Rabbi Dovid Abenson: What We Can Learn from the Holocaust

rabbi dovid abensonBy: Rabbi Dovid Abenson. It pains me to publish this article but due to the present situation in Eretz Yisroel, it is incumbent to make this message public during the 9 Days of Av.

Our Gedolim have reiterated that we must continue to daven and to do teshuva, but one avenue remains to be addressed.

Almost seventy years have passed since the Holocaust ended in 1945.

Our Gedolim have told us that we cannot understand Hashem’s ways, and why more than 6 million Jews died al kiddush Hashem. We have to
accept this with true emunah and to believe that ultimately, it was for our good.

However, we can still ask the following question: “What lessons can be learned from the Holocaust, and how can we transmit these lessons
to future generations?”

When we look at the stories in Nach (especially at the Neviim Rishonim ), we find that when Bnai Yisroel sinned, Hashem would bring an enemy to attack. The Jewish response would always be to cry out to Hashem, so that Hashem would bring them a Yeshua. When King Sancheriv besieged Yerushalyim with 185,000 thousand troops, the Yidden woke up the next morning to find all the troops had died. This happened
because King Chezkial cried out to Hashem and made all the Yidden do teshuva.

The Yidden never said “Never Again.” They realized that the reason why Hashem brought the enemy to inflict harm to the Yidden was to wake them up to their duty to serve Hashem properly and follow the Torah’s ways. In other words, the Yidden themselves had to change in order to prevent any more calamities from happening.

Unfortunately, today, when the Jew says “never again,” he stays the same, and doesn’t feel the need to change. We are not utilizing the lessons from Nach.

So what lesson can we learn from the Holocaust so that it won’t repeat itself?

Rabbi Wolfson, Mashgiach of Torah V’Daas, stated, “the leader in Iran says clearly, that he wants to kill every Jew in the world like Haman
wanted to, and if he will be successful in getting the nuclear bomb, (and experts say he will have it by summer), it will be a great danger
to Klal Yisroel.”

So it appears that another Holocaust is on the horizon, chas v’shalom. Clearly, we haven’t learned from our own history how to correct our
mistakes. If this were not the case, the current danger would not be happening.

So what teshuva do we need to do to prevent this imminent catastrophe?

I propose that if we work on the following as a community, IY”H, Moshiach will come and peace will prevail.

In a word, it is Simcha. What do I mean by this? We must serve Hashem with simcha, teaching our precious children b’simcha. In parshas
Teruma (26,13), Rashi comments on the fact that the yerios draped down until they covered the silver adanim. Rashi quotes the Chazal, “the
Torah is teaching us Derech Eretz, that a person should care for and protect (chas) that which is beautiful and precious.” What could be
more beautiful and precious than our own children, is the pure and beautiful neshomos of our children.

For lack of Simcha in the classroom, children drop out of school and out of Yiddishkeit. Whenever a child gets thrown out of school there
is a kitrug in shomayim;

I would like to quote my rebbe, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon Shlita, Mashgiach of Lakewood Yeshiva,….” Many of the children whom we call
“drop outs” have not become like that because they have a bigger yetzer hara than other people, but because they feel less cared for than other people. Those children who fall through the cracks of our educational system have, very often, lost out on those fundamental skills that they should have acquired earlier in life. If we could only give them a little more care, a little extra understanding or a little more help, an invaluable chizuk can be achieved, giving these people a feeling of self-esteem. Instead of , chas v’shalom, dropping out altogether, they will now want to achieve and stay within the fold, carrying on to reach high madregos, which otherwise they would never have dreamt of before.

This ill feeling towards children and students in Torah institutions is not a new phenomenon.

I would like to quote stories from the Holocaust. It is quite evident that we continue to display the same behavior at this late date towards our fellow Yid.

Below are true stories that have been told to me first hand.

The first story was told to me by a son – in – law regarding his father in law in 1941.

