A Humble Exchange: Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky’s Graceful Encounter at Yeshiva’s Annual Dinner


A yeshiva was holding its annual dinner at an upscale hotel, and one of the guests was the venerable Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky, rosh yeshiva of the Yeshiva of Philadelphia. When he arrived at the hotel, Rav Shmuel made his way to the front desk, where a couple of women who worked in the yeshiva office had been stationed to greet the arriving guests and hand them their seating cards.

In an ironic twist, Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky happened to approach a woman who had evidently never seen his picture before. Unaware that she was speaking to one of the country’s leading gedolim, the woman blandly asked for his name, and the rosh yeshiva replied, “Kamenetzky.”

The woman glanced at her list and said, “There are a few people here with that last name. What is your first name?”

Of course, Rav Shmuel was aware that even if the woman did not recognize him, she would certainly be familiar with his name. She was bound to be mortified as soon as he identified himself by name. But with his brilliant mind and compassionate heart, it took him only a split second to come up with a way to avoid causing her that shame. “My name is Sammy,” he said. “Sammy Kamenetzky.”

By this point, the woman’s companions at the front desk had overheard the exchange and were gaping in astonishment, well aware of whom she was addressing. The woman herself, however, blithely perused her guest list. “I don’t see a Sammy here,” she finally said. “I do see the name Shmuel, though.”

“That’s my Hebrew name,” Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky replied serenely. “They must have put down my Hebrew name instead.”

The woman handed him his card, and the illustrious rosh yeshiva walked away, having spared the dignity of a complete stranger with his lightning-fast thinking.

Please be Mis’pallel for HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlita, Shmuel ben Itta Ettel, Rosh HaYeshiva of the Philadelphia Yeshiva. This story should be a zechus for his Refuah.

5TC thanks Rabbi Shraga Freedman, Director of Living Kiddush Hashem Foundation, for this incredible story. R’ Friedman is the author of Living Kiddush Hashem and A Life Worth Living (ArtScroll Mesorah) and Sefer Mekadshei Shemecha. Living Kiddush Hashem was founded with the goal of imbuing every Jew with a powerful sense of mission — the mission to be mekadeish Sheim Shamayim in his or her own unique way. Visit LivingKiddushHashem.org for more resources.

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