By Nissan Tovey
Like many of my fellow People of the Book, I enjoy reading. When a friend recently gave me a copy of Roy Neuberger’s newest offering, “Hold On: Surviving the Days Before Moshiach,” I surprised myself by reading through it in one sitting. I’d heard Roy’s name before, but I was not familiar with his background; after reading Hold On, I felt that I had to meet the author in person. A quick phone call was all it took to receive a warm invitation to the Neuberger home.
When I met with Roy (Yisroel) and Leah Neuberger last week in their lovely home in Jerusalem, the first thing that struck me was their warmth and banter. Well into his eighth decade, Roy has a special energy about him, in an almost mischievous way; Leah, a true ezer k’negdo, counters that with her careful, aristocratic approach. And yes, she’s really an ezer k’negdo — Leah is the editor of all of Roy’s books. I’m instantly smiling as I am led into their living room and made to feel at home, and that’s when I notice the paintings on the walls. They’re large, they are beautiful, and tucked among them I see a framed photograph of the revered Rabbi Avrohom Pam, zt’l, laughing aloud while sitting opposite a younger Roy Neuberger whose arms are raised in gesticulation. The photograph piques my curiosity … and that’s where our story begins.
Roy S. Neuberger is well-known in the Jewish world as an author and thinker. It wasn’t always like this; until he was in his early thirties, Roy had no inkling of what Judaism was about. Growing up in a wholly assimilated, wealthy Upper East Side family — Roy’s father was Roy Rothschild Neuberger, who founded the Wall Street firm of Neuberger Berman — Roy’s family celebrated December 25 in true American secular fashion, with stockings stuffed with gifts hanging from the mantel, and with a secular humanist approach to life. It was a pampered life, but it was a life of deep emptiness inside. Roy tried to fill that void with meaning by volunteering for the usual causes du jour, but the frail set of values that he lived by always seemed to collapse upon deep reflection. He had a beacon of hope at his side, though; he married Linda Villency, of the similarly assimilated former Vilensky family, when they were both young. As he still says wonderingly, she always supported him, always tolerated his constant quest for meaning.
Roy has always been a thinker, and he believed himself to be logical. The one thing that Roy had never allowed to enter his equation was G-d. Never, until one day in 1966.
Most human beings seem to be content coasting through life without thinking about their true purpose. It’s easier to focus on dealing with day-to-day issues such as health, income, and moving up the corporate ladder. That did not work for the younger Neubergers. They had it all financially, they were in good health, and they had each other — and life was still miserable.
At a crucial moment in their marriage (they were at the University of Michigan at the time) Roy reached a point at which either he would crash emotionally or he would have to get outside his current worldview. During the night of January 10, 1966, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, his old world collapsed and he found that there was nothing left except … G-d!
At this moment, everything changed for Roy and Linda. All of a sudden, there was hope!
He had not yet found Hakadosh Baruch Hu in the Jewish sense, but he did realize there had to be a Higher Being and a higher purpose in life. And so began an eight-year exploration into Eastern religions and then Christian denominations — an exploration that ended with the conclusion that all these belief systems were lacking and were based on innate falsehoods. Perhaps the religion of his forefathers, the very religion that his secular, ethical education had taught him to view as primitive and out of touch, could offer some answers?
We Torah Jews do not believe in chance, and it was certainly not by chance that Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis decided to take up the invitation of a congregation in Newburgh, New York, and to come and speak about Yiddishkeit. It was a three-hour drive each way for a one-hour talk, and it was the height of the 1973–1974 energy crisis when filling one’s gas tank could mean a three-hour wait, but something caused the Rebbetzin to say “yes.”
Roy and Linda, who at that time owned and published a newspaper in a nearby community, heard about the talk and decided to invest an hour of their time. This fateful decision would change their lives forever.
Rebbetzin Jungreis spoke with passion and a clarity of conviction that was like cold water in the desert to the Neubergers’ thirsty souls. The connection they formed with the Jungreis family was to lead them to join a frum community in Long Island, where the Rebbetzin’s husband was rabbi. They dedicated themselves fully to becoming true Torah Jews.
