July 19, 2024
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YU Hosts Book Launch of ‘The Rabbi of Buchenwald’

Praising the new publication of “The Rabbi of Buchenwald: The Life and Times of Rabbi Herschel Schacter,” Yeshiva University President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman described the new volume as not only a history of American Jewry during the last seven decades of the 20th century, but a book of inspiration for future generations.”

The work was published with the support of the Michael Scharf Publication Trust of the Yeshiva University Press and the Emil and Jenny Fish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Yeshiva University.

Continuing the theme of the appropriateness of the volume being published by the Yeshiva University Press, Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, University professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought at Yeshiva University and son of Rabbi Herschel Schacter, recalled how his father would refer to YU as “our yeshiva.” Rabbi Herschel Schacter attended Yeshiva College from 1934 to 1938. He was devastated by the loss of both Dr. Bernard Revel, the first president of Yeshiva University, and his beloved rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, in the same year. He was then privileged to be in Rav Joseph Soloveichik’s shiur after the Rav took over from his father.

Rabbi Schacter went on to become the recipient of the first of over 2,500 semichas granted by the Rav. Rabbi Schacter was also the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate by Dr. Samuel Belkin, second president of Yeshiva University.

In recalling his life as the young son of Rabbi Schacter, Rabbi Dr. J.J. Schacter shared that in the summer of 1956, when the family was summering in a bungalow colony, he asked his mother, z”l, where his tatti was. She responded with a phrase that would describe his father’s whereabouts throughout his life and even eventually appear on his matzeva, “Tatti went to help Jews.” Whether addressing the prisoners of Buchenwald within hours of their being liberated by American troops or confronting Communist leaders on behalf of Soviet Jews, Rabbi Herschel Schacter was always out on missions to save Jews.

Dr. Rafael Medoff, author of “The Rabbi of Buchenwald,” is the founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies based in Washington, D.C., which focuses upon America’s response to Nazism and the Holocaust. He has authored over 20 volumes about the Holocaust, Zionism and American Jewish History. He has also served as a professor of Jewish History at Ohio State University and Purchase College and is a fellow at the Finkler Institute of Holocaust Research at Bar Ilan University.

Medoff posited that Rabbi Schacter’s indelible words of salvation to the starved survivors of Buchenwald, “Jews, you are free,” was only part of Rabbi Schacter’s mission. The key to his work before and after Buchenwald was to restore and promote Jewish observant life. That is why as the rabbi of the Young Israel of Mosholu Parkway in the Bronx in the 1950s he would invite the young people in his congregation to Friday night “onegs” at his home to engage them in discussions of Yiddishkeit as well as song and refreshments. Rabbi Schacter was their source of inspiration for living Jewish lives and establishing Jewish families in the U.S. and Israel.

From the 1940s through the 1960s Rabbi Schacter and his colleagues battled on behalf of the preservation of Modern Orthodoxy in the face of its challenge by the Conservative and Reform movements in the U.S. Alongside a circle of prominent Modern Orthodox rabbis including Rabbis Gilbert Klapperman, Norman Lamm, Israel Miller, Emmanuel Rackman, David Hollander and Joseph Lookstein, these young rabbis went on to the national stage in promoting Modern Orthodoxy. In his later years, Rabbi Schacter served as the director of Rabbinic Placement at Yeshiva University, a position that enabled him to place Modern Orthodox rabbinical figures throughout the U.S. and thus greatly strengthen its impact.

In 1955, Rabbi Schachter headed a delegation to Israel to negotiate a bitter feud between the Satmar community and the prime minister, eventually concluding a compromise. In 1956 Rabbi Schacter joined an RCA delegation to the Soviet Union to plead on behalf of Soviet Jewry to then-Premier Nikita Krushchev.

Rabbi Schacter followed Rabbi Dr. Klaperman as the head of the National Conference of Soviet Jewry. In a historical vote, Rabbi Schacter became the first Orthodox rabbi to serve as the president of the Conference of Major Jewish Organizations, nothing less than a major coup.

As a result of his foray into the world of politics, Rabbi Schacter was responsible for the tripling of the Jewish vote on behalf of Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential elections. The legacy of the Jewish vote remains to this day.

Rabbi Schacter perceived himself as a bridge-builder. He maintained connections and ties across the religious and political spectrum. He had close ties with the Lubavitcher Rebbe as well as with his Conservative and Reform colleagues.

Medoff shared, “It is indeed fitting that we launch this tribute to Rabbi Herschel Schacter at the time of year that we mark the commemoration of the victims of the Shoah and the independence of the State of Israel, both causes to which Rabbi Schacter devoted his life.”

Concluding the program was Miriam Schacter, daughter of Rabbi Herschel Schacter, a psychoanalyst in private practice in NYC and a faculty member of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. Picking up on her brother’s theme of “Tatti is out saving Jews,” Miriam Schacter related several stories that validated this depiction of her beloved father.

At age 16, while walking down Rechov King George in Jerusalem, a man approached her and asked if she knew Rabbi Hershel Schacter. Astounded at this question, she responded that she was his daughter. After bursting into tears, the man who had carried the image of Rabbi Schacter in his mind for 23 years, amazingly identified it in his daughter. He proceeded to relate that Rabbi Schacter was responsible for getting him onto a Kindertransport to Switzerland, despite his being 20 and too old to qualify, thus saving his life and enabling him to build a new life in Israel.

The concluding story involved their precious mother Pnina Gewirtz Schacter, a”h, who was endlessly supportive of her husband’s tireless efforts on behalf of klal Yisrael. In 2013, at the advanced age of 87, Rebbetzin Schacter asked her children to escort her on a trip to Israel. The trip proved to be momentous for her and her family. The highlight came one evening when the family invited 19 couples residing in Israel to join them for a festive meal at their hotel. This assemblage represented those young people, now grown and with families of their own, living in Israel, who had been introduced to their identities as Jews and had learned about their legacy at the table of Rabbi and Rebbetzin Schacter in Mosholu Parkway so many years ago.

“The Rabbi of Buchenwald: Celebrating the Life and Times of Rabbi Herschel Schacter” is available through Ktav Publishing House and at your local bookstores.

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