At some point in my early adolescence, my mother decided that, as a good Jewish mother, she needed to take me to the synagogue—for something other than the over-packed High Holiday doldrums. She said it would be interesting. I wasn't disappointed. As far as I can recall, that was my first exposure to the Bernie Rosenfeld experience. It was awesome. So awesome, poor Rabbi Kleinberg finally had to surrender his pulpit and sit in the pews holding his head as Bernie showered his tirade upon him and upon the entire congregation.

Twenty years later, I had left my hometown and returned and Bernie was still at it. He had been kicked out of every congregation in the community—and he could wave at you several harsh letters on official stationery to prove it. I learned the best strategy to deal with him: Avoid eye contact. Any recognition of Bernie's presence was due to invite another frenzied drama replete with lectures, yelling, sobbing, hand-waving, stomping and door-slamming. And epithets—to put it nicely.

One of the favorite targets of Bernie's epithets was old man Eli Green. Mr. Green was a nice man, a humble man and a great contributor to every good cause. Bernie would lay into Mr. Green real hard. We were livid that Bernie could say such things about such a nice guy, but I remember watching Mr. Green just sitting there, quietly taking in every insult.

When Bernie was finally gone—I don't remember if he was chased out or just exhausted—Mr. Green told us, "This is our kapora."

A kapora--that means an atonement, sort of Jewish karma, except with G‑d and guilt mixed in.

Sometime before World War II, a lad of 14 years came to our city from Germany with a Torah Scroll. He had witnessed his older brother beaten to death by Hitler Youth on his home doorstep. He had witnessed other horrors as well, but it was hard to make sense of his descriptions of them. He came to our community and screamed and yelled, "Jews! Do something! Save your brothers and sisters!"

The people thanked him for the Sefer Torah. And they asked him to stop screaming about things they could do nothing about. He claimed they didn't believe him. He claimed they just didn't care. I know that there were European Jews saved by the community. But comparing these efforts to the magnitude of horror and distress he carried with him from the other side of the world, Bernie saw only apathy. And he never forgave them.

"We didn't listen to Bernie before the war," said Mr. Green. "So we've listened to him for the past fifty years."