Avraham Avinu discovered G-d at age three; his descendant Roy S. Neuberger discovered G-d at age 31.
Roy is a very bright man. After some years of study, he was offered the position of general-studies principal at a New York yeshiva; he has been a hedge fund manager, a National Park ranger, and a newspaper publisher. More than all those, however, he has been a man with a message, and with the talented pen of a master of English literature and the pithy wit of a newspaperman, he has made his pen his sword, or perhaps a machete, slicing through the jungle of confusion that prevents so many of us from becoming closer to Hashem.
I was amazed by Roy’s courageous openness in his first book, From Central Park to Sinai, which led the Jewish bestseller lists for months following its publication. It is the engaging story of a person who has everything and realizes that he has nothing; yet, rather than immerse himself in the destructive swamp of a modern olam ha’zeh, he searches for and finds meaning. It is not only the personal discovery that is so meaningful. It is the hashgachah pratis, the constant hand of G-d so apparent at every turn, that makes one catch one’s breath and say “Wow!”
The publication of Roy’s first book was not easy. The manuscript was perceived by some frum publishing houses as being geared to general audiences, while non-Jewish publishing houses found it too parochial. When the Neubergers were finally offered a publishing deal by a small Jewish publishing house, Roy asked Rav Avrohom Pam, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, for counsel and blessing. When the Rosh Yeshiva heard of the “coincidences” that led to the choice of publisher, he could not help but laugh out loud, adding his warmest berachah, a berachah which has certainly panned out!
“Hold On” (published by Mosaica Press; distributed by Feldheim) is a different kind of read. It is still Roy at his best — humorous, insightful, persistent, unwilling to whitewash the facts. Put simply, Roy is concerned, and he shares his concern with the reader. If From Central Park to Sinai told the story of the path that was, Hold On sets out the path that must be.
The title is taken from a statement by the saintly Chofetz Chaim, regarding chevlei Moshiach, the difficult period before Moshiach’s arrival: “Before the arrival of Moshiach, Hashem will stretch a rope across the world and shake it up violently. The only way to survive will be to hold on to the rope with all one’s strength.”
Though we are dedicated Torah Jews, we are still susceptible to the foibles and changing values of the Western society in which we live and participate. We tend to push ideas like the end of days and Moshiach’s imminent arrival to some hazy, future time. Roy masterfully points out the corollary between our times and the days preceding Yetzias Mitzrayim, when four-fifths (at a minimum!) of the Jewish nation refused to accept the coming exodus, preferring to remain in their position in Egyptian culture and life, as difficult as they had it at the bottom of the barrel as lowly slaves. These four-fifths died in Egypt; they did not see the miracles to come, their souls were not present at Sinai, and they were lost to the destiny of the Jewish People.
As uncomfortable as the thought may be, Roy asks, are some of us in that place right now? World events are tumultuous, even frightening; madmen develop weapons of mass destruction as novel illnesses shut borders. Broken social mores have become the new normal. What can we do to “Hold On?” I found this book to be an inspiring guide, deeply rooted in our unchanging mesorah, to making it through.
I ask Roy about his feelings about inspiring others. He smiles as he responds. “One thing I learned along my own path is that you can go through a life filled with sources of inspiration without becoming inspired. At the dawn of our history as a nation, every person in the world was aware of Yetzias Mitzrayim, yet only Yisro chose to take inspiration, to change his own life and join the destiny of the Jewish People.
“Right now we are standing at a crossroads. Moshiach ben Dovid must be close, and the perfect world of the Beis HaMikdash. If we ‘Hold On,’ we will see it all with our own eyes!”
Roy Neuberger and his wife, Leah, are longtime Five Towns residents.
“Hold On: Surviving the Days Before Moshiach” (Mosaica Press, distributed by Feldheim) is expected in bookstores before Pesach. “Hold On” has haskamos from many Five Town rabbanim, including Rabbis Yaakov Bender, Eytan Feiner, Yaakov Feitman, Naftali Jaeger, and Yechiel Perr.