The 14th Yahrtzeit of My Father

Today is my father Jacob (Ya’akov ben Yosef V’Mari’om) Rosenzweig’s 14th Yahrtzeit. He was a very unique man who lived Bitochon (steadfastness) in HaShem. Though he rarely praised us directly, he always directed love and respect to us just the same. I would like to relate two incidents we had together that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Growing up in Windsor, Ontario I went to Yeshivah Beth Yehudah in Detroit. My 7th grade Rebbi was Jerry Werner and he assigned a certain classmate who I didn’t get along with as my Chavrusa (study partner). During the first few weeks of the term, every day I begged Rabbi Werner to change my Chavrusa and every day he refused. One day in frustration after he again refused my request, I said, “but Rebbi he’s retarded.” Rabbi Werner appalled at my outburst smacked me in the face and not thinking I smacked him right back. I was immediately sent to the principal’s office and was suspended from Yeshivah until my father would come to the Yeshivah.

Living in Windsor, getting my father to Detroit was a big deal since he hadn’t yet gotten his driver’s license. I remember us walking down the hall of the Yeshivah after our meeting with the principal and he said to me, “Du host mir basheimpt – you’ve shamed me.” Totally embarrassed I looked up at him and saw a tear fall from his eye, I was totally humiliated for causing the “strongest man in the world” to cry, it was a pain that has never left me.

Thirty-five years later, I was the Rabbi in my hometown synagogue, the Sha’ar HaShamayim (from December 1989 – June 1996). Every day between Mincha and Ma’ariv (afternoon and evening prayers) I would teach a few laws from the Shulchan Aruch – the Code of Jewish Law, this day we were studying the laws of the festival of Purim.

One of the worshipers asked me a question about the purpose of certain Mitzvot that we observe and I entered into quite a lengthy explanation to his satisfaction. After the evening service ended, I usually drove my father home. As we were walking down the hallway, my father took hold of my hand and said, “Du host em ge’enfirt vie a chochom – you answered him wisely.” It was the first time he praised me directly and I felt like I had atoned for the shame I had brought him so many years past.

His memory lingers with me daily though I feel he is still looking over my shoulder. “Thei Nishmato Baruch – may his soul be blessed.

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5 Responses to The 14th Yahrtzeit of My Father

  1. Miriam Kuropatwa says:

    Wow! Does my Mechutan get your Vort? Be well and prosper, in particular during this your time of conquering the world of mobility.

  2. Harry Feld says:

    Your story is very touching about your father, but also very troubling. You were suspended from the Yeshivah because you struck Rabbi Werner, but according to your narrative nothing was done to the Rabbi. It would have been more appropriate for an adult. professional teacher and Rabbi to have been suspended than an abused child who is defending himself. I am curious did that thought ever cross your mind? Now that you have become a Rabbi I hope you have never imitated Rabbi Werner’s behavior. I also hope that if you ever witness such abusive behavior by another Rabbi, you have the courage to report him immediately to the appropriate civil authorities. You see I wish someone had done that for me, when I was a child going to the Yeshivah Beth Yehudah. That’s right I was also a student of Rabbi Werner. Although he never struck me, I was hit by Rabbi’s Kahn, Oppenhimer, and Friedman. I watched other children being hit. In fact it was a rather common event in that school. As far as I know, no Rabbi ever spoke out against this abusive behavior. Over the years I have run into other students of the Yeshivah who share the same kind of stories.
    I am a few years younger than you so I was not your “retarded Chavrusa.” I was just another abused child, who was told I did something wrong.

    • Dear Harry,
      sorry I didn’t respond sooner but I’ve been ill and am now feeling much better. I am sorry to hear about your experience at YBY and would never condone such behavior from any of the teachers under my supervision. Those days were different and i never considered being smacked by a Rebbi as abusive (in fact, the whole blog was about the fact that i was kicked out because I slapped him back). it was a different time and now we all know better. I feel for you and your experience but that wasn’t my experience. I still have a relationship with Rabbi Werner and had a positive relationships with the other rebbes your mentioned. But had they done that to my children when they went to YBY I would not have stood for it.

  3. Harry Feld says:

    Hi Rabbi Rosenzweig,
    I am glad you are feeling better. I am encouraged that you would not tolerate physical abuse by other rebbes under your supervision. I only wish that every Rabbi would make that same pledge, because there is still physical and sexual abuse by even a small percentage of rebbes going on today. The entire Jewish community needs to stop being in denial and deal with the issue. “Those days were different and i never considered being smacked by a Rebbi as abusive” is still the thinking of some rebbes and parents now,

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