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Highlighting: “From Sinai to Yerushalayim, Our Jewish Journey Continues: The Story of Roy and Leah Neuberger” by Rabbi Nachman Seltzer. Artscroll Mesorah Publications Ltd. 2023. Hardcover. 464 pages.
ISBN-13: 978-1422632826.

(Courtesy of Artscroll) Twenty years ago, Roy (Yisroel) and Leah (Linda) Neuberger electrified the Jewish world with Roy’s book, From Central Park to Sinai, sharing the story of their return to Torah and Jewish life. Now, bestselling author Rabbi Nachman Seltzer joins them on their fascinating journey, revealing new and unusual parts of the Neuberger’s lives, both before they became observant and in the two decades since they shared their story and became world-traveling ambassadors of Torah.

Born to wealth and privilege, educated in the most prestigious schools and, eventually, married to a wonderful woman, Roy Neuberger should have been a contented, happy man – and yet something was missing, always missing… until he found Torah. Under the gracious guidance of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis and her family, Roy and Linda – now Yisroel and Leah – opened their hearts to Yiddishkeit, their neshamas to Torah and their homes to Jews searching for their heritage.

We will follow Roy as he faces down thugs in the subway and antisemites in the newsroom where he worked. We will travel with the Neubergers as they bring Hashem’s message to a forest in Russia and comfort wounded soldiers in an Israeli hospital. We will join them as they host thousands of Jews yearning for meaning, taking them in for a Shabbos meal, for a week or, in some cases, for years.

If you already read ”From Central Park to Sinai,” be prepared to re experience the drama of Roy and Leah’s return and follow them in their busy and fulfilling lives since that book was published. And if you did not read Roy Neuberger’s first book, prepare to discover an adventure-filled life full of surprises and inspiration.

The following is an excerpt from the new From Sinai to Yerushalayim, Our Jewish Journey Continues: The Story of Roy and Leah Neuberger, published by ArtScroll Mesorah Publications.

When Roy’s father was about a hundred and six, Roy brought a rabbi from the community over to meet him. The rabbi wanted to ask his father to what he attributed his incredible longevity and arichas yamim. The conclusion at the end of that conversation was this.

Yashrus.

“Being a straight and scrupulously honest individual. As Roy R. used to say, “I love to pay taxes.”

It boiled down to the fact that America had given him a good life and he wanted to give back.

Which is why it meant so much to him when the White House got in touch.

…………………………………………

There is a medal which is bestowed by the President of the United States on specific people who have contributed much to the arts. It is called the “The National Medal of the Arts” and is given out every year. Roy R. Neuberger was the recipient of that prestigious medal at the sprightly age of 104 for his contribution to American art. The truth is, the Wizard of Wall Street truly deserved the honor. He had given numerous pieces of art to museums around America and had donated his entire priceless collection to the State of New York. His contribution to his country was incredibly unique, and the medal was America’s way of saying thank you to a man who had gone out of his way to show his generosity on countless occasions. More than all that, was the fact that he had constantly been on the look-out to discover and support American artists – and many of the artists whose work he had purchased, had gone on to take their place at the forefront of the American art scene.

Now it was 2008 and President George W. Bush decided that it was high time the United States recognized centenarian Roy R. Neuberger’s enormous contribution to the arts. He was invited to the White House for the ceremony, where he would receive the medal – along with another nineteen people – ten who were also receiving medals for their unique contributions to the arts and another ten, who were receiving medals for their contributions to the humanities.

After 9/11 visits to the White House had been curtailed, and that year they were finally beginning to happen again. Every honoree was able to bring along a certain number of family members and close friends to join them on such a momentous occasion. You can imagine the excitement when the official invitation from the White House arrived in the mail! Everyone in the family was very proud of their father and grandfather, and all were eagerly looking forward to accompanying him to Washington D.C. on the big day.

The invitation itself was something to see for the way it looked and more for what it represented.

Listen, it’s not every day that the mail arrives with a personal invitation from the Commander and Chief of the free world.

President George and Laura Bush invite you…..

Like I said, something to savor and enjoy.

………………………………………….

So it was that they drove down to Washington D.C. – all of them gathered together at the appointed time for their patriarch’s big moment. Roy and Leah. His brother and sister. His father and one of his nurses. Even the director of The Neuberger Museum of Art was in attendance.

It happened to be that Roy R. Neuberger loved trains. In fact his son recalls how the family once took a very lengthy train journey in the 50’s to visit his sister when she was first married and living in New Mexico. The ride from New York all the way out to New Mexico was a memorable experience and a wonderful childhood memory, but at 104 the honoree was a little old for long train rides.

