August 29, 2019, Israel
I recall the bar mitzvah of a friend, more than 40 years ago. Our dear principal Rabbi Fendel was the honored speaker. He spoke of the virtues of the Bar Mitzvah boy, as is traditional, and then he also spoke of the young man's two brothers, also students in our school, the Hebrew Academy.
The father of the young man rose to speak next and began with the words, Wow, we got three for the price of one! It has never been that way before when dealing with this academy.
Meaning, the rabbi was meant to speak about one boy but he spoke about all three sons. The father was hinting at his frustration with the high cost of Jewish private school tuition and how he did not receive enough of a discount, he never did get "three for the price of one". The bitterness of that "humorous" remark stayed with me for many years.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago and I was invited to attend Rabbi Fendel's 90th birthday party. He had a book for sale, I purchased it. Turns out there was actually a photo that included me. The book was about the history of the Hebrew Academy.
I read the book carefully. He wrote about his early struggles, trying to establish a Jewish school in the period after the war. American Jews were not interested in Judaism, they were abandoning the faith of their forefathers in favor of the American materialistic dream. The rabbi began with nothing.
He saw the need and totally changed his career goals. He was going to do something unheard of; he was going to establish a Jewish school in Long Island.
The fact that today anyone who lives in Long Island, New York, will regard this as a given, is testament to the rabbi's enormous success. Today Long Island has very large Jewish Orthodox communities, many religious academies and many synagogues. But it was not this way in the 1950's, Judaism was on the way out, down the stream.
The rabbi began alone, no allies, no support, no money, no physical building and no students, but that would not be an obstacle. Not only that but he knew that he would face opposition; many did not want to see the "Old Ways" coming back, they wanted to be free of the past.
The rabbi went to work.
Over the course of the book he describes many crises; not having enough money to start the school year, heavy debts, not being able to pay teachers on time; problems, and challenges and more problems, as they say in Yiddish, Tzaros,
When I walked into the academy for the very first time I thought of none of this. In fact during my entire period there I never thought once of what it took to keep this school running, but I do recall parents complaining about the high costs. And I recall that sarcastic remark at the bar mitzvah.
Now that I know what challenges the rabbi faced to keep this school alive I can only imagine how much that little remark must have hurt him, as if he is not giving a discount because he is stingy. How painful indeed.
I believe discounts should never be offered until the recipient understands the true cost, otherwise he not only does not appreciate what he is receiving but he will resent not receiving more of a discount.
When Rabbi Moshe Gottesman passed away I listened to every eulogy. He had become Rabbi Fendels' partner in making our school a success. I heard how he worked tirelessly to bring in more students, and I heard about the endless financial struggles; often they were at the brink of failure.
When a student walks in the academy they should learn this story. They should stand up and marvel at the accomplishments and the dedication of these men and all who labored to make this school a reality. They should realize the true cost, the years of sacrifice, the days and nights of struggle. No discount should ever be allowed until the recipient understands the true cost.
We often look at a business owner and think...how can I get a better price, a discount, after all he is so successful, he has so much. But we do not stop to think of the true cost, and everything has a cost, there is no such thing as a free lunch. EVERYTHING had a price.
Even when I think of the diplomas that I send out for students promotions; it seems like nothing, a piece of paper, what is the big deal? Well, there is the time spent with the designer working on different ideas. There are the many visits to the printer, discussing ink and paper quality. There are mistakes that require doing the job over, there are many phone calls and e mails.
There is the padded envelope, the return sticker, that too is a piece of work; ordering it, getting the correct size, font etc, shipping costs. There is the seal for the diploma, that is another vendor, another round of discussions, visits, phone calls and e mails. Then of course the time at the post office, the registered mail etc. And let us not even think of the many years it took to have the legitimate authority to sign the diploma and grant an official rank in martial arts.
Do we see this? Do we see the true cost? Do we appreciate how much effort went into this project?
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato wrote that God took the first man on a little trip. He showed him the glory of the world, he took his time. Look at this tree, is it not beautiful? how about that stream? do you like it? I made it all for you, yes for you. Please take heed not to destroy my world which I have created for you.
What Rabbi Luzzato is teaching is that we must appreciate what was given to us. We must appreciate all the effort that went into it. Only then will we be worthy of enjoying it.
Sadly the rabbi could not afford to allow three brothers at the price of one. It takes a lot of money to keep a school alive. All martial arts school owners know this. Every year many martial arts academies close their doors. Perhaps they were offering too many discounts. We all like to be generous but bills must be paid.
I had the privilege of paying my final respects to Rabbi Moshe Gottesman at his funeral, but it is better to offer thanks while the person is still living. Fortunately for me I was able to see Rabbi Fendel and his oldest son. I thanked Rabbi Fendel for the school, for my Jewish education and for the impact the school has had on me and countless others.
I bump into Rabbi Orlofsky, today he is a great educator, enriching the lives of thousands. In New York I visit a small synagogue and I see Rabbi Rudansky, also a schoolmate, today he is a teacher in the same school. The students have become teachers and are passing on the legacy as we slowly bury our teachers.
Rabbi Wehl, Rabbi Wahrman, Rabbi Gottesman, all of blessed memory. They lived their lives to teach. Their legacy continues.
We must appreciate the effort before we deserve a discount, we must know what others have done for us. Without the appreciation there is no ...appreciation.
It took me a lifetime to realize this. I look back at the shy little boy on his first day of school, walking into the academy; Rabbi Wehl is alive, Rabbi Wahrman is expounding the Talmud, Rabbi Gottesman is walking the halls and smiling at every child, Mrs Pravda is in the office caring for a child, a young Rabbi Fendel is speaking passionately about Rabbi Kook, the "man against the stream", and young children are listening, learning, growing.
Only now I have begun to appreciate it all...
And God took man by the hand and they walked around the garden of Eden, look man, is it not beautiful? I have created it all for you. Take good care of it. For the future.
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