The father-in-law, as a boy, was sent to yeshiva from his small village. Meanwhile, the Germans came and wiped out his family but left his great aunt in the house because her husband had been a WWI veteran The boy never knew his parents had been killed since his teacher had forged letters apparently written by them to say that everything was fine, as if they were still alive and so that he wouldn’t get upset. Eventually he realized that the letters weren’t in his father’s handwriting so he decided to go back home to see what was happening. He took the train and when he arrived home his great aunt opened the door and broke the news about his parents to him. She informed him that the Germans were coming back and that he must leave immediately. She told him that the only reason that she had been kept alive was that her husband had been a veteran in the 1st world war. Just then the gestapo pulled up so he quickly ran into the forest where, after a day of walking, he reached the border with Hungary. There he went to the nearest kehilla. He had no family there but he wanted to learn. He went to the nearest cheder but they told him that to be able to learn there, he
would have to pay tuition. He told them “I have no money since I have lost my entire family”. They told him it was too bad. All he had was his pocket money which he had stashed away and he gave it to them.”

The following story happened to a man’s mother.

She was sent to Auschwitz as a young girl. Normally the trains would arrive during the day to the camps where Mengele YM”S would allocate
to the right or left. She arrived at night so they were able to pass the selection without him noticing how young she was. When it came to
the next selection the man’s mother’s mother who was with her suggested to get a mop and try and pretend to be a part of the
cleaning crew to be able to pass through the cordon of S.S. soldiers.
She did this and was able to pass the check. They came to a block
where the women were from a different community which before the war
had hated each other. When she got there they told her she wasn’t
allowed in their block. (even during the camps there was a lack of
achdus, even though they were all getting killed).

Another story – Just after the war, a family was living in Bnei Brak
where the father was working. He had to go to Miluim ( a yearly
statutory army service for a few weeks) The Israeli army was not like
it is today. They had to serve for a few weeks a year without getting
paid for that time. So the family didn’t have any money to pay for
school fees. Since they couldn’t pay the children were sent home.

Years later when the man, now married was living in Canada, that same
school came to him for a donation and he reminded them that they had
thrown him out because of lack of money. But he gave them a donation
anyway.

Almost 70 yrs later, we are still having the same problems.

I recently received this email from a client whose pain and suffering
is evident.

“I am writing this comment coming from tremendous pain, and suffering.

I realize Hashem is in control of every aspect of our lives,
and I realize that looking back is unproductive. Yet I lay awake at night
and cant help but feel …I’m not sure if abandoned is the right
word…but I feel the system has failed me and my family.

I feel abandoned from Hashem …and as I am writing hear your counter
arguments…..intellectually, but my pain is my pain, it just is.

When I converted over 16 years ago, Dovid was 10 months old . My
entire being, only wanted to serve Hashem….all I ever wanted was for
my family to embrace a path of truth/emes.

Zestful and idealist I set out to pursue truth and serve Hashem.

All I ever wanted was for my family to embrace this path of Torah and Mitzvos.

But I am far from having the merit, as my life unfolds, Hashem has
other plans and I must accept this suffering with love. When you don’t
see a light at the end of the tunnel it is hard.

Moreover, it is my children suffering. First Moshe, and now Dovid. My
other children too suffer, as I preoccupy myself with trying to help
Dovid amidst trying to keep my own sanity.

It hurt to watch as my daughter so kind and lovingly conversed with
Dovid , all the while knowing he was so obviously stoned. I have to be
grateful that he was home…though it was hours after dinner,….rather
than on the street somewhere not knowing where he is.

It was disturbing for me to hear that mothers story of her son not on
drugs but none the less rebellious and angry, to the point where they
threw him out….no knowing where he was. Now that they found him, the
boy wants nothing to do with them. That is too much to bear. Guess I
have nothing to complain about.

Looking back I see a system,… the yeshiva system that I embraced
wholeheartedly, failed and rejected my family. Dovid as a young boy
so sweet so sensitive so eidel. Walked around the house kissing
mezuzzas, and meticulously davening to Hashem, wanting every word to
be perfect. Yet he became the perfect candidate to get bullied. I made
attempts to speak to superiors to get the bullying to stop, but was
unsuccessful, trusting in the powers above, and always siding with the
Rabbeium and the system, because they knew best, they in my eyes were
direct representatives of Torah and Orthodox Judaism. They knew more
than me so I trusted, and trusted and trusted. The more religious the
institution the more he was misunderstood and bullied. This continued
until his last days in Yeshiva.

