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God’s Finger Touched Him and He Slept

My first column in the Jewish Standard was a remembrance of Rabbi Dr. Eugene Borowitz, one of the major theologians of the Reform movement in the 20th century, who recently had died. He was also the founder and editor of Sh’ma magazine, and I was privileged to work with him there for several years. I felt even more privileged that our friendship continued until his death.

On the morning of March 19, 2018, some two years plus a bit after this first column appeared, I paid a shiva call on the family of Rabbi Ralph Pelcovitz, the rabbi emeritus of the White Shul in Far Rockaway and one of the leading modern Orthodox congregational rabbis of the 20th century. I had grown up in his shul in the 1950s and 60s, and continued as an intermittent attendee after getting married, listening to his sermons on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and other holidays and Shabbatot for more than 30 years when my family visited my parents. In later years, I would call him from time to time to wish him a gut yontif or shana tovah, and I always received a bracha and d’var Torah in response.

And then, shortly after returning home from this shiva visit, I, along with so many others, was devastated to hear of the unexpected death of Rabbi Ozer Anthony Glickman, one of today’s preeminent modern Orthodox leaders and role models, about whom the Standard’s editor wrote so movingly last week. Unlike Rabbis Borowitz and Pelcovitz, however, whom I knew for decades and who lived into their 90s, aging gracefully while continuing to be inspirational to many until almost the end, I knew R. Glickman only a few all too short years when he was suddenly felled by a heart attack at age 67, still influential, vigorous, and active.

The deaths of Rabbis Pelcovitz and Borowitz saddened their families, friends, and communities, both narrow and wide, but that’s the way the world is supposed to work; dor holech v’dor bah, a generation departs and a new one takes its place. R. Glickman’s death, however, in addition to bringing grief to so many, was a tragedy; taken at the height of his powers, as he was continuing to impact increasingly larger and more disparate parts of the Jewish community. He left us when he had so much more to give, and there was so much more we thirsted to receive.

R. Glickman was eclectic in both background and profession. There was the Rabbi Anthony Glickman whose first semicha was from JTS (followed by a number of Orthodox semichot from RIETS and leading rabbinic figures). There was the Rav Ozer Yeshayah HaCohen Glickman, a rosh yeshiva in RIETS, teaching Yoreh Deah, Talmud, and halacha to undergraduate and semicha students. There was Professor Anthony Glickman teaching “Jewish Values in the Contemporary World,” “Business and Jewish Law,” and American legal theory (among other courses) at Isaac Breuer College, Sy Syms School of Business, and the Cardozo School of Law, where he was also the senior resident rabbinic scholar and an adjunct professor of law at its Center for the Study of Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization. There was the Ozer/Anthony Glickman who was a much sought after speaker on topics ranging from the stock market to Jewish philosophy to Jewish civil law to medical ethics.

There was the Tony Glickman who formed deep social and personal relationships with so many, who continued to be a larger-than-life figure in the world of investment risk management and business, and who had pursued graduate studies in philosophy, religion — and finance. And, of course, there was the loving husband, devoted and adored saba, and the beloved Abba of six wonderful children, one who beautifully described her parents at the funeral with these words: “When you need a favor go to Ima, when you’re in a crisis go to Abba.”

All this made R. Glickman different, perhaps unique. But what made him special was his ability to connect with so many different types of people of all ages and beliefs on a myriad of important issues, both ancient and contemporary. In addition to being a superior talmid chacham with an incredible breadth of secular knowledge, he was an unyielding supporter of civil rights, an outspoken champion of the need to purge all vestiges of racism from our community, a strong proponent of the need for decency in government leadership, and a vocal advocate urging that honesty, morals, and ethics must once again be core values practiced by our community and that Hoshen Mishpat must still be relevant to our 21st Century lives outside the beit medrash.

