The Incredible Journey of a Jewish Traveller by Israel Cohen

[Hat tip to RYDBZ]

This is an incredible log of a world-wide journey, published in 1925. Even the City of Melbourne was visited and described in Chapter 7, and I present that section below (not perfectly converted from PDF to text).

Israel Cohen


THE journey from Adelaide to Melbourne,
accomplished overnight in a comfortable train,
was the shortest I made since I left Port Said,
as it took only eighteen hours. Melbourne impressed me as a beautiful city, clean and spacious, with
wide, regular streets, tall imposing buildings, including
something like a sky—scraper, and a handsome tree—lined
thoroughfare—St. Kilda’s Avenue-—which can challenge
comparison with some of the finest boulevards in the
capitals of Europe. It has a. Jewish community of 6000
souls, who are all intensely proud of the city in which
they live, and who never ceased asking me what I thought
of it. Their lines have fallen in pleasant places, for
most of those who arrived there as immigrants with only a few shillings in their pockets, though with untold

energy, succeeded within a comparatively short time in
attaining a high degree of prosperity. One of the largest
departmental stores was pointed out to me as belonging
to a Russian Jew who, twenty years ago, went about
hawking with a pack on his back. The devotion of
the Jews to the British Crown is sincere and ever-present,
and struck me as much more demonstrative in character
than that of their co—religionists in the mother country.

‘So fond were they of singing the National Anthem at
the gatherings in which I appeared that I was almost
inclined to think that they regarded me not so much
as an Emissary of the Zionist Executive as an Envoy of
His Majesty.

On the day of my arrival a reception in my honour
was given by the committee of the “Hatechia,” a Zionist
Society consisting mostly of Russian Jews. As I entered
the room the entire company greeted me with “ God
save the King,” to pianoforte accompaniment, and after
the introductions were over, and we had taken our seats
at a festively decked table, the chairman asked us to
fill our glasses, rose to propose “ The Health of the
King,” and within two minutes the National Anthem
was again rendered with great gusto to the tinkling of
the piano. Many speeches, brimful of enthusiasm, were
then delivered, and the concluding event was the singing
of the National Anthem for the third time. That demonstration should have sufficed to convince even the most
sceptical of the Morning Post scribes that Zionism has
nothing to do with Bolshevism. There was, indeed,
hardly any public function in my honour that did not
either open or close with a similar patriotic manifestation.
One evening I went to a ball organized by some youthful
Zionists, and as soon as I appeared on the platform overlooking the dancing-floor, the orchestra suddenly stopped
in the middle of a lively jazz measure, and after a
moment’s solemn preparation vigorously struck up the
ever-popular anthem.

The reception on the day of my arrival was rendered
memorable by another feature. It was .a gargantuan
plaited loaf that lay on the table. before me, similar to
that which I had seen in Perth on the eve of my departure. It had been specially baked, I was told, not only
in my honour, but for my personal consumption ; but
when I explained that I could not very well take the
loaf back to my hotel, and that in any case it would
become quite stale before I had eaten even half, it was
proposed that it should be raffled among the members
of the society for the benefit of the Palestine Fund.
This suggestion, however, was not proceeded with, as
one of the members bought it by private treaty for a
party that he was giving the next day in celebration of
his daughter’s marriage. The bridal couple thought that their union was rendered particularly auspicious
by the acquisition of the loaf of the Zionist Emissary.

Among various messages that reached me soon after
the local newspapers published their first interview
with me was a letter from a gentleman who stated that
he was very keenly interested in my mission, and had
indeed been looking forward for some time to my coming.
He mentioned that he was the brother of a rather distinguished personality in London, and asked if he could
call to see me. I at once responded cordially and affirmatively, congratulating myself upon the valuable assistance
which I felt sure he would offer, and still more upon the
introduction that I expected to receive to the distinguished
London personality, who had hitherto held quite aloof
from any Jewish cause. The brother of the great man
came to see me at once, but at the first glance at his
shabby coat and bristly chin I felt that I had been
building castles in the air, and we had not been engaged
in conversation many minutes before all the castles came
toppling down into fragments. For my visitor, after
inquiring after‘ the welfare of his famous relative and
perceiving that I acknowledged his importance, suddenly
remarked: “ I’m rather stumped just now. Can you
lend me a dollar ? I’ll let you have it back when we meet
again.” I had little faith in the possibility of any such
repayment, nor was I disposed to risk a second meeting,
as I feared it might be abused by further exploitation,
so I gave the brother of the distinguished personality
half a crown, and he left me with the assurance that he
would never’ forget me——a sentiment that I sincerely
though tacitly reciprocated. When I related the incident
later in the day to a friend, he told me that my experience
was not unique, that there were several “ ex-remittance
men ” belonging to good families of the old country,
who ‘were always on the look-out for visitors whom they
could impress and impose upon ; and he congratulated
me upon having got off so cheaply.

But if I had to place a trifle on the debit side of my sojourn in Melbourne, I was rather lucky‘ to be able to
build up -on the -credit side a record of munificence far
surpassing anything done by any other community in
the whole of my travels. I owed a good measure of my‘

success to the help and advice of Mr. M. Zeltner, the

President of the Victoria Zionist Organization, who was
himself characteristic of the self-made man, for, born
over half a century ago in Cracow, he had arrived in
Melbourne with nothing but his wits and his grit, and
gradually established his fortune as a.- merchant in rubber,
and his fame as a public-spirited philanthropist. He
presided at the first two public meetings that I addressed,
and lent his house on a Sunday afternoon for a private
gathering, the total yield of the three occasions being
‘nearly £14,000, which Mr. Zeltner headed with the first

The “most important meeting was that over which
General Sir John Monash presided. The General had
hitherto not identified himself with Zionism, although,
since his return from war-stricken Europe as the brilliant
Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Forces, he had
begun to take a more keen and active interest in Jewish
affairs. The fame that he, not a professional soldier
before the war, had deservedly won on the battlefield
by his genius for strategy and gift for leadership, seemed
to be resented by the military clique, whose jealousy
prevented the according of such an official welcome on
his h0me—coming as a victor acclaimed in the Allied
capitals was entitled to expect. Sir John had now put
away his uniform and sword and resumed his practice
as a civil engineer, and only a day after my arrival he
was appointed by the Federal Government as Director
of the great Morwell electricity scheme. He was exceedingly busy at the time,” and as the meeting over which

I wished him to preside was to take place on a Monday
evening. and I could not approach him until the previous
Friday afternoon, I was prepared for a rebuff. But Sir
John was the soul of kindness. He welcomed me in his office in his bluff and hearty manner, and little persuasion
was needed either from me or from a mutual friend,
Mr. B. H. Altson, an ardent Zionist, who accompanied
me, to secure his assent to our request. He had a previous
engagement, an important meeting of the Court of
Governors of the University, but he agreed to waive it
for the sake of Zion. He inquired about the latest
developments in Palestine, and told me with pride that
a famous kinsman of his had once been interested in
the Jewish colonization of the country.

