June 24, 2024
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June 24, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Much is discussed and written about leadership. Historically, the Jewish people crave effective, responsible and dignified leaders. This has been especially evident, again, during the current pandemic, when we hold our breath hoping that a reasonable and proper voice will emerge every time someone speaks on our behalf.

This past Shabbat has been a difficult one for the Jewish world. Just before Shabbat, word spread in our Manhattan Lower East Side community and then the world that the great Torah giant and Halachic decisor, HaRav Dovid Feinstein, had passed away. Right after Shabbat, word spread throughout the world of the passing of former U.K. Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

Those of us who knew both rabbis and who are familiar with the followings they enjoyed can describe the differences in their constituents, their distinct styles of leadership and the contrast of their personalities. However, as we look at the lives of these two distinguished leaders, there are similarities and common strengths that helped elevate them to their prominent roles.

Rav Dovid Feinstein was all about Torah, Halacha and the service of Hashem. His volumes of sefarim, those that he studied and those that he wrote, are a testament to that.

I have only been his neighbor for 31 years (a rookie by true Lower East Sider standards) but that’s been enough time to formulate some important observations. Rav Feinstein was sought after by people, many of them rabbis, from all over the world. They knew that in the great tradition of his father, Rav Moshe, he was a Halachic authority like none other. His ability to apply our centuries-old Halachic standards to the most complicated 21st century dilemmas was legendary. He was a true giant, a true leader. Aside from the greatness in that area, however, there were other aspects to his leadership that made him great. His words were measured very carefully. In many settings, both private and public, he would be much more of a listener than a speaker. His mild-mannered and very humble disposition made him an anomaly for those who expect leaders to display a certain bravado or ego. Rabbi Feinstein possessed the humility, calm, and, when necessary, strong demeanor that we hope for in our leaders.

Rabbi Sacks was not a rosh yeshiva like Rav Feinstein. His authorship, oratory skills and academic prowess in many areas are what set him apart both in and outside the role of Chief Rabbi. There was, however, an additional element to his role as Chief Rabbi and scholar. Rabbi Sacks spoke thousands of times. He spoke at public celebrations, in the seat of government, in front of kings and queens, as a lecturer and debater in friendly and even sometimes hostile environments. There was something noteworthy about all those appearances. When Rabbi Sacks began a presentation, he knew he was representing the Jewish people and he represented us well. Never did we fear that he would do anything other than make us proud to be Jews. He gave all of us tremendous pride and warmed the collective Jewish heart when he took the stage representing us. His humility gave him the ability to be a great listener, and it was a key element in gaining the tremendous respect he received from his vast array of colleagues and diverse audiences.

Both of these great rabbis will be missed. We were able to count on them. Not only as advisors and guides, but as representatives of our people. We could count on them to be models of appropriate demeanor in the public arena and to represent all members of the Jewish faith with pride and dignity.

The COVID-19 era has reminded us of just how fragile Jewish leadership can be and how when a void in leadership exists, many loudmouths and charlatans can often easily move into that role. Let us not take our effective leaders for granted. As we remember the lives of Rav Feinstein and Rabbi Sacks, let us emphasize how seriously they took their leadership roles in the Jewish world and the world in general.

By Nachum Segal

 

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