To the Editor:
Although it has been a while since the tragic passing of Rabbi Yossie Stern, the Executive Director of Project Ezrah, it is difficult for me personally to come to terms with his passing. Regretfully, I was not able to attend his leveya and feel guilty about not being able to make an appearance. I have also read a number of tributes that were posted about him on Facebook or on other Blogs and they are very touching. But for me, they were somewhat difficult to read.
It is obvious that he was an exceptional human being, but in every piece that I have read there is something missing. I did not know Rabbi Stern for a lifetime the way these other people who have written about him so eloquently did. I only knew him for roughly two decades. He was very clearly a Baal Chesed and gave his whole being towards helping others. His drive to start an organization like Project Ezrah was clearly based on a key essence of his personality, which was a deep love and concern for his fellow human beings. I also believe that his deep concern for his fellow man was not limited to Jews but extended to all people.
To be completel y honest, I hated going to Project Ezrah. I, also, often did not relish having to meet with Rabbi Stern in his office and I had to meet with him on several occasions. I am very grateful that Ezrah is there, but it is extremely distressing that I had to be one of the families who needed assistance. Once you enter the office, the issue that you are incapable of providing for yourself or your family becomes a stark reality. It was not Rabbi Stern’s wish to make me or anyone else feel this way, but that is how I often felt.
However, my anger over having to turn to them for assistance did not blind me to the absolute greatness of Rabbi Stern. I wish I could have gotten to know him another way, outside of the walls of Ezrah, but this is where I most often had to meet with him.
Unless, I have missed something, I think the tributes that I have read (which are all beautifully written) do not fully do him justice. He would probably not want to be overly praised by anyone because he was clearly an extremely humble person.He was kind and he was charitable. However, over time, I came to realize that he was absolutely brilliant.
Although many people clearly came to him because they were in obvious financial distress, he was not a person who was there to just throw money at a problem, believing that it would repair the situation. He assessed the entire person. He looked deep into your soul to make a human assessment of how best you needed to be helped. My encounters with him have led me to the inescapable conclusion that he had a deep understanding of the human condition. I do not know if he even studied an academic discipline like Psychology, but he had the ability to size up a person’s character to make an overall assessment about how they needed to be helped. I believe he came to know things about people that their present situation prevented them from seeing. He basically looked for the good in everyone and his keen insight into understanding the Human condition helped him better meet the needs of the families that he was trying to help. I think that his brilliance coupled with his kind nature and deep compassion for his fellow man is what made him unique. He did not just learn Torah; he lived it, practiced it and made it part of his very essence.
I actually never fully thanked him for everything that he did for my family and now it is too late. I also cannot imagine a world that exists without Rabbi Yossie Stern in it; a world in which Rabbi Stern always made himself available to meet the needs of those who were in serious (personal) distress. There is no one like him. Unfortunately, there is also no one who can replace him in the Teaneck community, the entire Jewish community will be forever lacking without his continued guidance.
I also realize that you will probably be reluctant to publish a letter where the author fails to sign his name. Unfortunately, I cannot sign my name for obvious reasons. I will understand if you choose not to publish this letter, but I just wanted to pay my own personal respects to a man who gave everything he could to try and help me and my family. I may never fully meet his expectations but I just wanted to perhaps let his spirit know that his efforts were deeply appreciated. You will be missed Rabbi Stern. Thank you for everything you did or tried to do to help me.
A beneficiary of the kindness of Rabbi Yossie Stern
To the Editor,
Kudos to the Jewish Link for its extensive coverage of the Orthodox community in Bergen County.
There is, however, one unfortunate trend in the Link’s coverage. Too often only one side of an event or issue is published. This is unfair to readers and detracts from the quality of the Link’s journalism.
Two obvious examples from last week’s edition (March 13) come to mind:
The lengthy article “Haredim Stage Massive Rally: Battle on IDF Enlistment Heats Up” cited only the views of Professor Yedidia Stern and Moshe Weiss. For very different reasons, both these people were against the new law mandating that haredim serve in the IDF. Surely there are serious arguments in support of the law that are important to the controversy and that readers deserve to hear. Yet the Link never gave its readers the chance to know and evaluate those arguments.
There was also an op-ed, “The Halachic Status of Partnership Minyanim” in the same edition. The author presented only one side of the halachic debate on this important issue. Worse still, he dismissed those in disagreement as people “who are not familiar with the halachic process.” In fact, there are serious halachic scholars such as Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber who see no problem with women having aliyot l’Torah. The author of the op-ed may be correct in his opinion, yet fairness and intellectual integrity require that readers be informed of the variety of opinions on these crucial political and halachic questions.
