by Natalie Weinstein, Allied ASID
I spent the Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) holidays at home this year. I was not lonely even thought I was away from my family. I spent a lovely evening with old and dear friends and had a different experience at services with Chabad of Stony Brook. After nearly 40 years affiliated with a rather liberal congregation, sitting on the women’s side of the auditorium was definitely different, but not unenjoyable.
For me, the prayer book was a welcome thing to hold in my hand even if I don’t do it as often as I’d like, but the most memorable part of welcoming in the New Year, 5777, and the “birthday of the world” was Rabbi Chaim Grossbaum’s messages. With his booming (no microphone) voice and boundless energy and enthusiasm, he captured his audience the moment he began.
While he was speaking to us, his Jewish congregation, his messages were universal and, oh so timely. Perhaps that’s why I wanted to share a part that resonated so well with me. He spoke about a man, Aaron Feurestein, then 90, who had a family company, Malden Mills, in the small town of Laurence, Massachusetts which employed over 1800 of the town’s people.
One night, a massive fire destroyed the factory, and instead of taking the insurance money and leaving his workers high and dry, he decided to rebuild, and while he was doing so, he paid all his employees for 90 days and extended their benefits for 180 at a cost of $25 million. An unusual business man, for sure, he put his workers and the community before personal gain. Some called him a moral hero, maybe the Yiddish word which has become “universalized” would apply – a “mensch”. President Clinton honored him, but I’m sure others called him a fool.
Feurestein studied Talmud (the teachings of the Torah) every day and he applied the lessons he learned to his life and work. We, in this last month, have heard about or witnessed the powerful destructive force of “Mother Nature” and the destructive threats of those who would obliterate our way of life. Yet people have come forward to help rebuild in the wake of devastation and have spoken out against aggressors. Winston Churchill, Rabbi Grossbaum reminded us, was one. As a young politician many thought his career was over when he blanked out giving an early speech and faced disgrace. Yet he became the voice of the people against the Nazi threat as they demanded the surrender of Great Britain. His one voice gave courage to his country as he uttered the famous words – “We shall fight on the beaches, in the fields and in the streets and hills. We shall never surrender.”
So while the world may need fixing, there are and will always be “fixers”. The message for me (and perhaps I can pass it on to you) is to try to be a “fixer” in some small way in our town and community, with our friends and neighbors, and our own dear families.
Thank you, Rabbi Grossbaum, for helping me start the New Year in the right frame of mind
~ Natalie Weinstein, Co-chair