Friday, April 16, 2010

Rabbi Gedalya Anemer, zt"l

My rebbe from High School, Rabbi Anemer, passed away suddenly this week. He was an anchor of the Silver Spring community for over fifty years, and had a profound impact on my entire family. Growing up in the Kemp Mill Section of Silver Spring, MD, Rabbi Anemer was a dominating presence. I remember how people would walk from other communities to hear his Shabbat Hagadol and Shabbat Shuvah drashot. He was a fiery, passionate speaker. He represented a connection to a Torah world that most American Jews never really knew; a Torah of devotion, dedication, and even reverence.
Four years ago, when his shul celebrated his fiftieth year, I sent him a letter of thanks. Now, after his sudden passing, I share it with you.

Dear Rabbi Anemer, שליט"א
It is my great pleasure to extend my warmest wishes of Mazel Tov on the occasion of Young Israel Shomrei Emunah’s annual dinner marking your fifty years of service and dedication to the Silver Spring Jewish community.
On a personal level, it is difficult for me to express my gratitude to you for the energies that you put into me and my family. So many of the most formulative of my personal memories revolve around your influence. Permit me to share some personal thoughts and memories:
I once wasn’t feeling well, and visited the doctor for an illness that we feared might be more than a simple cold. After the doctor visit, my mother stopped off at Shalom’s to buy something, and we bumped into you. I was – I guess understandably so – somewhat apprehensive about doctors and illness. When you saw me out of school and inquired about me, you told me, “Oh, I’m sure that it’s nothing.” And I felt better – because your reassurance meant a great deal. If you said that I would be all right, I would be – and I was.
I have vivid memories of learning in your Gemara shiur. Somehow, reaching your shiur was an honor that had to be achieved – and not assumed. While we were certainly scared and intimidated – it was a יראת הרוממות – not a יראת העונש. You had a way of inspiring us to want to grow in learning without feeling small about ourselves, but great about what we could be. I have always felt privileged to have learned with you in my high school years. The high bar that you set has stayed with me to this day.
I have many memories of personal interaction. I appreciate the time that you spent with me both at a very young age, trying to explain things that I could not understand – and also the advice that you have given me since, guiding me through many difficult decisions. Even today, I feel privileged to be able to call you for a שאלה whenever necessary.
It is not an exaggeration to say that we are who we are today at least in part because of you. I am quite certain that a good many Silver Spring products would echo my sentiments as well.
Finally, now that I am in the rabbinate, and can begin to understand the tremendous pressures and challenges that rabbanus presents, I find myself in awe of your dedication and longevity. To me, fifty years in a community seems like an impossibly long time. Yet, as I develop professionally, it’s also clear to me that communal growth, development and expansion is closely tied with a rav who has invested himself in that community – who has made personal connections, established a presence, and watched the seed that he has planted grow and flower.
This past Shabbos, I gave my Shabbos Drashah about the עצי שטים that they used to construct many of the כלים in the משכן. Rashi quotes the Midrash that they got the trees for the משכן because יעקב אבינו brought down trees from ארץ ישראל that he planted in Egypt, for their ultimate use at the time of the גאולה.
Yet, Rav Ya’akov Kaminetzky asks in אמת ליעקב why יעקב needed to plant trees at all? Didn’t they have trees in Egypt? Moreover, he notes that the מדרש רבה tells us that Ya’akov specifically stops in באר שבע to bring with him trees from אברהם אבינו to Egypt. Why did he need to specifically plant trees from ארץ ישראל when they could have brought Egyptian trees with them out of מצרים?
Rav Kaminetzky answers that יעקב teaches us a critical psychological insight: for him, it would have been enough to believe the promise that ה' would one day redeem His nation from Egypt. But for his children, they needed something tangible – something real, for them to see and nurture, that would remind them constantly of a world they never knew, but would one day see again. So, he brought with him the trees of אברהם אבינו from באר שבע, and planted them in מצרים, knowing that every time they tended those trees; every branch they cut, every weed they pulled; every time they walked by that area in Goshen they would think to themselves: these are the trees of the redemption. These are the trees that our grandfather planted so many decades ago that we – or perhaps our children or grandchildren – will take with us out of this place.
I can only imagine the level of frumkeit – or lack thereof – that was Silver Spring, when you arrived fifty years ago. Yet, to me you always represented that tree that was a מסורה given over to you, that you nurtured and grew and fed and watered – and now you can look at the forest of Jewry and frumkeit throughout the Washington area, and talmidim spread across the United States and the world, and know with a great degree of confidence that these are the offspring of your trees, planted fifty years ago.
May הקב"ה grant you continued health and well-being, and may He give you the strength to continue to plant, nurture and grow many more trees in the future.

Reuven Spolter
Young Israel of Oak Park
Oak Park, MI