It is a very special privilege for me to participate in this wonderful Chag Hasmicha.
As the executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, I am reminded today of the great German Jewish leaders who played such a critical role in the establishment of the Agudath Israel movement in 1912, over 100 years ago.
Indeed, the movement was initially inspired and led by Moreinu Yaakov Rosenheim, an activist and scholar from Frankfurt. He was the one who galvanized Orthodox Jews in Western Europe and Eastern Europe to join together under the leadership of the great rabbinic sages of the time to form an Agudast Yisrael, a guf tziburi, a communal body to help protect and promote the rights of Orthodox Jewry in countries across the globe.
Along with Moreinu Yaakov Rosenheim, many other German rabbis and communal leaders made significant contributions to the development of Agudath Israel in its early years. Even today, many of the leaders and members of Agudath Israel were born in Germany or trace their lineage back to Germany.
For this reason, and others as well, Agudath Israel of America maintains a deep interest in the development of Jewish life in modern day Germany, particularly in the rebirth and growth of Jewish religious life. Thank you, Ambassador Lauder, for all that you do to help fuel this rebirth and growth.
I had heard about the Rabbinerseminar and the wonderful work it is doing in training young rabbis to serve the Jewish communities of Germany. However, as our sages have taught, “אינו דומה שמיעה לראיה” – there is no comparison between hearing about something and seeing it with one’s own eyes. Today I am an עד ראיה, a personal eyewitness to the incredible – miraculous – rebirth of Torah Judaism in Germany, and the vital role that the Rabbinerseminar is playing in that miracle of rebirth.
On a personal note: I am a child of survivors. Both my parents, aleihem hashalom – may they rest in peace, were the only members of their respective families to have survived the horrors of the Nazi era. I never knew my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles.
The same was true for many of my friends. Growing up as a yeshiva bachur on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, of the ten boys in my class, only two or three of them had grandparents. To us, that was normal. Frankly, it never occurred to me that I would one day visit Germany, and discover a vibrant Jewish community in which even my grandparents and their children would have taken pride. Yet here I am today.
The Rabbinarseminar of Berlin was forcibly closed after Kristallnacht in 1938. More than seventy years later, it reopened – and now continues the great tradition of training young men to serve our community as rabbis and spiritual leaders.
The noted historian of the Holocaust, Moshe Prager a”h – may he rest in peace, discovered a fascinating document. It is a memorandum sent on October 25, 1940 by the chief of the German occupation power, I.A. Eckhardt, to the local Nazi district governors in occupied Poland, instructing German immigration officials to refuse exit visas to “Ost-Juden,” Jews from Eastern Europe.
Eckhardt explains that these Jews have an “Orthodoxen einstelung,” and that they will become the “Rabbiner un Talmudlehrer” needed by American and world Jewry for “die geistige erneuerung,” spiritual revival. Therefore, said Eckhardt, these Jews must not be permitted to leave.
In discussing this memorandum, the late president of Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Moshe Sherer z”l – of blessed memory – said the following: “Think of it: The Nazis were carrying on a world war, pursuing military and political hegemony over all of Europe and beyond, fighting the mighty armies of the free world – yet their concerns were focused on “die Rabbiner un Talmudlehrer” of Orthodox Jewry. They feared the Orthodox the most, because they saw in the Orthodox the source of spiritual regeneration that would make “The Final Solution” decidedly unfinal.”
Eckhardt’s insight was accurate. Today proves his point. Jewish life is being revitalized, even here in Germany, and the ones who are responsible for the “die geistige erneuerung” are emerging right here from this Rabbinarseminar.
To the two young men whose ordination as Orthodox rabbis we celebrate here today: Please note that all of world Jewry has a stake in your success. We are watching breathlessly, for we know we are watching a miracle.
It is your job as the Rabbiner un Talmudlehrer for a new generation of German Jewry to serve as die geistige erneuerung of our people.
You are the builders – and while the soil on which you build is drenched with blood, it is also structured with holiness – the glorious legacy of German Jewry stretching back nearly 1,000 years.
On such foundations, greatness can be achieved. On behalf of Agudath Israel of America, and if I may be so bold on behalf of Jews the world over, you have our best wishes for bracha v’hatzlacha. Our thoughts and prayers are with you as you undertake your holy mission.
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