“ Who was that ? ” I asked curiously.

“ The ‘historian of our people, Graetz,” was the reply.

There was little time left to make arrangements for
the meeting, especially as it was the week-end, and
some of my friends were rather nervous about the result.
But thanks to prominent advertisements in the press,
headed “ The King’s Message to Palestine,” and above
all, to the attraction of Sir John Monash, whose popularity
with the public was not affected by military pique, the
Assembly Hall was crowded with a representative
audience of about I000, whilst late comers had to be
turned away. As soon as Sir John arrived in the waiting-
room behind the platform he remarked: “ I mustn’t
forget to give you this,” and, taking a half-crown out of
his waistcoat-pocket, he said : “ This is from my cook.
She is a profound believer in the restoration of the Jews
to Palestine, and she insisted on my giving you her
mite to the funds”

The meeting was marked by scenes of enthusiasm,
particular applause greeting the reference in my speech
to the part played by the Australians in the redemption
of the Holy Land. I had been told that at the time
when volunteers were being raised in the Commonwealth
for transportation to the battlefields of Europe there was
a popular song with the catching refrain : “ Australia
will be there ! ” which was sung and whistled throughout
the Continent. I utilized the refrain in drawing a picture
of the future glories of Palestine, for, speaking of the new settlements that would gradually arise to cover
the waste places of the ancient country and of the proposal to create among them a colony bearing the name
of the Commonwealth, I exclaimed tha “ once again
would it be said: ‘ Australia will be there!’ ” The
patriotic allusion brought the house down. My appeal
for‘ funds, conducted by the method I had inaugurated
in Perth, was successful. The first response was for
£1000, then followed a few donations of £500 each (one
being from Sir John, though he asked that the announcement should be anonymous), and scores of others for
decreasing amounts, until a total of £6000 was reached
within an hour, making a grand total of £20,000 after
only six days’ work. The Victoria collection was shortly
increased to £26,000, thanks to private canvassing and
to visits paid to Geelong and Ballarat.

Another distinguished Jew whom I met was the Hon.
Justice Isaacs, a member of the Commonwealth Supreme
Court, whose decisions in some leading cases, I was told,
had evoked encomiums from legal authorities in England.
He was another example of the Jew who had risen to
the highest position by sheer merit and force of character.
The son of a poor Russo-Jewish tailor, he had started
life as a school teacher, but in his leisure hours he studied
law and then decided to devote himself to the legal

I met him———a dour-visaged sexagenarian of medium
height with small grey moustache and fresh complexion
——at the house of Mr. Altson. The aspect of Zionism
in which the judge was most interested, or rather about
which he was most concerned, was the question of
Jewish nationality. He could not understand nationality
apart from a state or territory from which such nationality was derived, and he therefore asked how the Jews,
having no such qualification, could claim nationality.
I replied that his definition was faulty, that it was
formulated without regard to actual conditions, and
that he confused nationality with citizenship.

” Take the case of Eastern Galicia,” I said. “ There
you have a country whose fate the Peace Conference
has not yet decided, and which is inhabited by three
distinct nationalities-the Ukrainians, the Poles and
the Jews. The Ukrainians and the Poles are striving
for the mastery, but both recognize that the Jews form
quite a different nationality. Whatever be the fate of

Eastern Galicia, the Jews will be citizens of the State ‘

to which it will be assigned, but they will still belong
to the Jewish nationality.”

The judge thought for a moment, and then said
gravely: “ I think that nationality is an unfortunate

He told me that he was making a serious study of
Hebrew grammar, which he had neglected since
boyhood, and wished to know something about the
adaptability of Hebrew to the needs of modern speech,
asking for the equivalents of various modern terms.
The acquisition of languages was his hobby, and among
the various European tongues that he had mastered were
Russian and modern Greek. I” was anxious that he
should make a. profounder study of Zionism than he
had hitherto done, and was glad to learn that he in-
tended. visiting Palestine on his way to England, whither
he was shortly sailing for a year’s holiday. I gave him
a letter of introduction to Sir Herbert Samuel, but when
I reached Jerusalem several months later, I learned that
Justice Isaacs had spent only a day in Palestine, which
scarcely sufficed for the correction of pre-conceived
ideas, still less for the gathering of new impressions.

Among the novel experiences that fell to my lot was
to occupy the pulpit in two synagogues, first, at the
more fashionable shrine in St. Kilda, whose minister
was my old fellow—student, the Rev. Jacob Danglow,
and, secondly (after a few weeks spent in New Zealand),
at the East Melbourne Synagogue. The addresses
served a practical as well as a moral purpose, for they
were delivered during the Sabbath morning service before congregations which included many people who
had not attended my public meetings, and the result
was of no small benefit to the Fund. The experience
recalled memories of my Jews’ College days, when I
occupied more than one London pulpit ; and apparently
I acquitted myself of the preacher’s role ‘with some
measure of satisfaction as I was discreetly approached
on behalf of the committee of another synagogue and
offered the vacant position of minister with alluring
emoluments. Memories of my College days were also
revived when I visited Mr. Danglow’s study and saw
on the wall the framed illuminated address that had
been presented to him by the Jews’ College Union
Society on the occasion of his departure from England
some sixteen years before, and which had been drafted
and signed by me as President of the Society.

I had, indeed, no lack of variety of experiences. They
were in no case exciting, though occasionally exasperating.
For I had to supplement my public appeals by personal
canvassing, and I seldom found anybody willing to
promise a donation without some preliminary skirmish.
Doubts were sometimes expressed whether the Zionist
scheme would succeed ; questions were asked about the
measure of financial support given by prominent English
Jews ; priority was claimed for local calls and charities;
attempts were made to postpone a decision. But I
grappled bravely with every case, developing the patience
of a Job and the ingenuity of a counsel for the defence.
One man wished to be assured that there would be a
Hebrew revival in Palestine; his next-door neighbour
demanded that English should be predominant; both
were ultimately satisfied and contributed. Another
person was anxious lest England should relinquish the

‘Mandate and leave Palestine to her fate; and a fourth
had the vision of a powerful Jewish Commonwealth fifty
years hence making war upon Great Britain-—as though
we Jews have not had enough with the wars of others.

Some doubted whether Jews could make successful colonizers, but when I showed them some of the photographs I had taken in Palestine—of the beautiful avenue
of palms in Rishon-le-Zion, the picturesque suburb of
Tel Aviv, the keen intelligent faces of the Haluzim,
the splendid figure of a mounted Shomer—their doubts
were dispelled.

There was, in truth, little reason in Victoria for doubt
on the score. of Jewish fitness for husbandry, as a colony
of Jewish farmers had actually been created in that
State only a hundred miles from Melbourne. It was
the fruit-growing colony- of Shepparton, comprising a
hundred Jews, mostly of Russian origin, some of whom
had lived in Palestine several years before the war.
The establishment of the settlement was due to the
initiative and generosity of one or two public-spirited
Melbourne Jews, and had proved thoroughly successful.
I received a telegram from the little community inviting
me to visit them, but unfortunately my arrangements
rendered the journey impossible. The Jews of Shepparton, however, bore no grudge. They at once convened
a local meeting, delivered speeches on the restoration
of Palestine, and raised a goodly sum for the benefit of
the Fund.

