Meir Yakov Zlotowitz (1943-2017) was born in New York to Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Poland. He showed an affinity for art from a young age, and after graduating from yeshiva (and receiving his rabbinic ordination), he co-founded ArtScroll Studios. Originally, the company produced artfully-decorated pamphlets, posters, ketubot, and scrolls. In 1975, a close friend of Rabbi Zlotowitz passed away shortly before Purim. The rabbi decided to honour his friend by composing a new translation and commentary on Megillat Esther within the shloshim, the first 30-day period of mourning. Rabbi Zlotowitz worked day and night for 30 days, barely eating or sleeping at all. When he was done, he produced a beautifully-designed and intellectually in-depth edition of the Book of Esther. It was an instant hit, and quickly sold 20,000 copies. The success of the publication made Rabbi Zlotowitz realize he could do the same for other Jewish holy texts. He went in search of a partner who could work with him, and found the perfect person:
Rabbi Nosson Scherman
Nosson Scherman (b. 1935) was born in New Jersey to a traditional family and originally attended public school. He went to a Jewish after-school program and was inspired to go to yeshiva several years later. Scherman became a rabbi, first worked as a school teacher, and then became principal of Yeshiva Karlin Stolin. He wrote the introduction to Rabbi Zlotowitz’s Megillat Esther, then joined him full time at ArtScroll. The partners had little money and set up the Mesorah Heritage Foundation to help finance their work. Under their leadership and wisdom, ArtScroll has produced over 700 titles and some 2000 volumes, including possibly the world’s most popular Chumash, and the entire Talmud (a whopping 73-tome set). This Talmud was the product of over 70 scholars working together from all over the world, and for many it is the go-to version of Talmud today. It has allowed thousands of regular people to learn and love the Talmud, in clear English and with insightful commentaries. ArtScroll has been credited with revolutionizing Jewish study, and with helping to facilitate the massive baal teshuva movement in recent decades, inspiring the return of countless Jews to their faith and traditions. Despite being in his 80s, Scherman continues to helm ArtScroll, producing ever more beautiful and enlightening Jewish books.
In Memory of the Man Who Helped A Million People a Year
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Yechiel Eckstein (1951-2019) was born in Massachusetts and raised in Canada, where his father served as a rabbi in Ottawa. Eckstein studied at Yeshiva University, starting with its high school program, and all the way through to earning his Master’s and his rabbinic ordination. He also held a Ph.D from Columbia University. After several years working with the Anti-Defamation League, Rabbi Eckstein founded the Holyland Fellowship of Christians and Jews in 1983. The main aim of this organization was to raise funds to support impoverished Jews all over the world, especially in Israel and the Soviet Union. The organization also promoted and funded aliyah, took care of Holocaust survivors, and supported the IDF’s lone soldiers. Originally, nearly all of his donors were Jewish. However, within a decade he had raised a huge amount of support from American Christians. The organization, now known as the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) would go on to raise over $1.6 billion to help needy Jews in 58 countries. By 2003, it was the second largest charity operating in Israel, and some estimate it is the largest humanitarian organization in Israel today. In 2010, Eckstein was ranked among the Top 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America, and a few years later among the Top 50 Most Influential Jews in the world. IFCJ currently provides aid to over one million people each year, and has a base of 175 million donors. Rabbi Eckstein was known to be at the front lines of the work himself. He was an avid musician, and would often take his guitar with him on trips to play for kids and the elderly in camps and nursing homes. (In fact, he was once part of a Jewish band, and even recorded four albums of Hasidic music.) Eckstein was beloved by all those whom he met and assisted. It wasn’t only Jews who benefited from his work. Eckstein and the IFCJ also helped Arab Christians fleeing war-torn countries like Iraq, and supported Israel’s Christian minorities. He traveled to China to fight for the release of imprisoned pastors. He has been credited with being a major force in improving Jewish-Christian relations. He is also the author of eleven books, and his radio program had over 23 million listeners globally. Sadly, Rabbi Eckstein unexpectedly passed away last week from a heart attack. Russia’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, who worked closely with Eckstein, said of him that “He really cared for every single Jew. He had a special warmth, a warm heart, a special ability to feel someone else’s plight… We could have a discussion about a particular story, and he would break down crying. He wasn’t faking; that was the secret to his success—he really cared.”
Words of the Week
Where there is a soul, there cannot be a clock. – Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, the Kotzker Rebbe