Reality Check

In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

The Man I Thought I Knew

By Jonathan Rosenblum

A high ranking officer in the Almighty's army -- and a member of the "Greatest Generation" who assisted General Dwight Eisenhower -- passed away recently in Jerusalem | I thought I knew Reb Meyer Birnbaum, zt"l, who recently passed away in his 95th year. But I didn't know him at all.

Nearly twenty years ago, Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, who had been a long-time neighbor of Reb Meyer's and often traveled with him on his weekday morning drive to the Western Wall for the daybreak minyan, had the idea of a book based on stories he had heard from Reb Meyer over the years. Reb Meyer would dictate his life story onto tapes and I would transform those tapes into a book.

Rabbi Zlotowitz envisioned the book centering on Reb Meyer's experiences during World War II as a religious soldier and officer — the Normandy landing, liberating Buchenwald, and then remaining in the DP camps for six months after he was entitled to return stateside and be discharged.

Reb Meyer initially resisted the idea of a first-person memoir. But Rabbis Zlotowitz and Nosson Scherman persuaded him that by talking about what he had witnessed and the great people he had known he would be removing the focus from himself, whereas a third-person book would suggest that he was someone of inherent distinction.

Lieutenant Birnbaum served as the interpreter for General Dwight Eisenhower, the Allied High Commander, on the latter's visit to Buchewald, and later when Eisenhower was introduced to the Klausenberger Rebbe on Yom Kippur in the Feldafing DP camp.


Every weekday publishes "must-reading". Sign up for the daily update. It's free. Just click here.

Next, certain members of his family opposed the book, but by now Reb Meyer was enthusiastic about the project. "If I can be mechazek [strengthen the faith of] one person," he told a son who objected to an autobiography in his lifetime, "it will be worth it." In the end, he was mechazek tens of thousands, and his son admitted that he had been wrong.

WHEN I FIRST MET REB MEYER, he was already 75-years-old. A tall man, he still stood fully erect, and would continue to do so into his '90s. At that first meeting, he told me to pretend I was trying to stab him, and showed me a few judo moves from his days in U.S. army. His grip was still vise-like.

Unfortunately, his financial condition was not equally good. He had once been the successful proprietor of the Brooklyn-based chain Mauzone Foods, but the business had gone bankrupt, through no fault of his own. He did not even own a life insurance policy, and still had a number of children left to marry. His only marketable skill, at that point in life, was his recipe for an unrivalled, unsalted herring and delicious pickles. Though he lectured annually on his wartime experiences at a few Jerusalem women's seminaries, these were non-remunerative.

Then Lieutenant Birnbaum appeared, and opened another chapter of his eventful life. On the basis of the book, Reb Meyer was launched on an international speaking career. For the next fifteen years, until he was close to ninety, he held audiences across the globe transfixed for four hours or more, as he related his experiences.

For the rest of his life, Reb Meyer was known everywhere as Lieutenant Birnbaum. The name appeared in English on the Hebrew notices announcing his death and funeral. The hapless fellow announcing them from a speaker as he traveled through Jerusalem's religious neighborhoods struggled mightily to pronounce the word lieutenant.

The title Lieutenant Birnbaum captured something essential about Reb Meyer. He was the Almighty's soldier, in chapter after chapter of his life: as one of a group of idealistic youth in the impoverished New Lots/East New York neighborhood, in whom a passion for Judaism burned, despite their lack of any formal religious education; in the DP camps after the war; and in his critical role ending the scourge of totally unnecessary autopsies in Israeli hospitals in the '60s. Before entering the hospital for the last time, he told his son Rabbi Akiva Birnbaum, "This may be my last fight. But I'm going to fight all the way."

Lieutenant Birnbaum struck a chord and quickly became one of ArtScroll's all-time best-sellers. Readers recognized a "normal" person like themselves, placed in extraordinary circumstances. Reb Meyer's life had not been a bed of roses. He experienced hunger as a youngster, the loss of a younger brother in the Normandy landing, divorce, and bankruptcy. Yet his simchas chayim. (joy of life), in the words of his daughter-in-law Rebbetzin Blimie Birnbaum, was palpable. He could put any problem on the shelf and not just carry on, but do so with boundless gratitude to the Divine. He felt himself to be the Father's beloved "only son."

People in pain, wrote to him from around the globe. He kept thousands of letters from readers who had been uplifted by Lieutenant Birnbaum, and tried to answer all of them. Something about his story moved and gave hope to many who were suffering — abused wives, religious rebellious children — just as he had once given hope to those in the DP camps who thought they had nothing left to live for.

