12 Jan REMEMBERING RABBI YEHUDA KELEMER ZT”L
After watching the funeral of Rav Yehuda Kelemer, zt”l, much of what was said is reflected in my own relationship with him. I am a YU musmach, so often when I had a difficult question or issue in my community, I would consult one of my Poskim from YU. However, I would consult Rabbi Kelemer in certain unique situations. As an aside, a very well-known Rabbinic leader and mentor once told me that whenever he had a difficult question, he would specifically ask Rabbi Kelemer for guidance. Rabbi Kelemer was a fiercely independent thinker who never had to look over his shoulder in paskening she’elot, and his halachic rulings always were based on tremendous sensitivity to the individual and a sense of realism. On a number of occasions, he would tell me that I can rule a certain way which might be technically correct, but since it’s going to threaten the peace of the community, it might be better not to rule that way. I remember him telling me once that he thought that ruling a certain way might be technically correct, but it might very likely cause problems for me in the longterm. His rulings were also based on the midah of being “dan l’kaf zechut,” on judging others favorably. If I told him that a certain Rav paskened a certain way, then his tendency would be to say, “How can we publicly discredit this individual? He’s a good person, a yerai shamayim.” My sense is that whereas other Rabbanim as prominent as (and less prominent than) Rabbi Kelemer probably make many public statements to protest certain behavior, Rabbi Kelemer generally did not do that. Rabbi Kelemer tried to effectuate change quietly. For Rabbi Kelemer, achdut and shalom were the number one priority. His stories of chesed are legendary. Here is but one example. A shul member was sitting shiva in Chicago. Apparently, in general, Rabbi Kelemer didn’t fly on a plane, so he took a train to Chicago to sit shiva with the person. One of his children remarked at the funeral that if you want to give kavod to Rabbi Kelemer, then everyone should recognize his or her own greatness. I understand why this is so. Rabbi Kelemer felt that way about and conveyed this feeling to whomever he met. I have had a few occasions to give divrei Torah at the Young Israel of West Hempstead, some during the annual Chevra Kadisha dinner. Whenever he was in the audience listening to my dvar Torah, he would always call me afterwards and go on and on about how beautiful my dvar Torah was. This was not a reflection of the content of the dvar Torah; rather, it was simply because he made everyone feel like a million dollars. We had a few occasions over the years to discuss communal issues that affected both West Hempstead and Oceanside, and in these discussions he talked to me as an equal and was very interested in my opinion, despite the fact that he was head and shoulders above me in leadership skills, wisdom and knowledge of Shas and poskim. He made me feel comfortable to express a different opinion about any given issue, because he truly saw the greatness in everyone. Throughout the funeral, different people remarked that he was similar to a malach Hashem tzevakot. I think that the reason why he was similar to an angel is that he truly treated everyone like an angel. Yehi zichro baruch.