True, even if he wasn’t religious, this bullying may have been
inevitable….but much harder to swallow under the guise of religious
Judaism. Yeshivas throwing away children like garbage.

Maybe if Torah was taught with love and sensitivity and individualized
to respect that not everyone can fit into that square box. Maybe
taking the time to find out who he truly is….how sensitive and caring,
and thoughtful, and creative, never wanting to hurt a soul…sensitive
to the pain of others if an injustice is done.

Emunah, emunah, emunah…..this is what Hashem wants.

What is the next step. Rehab???? We know it isn’t always the answer
except for the lucky few.

What would Avraham Twersky say ?

Maybe you have his number.???? Another shot in the dark??????

There are so many in pain and broken. I just one of them.”

Another email I received…………………

“The seventh grade rebbi of my oldest son (now a 31 kolel
yungerman with 3 children, and a prince of a human being) nearly
tortured him out of Yiddishkeit. This rebbi, instead of working with
the few “bad middos kids” in his class, would actually elevate them as
his private henchmen, to hurt other kids who got in the rebbi’s way.
(This son’s bar mitzvah miraculously saved him. He made a siyum on
Shas Mishnaiyos, lained, davened Musaf and spoke so beautifully, and
the well-deserved praise of our friends and family was so ecstatic, it
somehow shook off malaise of spirit that pervaded him at that point).
When I complained to the principal, he replied with statements like
“the rebbi doesn’t really have good bain odom l’chavairo” or “the
rebbi doesn’t really like children.” When I pushed to have him
dismissed, the principal replied, “I can’t take his parnassa away.”

My second son is tall, with long gangly legs. If he would move his
foot outside the floor tile under his desk, his sixth grade rebbi
would slap him. But this son is made of iron, and nobody is going to
break him. When the next son had the same rebbi, he called us crying
(my wife and I were on the way to the only Agudah convention we ever
attended), that he simply couldn’t stay in the class and observe this
rebbi torturing the son of a family of gairai tzedek, we removed him
by skipping him up into the seventh grade. My son did fine, but the
rebbi somehow was so incensed by my son’s removal from the classroom
(even though it was done with zero fanfare), that he left the school
the following school year and went back to schechting chickens (better
than schechting children, in my opinion). The principal, in turn, was
so angry at us, that he made sure to terrorize this son until he left
the school, even encouraging other children to “kill him.”

If the above sounds like a horror story, and it is (mind you, I pay
full tuition and my children are all straight ‘A’ students, and well
behaved), the practicality of your suggestions could only find their
way into a new school. Let me tell you why: This principal raises the
money for the school. He’s completely clueless when it comes to
education. In the principal’s opinion, as long as a rebbi controls the
classroom, and he doesn’t have to deal with any problems, the rebbi is
great.

What the principal does not realize is that the reason that the
children are misbehaving is because they are not learning anything.
The reason the rebbeim are not teaching is because they have no
training and no supervision. And they get paid so little, that half to
2/3 of their livelihood is earned outside the classroom, where they
charge $40-80 per hour to teach children the lessons that they should
have learned in the classroom! As such, there are those rebbeim that
don’t really value what they do in the classroom other than as a
network for getting more of their own talmidim as tutorial clients.

When I pressed the principal, as to the fact that the children are not
learning what they should be learning, I know that you will be
dumbfounded by his answer, which was: “they (the children) don’t
really learn anything (of value) until they get to mesivta anyway.”

There was a recent story where an assistant principal actually lied.
He told the student to leave school because he was cheeky to him and
he told the boy that when he arrived home he should call to say that
he arrived. The boy did so and put it on loud speaker so that his
parents could hear what the principal would answer him. The assistant
told the boy that it was a privilege to be in the school and that if
he didn’t like to be there, there was the option of going to public
school.

