“What really drives me to help this organization and to want to see it grow lies in the opportunities I see it has for my children and all our children,” says Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, the newly appointed chairman of the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation (CCHF) board. “We all know how much easier it is to adhere to something if we are raised with it right from the start. The more we teach the children – the future of Klal Yisroel – from an early age how we can and cannot speak, the stronger and easier it will be for them. ”
Reb Shlomo Yehuda has a vision. One generation from now, a person who has the urge to speak lashon harah will stop, look around, and realize that such talk will be unwelcome among his friends. Not wanting to offend anyone with his negative comments, he will hold his tongue. In that generation, speaking lashon harah will be like smoking – a formerly accepted, tolerated vice that has become distasteful to so many people that one simply cannot do it in public.
Making that vision a reality is the motivation behind Reb Shlomo Yehuda’s acceptance of the new position as Chairman of the Board of the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation. The well-known and highly respected Los Angeles businessman, a supporter of numerous causes and Torah institutions, has turned his prodigious talent toward CCHF because of the great potential he sees for the organization’s impact on the Jewish world.
Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, the Chairman of CCHF’s Rabbinical Board, sees Reb Shlomo Yehuda’s involvement as a significant indication of the growing awareness of shemiras halashon‘s importance. “He has a deep understanding of the needs of the day, and it’s wonderful that he has applied his great talents to the benefit of the shemiras halashon movement,” said Rav Kamenetsky.
Board member Rabbi Gedaliah Weinberger warmly welcomed Reb Shlomo Yehuda’s leadership, predicting that it would take the organization’s achievements to a new level. “The board is delighted with the wonderful choice of Shlomo Yehuda as Chairman of the Board,” he said. “He has a reputation for being a tomeich Torah and making sure the projects he undertakes are successful. As much as CCHF has accomplished, we look forward to great strides ahead under his leadership.”
WHY SHEMIRAS HALASHON?
Reb Shlomo Yehuda’s involvement evolved partly out of his high regard for what the organization stands for and what it has thus far accomplished. “I felt that this would be an area that would be a tremendous zechus to help support,” he said. “And I have also seen the tremendous good that arises from people who are diligent in their shemiras halashon.”
What inspires Reb Shlomo Yehuda most about the CCHF’s work is the emphasis on reaching children with the message of shemiras halashon.
“This is something that can clearly make a huge impact on future generations if developed properly,” he said. “I strongly feel that with the proper funding and more people to help make the dream come alive, we can not only minimize lashon harah, but cause it to be viewed as unacceptable. This is a priceless gift for our children and future generations.”
Michael Rothschild, Director of the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, anticipates a great new surge of shemiras halashon awareness and inspiration in the wake of Reb Shlomo Yehuda’s involvement in CCHF.
“A good businessman can really sense the value of something, and he can capitalize on it,” Mr. Rothschild said. “Shlomo Yehuda saw all the potential in the CCHF. We’re like a venture capital start-up, even though we’ve been around for 21 years, because no matter how much we do, there’s always so much more that can be done. We’re sitting on a goldmine, and with Shlomo Yehuda on board, we will be able to catapult to a whole new level of effectiveness.”
Reb Shlomo Yehuda’s aspirations for CCHF dovetail precisely into the strategy it has been pursuing, bringing school curricula, learning programs, events, contests, clubs and newsletters into every children’s venue, from elementary school through high school, as well as into the home through family-oriented programs and learning material. At present, there are:
- 243 elementary schools, totaling 20,064 students, participating in the B’drachav elementary school program;
- 83 high schools with a total of 11,169 students involved in the Mishmeres high school program;
- 55 yeshivos conducting Shemiras Halashon Yomi programs;
- 600,000 minutes a month in calls to Wonder Words, a children’s telephone line for inspirational stories;
- Over 10,000 children growing up in families where the mother participates in Tiferes, a home-based program.
THE ‘POPULAR’ WAY TO SPEAK
With that substantial groundwork already laid, Reb Shlomo Yehuda’s ideas for an increased impact on children have a healthy head start. “The awareness we can bring to children all over through the yeshiva system can be a huge success, instilling fun and informative programs that make shemiras halashon a more popular way of life,” he said. “The sooner we start and the younger the children are, the larger the impact can be.”
Making shemiras halashon “popular” – something that normal, personable, socially successful people take seriously – is a marketing job. The CCHF has been at the vanguard of this strategy since its inception, using appealing graphics, high-quality media and clear, user-friendly written materials to attract the general Jewish public to the message of shemiras halashon.
“It used to be considered a mitzvah for the very frum,” explained Michael Rothschild. “Now it has become a mainstream mitzvah. Many more people have become involved. Our goal is to reach every home, so that every frum person will have some connection to shemiras halashon. But the underlying purpose of that goal is that it will improve every single area of avodas Hashem.
“Every major area of avodas Hashem – Torah, tefillah, mitzvos bein adam laMakom and mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro – is rooted in the power of speech. If speech is not pure, a person’s Torah and tefillah aren’t pure. His brachos don’t work. And it goes without saying that his relationships with other suffer. So mastering the proper use of the power of speech is actually the way to master Yiddishkeit.”
Despite the power of that message and its tremendous impact on every Jew, it still needs to be instilled in the community, and as Reb Shlomo Yehuda noted, the most effective way to instill a message is to teach it to children right from the beginning. Then it becomes the norm for them, and they do not have to battle ingrained negative habits as adults must.
SERVING THE COMMUNITY
Reb Shlomo Yehuda’s position at the helm of the CCHF Board of Directors comes after many years of proactive involvement in Torah causes. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Reb Shlomo Yehuda attended Yeshiva Rav Isaacsohn Toras Emes Academy and then the Mesivta of Long Beach. He continued learning in Eretz Yisroel at Yeshivas Mir-Yerushalyim, and returned there after marrying his wife, Tamar, daughter of Rav Yisroel Belsky, noted posek and rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Torah Vodaas.
Upon moving back to Los Angeles, Reb Shlomo Yehuda joined his brother, Yisroel Zev, in building a business which generated a great deal of opportunity for others in the community, as well as tzedakah and support for the many mosdos in Los Angeles and worldwide. As his numerous businesses grew, he stayed firm in his commitment to the community.
Talmidei chachomim and those who are involved in Torah-related activities receive special attention and support from the Rechnitz family in the form of stipends before Yom Tov. In Eretz Yisroel, Reb Shlomo Yehuda is actively involved with Keren L’Aniyei Eretz Yisroel, an organization which provides relief to needy families.
Reb Shlomo Yehuda is a major supporter of Yeshivas Mir-Yerushalyim and maintains close ties with his rosh yeshiva, Rav Noson Tzvi Finkel. He has also nurtured the growth of the Los Angeles Kollel and Kollel Erev, and, coming full-circle, he recently assumed the presidency of Yeshiva Toras Emes, his elementary school, which his children now attend.
Rav Yaakov Krause, the school’s principal, observed that Reb Shlomo Yehuda’s involvement with the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation is “just another example of his extraordinary sense of achrayus for the needs of Klal Yisroel on all levels, and his willingness to shoulder the financial responsibilities in addressing them.
“It is a pride to our community as well as our yeshiva that our president, parent, alumnus and dynamic lay leader has added his talents, vision and financial resources to one of the premiere mosdos in Klal Yisroel, the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation.”