Thursday, April 15, 2010

Rabbi Gedaliah Anemer ztl: A Community Rabbi




This morning, I was sitting in the teacher's lounge in the Hebrew Academy, looking at my email, when I saw a message from the school administration that Rabbi Gedaliah Anemer had passed away. The school placed classes on hold for several periods and put the tenth through twelfth grades on buses to go to the funeral services being held at the Young Israel. Anyone even slightly familiar with Silver Spring Jewish politics might be forgiven for being taken aback for a second at this. Rabbi Anemer was the head of the Yeshiva of Greater Washington, the "other school," a Haredi rabbi, who could hardly have been viewed as popular or beloved at the Modern Orthodox Hebrew Academy. It says something about Rabbi Anemer that he managed to cross the community divide to be the rabbi of the entire community. Most leaders gain universal acceptance by being passive and bland to such an extent that no one could have any cause to object. What made Rabbi Anemer special was that, as anyone who ever spent more than a few minutes could tell you, he was a personality to be dealt with, who made no concessions for the sake of popularity. I spent two years in his class, within smacking distance of him. I was far from his greatest student; I am not, in any way, qualified, to evaluate him. But if you permit me, here are some thoughts from this member of the "opposition."

Silver Spring is hardly a bastion of Haredism. Its Orthodoxy is distinctively Modern Orthodox. One would never accuse Silver Spring of trying to recreate European Jewish life, but in one sense, for the past fifty years, we have done so in a way not matched probably by any Jewish community in America, certainly not the Haredi enclaves of Borough Park and Lakewood; we had a community rabbi and his name was Rabbi Gedalia Anemer. As I already said, it cannot be said that Rabbi Anemer was ever a popular rabbi. The yeshiva community in Silver Spring has always been a minority and on the defensive. It is unlikely that it would even exist if it were not for Rabbi Anemer's force of will. We, in the Modern Orthodox community, might not have "liked" Rabbi Anemer. We likely disagreed with him more times then we agreed. That being said, there was never a question that he was the rabbi of the Greater Washington area, not just of the yeshiva community, but of the entire community. He was able to maintain this position, because regardless of what you may have thought about this or that policy of his, there was no doubting the man. Agree with him or disagree with him, he was a scholar of the first rank and a man of unchallengeable integrity.

There is a common attitude toward rabbinic leadership to look for gedolim, people with a claim of leadership over the entire Jewish world. No one who knew Rabbi Anemer could question the fact that he was a scholar deserving as any to be viewed as a gadol, a leader of the generation. Certainly he deserved the honor of sitting at the head table at the Shiyum Hashas and to address major conventions. If anyone had ever seriously questioned Rabbi Anemer's integrity (even the most sincere displays could just be an act), my response would have been that if Rabbi Anemer was ever really just out for himself then he would have been out of Silver Spring a long time ago. He would have moved to greener communities, where people would have given him the respect he actually deserved. He would have issued declarations on the issues of the day and made sure that his students would be out there to defend his honor and make sure that he was recognized as "the leader of the generation."

I doubt Rabbi Anemer 's passing is going to make front page news in the Yated or Hamodia. I do not expect them to mourn his passing by calling him a gadol hador. I have no intention of correcting them; I am not going to cheapen Rabbi Anemer by calling him a gadol or even "a leader of the generation." There are already plenty of those. Instead I will praise him by calling him by what he deserved, the rabbi of a community, of Silver Spring and the greater Washington area.

22 comments:

Martin Weiss said...

nice summary


thanks

Anonymous said...

Extremely well done...I do think the face of the town is changing somewhat, thanks to the addition of the Yeshiva Gedola, which has provided a large pool of young men who have married local girls, and established homes here, but all in all a very well done analysis - thanks!

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

You honored him well. I didn't know him; but I appreciate how you honored a talmid hacham for his Torah and his integrity. Thanks for giving us strangers a glimpse of him.

Anonymous said...

Your delicate parsing of R. Anemer's standing in DC Orthodoxy was nicely done. I last saw the rabbi 30+ years ago, when he gave a calm, clear, and encouraging answer to a shailo of mine. In the interim, he seems to have grown his beard from the trim (yekkish?) format that I recall to a more full-blown eastern-European style, v'hameyvin yavin.
Yehi zichro baruch.

Anonymous said...

Well you stand surprised. Rabbi Anemer's passing was reported on the front page of the Friday edition of HaModia.

Moishele fun Nev York said...

