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.