It has been so long since we were in touch. It’s only a little over a week, but so much has happened.
Rav Sheinman ztl isn’t with us. In spite of his advanced age, he was until very recently very much part of live here in Eretz Yisrael. At the age of 100, he was still involved in establishing new kollels. I was somewhat skeptical (not too shocking for those of you who know me…). I thought that perhaps it meant allowing the administration to use his name. I asked my son what his participation actually entailed. It meant that he chose the staff, took responsibility for the funding, and until very recently came to deliver lectures and words of encouragement and/or mussar, usually on a weekly basis.
My vicarious connection to him came through my son Chaim. He volunteers in an organization called Lev L’Achim, which means giving your Heart to your Brothers. It reaches out to various populations. The entire country is divided into districts (under the general supervision of Rabbi Sorotzkin). Chaim’s district is Ramel-Lud. It is one of the lowest socio-economic districts in all of Israel. He reaches out to street kids (just as an aside, the Lud bus station is the country’s wholesale drug capital). That means organizing the kind of classes that they will want to attend-there has to be food, fun, and content. They often straighten out, marry, and have kids who go to Torani schools, and break the cycle of ignorance, spiritual apathy, poverty and crime that began when their grandparents arrived in Israel close to 70 years ago. It also meant a monthly meeting with Rav Shteinman, who would listen to the month’s events and add new insights and new goals. And yes, new demands.
“What about the women?” “What about the guys who got married before they learned enough to live Torah lives?” “What about all of the parenting and educational issues that are going to come up when young people who never had real examples of parenting raise their own kids”. There was follow up. “Would one on one work better with the women?” “Call it a kollel! Their learning is valuable”. “Shiurim on parenting and chinuch aren’t enough. Who can they reach by phone?” Chaim brought his “kids” to meet the Gadol. They were always received with the greatest warmth and affection. Some of the kids broke out of the cycle beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. They went on to real yeshivos, and one of them actually came back to the Chanukah party (the year’s biggest bash) to make a siyum HaShas.
Rav Shteinman was also the address for more standard families who found that they had a child who needed a new framework. In fact, he forbade the yeshivos to expel a child (no matter how much of a misfit the child and the school actually were) until another school was found.
Just about two months ago, when my sem. visited Bnei Brak we met the Rav’s daughter, Rebbitzen Berlin (who passed away just a few weeks after we visited). She was light hearted, charming, greeted each girl with a warm handshake and told us about what growing up in her father’s house was like. They had very little materially, but they always felt rich. Part of the reason was that their mother was an expert in turning clothes that had seen better days into fashion items, but still more was due to the feeling of love and tranquility that turned their lifestyle into a choice for more, rather than a life in which having was more important than being. I was in the States when Rav Shteiman passed away. Ironically, I was on my way to Las Vegas…..
I never actually made it to Vegas. I made the mistake of booking my ticket via Spirit Air. I knew that something was wrong as soon as I told Chaya Ertal, the woman who drove me to the airport from La Jolla, asked which airline I was on. Her expression when I said Spirit said it all. In case I didn’t catch on, she said, “Oh, it will probably be alright” in the kind of tone you usually hear outside of the O.R. in an emergency room. She wisely waited until I checked in and even when she left she kept her phone on. It was only after several hours that the pilot announced that there was a problem with the starter (planes have starters?) and that at some point the mechanic should come. I wasn’t able to get a booking on any flight that would get me to Los Vegas before Shabbos, so I called Chaya who not only came to the airport Friday afternoon when she had a house full of guests for Shabbos, but she also arranged a new flight for me for motzei Shabbos since I wouldn’t be leaving from Vegas.
You may reasonably wonder why I am telling you this story. Most of you have your own airport/airline tales. The real reason (other than it being cathartic) is that it occurred to me when reflecting on Rav Shteinman, how unappreciative we are to the great people who surround us. Some of them are famous, but many of them are not. Chaya Ertal isn’t well known, but she is the real deal.
The next to last day of Chanukah, I gave my sem girls a treat. We were originally supposed to go to Shmuel HaNavi’s tomb. Thank G-d the Arabs departed from their usual level of rioting and violence when things don’t go their way. We didn’t know how they would respond to Trump’s announcing that he would move the embassy, and later his “shocking” statement that the Kotel is not only part of Jerusalem, but that it will never be given away by the Jewish people. We decided to stay close to home for the next couple of days.
Instead of Shmuel HaNavi, we visited Rebbitzen Sarah Finkel, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel’s ztl mother. What a personality. She came to America as an infant, and was raised in St. Louis (this is over 95 years ago). Her parents moved there so that her father could work as a shochet (shomer Shabbos jobs were hard to come by), and you took what you could get wherever it brought you. Although girls didn’t go to after school “cheder”, she did. She later married her husband, who had studied in some of the world’s greatest yeshivos (he had simchah from Chevron). Life in the States couldn’t have been easy for him either. They still managed to bring up their children with an amazing and committed level of love of Torah. My students asked her how she pulled this off. They key was not only love, but also acceptance. Not only being a good role model, but also absolute honesty with the kids. Although she and her husband had a successful catering business, they knew the art of being materially successful without turning into materialists. She is ambitious. I met her years ago when she was an avid shiur goer. She paints, writes cook books, and receives guests with charm and dignity. Our visit ended with many of the girls buying her cookbook, prints of her portrait of her son, and getting her brachah for their futures. It’s worth noticing this sort of person if you want to keep yourself really alive.
I have my sem’s Chanukah party and Sarah Hemley’s (Neve about 8 years ago) wedding, so this will be it for now.