Tuesday, September 14, 2021


It was Memorial Day 1984.

My grandfather was sitting at the desk in his small sefarim filled study, at my grandparents’ Highland Park, New Jersey,

home, working on the budget of the yeshivah elementary

school he’d founded 39 years earlier. Back then much

courage had been needed to start a yeshivah.

Today it is hard for us to grasp the intense opposition

there was to yeshivah education in this country just two

or three generations ago. Opposition from Yidden who

were members of Orthodox shuls! My Jersey hometown

was typical. When my grandfather wanted to start a

kindergarten and first grade, few of his baalei batim had any

interest in sending their kids to a yeshivah for elementary

school. Many more were hostile to the very concept.

In 1945 when my grandfather planned to open the

yeshivah, American patriotism was at its height. The

United States had just saved the world from Nazism. It was

considered very “American” to send your children to the

then-excellent public schools. American Jews desperately

wanted to fit into the monolithic American culture. Sending

your kid to yeshivah was definitely not “fitting in.”

To give an example of how weak Yiddishkeit used to be in

this country, in 1930 over 4,000,000 Jews lived in the United

States. Yet when Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan in

New York City needed a new ninth-grade Rebbi, it sponsored

my grandfather’s immigration from Lithuania to fill the job.

There were no American-born mechanchim at the time.

Rebbeim had to be brought over from Europe.

Baruch Hashem, it was hashgachah that saved my

grandfather when he came to the United States from

Lita. No one in his family back in Lithuania survived the

Holocaust. Neither, to the best of my knowledge, did any of

his chaverim from his years learning in Telshe under Harav

Yosef Leib Bloch survive Operation Barbarossa.

After coming here my grandfather married my

grandmother, the American-born daughter of a Telshe

family, and in 1938 accepted a position in the Rabbanus. He

became the Chief Rabbi of New Brunswick, New Jersey.

While there were lots of families in the kehillah, it must

have been difficult to become the Rav of a community with

very few learned — let alone shomer Shabbos — baalei batim.

My grandfather saw what a catastrophe public school

education was for the local Jewish youth. Plus, he needed

a yeshivah for my uncle, who was entering first grade. So

he founded Moriah Yeshiva Academy* in New Brunswick

for the school year starting in September 1945. Though it

consumed most of his time over the next 40 years, my grandfather never took a salary from the yeshivah, nor does my family own the building.

On that warm spring morning exactly 35 years ago, my

grandfather suffered a heart attack. He called out to my

grandmother in the next room to dial 911. While waiting for

the ambulance to arrive, he suffered a second heart attack.

In the ambulance, on the 1.5-mile ride to Middlesex County

Hospital in New Brunswick (since renamed the Robert

Wood Johnson University Medical Center), my grandfather

suffered a third heart attack. Things looked ominous. He

asked my grandmother to call their children to the hospital,

then said, “Nu, ich hob nit kein taynes tzu G-tt” (Nu, I have no complaints to G-d.)

My parents, uncles and aunts quickly came to the

hospital. The doctors were performing the new procedure

of angioplasty on my grandfather. They allowed only one

family member to come into the room every half-hour or

so. As soon as a relative came in to see my grandfather, he

would ask him or her, “What time is it?”

As if it mattered.

But my grandfather asked for the time at 5:00, 5:30, 6:00,

6:30, and so on.

“What time is it?”

“Five to nine.”

“Good, it’s late enough. Now we can count Sefirah.”

My grandfather recited out loud, “Baruch Atah, Hashem,

Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam asher kideshanu b’mitzvosav

v’tzivanu al Sefiras HaOmer...” (pause) “Hayom shnayim

v’arba’im yom shehem shishah shavuos baOmer (Today is

42 days, which are six weeks in the Omer)...” My grandfather

then closed his eyes and shortly thereafter returned his

neshamah to his Creator.

May we all be zocheh to have an appreciation such as his

for the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer. 

* MYA subsequently moved to Edison, N.J., and was later renamed the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva. Several thousand Jewish children received their Torah education at the yeshivah my grandfather founded 74 years ago.

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