One day during a Shiur, MLB. ‘hinted’ to us that the building we were in wasn't suited for such a Chushiveh Mukom Torah like ours, and if only we could make this one burn down, we could collect on the insurance policy…
We immediately started making plans to burn the building down. It started out as an open secret, that only our class knew about, but eventually everybody was in on it. MLB helped with planning the job, and made sure we didn't make it look like an arson. The plan was to disconnect the oven from the gas line, and leave the pipe open over the Channukah vacation, meanwhile we lit a yartzeit candle in a far corner of the room… The Sifrei Torah ‘should be’ secure because they were in a safe at the opposite end of the building, but the rest of the seforim would have to be collateral damage if we wanted to get away with it.
Before I go on, I have to point out that the building we inhabited had been a shul for many years, and MLB had only bought it a few years before. Part of the deal was that the congregation - which mostly used it on Shabbos and Yom Tov - let us use their siddurim, seforim, and sifrei torah, all week, but it still belonged to them…
L’Kavod Channukah we got released on thursday afternoon - instead of the usual friday afternoon, and we sprang into action. We filled several trash bags with “the important stuff” we didn't want to lose, and hid it behind the Viznitz girls school (why specifically there - I’ll never know). We set up our sophisticated Jewish lightening rig, and ran home.
Sunday morning came, and the building was still there! Our master plan hadn't worked. The candle had gone out, and all we were left with was a building that smelled so bad, we had to stay out of the top floor for days.
We had to rethink our methods,so we decided to go with the old faithful boiler. A little while later, the Yeshivah put on a Melaveh Malkah as a fund raiser in Yeshiva Spring Valley which is just a few hundred yards down the street from our building.
This time we came prepared, we had two-way radios, spotters, and scouts. We laid out a haphazard-looking row of towels from the boiler to a wooden table, and then dropped some paper towels into the pilot. We waited till we saw flames, and then left the building.
We went across the street to the Bais Dovid parking lot, and watched. This time it worked. It didn't take long for flames to start shooting out of the windows. Eventually the sirens started, and the fire department showed up. The fire wasn't that big, and it didn't take them too long to put it out, but we weren't satisfied. We waited for hours till everyone was gone, and snuck back into the building, and lit it on fire again! We again waited till we saw substantial flames, and then went home. Early the next morning I ran as fast as I could to the Yeshiva building, and sure enough, it was destroyed. Part of the roof had caved in, and the inside was completely burnt out.
Long story short, MLB and company got away with it. We went on Galus for a while, roaming from shul to shul, but when the money finally came in he bought a house, and (illegally) converted it into a Yeshiva building. We had all the amenities, indoor mikvah, beis hamedrash, dorm rooms, big kitchen, and dining room. Once in a while we had to hide the fact that we had converted a residence to a school, if the ‘suits’ showed up we’d rearrange rooms, and hide half the kids. But we obviously did a good job, because he was never caught.
One day the boys were assigned chavruses (studying partners). R. Goldbrener and R. Blum paired me up with this kid, I didn't want to study with, so I told them that I would like to learn with someone else. The response was NO you have to learn with him. I argued back, of course, and R. Goldbrener took me into a nearby room and slapped me once, then he asked me "are you gonna partner up with that kid, yes or no?" so my answer was "no", so he slapped me again, this went on for a while (maybe 15-20 minutes) as he kept on asking "yes or no?" and my answer constant "no". (Wasn't he giving me a choice by asking me yes or no? I answered his question!) The beating got harder and more violent, (the entire time I was thinking, if only R. Blum would find out what R. Goldbrener is doing to me, he would get in trouble from R. Blum) so after about 15-20 minutes R. Blum came into the room and asked R. Goldbrener if I already answered and he responded that "no he didn't" so then came the worst; two adults started beating on me. After another ten minutes of two adults beating on me, I of course answered yes and they stopped. Later on, R. Goldbrener told me that I was a stubborn child & he would knock it out of me, but little did he know that he ruined me for life and I'm now more stubborn than ever.
Shortly after I turned thirteen, my parents sent me to a "sleep-away" yeshiva located in Monsey, where we lived. By the afternoon of the first day, I was calling home in tears, begging my mother to come get me. In trying to describe the physical and emotional abuse that went on there, I'm doing the place a disservice. Beatings were so normal a sight, they were ignored by other students. Rebbeim bragged about how much they intimidated us, and kids walked around with bruises, welts and all sorts of marks.
Besides the physical abuse, there was the mental pressure put on us, every second of every day was controlled, starting with waking up at the crack of dawn, to the fifteen minutes we had to run to the mikvah, haul ourselves back and be seated at our spot, (Heaven help you if you were seconds late) to laying down on the left side and waking up on the right. Not tolerated were: laughing, talking about anything aside from what we were studying, contact with the outside world, no food or snacks outside of the three meals served to us (fifteen minutes per meal, no talking), no personal books, tape players, etc.
When I say beating, I'm not referring to a little slap or even a backhand to the head. I'm talking about all out, go for broke: fists, elbow, sticks, anything handy were all fair game. I've seen coffee jars used as weapons, heads slammed through drywall, chairs and trash cans thrown - all in one session!
I could fill a book with all the stories that happened to me and other bochurim. It got to the point where we were immune to the beatings and we bragged about how badly we got hit that day. I even remember thinking to myself one day that today was the first time an entire day had gone by without begin hit once. That day was one and a half years into my time there.
