It’s one of those great Yiddish words that defy ordinary translation. A macher. What’s a macher? A macher is a busybody, often with a great sense of self-importance. The Jewish community has always had machers. It’s machers who get things done. It’s machers who have the political connections. It’s machers who have the pull to reach the right people at the right time.
Need to get a passport in a rush? Need to get a traffic light on your block? Need to get to see the mayor? Call on a macher to take care of these needs.
Over the course of time, Jews have resorted to different forms of machers. Sometimes, they were known as shtadlanim, sometimes as shlichim, and lately as askanim. I guess in English they would be known as community activists.
Rabbi Moshe Sherer z”l, one of American Jewry’s greatest professional Orthodox Jewish representatives, would half-jokingly refer to himself as a shtadlan, as he lobbied for Jewish causes in this country and throughout the world.
But a macher of any definition comes with a huge responsibility. The interests of the Jewish community, not his own interests, be they financial, social, or political, must remain paramount. That is not necessarily so simple.
We just finished reading about the Korach rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu. We know from both the written word and the teachings of Chazal that Korach, a giant of a Torah scholar, was at first driven by a need to bring leadership equality to all of Hashem’s “holy people.” But quickly, his noble cause devolved into a personal attack on Moshe. Everything spiraled out of control at that point, until Korach and his followers were consumed by the earth beneath them.
The Chafetz Chaim zt”l would be very selective with whom he allowed to represent the Jewish people before the Polish parliament. “M’darf koidem poialin oif de shlichim–We have to first work on our representatives” before we send them to stand before Parliament. He insisted that it was not their erudition, but rather their commitment to the cause that mattered most. In fact, the Chafetz Chaim himself would often travel to Warsaw to speak on behalf of the Jews when they were facing a critical issue, even though he did not speak Polish. (See Chafetz Chaim on the Torah, bottom of page 109.)
There are many wonderful people and organizations in the Jewish community in Queens – and wherever there are Jews – who are politically active on behalf of the Jewish people. They all mean well. But the danger is always present that many of these people or organizations can be supportive of a particular candidate for all kinds of reasons. It is the candidate of “their party.” Or they will support a project of ours. Or they take the politically correct positions. Or “He/she will win anyway, so we might as well be on board with the winner.” These are smart calculations, but they are not necessarily in the best interests of a Torah community. We must lend our support to those who will keep our community safe and represent the values closest to ours.
May we be granted machers in every good sense of the word as we approach critical elections for our state this November, im yirtzeh Hashem.
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.