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The Good Old Days

 I have noticed that as I become older and older, the good old days become ‘gooder and gooder.’ Now naturally we are all victims of selective memory and warm nostalgia, nevertheless as I have just returned from a family wedding in the United States, I am definitely under the impression that the good old days of American society were surely better than the current state of political and societal turmoil that now afflicts the country. Where all of this will end, if it does end at all, is shrouded in the mystery of future events.

There is no question that the Jewish community is besieged by danger and insecurity. When I was younger there was always anti-Semitism in America but it was genteel and non-violent. It meant not being able to attend elite universities or not attaining a high position in a Fortune-500 company. But on the whole, life was pleasant, opportunities for career and financial advancement existed and Jewish society grew and thrived. That feeling of security and opportunity has waned in the face of the changing demographics and social agenda advanced by current large sections of American society. It is not a happy time for Jewish America.
At the wedding that I attended an elderly gentleman approached me, addressed me by my first name and warmly embraced me. Because of my imperfect eyesight and the fact that I had not seen him for over forty years, I did not immediately know whom I was talking to.   However, as he continued to talk to me, I recognized his voice if not his appearance. He was an old classmate of mine in the Chicago yeshiva in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He came from a small Jewish community and from a traditional but not completely observant Jewish family. 
In today’s modern yeshiva world he would find great difficulty being accepted in a major yeshiva in Israel or in the United States. He had a relatively poor Jewish educational background and certainly would have to struggle initially in order to maintain relevance in our class. But in the good old days, he was accepted and nurtured both by the faculty, by his friends and peers, and over the years developed into a Torah scholar of note and erudition. In fact he went on to head a number of yeshivot in the US and was the teacher of Torah to many hundreds, if not thousands, over the decades of his career. He is now retired from active teaching and yeshiva administration but he still has within him a freshness and warmth of the good old days when I first knew him 70 years ago.
I was greatly touched by his act of friendship in coming over to talk to me and allowing two old men reminiscences of youth and the good old days. The bonds of friendship acquired by the commonalities of yeshiva life are never dissolved by the passage of time and events: in the world of the yeshiva, once a friend and fellow student, always a friend and a fellow student.
We both remarked how those years in the yeshiva were the golden years of our lives. Society somehow falsely designates our later years as being the golden age of our lifetime. But all of us who live in that golden era of old age are well aware that the gold is tarnished. The true golden era was that of our youth and especially of the days in yeshiva. Naturally since youth is wasted on the young, we did not appreciate the greatness of our teachers, the holiness of our environment and the lifelong advantages and skills being bestowed upon us. Bu to my friend and I, we certainly reveled in the memory of the good old days.
I imagine that this is a common feeling amongst members of my generation - a generation that is beginning to fade from the scene. But I am very proud that my generation helped rebuild a destroyed Jewish world and made many contributions to strengthen the chain of eternity that is the real story of Jewish existence. Sometimes it takes a random of chance occurrence / meeting someone whom you have not seen for decades and being able to remember with him events of the good old days – in order to put life and years into a true perspective. As far as I am concerned, the good old days were really that and therefore I cherish the memory and perspective that those days enriched me with.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein

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