Friday, February 5, 2010

Death of a Salesman's Reputation?

I am always amazed at both what the professionals find newsworthy, and how others view the world. And of course, how we react to news that doesn't quite fit inside our "comfort zone."

The phone calls started last Saturday, but apparently the story was already on-line earlier. "Rabbi, have you seen the cover story in the magazine? It is about Rabbi Youlus!"

I could not imagine what would have made my friend Menachem a front-page story, again, until the question was followed with the ominous statement "It raises some interesting questions."

By the time Loren sent me the link on Monday (we don't get the Sunday Post at home!), and I had a chance to read it, I was already prepared for what I would read. Anyone who has met Rabbi Youlus, and heard his Indiana-Jones-like stories of harrowing Torah rescues, has probably had at least one moment when they allowed themselves to think in response "Oh, come on, did it really go down that way?"

Any other response requires a certain amount of checking one's willingness to question at the front door. I don't say this out of disrespect to my friend in any way. Just because I sometimes wonder how all these things could have happened to one man the way he describes them doesn't mean I have any less respect for him -- it just indicates how incredible (look up the dictionary definition to get the full sense of what I am saying here!) his stories truly are.

But I am conditioned to thinking that way. My father was, until last week, a salesman for all my life. I love my dad. I love his stories. Sometimes, they were equally incredible. It is, I always suspected, part of the life and the technique of the salesman.

The problem is that my friend Rabbi Youlus is not just a salesman -- he is, first and foremost, by training and title, a Rabbi. And even though one of my congregants in Fredericksburg recognized years ago, and quite accurately, that I was every bit my father's son when it came to selling Judaism, we plain and simply do not want to see our Rabbis as salesmen.

And the other problem is, now that the media has started to check out some of his stories, and they aren't holding up too well to the scrutiny, that the area of stories he dabbles in has an equally sacred and protected cachet as does his title -- they are of the Holocaust. And if one of us can play fast and loose with the details, it makes it easier for the Holocaust deniers of this world to do the same, AND to deflect attention from their own efforts by comparing themselves to what "we Jews" say ourselves.

Bottom line -- I do not know what the truth is here, and most of us may never know for sure. I am grateful that none of the details that are now coming under scrutiny are in any way related to Aaron's Torah. I continue to be grateful for the energy and excitement that Rabbi Youlus brought to our current 8th graders and their families, and to our entire congregation who gave themselves the chance to learn with him, and I see no reason for that to change. I grieve for a friend who is going thru a tough patch of public scrutiny, and pray he comes through it okay.

And like others, I will hold up judgment on facts not yet in evidence. I will ask and invite others to read and draw their own conclusions -- based in both respect for the man and his office, and equal respect for the love of truth and sacred memory that is integral within our Jewish tradition. But I will be a lot more circumspect now before I recommend him to others, and that is a shame!

Here is the link to the Washington Post Sunday Magazine cover story from January 31:

And here is the link to the Washington Jewish Week follow up this week

(for whatever reason, it doesn't seem to like these long urls -- just cut and paste 'em into your browser)


  1. I saw the article and thought of your own congregation's Torah story. You should right that up and post it during your blizzard confinement.

  2. After reading the article, I remembered how amazing it was to listen to him and then finish a letter. I was very relieved to know that "Aaron's Torah" was not involved.

  3. Washington Jewish Week has posted an update online, at HTTP://

    I also had the chance to stop in and see my friend Menachem a couple of weeks ago, and he confirmed all this and more. be looking for my letter to the editor in support of Rabbi Youlus in WJW in the near future.