During my first year at the Hebreo I had the privilege of meeting another rabbi, this one from New York, Lubavitch Rabbi Yehoshua Rosenfeld, his wife Rivki, and their one-year-old son, Mendel. When the young rabbi introduced himself to me as Yoshua, I opened my mouth without thinking and blurted out: “Oh, that name in Hebrew means Jesus!” Oops. Rabbi Yoshua smiled graciously. Not the best start for me, but we soon became friends.
Since I wanted to get English into every subject and department of the school, a rabbi from Brooklyn would be the perfect teacher for Judaism. My suggestion to the Junta was that they allow Rav Yoshua to teach religion classes in English. And they did!
You were born on Tu Bishvat!
One day I visited with the rabbi and his wife Rivki at their apartment on 94th Street, along with Mrs. Linda Leonard, a member of our congregation in Chia, Monte Sion. Rav Yehoshua asked me my birthdate. I replied: February 11th. (I don’t have to tell you the year, you can figure it out for yourself).
He opened a book of calendar dates and exclaimed, “You were born on Tu Bishvat!” “Tu Bishvat?” I queried. (Had no clue). When he explained that it is the Jewish New Year of the Tree, I was impressed. So that meant that I had a remarkable Jewish “coincidence” in my life, and I needed to plant a tree every year for my birthday!
(And Rav Yehoshua always remembers when to tell me Happy Birthday!)
My first Upsherin
Little Mendel Rosenfeld soon turned three and was ready for his Upsherin, a traditional haircutting ceremony. For our secular or non-Jewish friends, Scripture compares man to trees. The Torah explains that a new fruit-bearing tree should not have its fruit harvested until after three years, therefore the Hassidic tradition is that a boy’s hair is not cut until the age of three! (If you don’t believe me check it out with AISH or CHABAD).
It was a major celebration with family coming from Brooklyn, and Rav Yehoshua asked me to take the pictures with my trusty camera! Since photography was a hobby of mine, I was honored. But this was a big event and I confess I was a bit nervous. As a matter of fact, I was so nervous that when I had to change the roll of film (remember those days?) I put the second roll of film into the camera wrong! And a whole roll of 36 (or was it 24) pictures never came out! I felt so bad. But Rav Yehoshua once again showed amazing grace and told me not to worry, that all the good pictures that came out were perfect. Thank you. Very kind. But it would have been nice if…. (This expression will make another good grammar lesson).
Isn’t there a saying in Yiddish that, “May that be the worst thing that ever happens to you!”?
First, it was great to have all seven little Rosenfelds in Primary school at the CCH before they took off to Brooklyn to study. Then it was a blessing to see them all lined up at the Passover Seder at the new Chabad building. One day, Channah told me that she was number seven! “And seven is Redemption!” she emphasized. Yes Channah! I believe it!
All these good friendships would continue years later after I left the Hebrew school in 1992. Rav Yehoshua invited me to work with the English program at GAN Lubavitch and we kept up a continuous if not daily contact.
At the same time, in the Colegio Nueva Granada, the eternal competition of the CCH, the majority of the kids had to study Catholic religion. At that time, Mrs. Linda Leonard, a member of our Christian congregation in Chia, Monte Sion, was CNG Middle School Principal, and she invited Rav Yehoshua to teach Jewish ethics to the Jewish students, and then asked me to teach general ethics to all the Protestant, evangelical and otherwise non-Catholic kids, even with a Buddhist or atheist or English speaking Catholic in the bunch.
One day, Rav Yehoshua called me to say that he couldn’t make it to class. “Take my kids too,” he said, “and just teach them all the ten commandments.” Absolutely. The best plan. That’s what I did. After all, what is the best basis for Judeo-Christian ethics other than the Ten Commandments!?
At that time, I was showing my own students the video of “The Hiding Place”, the story of Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch family that hid Dutch Jews during the Nazi invasion in their famous Haarlem watch shop and home until the Nazis discovered the family’s underground activities and hauled them off to prison and then a concentration camp. All the “watches”, the Jews, escaped. Rav Yehoshua that this would be excellent education for his ethics class as well, and we all saw it together.