One other thing that made him, for a rosh yeshiva, different, unique, and special was that he was a force on social media, appearing on Facebook to discuss all these issues; speaking truth to power clearly, openly, and without fear. And of great, perhaps paramount, importance, is that notwithstanding his passion for what he believed in, he always did this with civility to and respect for all, including, or perhaps especially, those with whom he disagreed. Always. So in a significant departure from internet norms, he refused to allow ad hominem attacks and pejorative personal comments to intrude into serious discussions of issues, and would unfriend people who violated that rule. His gentle, sweet side, however, also believed in second chances for those who were introspective and apologetic.

Like others, he was a critic of certain aspects of Open Orthodoxy. Unlike some, however, his criticisms never had a touch of condescension, condemnation, or crude nastiness. Indeed, a leader of Open Orthodoxy with whom R. Glickman disagreed online recently noted that Reb Ozer was truly tolerant and open minded, enjoying people who disagreed with him. He reached out to those with different ideas without rancor or animosity and with the utmost respect, refusing to let political considerations get in the way of his love for people, Torah, and ideas.

His affinity for those he disagreed with was particularly important to me because, as he recently wrote, “my friend Joseph Kaplan and I disagree on substantive issues in halacha and American politics.” (The “my friend” touched my heart.) And we did, indeed, disagree — often. But notably, he ended that comment by observing that “we agree that Torah is to be cherished, and that those who are devoted to it can learn from one another,” but only if civility and respect are embedded in the disagreement.

In the days following his death, my Facebook feed was flooded with expressions of grief and shock, and warm memories by his growing international following. Many posts and comments arose from an appreciation of his deep and sincere acts of kindness, in word and deed, and active involvement in combatting unfairness and injustice to those without power or prestige. Rabbi Shai Held has noted that from a religious and human perspective, kindness is more important than anything else. And Reb Ozer/Tony personified this with warmth, care, empathy, compassion, and love.

Another online thread was “although I only knew him through Facebook I felt a strong kinship to him, and now deeply regret I never met him personally.” Luckily for me, though I too first encountered him on Facebook, I later met him in the flesh as a result of his kind “let’s meet for coffee” invitation. I jumped at the opportunity and two delightful hours at Lazy Bean ensued, with our discovering how much we had in common (including daughters who were good friends and later thought it “cute” that we also became friends), how much we agreed on, and how much more we disagreed about. And we continued talking, agreeing, and disagreeing, civilly, respectfully, and often with humor, sometimes on Facebook, sometimes in shul, and sometimes after a shiur of his that I attended, which enabled me to add teacher-student to my description of our relationship.

Let me end (though I still have much more to say) with two stories: one about humor and the other regret. His humor was sharp, could be earthy, and therefore often was meant only for private consumption. But I can share the following conversation in a family publication. In the midst of a serious discussion we were having on Facebook, he suddenly non-sequitured into “is that a bow tie I see in your profile picture?” (It’s the same picture as the one used with this column, though larger, and if you look carefully you can see the bow tie tips peeking out.) When I answered “yup, if you like I’ll be happy to teach you how to tie them,” he replied “last time I wore one another diner asked me for her check.”

And one about bittersweet regret. My very last words to him were also in the context of a Facebook discussion where, as usual, we were disagreeing. It became too complex for short written back and forth comments, so I ended the discussion with a simple “we’ll have to talk.” The bitter part is that I let it slide, not picking up the phone, finding him after shul, or this time my inviting him to Lazy Bean to do just that — talk. The sweet part is that, unlike those who never had the opportunity, or missed the opportunity, to meet him personally, I grabbed that opportunity (or was it just plain dumb luck?), thus having the privilege of experiencing what it means to interact face-to-face with, and be a student/friend of, a truly great man.

A light has gone out and our world is darker. We are truly bereft. Yehi zichro baruch.

About the Author
Joseph C. Kaplan, a regular columnist for the Jewish Standard, is a long-time resident of Teaneck. His work has also appeared in various publications including Sh’ma magazine, The New York Jewish Week, The Baltimore Jewish Times, and, as letters to the editor, The New York Times.
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