My parents, being naive, as so many parents are, believed that anyone with the title Rebbe, Rosh Yeshiva or Menahel could do no wrong. No matter what I said to them, the answer was the same, "He's a Rosh Yeshiva, he must know what he's doing".
I eventually gave up trying to convince my parents to remove me. After I left the yeshiva, I made a conscious effort to forget and get over my experiences there and to a large extent, I was successful. I moved on, for the most part blocking the whole thing out of my head, but certain things wouldn't go away. to this day, I never sit with my back to the room. I get jumpy and easily startled and I flinch when people "high five or back slap" me. I avoid talking about the whole experience because when I do, I get physically ill (as I am typing this, my heart is pounding and my hands are shaking).
I don't know how many of you know the difference between a 6 slice yarmulke (kippa) and a 4 slice, but that R. Blum sure does know the difference. One fine afternoon it all seemed to be going well, I went into town and bought a new yarmulke. I went from a 6 slice to a 4 slice (one difference is that the 6 slice was soft & the 4 was more stiff) I threw out the 6 slice and I rolled into yeshiva with my new 4 slice yarmulke. I didn't pay much attention to my new yarmulke, just that it was more comfortable on my head. All of a sudden R. Blum comes up to me and tells me to get rid of the 4 slice yarmulke and wear the 6 slice. I explained to him that I like this one and that I threw away the other, then R. Blum took my yarmulke off my head and left me with nothing on my head, so I was like if the so called rabbi can remove my kippa and if I'm doing a sin, it's on his responsibility. Then the he started pounding my head with his fingers and he kept on saying "put on a yarmulke put on a yarmulke" and I was like, "so give me back mine", but he refused. Then while his hand is knocking on my head, I put my head down on the table (like taking a nap) and the pounding got stronger and harder. Then he asked one of the boys for a blade, and he cut my yarmulke in to 4 pieces and there was my yarmulke all cut up and I'm not wearing any, that made him even more angry because I kept on asking and I was upset that my yarmulke was cut, so the pounding continued until it got real ugly. He threw me on the floor and started kicking my head (it looked like he was playing soccer with my head as the ball). I can tell you one thing, I was beaten..... I don't even remember the end of the story. I just know that I'm still alive to tell the story and nowadays I proudly wear only 4 slice yarmulkes. It did leave a trauma because I wouldn't change that style for anything. It goes so far that my daughter once came home and said that her friends were making fun of her that her dad is wearing a 4 slice yarmulke. My wife gave me that look like she would appreciate if I would change it, & I explained to her that I suffered so much for that yarmulke, even nearly lost my life over it, and I hope she understands, she did understand. And that's where this story ends. May they never have a peaceful day.
This weekend I saw an invitation for a Tea Party for a yeshiva in Monsey. After reading it thru, I noticed something that all of a sudden started heating my blood and I felt my pressure rising. The trigger was a name on there: "Shimon Goldbrener". After reading that, I started having flashbacks from back in the day when I went to the yeshiva of Moshe Lazer Blum & Shimon Goldbrener. At the same time, the left side of my neck was killing me and that got my blood pumping even more. I started remembering what had happened in that school, I don't think about it every day and can even go by years that I don't think of it, but at that moment it hit. The story with the hurting shoulder/neck/back was as follows: (when I do think about that man, I will never forget the details on the story and nor will the kids that watched it either) On May of 1994 there was a ceremony in Brooklyn and I wanted to attend, so being that the yeshiva was in Rockland County, I asked the administration (Rabbis Blum and Goldbrener) if I could go tomorrow to Brooklyn and they said yes. Next morning came and I woke up a bit late, I rushed to mikvah and then rushed into shul. They were already in middle of davening (basically, I was late) so after davening, one of those two came up to me and said to me that I cannot go to Brooklyn because I arrived late to prayers. I tried arguing that we didn't make any kind of deal like that and that he can't stop me from going but it still didn't help and he said no you can't go. Later after breakfast and just about walking into class, R. Goldbrener told me that he would allow me to go but on one condition; he will give me 50 punches on my shoulder and back and after that I can go (mind you this guy was about 250 lb and I was a little 13 year old, maybe 125 lbs tops). And me wanting to be a hero said no problem it's a deal. Having all students sitting around one big table (a few tables put together, about 15-20 kids) he started punching one after another. I was sitting next to him on his right side & my left shoulder was his punching bag, as he kept going one after the other, and the students counted with him, 21, 22, 23 and so on. When it came to 33, the students counted that # twice. I was like "that's not fair" but my screams were disregarded. When it came to 49 the guy stopped and said that I cannot go because he didn't give me FIFTY punches. We argued and argued, he even at one point threatened me that if I don't stop arguing he would beat me up. At the end, the students stuck up for me and they said that when counting they counted one of the #s twice so that means that really it was 50 not 49, so I was granted permission to go. In Brooklyn, at the ceremony there were so many people and there was lots of pushing going on, and when people were pushing on me it hurt so bad that while the trip almost wasn't worth it, it was still worth it since I had gotten through that. This is only one of the many, many stories I myself had there, G-d is my witness that I'm not making this up.
R. Shimon Goldbrener is currently a Maagid Shiur in a Yeshivah, and R. Moshe Lazer Blum is currently opening a new Yeshivah. Would you send your kids to study under them?