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Bilaam Mafia Boss Bonnano and Rabbi Aaron Kotlers Blessing

Bilaam Mafia Boss Bonnano and Rabbi Aaron Kotlers Blessing
“May I die the death of the upright” (Bamidbar 23:10)
Bilaam realized the truth that one should lead a righteous life. but he himself did not do so and did not live righteously and only wished that he could die as the
righteous peacefully in his own bed (see Rashi on Avodah Zarah 25 a
who explains that this was the meaning of Balaam’s request )

This request of Bilaam was possibly the inspiration for Rabbi Aaron
Kotlers remarkable and suprising  Beracha to the head of the Mafia Joe Bonnano :

” ehr zol leiben lang un shtarben in bet.”  He should live a long life and he should die in bed.”

The following is one account of the meeting of Mafia Boss Joe Bonnano
and Rabbi Aaron Kotler
It was during WW2 where twenty-four Yeshiva Students were being held
in Italy and faced being returned to Nazi- occupied Europe and certain
death. Rabbi Aharon Kotler, founder and head of Lakewood Yeshiva and a
leader of Ashkenazi non-chasidic Judaism in America, turned to the
well-known Orthodox Jewish activist and subsequent author of Ethics
From Sinai, Irving Bunim, and asked him who could intercede on behalf
of these 24 rabbis. Irving Bunim suggested the Italian Mafia! Rabbi
Kotler urged Mr. Bunim to contact them immediately.
After contacting them he asked Rabbi Kotler, “Who are we sending to
the meeting?”
Rabbi Kotler replied, “You and I are going.”
Off they went to meet the godfather of the Mafia, Joe Bonnano. Rabbi
Kotler did not speak English, so it was Mr. Bunim who explained the
problem of the 24 Rabbis trapped in Italy.
The Mafia chief asked Mr. Bunim, “Who is the elderly man sitting next to you?”
He told him, “He is the godfather of the Jewish people.”
“Really?” asked the Mafia chief.
“Yes!” replied Mr.Bunim emphatically.
“Tell him I want a blessing.”
So Mr. Irving Bunim turned to Rabbi Aharon Kotler and in Yiddish told
him, “Ehr vill a Brocha fun de Rav. (He wants a blessing from the
Rabbi).”
“Zog eim ehr zol leiben lang un shtarben in bet.”
Irving Bunim turned back to the Mafia chief Joe Bonnano and told him,
“The Rabbi blesses you with long life and you should die in bed.”
Upon hearing this, the Mafia chief replied, “I like that,” [both
parts!-ed.] and promised within 2 weeks to arrange the freedom of the
24 Yeshiva Students stuck in Italy. Which he did indeed accomplish.
Twenty-something years later, in 1964, a shiny black stretch limo
pulls up in front of Lakewood Yeshiva in Lakewood New Jersey. Two
fancy-dressed guys get out and walk up to the office. They say are
looking for Rabbi Kotler. Out comes Rabbi Kotler and introduces
himself.
“No, not you,” say the two Italian guys. “We are looking for an older man.”
“That was my father, but he passed away a number of years ago,” states
Rabbi Kotler.
The Italian guys explain that they are the Bonnano brothers, and that
their father always “attributed his long life to your saintly father’s
blessing. Now that he has just retired, we are taking over the
business and we came here for the same blessing.”
“I’m sorry,” says Rabbi Kotler, “my father could do that, but I am not
on that high level.”
Disappointed, but clearly understanding the concept of “yeridat
hadorot” – “the descent of the generations,” the new Mafia chiefs bid
farewell to the [then] current Rabbi Kotler.
For saving 24 Yeshiva Students s from the Nazis, and with Rabbi Aharon
Kotler’s blessing, Joe Bonnano – the Mafia godfather – lived to 97
years old.
The Biography of Rabbi Kotler by Rabbi Dershowitz has the story with more detail and
slight variations.
http://books.google.com/books?id=-Jb4w78HMzUC&pg=PA132#v=onepage&q&f=false

 

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