How I Met Reb Yosef

Reb Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen,  Aviva & Brett
Reb Yosef meets my children.

How I Met My Reb Yosef

- Joy Krauthammer

I became a Hazon student of Reb Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen, zt'l, because my soul sister in the Old City, Ruth Fogelman, included his teachings most months in her Rosh Chodesh greetings. I loved reading them, was grateful, and thought, “Why should I get Reb Yosef second hand?” I was able to contact him in Jerusalem, the land he loved so much with all his heart. I became enamored with Reb Yosef's neshamah / soul and his beauty in writing; His effervescence in his being Jewish was addictive. He wanted so much for us to see through his eyes and heart, to love Torah, and know the history of the Holy Land, through its People. When my husband, z’l, died, Reb Yosef wanted me to move to Jerusalem, or at least LA’s Pico-Robertson, and guided me to an LA rabbi.

I would thank Reb Yosef for “putting up with me” because I am a Renewal Jew (not Chareidi Orthodox, as he was), and I know my own joyous and active faith-filled practices were not necessarily what he shared. I told Reb Yosef that I would find it difficult, if I visited, to davven in the upstairs balcony of his Bayit Vegan shul, the (Beit Medrash) HaGra Synagogue (with his beloved Rav Aryeh Leib Heiman, zt'l), where the services are not egalitarian. Reb Yosef's beloved Rav was niftar July 1, 2011, three months before Reb Yosef.

I explained to Reb Yosef, that we were both doing similar ‘work’. We both served G*d With Joy. "Ivdu Et Hashem B’Simcha" (Psalm 100.2)  (He loved to send me teachings on "joy". In Reb Yosef's zechut / merit, I will teach a class on "joy.")  Reb Yosef gave me permission to include his teachings in my own sites; and especially on holidays, I included them. I assured Reb Yosef that my being a “temple musician” in Los Angeles shuls was to inspire Jews to prayer and praise, and that "G*d was playing me". I told him what I was told, that some people “came to shul because of the music.” As a chareidi Jew, he remained 'politically correct' and didn’t respond with negative words. He did send Halachic answers to me. Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen, always seeing the good, did say, “Playing intuitively from her heart and soul, Joy's music is part of the universal song to the One Creator, Source of All Life."

Reb Yosef called me from Jerusalem this last January, to offer his condolences when singer, composer Debbie Friedman, z'l, died. Sometimes I totally forgot the ‘rule’ of Kol Eisha / no woman’s singing voice allowed to men, and I would sing to Reb Yosef, when leaving a message on his machine. I loved it when he sang and would record niggun or prayer and send it to me. I told him that he needed to archive these also in smaller bites, so his chevre / community could keep them. When his voice was stronger, I could tell when he was getting stronger from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome weakness, illness or surgery.

In doing similar ‘work’, one of my goals in Jewish life is sharing with chevre for over three decades, so much which is spiritually available, through my Joyous Chai Lights monthly newsletter. I include many of my wonderful Orthodox teachers, including Reb Yosef, so that my communities ranging from Renewal to neo-Orthodox may also learn and be inspired by them. I told Reb Yosef that we were rungs on the same ladder, but he had started higher when younger, being given opportunities, and climbed further up with his intense learning and dedication to the "Torah path".  His education is explained in his Feldheim book, The Universal Jew. (See cover below.) I had started my longed-for Jewish spiritual career later in life, having had no Jewish education as a child. (My assimilated secular family did celebrate Chanukah and have Pesach Seder.)  

Reb Yosef, in addition to answering my religious and spiritual questions, also gave me the references to learn more, so that I would not be dependent on him.  (And I have to remember that now in my grief, since his death two weeks ago tonight.)  I felt that Reb Yosef truly understood me/my soul, an artist, because of his own work in the field (which he was proud of), both with people in the ARTS, and Renewal Jews. I always e-mailed (or snail-mailed) my current art creations to Reb Yosef, which he appreciated, and he would send to me internet photos of nature’s beauty. I felt that I was giving Reb Yosef an outlet for himself to play.

Here is one response (which warms my heart) responding to my new photos illustrating an earlier poem I had written (a month before my husband, z’l, died). I loved it that Reb Yosef playfully colored his own words many times in purple, in green, or as a rainbow.