For an assistant to suggest to a child that he should move to public
school because he was cheeky to him.
In a meeting was made between the menahel, assistant principal and the parents
told the menahel what the assistant principal had
said, he denied it and called the parents a liar and walked out of the
meeting.

Yet another email………………….

“I am a non religious jew who grew up in Boro Park and went to a
prestigious yeshivah in Flatbush. On the first day of first grade, the
rebbi began teaching us Beraishis, in yiddish, even though this was
not a chasidish school by any means.
rebbe: Beraishis – in – unfong
me: rebbe what does in unfong-mean
rebbe: quiet! we do not explain they helegeh torah into english.

It was not until 3rd grade that I finally got a tutor who translated
the holy Torah for me. Any question I ever had for my rabbeim was met
with ridicule, a frask across the face, a ruler slam to my knuckles.

me: rebbe, why is it considered modern to wear a leather kippah, what
kind of kippah did Moshe Rabeynu wear?
FRASK! go to the principals office.

This was repeated through 12 years of “yeshivah.” My parents tried to
instill normal jewish values into me, but when you are in school for
10 hours, sleep 10 hours, there is little time left for that. It did
not help when we moved to Lakewood to be close to family and to try to
find our way.. my wife would wear her very modest snood on Shabbos,
while all the women in their $3,000 custom wigs and $1000 bug-a-boo
strollers would make snide remarks about how she should go find a more
modern community to live in.””

Below are 2 email replies regarding my printed articles:

As a mother, who has seen her sensitive, kind, gentle, spiritually
elevated son transform into a teenager no longer Torah observant
because of his anger at Hashem, rebbeim and yeshivah students, I
applaud Rabbi Dovid Abenson for his drive in combating the problems of
our yeshivah system. My son attended a very “chasheva” school where
all the Roshei Yeshiva sent their sons. There was a major problem in
bullying in this school. My then five year old would get kicked by big
boys – just because he was standing on the playground. He was beat up,
had his head knocked against a locker, hung from a hook, had his snack
stolen, his Torah cards taken by extortion etc. etc. The 1st grade
rebbe would hit the boys on the head if they couldn’t tiche properly.
My son developed headaches which he still suffers from when having to
do any kind of learning – limud hakodesh or secular. The rebbeim hit
the kids in general and so did the rosh yeshiva. There was a lot of
pressure in this yeshiva to shteig away. They were interested in
making gedolim. But as many boys had learning disabilities or were
just not top learners, there were a lot of suffering kids out there.
Some people when they’re angry or feel inadequate take it out on other
people. Hence, the large proponent of bullies in that school. Some
absorb the pain, would never think of striking out because they are
naturally aidel and therefore internalize it and get sick. That was my
beautiful tzaddik of a son. We are only fortunate that our son did not
turn to drugs, like so many other lovely frum children. I daven to
Hashem every day to bring back my child to the beauty of Torah and
mitzvos.

Another writer stated:

It is unfortunately too true. In Israel it is even more severe. Kids
are mamash out of cheder for the weakest excuses. Broken children,
broken broken beautiful neshamas. And why? Because we can’t or don’t
want to answer questions or explain or interact. The education system
is very unidirectional. The antipathy of the Best Torah education. We
need to give over Torah with LOVE and SIMCHA. Nothing less.

……..and a recent reply to “The Box Child”.
Dear Rabbi Abenson,

I need to immediately thank you from the bottom of my heart for this
email as it could not come at a better time. My son was a
student of Rabbi X in our thriving Jewish community in North America
in the summer of 2008.

His education has very sadly ended two years later as the local
yeshiva has refused to take him on as a full time student. He was only
permitted to attend the Limudei Kodesh, and we were asked to “fine”
the secular studies courses outside of the yeshiva. It proved to be a
disaster. My son has dropped out in grade 10. The whole situation has
broken his heart. He felt not good enough. And all that for a kid who
insisted himself to go to Hebrew day school while attending grade 7 in
public school ( we became observant while he was in grade 5, and at
that time 3 religious schools in our community refused to accept our son)
after being inspired by chavrusos at an overnight camp Oorah.
Our son went from being ridiculed in public school to being
a reject in a yeshiva. Today, at the age of 20, our son is lost and off
the derech. It is in fact a very tragic situation. Resentment,
anger, and animosity towards the community are all that are left. His
pain is so deep that even a year in Eretz Israel couldn’t help him.
It became so deeply ingrained in the fabric of his being that he
probably doesn’t even want to remember, let alone deal with solving
this. He remains fractured but that experience, and has lost all
respect for religious aspects of life……

Your words could not come at a better time. Thank you.

