A Lesson in Selflessness

Daniel Jeydel at the Remah Cemetery in Krakow

Daniel Jeydel at the Remah Cemetery in Krakow, Poland (Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Jeydel)

  • Daniel Jeydel

November 18, 2022

REALITY BLOG POST BY: Daniel Jeydel, 2015 REALITY Tech

Daniel is the founder of the Bashert Group, a strategic consultancy for family offices. He focuses on early-stage venture investing, international philanthropy and interfaith partnership. Daniel serves as a Trustee at Temple Emanu-El of New York, The Union for Reform Judaism and the Jewish Book Council. He attended the NYU/Stern School of Business and was raised in New York City.

It was October 2015. The first REALITY Tech journey, on the bus to Jerusalem from Tiberias.

“Michael, you are an outstanding guide and storyteller. You mentioned that you have also led trips to Krakow (Poland). By chance, have you ever heard about the late Rabbi Yomtov Lippman Heller?”

“Yes, every time I’ve been to Krakow, I take a group to visit his grave. Why do you ask?

“I’m fortunate to know that I am descended from Rabbi Heller by 14 generations. I’ve always wondered what was special about him beyond his writings on the Torah.”

“Daniel, pay attention on Friday night at Shabbat. I’m going to tell the whole group about your ancestor.”

The story that Michael told has several versions, some with more drama than others, but the facts are all consistent and clear. 

Four hundred years ago, there lived a rich man in Krakow named Yoselee. The citizens of Kazimierz (the Jewish quarter) didn’t call him by his name; instead, he was known as the Miser, as it was believed he gave nothing to charity.

When he died, it was up to the Chief Rabbi of Krakow, Rabbi Yom Tov Lippman Heller, to determine where to bury Yoselee. He solicited feedback from the community; no families wanted the Miser buried near their spots in the cemetery. Thus, the decision was made to bury Yoselee at the corner of the Remah Cemetery, a place with the least amount of respect that would still follow Jewish law. 

In the days that followed Yoselee’s death, Rabbi Heller received knocks on his door from Krakow’s poor, none of whom had appealed to him before. They mentioned that the envelopes they would receive Friday mornings for Shabbat meals stopped appearing and that the community's needs became even more dire. It turned out that Yoselee was not a miser at all; he was instead fulfilling a great mitzvah, that of anonymous charity that offers no personal benefit. 

The community fell into a period of mourning for not recognizing the holiness that was in their midst. In an attempt to remedy the community’s mistake—and knowing that people would come for centuries to pay their respects to a great rabbi—Rabbi Heller decided that when the time came he and his wife would be buried next to Yoselee so that Yosalee would be recognized for his selfless example.

Our entire Tech group heard this story. On the REALITY journey, there’s a moment that clicks for so many of us. For me, it was the feeling that my professional capabilities and my capacity to do good would come together to drive change. Perhaps this was the case too for my ancestor.

Thus, I decided then and there to visit the grave. To my knowledge, I was the first one in my family for several generations to visit Poland. The Remah Cemetery is stunning. While part of it was destroyed by the Nazis, the cemetery still stands today and is rich with overgrown trees and tourists (Jewish and not) who come to hear its history and to walk to the corner to see the graves of Rabbi Heller, his wife and Yosalee.

I asked myself the question that my ancestor faced: when holiness presents itself in ways we can’t comprehend, what can we do now to try to bend the arc of justice, as Dr. King taught?

It was this question that led me to lean into the ‘Schusterverse’ by advocating for, and later facilitating, REALITY Sports as a way to engage diverse leaders in a vertical that competes on terms of excellence and achievement but for which Israel is under-represented. 

That question also led me to step into a leadership role. Through the support of trainings from Schusterman programs and partners, I became the youngest Trustee at the largest Synagogue in the world, Temple Emanu-El of New York. I’ve been fortunate to bring partners into our community from my REALITY bus rides and ROI community including Daybreaker, Knock Knock Give a Sock, Slingshot and OneTable.

During Yom Kippur last month (the Day of Atonement for Jews and the holiest day of the year), I addressed our congregation of 2,000 families by retelling the story of Rabbi Heller and Yoselee. I shared the story in the context of the work we do with our Philanthropic Fund to make bold grants that support the warmth and majesty of communities as close as our zip code and as far away as Ukraine, Israel and global disaster response. In fact, on our recent trip to the Medyka border crossing into Ukraine, we met with Natan Disaster Relief, United Hatzalah and Isra-Aid on the front lines. 

Daniel at the Poland/Ukraine border
Daniel with the delegation at the Medyka border crossing to Ukraine (Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Jeydel)

It's through this work that I’ve been able to support a team of people (aged 15 to 90) who are all seeking to enhance the capacities of humanitarians who put tikkun olam (repairing the world) into action through their own acts of righteousness.

The REALITY blog encourages the expression of personal thoughts and reflections of REALITY alumni. Each post reflects only the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views Schusterman, REALITY, or all program participants.