My father came from a Lithuanian – that is, non-chasidic – background. He was born in England but was educated at the Mir Yeshiva in Russia, where he received rabbinic ordination. Upon returning to England, he worked as a communal rabbi in Manchester and in Glasgow, finally setting up a Jewish school of his own about fifty miles west of London.
This school was called Carmel College, and it was a Jewish high school for boys, the aim of which was to combine the best of a yeshivah education with the best of a secular education.
At the time, the top high schools in England were Eton and Harrow, and most upwardly-mobile Jews in England felt that, if their children didn’t go to these schools, they wouldn’t be able to make it in English society. However, my father saw that Jewish children were losing their connection to Judaism in these schools, so he sought to offer an alternative. He wanted to establish a rival school that would not only offer the very best in secular education but also the very best in Jewish studies.
Early on, Carmel College did attract some exceptional pupils who helped it establish a phenomenal academic reputation, but the majority of the students came there because they hadn’t been able to get into the top English schools, and this was the next best thing. They were not religious and not interested in a religious education, an attitude which was not aided by their non-religious parents.
I myself attended Carmel College as a youngster but, at age 16, I was sent to yeshivah in Israel. While there, in 1961, I received a call with the terrible news that my father was gravely ill with leukemia, and I rushed home. Upon return, I found him dramatically changed – he was wearing chasidic garb, and I learned that he had recently been to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe in New York.
When we had a chance to talk about it, my father told me about this visit and the great impression it made on him. He said he told the Rebbe that he wanted to be a chasid, but the Rebbe, praising his work with Carmel College, said, “I don’t want you to be my disciple, I want you to be my partner.”
Why did my father make such a dramatic turn at the end of his life? He said that he came to the conclusion that the Chabad Movement had been most successful in bringing the concept of Ahavat Yisrael – love among Jews – to the forefront of Jewish thought.
After my father passed away, I enrolled at Cambridge University, where I majored in philosophy but, when I finished my studies, I decided I wanted to be ordained as a rabbi, so I returned to Israel, this time attending the Mir, the same yeshiva that had ordained my father in Russia. (more…)