Why was it that Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon Shlita,
Mashgiach of Lakewood Yeshiva had to proclaim in Lakewood that no
school should recommence in Elul until all girls had been accepted into school in Lakewood?

From the above cases, spanning more than 60 years, we see that we
haven’t learned our lesson from the Holocaust in giving simcha and
love of yiddishkeit to our children.

Rabbi Avraham Twersky said that the Missionaries spend hundreds of
thousands of dollars to be able to convert just one Jew, whether in
Israel or abroad, and we don’t care about our children.

It is not that we should say “Never Again;” but rather, that THESE and
other such stories should never happen again.
Never again should a student be expelled from
any Jewish institution.

Never again should a student be refused to any
Jewish institution they wish to attend.

Never again should a student say I hate Torah because of their school experience.

I fully believe that once we have taking full responsibility for our actions regarding the above situations, this will be a tremendous zechus for us all and will bring Moshiach b’mhera b’yameinu.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Perhaps it would be helpful if schools would only hire teachers who have been trained to be teachers – either those with certificates from chinuchl programs or college degrees (where students take courses in classroom behavior,child psychology, etc.). Would you hire a plumber to fix your sink if he was not trained properly? Would you let a sheitel macher cut your sheitel if she did not have some kind of training? Well, children are more important than your sink or your sheitel.

  2. I would like to tell you a few things:
    In regards to your first question of why WWII happened & what can we learn from it. I can tell you regarding this that-like you said-every tragedy has a wake-up call message straight from Hashem. Well to let you-& everyone- be aware of the wake-up call of WWII:

    If WWII had not happenedall of us would be reform today, don’t start telling me these stories my grandfather learnt in ponovetz yeshiva hes still a צדיק today etc… We would all be reform today it was just a matter of time Hashem had no choice but to do it. Before the 2 בתי מקדש were destroyed there were only 2 choices what to do (& one of them wasn’t to put a hunger in the land) either kill out all jews or destroy the בית המקדש that was the only makeup for the sins we did then, if Hashem destroyed all the jews then Israel is not full of uncleanliness anymore, if the בית המקדש is destroyed then the holiness left the land & the jews can live (either both holy=no jews or both uncleanliness=no בית המקדש) Hashem had to destroy it we were too low in spirits & couldn’t be with it anymore.

    In regards to your other question of why klal yisroel-as a nation-is not doing teshuva when we are in such a time of non-stop horrific tragedies, I would like to tell you & everyone:
    I would like to welcome you-sadly-to the new generation of today, where we are living in a state of instant-gratification & a state of self-centeredness etc… when tragedy strikes Rachmana L’tzlan in todays generation 95% of us or more will block it from our faces & ask ourselves

    “Vos Vil De Eibishter Fun Mir” (what does Hashem want from me?) I have nothing to do with 9-11 or Leiby Kletzky etc…, I didn’t even know him or even

    May we all do teshuva so m ashiach can come already

  3. Wow.

    Just in time for Tisha B’av.

    I totally agree,
    I feel that no one really takes these matters into consideration.

    It takes guts to speak like this.

  4. To #1: I completely agree with you. Maybe if rebbeim and moros are actually trained and equipped to teach then stories like these would be few and far between. Unfortunately the way to get a job in the education system in lakewood is to have connections which does not guarantee a good fit. Many people go into chinuch because they want to avoid “venturing out to the outside world” for a job or chas vshalom for college (the c word to many local rabbonim). It’s so sad that these rebbeim or moros who should be strong and committed to yiddishkeit cannot get proper training even in a frum setting, which only risks all of the precious children who will lead klal yisrael in the next generation. Chinuch and teaching have become a backup plan or an easy plan. It is not easy. It is not simple. It is not just for anyone. Teachers need to be special people who are trained and have the right personality to convey the holiest of subjects to our precious kids. Rabbi Wallerstein always says that rebbeim and Moros have the biggest responsibility and it is because of them that many kids leave the folds of frumkeit.
    May we all internalize Rabbi Abenson’s words that are undeniably true and harness our own simcha and infuse our children with it.

