In this issue, we are honored to present poignant recollections and stories of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, z”tl, the rosh yeshivah of Yeshivat Har Etzion and one of the foremost leaders of Modern Orthodoxy, who passed away this past April. In planning this tribute issue, we sought contributors from among Rav Aharon’s closest friends and talmidim.
I confess: while I knew of Rav Aharon (who didn’t know of Rav Aharon?), I never had the occasion to meet him personally or attend one of his shiurim. Thus, I feel especially fortunate that I merited to work on this special issue, replete with some of the most moving personal anecdotes about this self-effacing talmid chacham. Through reading and re-reading these essays, I was able to finally “meet” this true gadol b’Yisrael and get an intimate understanding of who he was and how he inspired so many.
Working on this issue also led me to reflect on the various teachers and rebbeim I have had over the years who helped shape my future and mold me into the person I am today.
When I think back to my days as a student, I can single out three individuals, all of whom were different from one another but together they helped me pave my own path as a religious Jew in the modern world.
As a young child of four or five, before I was eligible to enroll in Torah Vodaath (the yeshivah did not yet have a kindergarten class), I attended public school. But in the afternoon, I was greeted by the shining countenance of Rabbi Elchanan Scheinerman, my talmud Torah teacher. Rabbi Scheinerman did not only give his heart and soul to his young pupils when teaching us the Aleph Beis, he exuded love and warmth. The gentle manner in which he dealt with us rowdy American kids is something I cannot forget. Learning Torah from Rabbi Scheinerman was such a sweet experience that more than fifty years later, when I think of this kindly man, I can still taste a sweetness in my mouth.
As I got older, there were other towering figures who influenced my way of thinking. At Yeshiva University, I was privileged to learn Gemara with Rabbi Israel Wohlgelernter. As a teacher of Talmud, Rabbi Wohlgelernter was energetic and dynamic–he was very different from the European-born rebbeim I was familiar with. A master pedagogue, Rabbi Wohlgelernter’s superb techniques drew me into Gemara. He was a rebbe who gave me a special gift: a lifelong love of learning. For that, I am forever grateful.
Finally, I must mention Rabbi Dr. David Mirsky. A descendant of a long line of rabbis, Dr. Mirsky, who had semichah from Yeshiva University and a PhD in English literature, exemplified Torah u’Madda. He was an indisputable talmid chacham, yet at the same time, he had a profound understanding of and appreciation for language and literature. He was an authority on American and English literature and Hebraic culture (at one point he served as dean of Stern College for Women); very few could teach Milton’s Paradise Lost as he did, offering a Torah interpretation of this Christian epic poem at every opportunity. He encouraged me to pursue a graduate degree in English, which I ultimately did. Perhaps even more importantly, he taught me that one can be a genuine Torah Jew and be invested in the secular world at the same time. Unfortunately, he died relatively young. But he modeled for me and for many, many others what it means to be a Torah u’Madda Jew.
In addition to the wonderful essays on Rav Aharon, this issue is packed with relevant, timely articles including a feature on shomer Shabbos Boy Scouting (who knew it existed?); a section on “alternatives” in education including homeschooling and different approaches to teaching kriah and Aggadah, and a Q and A with Poopa Dweck, a well-known expert on Aleppian Jewish cuisine who has dedicated her life to preserving Syrian Jewish tradition and culture. Enjoy all of this in addition to an array of stimulating and thought-provoking articles on halachah, traveling in Israel, recipes for the chagim, Jewish books and more. I wish all of you a kesivah vachasimah tovah.
Gerald M. Schreck is the chairman of the Jewish Action Committee.
Who affected you? Which teachers or rebbeim changed your life in a significant way? We at Jewish Action would love to hear your stories. Please send them to email@example.com with the subject line: “Changed My Life,” and you may get published in an upcoming issue.