Friday, May 16, 2014

Message from the Rosh HaYeshiva

We are getting close to wrapping up the year here at YCT. This week students continued learning Gemara and Halakha, in the latter case finishing the final sugyot in Hilkhot Aveilut. We had the pleasure of welcoming David Lowenfeld to the yeshiva on Thursday, where he delivered a shiur on the Elisha-Eliyahu story of II Kings 2, reflecting on the experience of losing a parent after a protracted illness and finding echoes to this experience of holding on, letting go, transition and carrying on, in this powerful story in Tanakh. Also this week, we began the year-end student presentations for the Modern Orthodoxy class, with one student presenting on The Challenge of Biblical Criticism and the other on Rav Yoel Bin Nun's Non-Formalist Approach to Psak Halakha.

At the beginning of the week, on Monday, I, Rabbi Lopatin, and a number of the rebbeim were out of the yeshiva at the annual IRF convention. It was a great few days of sharing, learning Torah, connecting and giving support to each other, and grappling with some of the most challenging issues facing our communities. It was great seeing so many of our musmakhim there, and great to have had the chance to schmooze and catch up.

Perhaps the most exciting event of the week, however, was on Wednesday when the rebbeim and talmidim of YCT had an opportunity to meet and talk with Rabbi David Lau, Chief Rabbi of Israel, who was here for the week in NY. After Rabbi Lopatin opened with words of blessing, Rabbi Lau spoke to the Talmidim of what it means to be future rabbis for Klal Yisrael. After which, all of us - rebbeim, students, and Rabbi Lau - were profoundly moved by the words of Abe Schacter-Gampel (YCT 2007), grandson of Rav Herschel Schacter, a"h. Rav Schacter, a"h, was the rabbi who not only was present at the liberation of Buchenwald, but dedicated himself in the ensuing months to restoring belief in the young Yisrael Lau, Rabbi David Lau's father and former chief rabbi, and in the hundreds of others in the camp who survived the Holocaust.  

"Our families share a long history," Abe began. "It was my zaidy, a chaplain of the U.S. Third Army, which liberated Buchenwald. There in Buchenwald, my zaidy met your father, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who was a young boy, only 7 years old. My zaidy took your father, your tatie, your abba, by the hand, and together made the rounds of the barracks of the camp -- as my Zaidy -- announced the liberation to the Jews, "Shalom Aleichem Yidn, Ihr Zint Fray," "Shalom Aleichem, Jews, you are free!"...

"After the Holocaust, your father, Rabbi Lau, was instrumental in creating religious culture in the land of Israel of which you are now its steward. And my zaidy, also attempted to create a religious Jewish life, a Modern Orthodox life, in America of which I am a beneficiary.
"We, students at YCT, will measure our worth -- creating and inspiring the Jewish future -- in the shadow of the terrible events of the Holocaust and also inspired by the vibrant Jewish communities of America and Israel."

Rabbi Lau was moved by the remarks, and responded with true warmth and emotion. Afterwards, a brief question and answer period followed, and the meeting ended with a dvar Torah of my own on the parasha which I share, below.

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