The old saying goes… “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” In fact, I first saw that on a certain service vehicle years ago in Woodridge, New York. It struck me then that these people were so right. It makes no difference what you do in life; what is important is how you treat others. But…it’s still nice to feel important.
I know I’m a rabbi. I know I am a columnist. I know that I serve on numerous committees and with numerous organizations. I know that I carry a prestigious family name. Yet, I know that I’m really not so important. I make noise once in a while, yet I just don’t feel important. I don’t write that with any self-deprecating modesty. That’s just the way I feel. I’m a regular guy – not particularly important. But, as I say, it is undeniable that it does feel good to be considered important.
The greatness of great people is that they can make others feel important. The Queens community within the last few days lost two such people that I knew personally. Benzion “Benny” Fishoff a”h and Marc Hoschander a”h – one an internationally-known philanthropist and the other a dry cleaners operator.
Benny Fishoff was an icon for so many in the Orthodox community, a survivor of the Nazis who became a very successful businessman, starting with just the shirt on his back. An accomplished talmid chacham, he was a major supporter of Ger institutions as he was of Agudath Israel. He was musically gifted and had personal charm to match. Wherever he went, an aura of dignity and grace followed in his wake. My father was quietly in awe of Benny.
We knew Mr. Fishoff from his many years in Forest Hills and as a beis midrash member of our uncle, Rav Shloime Leifer (later Nadvorne Rebbe in Boro Park). For our family it was a dream come true that we became mechutanim with the Fishoff family, as our son R’ Ari married the wonderful Esti Gross, granddaughter of Benny.
I did not know Mr. Fishoff well on a personal level. When I would meet him at a community event or at a family simchah, it was always a very casual exchange. I figured it was really my father he knew and not so much me. Yet, for the moments that we exchanged greetings, he was so warm. He made me feel like I really mattered, like I was a somebody in his life. Only recently did my son Ari show me that in a sefer published by Mr. Fishoff, he actually quotes me by name, referring to a thought of mine that I expressed at Ari’s Shabbos sheva brachos. That means he absorbed that thought and was able to pen it following Shabbos. I was quite flabbergasted – flattered is a better description.
He made me and countless like me feel important. That’s the mark of a great man.
The other Queens man who made such a mark was Marc Hoschander. Marc was a man of modest means. On The Marc Cleaners was the aptly named dry cleaners business he owned on Main Street. Marc would daven in our shul, the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, on occasion, including the Yamim Nora’im. He was never loud and was always a gentleman – always courteous.
Marc offered a ten-percent discount to clergy. But I did not use his services for that reason. I felt like I was supporting a real mentch and a fine Jew by patronizing his business. But Marc made me feel like a somebody, as well. Whenever I would call him, he would say, “Rabbi, just give me a call right before you pull up and I’ll be there for you.” And that’s the way it went. I would call him as I was approaching the U-turn by Seasons, and there he would be outside his store, ready for me to drop off or pick up.
Yes, I was a rabbi, and a certain modicum of respect is expected. But Marc made me feel like I was someone special – worth going out of his way for. He was the one that was special.
Queens has lost some very good people lately. But the best of them were not defined by their wealth or prominence. They were important.
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.