Yair Lapid’s Chassidic Grandfather
It was my final conversation with my Grandma Florence.
I was 22 years old and, to the great consternation of my family, had gotten all frummed out.
At the women’s yeshiva where I had studied the year before, the rabbi told us baalot teshuva-to-be that a few generations back all of our families had been religious. And even though I didn’t say it, I was quite certain that “all Jews” included every family but my own.
In the Freedman family there were all sorts of Jews: Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Zionist, not-so Zionist…the works.
But an Orthodox Jew? Nope. Not even one. Not then, and, I assumed, not ever.
But that December day, the day of our final conversation, my grandmother told me, “Jenny, I know you’ve been spending Shabbats at a Chabad House. And I want you to know that you aren’t the first religious member of our family; my grandparents were actually Lubavitcher Chassidim. In fact, your great-grandfather, since he was a lawyer and the founder of HIAS, was one of the first people allowed to take the boat out to greet the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe when he first arrived in the US.”
I think that was the only time in my life that I actually felt the sky open up above my head.
I was no longer just a confused American woman living my own life in an existential void and meaningless universe. That was the first time I felt that Hashem was watching over me. Guiding me. Bringing me back to the path of my forefathers and mothers who I had never even known existed.
And I envisioned my Lubavitch great-grandmother bent over her tear-stained siddur, her lips moving unceasingly as she pronounced the daily prayer “And we and our children, and our children’s children, and all the children of Your nation, the Jewish people, will all know Your name and learn Your Torah.”
She was, I realized, davening for me, her great-great granddaughter, Jenny Freedman, that I would also, like her, keep the Torah and love Hashem. And even many decades after her death, her prayer was circling around in Heaven until Hashem decided it was finally time to bring her lost great-great granddaughter, Chana bat Gila, back home.
Yesterday, at the opening of the Knesset’s new session, the Deputy Minister of Education, Rabbi Menachem Eliezer Moses, addressed Yair Lapid, the head of the secular Yesh Atid Party which is now the second largest political party in Israel.
Rabbi Moses responded to Yair Lapid’s first speech in the Knesset with the following words:
“You spoke about a glorious future, and I am choosing to tell you about the glorious past and heritage of our people, mine and yours as well…
“Your grandfather, David Giladi, was born as David Klein in Transylvania, Austro-Hungary, to his father Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Klein, a Vizhnitzer Chassid with 18 children…a direct descendant of one of the greatest rabbis of the previous generation, Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke Klein, rabbi of the city Selesh, who is described in the encyclopedia “Shem HaGadolim” as ‘a genius, a tremendous tsaddik, famous throughout the land and author of the book ‘Tsror HaChaim’ which is still studied in yeshivot.’”
Which reminded me that when I heard that Yair Lapid’s party had won so many seats in the Knesset, I let out a noisy groan of an “Oh noooooo.”
I remembered Yair Lapid’s father, Tommy Lapid, who hated religious people and headed the virulently anti-religious Shinui party.
But then I read that while Yair Lapid doesn’t keep many mitzvot, he has publicly discussed his belief in God and in Divine Providence.
Which reminds me of all of our holy grandfathers and grandmothers praying for us, the lost grandchildren they would never know…
“And we and our children, and our children’s children, and all the children of your nation, the Jewish people, will all know Your name and learn Your Torah.”
We have so far to go, but from all directions so many of us are moving inch by inch, step by step—closer.