A little scepticism was also expressed at a meeting
that I addressed under the auspices of the Melbourne
University, and over which the Principal presided. I
spoke mainly upon the subject of the Jerusalem University, though I also dealt with the general aspects of
the Restoration. But a professor of history, who proposed
the vote of thanks for my address, tried to show that
the Zionist ideal was impracticable on the ground that
his reading of history had taught him that the Jews
had always lived in discord with one another, and could
not govern themselves. I. acknowledged his thanks but
repudiated his history. I pointed out that the Jewish
communities and colonies already established in Palestine
were .a model of peace and concord ; and that the Jews
were not only able to govern themselves, as they had proved through the councils of the colonies in that
country, but were also able to govern some of the people
in Australia, as would be shown when Sir Matthew
Nathan shortly arrived to assume office as Governor of
Queensland. The burst of applause evoked by this local
illustration signalized the discomfiture of the professor
and the ‘explosion of his thesis.

Before leaving Melbourne, I had a brief interview
with the Commonwealth “Premier, the Right I-Ion.
W. M. Hughes, to whom I bore a letter of introduction
from Sir Alfred Mond. The Federal Parliament was
sitting at the time, and as the interview was to take
place in the Premier’s official room, I arrived a little
earlier so as to hear some of the speeches. The Chamber,
which is modelled in general after the House of Commons,
is, of course, much smaller and less dignified, and the
apparently constant restlessness of the members deprived
the proceedings of any inspiration. I was fortunate enough to come in time to hear “ Billy ” Hughes, as he
is invariably styled, address the House on the Estimates.
He has an unprepossessing figure, being short, round-
shouldered, and with a beak-like nose; his. lips snapped
open like a vice, emitting a rasping, raucous voice, and
then snapped together again; he gyrated first on one
foot and then on the other ; and all the time he held
in his hand a short ear-trumpet to- catch the interruptions
that flew about. But the instrument-did not compensate
entirely for his deafness, and he made some curious slips
in his retorts, which evoked peals of laughter. “ Billy.”
however, was not disconcerted, and despite all his physical
deficiencies he easily dominated the entire assembly
with his arresting eye and air of authority.

As soon as his speech was over he left the Chamber

[for his private room, into which I was presently ushered.

After reading the letter of Sir Alfred Mond, he remarked
that the latter had been very helpful to him in England,
and then asked if he could be of any assistance to me.
I said that I should have liked him to preside at a public meeting, but as he had been away most of the time that
I was in Melbourne, and I had to leave for Sydney the next day, that desire was doomed to disappointment.

He inquired about the progress in Palestine, and especially
about the attitude of the Arabs, and then sharply asked :

“You haven’t come here to recruit emigrants for Palestine ? ”

“ Oh, no, sir,” I assured him. ‘

“Because we can’t spare any,” he added grimly.

He expressed his good wishes for the continuance of my tour, and I withdrew.

It is well worth downloading and reading all 378 pages of this book. Enjoy.

Our holiday. Part 4: Shabbos Leading to a visit to the Tziyun

Dear readers,

In some ways, this part of the trip afforded me with a most significant lesson in morality and middos.

On Friday night we were fortunate to be invited to a family home of the Chosson. The host is well-known to me as a fellow graduate of Yeshivah College in Melbourne. The hostess is a more recent person who I met in Melbourne a few times, and is somewhat more “reserved” but charming. I know many of their children, and with one of the husbands discussed his PhD, and if I can, I am hopeful to help him achieve some of dreams flowing from those ideas. He and his wife represent the essence of values that makes Chabad an attractive proposition to those who are searching and attuned to the spiritual. At subsequent Sheva Brachos my wife also discovered a common educational language. I was thrilled with that outcome.

The Dinner proceeded, and whilst I had been asked to pop in and meet the well-known Rebbetzin Henya Lane (a sister of my Mechuteniste) after Friday Night dinner, that didn’t happen because Friday night’s dinner ended late, partially due to wonderful hostessing and the happy, relaxed ambience. By that stage I wasn’t about to barge into someone’s house late on a Friday Night. Henya’s husband is also related to Avremy Raskin (who isn’t?), and is in need of a Refuah Shelema, since then. I understand he is on the mend, Boruch Hashem, but I don’t think I formally met him. My feeling is that he will return to full activity and vigour, and for whatever my Brocho is worth, R’ Chaim Dovid has it.

The “morning after” was Shabbos and it was time to go to Shule. Again, the combination of a windowless basement, remnants of jet lag, no alarm clock, and good food and drink the night before conspired to make me late to Shule. I’ve never been one to come late to Shule; I abhor it! I have to admit that on this occasion when I arrived at 770 for the aufruf upstairs, I felt thoroughly ashamed of myself for being late. The Aufruf was upstairs in the Yechidus room; the room where I felt very comfortable, and I again met some wonderful Talmidei Chachomim, including Rav Michoel Seligsohn, with whom I discussed various issues, and stay in touch. He is a very quick to respond, and I appreciate his perspicacity and learning. I had wanted to meet R’ Chaim Serebryanski who davens downstairs, and asked someone to see if he was there, but learned later that he finishes his seder learning and davening, early.

As davening came to a close, I initiated the process of remembering where my overcoat and hat were placed and thank God, I was still on the ball and found them. This is another weakness of mine. I’m prone to losing things. To many this is trivial. For me, it’s a major challenge. I still got lost merely negotiating the upper floor.

As I picked up my hat, I noticed the venerable Rav Yoel Kahn שליט’’א giving a shiur in Chassidus to the Bochurim of Tomchei Temimim. I felt I should experience this, as he is considered the doyen. Unfortunately, a combination of his accent, and compromised health, meant that from the distance, there was little chance for me to understand what he was saying. I waited for a moment wherein nobody noticed, and quietly slipped out, not wishing to offend.

My good friend, the Gaon, Rav Shea Hecht also has Yohr Tzeit around this time after his father R’ Peretz, and we shared much of the previous year at Ohel Devora in Melbourne saying Kaddish for our fathers. I had heard that Reb Shea was “around” and wanted to say Good Shabbos to him before I headed off to Getzel’s Shule for the Kiddusha Rabba. Someone advised me that he was in “that room” on the right, just down the hallway, otherwise known as the Cheder Sheni. I popped my head in and saw Shea and he greeted me warmly. As is his ebullient way, he introduced me to a packed room of people in the middle of a Kiddush, packed on benches like sardines.

Suddenly a colourful character named “Pinto” began speaking in a loud and boisterous and voice, challenging aspects of my views on various matters with a smile. This didn’t bother me, of course. Pinto was clearly refreshed and in a happy mood. I like happy people, as long as they haven’t left their brains parked at home, or don’t have any to find.

