Remembering Past-OU President Dr. Mendy Ganchrow, z”l

hero image
16 Feb 2022

We mourn the passing of Dr. Mandell I. Ganchrow, z”l, a former President of the Orthodox Union (1994-2000), Chairman of the Board of Directors (2000-2002) and longstanding OU Officer.

After retiring from a successful medical practice, Dr. Ganchrow chose to dedicate his life to klal work. Under his leadership, the OU founded its public policy arm, the OU Advocacy Center (formerly the Institute for Public Affairs) as well as the Ben Zakkai Honor Society Reception. Responding to growing assimilation among Israeli youth, he created programs of NCSY in Israel and the Seymour J. Abrams Jerusalem World Center, which today serves the diverse needs of Israelis of all ages. Dr. Ganchrow, who wrote several books on topics in Jewish life, was widely respected as a dynamic, energetic and charismatic leader and speaker.

The following is a foreword written by Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler zt”l — for Dr. Ganchrow’s autobiography, Journey Through the Minefields (Eshel Books, 2004 – available on Amazon):

Mendy Ganchrow’s Journey Through the Minefields is a mixed literary genre. It’s an engrossing historical record of major events in the life of the Jewish community as well as an autobiography of one who exemplifies the best of halachic Jewry.

As a loyal citizen, and skilled surgeon, Ganchrow devoted his skills to our soldiers in Vietnam, As a communal leader on the local and national stage, he dedicates his life to the service of Jewry in the United States, and to the remnant of the once majestic Jewish communities of the Soviet Empire.

The autobiographical vignettes depicting his tour of duty in Vietnam and his meetings with presidents and kings these last decades are an ode to the integrity, loyalty and devotion to Torah values of this Orthodox physician, tuned statesman and communal leader. His tireless efforts to foster “achdus,” a recognition of the “peoplehood” of all Jews who accept the authority of Torah Law, as recorded in the minutes of his meetings with the leadership of the major Orthodox organizations, are his love song to Hashem who crowned us with the title “Holy Nation.”

When Moses was instructed to construct the Tabernacle int eh desert he exclaimed in wonderment, can a nation of just freed slaves accomplish this task?

The G-d of Israel responded, “One Jew can do it by himself if he is so committed.” (Medrash Rabbah Shemos 33:8).

Dr. Mendy Ganchrow, shlit”a, in this history, provides the empiric evidence that indeed, one Jew can do it all, if he is fully committed to G-d, his Torah and his nation Israel.

The following is an except from Dr. Gancrhow’s “President’s Message” from the Summer 1997 issue of Jewish Action:

Needed: A Sense of Partnership

Two recent incidents have caused me to consider Orthodox Union’s relationship with its constituents. When Yasir Arafat convened an international meeting in Gaza and excluded Israel, I called Senator Daniel Moynihan’s office and requested that the senator issue a strong statement regarding the U.S. decision to attend the summit, which, in effect, would isolate Israel. To my shock, I learned that his office had received only one other call on this issue, from the executive director of AIPAC.

How could it be that in New York State, with so many Jewish “activists,” his office was not flooded with hundreds, if not thousands of calls, e-mails, telegrams? Could it be that people really didn’t care?

The second incident occurred that same week when a self-proclaimed “Jewish activist,” in the course
of urging people to get involved, decried the Jewish “establishment” as less than honest with its constituents and as prepared to compromise its principles for unprincipled reasons.

Each of these incidents underscores, to me, the chasm between the Jews who act and the community that, for the most part, merely reacts. How is it possible for us to evolve into a community of activists while quieting the sometimes shrill voices of alarmists?

I would suggest it boils down to volunteerism and partnership. Finding and maintaining a solid core
of committed volunteers has always been a problem for communal organizations. The larger the organization, or the further one travels from its headquarters, the more difficult it is to galvanize individuals for service. To be sure, part of the problem is the fact that as our organizations become more sophisticated, we demand more of our constituents than simply writing a check. To compound the challenge, interested volunteers may often feel disenfranchised or alienated from the larger, seemingly impersonal structure.

A sense of partnership is the lifeline of the Orthodox Union. While we depend on highly trained professionals who are experts in their fields, as a lay organization, we continuously search for the serious volunteers who will develop a working relationship with our professionals and help set the priorities in each department. Our lay leaders play a unique role. They and our professionals are truly partners. As our efforts to expand worldwide continue, we face the challenge of encouraging a growing membership to feel close to the action, as distance reinforces the belief that individuals cannot set, or influence, policies in an organization as large as ours. People who do not feel empowered to make a difference no longer believe in the system, often become cynical towards its leadership and may also feel that anything other than a substantial financial contribution is insignificant. This estrangement is often reinforced by the attacks of self-proclaimed activists and fringe groups.

Similarly, in areas of public policy, most people believe that their voice or opinion doesn’t count. I have spoken to many groups and asked audiences, “How often have you written to a senator or a congressman or the White House in the last year?” Often, fewer than four or five out of some 200 people raise their hands.

Even when we send out “action alerts” to our membership on serious issues regarding Israel or Torah Judaism, the response is less than overwhelming. Could it be that there is no support or interest? When Moshe Rabbeinu broke the tablets upon seeing the Golden Calf, he issued the clarion call “mi l’Hashem eilei,”’ (those who believe in the Almighty should join me), a call echoed centuries later by the Maccabees. We are told that as few as 30,000 Jews were involved in creating the Golden Calf, yet only the tribe of Levi joined Moshe. The Chidushei Harim asks, weren’t there others who believed in God and who were prepared to stand with Levi? He explains that the majority was against building the idol, but did not want to get involved. For the honor of the Almighty, only the tribe of Levi was prepared to stand up and do what was necessary. The remaining Jews did, in fact, agree with Levi, but mi l’Hashem eilei called to those who had hitlahavut — the enthusiasm, drive, feeling, spirituality and commitment to God and His Torah — that equaled the feeling and the passion of those who succumbed to the Golden Calf. This tendency not to get involved is still apparent today. Most American Jews did oppose the isolation of Israel at Arafat’s Gaza summit, but not with the fervor needed to make a call to Washington. Unfortunately, too many people feel that their actions do not make a difference.

Every democratic organization, no matter how large or self-sufficient, has room for interested people to get involved and move up the ranks to leadership positions. People who sincerely want to make a difference must know that their opinions and activities count. At the Union, they do.

May we have the zechut to motivate our membership to that level of passion where getting involved will become second nature. §

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.