By Rabbi David Avigdor ~
One of my fondest memories growing up in the home of my saintly father, Rabbi Dr. Isaac Avigdor, was watching his unwavering urge to write and record his thoughts in English in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, and in Yiddish in New York’s Jewish Press and Algemeiner Journal. When I asked him why it was so important to go to so much trouble to slave with my beloved mother over the typewriter to research, compose and write every month, he stated to me “publish or perish.” He claimed that he could affect many people at once with his thoughts and ideas just as his own saintly father had done before him. My father’s father published over 50 volumes of holy books before and after World War II in Hebrew, Yiddish, English and Spanish and many survive to this very day.
My father was simply following in his father’s footsteps and doing his part in fulfilling the Torah obligation of “Harbotzas Torah” — spreading and disseminating God’s Torah through the printed word. Furthermore, he pointed out, the articles and books that he labored over so hard would survive him and be a continued source of Torah study even years after he was gone. He said to me, “Schreiben is auf eibick” — people live and people die, but the printed word lasts forever.
In fact, his contemporary perspectives on issues of the day were sought after because his assessments of ideas and political figures were uniquely filtered through the lens of a Holocaust survivor, who witnessed first hand the most horrendous evil of mankind. When my grandfather’s yahrzeit approached, my father would work even harder to ensure that the article or memorial was extra special. My father put his heart and soul into his writings without remuneration in order to communicate with us in a most personal way, a thought that grasped the past, seized the present and protected us from obstacles in the future.
The Gemorah Tamid on page 32a states: “Ayze hu chochom? Ha-roeh es ha-nolad” — “Who is a wise man? He who sees future developments.” My father had “A Veitterin Kook”, a far-sighted, long-term vision that guided his life and the lives around him! That special ability enabled him to raise a family out of town after the Holocaust, overcome language and other barriers to build a new life and forge another link in the golden chain of Yiddishkeit. Against the backdrop of America’s cultural melting pot and contrary to the odds, he successfully raised observant children and grandchildren to secure the next generation of Jews in this great country and build the Hartford Jewish community and the United Synagogues of Greater Hartford as a postwar legacy that remains to this very day.
It is now one year since father passed away and I have the privilege of feeling close to him by reading his writings and by endeavoring to follow in his footsteps. Pick up one of his books; they are filled with Torah thoughts that can be compared to gold, silver and diamonds.
When someone would send regards to my father or relate a story of how his father, Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Avigdor, was helpful to them during or after the war, he would often say “Ich hob bakumen ah greece foon de Zeida” — “I received regards from the Zeida (grandfather).” In that way he often felt his father’s presence, especially before the holidays. I have received many “regards” from my father in this way over the past year. His good works and extraordinary accomplishments have been reiterated and transmitted to me and my family by many well-wishers through letters, cards and a wide variety of condolences for which we are all deeply grateful. Please continue to communicate with us and send us “a greece foon de Tatta” from time to time. We would love to hear from you.
In last week’s portion of Vayishlach we read the ageless story of Jacob’s reunion with his brother Esau. Before the reunion, Jacob was terrified that his powerful sibling would annihilate his entire family out of the deep-seated hatred that Esau held against him. Jacob devised several strategies to protect himself and his family from his brother. Rashi explains to us in Breishis 32: 4 that Jacob first decided to approach the threat “L’doron, l’tefillah u’l-milchama”, with “appeasement (gifts), prayer, and finally battle if necessary!” In the event these strategies didn’t work, Jacob set up a second safety perimeter by dividing his large family into two camps. “If Esau will come to one camp and smite it, the remaining camp will escape harm.” Jacob prays to Hashem and pleads for his life – Breishis 32:11. “I am undeserving of all the kindnesses and acts of truth that you have performed on behalf of your servant. I crossed this Jordan River with only my staff, and now behold I have grown into two camps.
Our rabbis enlighten us by explaining that these very words that were spoken so many years ago have the same efficacy today as they did then! Esau still hates Jacob and continues to chase him and to kill him. Israel still prays to Hashem for help from its enemies. History continues to show us that when some individual, some government or empire attempts to destroy the Jewish people, there will always be a surviving remnant of our nation that will continue to guarantee the continuity of Klal Yisroel (the community of Israel) during our long exile. Jacob bestowed this strategic design as the long-term plan that has protected us throughout the ages.
My father was separated from his family by the Holocaust. His mother and two sisters were killed by the Nazis, yet he survived with his father and brother. When Rabbi I. C. Avigdor came to this country, he arrived at these shores penniless with nothing more than the shirt on his back. With heartfelt prayer and hard work, innovative planning and the help of God, he worked to improve himself and made something of himself. He built a career, raised a family, built a shul and a community, wrote many books and influenced a generation of those who would listen to forge another strong link in the chain of Judaism.
I am writing this day to continue the legacy of my father and grandfather and to walk in their footsteps. Today, I publish my thoughts of my beloved father so that his memory will never perish and thereby uplift his holy soul on the occasion of his first yahrzeit, 17 Kislev 5772, so that all who speak of him will always mention his name with a blessing upon their lips.
Rabbi David Avigdor is the son of Rabbi Isaac C. Avigdor z”tl and spiritual leader of Congregation Bikur Cholim Sheveth Achim in New Haven. He wrote this upon the occasion of his father’s first yahrzeit, 17 Kislev 5772. Rabbi Isaac Avigdor served as spiritual leader of the United Synagogues of Greater Hartford in West Hartford for half a century.
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