In the later capacity, said the renowned sage Rabbi Don Segal in his eulogy, he "blew ruach chayim (the breath of life) into those who were nothing but bones." He assured despondent survivors that he was a rich man and would provide them with jobs when the arrived in America. Though the first part was far from true, the great figures of that era, such as Irving Bunim and Mike Tress, made good on the promise. Wherever he went in his later years, he was accosted by survivors who remembered the tall American soldier who had delivered thousands of letters and packages to survivors sent through the Army Post Office.

The fame from Lieutenant Birnbaum allowed him to fulfill his favorite role — that of a loving father giving to his children. (He had sixteen children of his own.) In the heyday of Mauzone Foods, it was a factory of kindness. He used to put a long finger under the scale to hold it up, while measuring out the orders of widows and wives of rabbinic dignataries. Only Rabbi Aharon Kotler's Rebbetzin (wife and helpmate), ever caught him doing so.

For more than thirty years, he packed his car and later a Mitsubishi van in a manner that would have done credit to any college fraternity for his morning drive to the Western Wall, where he had special permission, in his last years, to drive all the way to the entrance to the men's section. Later in the day, he would cruise the streets looking for people in distress to transport. Every Shabbos (Sabbath), the Birnbaum home was filled with either yeshiva students or seminary girls eager to soak up his joy and hear his stories first-hand.

DESPITE ALL I KNEW ABOUT LIEUTENANT BIRNBAUM, nothing prepared me for the sight of hundreds of sages at his funeral just before Sabbath. Besides his son Rabbi Akiva Birnbaum, the eulogies were delivered by Rabbi Yitzchak Ezrachi of Mirrer Yeshiva, a long-time neighbor; Rabbi Tzvi Cheshin, the recognized ari shebe'chabura of Mirrer Yeshiva for four decades; and Rabbi Don Segal. Other major Torah figures wanted to be offer their eulogy, but time did not allow. Rabbi Ezrachi expressed his "jealousy" for Reb Meyer's portion in the World to Come, and said that he did not know if there was another person in the generation with as many zechuyos (merits) as Reb Meyer.

In the midst of the eulogies, a very old man entered the hall sobbing. He kissed the deceased's feet, and then cried out, "These are the same tefillin. [prayer gear]"

This old Jew and two friends had escaped from a Nazi prison camp in the last days of the War. Freezing in their skimpy prisoners uniforms, they put on the uniforms of slain Nazi soldiers whom they found lying in the woods. The Jew in question subsequently encountered an American convoy wearing the uniform of a high German officer. When he reached into his pocket, the American soldiers thought he was grabbing a grenade. They were about to shoot him, when he cried out, "Ich bin a Yid [I'm a Jew]!" Fortunately for him, Lieutenant Birnbaum understood what he was saying, and ordered his men not to shoot. In the Jew's pocket was a pair of tefillin that he had taken great risk to guard throughout the war.

Torah giants recognized greatness in Reb Meyer. He exemplified the temimus (simplicity/purity) that Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz used to say characterized his generation of Americans. His respect for religious dignitaries was without limit. Reb Meyer and friends like the late Reb Moshe Swerdloff gathered around Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner upon his arrival in New York from Europe, and later did everything possible to help Rabbi Leib Malin and other great survivors of the Mirrer in Shanghai establish Yeshivas Bais HaTalmud. Rabbi Beinisch Finkel, the late Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir, was famous for never accepting a favor from anyone. Yet he accepted a ride from Reb Meyer, from the very first day the latter started driving to the daybreak minyan at the Western All, and would even ask Reb Meyer to drive him to various lifecycle events. He knew that he was giving Reb Meyer boundless joy by doing so.

Every morning at the Western All, Reb Meyer would read through pages of names of people in anguish before the start of davening. Once, in his last years, he exclaimed, "Ribbono shel Olam [Master of the Universe], I have no more strength, You have to bring Mashiach [the Messiah]." His Rosh Hashanah blessing to his fellow pilgrims at the Western Wall this past Rosh Hashanah eve was: "Next year, may we be merit to gather on the other side of the Western Wall."

May he continue to implore the Divine, Whom he always addressed as a beloved son speaking to his Father, on behalf of Jewry, from his high place on the other side.

Interested in a private Judaic studies instructor — for free? Let us know by clicking here.

Every weekday publishes what many in Washington and the media consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

To comment, please click here.

JWR contributor Jonathan Rosenblum is founder of the Jerusalem-based Jewish Media Resources. A respected commentator on Israeli politics, society, culture and the Israeli legal system, who speaks frequently on these topics in the United States, Europe, and Israel, his articles appear regularly in numerous Jewish periodicals in the United States and Israel. Rosenblum is also the author of seven biographies of major modern Jewish figures. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago and Yale Law School.

© 2013, Jonathan Rosenblum