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Remembering Rabbi Hollander

Rabbi Hollander warned America, “The Arabs are already saying, ‘Today Aza (Gaza), Tomorrow Jerusalem. Soon they will be saying, Today Jerusalem,! Tomorrow America, G–d forbid. Americans take note while there is still time.”

Rabbi David Hollander was from another generation, a time when Orthodox Rabbis did not bow to discretion or found themselves silenced by the politically correct whims of liberalism. Instead even in the Age of Political Correctness, he continued to fight for what was for right well into his nineties-- dying as the oldest pulpit Rabbi in America at the age of 96.

His uncompromising stands would often result in him being marginalized and mocked by an increasingly liberal generation of Modern Orthodoxy in America, who no longer took the causes he fought for seriously. Yet he refused to be politically correct, he refused to be silenced, and refused to see evil and not speak up against it.

“I represent the right wing,” he says. “I took a very strong stand. I carried on the fight for the last 60 years.“I am not a moderate in any way.”

In 1956 he led a delegation of Rabbis to work on behalf of Soviet Jews imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain, only 3 years after the death of Stalin.

Inside the 73-year-old synagogue, religious and community leaders addressed the crowd in English, Yiddish, and Russian. Rabbi Hollander recalled leading the first official delegation of American rabbis to the Soviet Union in 1956. ‘’When just a few blocks from the Kremlin I saw a house of God, I could not believe that such a small building had survived so close to the Kremlin,'’ he said. ‘’Where is Stalin, where is Lenin today? Communism is dead, but the little Torah is marching today, and with Russian Jews. Who would have thought that, 20 years ago?'’

I personally remember Rabbi Hollander describing the scene, the intimidation by Police and KGB personnel, and finally reaching the Moscow Synagogue, and reading the words the words of our Forefather Jacob in Genesis 28:17 inscribed above it, "אֵין זֶה, כִּי אִם-בֵּית אֱלֹהִים, וְזֶה, שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם, "This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven". And he marveled to see that even in the darkness at the heart of Soviet power, G-d was still present.

From leading that 1956 delegation of Rabbis to his modern day challenges to the leftist policies of appeasement toward terrorism in Israel and America, his life spanned a world of challenges and a refusal to remain silent, no matter what. As a pulpit Rabbi he took on areas that no one else wanted, in the Bronx and Brighton Beach, as a man he was both courageous and humble, well read, deliberate and yet forceful. There will be plenty of brief pieces "remembering him", but very few remembering what he really stood for.

“The root cause of terrorism is the success of terrorism,”

This story recently came to mind when Senator Joseph Lieberman was in Israel and announced as loudly as he could that the Jews have no right to live on "occupied territory." We are painfully ashamed because very recently, a non-Jew, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, defended Israel, and pointedly referred to the West Bank as "so-called occupied territory." Senator Lieberman, who calls himself an Orthodox Jew, does not stop from pontificating that part of the Holy Land given by G-d to the Jews is forbidden to Jews.

It is difficult to have such high expectation from our modern American Joseph. Yet, one would still expect some humility, some integrity and some fairness in judging who is at fault in the current terror war in the State of Israel. Lieberman deplored the "desperate" humanitarian condition of the Palestinians without stating clearly that the sole responsibility for this "desperate humanitarian condition" of the Palestinians lies with the Arabs, who train their sons and daughters to kill themselves in the process of killing Jews.

This shows how far the current Joseph has drifted from his Biblical namesake. He wears his alleged Orthodoxy on his sleeve and uses it as a campaigning point. This is most unbecoming and un-Jewish.

Rabbi Hollander was always ready to use public forums, from radio appearances debating terrorist apologies, to his regular Jewish Press columns, which the paper does not appear to have put online for some reason, and in the Algemeiner, he remained a vibrant and witty voice for truth right up to the end, as the following remembrance recalls,

I saw him just a few weeks ago in a rehab. center. He told me that he was up until 3:00 AM preparing 2 articles for the Jewish Press and Algemeiner Journal about the Mumbai tragedy. He was sharp and witty and a pleasre to talk to. He was broad minded, well educated and well read, yet a true ehrliche yid, with torah haskafos who loved all of klal yisroel.

3 years ago, at the age of 93, Rabbi Hollander showed he hadn't changed when he defied Mayor Bloomberg, and his alliance and dirty payoffs to Lenora Fulani, openly challenging him over it in public when no one else would.

When the Orthodox rabbinical board (Vaad Harabbanim) of Flatbush endorsed Mayor Bloomberg for reelection at its June 22 annual meeting, there was a gadfly in the ointment. Rabbi David B. Hollander stood up and asked the mayor about his alliance with Lenora Fulani, the Independence Party leader who defended on NY1 News in April her 1989 statement that Jews are "mass murderers of people of color." According to Hollander, the mayor's response was to claim that Fulani is only one out of 90,000 members in the Independence Party. Hollander recalls snapping back that Fulani is in fact the leader of the party, but since no one in the audience backed him up, the mayor was able to go on to other questions as if an adequate answer had been given.

