Biography of Abraham Yanover

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk





     Abraham Yanover was the director of the Buffalo Bureau of Jewish Education from 1977 to 1987. During those years he made every effort possible to promote the interests of the Jewish community. In fact, he worked literally day and night at the most thankless job on earth.

     The life of Abe Yanover, who died in Florida in November of 2008, is a lesson to anyone who seeks to devote his life to the Jewish community, unless he does not depend on us for his livelihood or has the kind of devious political skill which is commonly associated with the word “politician” in American popular culture.

     Abe Yanover was born in Boston on October 2, 1924.  In 1942, when he was eighteen years old, he joined the U.S. Navy and served honorably until the end of the 2nd World War. He then used the benefits of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act or “The G.I. Bill of Rights” to enter the Boston Hebrew College, which was founded in 1921 and expanded thereafter until it became insolvent during the current economic crisis.

     During his years at the college, Abe met and married Ida, who was also a student there. On graduating, Abe earned a Master of Education degree from nearby Harvard University. Thus equipped, he and Ida moved to Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where he stayed for 26 years until incessant harassment caused him to come to Buffalo. The kind of harassment to which employees of the Jewish community are subject almost everywhere in the United States is generally promoted by a few individuals who believe that their financial contribution entitles them to insult, humiliate, and threaten those whose livelihood depends on the community.

     One such example among the many examples of the treatment of those who are employed by us is the following statement written by a congregational rabbi: “I have described some of the activities performed by a congregational rabbi. In all of these activities the rabbi often becomes the living embodiment of the Jewish community. Because of this, his congregation must exercise great care in the way they treat him and speak to him. To criticize the rabbi in the presence of children is to demean the only model of the Jewish heritage which many of them have. To publicly and frequently carp on his shortcomings, real and imagined , is to jeopardize the unity and stability of the community of which he is the prime mover. To treat the rabbi as the meanest of servants rather than as the spiritual leader is to show the Jewish and general communities our lack of regard for the tradition which he symbolized in their eyes.” (Pages 215-216 of American Judaism in Transition by Gerhard Falk).

     Innumerable other such statements are available from our educators and rabbis. It is therefore not surprising that after Abe Yanover spent ten years of his life in Buffalo he retired at the age of 62 on a small pension. Here too he was hounded by constant criticism on the part of those ambitious to deprive him of his job by those who don’t need the job nor the money but enjoy the sadistic satisfaction that comes from the suffering of others. On one occasion, Abe’s antagonists urged the board of the Bureau to dismiss him. Then a number of Jews testified for him and saved his job. Similar cruelties were inflicted on the late Rabbi Martin Goldberg, truly a Tzaddik (saint) among us. Although he had gone out of his way to help and serve others and did much for those who had no money and no power, he was dismissed by the board of his synagogue until members of his congregation intervened and reversed the dismissal.  His crime?  “He was too short and didn’t look good.”

     Abe Yanover lived twenty-three years in Greenacres, Florida. There his wife, Ida, earned the reputation of an angelic person. She goes out of her way to help others, volunteers incessantly, gives of the small income she has, and has made only friends. The whole community loves her. Nevertheless, as soon as Abe died, the congregation of which they were members for 23 years no longer wanted to know her. Rude, rejecting and dismissive, we treat widows like pariahs. This is by no means unusual. Here in Buffalo I was repeatedly told by Jewish widows that they became the targets of insult and humiliation as soon as their husbands were buried.

     Rabbis, fearing for their jobs, spawn praise all over the rich and ignore the poor. Congregational presidents and officers don’t even notice that there are poor Jews, while the employees of the Jewish community regret each day the decision of their youth.

     The lesson of Abe Yanover’s life is clear. DO NOT BECOME A JEWISH EDUCATOR. That lesson is evidently well known by all those who became professors of Judaism at Catholic and secular colleges as soon as these positions became available in the 1970’s. Yes, we do honor Jews who teach at universities. We even honor some rabbis.  But to be a melamed, a teacher among us, reminds us only of that oft repeated word: “It is good to be a rabbi (or teacher), but not among the Jews.”

     Rest in peace, Abe Yanover. We will not forget you.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Women & Social Change in America (2009).

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