This article is about people with vision and determination who inspired us and made a difference in the way we live, breathe, and think. Over the next ten days, our communities will pay tribute to two men who changed and defined the direction of our generation and the lives of our children for many years to come.
Both Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz and Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz passed away during the last year. Over the next few days, both men, who each cast a giant shadow that was much larger than life itself, will be formally remembered at commemorative events.
It is doubtful that there is anyone reading these words in the newspaper or online who does not know about these two important leaders and the continued ripple effect of their accomplishments that will be felt by so many for eternity.
I contemplated reaching out to people who knew both men intimately and who would be able to share what it was like to be part of their family or their colleague. But then it occurred to me that I had my own moving experiences with both men over the years, small incidents I can still recall with clarity and hope to always remember.
Rabbi Pelcovitz was the rabbi of Congregation Knesseth Israel, known as the White Shul, for more than 60 years. For many decades he was the dean of the Orthodox American rabbinate, during a period that was and perhaps still is the most transitional time in the history of the world, with particular bearing and influence on Jewish life in general.
Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz was the founder, along with Rabbi Nosson Scherman, of ArtScroll Publications and the Mesorah Heritage Foundation. It was Rabbi Zlotowitz’s vision of the future of Torah in America — and way beyond — that revolutionized the average person’s access to Torah. It is that simple. Aspects and elements of Torah study were once upon a time — and certainly in the first half of the 20th century — closed to the average person who considered him or herself a committed observant Jew who attended a Chumash or Gemara lecture from time to time.
Meir Zlotowitz was the man who opened Torah to modern people in an unpreceded and unheard of fashion.
At this juncture, as masses of admirers will be assembling over the next week or two to pay tribute to the extraordinary and inspiring lives of these two men, I figured that instead of reaching out to other notable personalities and asking them to discuss their association with these two great personalities, I would point out two things — two moments and events — that involved Rabbi Pelcovitz, Rabbi Zlotowitz, and me.
Going back to 1999, when the Five Towns Jewish Times was just an idea and I needed to generate some regular funding to cover costs to advance this project, one of the people I reached out to was Meir Zlotowitz. Some years prior, during the 1980s, I hosted a series of radio programs here in New York and from that I learned I had to produce income to cover costs.
When I called him, I explained that I had a plan and vision for the 5TJT. Rabbi Zlotowitz quiet while I said what I had to say, and then there was a brief silence on the phone. Then he said, “I like it,” and beginning with our first issue he placed a full-page ad, and sometimes two or three ads, in the newspaper.
But that is not all. In those days, we did not yet e-mail ads to advertisers, since the technology to send proofs was not easily accessible. So each week I made the trip down to Second Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up the negative of the ad. And each time I picked up one of those ads there was always an envelope with a check clipped to the negative. It made a big difference in those days, and I will always remember that gratefully.
If you live in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway community, at some point you will pass through or daven in the White Shul. As you know, there are many shuls here and, not unlike Brooklyn in some ways, there are minyanim late into the morning and Ma’ariv minyanim until midnight.
Up until about five or so years ago, I used to daven most mornings at the White Shul at the 7:45 a.m. minyan. Rabbi Pelcovitz usually davened at the prior minyan that started at 7 a.m., but sometimes he also davened Shacharis with us. One day some years ago, I don’t recall how it came about, but between the two minyanim, as Rabbi Pelcovitz was putting away his tallis and tefillin, I walked over to discuss an issue with him.
The rabbi asked my name and I introduced myself. He listened to what I had to say on whatever the issue was and then he asked if Nison Gordon, a’h, was my dad, and of course I acknowledged that he was my father. Rabbi Pelcovitz mentioned to me that in 1938, he was a camper at Camp Torah Vodaas and that he and my father, who was about two years older than Rabbi Pelcovitz, were in the same bunk.
From that day forward when I used to see Rabbi Pelcovitz, or when I see his photo or even his name, I think about how he shared that reminiscence with me. It was always difficult for me to imagine my father as a child or a teenager. But it was Rabbi Pelcovitz who, during that fleeting interlude between minyanim one morning, solidified the reality of that vision that will always be a part of me.
No, these are not the reasons why so many people will be paying tribute over the next few days to these great leaders. But to me, I have to say, it is the little things that constitute something special that was an indicator or perhaps a byproduct of the great things they accomplished for which they are remembered.
Democrats Skip Jerusalem
It is difficult to believe that leading Democratic Party elected officials were not invited to attend the dedication of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem two weeks ago. Still, this was their claim in a letter sent by a half-dozen members of Congress to U.S. Ambassador David Friedman. Amongst the signatories to the letter were New York congressmen Eliot Engel and Tom Suozzi.
According to Ambassador Friedman in remarks he made to the Times of Israel, the invitation to the dedication was open to all. “This was not our intent. We would have been delighted to host as many Democratic congressmen and senators as would have come,” he said. “The invitation was open to all, or I should actually say we made it clear that everybody was welcome. We didn’t specifically invite anyone. The Republican congressmen and senators who came did not come on the basis of a specific invitation. They reached out and they came. I would have been more than happy to host Democratic leaders and I hope they come in the future. From my perspective, American support for Israel needs to be bipartisan and I am going to do everything I can to support visits from legislators — blue or red.”
On Tuesday, in a text exchange with Congressman Suozzi, who once served as Nassau County executive, he said, “They really did not reach out to us. No formal invite from the White House. I found out afterwards that the chief of staff of another congress member invited me orally through him.”
“I don’t think they wanted us to come. If I had a heads-up or was invited by the White House I would have liked to be there,” the congressman said.
As Ambassador Friedman said, everyone in Congress was invited, but considering the political landscape as it exists in Washington today, Democratic leadership saw this as an opportunity to make the president look like he was exercising poor judgment.
As the president once again explained at a rally Tuesday night in Nashville, Tenn., U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is one of the president’s proudest accomplishments of his presidency to date. At the rally, the president spoke glowingly about the fulfillment of this important campaign promise and spoke proudly of his ambassador who oversaw the seamless transition to Jerusalem.
In all likelihood, it was not the White House that did not want Democratic officials to attend the dedication — it was Democratic strategists and leadership.
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