Here is how Rabbi Hollander described the encounter in his customarily modest and understated way.

The mice held their annual convention and the delegates came from all over. A major item on the agenda was a question of life and death, namely, how to escape sudden death by being swallowed by the cat. The main problem was that due to the silent footsteps of the cat, there was no advance warning and, hence, no time to run into the safety of the holes. One mouse offered a solution: All listened with rapt attention. "In order to hear the cat," said the delegate, "we must hang a bell on the cat’s neck, giving us enough time to hide." They applauded this brilliant solution. But the celebration ceased when one of the wiser delegates asked: "Who of us will hang the bell on the neck of the cat?"

The lesson of this story is that it is one thing to have great ideas, but it is something else to put it into practice if it requires the selfless and dangerous feat of "hanging the bell," of sounding the alarm before it is too late...

This is still the key to the challenges facing us in America and Israel. The failure, the refusal to remove the atzmo, the self-interest, the drive for election and reelection and the ambition for affluence prevent the words and deeds needed to prevent destruction...

Even in the Orthodox camp we see the atzmo of self-serving condemnations, resulting in the failure to hang the bell--to speak up when Jews, the Torah and Israel are maligned.

Recently I was present at a gathering of an Orthodox organization, where a public official was seeking support in an election. The candidate himself was present to give his campaign talk. There seemed to be unanimity for his endorsement, despite the well-publicized fact that he was seeking the endorsement of a political party of 90,000 members headed by a woman who said that "Jews are mass-murderers of people of color."

Since I [attend] this organization’s gathering only from time to time, I was reluctant to ask for the floor, hoping that one of the regulars would say something. But alas, no one wanted to hang the bell to say anything. It was then that I thought of our sages’ teaching, that where there are no men, you should strive to be a man (Perek 2:6).

In keeping with this advice I asked for the floor--which was not granted, because my reputation for hanging the bell had preceded me.

The candidate himself pointed to my raised hand and I was finally called upon. I asked how he could associate himself with the enemies of the Jews and of America. He did not deny their anti-Semitism. He said instead that you cannot reject 90,000 members because of the wrongs of one person. I countered, of course, that it was not just one person, for she is the head of the party.

This is just one example. There are times when the failure to protest evil is an indication that one is not truly upset. The Brisker Rav, zt"l, said that Job was punished by pain all over his body because of his silence when the plan to remove the Jewish peril to Egypt was presented. But why this particular punishment? The answer is that Job rationalized his silence by saying to himself that his words will be ineffective.

He was therefore afflicted with pain, to show that when you have pain you cry out because it hurts, and if you don’t cry out it is because it does not hurt.

After the Disengagement that ethnically cleansed the Jewish population of Gaza, Rabbi Hollander said the following words.

"Why are we here?" Hollander asked. "It's over! So why are we bothering ourselves and pestering the consulate? The answer is in the Torah." He went on to explain how when Yaakov was shown the bloodied shirt that made him draw the conclusion that Yosef was no more, Yaakov mourned but he did not accept consolation. Yosef was still alive.

"We are mourning, but we are not allowed to accept consolation for that which is still alive!" declared Hollander. "The land will come back to us!"

That spirit of undying defiance, and the refusal to surrender what truly matters, is an inspiration in life as well as in death.


  1. Sultan,

    Your depth of thought and superb analyses always grab my attention. I believe the words of Rabbi Hollander, and agree that America is next. Perhaps I am being naive, but I am hard pressed to recall a time in "my" life when antisemitisn has been so publicly displayed without fear of media reprisal.
    This time, we will not be led to the slaughter.
    As a Clinton supporter, I felt a sense of relief that she would preside over the state department, thereby rendering checks and balances over "that one." It is too soon to make the call, but I am a little perturbed by her sudden devout proposal for the art of diplomacy in a way that she had not been forceful about during her campaign. I pray to G-d that our resident menace select who has already ensured the undoing of any safety we had in the last eight years, will listen to those around him in his cabinet, the ones that were not filled with the teachings of the Quoran at an early age.

  2. Anonymous24/1/09

    God rest his soul. This man lived an inspirational life and has left work for us to do. Count me in.

  3. All of the good men are going and we are being left in the hands of the incompetent now.
    His passing leaves a great void.

  4. Anonymous25/1/09

    Thank you for this essay remembering a righteous man and leader.

    One thing though, the Orthodox in American in general are not becoming increasingly liberal, though the establishment whose power rests in having acceptable political opinons is.

  5. Anonymous25/1/09

    The militant Iranian fatwa-facilitator Lord Ahmed has intimidated the British House of Lords (which doesn't take much doing) into banning a showing of Fitna .

  6. i did write modern orthodox

  7. Anonymous21/2/18

    Very well written about a truly righteous Rabbi. Today, it's hard to find leaders and rabbis as humble and righteous as Rabbi Hollander z'l.


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