From 1995 to 1998, I studied in Yeshivat Darche Noam where I became very close to Rav Yosef Kamenetsky and later Rav Reuven Kamenetsky, two of the grandchildren of Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l.
In July 2000 I received semicha from Rav Shraga Feivel Zimmerman shlita, the current Rav of the Federation and previous Gateshead Rav, after studying under him for two years in New York. Rav Zimmerman joked to me many years later, that I was probably the only Bnei Akiva boy to get semicha from the Gateshead Rav!
When I returned to the UK in September 2000, Dayan Lopian zt”l quickly became my Rav. We spoke regularly about personal shailot and communal issues. I miss him terribly.
Why do I mention all this?
These five Rabbis who have given me so much are and were all part of the mainstream Charedi world. But what was a nice Mizrachi boy like me doing learning from Rabbeim like this?
The answer is very simple: Torah.
My personal hashkafa was forged through my childhood in Bnei Akiva, my time at Yeshivat Hakotel and through my various conversations with friends and educators. What was wonderful for me as I interacted with my Charedi Rabbis and many others at Darche Noam and Ohr Sameach in Monsey is that none of them ever tried to convince me to become Charedi. They acknowledged the beauty of both the Religious Zionist and Charedi hashkafot.
For me, the experience was about learning Torah. My time at Darche Noam was a revelation. We had Rabbeim from across the Torah spectrum. They didn’t always agree but there was tremendous camaraderie, and all the students received a wonderful education in the truth and beauty of the dictum of shivim panim l’Torah, “the seventy faces of Torah.” Both the Charedi and Mizrachi communities have so much to contribute to the world and to Torah.
I will never forget the phone call I made to Rav Zimmerman in June 2015. I had just been offered the job to become the CEO of Mizrachi UK, which would mean leaving as the Director of Living and Learning at the United Synagogue. I asked him if I should take the job.
His answer was unequivocal – take the job! He explained that the United Synagogue and the mainstream community need strong Religious Zionist and Modern Orthodox Rabbis and Rebbitzens, and that I should work for Mizrachi UK and help make it happen. I followed his advice, and over the last seven years I’ve tried to fulfil Rav Zimmerman’s challenge. We have already brought two Rabbinic couples back to the United Synagogue community and three more are planning to come next year, as well as many shlichim.
But Rav Zimmerman had more to share. He encouraged me and told me that my job is to promote the Mizrachi hashkafa – but that in doing so, I should be careful not to attack the Charedi hashkafa. At the same time, if there should ever be a need to speak out about something wrong in the Torah world – whether Charedi or Mizrachi – I should never be afraid to speak out.
As we approach Tisha B’Av, and think again about the dangers of sinat chinam, of baseless hatred, I feel blessed to have seen the beauty of both the Mizrachi and Charedi communities on my Jewish journey. Yes, I feel very much a part of the Mizrachi world and know that we have many differences. But more importantly, I know that both of our communities are united by their shared commitment to Torah. There is far more that unites us than divides us.
May we overcome our differences through respect and love, and soon gather together in the rebuilt Beit Hamikdash!