The next thing I knew, I was “magically” propelled onto one of the benkalach among this group of what I now know to be seasoned kiddush machers. They were generally my age and older and were a jolly group  for whom opinion flowed with un-alarming alacrity. They insisted I should make Kiddush as this was the real Kiddush. Pleas that I needed to go to attend a Kiddush for a Simcha seemed to be irrelevant.

Nu, so you will go after this kiddush.

I didn’t think too much of it, as I have a well known penchant for a drink after davening (I don’t eat before Shacharis which can make this dangerous), so I sat down thinking I’d spend 15 minutes or so and then head over to Getzel’s Shule. I was asked if I wanted wine, and answered that my preference was to make kiddush over mashke every shabbos, in the self-same way I did with my father ע’ה each week, and since. I asked for Scotch, and discovered that this colour didn’t seem to figure in the room at the time. There was herring and all manner of good Kiddush food (farbaysen), but it became obvious that I had stumbled into a Russian-Style Kiddush where everyone quaffed white liquid. At one stage, when I was told

we have everything

I challenged by asking for Galeh (pecha) and in an instant it was in front of me, and was really good (although not as good as my wife’s cuisine, of course 🙂

I don’t dislike white liquid, but suggested that the cup they had given me was three times the Shiur of the Chazon Ish, let alone R’ Chaim Naeh, and a usual 80-100ml cup would be plenty. Plastic sufficed, I didn’t follow Poskim who held you needed a more substantial material for a cup. Immediately, a cup of appropriate size was placed in front of me, brimming with “lighter fluid”, and I made Kiddush.

On my right was a friendly person who engaged in conversation. I was to learn later from R’ Shea that I had engaged anyone who

tried me out


and held my own with dignity, giving back anything I was dealt. Much of the conversation was “Have you been to the Ohel”. I explained my general feeling of uncomfortableness and inadequacy at visiting places like that, but this only spurred the crowd (rabble?) on more,  in the sense that they stated

well if that’s how you feel, you davka are the type of person who should go.

I was to discover that the “Vodka” I had consumed a number of subsequent times included the famed “Zeks und Ninetziger”, otherwise known as rocket fuel. My Zeyda Yitzchok after whom I was named, drank Zeks und Ninetziger every Shabbos, and I knew the secret was to pour and not allow it to touch the extremeties of one’s mouth. My father used to mention this to me.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t remember the details of conversations.

As I was about to leave, the gentleman on my right said to me

Nu, what time tomorrow shall I pick you up to go to the Ohel.

I hadn’t even agreed to do so let alone committed to such after Rabbi Kotlarky’s talk on that topic. By that stage, I felt somewhat “worn down”, and his ehrlichkeit penetrated. Knowing that we had lots to do on Sunday (including catching a flight later to Montreal), I thought I’d say 7am sharp, and this would surely prove to be too early for my interlocutor. He asked me where I was staying, and promised he’d be there at 7am. I had no contact number, and at that stage didn’t even know his surname. I didn’t know whether he was serious or not, but he was rather heartzig (heartfelt) and earnest and seemed to ooze chesed (kindness), so I took him at face value.

As I found out later, he was married to a lady I saw on our first evening in Crown Heights and whom I mistook for our good friend in Melbourne. Her mode of speaking and voice are almost identical and I had met a few years prior in Melbourne on Chanuka.

We left the Kiddush, and he accompanied me. We spiralled into a number of Chabad homes, while people were eating their lunch, and of course “had” to have a L’Chayim and some Gefilte fish at each such place. My “Chavruso” didn’t leave my side and directed me to all places. As we walked in, he was always greeted very warmly with

Good Shabbos Moshe.

Everyone seemed to know him and warmed  to him, seemingly magnetically. Moshe was very kind, and looked after me (I would have been lost without him, having no spatial skills whatsoever. Eventually we both finally made it to Getzel’s Shule for the Kiddush). I sensed the host would would have liked me to have come earlier, and he was very right. I still managed a L’Chaim or two. Thankfully I had davened Mincha at 770 beforehand.

It was really only then, when others asked me “where have you been” and I responded that I had been with Moshe Rubashkin, that I retraced my steps. It didn’t interest me to ask why people said

oooh, with Moshe

as if I had been with the King of England.

I woke on time, and sure enough, Moshe was also there on time. I had my Tallis and Tefillin and didn’t know if we’d daven before or after the visit to the ציון of the Rebbes. On the way we spoke, and although he was rather Russian, and I was an Aussie academic whose מהות (soul) was still planted in Rawa Mazowiecka, Poland, we had a curiously common language and got on very well. He kept saying I was “funny”. I don’t know what that meant, but I assume it meant that I was somewhat more unpredictable with my responses than he was used to.

When we arrived at Montefiore Cemetery, I didn’t know what to expect. We walked through a front door, and were confronted by the video of a past Sicha on a big screen. Somewhat fortuitously, sitting to the right and behind  the Lubavitcher Rebbe in a light suit, was Reb Yisroel New (whom I knew, as a great-grandfather of the Chosson). The topic was “holidays”. and the LR was fulminating that there could not be a holiday from Torah and that he couldn’t understand how Mosdos would close down completely. I was on holiday, but I didn’t feel I had stopped my small engagement with Torah, so took his words in context. Moshe stood there and listened באימה, and I didn’t move until he moved on.

At every stage, everyone seemed to greet him with warmth, and I realised he was a real personality amongst the populace. We moved into a large room where minyanim were taking place (and apparently a Bar Mitzvah was being prepared for) and then suddenly I came to a door.

I opened the door and tentatively entered and was confronted by the scene of two stark Matzeyvos filled with mounds of torn paper. I physically recoiled backwards. This was my natural reaction as a Cohen. Although there was a mechitzah around the Kvorim, it was not natural for me to be so close, and my Cohanic instincts made me take two backward steps.

I had the Maaneh Loshon with me, and after staring at the graves and scrutinising the words, noting the slight difference in language, my mind wandered to the contribution and responsibility these two Rebbes had played in my life, overseeing and supervising the establishment of the School that I was to attend for 12 years. People around me were saying Tehillim, and one lady was weeping audibly. Rain was dripping on my hat and Moshe was saying Tehillim. I didn’t write any note, nor did I take off my shoes or knock at the door. I didn’t feel disrespectful.

Eventually I started saying the Maaneh Loshon, but the words were floating around on the page, and I can’t say that they were at one with my mind and thoughts. I subconsciously decided that silent contemplation with my eyes shut was appropriate. It required great concentration not to commune directly with the Rebbes. I concentrated on asking their Neshomos to join me in beseeching Hashem for various things relating to others. Only at the end, did I venture into a short matter about me. I’m not sure how long I was standing there for, but was to learn that Moshe went 2 or 3 times a week, and normally said the entire Tehillim. I felt a little guilty, when after some time I felt I had ended my experience and tentatively started to leave. Moshe compromised his usual timing and joined me immediately. This was something I learned later.

