Finding My Own Voice


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As many of you know, I spent two weeks in intensive care at Yale New Haven Medical Center about 18 months ago.

This event was the culmination of living over 7 years with a very noticeable speech defect. After speaking several sentences, I found my speech garbled, slurred and extremely nasal.

I made frequent visits to doctors and, to my frustration, was told that they could not find any physical cause for my condition.

I was referred to a neurologist at New York Medical Center who put me on a medication that only exacerbated my condition.

Then one Shabbat afternoon, I could not swallow, could not eat and could not breathe. My coughing was incessant and so I went immediately to Greenwich Hospital. Three teams of doctors were called in.

The next scene I remember is that I awoke, intubated, with Misha Guy at my side telling me that I was in New Haven.

I wish to thank Misha for visiting me daily and for the long 'conversations' we had by means of my writing my thoughts on notepad paper.

I wish to thank Yuval Sinai, a remarkable Professor of Jewish Law at Yale, for his visits.

I wish to thank Dr. Wolfsohn for his uplifting visits in which he reassured me that fortunately I was at the right place at the right time.

And I wish to thank Danny Kraus for going out of his busy, busy way to visit me as well.

And, of course, I am forever grateful to Rabbi Walk and Rabbi Cohen and our morning Minyan congregants for their fervent daily prayers and Psalms on my behalf-- until I returned-- healed-- to join this special group!

Above all, I wish to thank the Neurology and Pulmonary teams at Yale who successfully put me on the road to a full recovery.

So, a year later, to my amazement, I am leading the Friday Daf Yomi session and today, this Siyum on Tractate Kesubos.

It has been said: It is not the Destination that matters but the Journey.

I have developed a strong appreciation of the precious Middah or character trait of gratitude or HAKARAT HATOV. And I am especially indebted to such strong family members, work associates and above all teachers at The Ramaz School, A.B. Davis High School in Mt. Vernon, NY, Columbia University (where I hold both an undergraduate in Pre-medical sciences and a graduate degrees in John Milton and 17th Century Prose and Poetry), Golden Gate University School of Law (where I earned my JD degree) and at CAS--teachers whose exemplary lives continue to reverberate with me.

You may visit my website at, and then click on the Blog icon which will take you to my blog homepage (My blog contains over 500 articles); here on my homepage you can read an article entitled My Passion for Mentoring Modeling and Motivating.

Here I explore, in depth, the many charismatic figures who exemplified the strong Mussar, the strong code of conduct that I try--often falling short--to live up to every day.

In the handouts on your table, you will find the front cover from the New York Post, dated Saturday April 13, 1935. The Banner Headline reads New York's Ghetto Prepares for Observance of Passover. 

The image of Mayor La Guadia's wife is at the center and that of my grandfather Rabbi Moses Kalonymus Skinder is at the right.

Descended from a long line of Rabbis, he was educated, ordained and served as Rabbi at the Yeshiva of Lutsk. He then served as Rabbi in Glasgow, Scotland before being offered a pulpit in New York City.

He was installed as spiritual leader of the Pike Street Synagogue, also called the Sons of Kalwarie, (Kalvarier) on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

He served as the prominent Rabbi of his community from 1922-1947, a 25 year span, until he elected to step down from his pulpit to make Aliyah to Palestine in September 1947.

At his Synagogue, the Young Israel movement was announced by Rabbi Judah L. Magnes, Z”L, to a standing room crowd of 10,000 Shabbat worshipers in 1912. Rabbi Magnes would become the first chancellor of the Hebrew University in 1925.

Rabbi Judah L Magnes
from Wikipedia 

And it was here that the Hesped of Rav Aharon Kotler, Z”L, of Lakewood was held on 2 Kislev 5722 (1962) as 40,000 mourners overflowed into the streets.

Rabbi Aharon Kotler
from Wikipedia

My grand father was the Mashgiath for the Stuhmer's Baking Company and joined Mrs. LaGuardia in handing out baked matzoh to thousands of poor Jews on East Broadway.

A total of 60,000 pounds of Lechem Oni was provided free of charge by George F. Stuhmer to the indigent Jews in New York City's five boroughs Newark, Jersey City and Hoboken.

Each recipient received a five pound box.

My grandfather's Corporation, Givat Cholon, developed housing in the then sandy hills of Cholon, just outside of Tel Aviv. (See the personal letters he wrote in flowing English script to my parents describing his efforts to sell shares in his company with a 5% return on investment.)

These homes were for the thousands of workers flooding the new State of Israel from the European DP (Displaced Person) camps just after WW II.

