A Beautiful Tale: Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump’s Synagogue and his adopted Rabbi in Flatbush, Brooklyn
Read More About: In terms of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election Rabbi Wagner has no doubt as to the reason.
Related by Rabbi Wagner, Mashgiach Ruchani (Spiritual Supervisor)
Yeshiva (Hebrew religious learning institution) Ohr Yerushalayim in Moshav (Israeli socialist community), Beit Meir, Israel
Rabbi Wagner shares the incredible story of how Donald Trump’s father, Frederick Trump, built a shul (Orthodox synagogue) for the congregation, headed by his father, Rabbi Yisrael Wagner, and how Trump went on to make annual donations of funding for the kehilla (local Jewish community) and to aid Jewish families in financial distress.
Redacted from: ISRAPUNDIT+DAILY+DIGEST++FEB+1 2017
Even today, after Donald Trump has already been inaugurated as President of the United States, many pundits are still trying to figure out how it happened.
How did the man with the smallest chance of victory manage to win this election in complete defiance of all the predictions and assessments of the experts and all the polls that seemed to be against him? In retrospect, there are many explanations for his astounding victory, some of which are more logical, while others are less so.
There is one man, Rabbi Shmuel Wagner, who has no background whatsoever in the media or in political commentary but, who is confident that he knows of at least one reason for Trump’s stunning victory: the zechus of his father.
(Zechus Avos means that one derives the merit of the good deeds of his parents or ancestors that brought him or assisted in bringing him good fortune, either financial or sources of pride and happiness in his family or the prominent position he himself might have obtained)
The Rabbi of Trump’s Neighborhood
After Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, several publications featured a grainy sixty-year-old photograph that depicts Fred Trump, the new president’s father, in a shul in the neighborhood of Flatbush in Brooklyn. The photograph was accompanied by a terse caption that did little to shed light on the background to this unusual picture.
Rabbi Shmuel Wagner is a son of Rabbi Yisrael Wagner of blessed memory, the rov (rabbi) of the shul in Flatbush where the picture was taken. Rabbi Shmuel reveals a truly incredible story behind it.
“To give you a little background information about Fred Trump’s generosity and his special relationship with my father,” Rabbi Wagner says, “let me take you several years further into the past. My father was born in Galicia (small locked in land area between Poland and the Ukraine that was home to many Jews, who, unfortunate to still live there at the time of the Holocaust, were killed). The Rabbi’s father happened to be an illuy (genius and Torah scholar).
He was a prominent bochur (honor student) in Belz and was very close with Rav Aharon of Belz. He was about 18 or 19 years old when World War II began. He father was engaged at the time to a daughter of Rav Shraga Feivel Willig, the rov of the city of Buchach in Galicia.
When the war began, he and his kallah (bride) were both displaced from their homes, and each of them miraculously survived the war. They were re-united after the war, also miraculously, in a displaced persons camp, and they got married in Salzburg, Austria.
From Salzburg, Rabbi Yisrael Wagner made his way to Bolivia, where he served as the rov (rabbi) of a Jewish community. “At first, my parents received immigration papers for Bolivia,” Rabbi Wagner continues his account. “After he served as a rov there for two years, they came to California, in the United States, in the year 1950. That is where I was born. My father was the rov of a shul in California, but there were no suitable schools for children there, so the family moved to New York, where there were chadarim (Hebrew classrooms) and yeshivos.”
A few weeks after the Wagner family arrived in New York, Reb Yisrael was appointed rabbi of a residential area belonging to a businessman named Fred Trump, father of Donald Trump.
Reb Shmuel says, “Fred owned 31 residential buildings in the area, with many apartments for rent. It was an area on the outskirts of Flatbush, near the beach. Most of the tenants in those apartments were Jews, and almost all of them were irreligious.”
