The year was 1962. It was only seventeen years after the end of World War II. Many Holocaust survivors were rebuilding their lives in America. Those teenagers and young adults who had outwitted the Nazis, many of whom had watched in silent horror as their parents and younger siblings were murdered, had come to these shores and were now raising their own families. The oldest of their own children, kids without grandparents, was reaching sixteen. Jews from the first generation had questions, lots of questions; but those with the tattooed numbers on their arms had no answers for them.
Rabbi Avigdor Miller, then a mashgiach (spiritual counselor) at the Mesivta of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, heard these questions from the young men of his yeshiva, many of whom were the children of concentration camp survivors. He saw unaffiliated and traditional Jews shaken in their deepest beliefs following this tragedy. Utilizing his masterful command of the English language, along with his encyclopedic memory of both secular and religious sources, Rabbi Miller wrote “Rejoice O Youth,” which he subtitled “A Jewish Seeker’s Ideology,” meant to answer the tough questions of faith, those asked out loud and those no one dared to ask.
The book is written as a dialogue between a Youth and a Sage, taking place over several days. Youth and Sage alternate, in numbered paragraphs, which are cross-referenced in other paragraphs. Rabbi Avigdor Miller, speaking through the voice of the Sage, gives the Youth lessons in history, comparative religion and science, showing the superiority of Torah. He dares to draw the line directly connecting Darwinism, evolution and the doctrine of “survival of the fittest” to its monstrous but inevitable culmination in the perverted theories of Nazism and the destruction of “inferior subhumans” in the gas chambers.
Five years before Shor Yoshuv, nine years before Hineni and fourteen years before Artscroll Publications, one lone rabbi had the courage to buck the assimilated Jewish establishment and the “Misyavnim” of his day, writing the truth in his books that were self-published and sold only in small Judaica shops. No one can fully gauge the impact that “Rejoice O Youth” and his later books had on the Jewish world. No studies were done as to how many Baalei-Teshuvah were created, or how many people were “brought back” by his writings.
“Encounters With Greatness,” a collection of narratives assembled by his followers after the April 2001 passing of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, relates in one story how someone saw a young woman in a seforim shop purchasing two copies of “Rejoice O Youth.” When asked why two copies of the same book, the young woman replied,”I read this book and was inspired to give up my non-Jewish boyfriend. I’m buying these two copies for two Jewish friends so that they will also give up their non-Jewish boyfriends.”
“Rejoice O Youth” remains a classic, still available at seforim stores fifty years after its publication, and eleven years after the passing of its author. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zatzal, have established a foundation to make his lectures and writings available to a new generation. More than one thousand of his famous “Thursday Night Lectures,” previously captured on the medium of cassette audiotape, have been transferred to digital format “in the cloud” and stored on portable MP3 format players. Subscribers can sign up for free to get daily emails with short concepts and ideas from his writings. His ideas, born out of the great moral dilemmas of the twentieth century, are fresh and relevant in the twenty-first.
While the outside world is lehavdil marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Rolling Stones, we can mark the fiftieth anniversary of “Rejoice O Youth,” which was the first effort to answer the questions of sincere Jewish seekers, and the beginning of the Kiruv movement that would arise later in the sixties and the seventies.