Mayor Hosts Former Chief

Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau

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Reproduced from The Record

Saturday, October 23, 2004

by Michael J. Wildes, Mayor, City of Englewood

2-10 N. Van Brunt Street

Englewood , NJ 07631



Supporting Israeli Immigrants. CEO of United Retail, Raphael Benaroya (left) and Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes (right) joined together to help Israel's former chief rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau (center), raise funds for an organization that helps young Eastern European immigrants in Israel. The event held at Wildes' home last Thursday evening raised substantial funds for the organization, solidify Englewood's reputation for philanthropic support of Israel and her people.

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Israel's former chief rabbi raises funds in Englewood

Saturday, October 23, 2004


ENGLEWOOD - There was an unusual phrase carved into the cantor's platform: "Please God, save my soul."

Israel 's former chief rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau, noticed the inscription in a Moscow synagogue in 1989. He visited one of the city's last remaining temples before meeting with President Mikhail Gorbachev to discuss the mistreatment of Soviet Jews.

"I asked an old Jew there, 'Why did you choose this half-sentence from Psalms?'¸" the rabbi told about 70 of the city's Orthodox Jews gathered in Mayor Michael Wildes' living room Thursday. It was his second stop on a U.S. fund-raising mission for an organization that helps young Eastern European immigrants in Israel .

Lau said the man explained to him that the founder of Soviet communism, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, had allowed the local Jewish community to build the synagogue. Lenin said it was a reward for the hard work by residents in a nearby factory and was meant to offset harsh Soviet laws forbidding most Jewish practices. But it provided little solace for the oppressed community.

The words on the platform, or bimah, the man said, were a message of support to the congregation:

"You Communists, you can handle our bodies, you are the owners," Lau told his audience. "But you cannot have our souls. You cannot take responsibility of our spiritual life."

Lau is the latest in a series of Israeli and Jewish dignitaries to pass through Englewood on fund-raising tours. With just 26,000 residents, the city is seen by Israeli and Jewish charities as an important destination, thanks to its generous and wealthy 700-family Orthodox community. Thursday's event raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the charity, organizers said.

"We in Englewood are really supportive to the state of Israel , very Zionistic," said Robert Lunzer, a city resident who sells State of Israel Bonds and attended the event. "Without the Diaspora of Jewry, it would be very difficult for Israel to exist with all of the economic problems going on."

The city's philanthropic reputation grants its residents an unusual exposure to important Israeli players.

Wildes also hosted Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski in December. Lupolianski raised money for Boys Town Jerusalem and took questions. He said Englewood was known in Israel to have "an important Orthodox community."

Also dropping by the city in May was the mayor of a West Bank settlement who was raising money for a hospital. He answered questions in Wildes' mayoral office about contemporary security issues.

After his speech, Lau, who was one of Israel 's top two rabbis from 1993-2003, blessed a dozen children in Wildes' home. He then led about half of the 70 men in prayer in Wildes' home office.

After Lau's presentation, Wildes, who plans to run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008, asked the rabbi for political advice.

"It's a lot more difficult governing in a small place like Englewood ," Lau said. "People come to you with lots of details and problems and complaints. They wouldn't dare do that if you were senator."


Paid for by Friends of Michael J. Wildes, Claudia Colbert, Treasurer