Baruch Dayan Ha'Emet

A fatherly figure of humanity and humility

Rest in peace Rabbi Apple, your memory is a blessing.

Photo: LinkedIn
Photo: LinkedIn

The Apple and Hammer families have a long history. My mother, Gael, knew Raymond from Melbourne’s Toorak Shule Sunday school in the 1940s. They were in contact only occasionally, but she was so pleased to learn that the Apple family were arriving from London for Raymond’s appointment as chief rabbi of the Sydney Great Synagogue in 1973. Raymond, Marian, with Simeon, Riva and Adina, followed by their Aussie baby Benseon, lived in Elizabeth Bay, in the same building as the chazan’s family, Yisroel and Rochel Gluck and their four sons. By a very happy chance, we moved to Elizabeth Bay a few years later, down the street from them.

The Apples and Glucks invited community families living nearby so that their children would have peers especially on Shabbat. I am the same age as Adina and my sister Viva is the same age as Riva. We also all went to school together which meant car sharing for the school run. The Garfinkel family, with Adam and Emma, lived nearby. Close bonds were created in those formative years. Rabbi Apple’s and Gluck’s weekly Saturday afternoon Oneg Shabbat at their homes, was a highlight of our week and many members of the congregation came regularly too, some walking long distances.

On Friday and festival evenings for the next decade, Rabbi Apple, Chazan Gluck, my father Joseph and sometimes Monte Garfinkel, with us children in tow, would walk to shule together. The children’s choir and youth groups made shule a fun place to be. The 40-minute walk each way was also our chance to giggle and gossip.

The route through Kings Cross and William Street, however, was not fun. Prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers and other undesirables were coming out as the sun was setting. Picture this: Four smartly dressed gentlemen, with three-piece suits, ties and fedoras followed closely by a group of three or four well-dressed young girls chatting cheerfully. I do not recall one Shabbat in all those years that the men were not propositioned. The contradistinction was palpable. This was far from the ideal environment for religious, conventional Jews to be growing up in and certainly not to be walking through. And yet, through all the years, we did.

In Jerusalem where a lot of us live now, I visited the Apple shiva house the week of Rabbi Apple’s passing. Adina and I laughed as we recalled those walks through the Cross. I think it taught us about restraint.

Kabbalistic writings mention that pulling back is its own mitzvah. Watching these elegant gentlemen purposefully walking to shule, deep in conversation, ignoring the women’s baiting and the riffraff of the Cross environment gives me pause today. To be sure, it was unpleasant for us, but I was not worried and neither were the other girls. We had the finest gentlemen keeping an eye out for our safety. It was their example of what was good and decent as they talked to each other seemingly oblivious of where we were and what was happening is the definition of a Jew. Their restraint represented what I aspire to be now, a modest Jew getting on with my life, despite some interference along the way: disregard the background noise and focus on the goals.

The Apples and Hammers remain inextricably linked. I am truly blessed to have them in my life. Our families are still friends into the next generation.

Rabbi Apple will be missed by so many. He was a fatherly figure for me and others whom he influenced in his quiet way. He did not attempt to change halachah when there were problems. Rather, he took each individual case and worked to change attitudes or circumstances according to the person asking the question, finding a direction that suited the person – the meaning of halachah. He looked people in the eye and saw them for who they were. His successes were crowned by the people whom he helped.

One of those individuals is his son-in-law Rav David Sperling who eulogised: “Had he still been in Sydney, he would have had a statesman’s funeral with the pomp and honour of the Great Synagogue’s rabbi emeritus. Elizabeth Street would have been closed off. Dignitaries and clergy people would have lined the street, as well as thousands of lay people whom he influenced in the 50-plus years since the family arrived in Sydney. Here in Jerusalem, Rabbi Apple had all his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and a few lay people pay him his last respects at a midnight funeral on Saturday night. All his hard work boiled down to family – and they are here.”

He will be remembered for his humanity and humility. Rest in peace Rabbi Apple, your memory is a blessing.

Rav Betzalel ben Chaim Yitzchak zt’l. Tania Hammer is an olah from Sydney who lives in Jerusalem.

read more: