A Bit About Me and My Recent Absence and Stuff - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
A Bit About Me and My Recent Absence and Stuff
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A newcomer to town attended daily Mincha minyan (Judaism’s mandatory afternoon prayers) at his shul but mysteriously always would rush away a few minutes later, right before the Maariv (mandatory evening services) would begin. Members of the congregation bad-mouthed him behind his back: Why could he not remain 15 more minutes? What was his rush to run away from G-d?

Unknown to his self-appointed judges, the man was a widower. His wife had died, leaving their baby in his care. He had found a neighbor who agreed to babysit, but she set a strict deadline by which he would have to pick up the child. This man actually was paying good money just so he could attend daily Mincha, but his sitter would not remain longer.

I am blessed to live a richly engaged public life that affords me unique opportunities to reach, touch, and inspire others as a rav (Orthodox rabbi), law professor, and columnist. Fifty years ago, as an undergraduate at Columbia University, I had the opportunity to pursue wealth. I did well academically at the Ivy League school, miraculously was elected university senator to represent the entire undergraduate college student body, and was a shoo-in to enter a great law school, which would guarantee a successful and moneyed law career at a big firm. Instead, I “threw it all away” to pursue semikha (rabbinic ordination) at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and to pursue making aliyah (move to Israel).

Oh, in my mind, it was not “throwing it away.” Rather, it was part of my life’s dream: to devote my passage on earth to serving G-d, serving His Holy Nation, and living the Torah life in His holy land. But there were others in my orbit, situated influentially, who felt I was “throwing it all away.” I choose not to name them nor to elaborate. I did, however, have an aliyah plan that anticipated moving to Israel approximately at age 40. For reasons I choose not to share publicly, I made aliyah a decade before that, before I was ready. I own my bad.

I was among 35 families, mostly in Queens and Brooklyn, who cofounded a new “Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank of Palestine” — i.e., a new Jewish community in Israeli-liberated Samaria. My name at birth was “David Fisch.” Planning to live in Israel for the rest of my life, I Hebraized my surname to “Aharoni” and had that name changed on my U.S. passport, hence ready for my t’udat z’hut (Israeli identity card).

Why “Dov Aharoni”? Why not “Dov Dag” (translation of fish)? My Dad of blessed memory was named Aaron (Aharon) and died at his age 45, my 14, of leukemia. He was the dearest friend I ever had. I had intended to name my first son for him, but that son was a girl. So was my second son. So was my third. So I became Dov Aharoni, and I gave all my daughters contemporary Israeli Hebrew names only, no English Christian names. For example, I named one Kineret Aharoni.

When we applied for aliyah, we had to open a file with a chain-smoking, anti-religious Labor Party bureaucrat at the Jewish Agency at 515 Park Avenue in Manhattan. She saw our surname and asked about my facility with Hebrew. I responded that I could speak, read, and write Hebrew fluently. The fool documented that I was a “Returning Israeli.” Until then, my only time in Israel had been when I attended a leadership program in the summer of 1972.

At the time I encountered that Jewish Agency bureaucrat, I was rav of a modest shul in Jersey City. As our July 1985 date for aliyah approached, we got word from Israel: “Gal-Dar,” the accursed kablan (home builder) to whom we had paid our life savings until that age 32, had gone bankrupt. All our money was gone. We could have stayed put in America, but we chose to proceed on aliyah anyway, now penniless. All the other 34 families, messed up like us, now would have to wait a year living in a merkaz klitah (absorption center) for a new builder, Afar v’Sela, to finish our homes. All those other families were assigned to the “Anglo Saxon” merkaz klitah in Ra’anana favored by Americans, Canadians, Brits, South Africans, and such. As for us? Because of that chain-smoking fool, we were classified as “Returning Israelis,” so were denied any merkaz klitah placement at all. I fought and actually had to prove I was not Israeli. Finally, I convinced one bureaucrat: If I am a returning Israeli, how come I can’t pronounce the “reish” (“r”) in my own name — Aharoni — like an Israeli?

The “aliyah professionals” would not admit their error. In a compromise, they assigned us to an absorption center that no Anglo-Saxons (English speakers) wanted. For the next year, our first on aliyah, we were socially isolated from the other 34 families. Indeed, only weeks after we arrived, Israel designated that merkaz klitah to be exclusively for newly arriving Ethiopians. Hundreds upon hundreds of Ethiopians — and Schmendrick Aharoni from Brooklyn. The day after our new neighbors all arrived en masse from Africa, our 4-year-old daughter gleefully came running home from gan (nursery) at lunchtime and proclaimed: “Aba! (Daddy!) Now everybody is following us to Israel from Jersey City!”

Our house ultimately got built. We lived in it for a year and even planted in it before shmittah (the sabbatical year) set in. However, our experiences that year — bankruptcies by our Israeli builder, our Israeli shipping company, our Israeli suppliers of house items, our Israeli insurer of our shipment, and especially certain severe health matters that arose — accumulated to necessitate our returning to America to regroup. I cannot elaborate on certain specifics because that would compromise others’ confidentialities that are not mine to disclose. Suffice it to say that, in time, a divorce ensued.

While back in America in mid-1987, I returned to the rabbinate. My sister made a connection for me with a newly forming shul in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. In my three years, the shul grew from nine families to 60, and I started a yeshiva day school that grew to three grades and 50 kids. Unfortunately, I could not afford to support my family on what they were paying and had to change careers to save my family. A very tough call. I ended up going to law school and becoming an attorney. I proved to be very successful at it — but I hated it. My calling was to be a rav, not to win millions for Samsung and AT&T. As noted above, a divorce ensued. Half a year later, Ellen of blessed memory came into my life. Inspired at her behest, I left law practice, returned to the rabbinate, and likewise began a stint of two decades teaching law to students more eager than I to practice litigation.

Along the way, curiosities ensued. I became a popular public speaker, but my “Aharoni” surname constantly prompted questions seeking details about what went wrong on my aliyah. I refused to speak negatively about aliyah or Israel, so decided to bypass those questions by changing back to my birth surname. One problem: a new kosher food company recently had appeared— Kineret Frozen Fish. My original surname, Fisch, and my second daughter’s name, Kineret (Hebrew for “Sea of Galilee”), spelled big trouble, even though her middle name was not “Frozen.” As if third graders in yeshiva are going to resist mocking her because her version has a “c” in the surname? I could never do that to my kid, even if she deserved it. So I made it “Fischer.” And everyone lived happily ever after.

When I married Ellen z”l, we discussed our mutual passion to live in Israel. The thing is, like virtually every single rabbinic colleague of mine, an impactful rav cannot just abandon people who have come to rely on his teaching, spiritual guidance, and pastoral care. Rather, there is a process by which a rav must serve his flock before moving on to address his own personal agenda. It is called mesirut nefesh (self sacrifice). For example, the National Council of Young Israel had authorized me to start a new shul, Young Israel of Orange County, but adamantly sought my assurance I would not merely jump and abandon it a few years later. Nearly 100 households left another shul to join Young Israel of Orange County, and Ellen and I knew we owed them our love and spiritual guidance — and commitment. They knew very well — from articles I published, from sermons I delivered, from speeches I made — that we ultimately would be making aliyah as part of our marriage plan. Indeed, partly under our influence, 20 percent of our families either have made aliyah or have had some of their family members join the Israeli Defense Forces as chayalim bodedim (lone soldiers) on aliyah. Few can match those numbers.

And then Ellen z”l was diagnosed with glioblastoma. I have written about that here and here. Anyone who ever has encountered such a thing knows that aliyah gets put on hold while one encounters such a diagnosis, and medical realities built around radiation specialists, chemical medicine (“chemo”) oncologists, infusion treatments, and surgeons with different roles consume life. Ellen z”l was given a prognosis of 12–15 months. G-d blessed her with three more years. She now rests at the Rabbinical Council of America section of Eretz HaChaim cemetery near Bet Shemesh, Israel. My future resting place reposes alongside hers.

After G-d took Ellen z”l to Paradise, the baton passed for me to deal with my own perilous illness. I recently was hospitalized for five months before returning to the battlefield of everyday life. Despite that, I continue learning Torah and Gemara (Talmud). Rumors of my passing have been slightly exaggerated. Thus, I aim to resume publishing thoughts that differ from those of Bernie Sanders/George Soros/Jonathan Greenblatt and his Anti-Defamation League Obama acolytes. Indeed, the more authentic the writer’s Judaism, the further the distance from left-wing Woke ideology.

Because of my illness, I accept that I will not make aliyah after all. I love America so deeply — at least the America in which my grandparents and parents and I grew up — that I am at peace. My doctors are here. So are my Mets and Yankees. Please, please — Subway Series! When Robert Merrill’s rendition of Irving Berlin’s “G-d Bless America” is played at Yankee Stadium and televised in the seventh inning, I place my hand on my heart in my family room. I love this country, even as I love the Land of Israel.

Along the way, as a public person, I never mind being challenged by those who differ from my views. But I also encounter, as all public people do, the petty and bitter small people who snipe ad hominem. The snipers who judge me for changing my name, for living in Southern California, for not placing in my present biography that I played a leadership role in the Jewish Defense League’s Soviet Jewry efforts 50 years — half a century — ago. Do I wish on them cancer or my disease so that they better can understand why I now am in California, not on aliyah again as I had planned? Of course not! Did I change my name to hide my past? I am proud of my past. See here and here, for example. The Talmud teaches that sniping by bitter people reflects self inadequacies they project onto others (b’mumo posel).

Instead, I write this on behalf of all rabbonim (Orthodox rabbis) and all other public people of all stripes who ever have found themselves unfairly sniped at by bitter people, jealous of their prominence, ignorant of their sacrifices. In my case, I had a choice twice — once in college and once after circumstances compelled me to be an attorney — between pursuing a path that would make me very, very wealthy or serving G-d, people, and advocating tirelessly for His holy land. I made my choice. And I am deeply grateful that, in some small way, despite setbacks encountered — and, after all, everyone encounters setbacks — I never have wavered, never have allowed snipers to derail me. The sniping reminds me why, over time, I chose to associate among different circles where premium is accorded to purity of purpose and holiness of intent rather than to sitting in tribunals of judgment based on ad hominem attacks like the pot shots taken at the widower who could not remain in shul for Maariv.

Dov Fischer
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Rabbi Dov Fischer, Esq., a high-stakes litigation attorney of more than twenty-five years and an adjunct professor of law of more than fifteen years, is rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County, California. His legal career has included serving as Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review, clerking for the Hon. Danny J. Boggs in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and then litigating at three of America’s most prominent law firms: JonesDay, Akin Gump, and Baker & Hostetler. In his rabbinical career, Rabbi Fischer has served several terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, is Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, has been Vice President of Zionist Organization of America, and has served on regional boards of the American Jewish Committee, B’nai Brith Hillel, and several others. His writings on contemporary political issues have appeared over the years in the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Jerusalem Post, National Review, American Greatness, The Weekly Standard, and in Jewish media in American and in Israel. A winner of an American Jurisprudence Award in Professional Legal Ethics, Rabbi Fischer also is the author of two books, including General Sharon’s War Against Time Magazine, which covered the Israeli General’s 1980s landmark libel suit.
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