I was introduced to the story of Boris Green by Dayan Yonason Abraham of the London Beth Din at the Thursday night session of the 93rd Anniversary Convention of Agudath Israel of America.
Rabbi Abraham knew Boris as a watchmaker in Melbourne, Australia. He didn’t realize how special he was until he read his story.
Boris had been the leader of a partisan group called “Nekamah” during the Second World War. He was responsible for a group of 500 people, including women and children, whose mission and operations were to hamper the German army’s advance.
Boris had to start his own partisan group because of the anti-Semitism of the non-Jewish partisan groups. He refused to drop the women and children from his group despite the risks that they caused. After the war he settled in Melbourne and attempted to lead a normal life.
When Rabbi Abraham heard about Boris’s past, he decided to ask him a question that fascinated him. “From where did you get the courage, the ability, the drive and the confidence to undertake such a dangerous mission? From where did you get the leadership skills to carry out your mission?”
The response shocked Rabbi Abraham and taught him an invaluable lesson which he shared with us.
“My name was not always Boris Green,” he began. “My real name was Boruch Graineman and I am from the family of the Chazon Ish. When I was young I was a ‘chevraman’ and the Chazon Ish sent me a letter. He ended the letter with a brachah, ‘zeh hakatan gadol yihyeh.’ He predicted and believed that someday I would be a ‘gadol.’ The confidence that the Chazon Ish had in me inspired me deeply and carried me through the most difficult times. There were many times I was on the edge of death but when I remembered the words of the Chazon Ish — it inspired me to go on.”
That story was contrasted by the story of my tablemate at the convention. Dr. Elliott Samet is a good friend and successful pediatrician in Passaic, New Jersey. He had been one of the few shomrei Shabbos neonatologists — experts in high-risk births — when he lived in Detroit. He was often consulted on difficult cases throughout the country. Dr. Samet decided to move east and opened an office in Passaic, New Jersey. His warmth and concern, together with his expertise and skill as a pediatrician, have drawn patients from the entire area.
Dr. Samet confided to me that when he was graduating public high school, the teacher asked each of the students to announce what s/he hoped to be. When he said that he wanted to be a doctor, the class, as well as the teacher, broke out in laughter. That one moment of derision almost derailed him from his life’s goals. It took many years to overcome that incident.
Esav was obviously not an easy child. He was extremely talented and capable, but very difficult. Rabbi Chaim Dov Rabinowitz in the Daas Sofrim explains that whereas Shaul Hamelech looked at Dovid Hamelech as a potential Esav, Yitzchak Avinu looked at Esav as a potential Dovid Hamelech. The Midrash points out that both Yitzchak and Rivkah refer to Esav as “gadol.” It seems that they wanted to boost his confidence and build his self-esteem to encourage him to use his talents and be great in a positive way.
One of the most important topics dealt with at the convention was the issue of children going off the derech. It was pointed out that there are many underlying reasons for the problem. Virtually everything can be a trigger — from abuse, to technology, to learning problems, to simply not handling the child correctly, or even none of the above. It is too simplistic to identify one solution that would solve all the problems. There is, however, at least one lesson we can learn in dealing with our children, our employees and our friends: People will usually live up to what is expected of them.
Zero Mostel, a famous comedian, was brought up in an observant home. When he went into the entertainment field he chose Zero as his first name. When asked how he came up with such a name, he said that his father always told him, “Du bist a gornit un de ala mal vel zain a gornit — You are a zero and always will be a zero.”
We are living in trying times. Bringing up children in our current environment is not easy. It is also not easy to be a teenager at this time. What a help it must be when parents, friends and neighbors have the confidence that the Chazon Ish had in building Reb Boruch Graineman. Let us believe and express that ‘zeh hakatan gadol yihyeh.’
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org