By: Shmuel Shayowitz
I learned of this remarkable story from Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, senior rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue in Florida. In 1959, the Hebrew Academy of Miami was under dire financial strain. The Board of Directors reluctantly introduced a drastic new policy: For parents who didn’t pay tuition in full, their child could no longer attend the school.
One family affected by this directive sadly told their young boy, Billy, that he would need to leave the school immediately. The child was heartbroken. He loved the Academy and was especially enjoying his Torah studies.
The very mature young man courageously wrote the following handwritten letter to the dean, Rabbi Alexander (Sender) Gross:
“Dear Rabbi Gross, I would very much like to go to the Academy, but even though I cannot, I do not hold anything against you or the board. I believe that if God wanted me to go to the Academy, everything would have been arranged so I could’ve gone. If God wants me to be a Rabbi, I will be, and if not, I won’t. Whatever God has planned for me to be, I will follow faithfully without asking questions or being disappointed.”
Rabbi Gross was highly moved by this letter. He anxiously shared it with the board members and its executive committee at the next meeting. After much debate and deliberation, the boy was allowed back into the Academy. He stayed through eighth grade and became the class valedictorian. He continued his studies in the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland and became an accomplished and renowned Torah scholar.
The young boy who wrote the letter was Rabbi Zev (then known as Billy) Leff. From that day on, Rabbi Gross carried the letter from young Billy in his wallet. It was with him wherever he went and drew much strength from it. Today, many know Rabbi Zev Leff as a prominent rabbinic authority and a famed Jewish author who has impacted countless lives.
Rabbi Goldberg continued: Many know that part of the story; What is much less well-known is that while Rav Leff’s letter moved the board of the Academy, he could stay in school only because Rabbi Gross took it upon himself to pay the tuition personally. No one ever knew that.
When he passed away, Rabbi Gross’ family was looking through his desk and found a folder that said: “my children” (in Yiddish) written on the outside. It was a list of all the children he privately paid tuition for so they could stay in the Academy and not end up in public school.
The story gave me goosebumps. Given the tumultuous market that we have experienced for much of 2022, there is much to take away from the above narrative. It is an excellent reminder of how we need to lead our lives with financial realities that must be coupled with heartfelt prayers and faith.
Life is expensive. On a daily basis, we are faced with grave decisions about expenses we need to manage and purchases we want to make. With prayers, faith and proactive fiscal guidance and planning, we will, God willing, be able to endure it all.
Shmuel Shayowitz (NMLS#19871) is President and Chief Lending Officer at Approved Funding, a privately held local mortgage banker and direct lender. Approved Funding is a mortgage company offering competitive interest rates as well as specialty niche programs on all types of Residential and Commercial properties. Shmuel has over 20 years of industry experience, including licenses and certifications as a certified mortgage underwriter, residential review appraiser, licensed real estate agent, and direct FHA specialized underwriter. He can be reached via email at Shmuel@approvedfunding.com.
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