"From: Yosef,  Date: December 18, 2010
    The colors of your soul are beautiful, my dear sister.
    Shavua Tov!

It was a while before I learned from him about the NY outreach he had done in the 1970’s and 80’s.  It amazed me that he was working the same area, as I was, the East Village, but sadly at that time, four decades ago, our paths never crossed. I was teaching adult ceramics in an art school by Cooper Square, and Yosef (then, Jeff Oboler) was hanging out looking to inspire the unaffiliated-- 'hippies', I guess. (I was hanging out with Hare Krishnas and swamis.) I wish he would have found me then, because I so wanted to be Jewish, didn’t know how, and had no teacher. (My friends did not express, nor outwardly practice their Judaism.)

An Israeli man on my Queens College campus in the sixties, sold me Israeli delicate dangly silver earrings that I still own, and that was as close to being Jewish as I knew. (OK, somehow while in school, I was hired to teach art at a few Jewish Centers in Queens.) Around 1970, during my graduate work at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, I made it to Brooklyn with a stranger’s invite and address, probably for something called “Shabbat,” but by the time I arrived to the street with a friend, I thought, “How do I go into a stranger’s home?” and travelled immediately back to Queens.  (Sounds like one of the G*d stories 'sending life rafts', and people don’t recognize that help was indeed sent by G*d.) Around that time, this same holiday season, I did meet The Lubavitcher Rebbe; and also my husband to be, who was brought up Orthodox, but that did not mean that I was encouraged to love Judaism and find my place within. The irony is that Feminism brought me seriously into Judaism. 

Because Reb Yosef, z’l, passed over to his eternal home as we began the High Holidays with Slichot, inviting him into Sukkot is good. It may be too soon for him to be part of the ushpizin in a sukkah.  Sukkot is our joyous festival, known as "Season of our Rejoicing / Zeman Simchateinu. Reb Yosef loved to teach about joy, and he felt joy, in spite of his chronic incapacities, his weakness.

Sages say that four species of lulav and etrog symbolize types of Jews. Reb Yosef was like the heart-shaped etrog, one of the four species. The etrog gives both sustenance and has an aroma (unlike the other species). Our sages say the etrog represents the Jew who has Torah knowledge and also performs mitzvot. Reb Yosef studied every day, sharing his knowledge, wisdom, insight and instinct. Daily, Reb Yosef performed mitzvot. I know as a recipient, because of his teaching and guidance whenever I requested it or not. Reb Yosef strongly advised me not to explore my past lives, which I had been examining. It is enough to live today, he said. Because of Reb Yosef's humility, he would never let it be known what kindness he did for others, and I'm sure it was regularly.

Reb Yosef signed his correspondence, "Yosef". With respect, I always called him “Reb Yosef”, because he was my beloved rebbe. It is my responsibility now to continue to share Torah in his light, in his zechut / merit. I already have four different Torah spiritual classes scheduled at American Jewish University (and more to propose), and I will prepare for them, and teach in his memory. I increase my own daily Torah learning in the zechut of Reb Yosef.

Reb Yosef LOVEd (I keep needing to correct my ‘present’ tense to past tense.) being Jewish and that was contagious.  I learned so very much from Reb Yosef’s Torah-filled Hazon “Letters”, and felt inspired and uplifted by them.  For Reb Yosef it was important to “feel strengthened,” and I loved it when he said that my art and news made him feel that way. Reb Yosef directed me to where my first poetry could get submitted, and to a friend who might review my poetry. He was right.  Reb Yosef had a love for poetry, and I loved it when he could also include quotes from non-Jewish poets, i.e. Rabindranath Tagore, 1861-1941.

I was mostly careful not to write anything to Reb Yosef that would make him feel other than strong. I tried to constrain myself and not write about conflicts between Orthodoxy and non-Orthodoxy, or Orthodoxy and women. As a feminist and Renewal Jew, there are some tough issues for me in Jewish life. Reb Yosef was also sensitive about these political and religious issues, and I know he didn’t want to lose me as his “sister,” so he too, carefully answered my cries. He was sad, he shared with me, that he had ‘lost’ former Renewal friends (from the time he was known as Jeff Oboler), due to their religious differences. That was painful for him. In retrospect, I think that I became a partial tikkun, a rectification for that sadness and loss in his life.

