From the other side of the bench


Turbulence in our lives

By David Seidemann

My flight back from points South last week was uneventful, if you don’t count the first 30 seconds or so.

Immediately upon takeoff, we encountered severe turbulence, the airplane, its contents and passengers shaking to and fro. There were audible gasps and many screams accompanied by clenched fists, teeth and I would assume many prayers. The non-Jewish woman seated on my left was crossing herself so repetitively that had she been holding yarn, she would have been able to knit herself a sweater.

Within seconds, the pilot maneuvered the airplane above the turbulence and we were on our way home. Having flown over a million miles in my life, and having experienced such turbulence before, I was not afraid. The thought of “this being it” did not enter my mind. Maybe it didn’t because of a story that I heard years ago.

When the revered Dean of the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, z”tl, was a young lad, his parents sent him across the great Atlantic Ocean to a Yeshiva in Europe. There was no money for any mode of travel other than the lowest cabin in the ship, the poorest, most uncomfortable accommodations. The window of his cabin gave him an unobstructed view of a party room on the ship, approximately one level above.

The party room was filled with revelers bedecked in carnival like costumes, champagne filled glasses, balloons, streamers and musicians, all gathered together to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The party was in full swing as the participants drank, danced and drank some more. There was hardly a sober one amongst the crowd, when the great ship struck an iceberg. The lights in the party room dimmed as the boat began to turn on its side. Rabbi Gifter, through his portal, witnessed all or most of the celebrants prostrate themselves on their knees and begin to pray. The music stopped, the dancing stopped, the drinking stopped, as did the whooping, laughing and yelling. All of that was replaced by solemn prayer.

Within a minute or so, the ship righted itself and the lights went back on without missing a beat, as if nothing had occurred. It was business as usual. All those who moments earlier were down on their knees praying for their lives went back to the party. The band struck up once again, the conga line began anew, as did the drinking and wild partying. Rav Gifter remarked in later years that he was astounded at how quickly the celebrants transformed themselves. The effect of the life-threatening situation was quickly put behind them.

It seems that on an almost daily basis we become privy to, if not alarming, at least noteworthy news. So much news is good about Israel, but so much of it is scary. So much is great about our collective children, but we all know how much is wrong. Let’s be frank. With all the “money” in our neighborhood, the “have nots” are growing in leaps and bounds.

The cost of being an Orthodox Jew between tuition, holidays and communal responsibilities both in time and in money is staggering. Underage drinking and overage drinking is a real problem. Families are at their breaking points financially and emotionally. Even the “haves” are worried that they will either lose their fortune, be forced to support the “have nots” and in some cases are worried about a visit from the tax man or the District Attorney. There is an alarming self image problem amongst the kids in the neighborhoods. There is “My face,” “Your face” and “His face.” All of them are inviting our teens.

There are children being lured into immoral practices by “friends” found on the internet and there are new divorces every day. I used to come home and my wife would say “guess who’s engaged?” Now I hear “guess who’s getting divorced?”

We are shaken momentarily by our brush with the “iceberg,” but then, as if nothing happened, we go back to the party. Our compassion and empathy, while sincere, is often short lived. There are individuals and families truly suffering in our back yards and we need to open our front doors to them.

Recognizing all the good we have, and finding the good in all that happens, does not change the fact that there is a lot of bad that we need to address, a lot of bitterness that we need to change to sweetness. Similarly, sometimes the iceberg is a harbinger of good things to come, opportunities to realize, that we fail to recognize and capitalize on as well.

As we apparently will have to observe another year without a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, another year of enemies seeking our annihilation and denial of our heritage, we realize that as our nation goes, so do our families. A fractured Temple is the quintessential symbol of the broken family. May both be speedily rebuilt in our days.

David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann & Mermelstein. He can be reached at (718) 692-1013 and at