Monday, July 8, 2013

The Reb, z"l

I entered Yeshiva University expecting to major in English; I had a vision of becoming a writer. That changed, for numerous reasons beyond the scope of this post, but in my freshman year at YU, before I went to Israel to study, I had the opportunity to take a course with Rabbi Dr. Maurice Wohlgelernter, who passed away last week.

I don't have that much to write about Rabbi Dr. Wohlgelernter, to be honest. I remember him vividly, of course; it would be hard to remember him in any other way, with his energy and his arch humour. I can see him in front of me. We called him The Reb; I remember him telling us, on numerous occasions, that the administration wanted to "get rid of the Reb." I remember him talking about the challenge of writing, about how he had difficulty writing because he would review his work and want to change every sentence. And I remember, to a certain extent, the way he taught us about symbolism in poetry - the meaning of death, actually, for example.

But I don't remember enough, and hearing of the Reb's passing, hearing people's reminiscences about him, reminds me that this is entirely my fault, and the fault of the immaturity I shared with my friends in our college years. Part of it was that I went to YU "early admissions", skipping my senior year in high school and starting college before going to Israel; the result was that I was younger than my classmates, and still very much in a high school mindset of getting away with as little work as possible, instead of maximizing my opportunities. And part of it was my own superficiality; despite some good teachers in high school, I didn't really think about what a quality learning experience could mean for me.

The result is that I am now in what I suspect is the July of my years, and I look back in wonder at the way I have wasted certain opportunities, like those years in college. No courses in astronomy or oceanography or Chinese culture. Credits crammed in, courses cut. Worthy professors whose words I listened to only for the sake of excelling at exam time. What a foolish young man I was; I've spent years since then reading up on many of the subjects I missed, but all of the reading I do now cannot replace what could have been, and how it could have impacted upon my growth.

Note to self: I hope that well before my children go to university I will sit down with them and encourage them to be smarter than I was. It would be a shame if they, too, missed out on their Rebs.


  1. Thank you for this post. You give beautiful expression to a sentiment that I (and I suspect many others) share about opportunities underappreciated and lost in youth.

  2. Shalom RosenfeldJuly 8, 2013 at 9:54 AM


    As I heard someone say at a shul dinner: "we work so hard to make sure our kids have the good things that we didn't; but remember to make sure they have the good things that we did too."

  3. Personally I think that once we have have reached a level of stability in our professions, it's easy to forget the anxiety and competitiveness which accompany our undergrad years. No doubt you cared greatly about your torah learning and your GPA in an environment where time had to be used with great precision. In establishing your future career and personality, both of those certainly take precedence over becoming more cultured in chachma yevanis no? Granted you may feel wistful for not having done more, but if you had to do it again with the same level of intelligence, efficiency, and uncertainty about your future that you had then would you really risk compromising your GPA to take the harder more interesting courses, thereby diminishing your time to excel in all your other courses and in Torah?

  4. R' Joshua-

    I hear.

    Anonymous 12:48 PM-
    As odd as this may sound, I don't remember being concerned about GPA. I do remember being concerned about finishing soon, though, and therefore I took courses that fit my major and its requirements, leaving no room for anything else.

  5. At the conclusion of the shloshim for
    Rabbi Dr. Maurice (Moshe) Wohlgelernter ("The Reb") Z"L,
    there will be an azkara on July 22, 15 Menachem Av,
    at the Yeshiva University in Israel Campus,
    40 Dudevani, Bayit Vegan, at 7:00 PM

    For additional information call: (052) 940-1620