A minyan was just starting, and I recognised the Ba’al Tefilla from 770 upstairs but had never asked his name (he was a gingy). During davening my mind occasionally wandered back to that sombre scene, and I understood why Chassidim felt drawn to visit their Rebbe’s resting place. Again, there was so much

Hello Moshe, how are you

I was amazed at the “celebrity status”. He asked someone walking along the muddy path if they needed a lift, and we drove back. He had no airs or graces.

When we returned, we sat in the car and continued talking for what seemed ages. Finally, there was this knock on the window, and I saw my wife with her hands up in the air, saying

I’ve tried to contact you for hours. I had no idea what happened to you, we have to go to X, Y and Z

She wasn’t angry, but had that look of “knowing her husband” and my proclivities. She said,

I see you seem to have found a soul mate.

I responded that we had a natural affinity to each other and could have spoken for another two hours without a problem, even though externally we are chalk and cheese.

Later, people told me about amazing acts of Chesed that Moshe was doing for many people, and I was not surprised.

I asked him to apologise to his wife for keeping him out for that long and mentioned that I had met his sister-in-law on the street when we arrived. He said

that was actually my galicianer wife

It was only then that I realised that Moshe and his wife were actually the bookends of our visit to crown heights: His wife when we arrived and Moshe when we left.

On my return, I obtained Moshe’s number and sent him a proper thank you. Should I return to Crown Heights, I will definitely seek him out. He helped make my visit to the ציונים of the Rebbes less stressful and dignified, and without pressure to conform in any way.

Pinchas Koplowicz ע’’ה

My memories of this man are larger than life. I attended his Levaya on Erev Shabbos. To us, the Balbin family, he was known as ‘Uncle Pinye’. We were brought up never to call more senior people by their first names. It wasn’t appropriate to call him Mr, in the same way that it wasn’t appropriate to use the Yiddish “Ir” instead of the closer version “Dir”. He, as usual, disliked Mr just as much, and always said he was “Peter Kay.”

Uncle Pinye was another long-time member of Elwood Shule after his family moved from Adelaide to Melbourne. He sat at the back-most row of the Shule in the last seat of the middle section on the left, leading into the Beis Medrash named after R’ Chaim Yoffe, where daily services are still conducted. Uncle Pinye didn’t sit there because the seats were cheaper. He sat there because he was enigmatic. On the one hand, he wasn’t short of a dollar, and was munificent when it came to Tzedoko for causes that were dear to him. He revelled in the happy social murmur pervading a brunch or event that he loved to host. On the other hand, he wasn’t a person who felt comfortable “standing out” in a Shule environment. The most comforting, perhaps compromising position for him was in the back row. If anything, I felt that he was always struggling when sitting in Shule, conjoined to a seat.

To be sure, there were other members of our family who also sat in that back row over the years, and this would also have contributed to feelings of relative comfort. I use the term ‘relative comfort’ because he was constantly in a state of inner and vocal philosophical turmoil.

All Holocaust survivors struggle to find meaning or justification (if I can use such a word) to describe what they experienced, but he was an Auschwitz survivor whose tattooed number one didn’t need to see. ‘Holocaust survivor and State of Israel lover‘ were evident in a virtual tattoo that was visible constantly on his forehead and literally manifested itself in every second line of conversation I and others had with him for almost 50 years.

A close friend of my father ע’’ה for seventy years, he and his wife Resi ע’’ה loved my mother equally.

Pinchas and my father עליהם השלום
Pinchas and my father עליהם השלום

He always told me that if I needed to study the definition of Yiddishe Mamme, I should simply look at my mother. I remember my band ‘Schnapps’ flying up to Sydney to play at his grandson’s wedding. I secretly wept at select moments when nobody was watching. I played Yiddishe Mamma at his request on my violin. For him, this was a surreal occasion. I feel he was riddled with the understandable guilt of enjoyment and Nachas. What do I mean by that? Although he merited seeing two daughters build families and played joyfully with great grandchildren, he was in a state of questioning at all times. His question was

“Why me? Why did I deserve to survive? What inherent quality did I possess that was not possessed by the millions who were butchered around me?

That was not his most powerful question or indeed his constant question. He traumatised me somewhat from a very young age whenever, and I mean whenever, he saw me. He would ask:

Hey youngster! Yitzchik, I know you are an intelligent boy, a religious boy, and a good son to your parents, but one day I’d like you to explain to me why 1,000,000 children deserved to die.

As I got older, and wiser, I subconsciously, and no doubt intentionally, tried to gently steer the conversation away from that and to the Nachas he was enjoying. He wasn’t simple, of course. He knew exactly what I was doing, and sometimes managed to reverse my strategy.

He wore a small Tallis, and usually that grey hat. I suspect that the late and great R’ Chaim Gutnick ז’’ל was someone whose expressed the pain of the holocaust and a genuine love of the State of Israel as manifested in his renowned drashos, affected Uncle Pinye in a manner that captivated his attention. Rabbi Gutnick didn’t have answers either. He never pretended to. Who does? He spoke about the dry bones, and how those dry bones came to life. I am sure that message resonated somewhat with Uncle Pinye, and it was probably for that reason, and the cajoling of my father and late Uncle Yaakov, that allowed him to feel semi-comfortable enough to attend Elwood in those days.

Last week, when his state of health state was undulating precariously like a yo-yo, between recovery and imminent end of life, I visited him. As a Cohen, it was a calculated decision. We donned gowns and gloves. He was lying listlessly in the bed, and when he realised that I had come with my mother, an enormous strength overcame him as reflected in his eyes and hands. Suddenly, he was the typical Uncle Pinye. I knew it, because he said , in his last words to me

Listen to me youngster (he was 93 and I have grandchildren!)  I do not intend to leave this world until I get an answer to why 1,000,000 children were allowed to be murdered.

I was frozen, as always when confronted with this style of questioning. I find it difficult to read books about the holocaust, let alone watch a movie. The latter stems from my experience as a boy, watching the Diary of Anne Frank and running out of the TV room when the Nazis ימ’’ש found her. I recall running to my room in Rockbrook Road, lying down on the bed, trembling and weeping. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from that moment. But, this isn’t about me.

When we were young, his family lived in Adelaide. It was there that he built his livelihood. They would come (and it wasn’t cheap) for visits to Melbourne, and there was no question that his daughters were tantalised by the richer Jewish and social life in Melbourne, as well as the sense of family experienced through the wider Balbin family. Whenever they came, we were in their surrounds, enjoying many moments together. They were a permanent fixture though they lived in Adelaide. Eventually, daughters Dora and Belinda won. The family moved to Melbourne, but he used to commute because he couldn’t just leave his business interests to dissipate in wanton abandon.

He had used the name Peter Kay, because in a non-Jewish world it was easier. I recall his love of table tennis, gymnastics, hand-stands and sport, as well as the gregarious nature he oozed without tiring. He had no qualms dressing up, and his house just had to have a formal bar. The refrain

Can I offer you a drink?

still rings in my ear. It wasn’t an offer. It was essentially a command. He had it all behind that bar, and once a drink or two were quaffed, our discussion inevitably led to the Holocaust and how much he admired my parents and family.

