A Man of Truth

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Guest post by Alan Jay Gerber

He was a tough man. Tough in demeanor, in his stare and in his gait. He walked a tough and rough road in the field of Jewish education at a time when quality Jewish education was at a premium. He demanded quality and he delivered quality. Nothing less than the best was good enough for him.

This is the legacy Rabbi Zechariah Fendel, of blessed memory.

I never knew him, personally, as a teacher. However, as a writer I was to know him on the page, in print, between bindings both hard and soft. As a resource and as a lecturer to my students, he sat at the front of the room shining in his craft like a lit candle…all afire yet under absolute control and discipline.

It was his last major work, Dusk to Dawn, that was to be the book that I used proudly both in my Holocaust courses at FDR High School in Brooklyn and in yeshivas afterward in my retirement.

Just imagine students in a major public high school using a text written by a rabbi whose very premise was the relating of a sad chapter of Jewish history, the Holocaust, from a Jewish, God-centered point of view, unapologetic to a hostile world, and possibly a hostile gentile readership. Nevertheless, my students at FDR read that book with passion and heart. They, all from at least twenty five countries from around the globe — refugees from families who experienced the Soviet gulags, Communist Vietnamese re-education camps, Red Chinese torture — all coming to America, the goldene medinah, to share with those descended from previous generations of immigrants from Europe, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, each coming together to become inspired by a rabbi, a Jewish spiritual leader of a religion that was persecuted or never had a physical presence in their respective native homelands.

To these young people the words of a rabbi resonated like the word of the God he truly represented both to them and to others for the eight decades that God planned for his journey among us.

To his dear son Rav Dovid, my earstwhile colleague at Yeshivat Derech Hatorah, please take heart and know together with your mother and your sisters and brothers that your dad was a class act both at home, at shul and in his classes at school. His stern demeanor gave true meaning to the worth and quality of the teachings of our Torah and Jewish History that he was to share with the world. His over a dozen books of teachings about our history and theology will forever stand as a lasting legacy and tall monument to what firm independent thinking reflecting the best of our faith’s belief has to offer all of humanity.

In life he was God’s messenger and in his passing he is now at God’s side, his gabbai unto eternity. May his soul be bound up in the bond of life everlasting, Amen.

About Alan Jay Gerber

3 comments

  1. When I was first starting to grow Jewishly interested, I read one of Rabbi Fendel’s books. I must’ve liked it, because I wrote to him asking for a list of his books. (It must’ve been shortly before the Internet was popular.) He replied by sending a friendly, hand-written note, written on the back of the jacket of one of his books, which listed all his other books. The hand-writing looked a little shaky, so he must’ve been pretty old already. But that fact impressed me all the moreso; he could’ve easily had someone do it for him.

    I’ve always wondered why he published his own books, instead of having a big publisher do it, which could have potentially sold more books.

  2. When Rabbi Fendel visited the Chazon Ish and described how he was writing books in English to teach about emuna, the Chazon Ish told him that he was doing the work of Moshiach. Presumably this was in the spirit of v’hashiv lev avos al banim etc. In light of what was taking place in FDR high school this can now be understood in line also with ki malah ha’aretz de’ah as Hashem. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Yasher Koach for a nice article. However, I disagree with the first paragraph. He was a kind-hearted and gentle man. I knew him and learned with him. He was brilliant, a baal mussar par excellence,a love for Talmidim, had a remarkable depth to him, a brilliant system of organization to his thought – they just don’t make people like him anymore.

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