Sometimes Reb Yosef used me as a messenger / shaliach, to share his message with individuals, without people knowing that the issues I raised had come from his concerns. At times, I sent musicians who had made aliyah, to Reb Yosef to play for him at home, knowing he was mostly house-bound. It made me sad knowing that he could not go out to spiritual celebrations, so I wanted to bring music and joy to him. Reb Yosef was happy when I joyously sent strangers, messengers to surprise him in Jerusalem with my Shalach Manot / food gift packages for Purim.

I shared Reb Yosef with my friends; when they had a Jewish question or concern I couldn't answer, I sent them to Reb Yosef, and he responded. Reb Yosef felt joy for all the successes of his students. He encouraged friends that I sent to him: the Persian poet, the Askenaz playwright, the converts... The friends sent to Reb Yosef are filled with gratitude for all he shared with them. All I hear now is how caring, encouraging, thoughtful and sensitive he has been to my friends, understanding them, their neshamahs, and their creative work-- in his correspondence to them.  Years ago, I heard from (a former classmate) one young African American convert to Judaism, that in Israel, Reb Yosef had “saved” his life.

Sometimes Reb Yosef would send to me his e-letters he'd written to others, to forward to them, because his mail to them was not going through. I made sure never to read what I was forwarding. That's how I learned who students were, unless they told me themselves. Yosef was humble, and never mentioned students, or how many, or how he made a difference in their lives. He never said how prolific a writer he was, but I discovered his writing in sites all over the internet. A couple times, it was a great surprise and felt so good, when he dedicated to me, his student, his beautiful and meaningful published Hazon Letters.

I think Reb Yosef also needed to 'save' me, when my husband died, and I was deeply grieving. He’d send me 'preview' copies of his regular “Letters,” and ask me to proof them. Reb Yosef’s teaching Letters were mostly 100% perfect with no typos, but on rare occasion I’d see something (like a 'needle in a haystack') and carefully let him know, knowing that he would archive his writings. I think he 'planted' some typos for me, to give me something to do, to feel needed when I lost my caregiving job, to know that I was helping him. I told him that his guise was similar to when, over fifty years earlier, I helped my dad, z’l, with the house gardening chores, and would find a (clean) dollar bill under the dirt. That gesture was so loving.

The most loving thing that I could do for Reb Yosef, was to send my kids to see him, when they visited Israel last year. They loved also meeting his adored birds which he had adoped. They said Reb Yosef was “cute and sweet,” and he stated, “Aviva and Brett were wonderful.” Since I was his “spiritual child”, are Aviva and Brett his ‘spiritual grandchildren’? Reb Yosef has left no blood heirs. It is up to us, to keep his light alive.

It is only because two weeks have now passed since September 25, 2011, at night 27 Elul 5771, and my tears have lessened from the raging flood, that I can share some personal thoughts. A week ago, I was too in shock, stunned, confused, and feeling guilt. Had I done all that I could have done as his student and "sister"?

Family Yahrzeits
As the days go on, I must believe and accept that Reb Yosef is no longer here guiding me (on this earth).  I console myself that Reb Yosef is now with his:
beloved mother, Adeline Oboler (Tall/Talesnick), Udel bas Yosef, z'l, 24 Adar 1, and 
beloved father, Seymour Oboler, Shlomo ben Avraham, z'l, 2 Tevet, Chanukah 8th day, and
beloved sister, Dorothy Oboler, Alta Chaya, Yocheved Devora bas Shlomo v'Udel, z’l, 17 Av, and his beloved rebbe Heyman, z’l, who preceded him to Heaven by three months.
Reb Yosef, for each annual yahrzeit, offered teachings sent to us in their zechut.

