Letters to the Editor

Straddling Worlds
I commend Jewish Action for taking the initiative to highlight individuals who represent an ideal of Kiddush Hashem that is hard to find today (“From the Boardroom to the Beit Midrash and Back Again,” fall 2009). Individuals who are creators in Torah while also being involved in “yeshuvo shel olam” are true ovdei Hashem whom we should emulate. However, I want to highlight some important points that were overlooked.

The articles do a wonderful job of describing the virtues of pursuing success in multiple worlds, but they fail to address the challenges inherent in such a choice. People naturally choose the path of least resistance and therefore will gravitate towards the simplicity and ease of following existing paradigms. It is easy to relegate toiling in Torah and spirituality to the realm of rabbis, retirees and those who are unable to find a “real” job. On the other hand, one can invoke the Gemara’s question [how could one willingly forego his commitment to Torah for mundane pursuits?] and accordingly dismiss working as a dilution of a higher ideal. Inevitably, individuals who choose to straddle worlds as an ideal in and of itself, will draw criticism from others simply due to their deviating from the norm. In addition, many will brand such a choice as being a compromise for those who are unable to fully commit themselves to a single ideal. As a result, those who pursue a middle path often face a sense of isolation as outsiders to the worlds, ideas and ideals they seek to synthesize.

Moreover, such individuals often confront the persistent question of whether the choice to integrate and pursue multiple worlds resigns one in the end to a life of mediocrity in multiple avenues, a dispersion of energy and effort, rather than the shining success of concentrated pursuit in just one area.

The clearest indication of the difficulty of maintaining such a middle ground is the inability of many of those who make such a choice to pass on their views, dreams and passions to their children. This failure is not only a result of the lack of educational choices and large communities that reinforce such a lifestyle, but also the result of the unique circumstances that produce such an individual. Many times, the personal strengths, backgrounds and experiences of those who are able to successfully navigate and synthesize multiple worlds are inimitable. I am a strong believer in the integration of multiple worlds, and I would encourage others to pursue such a path, emulating those highlighted in the Jewish Action profiles, but I think it is of the utmost importance not to gloss over the challenges of choosing such a lifestyle.

The other omission in the articles is the essential role that families, and especially wives, play in supporting the success of such individuals. There is limited time in the day for one to successfully balance Torah, chesed, family and work. It is the fortitude and vision of a spouse that enables the successful navigation and pursuit of such a rigorous lifestyle.

Lastly, it seems to me that Jewish Action has fallen prey to the biographic style of profiling perfect individuals. Not only is this approach a perversion of the truth, it is also a tremendous disservice for those who are looking to our gedolim and leaders for inspiration. To read about them overcoming adversity and facing challenges is so much more inspiring, real and relevant than reading about malachim [angels]. The profiles in Jewish Action would have been more meaningful had they included the individuals’ missteps, the difficulties they faced in attaining their success and the continued complexity and challenges of the paths they have chosen.

Beit Shemesh, Israel

Regards from Omaha, Nebraska
The wonderful article about our son, (Bayla Sheva Brenner, “The Chief Rabbi of Nebraska: Rabbi Jonathan Gross,” winter 2009), highlights the fact that Jonathan, having grown up in Teaneck and having lived in Los Angeles, left the comfort zones of these heavily populated Jewish communities to live and work as a rabbi in Omaha, a mostly non-Jewish city in the Midwest. However, the most important factor in Jonathan’s becoming a rabbi was the influence of his grandfather, Rabbi Joseph Maza, z”l, who was the rabbi of Congregation Anshe Emeth in South River, New Jersey, for forty eight years, and the founder of the Union Hill Synagogue in Manalapan, New Jersey. While still in college, Jonathan assumed his first pulpit by becoming the temporary rabbi for the congregants in Manalapan, when his grandfather became too ill to continue. Some reference to Jonathan’s grandfather would have given the article greater depth.

Teaneck, New Jersey

A Correction and an Apology
The last issue was fascinating, but I found the article on “The Chief Rabbi of Nebraska” disturbing. My wife grew up in Omaha, and still visits it occasionally.

Rabbi Gross is doing wonderful things in Omaha. But for the author to assert that Beth Israel is the only Orthodox shul in Omaha is simply untrue. There is an active Chabad in Omaha, whose rabbi predates Rabbi Gross’ tenure by a good number of years. Very much a part of the community, Omaha’s Chabad has a daily morning minyan and Shabbat services and runs a range of programs.

Chabad is mentioned in the articles on Houston and Edmonton in the same issue. So why the apparent snub in Omaha?

New York, NY

It was certainly not our intention to offend. The article stated that there was only one Orthodox rabbi in Omaha, an error we should have caught. We regret this oversight.

Readers should note that Chabad of Nebraska was established in 1986. Led by Rabbi Mendel Katzman, Chabad of Nebraska serves the community with a shul, ongoing adult education classes, a popular summer day camp, women’s programs, special community lectures and Shabbatonim, and a variety of activities for children from early childhood through college. For more information, visit www.ochabad.com. Ed.

An article on Torah High in the winter 2009 issue neglected to mention Torah High Cleveland, which is currently running as a track of Akiva High School, a Hebrew school in Cleveland. Learn more about Torah High Cleveland by visiting www.abetterkindofhigh.org.

This article was featured in the Spring 2010 issue of Jewish Action.