I make it no secret that I was and remain a supporter of former President Donald Trump. Despite his obvious personal flaws, he was the best thing ever to happen to the United States and to Israel in recent times. Nothing can prove that statement more than the shakeup in every direction brought upon by the Biden administration. We were warned that energy would go up in price due to the new administration’s war on oil-based energy, but I didn’t think it would be this fast. Have you been on the New Jersey Turnpike lately? Gas is now a shocking $2.83 a gallon. Just a few months ago it was about $2.22. That’s just one indication. No need to elaborate, as that is not the focus of this article.
As a Trump fan, I should have been very happy with the previous National Council of Young Israel administration. They were unabashedly pro-Trump and not shy of taking outspoken right-winged positions. I had a warm relationship with its president, Farley Weiss, a very fine person and true servant of the Jewish community.
Our shul, however, voted for the challenging slate under Rabbi David Warshaw. Although I was not directly involved, the delegates from our shul, who were strong supporters of Mr. Trump, threw in for the Warshaw slate, which ultimately emerged victorious.
My father zt”l would tell me often that rabbis make a big mistake if they think that their great speeches or fame on the national scene will win them over with their members. That is a fatal error. The average congregant primarily cares if the rabbi was there in a time of need. Did he visit the sick? Was he there for them in times of crisis? Did he share in their times of joy?
Is it important for a rabbi to be a good speaker? Absolutely. Is it nice to have a rabbi who is known world over? Of course. But that is not the make-or-break issue with their baalei batim.
As much as the previous NCYI had their heart in the right political place, they did give the impression (deserved or not) that they were not in touch with their branches. They were not servicing the member synagogues. The feeling that they were a movement had begun to fade.
Seizing on this, the new slate gathered an impressive challenge. In a Zoom-based “debate,” both sides presented their cases. A day later, the results were in. Rabbi Warshaw is now the new president, along with his slate comprising the board.
I wish Rabbi Warshaw and his new slate all the success. My concern, however, is that NCYI does not become isolationist. Yes, their priority should be servicing their constituent shuls. And yes, they should not become a political platform. But they must speak out when the welfare of Torah Judaism or Israel is at stake. Too many of the established Orthodox organizations are shamefully silent on critical issues. We cannot afford to be.
And they must not fall into the comfort zone of saying, “We are working behind the scenes.” I have received that response as a refrain from numerous organizations when I ask them why they are not speaking up for a critical but controversial issue. It’s baloney! Just another way of saying we don’t want to get involved. They are good at declaring “We applaud” – or “We deplore” – an issue, where they feel they are on safe ground in concert with the rest of mainstream Judaism.
Imagine if the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had said that he’s working behind the scenes. There would never have been an accomplished civil rights movement. Imagine if Ben-Gurion and Begin had chosen to work behind the scenes. There would have been no State of Israel today. Imagine if Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l and Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz zt”l had chosen to remain behind the scenes. Torah in America would look completely different today. Imagine if Sarah Schenirer z”l had chosen to remain behind the scenes. Where would women’s Torah education be today? Imagine if the Yated and other publications did not openly push for the fair treatment of Sholom Rubashkin. Indeed, imagine if the National Council of Young Israel, spearheaded by Rabbi Pesach Lerner at the time, did not openly press for the release of Jonathan Pollard.
I am pleased to say that I asked this very question to Rabbi Warshaw during our Zoom meeting with him after the election. He assured us that, while not being overtly political, the National Council will let its voice he heard on issues that need to be addressed. Unfortunately, there is an immediate need for NCYI and others to voice strenuous objection concerning the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision to ignore time-honored precedent by recognizing non-Orthodox conversions in the State of Israel. It will make a mockery of the definition of Israel being a Jewish state. The Orthodox community has also been silent on the Equality Act, which threatens the underpinnings of all religions and traditions, especially Orthodox Judaism.
Our shul did support this new slate. I am well aware that there is great diversity in Young Israel, unlike in its formative years; yet I am confident that the new slate will represent a fresh new beginning with Torah values at its core.
Hatzlachah and brachah!
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.