Photos: Novominsker Rebbe Addresses Agudath Israel’s 87th Anniversary Dinner


bloomberg-agudah[Photos below.] “We live in changing times,” Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe and Rosh Agudas Yisroel observed, but “the truth is that times always change. “The challenges and pitfalls of one generation are not those of another.” And with that introduction, the Rebbe chose the occasion of Agudas Yisroel’s 87th anniversary dinner last night to address two painful social issues facing the observant Jewish world at present.First, however, he reminded his listeners that what makes Agudas Yisroel special is that “it seeks the truth of Torah” and discerns it in the understanding of Gedolei Torah. That determination to divine what is proper for Klal Yisroel “resists even well-meaning daas baalei batim,” Rabbi Perlow proclaimed, and certainly “the bloggers and the picketers, presumptuous promoters” of the notion that “they know better what is good for the Jews.”

“A serious issue” has arisen in our community, the Rebbe went on. “Individuals have been hurt and deserve redress, acknowledgment and empathy.” There is a need, the Rosh Agudas Yisroel continued, “for tikkun ha’ovar” – correcting the past – and for addressing the future, “creating means to guide against wrongdoing to children.”

Not many people, Rabbi Perlow noted, know of the countless hours spent by the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisroel and the Vaad Roshei Yeshiva of Torah Umesorah over the past two years discussing the many complex facets, including the implications “for mosdos haTorah.”

“No one really knows the sensitivity that went into this entire process,” over the course of many meetings regarding “this painful parsha.”

He called his listeners to carefully read and comprehend the joint statement that was issued several weeks ago by Agudas Yisroel and Torah Umesorah, reflecting the conclusion of the rabbonim at their helms. “It was carefully drafted,” he averred, “and is not to be misread or treated cavalierly.”

That statement made clear that the signatory organizations fully acknowledge the horror of abuse, “the devastating long-term scars it all too often creates,” and the fact that “for too long many victims have suffered alone.” It declared that Agudas Yisroel and Torah Umesorah would have “no objection to legislation designed to give victims of abuse greater recourse against perpetrators. Nor would we object to extending statutes of limitations for criminal proceedings against perpetrators.” But it objected to legislation that, due to its proposed year-long total suspension of the statute of limitations for civil suits against institutions, could, with the proliferation of lawsuits that might come in its wake, “destroy schools, houses of worship that sponsor youth programs, summer camps and other institutions that are the very lifeblood of our community.”

The second contemporary issue addressed by the Rebbe at the Agudah dinner involved an issue born of the constant balancing a Torah-faithful community has to undertake when living in a larger culture with very different ideals, some of them even “repugnant to our sacred values.”

“We live in a malchus shel chesed,” Rabbi Perlow asserted, “and we appreciate all that it has done for us.” At the same time, though, he continued, “we must proclaim Sheim Shomayim loud and clear,” and must declare “our opposition and strong protest” against efforts to “change the meaning of marriage” – the agenda of legislation currently before the New York State legislature.

The Rosh Agudas Yisroel then turned his listeners’ attention to the terrible loss the Torah world had suffered mere months earlier upon the petira of Reb Elya Svei, zt”l, the Philadelphia Rosh HaYeshiva and long-time elder member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. The challenge facing the Torah world today, he said, “is now greater,” as Rabbi Svei had so deeply invested himself in, and felt achrayus for, inyonei tzibbur.

The need now, he continued, is for further investment of the olam haTorah’s kochos into work on behalf of the klal, and an invigorated sense of achrayus on the part of all who carry the banner of Torah for undertaking efforts on behalf of the tzibbur. Reb Elya, zt”l, the Rebbe noted, undertook his responsibilities at the Agudah “as a link” to the great Lakewood Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, and “a bridge” to a “pristine” past. “Tzaddik ovad, lidoro ovad.” – “The loss of a righteous man is his generation’s loss.”

The Agudas Yisroel dinner began with remarks by Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel – his first at an Agudah dinner in his position as the organization’s executive vice president. Rabbi Zwiebel took note of the constant growth of Agudas Yisroel as a force for kiddush Hashem nationwide, referencing not only the group’s Washington Office but regional offices in states across the country. He then focused on New York City, where Agudas Yisroel is headquartered, pointing out how the personal histories of the parents or grandparents of so many in the room – himself included – are bound up with the city. And how New York has today become home to over 240 elementary and secondary Jewish schools, servicing more than 88,000 children, “kein yirbu.”

Acknowledging that Agudas Yisroel has had, and likely always will have, “disagreements, even serious ones,” with local governmental officials, “on balance, we’ve been able to work with leaders” of city government to benefit both the Jewish community and New York itself. With that, Rabbi Zwiebel introduced Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York and the evening’s guest speaker, pointing out how helpful to the Orthodox Jewish community Mr. Bloomberg has been, on issues like the protection of bris milah, aid to private schools and security for religious and educational institutions.

Mayor Bloomberg began his remarks by imagining his elderly mother’s reaction when he calls her to tell her that he sat on a dais with members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah that evening. “Wow!” was his guess. He imagined that his late grandfather, a rabbi, would have been similarly impressed at the venue at which he was speaking.

With Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu set to meet with President Barack Obama the next day, Mayor Bloomberg recalled the President’s comment during the presidential campaign that “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

“I hope,” said Mr. Bloomberg, “that the President’s remark will be in his mind tomorrow.”

The New York Mayor went on to speak about the state of the city, and how, despite the “tough times” it is undergoing, “I find it hard not to be optimistic.” He recounted the drop in the crime rate and contrasted the Crown Heights of two decades ago with what he called “a safe neighborhood” today. He also proclaimed accomplishments and determination in the realm of affordable housing – an issue of great interest to the observant Jewish community – and economic opportunity plans.

Acknowledging that some of the Orthodox community’s needs “are unique” and may not always fit into the existing structure of governmental responsibilities, “if there is any way we can help, we will.”

Honorees at the dinner included: Rabbi Avrohom Halpern, who received the Rabbi Moshe Sherer Memorial Award, for lifelong devotion to Klal Yisroel; The Jewish Observer, which was honored as the recipient of the Hagaon Rav Aharon Kotler Memorial Award, for distinguished service to Torah; Irwin Mehl, z”l, whose family accepted the Reb Elimelech Tress Memorial Award in tribute to Mr. Mehl’s role in preserving the legacy of the Shearis HaPleitah; and Binyomin Berger, who received the Moreinu Yaakov Rosenheim Memorial Award, for distinguished service to Agudath Israel.

Avodas Hakodesh awardees were Ronald Coleman, Yankie Klein, Yosef Rapaport and Dovid Winiarz. Rabbi Raymond Haber was the recipient of the Wolf Friedman Leadership Award. Shimon Lefkowitz serves as dinner chairman, and Meir Lichtenstein as co-chairman.

Click here for photos of the dinner taken by Menachem Adelman.

{Elisha Newscenter}


  1. I see Rabbi Yehuda Levin had some impact, B”H as the Noviminsker made a secondary reference to the Toeva bill