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Shuls Of Straw: Yitz, Avi & The Big Bad Wolf

Shuls Of Straw: Yitz, Avi & The Big Bad Wolf

Associate Editor

Friday, November 6th, 2009

It’s time to stop crediting “the Rav” (Soloveitchik) for having been the intellectual centerpiece of Modern Orthodoxy. He’s not. Never was. His “modern” Orthodoxy wasn’t all that modern, even in his prime. He was about as modern as your zaidy’s Eisenhower-era Dodge, equipped with only AM radio.

The three great founding “fathers” of Modern Orthodoxy, in chronological order, are the early 20th century wise guys of the Young Israel movement (in its original form, when they operated without professional rabbis or cantors, pre-1950), the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and Yitz Greenberg.

You can’t go to those Young Israels any more. The Lubavitcher rebbe operates only on a spiritual plane these days. The only one you can still experience is the great Rabbi Yitz Greenberg (and he’s getting to an age when he ought to be exceedingly honored and cherished). You can hear speaking at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (237th Street and Henry Hudson Parkway) on the eve of Kristallnacht, Sunday, 7:30, Nov. 8 (718-796-4730).

Also on the bill is a special tribute to Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns, who sacrificed his life defending the Holocaust Museum in D.C. (In his spare time, when not inventing Modern Orthodoxy, Rabbi Greenberg also chaired the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.)

And by the way, for all the people who noticed, several months ago, that an anti-union “rat” was set up outside Hebrew Institute’s new building: Good for HIR’s Rabbi Avi Weiss for not giving in to the union. They say that some folks rob with you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen — and union contracts often rob at the end of a pen, these days. The non-union workers at HIR got more than $20 an hour, an honest wage. Better yet, with the money that HIR saved, a great deal of money was and is being spent (as it is at many shuls) by the rabbi’s “Discretionary Fund,” bailing out the unemployed, helping those who’ve taken a medical hit, and those who simply need a break. In these hard times, that is a far holier way of rabbis spending the shrinking shul dollar. It’s bad enough that so many Steinbrenners at shuls across New York insisted that they had to spend precious congregational money on new, extravagant, and unnecessary shuls. But the least shuls can do now is what Avi did — figure out how to keep construction costs as low as possible, while passing the savings to tzedakah.

If there’s one thing Kristallnacht — and a drive down the Grand Concourse — teaches us is that the First Little Pig was right. We should build shuls out of straw. In times of God’s choosing, be it Tisha B’Av or November 1938, the Big Bad Wolf could always blow down a shul made of brick.

Hebrew Institute, 7:30 Nov. 8. (The actual yahrtzeit for Kristallnacht, Nov. 9, 1938, was Cheshvan 15).

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