Last Thursday, the Queens Jewish Link received a letter from somebody with an assumed pseudonym in which he leveled one of the most absurd criticisms against me. He wondered why I support those rabbis from Lakewood and Brooklyn who condemned the Washington rally the day before it took place. He also wondered why I do not commend the established organizations that arranged for the rally. I believe the editor has decided not to print the letter, though I was fine with them doing so. Although likely the letter was written just to bait me, I will take the bait and run with it.
The fact that the letter was written two days after the rally meant that, as of my last article, I had no idea – and neither did anyone else – that a proclamation issued by certain rabbanim would be issued. Moreover, anyone who knows a thing about me knows that I am the first one to be thrilled that there was finally going to be a massive rally. I am very glad that the organizations finally proved their worth. I was also very heartbroken, as were countless others in all camps, that such a letter was issued.
I spent till the wee hours in the morning arguing with those who desperately sought to justify that “Kol Korei.” I sent letters (respectfully, of course) to two of the signatories of the letter, as well as to the Executive Vice President of the Agudah. It should be made clear, however, that the Agudah administration was not to be blamed for that proclamation; it was a decision of their rabbinic leadership. In fact, it was a minority of their leadership that signed.
I do have a message for the Agudah that I have been saying for years. Indeed, I had a meeting with one of the Agudah officials to discuss my thoughts on this years ago. I believe that the exclusion of pulpit rabbanim as players in their Moetzes (Council of Torah Sages) is a terrible omission. It is rabbanim who are involved in the day-to-day affairs of the “balabatish” lay working people. Yes, many of the roshei yeshivah are giants and no doubt should be part of the Moetzes. But rabbanim are in a unique position to appreciate the mundane activities of balabatim and they have a distinct contribution to offer in making decisions that affect the lay world. I named for them a few highly respected rabbanim. Let’s just say I was rebuffed every time I brought up the idea. I do not think the letter advising people not to attend the rally would have been issued if rabbanim had a say.
The rally was unprecedented in many ways. Think about it. Almost half the number of Jews, as counted in the Torah, who left Egypt to receive the Torah were gathered in Washington. The spirit of unity and sense of purpose was palpable throughout the crowd. No one came to hear the speakers. We came to be there. We came to show our brethren in Israel and abroad that we are one unit. That was our mitzvah and, thank G-d, almost 300,000 of us fulfilled that mitzvah.
The rav of my shul in Baltimore is a huge talmid chacham (Torah scholar) who is clad in typical black hat and black suit fashion. He mentioned that when he walked his way to the rally, someone approached him and asked if he was a Lubavitch chasid. To the non-Orthodox world, any Jew dressed in black is a Lubavitcher. The rav answered him, “No, I am not. I’m just a Jew.” The other (secular-looking) Jew responded, “You’re right. Today we are all just Jews.” That was the rally in a nutshell.
It is no secret that in this column I have been very critical of the established Jewish organizations, including the Orthodox, for not flexing their muscles on behalf of the Jewish community. This time I say, Kol ha’kavod! for successfully organizing this rally, which drew Jews from across the country, maybe even the world.
In particular, I salute Rabbi Moshe Hauer and the OU for seeing to it that the rally’s program remained palatable for all segments of the Jewish community. Many detractors did not understand why there were no rabbis speaking or any spiritual messaging. I keep on telling these people that this was the brilliance of the rally. Putting up an Orthodox rabbi means you must put up objectional rabbis or speakers, as well. Keeping the rally “pareve” was the smartest way to go.
Chanukah is around the corner. The Maccabees fought valiantly against a most formidable and brutal enemy, yet emerged victorious. Their rallying cry was “Mi kamocha ba’eilim Hashem–Which god is like You, O Lord!” Hence the name Maccabees. Let us cry out with the same call, as we rally behind our brothers and sisters in the IDF and throughout the land of Israel. Let us in the Diaspora, as well, be guided to the same victory, not only “ba’yamim haheim–in their days,” but “baz’man hazeh–in our days” as well. Amein!
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.