Addressing a gold-plated audience of movers and shakers at the chic Pierre Hotel on the Upper East Side, Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman dispensed with the usual greeting of “ladies and gentlemen.” He said he prefers “my brothers and sisters.” For that he got a warm welcome from the 242 guests at the 2016 gala celebration of the American Friends of the Open University of Israel (AFOUI).
Rabbi Grossman has been coming to the United States many years on behalf of his Migdal Ohr Youth Village that he established to serve the discontented, jobless, drifting youth of the development town of Migdal Ha’Emek in the Lower Galilee. Now called the Migdal Ha’Emek Academic Campus, it is home to 6,500 children at risk.
Gala co-chair Bernice Schwartz, and AFOUI chair Naomi Hass-Perlman applauded as awards were presented to Rabbi Grossman and Rochelle Hirsch, the founding chairman of the Creative Playschool at Fifth Avenue Synagogue. Hirsch, who was diagnosed with breast cancer 14 years ago, remarked, “When I hear ‘survivor,’ it has a different connotation for me.”
“Rabbi Grossman chose the road less traveled and made a great difference,” Schwartz said.
“For many years,” Grossman said, “it has bothered me when I came to America and saw doctors and lawyers and they are religious. In Israel you do not see this.”
Affording Israel’s charedi population an opportunity to enter the professional world as doctors and lawyers — while remaining true to their traditional way of life — is exactly what Open University has begun to pursue.
“In the arena of higher education,” said university president Kobi Metzer, “we have launched a special program for charedi students.”
That announcement made Grossman’s current trip to America a happy occasion. “According to the Rambam,” Grossman said, “the highest level of tzedaka is to help a person learn a trade so he can support himself, and not have to beg for charity. This is the role of Open University.”
Grossman praised AFOUI president Ingeborg Rennert and husband Ira Rennert for their support of the university complex. He marveled that “there are so many buildings that have the name Rennert.”
Danny Dayan, Israel’s new consul general in New York, said Open University is one of the most important engines of change in society.
“I’m a little mad at them,” he said. “My wife Anat went there as an undergraduate student and thought it would be a snap. But she found the level of study incredibly high.”
Tim Boxer was a columnist at the New York Post for two decades. At the same time, he has been a columnist for the New York Jewish Week for 37 years and editor of 15MinutesMagazine.com for 18 years. He is the author of Jewish Celebrity Hall of Fame, interviews of Hollywood stars about their Jewish roots.