On Friday of last week Torah Umesorah, the US’ national society for Hebrew day schools, convened their 2022 Presidents’ Conference at the Trump Doral Resort in Miami, Florida. Day school executive directors, school presidents, principals and prominent supporters gathered to address the many educational challenges facing today’s American Jewish community exacerbated by the increasing rate of anti-Semitism there and the community’s growing disconnection with Israel.
I hold no brief against them for doing so in that location as, no doubt, they did their research and found it to be the most economical location to use for that purpose. What does bother me is their having invited former US president Trump to address the group, particularly in light of his recent hosting of well-known anti-Semites and holocaust deniers for dinner at his Mar-a-Lago residence. Needless to say that he made sure during his 28 minute speech NOT to apologize for hosting that dinner. But, then again, this is a man who never apologizes for anything.
Before anyone accuses me of not being a realist, I understand that there are many community organizations in the Jewish world that have chosen to overlook the low morals of the man while being grateful for the acknowledged good things he did for Israel during his term as president. The most recent example was the recent dinner sponsored by the Zionist Organization of America honoring him just before that fateful dinner at Mar-a-Lago.
While one may disagree with the appropriateness of such an event, the fact is that Jewish community organizations all have a political aspect to their activities and, whether or not we agree, they make decisions that they think will be beneficial to their group’s future progress. Hopefully, they do so with the best interests of the greater Jewish community in mind.
But Torah Umesorah does not fall into that category. Their own mission statement reads:
“…to ensure that every Jewish child in Yeshivos, day schools, and Bais Yaakovs receives the highest standards of Torah education, along with the skills to lead a successful life and become a productive member of society.
We accomplish this through extensive programs and resources that support children’s education, equipping teachers with the most effective and innovative methodologies, and providing schools with administrative guidance and best practices.”
In a word, that group has as its main goal to educate Jewish children, not to make political statements or be concerned about salving the crushed ego of morally corrupt politicians.
I wonder, for example, in this age of well-informed students, what a participant in this conference would answer a bright 16-year-old in his or her classroom who, next week, perhaps questions a participating principal as to why Torah Umesorah chose to honor someone whose moral values are antithetical to every principle of Torah that is being taught in the day schools? Or even why this revered and Torah-observant educator chose to provide multiple standing ovations during the presentation? Or why the educator in question even stayed in the room during the speech?
Morality has, in general, sunk to new lows in the political sphere. Nevertheless, in Torah Umesorah, we are dealing with Jewish educators whom we hope, could rise above politically expediency and stand high on their moral values, the same ones we hope they are imparting to their students through personal example.
Cicero is purported to have coined the Latin phrase “O tempora, O mores” literally translated as “Oh the times, Oh their customs” and was used as a lament about the absence of societal moral values. I fear that the founders of Torah Umesorah if they were alive today would utter those same words.
Rabbi Shrage Feivel Mendlowitz, z”l, the founder of Torah Umesorah as well as a former principal of Brooklyn’s Yeshiva Torah Vodaat, also assisted in the founding (both personally and financially) of several similar institutions, such as Mesivta Chaim Berlin, Telshe Cleveland and Lakewood’s Beis Medrash Gevoha. All grew to occupy important places in 20th century American Orthodoxy. In the words of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein z:l: “Were it not for him, there would be no Torah study and no fear of heaven at all in America.”
I have no doubt that he would be turning over in his grave today if he was aware of what went on in Florida last Friday. “O tempora, O mores” for sure.