One-sided coverage of political events is not the stuff of quality journalism. It underestimates intelligence of the reader and closes the mind. Moreover, it can easily slide into ideological propaganda, confining information to an echo chamber of like-minded persons. One-sided presentations on halachic issues that dismiss dissenting opinions undermine the credibility of those presentations, and constitutes a departure from our sacred halachic tradition of respectful machloket between scholars.
In both political and halachic controversies, both the Link and our community would do well to follow Hillel and his disciples. We would be the better for it. As the Mishna teaches, their halachic rulings become normative halachah because Beit Hillel honestly and respectfully presented the arguments of their rival Beit Shammai. Only then did they proceed to argue for the superiority of their own positions. They never dismissed the seriousness of Shammai’s dissenting opinions, nor did they display any intellectual or spiritual arrogance. Beit Hillel was intellectually honest and respectful and thus their Torah became the Torah of Israel.
Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn
To the Editor:
Why do most rabbis ignore the Purim of 1953?
The deliverance of the Jewish people described in the Book of Esther and celebrated during the holiday of Purim is considered one of the greatest miracles. By the second century C.E., Purim played such a significant role in the Jewish calendar that an entire tractate of the Mishnah, called Megillah, was based on the discussion of Purim’s proper observance. However, the origins and historicity of the Book of Esther remain debated because it surfaced only well after the time it claims to describe and because of the lack of corroborating historical information from ancient Persia.
Around 1200 C.E., the rabbinical tradition of Special Purims (alternatively ‘Little Purim’ or ‘Purim Katan’) was established so that if a Jewish community was miraculously saved from a disaster by the hands of Jew-haters, then all its descendants in all generations should celebrate such deliverance as a Special Purim according to the Jewish calendar date of the rescue and retell the events written in a Special Megillah.
In February of 1996, I and my terminally ill wife, Bella, realized that we had stumbled upon the greatest Special Purim. The peak of Stalin’s virulent anti-Jewish (anti-Zionist) campaign came at the end of 1952—beginning of 1953. Thousands were arrested. Witness accounts and statements from the top of the Soviet hierarchy strongly indicated that millions of Jews were slated for extermination. The campaign would not be limited to the “Socialist Camp.” My mother was branded “a well-known Zionist.” Her Jewish boss was already in jail for three months. But Stalin collapsed on March 1, 1953, and we discovered in 1996 that that day was exactly Purim 1953. Stalin died on March 5 and the anti-Semitic purge was discontinued within a month.
In 1996, for the first time in history, three Teaneck shuls celebrated (in one or another form) Special Purim-Stalin: they were the Teaneck Jewish Center, Congregation Bnai Yeshurun and Congregation Beth Sholom. Megillah “Purim-Stalin” was published as a booklet and hundreds of copies were distributed. Over the next few years over 100 shuls in the U.S. and a few in Israel and Canada requested the booklet. Some Orthodox shuls requested hundreds of copies. It had been published in the Jewish Standard in 1996 and the book digging into its details was the cover story of the Purim issue of the Jewish Standard in 2003. However, for the most part it was a one-time event (regardless of the rabbinical tradition), and since then, most of the new rabbis have shrugged off the subject (and some even sent back insulting responses).
For those who do care, I have posted the booklet “Purim-Stalin” on the web at www.purim-stalin.webs.com to make it easily accessible (printing and mailing is much messier).
It might be proper (and in accordance with the tradition) to remind shul members of the legacy of this modern deliverance of millions of Jews in 1953, say during an Amalek discussion on Shabbat before Purim (unfortunately, I sent this letter in late, but maybe keep this subject in mind for next year!).
There is also a debate about when to celebrate a Special Purim that falls on the date of the traditional. There are not too many happy miracles of this scale in Jewish history and the deliverance of millions (and possibly all) of the Jews falling exactly on Purim certainly looks like one of them.
Why then the rabbinical reluctance? Is it similar to the refusal of some to introduce the Holocaust commemoration into the Jewish liturgical calendar? Or is it similar to three years from 1948 to 1951, trying to reach a compromise on the Holocaust commemoration in Israel? Or could it be related to some European countries insisting on Holocaust commemoration on the day the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz (and then how to reconcile this with the Soviets planning a new Holocaust) and the commemoration on Yom HaShoah—anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising?
So next year, will anyone follow the tradition of Special Purim-Stalin? This year marked 50 years since the miracle. We shouldn’t forget. Especially on Shabbos Zachor. Next year.
Dr. Alex Rashin