July 19, 2024
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July 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Once when I was hiking in the wilderness, I began to descend into a canyon on a narrow foot trail. There was a sign at the trailhead. “Leave only footprints. Take only memories.” In an effort to maintain the pristine beauty of the landscape, someone had posted that pleasant but clear admonition. The wilderness should not be sullied or tampered with. Candy wrappers, beer cans and other garbage are not welcome there. The desert needs its cacti, and no one is welcome to haul away saguaros in order to give their front yard a southwest look. Leave only footprints. Take only memories.

This is a metaphor for life as well. We live out our years with busy schedules. We work, we play, we sleep and we eat. Some people accomplish a lot. Some people seem to accomplish little. Hashem gives us each our talents and our proclivities and then it is up to us, and to our circumstances, to choose where we direct our energy. Those of us who have read some of my earlier columns will think about the “RSS”—the importance of establishing a routine, adhering to a schedule, and structuring our time in order to stay stable, regulated and composed. Ideally, we do our RSS and then are left to face the existential question: What has life amounted to?

The footprints that we leave … do they lead anywhere that makes a difference? The memories we make for and about ourselves … are we proud of them and of the values for which they stand?

Last night, I learned that my father-in-law had passed away after ailing for several months. I did not make it to the funeral in Israel, which was held long before I could arrange a flight. I am about to leave now for there, but have been reflecting on him and on his life. What were his footprints? What direction did he travel? Born in Salé, Morocco, which was the Jewish quarter near Rabat, he was the one child chosen by his community to be sent to yeshiva in France, not yet in his teens. He studied in Aix Les Bains under Rav Haiken, who took him under his wing. He returned for a while to Morocco where he was the youngest musmach of that town’s beit din. Rav Kalmanowitz of the Mir met him while on a mission to bring young boys out of North Africa to study in yeshivas, and he became the translator and confidante of that great Torah leader. He studied in the Mir and in Ponovitch, where he developed close relationships with the luminary heads of those famed institutions.

Dr. Joseph Kaminetsky discovered his talents as a rebbe and sent him to Memphis, Tennessee, where he worked closely with his lifelong friend, Rav Nota Greenblatt. After becoming a leading force within the Memphis Torah schools, Dr. Kaminetsky informed him of his dream about establishing Jewish schools in every major city across the continent. He told my father-in-law that he was sending him to the hot and dusty town of Phoenix, Arizona, where there was no shul, no mikvah and no Orthodox synagogue. Arriving with his rebbetzin and their young children, he labored and struggled to begin a Jewish day school. He put his children to work. Even his daughter helped prepare the bar mitzvah-age boys to lein their parshiot. His sons coaxed their classmates to wear yarmulkes, to only eat kosher food, and to learn how to enjoy Shabbat.

The Phoenix Hebrew Academy was soon on the map. It was a Torah U’Mesorah school and my father-in-law became a vice president of education for that organization, hosting TU principals’ conventions in Phoenix, working with the Federation to only host kosher events and no Shabbat events, and eventually blossoming into Congregation Beth Joseph, named after his father who had died of tuberculosis when my father-in-law was a child. He spoke for the United States Congress about supporting Torah education. He consulted in France and in other countries on how to establish religious schools and communities. He formed a Vaad HaKashrus, which provided both local kosher products as well as putting Phoenix on the map for many exclusive Pesach programs. He built a mikvah with the guidance of Rav Moshe Feinstein with whom he was close. In time, a yeshiva high school and beit midrash and a girls high school took root in the city. A beit din for gittin was established through the input of Rav Greenblatt. For nearly 60 years, he and his wife served the community which they had built. They made aliyah on the last flight out before COVID closed the airports.

Leave only footprints. We must marvel humbly at the trails which he blazed and the paths which he urged others to follow. Take only memories. His rich life came to an end last night. We take endless memories from him and of him. His life was an example for us of how a Jewish life can be lived. I hope that it will remain instructive for me and for my own family. Rabbi David Rebibo—HaRav Dovid Yaish ben Yosef. Zichro Baruch.


Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox is the director of Chai Lifeline Crisis and Trauma Services. For Israel crisis resources and support, visit chailifeline.org/israel or call 855-3-CRISIS.

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