General Joe Klein: A Reb Shlomo Story
This is a story which I heard from Reb Shlomo zt"l, which he heard many times from his father Reb Naftali Carlebach zt"l.
"This General Klein looks like that wild boy I used to teach back in Vienna, I wonder if it is he." After the morning services were over Rabbi Naftali Carlebach zt"l, Reb Shlomo's father, was looking at the NY Times while having a cup of coffee. There on the front page was a picture of General McArthur and next to him were some of the generals who worked with him. One of them, Joe Klein, was McArthur's top assistant. The announcement said that a WWII victory parade was going to be held later that morning and that General McArthur and his staff would be participating. The article mentioned that in the evening the Generals were going to be honoured at a banquet in one of New York's finest hotels. As Reb Naftali looked carefully at the picture he got very excited and said to his wife, "I'm sure it's him, I must get in touch with him." Rabbi Carlebach decided to send General Klein a telegram, to congratulate him and just in case he was indeed his former student would he please give him a call and possibly come by for a visit.
Years earlier when Reb Naftali was still a young Rabbinical student in Austria, he had received an invitation to come and teach a group of 12 year old boys at one of the local synagogue afternoon schools. The Principal informed him that this was a group of difficult boys and that they had already managed to drive away six teachers in the last six weeks. "I heard that you are a very talented young man, are you willing to try and learn with these boys?" Reb Naftali, decided to meet the class, even though he didn't have any experience yet. They were indeed a very difficult bunch and as it turned out the two wildest kids were actually descendants of one of the great Talmudic commentators. One of these two boys was General Joe Klein. Back then he was Yossele. Reb Naftali was a very brilliant, charismatic and loving teacher and very quickly he won over the hearts of the students. In particular the wildest of them became his top students. Yossele was the best of them and became very close to Reb Naftali. Together they learned many hours, Yossele was a brilliant boy. At the end of the school year Yossele told Reb Naftali that his family was moving to the USA and sadly he was here to say good-bye. Reb Naftali knew that he would miss Yossele very much. Before they parted Reb Naftali gave Yossele a gift of a pair of 'tzitzit'- the four cornered garment with fringes that Jewish men wear, usually under their shirts. He said to him, "Yossele, in America it is very difficult to remain an observant Jew, it is very difficult to keep Shabbos, but please promise me that you will always wear your tzitzis." Yossele said he would try his best.
The next morning at 8:00 am the doorbell rang. Reb naftali went down the long flight of stairs to open the door. Standing there before him was General Klein, crying! "Rebbe, Rebbe it's me, it's me Yossele." Reb Naftali embraced him with much love and joy. They went upstairs and spoek for a long time. Before leaving Yossele said, "Rebbe I have to tell you a story."
"You remember those tzitzis that you gave me many years ago before my family moved away? I want you to know that I have kept my promise and to this day I am still wearing those tzitzis. When the war started I joined the army and very quickly I was taken to be trained as first as an officer and went on to become a General. General McArthur invited me to be part of his team and I spent much of the war in his company. Just a few months ago, things were looking pretty bad and for over a month we were fighting what might have been a losing battle with the enemy. For over a month we were in bunkers, fighting for our lives, hoping to survive. We had no running water and survived on very meagre rations. Fortunately things turned around and we managed to make the enemy retreat. Our scouts found a bombed out hotel that had one remaining shower that still functioned. We hadn't taken a shower in weeks and there wasn't much time because we were still in danger. So we went in in groups. Being McArthur's right hand man, I went in to shower with him. When we were getting dressed, McArthur noticed my tzitzis for the first time.
"Hey Joe, what's that funny garment you're wearing?" I told him that these were tzitzis and that we wear them to remember G-d and His Commandments. I also told him that I was sure that the mitzvah of wearing tzitzis saved my life more than once during the war. McArthur said, "That's very interesting. I wish we had a special garment like you do. I wonder if my Chaplain is wearing tzitzis?"
The Chaplain accompanying McArthur's unit was a Reform Rabbi. News came that the enemy had retreated, in fact, they were running for their lives and wouldn't be back for a long time. Later that evening McArthur's group finally sat down for their first real meal, to celebrate their victory. They ate and even had some drinks; someone had managed to find a bottle of scotch or wine. as they relaxed a bit, McArthur called over the chaplain. "Rabbi," he said, "come sit down here for a moment. I heard that you Jews wear some kind of special garment called tzitzis, what's it all about?" The Rabbi said, "General McArthur, I'm ashamed to admit it, but a long time ago we Jews were quite primitive and even superstitious and we wore these outlandish garments with fringes attached to them. Nowadays, you won't find any modern sophisticated Jew wearing such garments, we're beyond that." "Really? Hey Joe come over here." I approached the general. "Joe, take off your shirt, now!" he ordered me. Everyone was watching as I took off my shirt, and there were my tzitzis for everyone to see. "Well Rabbi, look at this, my General Joe is wearing tzitzis!" McArthur gave the Rabbi a strong friendly slap on the back and said, "Rabbi, if Tzitzis are good enough for Joe, they're good enough for you. Go get yourself a pair!"
Reb Shlomo always chuckled when he would get to the end of the story. May we always wear our tzitzis with humble pride. Amen.