My father, Dr. Yaakov Hanoka, OB"M, passed away on 4 Iyar 5771 (May 8, 2011). He was constantly growing in all areas of his life and was never satisfied with mediocrity. In 1962, as a young man, he merited to be one of the first college-aged Baalei Teshuva in America. He was studying physics at Penn State University when he came in contact with the local Hillel Rabbi, a frum rabbi named Rabbi G. When the rabbi saw that my father was showing a serious interest in Yiddishkeit, he arranged for a group of Lubavitch young men to come to campus and host a Shabbaton.
After the Shabbaton my father decided that he wanted to go to Crown Heights to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He subsequently spent a year learning in Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch in 770, the central Lubavitcher yeshiva for young men. There was no program geared to Baalei Teshuvah at the time and almost no seforim translated into English. The Rebbe told the yeshiva administration that there would be many more Baalei Teshuvah like my father and instructed my father to feel and act like a pioneer. When my father replied that he did not feel like a pioneer, the Rebbe replied that every Jew is a pioneer just by virtue of having received the Torah at Har Sinai and having the responsibility to spread its Light. The Rebbe also told my father that the beginning will be challenging, but that he should not ask himself why he is here (in yeshiva) because for the first three (and then the Rebbe added the first six) months you will not be able to answer that question. The Rebbe also told my father that he could see my father was not the type to be afraid of challenges. When in college, my father also made the decision that he would not blame his parents for any of his difficulties and he pledged to view all of his future trials in life as challenges to overcome, rather than problems to be endured.
After spending a year in yeshiva the Rebbe instructed my father to return to college and complete his degree. My father was encouraged to pursue his scientific career in solar energy so that he could spread Yiddishkeit in his field of expertise as well. His life’s mission was a balance of maintaining a deep commitment to Yiddishkeit and Chassidus and succesfully functioning in the secular world simultaneously (registering an astounding 57 patents!), thereby serving as a role model to others.
After becoming frum, my father kept Cholov Yisroel. The rabbi who was originally mekarev my father did not keep CholovYisroel because it was very difficult to obtain in central Pennsylvania. As a result, my father would not eat dairy in the rabbi’s home. The rabbi was hurt by this and my father had conveyed this to the Rebbe, so the Rebbe instructed his secretary, Rabbi Binyomin Klein (one of six young men who came to Penn State for the Shabbaton and who knew Rabbi G. personally), to speak to Rabbi G. on behalf of the Rebbe. He told the Hillel rabbi that all of my father’s Yiddishkeit was in his z’chus (merit), so he should not feel slighted that my father could not eat dairy in his home. A few years later, when my parents got married, they moved back to the rabbi’s neighborhood near Penn State while my father studied for his PhD. My mother A"H was a Hebrew Studies teacher and she taught the rabbi’s two sons. The rabbi was very indebted to my parents for living there and strengthening the community and specifically for educating his two sons while living there. After that the rabbi gained a new appreciation for my father’s commitment to CholovYisroel. This story illustrates the importance of being moser nefesh with regards to kashrus, and even CholovYisroel, no matter where you are living or traveling and to make sure to always treat others in a dignified manner and find a way to bring Jews together in harmony.
In 1962, as a young man, he merited to be one of the first college-aged Baalei Teshuva in America…
Rav Sha’ar Yashuv Cohen, a renowned Rav in Haifa, Israel, once came to Penn State University while my father was studying for his doctorate. He met my parents and was so taken by the fact that my parents were keeping CholovYisroel in such a remote place like Penn State. Rav Cohen had a close relationship with the Lubavitcher Rebbe and when he came for a yechidus (private audience) shortly after his visit to Penn State, Rav Cohen told the Rebbe about my parents and about how proud he was of their dedication to Yiddishkeit. A few months later, my father got kos shel brocha from the Rebbe and the Rebbe said, "I have warm regards for you from Rav Sha’ar Yashuv Cohen."
In the winter of 1962, my father started the Pegisha program, an organization that hosts Shabbatons to help mekarev Jews. Over the years, thousands of families have become frum through this program.
My father had many opportunities for Kiddush Hashem in his workplace. He once overheard a fellow employee criticizing another employee and calling him something lesser than a human being. My father interjected and stated that every person is created in the image of G-d. This made a lasting impression on this coworker who, five years later, expressed how moved he still was by my father’s statement.
My father gave tremendous encouragement to all those that knew him, especially when it came to embracing challenges. It is no wonder that I ended up working in the field of kashrus after witnessing my father’s special devotion to the mitzvah of kashrus. He pushed me personally to dedicate myself to kashrus and to have a positive outlook and see every problem as a challenge to be conquered. My father also showed me, through his example, to constantly strive to do more and maintain a high standard in all areas of life. His messages are universal messages.
Every one of us has our G-d given mission in this world. Mine is kashrus and hafatzos hamayonos (spreading the wellsprings) of kashrus. As a young man, my father told me that he wanted to introduce me to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He brought me to meet the Rebbe and the Rebbe blessed me, "May you follow in your father’s footsteps." Due to the Rebbe’s encouragement, I feel a strong personal calling to apply my father’s unique qualities to the field of kashrus. My father’s life has taught me to constantly strive for excellence, overcome challenges and use every opportunity to spread Yiddishkeit. My father and I each had a different mission in life, yet our goal is the same – to spread the light of Yiddishkeit wherever we are and be a light unto the Nations. The lessons he taught me continue to guide me and help me every step of the way as I continue playing my role in preparing a kosher world for Moshiach.