My father-in-law, Dr. Mandell I. Ganchrow of Fort Lee, has passed away at the age of 85.
When he died, on February 15, he left his beloved and devoted wife of almost 60 years, Sheila, as well as three children and their spouses, 11 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
These are the most important facts about my father-in-law, the ones he was, ultimately, most proud of. But what he also leaves behind is a story and a legacy that began in Crown Heights, took him to medical school in Chicago, to the jungles of Vietnam, and then to the halls of the Senate and the White House. The story includes his retiring from medicine at 57 — the age that his own father was when he died — and devoting the rest of his life to Jewish communal service and to advocating for Israel.
Think about that for a moment. He gave up a successful medical practice to show thanks to God for allowing him to live longer than his own father, and he spent the rest of his life as an advocate for the Jewish people. It is an amazing concept.
I knew my father-in-law was different than other fathers-in-law when I first met him. He was about to begin his presidency at the Orthodox Union, a position he held for six years. My in-laws’ house in Monsey had a Wall of Fame that held pictures of them with various presidents and world leaders. That’s not something you see in every house.
My in-laws traveled all over the world — India, China, Africa, Australia, Spain, just to name a few of their adventures. They would have been married 60 years this summer. They shared a love story that began when my father-in-law’s brother Saul drove my mother-in-law to the Pineview Hotel. “That is the woman I am going to marry,” Mendy Ganchrow said to his brother.
My father-in-law had a work ethic like no one else’s. He supported himself through school, including medical school. He was drafted into the Army and served as a medic in Vietnam, leaving his wife and 4-year-old daughter back in the States. He didn’t really like to talk about his experiences in Vietnam, but when he did, the stories were just incredible.
In 2004, my father-in-law published his autobiography, “Journey Through the Minefields,” where he tells the story of his life and his journey through the political world. He also published a novel, “The Five Day War,” and three anthologies — one about brit milahs, one about bar mitzvahs, and one about sheva brachot (the blessings said at a wedding).
There is so much to write about — my father-in-law’s stories are both interesting and compelling — but I would like to use this space to concentrate on his amazing accomplishments in the world of political activism.
Mendy Ganchrow started his political involvement with trips to Washington with AIPAC. He would trek to Washington for the annual conference and would come home charged up. He needed to do something. One of the congressman whom he met at the AIPAC conference in 1982 inspired him to start his own political action committee. That was the beginning of HUVPAC — the Hudson Valley Political Action Committee. Over the years, HUVPAC became one of the largest pro-Israel pacs in the country that supported pro-Israel members of Congress and senators. In my father-in-law’s mind, HUVPAC, which allowed people to support Israel through a central organization, was the most effective form of citizen participation in the government process. Many years later, at the request of people in the Englewood and Teaneck communities, my father-in-law came to Bergen County to train and explain to interested people how they could model a new political action committee in northern New Jersey on HUVPAC. He took them to Washington so they could see how a lobbying trip there worked. HUVPAC no longer exists, but over the past few weeks, many people have credited my father-in-law for the creation of NORPAC, which has become a very successful political action committee over the years.
Mendy Ganchrow got very involved in the Orthodox Union in the mid-1980s. His college roommate, Shimon Kwestel, had become its president, and my father-in-law realized that the OU had to become involved on a political level. He felt strongly that the OU needed a full-time presence in Washington to press its agenda and heighten its public policy profile. My father-in-law never took no for an answer, so the OU created its Institute for Public Affairs, and eventually he became the agency’s chairman. One of the IPA’s accomplishments was to bring politically attuned college students into the political process by arranging for them to work for AIPAC in the summer. My father-in-law wanted college students to get involved in learning about and advocating for the U.S.-Israel relationship. When the program proved to be successful, he took it one step further, and placed college students as interns in the offices of congressman and senators.
Attorney Joshua Annenberg of Teaneck was the very first intern in the program. “I first met Dr. Ganchrow when I was a sophomore at Yeshiva University in 1987 and had applied for a summer internship with AIPAC,” Mr. Annenberg said. “At that time, Dr. Ganchrow was the key leader at the Orthodox Union who recognized the need for Orthodox Jews to become politically engaged. Dr. Ganchrow had developed a relationship between AIPAC and the Orthodox Union — even before the OU’s Institute for Public Affairs, the precursor to its current OU Advocacy Center.”
Later, there were about 20 summer interns; Mr. Annenberg was the only one who was Orthodox. “I was the only intern wearing a kippah, observing kashrut and Shabbat in the full sense,” he said. “I tried to foster religious awareness among the other interns as I hosted Shabbat meals at my apartment.”
He grew emotional as he told me, “It’s not so much what the internship did for me, but what Dr. Ganchrow accomplished for Am Yisroel.” He truly valued that summer experience, as well as the one he had the following year, when he interned for a congressman. “These experiences are the direct result of Dr. Ganchrow’s foresight,” Mr. Annenberg said. It helped him and his peers develop as “politically involved Orthodox Jews, who as Americans advocate for a strong, lasting U.S.-Israel relationship. By Dr. Ganchrow’s efforts and influence, the relationship between the Orthodox community and AIPAC, as well as other Jewish communal organizations, flourished.”
Lawrence Burian, an executive at both MSG Entertainment and MSG Sports, is another past intern who feels indebted to my father-in-law for the mentoring and experiences he offered him through the Washington program. Mr. Burian’s experience was a little different from Mr. Annenberg’s. He had been a student leader at Yeshiva College when Jerry Gontownick of Englewood, who was an OU board member, suggested that he apply for the intern program. “What struck me about Dr. Ganchrow was that he took such joy in watching me succeed,” Mr. Burian said. “It was clear that he felt sincere nachas about my growth. He was a real Jewish leader.”
Mr. Burian’s internship was during the summer of 1990. “During an OU mission to Washington that year, “I was just a student and there were all of these adults participating in the mission. But Dr. Ganchrow pulled me aside and said, ‘come with me.’
“He took me with him to all of the higher-level meetings. He brought me to meet multiple senators so he could teach me how the process works.”
Mr. Burian felt truly empowered. “What I saw in Dr. Ganchrow was a kiddush hashem,” a sanctification of God’s name, he said. “He was a mensch, and he made me feel invested in wanting to get involved.
“He had a warmth and sincerity in engaging and encouraging the younger generation to get involved. He was a role model, a successful professional who volunteered his time to the Jewish community and wore a kippah while engaging with the highest echelons of political power.
“He was a paradigm to emulate.”
Like Mr. Annenberg, Mr. Burian also learned how to navigate being shomer Shabbos while working for a congressman from Wisconsin. Those lessons, he said, have served him well even today. “When I came back to Washington for a mission years later with my son, I reflected on how I had come full circle and what a formative experience it was for me. As I brought my son to meet personally with a congressman from Ohio, I reflected back fondly on the mentorship that Dr. Ganchrow had provided me all those years ago.”
It seems like the list of people who have told us stories about how my father-in-law had helped them, whether it was medically or politically, is endless. These stories are his legacy — and it is quite a legacy.
In his autobiography, my father-in-law, Mendy Ganchrow, wrote, “Our rabbis teach that each of us had been given an assignment in this world; a very specific assignment that can be carried out by no other person. I hope that I have carried out my own assignment according to the instructions of my maker.
“I pray that our grandchildren Zachary, Jake, Carlie, Tommi, Jack, Jonah, Matthew, Rachee, Hannah, Leah, and Dovi will find value and direction for their own lives in the events that I have described.”
May his memory be a blessing.