At the outset I would like to say that I am not a chasid. My family came from Lithuania, so my background is Litvish and Misnagdish – meaning that my forebearers were opposed to chasidic ways. My mother came from Kovno, Lithuania, and my father came from Lomza, Poland, but he studied in the famed Slobodka Yeshiva, which was located before the war in the suburb of Kovno. And that’s where he met my mother.
My father came to the United States during World War One, in 1916, and eventually he brought over my mother and my three older siblings. He was offered a position as a rabbi in Canton, Ohio, and later became a rabbi in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he stayed until he retired and made Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael.
Growing up in small towns like Canton and Bridgeport was a challenge. Obviously, we were a minority among minorities because very few of the Jewish people living there were Torah observant and, certainly, the vast majority of the people in the community were not Jewish.
I went to public school, populated mostly by Italian and Irish kids, and I had to cope as best as I could with trying to find friends. I managed to have some Jewish friends and to forge an uneasy kind of a friendship with my non-Jewish schoolmates.
In 1938, I enrolled in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, which I attended for the next six years. I was ordained a rabbi and I started working first as a teacher in a Jewish day school and then as a rabbi – first in Hartford, Connecticut, then in Saratoga Springs, New York, and then in Far Rockaway, New York, where I have been for the past 60 years.
As a rabbi, I became involved with Iggud HaRabbonim, the Rabbinical Alliance of America, which should not be confused with the Rabbinical Council of America. The Iggud HaRabbanim is a much more conservative organization and has taken much more conservative positions on Jewish issues, such as Mi Hu Yehudi – who is a Jew according to Jewish law. This issue was of great importance to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and it was in this context that I came to meet him in the late 1950s. It proved a very special encounter. (more…)