Thursday Night Session at Agudah Convention Draws Large Crowd at New Location


agudah-conventionThe Thursday night plenary session last night at Agudath Israel of America’s 87th national convention, the first of the four-day gathering at the East Brunswick Hilton – a new location for the convention – was attended by an impressive crowd that filled the large hall. And it heard an important message: Honesty in business and in personal life is the mandate of every Jew.

Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe and Rosh Agudas Yisroel, was the first of the evening’s speakers to address the session, which was entitled, “Yisroel Asher Becho Espo’or: Promoting K’vod Shomayim in Our Business and Interpersonal Dealings.”

He focused on a number of issues and ideas pertinent to that theme, which, in light of events both past and present, he called a “painful subject.” Noting the increased number of tragedies in the community over recent years and months, the Rebbe exhorted his listeners to introspect in light of the yesurim around them. We must not, he said, attribute sad circumstances to chance or nature but rather recognize that they demand change of us – and that a “cloud” of chilul Hashem, the “most grave of all transgressions… hangs over us.”

The Rebbe went on to suggest that the teshuva for chilul Hashem is kiddush Hashem – that the latter is what alone can “fill up” the void – the “cholol” that defines “chilul” both etymologically and in reality – caused by actions in Klal Yisroel that bring defamation to Sheim Hashem. And so he told his listeners to seek – “every day and every person” – opportunities to be marbeh kvod Shomayim and cause the name of Hashem to be mis’ahev al yodecha – to become beloved through our actions.

After Rabbi Perlow’s address, an audio-visual presentation brought the words of two Gedolim in the Olam Ho’emes on the same topic to the gathering: Rav Shimon Schwab and Rav Avrohom Pam zecher tzaddikim liv’rocho.

Rav Schwab, who served as Rav of Khal Adath Jeshurun and the Washington Heights community for nearly four decades, addressed an Agudath Israel “Halacha Conference for Accountants” on 18 Shevat, 5749 (January 24, 1989). Excerpts of that address, in which Rav Schwab minced no words about the wrongness of “cutting corners” when it came to honesty in business, were screened for the gathering.

The presentation then continued with words Rav Pam, who served as Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas (where he taught for more than 60 years) and was a Chaver of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. On 24 Cheshvan, 5761 (November 22, 2000), he was recorded on film addressing the issue of honesty. The film was screened the next day at that year’s Agudath Israel convention. Excerpts of that moving speech, which constituted one of his last public appearances, comprised the second part of the audio-visual presentation. The anguish in Rav Pam’s face and words were clearly the product not of his illness at the time but of the pain he felt at having to address the issue of honesty, one that, he said, is so essential a part of what it means to be a good Jew.

After the video presentation, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, Mashgiach, Bais Medrash Govoha, ascended to the podium to deliver his message to the gathering. He focused on the fact that each day, whether we sufficiently realize it or not, we ask Hashem for chances to be mekadesh Sheim Shomayim. That, the Mashgiach explained, is the meaning of the Kedusha, which is a prayer, not a praise – a prayer that we be able to be mekadesh es shimcho bo’olam.

Kvod Shomayim, Rabbi Salomon averred, is the purpose of Creation, and the purpose of our lives. And, quoting the Novi Yeshayohu, the Mashgiach explained how the “she’eiris Yisroel” that will merit the arrival of Moshiach is described as Jews who, in the Novi’s words, “do not engage in dishonest behavior, do not speak falsely and whose mouths contain no language of misleading.” That, said the Mashgiach, is because Moshiach’s arrival is to usher into the world unprecedented Kiddush Hashem, to bring
the nations of the world to recognize the specialness of Klal Yisroel.

Were he to come, though, at a time when Jews are spoken of as behaving badly in the marketplace, the reaction would be “What? He has come for those swindlers!” That would be a chilul, not kiddush, Hashem. “Hashem will only bring Moshiach,” Rabbi Salomon exclaimed, “when it will be a kiddush Hashem!” “Let us,” he continued, make that a reality.

The evening session’s chairman was Chaim Leshkowitz, member, Agudath Israel Board of Trustees.

¬†Earlier in the Thursday night program, an audio-visual presentation entitled “Agudath Israel: Responding to the Needs of Klal Yisroel and Reb Yisroel,” was screened. It included a sampling of the kind of work Agudath Israel’s divisions do, and featured a number of individuals who spoke about how they were personally helped by the organization’s efforts.

The convention opened several hours before the plenary session commenced, with concurrent sessions offered over the course of the afternoon. Among the issues addressed by panels at those sessions and discussed by those who attended them were the persistent and ever-growing dangers posed by the internet and other electronic media (in a session entitled “Tangled Up
in the Web: Real Problems, Real Solutions”); the search for new and innovative ways to help singles find their mates (“Thinking Outside the Shidduch Box: New Approaches to an Old Problem”); and the imperative to preserve the memories – and the lessons-of the Holocaust for our children (Seventy Years Later: The Need to Keep Churban Europe Before the Eyes of Our Young”).

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  1. Your survey has yes or no options. Maybe you could include a third, for those of us who went to open, free nights such as the keynote addresses the first night and motzei Shabbos. I don’t know if that’s available anymore but I did it 20+ years ago.

  2. Sometimes authors use a novel or screenplay to support political or social beliefs; or to cry out for morality and ethical principles. This is no more clearly evident than with Holocaust books and films. Whenever we stand up to those who deny or minimize the Holocaust, or to those who support genocide we send a critical message to the world.

    We know from captured German war records that millions of innocent Jews were systematically exterminated by Nazi Germany – most in gas chambers. Despite this knowledge, Holocaust deniers ply their mendacious poison everywhere, especially with young people on the Internet. Holocaust books and films help to tell the true story of the Shoah, combating anti-Semitic historical revision. And, they protect vulnerable future generations from making the same mistakes.

    I wrote Jacob’s Courage to promote Holocaust education. This coming of age love story presents accurate scenes and situations of Jews in ghettos and concentration camps, with particular attention to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. It examines a constellation of emotions during a time of incomprehensible brutality. A world that continues to allow genocide requires such ethical reminders and remediation.

    Many authors feel compelled to use their talent to promote moral causes. Holocaust books and movies carry that message globally, in an age when the world needs to learn that genocide is unacceptable. Such authors attempt to show the world that religious, racial, ethnic and gender persecution is wrong; and that tolerance is our progeny’s only hope.

    We need books and films that allow individuals to comprehend the terror experienced by Holocaust victims on a personal level. They reveal the horror of genocide and the triumphant spirit of humankind.

    Charles Weinblatt
    Author, “Jacob’s Courage”