Thursday, March 30, 2023

Rabbi Avraham Kalmanowitz uprooted the 350 staff and students of the Mir Yeshiva from Eastern Europe as World War II threatened its existence, arranging their move from Japan to Shanghai to Brooklyn, making it the only yeshiva to survive the Holocaust intact. It still operates there and elsewhere, including its 10,000-student yeshiva in Jerusalem, one of the largest yeshivas in the world.

Sarah Schenirer, a seamstress living at the turn of the last century, was so inspired by a lecture she heard from a renowned rabbi in a Vienna synagogue that she did the unthinkable at the time: founded a movement to provide girls with a Jewish education. Today thousands of Jewish girls have benefited from her vision through Bais Yaakov schools.

Internationally renowned Torah scholar Rabbi Yissocher Frand said the two seemingly unrelated figures shared a bond: They picked up on the message sent to them by God on what should be their mission in life.

“You have to be aware and have your antenna out or you might miss the message,” he told a multigenerational crowd of about 150 on January 17 at Shalom Torah Academy in Morganville, New Jersey during the program “Mission Accomplished?”

The program was cosponsored by Shalom Torah; Jewish Learning Center, Congregation Sons of Israel, Manalapan Jewish Connection and Chabad of Western Monmouth County, all in Manalapan; and Torah Links of Monmouth County, Morganville.

Manalapan Jewish Connection Director Rabbi David Rosenthal, who organized the program, said he couldn’t recall another event that had brought together so many local Jewish institutions. Rabbi Rosenthal attended Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, where Rabbi Frand is a senior lecturer.

Rabbi Frand referenced figures both in the Torah and in modern Jewish history who read the message sent to them and used their resourcefulness and skills to benefit their communities and humanity.

Rabbi Hershel Weber is a case in point, he noted. “Hershel Weber one day was walking out of shul when a man in front of him collapsed,” said Rabbi Frand. “He didn’t know what to do except call an ambulance, but the ambulance was too late. So what did Hershel Weber do? He started something called Hatzalah, which has saved countless lives, just because he could do nothing for the man in front of him.” Hatzalah, which is believed to be the largest volunteer ambulance service in the world, operates in a number of countries and states, including New York and New Jersey.

Former Israeli Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the son of a poor shopkeeper, was an unusually gifted student whom Frand described as a “genius” who elevated Sephardim from second-class status and “resurrected Sephardic Jewry.”

However, his father had pulled him out of school at age 11 to help in the store. Alarmed by the boy’s absence, rabbis from the school went to the store and were told by the father that the boy was needed more to stock shelves. Unable to convince the father to change his mind, a rosh yeshiva took off his religious garb and put on an apron, telling the father he would stock the shelves so young Ovadia could resume his studies. The father immediately relented.

“When something out of the ordinary happens, maybe that’s a message,” said Rabbi Frand, and “when God drops something in your lap” as happened with the adults in Rabbi Yosef’s case, it is up to that person to be attuned to it and find their mission.

“If God gave you some kind of talent, you use it to better the world, your community, your family,” he emphasized. “If you’re an artist, use it. If you’re a musician, use it. The way to think of it is, God gave you that talent.”

He urged everyone to “find their potential and grab onto it” so that when called to shamayim, that person can say, “God, I completed my mission.”

By Debra Rubin

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