Reb Yisrael quickly created A Shul (synagogue) in a parking garage
Despite the fact that most of the local residents were not frum (religious), they took an interest in Rabbi Wagner’s shul. “There was a minyan (group of at least 10 men necessary to conduct crucial parts of the service) in the shul as soon as it opened,”
Rabbi Wagner recalls. “There were Jews from Europe there and they cared about davening (praying) in a shul. The shul operated in a parking garage of one of the buildings, and my father received the position of rov ( rabbi) through a relative.
“The shul began with thirty members, but it experienced tremendous growth in just a few years, to the point that it came to serve hundreds of families. Many of the mispallelim (Jewish community) were not religious, but they were very much attracted to the shul, to my father, and to the warmth that he radiated to them. They loved the experience of the shul and listening to my father’s devar Torah (explanations of the Torah readings) And he, with his kindhearted manner and his trademark warmth, taught them Torah and chassidus.
(Chassidus – The study of Chassidic philosophy – An applied custom to practice the Jewish faith emphasizing the joy of the religion rather than as some onerous burden or heavenly command).
At some point the shul’s membership grew to where the facility was no longer large enough to house the congregation. It was understood that the shul needed a proper building in order to function. “My father had an idea,” Rabbi Wagner recalls. “He offered to approach Fred Trump, whom he didn’t know personally, even though Trump was his landlord.
He hoped that he could use his wisdom to convince Trump to give him a building for his shul. He thought that he might influence his landlord by explaining that Jews, who were Trump’s largest group of customers, need a shul near their homes. He also knew that Fred Trump was a man of faith, and he was likely to relate to the request.
“Thus, my father’s request appealed both to Trump’s emotions and to his shrewd business mind. And it worked. My father and Fred both understood that a kehillah (community) that revolved around a shul would be one whose members led a proper spiritual lifestyle and his business would benefit from that.
My father managed to reach Fred Trump’s heart. Trump was very moved by the idea my father expressed and the two became close friends. Fred proceeded to donate a piece of real estate for the shul, and he even made a very generous donation so that a magnificent shul building could be built.”
Rabbi Wagner adds that over time, Fred Trump’s donations grew progressively more generous. “Sometimes, my father would tell him about various Jewish families in the area who were needy, and he would give large sums to help them as well.”
What motivated a non-Jewish businessman to make such large charitable donations to needy Jews? “He was devoted to my father,” Rabbi Wagner asserts. “He admired him deeply, and he used to ask his opinion on many things. He was very impressed by the fact that my father, a Chassidic Jew from Belz in Europe, became the rov of a more modern congregation and inspired many Jews to keep Shabbos (the rules of the Sabbath) and even to become fully religious.
When Donald Trump Worked in the Laundry Room
Rabbi Wagner has vivid recollections of Fred Trump’s son, a wild, blond-haired youth. “Donald’s father left him and his brother an inheritance of over a million dollars. In effect, Fred was the one who launched his son’s business career.
I still remember going to shul with my father for Shacharis (morning prayer) early every Sunday morning. The laundry room, where all the tenants washed their clothes in coin-operated machines, was in the basement of the building. And do you know who collected the money from those machines in the mornings? Donald Trump and his brother!
“Donald was Fred Trump’s second son. I remember him from the age of about 14 or 15, with his wild shock of blond hair and his endless reserves of energy and drive. His father used to send him to collect the money from the laundry machines. Fred taught his children from a very early age to take responsibility; he gave them no breaks. Donald may have been wild as a youth, but his father raised him well.”
Donald Trump’s Faith
During the election campaign in New York, Donald Trump told the Jews of the city that his father had built a shul there. He remembered the location well, and he recalled the work that his father had sent him to do in the residential buildings of the Jewish neighborhood.
In terms of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential elections, Rabbi Wagner has no doubt as to the reason. His father had the zechus of paying for a shul to be built and maintaining it for years. He gave money to many struggling Jewish families and he gave great honor to the rov of the shul and to Jews in general.
Donald thus has zechus avos, (G-d given honor from his father’s good deeds) and that is what has brought him to the White House.”
Redacted by Jerome S. Kaufman in consultation with Rabbi Avrohom Wineberg, Sara and Morris Tugman Bais Chabad Torah Center, West Bloomfield, MI