You wrote that nicely, and it is a true tribute to him. The end of an interesting experiment, and perhaps the biggest tribute is that there are a lot of people in Silver Spring who are more Mod. Orth. than Chareidi but in some ways follow Chareidi standards of observance and advanced Torah learning.
There was also an uncomplicated modesty in his lifestyle, a continuation of a genuinely Jewish tradition.
Thank you for writing about this oustanding man

sp said...

Benzion, it's not as simple as you make it out to be. The Yeshiva of Greater Washington is the "other" school re the hebrew academy, but one also has to remember that they used to work in symbioses. The Academy through 8th grade, and the Yeshiva for 9-12th.

It should also be noted that his shul was not a chareidi shul, it was a shul that catered to everyone. They celebrated Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Hashoah.

His personal haskafa also didn't seem to be "chareidi" in the stereotypical way. He took pride in the secular achievements of his students. He didn't want them to displace the judaic, but he still took pride in them. Two stories.

1) When I was in HS, APs were becoming very popular. In the past it was never really noticed when someone had to miss shiur for an AP, as it was only one or two people. One year when I was in shiur, Rav Anemer asked, "Ploni, it will be your turn to 'read' tomorrow" (anyone whose been through his shiur knows what I mean). Ploni's, remark was, "I won't be here tomorrow", ok, so he went on to the next couple of guys who said the same thing. Now, his curiosity was peaked. Why are so many people going to miss shiur tomorrow. turned out we had an AP which a lot of people were taking. B'darcho, he wanted us to succeed, but not want us to miss shiur. So the school got permission (not the easiest thing) to take the AP at the wrong time.

2) Once during shiur, he asked "whose good at math". So my chavrusa speaks up "'sp' got an 800 on his math SATs". From then on he would from time to time refer to me as "800". But it goes beyond that, years later when I was met him, he remembered this fact. To me its evidence of a level of pride he took in his student secular achievements.

Izgad said...

I agree that Rabbi Anemer was a complex person, certainly far more complex then this single post could do justice to. The Yeshiva itself is “moderate” in the Haredi scheme of things in that, at least in my day, it was possible to get a serious secular education. I had a very good history teacher, Mrs. Wolf, and took a number of AP classes. Funny that you mention Rabbi Anemer allowing students to take off for the AP. He allowed me to take off a few times on Sundays for chess tournaments.

In my fairly simplistic scheme of categorization, I would place Rabbi Anemer as part of a pre-1960s Yeshiva world along with people like Rabbi Moshe Tendler and Rabbi Yosef Blau. This is both a generational and an ideological category. This was a generation that by and large accepted that frum Jews were still part of American society and the larger Jewish world. Even if they were not actively TM or TIM, they took college as a given and that if one was going to teach secular studies in high school, one might as well do an honest job of it.
This was also a generation that, even if they were not active Zionists, still recognized and identified with the State of Israel. (See Rabbi Landesman’s “The Day That Satmar Became Mainstream.” http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2009/05/17/the-day-that-satmar-became-mainstream/)

Why things have changed to our new status quo in the Haredi world is a different story. Maybe I will post on it some other time. I am often amazed when talking to Haredim of my father’s generation as to what extent they are Americans, who grew up with American culture (even though they grew up yeshivish), and to compare them to their own children of my generation. The Haredi world does have a generation gap, even if they pretend otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. Thanks.

One small correction--Rabbi Yosef Blau is 100% Modern Orthodox and very actively involved in Zionist causes. I don know how you lump him in with a previous generation of moderate hareidim.

Anonymous said...

P.S. What are TM and TIM?

Izgad said...

Rabbi Blau and Rabbi Tendler, despite the fact that they work for YU, are products and still see themselves as members of a Yeshiva community that once existed. They are not the ones who changed in the past forty years. It is the Yeshiva community that changed on them.

As for TM and TIM. Sorry I meant TIDe. Torah U'Maddah and Torah Im Derech Eretz.

sp said...

and if you're a torah im derech eretz adherent, you believe that TiDE gets the TuMa out.

nkd said...

While you have described our Rav zt"l very nicely, I find your "us" vs. "them" the antithesis of the Kemp Mill I grew up in and loved. I went to the Yeshiva, I went to Shomrei Emunah, the idea of black and white had little or no significance just as the socioeconomic differences meant little, that was the beauty of the place, and that was what our Rav was all about - each person was precious, he was there for everyone, why can't you judge him as the tzaddik he was who transcended the sad state of affairs we have today trying to be nothing more than an eved Hashem. Do you know an Modern Orthodox person who knew him, who felt he was "on the other side"? I doubt it.

Izgad said...

