By Debbie Maimon
An Agudath Israel Shabbos in Far Rockaway-Lawrence last week featured inspirational addresses and shiurim by Agudah leaders in eight different shuls, a Friday night oneg that hosted a standing room-only crowd, and a well-attended Sunday morning breakfast fundraiser. The multi-layered event drew hundreds of participants from Far Rockaway, Inwood and Lawrence.
The speakers included Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s executive vice president; Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs; Rabbi Avi Schnall, Agudath Israel’s New Jersey director; and Rabbi Yaakov Bender, Rosh Hayeshiva, Yeshiva Darchei Torah. Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Noveminsker Rebbe, shlita, addressed participants at the Sunday breakfast.
The event was organized by Rabbi Elimelech Adler, Agudath Israel’s director of development, in conjunction with committee members Mr. Yochanan Bodner, Mr. Simcha David, Mr. Moti Edelstein, Mr. Yoily Edelstein, Mr. Yoel Ganz, Dr. Ernie Isaacson, Mr. Yosef Nussbaum, Mr. Yaakov Paneth, and Mr. Yehuda Zachter.
The multiple venues that hosted the Shabbos event allowed hundreds of community residents to hear directly from the Agudath Israel leadership and to meet one-on-one with Agudah representatives.
Klal Yisroel. Reb Yisroel. You.
In their presentations and interactions with participants, the speakers delivered fresh perspectives on Agudath Israel’s vital work and the broad reach of its programs. Their talks played on the theme “Klal Yisroel. Reb Yisroel. You.” These five words encapsulate Agudah’s overarching mission: to promote the welfare of both the klal and individual in the religious, legislative and social spheres.
The Agudah representatives called on community members to support the organization, not only through membership and donations, but by taking an active role in strengthening and furthering Agudah’s many operations.
Rabbi Zwiebel spoke at Cong. Keneseth Israel, Agudath Israel of West Lawrence and Bais Medrash Heichal Dovid. He drew attention to the Agudah’s work advocating for laws that protect the yeshiva community’s religious and civil rights, facilitating the efforts of parents of special needs children to obtain mandated services, and bringing in a flow of educational and security resources to the community.
“Our ability to maintain these many operations rests upon the support and backing of the entire community,” he said. “Our strength as an organization derives from our being viewed as the koach harabim, the collective voice of a broad constituency of Torah Jewry.”
Rabbi Zwiebel lauded the role of the Moetzes Gedolei Torah in setting policy for Agudath Israel in respect to the ever-changing moral and legal challenges confronting the Torah community. He stressed Agudah’s embrace of the daas Torah and authority of the Moetzes, even in situations that require the organization to take an unpopular stance.
Koach Harabim; an Extraordinary Force
Rabbi Avi Schnall spoke at Khal Machazikei Torah, Khal Zichron Moshe Dov, and Beis Tefillos Of Inwood. He cited the Yerushalmi that teaches that the giving of the machatzis hashekel served as atonement for the cheit haegel. But how can the giving of a half shekel atone for such a serious aveira? The lesson, Rabbi Schnall said, is that “in giving the machtzis hashekel, the nation came together with a powerful unity of purpose, thus creating a koach harabim. That force is so strong it can even bring forgiveness for the greatest sin.”
Rabbi Schnall cited some of Agudath Israel’s recent landmark accomplishments, such as $7.2 million in state government funds that yeshivas in the Five Towns received for mandated services and the securing of transportation for the 800 students of Bnos Bais Yaakov. He noted that all of this came about through the extraordinary koach harabim.
“Agudath Israel is the organizational embodiment of the koach harabim. By strengthening the Agudah we are empowering our koach harabim to be able to accomplish even more.”
Rabbi Shafran spoke at Shaarey Tefila, Beis Medrash Ateres Yisroel and Agudas Israel of Long Island. He noted that the miraculous narratives of Sefer Beraishis and the first part of Sefer Shemos bear an outward contrast to the seeming “mundane” topics that characterize Parshas Mishpatim.
This teaches us, he said, that nothing is wholly mundane; everything, including the most mundane element of life — money — can be infused with kedusha. This is suggested by the term “matbe’ah shel eish,” a coin made of fire, an ethereal element used on the mizbayach that Moshe was shown by Hashem.
This message dovetails with the opportunity presented to the Far Rockaway-Lawrence community over Shabbos, to acquire their matbe’ah shel eish by investing their resources wisely with an organization that uses them for the broader good of the Torah community.
Mr. Shlomo Werdiger, chairman of Agudath Israel’s Board of Trustees, addressed attendees at the packed oneg Shabbos at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ganz of Lawrence. He shared memories and vignettes of Rabbi Moshe Sherer, zt”l, that showcased Rabbi Sherer’s unwavering dedication to Klal Yisroel.
He urged participants to continue Rabbi Sherer’s legacy by supporting the Torah organization he led with distinction for so many decades. “Get involved!” he exhorted the crowds. “Join our advocacy efforts in Albany and our other initiatives.”
Rabbi Bender spoke over Shabbos at Beis Medrash Agudas Achim and at Kehilas Bais Yisroel. He stressed that the Torah community needs “one main address” to turn to in klal matters as well as challenges confronting the individual. He cited Rav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, who, in his work for Vaad Hatzala during the WWII, would often quote Rashi in Parshas Yisro on the words “v’nofal mimenu rav.” Rashi says the Torah is teaching us that the worth of a yochid parallels the value of a rav (rabbim).
“Every individual here is a direct beneficiary of Agudath Israel, an organization that is nosei b’ol for the yochid as much as for the rabbim, and works tirelessly for both,” Rabbi Bender said. “It’s vital that we support their work.”
Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, shlitah, addressed participants at the Sunday breakfast. He cited the Gemara that says Klal Yisroel was given the mitzvah of machatzishashekel because in the future, Homon would use shekalim to buy the right to annihilate the Yidden. The zechusim they would need to be saved would come from their donations of shekalim for the mishkan that would negate the power of Homon’s shekalim.
Rabbi Perlow pointed out that even with their donations of shekalim, the gezeirah was still in effect until the Yidden were mispallel and did teshuva. The lesson for us today, he said, is that giving monetary support to Torah causes is not enough. He noted that Agudath Israel is on the front lines of protecting and strengthening our mosdos haTorah. We need to invest ourselves physically, to be wholeheartedly and actively involved in askonus, to make sure our yeshivos, the lifeblood of our nation, remain intact.