He would enthuse that he didn’t have words for the honesty and integrity of my father and Uncle Yaakov who slaved upstairs in their factory cutting clothes and assembling them for production.

For her part, my mother knew that Uncle Pinye loved Choolent. Almost each Shabbos, especially when my father retired, we set aside the remainder to be delivered personally by my father (sometimes together with me) to his house on Sunday. If my father was ill, he and my mother would ask me to perform the delivery. I did so, willingly, of course, even if it meant a drink and talk session that lasted at least an hour. There was no such thing as a quick visit.

I remember a number of times he said to me, “Yitzchik, I have so many paintings, please choose a few and take them home for your lovely wife”. I have always felt uncomforable accepting gifts, and I kept replying that I had no art appreciation and he’d need to talk to my wife. His response was, of course, “so bring her, with pleasure”. My wife also visited on a number of occasions and he loved her too like family.

The root of this connection goes back many years. Although he was born in Lodz, he had relatives in my father’s home town of Rawa Mazowiecka. Immediately after the war,

Pinchas Kay in Rawa on the left with my Uncle Yaakov soon after the war, עליהם השלום
Pinchas Kay in Rawa on the left with my Uncle Yaakov soon after the war, עליהם השלום

when he imagined that nobody had survived, he found two of his sisters in my Booba and Zeyda’s house in Rawa. He never forgot that. I recall when the sisters (Zosia and Itka), who lived overseas, would come to Melbourne, the special bond that they too shared with my father. The kinsmanship and love were palpable. It was no problem for me to like them as well. It was a veritable hand in glove.

Like my parents, his family was his love and purpose and that kept a tortured soul focussed and grounded somewhat. The State of Israel was a miracle he was so very proud of and he never failed to be part of it, even when he wasn’t physically standing in the streets therein.

When my father ע’’ה passed away recently, he turned his attention to the isolation and melancholy that my mother understandably descended into. After her serious fall, he redoubled his efforts, even though he was physically frail. Almost a day wouldn’t go by without him incessantly ringing my mother, and then me and my sisters when he couldn’t elicit an answer from her phone. He wanted to take out the entire family for dinner. I tried to explain that we’d need to wait until the year was over, and he accepted that, but even after the year was over, my mother was and remains rather isolationist, rejecting invitations from her friends for the most simple of activities, such as sharing a cup of coffee. This will change, undoubtedly, in time, but alas, Uncle Pinye departed before she was able to bring herself to accept invitations with comfort.

He is now, no doubt, at peace. I use the term קדושי ניצולי השואה which whilst not common, cannot be seen as objectionable. For me, every survivor was and is holy. They were holy, because they had been “set aside” as a Korbon, literally a sacrifice on the altar. For reasons we do not comprehend, the Korbon survived, not because it was a בעל מום, חס ושלום, rather because

הנסתרות להשם אלוקינו והנגלות לנו ולבנינו עד עולם

The hidden mysteries are the domain of Hashem, but the revealed, is for us, our children and offspring, forever.

This is my only response, although it is not one that I ever used in discussion with Uncle Pinye. There could never be a response that would assuage his troubled, quixotic character.

He is now hovering above his grave on the journey to the Garden of Eden, at the end of the 12 months of mourning. His legacy, kindness, love, and gregarious nature, though, is set in stone in my psyche, and  in that of my mother, siblings, children and the wider Balbin family.

יהי זכרו ברוך

Postscript: at great expense and with much paper shuffling under the devoted hand of Ezra May, he decided to formally change his name back to Koplowicz. He had needed to function as “Kay” but he had never lost the Koplowicz, and that describes his essence in a single act. It isn’t surprising that Yom Yerushalayim will fall during his week of Shiva. That is also Hashgocho—the conundrum of issuing praise for the miracles Hashem wrought after the Holocaust, davka at a time of extreme mourning for an individual of this ilk.

I’m still waiting …

Where was the evening and large gathering of “all” Gedolay Torah in the World against the low life scum who kissed the rectum of Ahmadinajad?

Where were the public posters and condemnations?

Did Rabbi Beck put his brother in Cherem, or does he still visit him quietly when he travels?

No, these low life scum who kiss the Iranians, continue in their Chillul Hashem while those frum charedim who wish to do national service or army are beaten up by the “holy” ones, protecting them for their own good.

Let’s not kid ourselves. This was a Charedi juggernaut and Charedim do not equal the “entire” Torah World. Rabbis Telsner and Groner made a poor judgement and some type of apology. I think they were politically naïve.

How many Mizrachi types will still frequent the professional Kollel “olderleit” at Beth Hatalmud after their Rosh Kollel still refuses to apologise for his participation in this Tefilla/Protest and the posters rude and offensive description.

I went to Kerem B’Yavneh,he first Hesder Yeshivah. We learned hard, at least as hard as the black garbed holier ones. It always shocked me how motivated the boys were in their learning and their defence of the country. The difference was that during the first Lebanon wars, my two room mates Zev Roitman and Chovav Landau הי’’ד (whose wife was pregnant with a boy at the time) were incinerated in their tank after a direct hit. They were the only two in a Yeshivah of 500+ who were killed. The Malach HaMoves was in my room, clearly.

Maybe someone will tell me that they should not have manned their tanks, and should have learned Boba Metzia instead, but my Torah doesn’t tell me that.

The word around town is that Rabbi Donenbaum from Heichal HaTorah felt he was “forced” to sign. Perhaps he could explain why in his weekly few pages of halacha.

Incredibly, when Gush Katif, Ashdod, Ashkelon etc were under fire, it was the Charedi Yeshivas, those whose learning protect us with their constant high class learning who ran away.

I’m ashamed of their action. They could have called for a half day Taanis in their own Shules. That’s at least private and could be timed for the same time. Instead they chose the emotive time of Ta’anis Esther, when they didn’t need to do any extra fasting, and will have us try to believe they had no thought of the connection between Haman and the democratically elected government of the “Treyfe Medina” whose money hand outs they covet and which has a duty to defend all its citizens and ask all to contribute to the Mitzvah of Milchama.

The imagery of barbed war around a Torah on the Melbourne Poster was positively inciteting and spewing with a brand of hatred that sickened me to my core. Maybe they should have davened solely for peace

Johannesburg and Melbourne

I have never been to South Africa. If you would have asked me 3 months ago whether I would have two future sons-in-law both born and bred in South Africa, I would have looked strangely at you.

My connection to South Africa commenced over 30 years ago when I was learning at Kerem B’Yavneh. Naturally, I found them “closer” to Australians, followed by the English, and the non New York, Americans: New Yorkers were another species altogether, as removed as Israelis. One of my Chavrusas back then was a young earnest Masmid (always learning) named Stanley Moffson, now known and loved throughout South Africa as Rabbi Shmuel Moffson of Ohr Someach fame. There were other South Africans, but I don’t even remember their names.

