked, as the parents began to reconsider their threat.
As we watch society around us, with all the ills that it possesses, including wanton violence, we should begin to appreciate the great achievements of our Orthodox community, especially its yeshivah system. We sometimes take it for granted.
In Al HaNisim, we thank Hashem for, among other things, the fact that “the wicked fell into the hands of those devoted to Torah study.” The fact that the beauty of Torah was able to overcome all the blandishments that evil has to offer is something well-deserving of genuine Hallel and hodaah (praise and thanksgiving) – in their days as well as in ours!
Let me conclude with a word about the recent Agudah convention. I was not able to join at any point, primarily due to COVID and other concerns, but I did hear quite a bit about it and watched live when I could.
It was very inspiring to see our own Nechemia Hoch among numerous other young people playing a vital role. It was also very refreshing to see that the program was uplifting as it was courageous in publicly addressing some of the major issues of concern in our Orthodox community. Especially noteworthy was that on Motza’ei Shabbos, during the keynote session, a special guest speaker was highlighted between the various roshei yeshivah. Wearing slacks, an untucked shirt, and sporting a leather-like yarmulka, a shomer Sh’vi’is farmer was given an enthusiastic reception as he addressed the audience in Ivrit. He spoke about the great challenges the farmers in Israel face as they make heroic efforts to allow their fields to lie fallow for the year. If nothing else, the display of unity with someone not of Agudah ilk was very significant.
This unity and sense of purpose is something we must learn to appreciate and foster for years to come!
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.