by Jonathan Rosenblum
June 5, 2013
Last week, I had the pleasure of moderating a discussion between Rabbi Emanuel Feldman and Rabbi Berel Wein, as these two still active giants of the American rabbinate reminisced about their more than half-century public careers. In the course of the evening, Rabbi Wein told a story of a meeting with Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, and its impact on his life.
One morning in 1946, Rabbi Wein's father, the rav of a congregation on Chicago's West Side, woke him early in the morning and told him that they were going out to the airport to greet Rabbi Herzog. Eleven-year-old Berel was as excited by his first ever trip to the airport as he was by the prospect of greeting the Chief Rabbi. The greeting party, consisting of all the rabbonim of Chicago, gathered on the tarmac itself to greet Chief Rabbi Herzog.
Rabbi Wein still remembers the distinguished figure the Chief Rabbi cut, as he exited the plane in his tall top hat, with a silver-tipped rabbinical cane in one hand and a TaNaCh in the other arm. Berel was particularly surprised when the imposing-looking figure began speaking English in rich Irish brogue.
|Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog in a photo |
from March 1959. Photo not from article.
Credit: Wiki Commons
Later that morning, Chief Rabbi Herzog spoke in Hebrew Theological College, the yeshiva founded by Rabbi Wein's maternal grandfather. He told the assembled crowd about a recent visit to the Pope in the Vatican. At that meeting, the Chief Rabbi said, he presented the Pope with the names of 10,000 Jewish children whose parents had given them over to the Church for safe-keeping during the Holocaust. He asked the Pope to return the children to the Jewish people.
The Pope responded to Chief Rabbi Herzog that the children had all been baptized, and that canon law forbade them from being returned to be raised as Jews.
When he spoke of this meeting, Chief Rabbi Herzog began sobbing. In his sobbing, Rabbi Wein remembers, "one heard not only cries for those 10,000 children but for all the Jewish suffering of two millennia of galus."
After he regained his composure, the Chief Rabbi said, "I can't do anything more for those 10,000 children." But, he charged the rapt audience in a powerful voice, each one of us must answer the question, "What are you doing for the Jewish people?"
Those words still ring in Rabbi Wein's ears and have driven him ever since.
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