We could share cricket with the South Africans and Poms, but that was it. On Thursday nights we had Mishmar, where traditionally one would endeavour to learn all night. We didn’t learn all night, in general. By about 1am our brains were mush, and the words really just spun on the page (at least that’s true of me). We had a tradition of going to the basketball court, and playing 5 a side soccer for the rest of the night. Here again, the Poms and South Africans, Aussies, and Europeans studying at KBY would “go for it” as if we were representing our country. I still remember one mature English guy who used to play as sweeper and he had me on a string. I couldn’t ever get passed him: the memory still frustrates.

By the time my older son went to learn at KBY, they had a gym. This was a great idea. You need to have outlets, especially for the kids of our day, but I digress.

So, here I was an Avel no longer saying Kaddish, and our youngest daughter is engaged to a nice young man from J’Burg. We try to organise dates, but my wife is in New York for the engagement of our middle daughter, also to a J’Burger who has been in the States for a while. It was nigh on impossible to re-route and change things for my wife so she could also make the J’Burg engagement. I offered to try to book a flight which would take me to NY and then to J’Burg so I could be at both, but my wife insisted that if I’m at both, then she has to be at both. Fair enough too.

It was high season. I managed to get a flight on a full plane via Perth. On the way back I travelled on Kratzmech, and that was a Mechaye because there was plenty of room (and it was Qantas).

Arriving just after 5am in the morning, I was picked up by my daughter and the future Chosson. We dropped my daughter off, and I went to Shule on the Thursday. I didn’t realise it but I had sat (as I usually do) in the back of the Shule (the Chabad house in Sandton under Rabbi Yossi Hecht who was overseas), and the regulars thought that I was a Schnorrer. Now, if they had only had given me some Tzedoko!

I was called up to the Torah as Cohen, and although I’m uncomfortable saying HaGomel (according to the view of the Rav, Rav Soloveitchik given how relatively safe flying is), I did so and not become controversial. The Mechutan was also sitting in a back corner, and I didn’t notice him and hadn’t approached.

Davening ended and everyone shook my hand and said Sholom Aleichem and that was that. They remarked later that they were expecting me to pull out a few sheets of paper testifying that I was a genuine collector.

The thing that struck me was that apart from two dressed in dark suits, the rest of the Minyan looked “ordinary”. They weren’t bearded, were casually dressed, etc. I wondered what the attraction was to coming so early to Shule so early during the holidays. I know that mainstream Shules in Melbourne struggle to get a Minyan each day. The Mispallelim come three times a year and if you are lucky to a Yohr Tzeit. These guys, as I saw came for Shacharis and Mincha/Ma’ariv and I was to learn that this was not unusual.

As I was still technically an Avel, I did not allow myself to go touring and made do with the gym/jacuzzi/shvitz facilities at my hotel. That was therapeutic, and was a Menuchas HaNefesh and Guf which I really needed. My wife needed it as well, but she was in the snow of New York, wearing out the American Express card.

In my travels, I noticed that there seemed to be one and one only Kashrus organisation. There were no maverick entrepreneurial Rabbis who went off on their own for “utopian interests” which were really for “our” benefit. The result was that I could go into Woolworths and pick out items and find a stamp, a single stamp, in much the same way as the OU operates. What a Mechaye. Why was it happening here and in Melbourne we seem to have two Kashrus organisations: Kosher Australia and Adass, as well as the more recent  smaller maverick operation run by R’ Rabi. I won’t even start writing about the mess in Sydney where they simply can’t get their act together and separate Kashrus from Money, and agree on a single operation for all, without even a smell of self-interest.

I then asked where the so-called Charedi community “hung out”. I was to learn that J’Burg was pretty much void of (Hungarian) Chassidim. There was no “highest standard” Hechsher run by a separate Beis Din, where OO is EE, and separatism is a way of life. No, here, the Rabbinic institutions were set up by Litvaks. Even the Chief Rabbi claimed to be a Telzer, even though he apparently had learned only in South Africa.

What of Chabad? They certainly existed and were everywhere with really professional Chabad Houses augmenting the large choir-style Shules. I bumped into the charismatic R’ Sholom Ber Groner, who I knew in Melbourne. In fact, he gave me goose bumps each time I spoke with him in learning because so many of his mannerisms reminded me of his saintly father. He told me that the Ramash נ’’ע had written a letter to the Rabbonim many years ago that they should always work within the existing Rabbinical organisations and not separate themselves into another group. The Ramash was of course quite brilliant, and it came as no surprise that such sage advice was given. The result was that the Litvaks and Lubavitchers had mutual respect and genuine Chavivus. They worked together. The Beis Din is Litvak heavy but universally respected. There was a time when Chalav Yisrael was difficult to obtain, but they managed. They have “Mehadrin” Shechita which effectively means Chassidishe Shechitah. You can find that on menus in fleishig restaurants.

I guess the overall feeling had been of peace and fraternity between Rabonim, and I would argue that this is South Africa’s secret. There are no fifth columnists and private hashgochas and certainly no aspersions being cast around that “I’m frumer than you”.

The “Yavneh College” style school also impressed me. The primary school is mixed, but the high school is separate between males and females, and the males who want, have a Mesivta program where they can come back at 7pm for more learning. I was gob smacked. If something like this existed in Melbourne, with non Charedi teachers, I think Yavneh would really differentiate itself and move to a higher level of Chinuch. Again, I digress.

Yet, despite all this, many Jews from SA left. The apartheid was horrible and I detected racist feelings amongst Afrikaaners. When I suggested that it would take a generation or two of education and opportunity for reform (on the criminal level) to materialise, I was told “No, it will never change”. I loved watching the B’Nei Cham, with their ultra thick hair and perfect teeth walking around the Mandela mall. As someone who came from a persecuted people, I felt a natural affinity. I spoke with anyone who would talk to me. I could have done this for weeks. I loved them, I just felt that I had a duty to lift their morale and make them feel entirely comfortable. I tipped them too much, but what the heck. Their names were just wonderful. Names like Romeo, Delicious, Precious, etc were common place. The ones who worked in the Chabad houses were very well looked after and respected as human beings and I just loved being in that type of morality. The pejorative “Shvartzer” never passed my lips. What was Tzippora? What about Batsheva? What about our Sephardi brothers and sisters. Who are we to comment about any such things.


Where was the Reform and Conservative movements, let alone the neo conservadox style movements? They barely existed. Why? In a place where Orthodoxy exudes peace, friendship and a typically Chabad and Ohr Sameach non judgemental approach to human relations, this is the most powerful antidote to counter these inaccurate and inauthentic branch offs from authentic traditional Judaism.

I came away with a great feeling. Yes, there are some security issues. Yes, you need to not go on your own without advice etc. There are challenges. As a community, though, I have to say that in general, although we might have more Kollels, their institutions achieve so much more and are more outward looking and manage to enfranchise individuals.