He died on mission on 18 Cheshvan 5711.

It is not the destination that matters but the journey.

My grandfather brought 7 of his fellow Rabbis to my Brit Milah held at the Bronx Hospital where I was born on May 24 (16 Iyar) the Hebrew Calendar year of 5700.

The Bronx Hospital, 169th  and Fulton Street 
Where my dad, Dr. Saul A.Schwartz delivered me

My journey, since then, has included over 40 USA residences in both Northern and Southern California, Oregon, Texas, Potomac, Md, New Jersey, 4 New York Boroughs, Westchester County  and finally Connecticut.

So here I am to celebrate my continuing journey including but not limited to rediscovering my new found voice and the influence of great mentors near and far-- such as my grandfather Rabbi Skinder.

Most immediately I am honoring our Daf Yomi's class finishing 112 pages (consisting of 13 Chapters) of Tractate Kesubos, the laws of which we studied for nearly four months.

Samuel Hirszenberg, Talmudic School, c. 1895-1908
From Wikipedia 

The tractate covers all the laws of the Kesubah, the marriage contract which contains the legal commitments of the the husband to his wife.

The foremost feature is the payment awarded to her in the event of divorce or his death.

We began our study with a Chapter that fixes the week-days on which marriages are to be solemnized, the minimum amount of the Kesuba to which virgins, widows, divorcees, or other women belonging to the various strata of social and religious life are entitled, and conditions governing the forfeiture of her Kesubah by a wife in the absence of virginity.

We studied the rights and duties of a widows in relation to her late husband's orphans, the laws affecting the validity or invalidity of a wife's actions who sells her departed husband's estate and of a Bet Din or agents who sell the estate at a lower or higher price than the market value.

There is much Aggadic material in Kesubbos which includes midrashic and homiletic interpretations of Scripture, stories and incidents pointing morals.

For instance, the Talmud discusses the opinion that a wife should be taken merely for the sake of her, beauty, or for the sake of children or merely for the sake of wearing her finery.

The influence of diet on the expectant mother is discussed.

Chapter five goes to great length to portray the marriage of the shepherd Akiba with the daughter of Ben Kalba Sabu'a and then his attainment of the highest rank of scholarship and affluence.

The last chapter has quotations from Ben Sira, the love and adoration of Palestine, the merit and dignity of scholars, the marvelous events in the days of the Messiah and other eschatological events.

Often the abundance and size of the crops in Eretz Yisrael is followed by a diminution as described on page 112, the last Daf in the Tractate.

Rabbi Chelbo, R.Avira and R. Yose ben Chanina traveled to a place in Eretz Yisrael and discover a peach so large that it is equivalent in size to a Kfar Hino Frying Pan. How large is this pan? This is equivalent of an 18 gallon tank. The Rabbis ate 1/3 and 1/3 was left for the animals.

At the end of the year, R. Elazar returned to the same locale and he was brought a peach that could only fit in one hand. He comments on the diminished size of the fruit by citing a verse from Psalm 107:3: “Eretz Pri LeMilcha Mairaas Yoshvei Bah” meaning [He turns] a fruitful land into a salty waste because of the evil of its inhabitants. (from Art Scroll, Tractate of Kesubos, Volume 28) 

After the abundant blessings of the Messianic era, the Talmud concludes the Tractate briefly discussing the travails of the era immediately preceding it.


The Talmud explains that as a prequel to the coming of the Messiah  there will be vilification of scholars in the form of baseless ill-will that scholars will bear toward their fellow scholars; THIS ANIMOSITY IS BASED ON NO REASON! 

 The subsequent punishment they will suffer is described in strong terms: there will be smelting after smelting (harsh decrees will be followed by harsh decrees decimating many of them.) Decimation will follow Decimation (deci is the prefix for one -tenth--so, eradicating one tenth will be followed by depleting another tenth-- 'tithed' as decreed by HaShem and then the remainder tithed again...)

However the Talmud concludes with a positive depiction of this era:  Rav Chiya bar Ashi said in the name of Rav: All barren tree that are in Eretz Yisrael are destined to bear fruit as it is said: for the tree has borne its fruit; the fig tree and grapevine have yielded their wealth, Joel 2:22. 

 For the tree has borne its fruit is interpreted as meaning that even trees that do not ordinarily produce fruit will do so on the eve of the Messianic Age. (from Art Scroll, Tractate of Kesubos, Volume 28)

In other words, miraculous, beneficial and harmonious events will occur yielding an abundance of crops heralding a new era of peace.   



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