I console myself that Reb Yosef is no longer suffering from his illness that greatly restricted him, and he is free to be, unencumbered. I console myself that he is no longer feeling empathic pain for others in pain. I console myself that Reb Yosef no longer knows the international political news and terrorism that ravages Israel. I console myself knowing that at intervals, and now for some time, that writing-- Reb Yosef’s work and for him, contained in his life mission, was too great a challenge, and now he is relieved. I console myself that Reb Yosef must hate being dependent on others when he is not well, and needing help in many ways. I console myself that Reb Yosef is entering the inner gates of heaven, close to The Compassionate One, and singing with the angels.  I console myself believing that Reb Yosef is helping to prepare the path for the arrival of Messianic days, which he believed are soon to arrive. I console myself knowing that Reb Yosef reached his goals and life mission, filled with chesed.

Reb Yosef, I know, is looking at us from Shamayim, and sending love. I don't want him to feel my sadness. Four years ago, when my beloved Jerusalem rebbe, David Zeller, z'l, died, I created a card, "Memory Flame", to comfort those grieving, and sent Reb Yosef a few cards so that he could share them with those in mourning. Memory Flame is visible for you in another post. Now I need the card to remind myself that I can still commune with Reb Yosef. (Do you hear me, Reb Yosef? I love you.) I am grateful for the years that I had the blessing to finally know, and have Reb Yosef in my life 'first hand' and to receive his Priestly/Kohan blesSings. I wanted to know Reb Yosef more than "second hand", and I have been mamash blessed to be inspired and uplifted by Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen, the qualities that were so important to my beloved passionate Chareidi Jerusalem rebbe.

Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011. Day after Yom Kippur, and I said Kaddish for Reb Yosef, zt'l, gave tzadakah, studied Torah even more, and did mitzvot in his name, i'ilui neshimat /  for the sake of his soul's elevation.

Reb Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen, zt'l     
 27 Elul, 5771 (September 25, 2011)

As Reb Yosef wrote for his beloved family:
"May his soul be bound in the Bond of Eternal Life together with the souls of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov; Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah; and together with the other righteous men and women in the Garden of Eden." (From the Yizkor prayer)

~ ~ ~

“My Firstborn Child” – 82
Your Unique Portion in Torah:

This letter is dedicated to the memory of my father and teacher, Shlomo Ben Avraham Hakohen. His yahrtzeit – the anniversary of his passing – is on this Shabbos, the 2nd of Teves and the eighth day of Chanukah.
~ ~ ~ 

Reb Yosef wrote to me when a friend died:
"The ultimate reunion with our loved ones will be in this world - in the World to Come on this earth.  Thus the dust returns to the earth, as it was, and the spirit returns to the Just One Who gave it." (Ecclesiastes 12:7) - "When the human soul leaves the body, it returns to its Divine Source." (Commentary of Metzudas David).
~ ~ ~

From: Yosef <>
Date: December 7, 2006 12:10:40 AM PST
To: joy@
Subject: Re: sadness, "Holistic" Approach of the Chofetz Chaim

Dear Joy,
The Hebrew word levaya means "the escorting." The "funeral" is known in Hebrew as the levaya - the escorting of the soul on her journey to the next world.
After the levaya, we begin the custom of saying to him and his family: HaMakom yenachem eschem b'soch sh'ar aveilei Tzion V'Y'erushalayim -  May the All Present One comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
May they indeed be comforted, along with all the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem.
Shalom Rav,
~ ~ ~

Reb Yosef, # 70

I am not surprised, it is gevaldtbeshert, because Reb Yosef knew I loved G*d's holiest #7 (and he would send Torah sevens and seventies to me), that this very blog I've created for Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen -- is my 70th blog!  This feels mamash, really good to me. Halleluyah! 

My offical 'log in' to my blogs reads: 
"JOY Krauthammer, MBA  Manage Blogs"  (70 total)

In Reb Yosef's memory in his zechut, I am teaching a class on G*d's Holy # 7 
on Dec. 11, 2011, as well as two other classes on Miriyahm HaNeviah and Count the Omer, at American Jewish University on March 11 and March 18, 2012. 

~ ~ ~

Daily Dose
by Rabbi Schneerson, Lubavitch Rebbe (and Rabbi Tzvi Freeman)

The true teacher is most present in his absence.

It is then that all he has taught takes root, grows and blossoms.

The student despairs for his teacher’s guidance, and in that yearning, the teacher’s work bears fruit.

Please see ARCHIVES  (lower left) 

and OLDER POSTS  (on lower right)


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Joy Krauthammer