by David SeidemannIssue of April 23, 2010/ 5 Iyar, 5770 I attended a wedding in Brooklyn the other night and was pleasantly surprised to meet a childhood friend. We were more than childhood friends. She and her brothers literally grew up in our home after their mother passed away. The mother was in her 30s and my friend was approximately 5 years old. We were classmates from kindergarten through the end of eighth grade and she was like a sister to my siblings and me; her brothers were like our brothers. Her mother had worked for my father and I and my siblings worked for her father during the summers when we were off from school.
We hadn’t seen each other in years and the conversation immediately took us back 35-45 years, to life in Columbus, Ohio. We were a very small group of kids unified by the fact that our parents had somehow managed to raise Orthodox Jewish children in a spiritual desert. Between the 10 or 15 families that were completely Shomer Shabbos there might have been 50 kids in total that would be considered Orthodox by today’s standards.
We reminisced about our Hebrew day school, our shul, and the beautiful Shabbosim and holidays that we spent together, and we played catch up, naming all of the children from those 10 or 15 families. We recounted experiences that we shared together over the years. And it seemed that no matter what we spoke about or whom we spoke about, one name that found its way into every story was one of the local Orthodox rabbis in Columbus back then, Rabbi David Stavsky of blessed memory.
Yes, our parents toiled to sustain an Orthodox Jewish presence in Columbus Ohio but they were all following the lead of Rabbi Stavsky. We spoke about the school - Rabbi Stavsky. We spoke about the Jewish home for the aged, and the struggle to maintain Orthodox standards for those that were a captive audience there, and we mentioned Rabbi David Stavsky. We spoke about the Jewish Community Center and how it wanted to open on Saturdays, and once again we spoke about Rabbi Stavsky, and how he led the charge to keep the pool closed on Shabbos.
We spoke about the kosher certification agency in Columbus, and we once again invoked the memory of Rabbi Stavsky. The same was true for the mikveh and the kollel that eventually graced the city and the fact that whenever the newspapers needed the Jewish spin on a matter of public concern; they spoke to Rabbi David Stavsky. He brought Shlomo Carlebach to Columbus and Rabbi Meir Kahane. Rabbi Stavsky revolutionized Jewish outreach, orchestrating weekends that Jewish kids would spend together observing the Sabbath. He called it a Shabbaton, and his model was the prototype for Shabbatons throughout the country.
Matzo and kosher milk for Pesach? Rabbi Stavsky orchestrated it all. A lulav and esrog for Succos? There was only one place to go. And he had us youngsters watch the milk and us youngsters bind the lulavs so that we would experience these mitzvos with our very own eyes and hands.
I often wondered why Rabbi Stavsky stayed so long in a desert as pretty much a lone voice when he could have commanded prestigious pulpits nationwide. When my younger brother began his rabbinical career he was presented with two choices. He was offered the assistant rabbi position at a very large synagogue or the opportunity to begin his own shul with about 16 families. He sought counsel and advice from Rabbi Stavsky, who informed him that that which you build with your own hands and your own sweat and tears, would mean infinitely more to you later on in life. And so my brother chose to begin his own congregation, now in its second building expansion project in the last few years.
The late revered rosh yeshiva of Ner Israel in Baltimore, Harav Yitzchok Halevi Ruderman zt”l, once told Rabbi Stavsky that he, Rabbi Stavsky was in the export and import business. Rav Ruderman was so impressed with the number of Columbus Torah Academy eighth-grade graduates that Rabbi Stavsky somehow convinced to leave Columbus and go off to yeshiva in Chicago, Baltimore, Cleveland and Miami. He exported them out of Columbus and imported them back for the holidays and summers to share their Torah with a community that needed it so badly.
My brother reminded me the other night of a gathering many years ago during the intermediate days of Succos. Rabbi Stavsky invited all of the yeshiva boys that had returned home to Columbus for the holiday. This was not a spectacle in front of the entire congregation, but just the 10 or 15 boys with Rabbi Stavsky in his living room. Each yeshiva boy delivered a thought on the holiday or on a piece of Talmud he had learned. One boy told over a Sha’agas Aryeh; another a piece from the S’fas Emes; this boy quoted from Rav Zeven; and this boy from the teachings of Rav Gifter.
When the last young man finished speaking, Rabbi Stavsky stood up and without any notes tied together the remarks of each boy in attendance, somehow connecting them all and making them fit into the message that he wanted to deliver that evening. It was Torah brilliance without any fanfare, without any adults to impress. It was simple learning for the sake of learning and the smile and the sense of accomplishment that could be seen on Rabbi Stavsky’s face was priceless.
It was great seeing my childhood friend the other night, great reminiscing about our youth and great connecting all of what we experienced as kids to our parents and to the rabbi who led them through the desert in pursuit of an oasis. It was great recalling that that which one builds with one’s own hands, sweat and tears, will remain forever.
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann & Mermelstein. He can be reached at (718) 692-1013 and at email@example.com