Getting in to the White House took some time – and as he was going through security, Roy Neuberger couldn’t help but remember the conversation that he’d had with Hashem just prior to setting out on their journey.

“Ribono Shel Olam,” he said, “I’ve been given the opportunity to meet with the President of the United States – arguably the most powerful man in the world. Obviously I have to utilize this opportunity to be mikadesh sheim shomayim. I need You to ensure that the right words come to my lips when I finally come face to face with George W. Bush. This is a unique chance for me to do something for Klal Yisroel. I’m going to be in the White House and I don’t know if this will ever happen again. If I am supposed to speak with him, please arrange for it to happen. If I’m supposed to speak with him about Israel, please give me the opportunity to do so.”

On the way to Washington, Roy told the members of his family that he hoped to speak with the president. Understandably none of them were convinced that he would manage to pull off such a feat.

Little did they know….

………………….………………………

“I found the White House to be an extremely royal place,” Roy said. “Stepping into the world of power – the word “Malchus” came my mind and stayed there. Looking through the grand windows, you could see the Washington Monument and many other Washington landmarks – all this while standing in the greatest landmark of all….

What was interesting was the fact that those beautiful and clear windows, were actually fourteen inches thick… There were also snipers on the roof, just in case…

I would say that there were probably around twelve hundred people at the White House for the ceremony – and I was the only person in the room with a yarmulke on my head. The ceremony took place in two separate rooms – to the best of my recollection, one was the blue room and the other the yellow room. Separating between them was a space the size of a football field. A plentiful buffet had been set up in the blue room for all the guests – while the actual awards were given out in the yellow room, where rows and rows of chairs had been set up for the honorees and their guests. In between the rooms lay that gigantic corridor that just stretched on and on.

President George W. Bush came across as a very nice, fine person. He had a little conversation with each honoree, giving them some personal time and making them feel right at home. My father was in his wheelchair – he didn’t really need a wheelchair, but it made sense to use one since the White House is so big. From the moment we entered the White House, my father’s wheelchair was pushed by a young Navy officer wearing dress whites and gold braid. Another one of the guests was also in a wheelchair, and when for whatever reason the officer who was supposed to be pushing him wasn’t there at the end of the ceremony, President Bush himself took hold of the handles and pushed the man’s wheelchair down the ramp!!

When the award ceremony was over, all the honorees and the president went into the next room for a photo op – while the rest of the guests entered the State dining room and headed in the direction of the buffet to have something to eat.”

Suddenly Roy turned to Leah and said, “President Bush is not going to come into the dining room. I know it.”

Roy didn’t know how or why he knew this, only that he did.

“He has other things on his agenda for today, and after he takes the pictures with the honorees, we won’t be seeing him again. I want to see if I can find him. I have to speak with him. I even had a conversation with Hashem about that.”

Suddenly a door opened up into the hallway and President Bush emerged from within. It was the door of the Lincoln Room where he had just been taking pictures with the honorees. The president was about eighty feet away from where Roy and Leah were standing. George W. Bush was surrounded by members of the secret service and it was obvious that he was about to leave. In a matter of moments it was going to be, “Goodbye Bush.”

Except for one thing. The president and his entourage were heading in the exact direction of Roy Neuberger, who was standing near the very set of doors they were planning to use to leave the building. On the other hand, even the fact that Bush was headed straight towards Roy wasn’t really going to give him much of an opportunity to speak with the president, since the group of secret service men surrounding the president were moving fast.

However we cannot never discount the fact that Hashem is running the show.

Always. And forever. If He wants a person to have a conversation with the President of America, He will make it happen.

Suddenly the president caught sight of someone standing in the corridor whom he wanted to speak with. It happened to be that the person he wanted to talk to, was standing about five inches from Yisroel Roy Neuberger.

In his mind, Roy turned to Hashem and said, “Ribono Shel Olam, the president is here, standing beside me. What am I supposed to do next?!! Please place the right words into my mouth now!!!

Roy was right beside the president, but George Bush hadn’t noticed him. He was still looking at someone else – staring in a different direction – and not at the one person wearing a yarmulke in the White House.

Very quietly – he didn’t need to speak in a loud voice since the president was standing right beside him – Roy said, “Mr. President may I give you a blessing?”

Hearing a voice addressing him, the president turned around. Maybe he really wanted a blessing. Who knows?

At the time of this story the year was 2008 and Bush was at the end of his presidency and being constantly bombarded in the press for having invaded Iraq – though there were no weapons of mass destruction to be found anywhere…. The press couldn’t seem to stop making fun of the president and the way he spoke and the decisions he made. That was the backdrop to the moment the president turned around near the White House doors and found himself standing face to face with a frum Yid wearing a yarmulke on his head – a Yid who wanted to give him a blessing unlike so many others who just wanted to make fun of him.

