‘What Does Yossel Think?’

Thinking About Mr. Friedenson, z”l

Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, the Ex Executive Vice President Agudath Israel of America succeeded Rabbi Moshe Sherer, President of the Agudah. He is currently Dean of Ohr Somayach’s Ohr Lagolah Hertz Institute for International Teacher Training in Yerushalayim. Rabbi Bloom shares some personal reminiscences of three decades of working closely with Mr. Yossel Friedenson, z”l.

Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z”l, used to say that Hakadosh Baruch Hu engineered the tremendous growth in the Torah community in the United States after the Second World War by creating  a unique partnership: He brought together dedicated American-born Jews with the she’eiris hapleitah—the remnant of Eastern Europe.

The Americans brought their own qualifications to the table: They had an understanding of the American culture and the ability to use modern methods and technology to build Torah in the New World. The Europeans brought a link to the past. They had a firsthand understanding of how a Torah community must look, and they had an indestructible core. They were imbued with the spirit to forge on — no matter what the circumstances.

If Rabbi Sherer represented the American Jew then Mr.  Yosef Friedenson was the quintessential representative of the she’eiris hapleitah. Mr. Friedenson was editor of the Yiddish monthly, Dos Yiddishe Vort. He also served as general secretary of Agudath Israel after it was re-established in postwar Germany by liberated survivors.

L-R: Rabbi Baruch B. Borchardt; ybl”c, Rabbi Shmuel Bloom; Rabbi Friedenson; ybl”c, the Novominsker Rebbe.
L-R: Rabbi Baruch B. Borchardt; ybl”c, Rabbi Shmuel Bloom; Rabbi Friedenson; ybl”c, the Novominsker Rebbe.

In my early years in the Agudah, there wasn’t a major decision taken before Rabbi Sherer would ask the same question: “What does Yossel think?”

Rabbi Sherer respected Mr. Friedenson’s wise counsel. He also valued his life experience and his understanding of what the she’eiris hapleitah would think.

In the early years after the War, it was the she’eiris hapleitah who were the backbone of the Agudah. It was Mr. Friedenson who brought them to the conventions and dinners. There, many became enchanted with the work of Agudas Yisrael and went on to become its leaders.

Teaching the Holocaust to the next generation was something that was considered by the Gedolei Yisrael to be a double-edged sword. On one side, it was a vital responsibility. On the other side, it was fraught with danger.

In fact, despite feeling its importance, Rav Avrohom Pam, zt”l, didn’t allow Agudas Yisrael to apply for a major grant to fund Holocaust education in the yeshivos. He felt that there weren’t enough people qualified to teach it properly. Mr. Yosef Friedenson was the exception. He was one in whom the Gedolei Yisrael had absolute trust that he could give over the spirit and authentic hashkafah of how Jews should and did keep their emunah under even the most devastating circumstances.

Mr. Friedenson had chronicled the Churban in hundreds of articles in Dos Yiddishe Vort — the Yiddish magazine he founded and ran for decades. Every word was written b’ruach chachamim nocheh himenu. He became the rosh hamedabrim — the spokesman par excellence.

Mr. Friedenson represented the Torah hashkafah and told the story of the spiritual greatness of the Jewish people.

And one remnant of that greatness was Mr. Friedenson himself.

What would Yossel think now?