  5. I have been blessed to have a child attend one of the most prestigious schools in town. Entering 8th grade, I look back on the educational experience as simply just adequate. “Al pi darko” was definitely not on the agenda…this child has so much potential in leadership, academics, and achdus. None of it was nurtured. The main issues? Children of wealthy parents were allowed to bully others and break rules as they wished. Those were the children chosen for leadership roles in the school as well. This is not lost on the children…They know that since Avis Totty is rich that Avi will be able to throw tantrums in the middle of class without consequence. This instills a terrible set of unhealthy values toward money in the children that is very difficult to break as a parent. Please, schools, stop favoring those children who come from more privileged homes. We are all aware it is happening and are suffering even more trying to break our children of the relentless pursuit of materialism which counter acts our core value system.

  6. I believe that there are frum chinuch programs available in our area If not, worthy educators can brainstorm together and come up with such kinds of programs. Those who are heading them up should approach BMG and get reshus to publicize them somehow to those yungerleit who are considering going into chinuch in the next year or two. Those students should be allowed to spend some of their time taking their courses even if it takes away from their own learning…because better they give up some time from their own learning than cause any future students to give up on learning Torah entirely forever (which happens when inept teachers turn off students from Yiddishkeit).
    Unfortunately I do not have any “connections” to make this happen. But if anyone reading this does have, see if you can make some headway with this idea.

  7. I believe that Rabbi Abenson is a lone cry in the wilderness. The problems he is addressing are serious problems that are causing tremendous damage to our community. In the end it is our fault. When our leaders want to address a problem (example internet TV etc.), they can create asifas,posters,speeches,tekanas etc. Here everyone is quiet. If we would create pressure on our rabbanim and/or askanim and then get involved personally in creating a solution I believe we could sole this problem

  8. THIS IS THE REASON MOSHIACH IS NOT COMING.

    We need to make an asifa to cover our chinuch issues.

    The words of the YIMACHSEMOM.
    “JEWS IN EUROPE – WE’LL KILL THEM ALL”
    “JEWS IN ISRAEL – WILL DIE EASILY”
    “JEWS IN AMERICA? THEY’LL DISAPPEAR THEMSELVES”

    If we don’t teach our kids the proper way. Who will?

    Then we’ll see what will happen to the next generation.

    We need to make a difference. Not tomorrow but TODAY.

    You are reading this note that this is the time when we can make a difference.

    Don’t just ignore am yisroels plea to strengthen and help our current situation.

    You may know how to read tosfos.

    WILL your future grandchild know how????

    May this be the wake up call for the Jewish nation.

    WE NEED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE THIS YEAR.

  9. I have read the article of Rabbi Abenson carefully and all the above comments too. Although all sounded very sound till the end, after reading comment No 10 from Chaim, I believe he is actually more on the money than all other comments. Surely, the One Above works in mysterious ways, of Nistar, and He doesn’t usually explain why this happens and why that. And as such, we don’t have Neviim nowadays to tell us what sign means what. So Rabbi Abenson is good to tell us to improve but NOT to tell us why exactly Moshiach has not come. I look forward to feedback from others on this. Thank you for listening.

  10. Yes, yes and yes to both #10 & #11.

    No, no and no to #9 who sadly has fallen into Rabbi Abenson’s trap: no mortal can say, and I am sorry Rabbi Abenson, but you cannot say “THIS IS THE REASON MOSHIACH IS NOT COMING”

    Please, TLS , please correct this, and don’t allow the good innocent public into believing that we have THE definitive reason why Moshiach has not come – we can’t play G-d, rather we must emulate G-d.

Comments are closed.