NKD

The Silver Spring that I know and was trying to convey was one in which there are tensions but these tensions are transcended. Countless times I have heard people complain about how Rabbi Anemer ran the Vaad, how he interfered with the opening of pizza shops and other restaurants. He was seen by many as high handed and authoritarian. Rabbi Anemer was never someone who was going to win popularity contests, not that he tried. That being said, the community did hold together as his funeral was a testimony to. This post was an attempt to come to an understanding of these two elements of how Rabbi Anemer interacted with the Modern Orthodox Silver Spring community.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the significance that you placed on the Academy giving off to go to Rabbi Anemer's levaya. I thought that was a beautiful show of achdus and reflected very nicely on the greatness of the Silver Spring community. I have to wonder though what you mean by saying that the yeshiva community is "on the defensive." It seems to be flourishing quite nicely and there is definitely room in our community for both the Modern Orthodox and the more right wing (our yeshiva community hardly matches up to the "yeshivishness" of most other big communities.) From my perspective they seem to be co-existing quite nicely.

Izgad said...

The idea that the Yeshiva is on the defensive was something that a rebbe from the Yeshiva once told me. The idea is that Silver Spring is a predominantly Modern Orthodox community. So the challenge is inherently there as to why the Yeshiva exists at all. Keep in mind that a large percentage of the students in Yeshiva come from out of town. You probably could not even have the Yeshiva if you were just relying on Silver Spring kids. It is certainly answerable charge, but an answer that needs to be given none the less. I do not think I would have to explain to anyone why the Academy exists.

Mikewind Dale said...

It should also be noted that a lot of haredi kids come from out-of-town to the Yeshiva because the Yeshiva is more open-minded and "modern" than most other institutions.

That said, I don't think I ever met Rabbi Anemer (I wouldn't recognize his face if I saw it), and I'm not involved in Kemp Mill's Jewish politics.

Mikewind Dale said...

*most other haredi institutions

nkd said...

Izgad,
I think you are mixing up a few things. Rabbi Anemer zt"l, may have lived his life in a more "right-wing" manner but he never made anyone who was not like him feel second class. He traveled to everyone's simchas, and lehavdil difficult times, my family felt he was always there when we needed him. People not on his level asked him all kinds of shailos that he answered with the greatest care and compassion.

Have you checked out why he was against the opening of the Pizza shops, restaurants, etc. could there be other issues, perhaps he was sincerely worried about certain real issues. I am very perturbed that I am hearing these political comments from a neighborhood that I always thought transcended all that. Many of my friends went to Yeshivos (Ner Yisrael, etc.), many went to YU, and many went to secular universities and they all received that same warm greeting from him years later and to us it was just different paths in life without any tension, as they will all testify to you. He realized there are different paths people follow and he was the last person to have anything against anyone who was not like him.
Try looking at him as a person and not feel threatened by the group you fear that he was a member of. He was a warm and caring man whose every step was for the good of Torah in Kemp Mill, how many other people can you say work purely for the klal and are not in it for themselves. As you mentioned, he could have been on the Council of Torah Sages, etc. but his first priority was to his students and congregants. I think we have lost a beautiful and wonderful role model for what it means to serve Hashem with no other interests in mind. If only we could follow in his footsteps (even with a Modern Orthodox lifestyle).

Anonymous said...

The girls yeshiva gets many girls from out of town, the boys yeshiva's intake is much more minimal. If you will look at the girls yeshiva currently, many of the girls who go there are former Academy students or from families that identify as more Modern-Orthodox. Our yeshivas may have a certain hashkafah but you can't argue that the students going there are across the board that much different then the Modern Orthodox dynamic that you say personifies SIlver Spring.

Izgad said...

NKD

I agree that Rabbi Anemer never made anyone feel second class. He always treated me very warmly even after I went to YU. In terms of pizza shops, my understanding is that Rabbi Anemer did not want them to be there as hangouts. I am not saying he was wrong in this. I am just saying that I know many people who were upset by this.

nkd said...

Izgad,
Whether or not you understand his point, why can't you view it for what it is - a concern of his for the spiritual atmosphere of the community. Again, why must you bring in "modern" vs. "chareidi" about a man who was loved and respected by all who knew him. As I said in the last post, did you ever hear him putting down someone, calling him a liar or accusing him of having ulterior motives? He was a dignified and loving human being who wanted nothing more than to serve Hashem in the best way possible. Why can't you describe him for what he is without the politics of divisiveness which (at least in my time) did not exist in Kemp Mill even though there were people of different backgrounds, etc.