Disclaimer: I was only there for a week, and no doubt I was on a high, and perhaps ignorant and oblivious to various issues. This is my overall impression, however. In Melbourne, if you pass someone from a different “caste” you’d be lucky if they acknowledged you with a Good Shabbos when passing them. We have much to learn, not the least of which is learning to mind our own business and not whispering about every “bad” thing that happens in someone else’s family.

Jewish Spite filled Anti Semites

[Hat tip SH]

The Heimlich family is an honourable family in Adass Yisrael, full of Talmidei Chachomim, born and bred in the Charedi (hungarian) community in Melbourne, Australia. One of the sons, is a renowned Posek to whom most Adass folk turn to for their Sheylos today. He sits in the Gerrer Shitibel daily and learns, and is a fine man.

One brother Nachum is a Rosh Kollel in Satmar. You can hear his vituperative and spite filled anti zionist/jewish speech on youtube, where he tells the non Jews that we don’t need a country, we don’t need an army etc and publicly criticises Israel. To Nachum I say, come back to Australia. Your place isn’t in Israel. Why torture yourself by staying there.

Pull out, I say. Get your kinsman out of Israel. Cross the border into Ramallah. Go live there in peace and harmony. Get the heck out of Israel. It’s really Avi Avos HaTumah for you and means nothing to you. Get lost!

Shame on you Rabbi Nochum Tzvi Heimlich on the youtube (listen at about 10:42) The Australian accent is unmistakeable. What a Chillul Hashem. Remove your sackcloth, and come wear Australian sheepskin.

Screen Shot 2013-12-26 at 11.23.41 pm

I call on his brother in Melbourne to condemn his statements. I doubt it will happen any more than the clandestine visits of Rabbi Beck to his infamous extremist brother.

We in Melbourne are fools for supporting and allowing these extremist elements to take our money through their various businesses. Next time you deal with one, ask him whether he supports Satmar and Toldos Aron or similar. This is a Shandeh.

I call on Adass to distance itself explicitly in the press from these extremists and condemn them and their sentiments.

Improving the management of Kashrus in Melbourne

The Mizrachi Organisation is to be congratulated and commended for the incredible amount of time and money that they have put into Kashrus in Australia. Starting from מורי ורבי,   Rav Abaranok ז’ל the move over time to align standards with the world respected and renowned OU is something we should all celebrate and not criticise. Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick, and his team, of late, together with the lay committee are responsible for the thick booklet we now have.

It is true that life would be a lot easier if all Australian products had a Universal Symbol for Kashrus, and if the Sydney Kashrus Authority also adopted the OU standards across the board. My feeling is, and I haven’t discussed this with Rabbi Moshe Gutnick and could be completely wrong, that Sydney tend to adopt the standards of the London Beth Din. These are legitimate, of course, but, to me, the OU is the best hechsher in the world. To appreciate the quality of OU, one only needs to listen to the OU Kashrus Q and A videos from both Poskim, Rav Hershel Schachter and Rav Yisroel Belsky and listen to the array of shiurim from the Kashrus experts across a wide array of issues.

I have spoken to both Poskim in the past, and I am in awe of their ידיעת התורה (knowledge of Torah). In the case of Rav Schachter (only because I have had a little more interaction and listen to his shiurim regularly) his גדלות in מדות טובות (moral fibre) is also inspiring. Rav Schachter is eminently approachable. It is one of my disappointments that nobody sponsors a Kollel Week of nightly Shiurim in Melbourne with someone like a Rav Schachter. Chabad, understandably invite their own, and I don’t even know if Beis HaTalmud does these sorts of things much since Rabbi Nojowitz departed and the new regime took over. Any  גבירים  (financially comfortable people) out there want to sponsor something like this? Melbourne would be bedazzled by the Halachic clarity that Rav Schachter transmits. He isn’t the only one, of course. I’d be equally happy to hear Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg or Rav Usher Weiss. The latter travels to South Africa and the States quite often for lectures. I have also spoken with Rav Usher Weiss, and he too is an עניו (humble) and a גדול בתורה (great knowledge of Torah) who is most unassuming. I’d say he is less likely though to stand out on some issues, even though his analysis often makes you think he thinks something is indeed מותר (permitted) when he finally paskens it’s אסור (forbidden).  Rav Schachter, however, seems to have a more Brisker approach to Psak and concludes according to his understanding:  for example, he  has said that showering on Yom Tov is permitted (albeit not using very hot water), something I have personally felt was מותר for over 30 years, but I am digressing (as usual).

A personal testimony.

I was a fill in representative for Elwood Shule many moons ago at the Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria. The topic of the then Mizrachi Kashrus arose. Indeed, it was brought to the table by Mizrachi. There was also a prior proposal around the same time, I believe it may have even been authored by (now) Adjunct Professor Harry Reicher, then of Melbourne, where the lay body was to take over the financial and administrative oversight of  kashrus, beis din and involve all groups (even Adass). Without going into the details of the plan, I clearly recall the Mizrachi delegate, Mr John Kraus, speak to details depicting the financial loss incurred by the Mizrachi Organisation in continuing to run Kashrus. He was very keen for the COSV to take over. The COSV debated the issue, did its sums, and came back with a positive response. I remember feeling that this was going to be a momentous outcome for the community. Why, indeed, should Mizrachi have to bear the burden? Inexplicably, just as the “deal was to be done”, Mr Kraus returned to the COSV and suddenly and surprisingly announced that Mizrachi had withdrawn the offer and would continue to oversee the operation. I am not privy to Mizrachi’s thinking at that point.

I don’t see Adass as a practical partner in any future Kashrus organisation or Beth Din or anything of that sort. They are separatist, and have a right to stay that way. They don’t change. They are effectively a hamlet and organisation to themselves. Each to their own.

All non Adass shules, including Shteiblach and the like, should join the COSV and pay dues. There is an important role for a COSV and it’s not satisfactory that some congregations contribute, while others do not.

My brother-in-law, Romy Leibler, did a great job reforming the lay (financial) arm of the Beth Din together with Meir Shlomo Kluwgant. I think it’s way past the time for the COSV to do the same through quiet diplomacy with Mizrachi. Melbourne will grow when this happens. In my opinion, such a move is more important than dealing with alternative, and so deemed “enlightened” kashrus supervision that we have seen sprouting lately and which is diverting us from the main game of communal accountability and reform.

What say you?

PS. Some of you may know that there is an esteemed Kashrus Organisation called the cRc (Chicago Rabbinic Council), which is headed by the respected Av Beis Din of the Beth Din of America,  Rav Gedalya Dov Schwartz. They were in the press recently with their analysis of the Kashrus of Starbucks. On Pesach, you may have notice another organisation, who name themselves CRC (Central Rabbinic Congress which I think is more than cheeky), who approve various products, including the “Glicks” line of products from overseas. CRC is not cRc. CRC is affiliated with Satmar and the Eida Charedis. They feature, infamously, on this page under Jews against Zionism. Pick your products in my view. If I have a choice, I will always use OU and avoid the anti zionist Eida Charedis and their ilk.