He looked at Roy. Roy looked at George W. It was a moment of great import – a moment Roy would remember for the rest of his life.

“Mr. President,” Roy said, “I want to tell you why you are getting so much flak.

George Bush waited for the guest to continue. He was interested in what he had to say. Roy Neuberger had caught the president’s attention.

“The reason that you are getting so much flak,” Roy continued, “is because you believe in G-d and most of the people out there in the world are not on your level. They don’t believe in G-d and they don’t believe in morality. You believe in morality, you have standards – and they want to pull you down to their level – and that’s why you’re getting so much flak.”

He then added the following message.

“Mr. President, you are the most powerful person in the world at a time when the children of Israel are returning to their land after two thousand years in exile – as foreseen and described by the Biblical prophets. You have been given the opportunity to help G-d bring about the prophesized return of His people to the Land of Israel.”

Then the bracha.

“Mr. President, I bless you to be able to help G-d carry out his wishes for our world.

May G-d keep on watching over you and may He give you the right words to say. May He continue to enable you to do all the right things. Maybe He take care of you and may you continue to have tremendous success in everything that you do and be granted the opportunity to assist G-d in carrying out His plans for His people.”

That was what Roy said to George W. Bush, and it was obvious from the way the president was looking at him, that his words resonated deeply with the Commander and Chief of the United States. In fact, the president seemed very happy with their conversation.

All of a sudden, Roy realized that he was still in the middle of a conversation with the president, but that his camera was stuck in his pocket.

“Mr. President,” Roy said, “would it be okay if my wife took a picture of the two of us?”

The president was more than agreeable, and put his arm around Roy Neuberger – the warmth between them obvious and palpable.

Reaching into his pocket he removed the camera and handed it to his wife – who snapped a picture of her husband with the president of America. Ironically, at the same time that Leah Neuberger was taking the picture, the White House photographer was taking a picture of her taking a picture….

Wanting to give the president a gift, Roy handed him a signed copy of Central Park to Sinai – which he had prepared in anticipation of a meeting with George W. Bush. A moment later however, one of the secret service agents grabbed the book out of his hand.

“Nobody is allowed to give the president anything,” they informed him. “We’ll check it out later and give it to him if everything is fine.”

With that the meeting came to an end. But then a few minutes later, one of the president’s aides approached and said a line that was absolutely huge in scope and incredibly meaningful.

“Thank you for speaking to the president,” the aide said. “He needs to know that he has friends.”

In the wake of their meeting, President Bush sent Roy and Leah Neuberger a beautiful letter of thanks for the book. It was the perfect bookend for what had been a truly monumental moment in their lives. The five minute conversation which he’d had face to face with the president was an extremely memorable experience in his life and that was something that Roy knew even while it was happening.

As they got back into the car for the return journey to Manhattan, Roy’s nephew said to him, “I guess that whole “I want to speak with the president thing didn’t work out.”

Roy was pleased to inform him that they had in fact shared a conversation and that it had been simply grand, and a real life altering moment.

……………………………..………….

Years later Roy read the biography that President Bush wrote about his life. He wouldn’t have been necessarily interested in such a book but since they had met at the White House and he had gotten a feel for the man, he did want to read about his life. In the book, George Bush detailed how he had met his wife Laura at a relatively young age – and how he hadn’t been the best husband and father around. George was the scion to a very wealthy family that had grown fabulously wealthy through their oil business, and the young Bush had been a player, always partying and drinking heavily. He described the following incident in the book – an incident that he credited with changing the direction of his life.

“My wife said to me one day, “George if you want to be a nothing, keep it up. If you want to accomplish something with your life, then stop drinking.”

“I listened to my wife,” Bush wrote, “and from that day on, I never touched a drop of liquor again.

He wrote further that he also became much more serious about his religion – changed his life around, was elected Governor of Texas, and was then voted into office, serving two terms as the president of the United States. But he credited all his accomplishments to the fact that he had listened to his wife on the day she looked him in the eye and told it to him straight.

After reading those few paragraphs Roy was able to understand why the words that Hashem had put into his mouth during his auspicious visit to the White House, had meant so much to President Bush. It was because they cut to the heart of who he had become. The president was someone who had turned his life around, someone who had made the decision to repent for his misdeeds and to become a moral person. It therefore made compete sense that Roy’s words of chizuk to him, and the blessing he’d been given by the Jewish visitor with the yarmulke on his head, had made such an impression.

The reason was simple. Bush believed in morality. And for that reason, Roy’s blessing had penetrated deep into the recesses of his heart.

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