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Brief Portraits of Recently Deceased Chaverim
Composed by Rabbi Myron Rakowitz for the RCA National Convention, 2008/5768
 
 
News Headlines
May 19, 2008 -- This week we conclude Vayikra and rise to recite Hazak.

Today we honor our beloved chaverim who answered the call to serve as the present day kohanim and levi'im. These chaverim dedicated their lives, their families, their homes and all their כוחות to the future of our people, to the call of Hashem and the spreading of Torah.

In what was the wilderness, they produced a strong, proud Orthodox Judaism. We are their brothers. We are their spiritual kin, and our continued efforts in the rabbinate reflect their sacrifice and accomplishments. Our accomplishments reflects their success. In our lives and efforts, our chaverim live, they live eternally through us. חי אחיך עמך

Hazak

Rabbi Jerome Blass
Almost sixty years ago, upon receiving semicha from RIETS, young Rabbi Jerome Blass was given phone numbers of two nearby Congregations. He chose one, the Bergenfield Dumont Jewish Center in suburban northern New Jersey. He remained there for over a half century.

The suburbs were newly emerging and "Orthodox" was not a nice word. Jerry fought wisely and heroically to maintain tradition and enhance it. He was warm, charming and effective. His respect in both the Jewish and general community was unparalleled. In fact. a neighboring school system encouraged and later engaged the new Dr. as their school Psychologist.

Most importantly, Jerry Blass, the special mentsch, was like a big brother to younger rabbis. I know. When I came to Bergen County, he took me under his wing and guided my early steps in the Rabbinate.

Warm and gentle, yet he was a proverbial tower of strength to, me and other young colleagues. Just one, call and the ring resounded and resounded.
ונשמע קולו בבואו אל הקודש

Rabbi Irvin Chinn
Rabbin Irvin Chinn. a native of Baltimore, studied at Mesivta Torah V'daath and Beth Midrach Elyon. In fact, his derashot regularly contained quotes from his rebbeim, Rav Kaminetsky, Rav Mendelovitz, as well as, the Klausenberger Rav.

His rabbinate may have been in Pennsylvania, but his influence resonated throughout the entire tri-state area. Rabbi Chinn was the voice of uncompromising Orthodoxy and most compassionate Judaism.

When I first began my career, there was a family more traditional than the rest, hailing from Shenandoah, PA. What made them so committed? The answer, "a young rabbi in Shenandoah; Rabbi Chinn, and there were more like us." From Shenandoah to MCkeesport, he became there a pillar of faith for the community. A young man who grew up in Mckeesport told me that everyone loved him and that he treated everyone with respect and love.

For over fifty years, the rabbi led his congregation and community even in difficult economic times for the region. When he moved his synagogue across town, he was concerned about a mikveh, so he built one in a garage adjacent to this home. When the community began to decline, he brought in a day school, a yeshiva and a kollel to his synagogue building and reversed the trend.

His most treasured possession was a letter from the Hafetz Chaim given to his grandfather, thanking him and his family for their help in raising funds for his Yeshiva.

Rabbi Irvin Chinn – a most treasured possession!

Rabbi Yonah Geller
Go west, young man! Rabbi Yonah Geller was already there, being born in Houston, Texas. After receiving semicha from REITS over sixty years ago, Yonah was called to inject yiddishkeit into Corpus Christy, Texas, serving for a quarter of century.

Go further west! Portland, Oregon beckoned. There, the rabbi was to serve as beloved spiritual leader for the next forty years. Not only did he serve Shaarei Torah, but the entire community and state, as well. He was the voice of tradition, proudly proclaiming Orthodoxy, guiding the day school, assuring Kashruth and caring for the aged.

Oregon is known for its liberalism but when assisted suicide legislation was introduced, Rabbi Geller was a valiant voice of humanity in opposition. He wrote of and championed the rights of those who might become its victims.

In the Oregon area, so dedicated to ecology and green, Rabbi Yonah Geller planted and replanted the verdant seeds of Torah.

Rabbi Daniel Goldberger
"Everyone's Rabbi" was a favorite way of describing Rabbi Daniel Goldberger. The beloved rabbi was a pastor par excellence. In fact; he left the Rabbinate for a few years devoting himself to personal counseling.

At the first RCA convention, I attended nearly a half century ago; a young Rabbi Goldberger made a presentation on young children in the synagogue. A simple topic; but he held us spellbound. A gifted Rabbi and speaker the children grew up to adore 'and love "everyone's Rabbi."

Rabbi Goldberger was a musmach of Beth Midrash L'Torah and served two large congregations in Denver, Beth Joseph and the Hebrew Alliance. His memory was phenomenal and his ability to create shalom was legendary.

Everyone's rabbi and our chaver tov.

Rabbi Eric Kaye
Rabbi Eric Kaye was a South African who came to study at Telz in Cleveland, then on he went to the Chevron Yeshiva in Jerusalem, where he received his smicha from Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna among others. He returned to South Africa and held several pulpits. Fifteen years ago, he was called to congregation Shomrei Yisrael in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Rabbi Kaye was the most gentle reserved and modest gentleman. His speech was reminiscent of Abba Eban, and everyone recognized his sermonic ability.

I first met the rabbi through a young couple from my congregation in Canarsie who moved to Poughkeepsie. Rabbi Kaye nurtured them, consoled them during their sorrow shared their simchas, and was like a father to them. The Kaye home was always open to them and to everyone else in need.

Rabbi Kaye's modesty crowned his attributes, Never did he say that he was rabbi of the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation, the mother synagogue of South African Jewry; never did he say that he was the presiding dayan of the Cape Town Beth Din.

His voice was soft, his deeds were strong.

Rabbi Aryeh Lieberman
A budding young scholar has been taken to the olam ha'emet. For a year and a half, he battled for his life before he returned his pure neshamah.

Rabbi Aryeh Lieberman did so much in a half of a life span. Just in his forties, his accomplishments were so many. Aryeh was musmach of Yeshiva Torah V'daath. Rav Pam was his Rebbe and masmich. He learned at Bais Hatalmud in Brooklyn and at the Yeshiva of R. Meir Solveichik in Yerushalayim.

He served for two decades, first as an assistant rabbi and then as the rav of the Jewish Community Center of Bensonhurst. His warmth and character made him into a master and beloved Rebbe at Yeshiva Tifereth Israel in Brooklyn. The rabbi was always host to the Vaad of Rabbainim of Flatbush. We looked forward to his dvar Torah. Young in years, wise in Torah, Rav Aryeh was made Chairman of the Flatbush Vaad Beth Din. A young Rav – but k'shivim in his learning and accomplishments.

Rav Aryeh Lieberman, an inspiration and a blessing.

Rabbi Moses Mescheloff
Nearly a century old at his passing, Rabbi Moses Mescheloff was the זקן שבחבורה. A chaver since 1935, his influence was always felt from our humble beginnings.

Rabbi Mescheloff led Beth Jacob in Miami Beach, and then over fifty years in Chicago. He was a prolific writer and a gifted, sought out speaker and preacher. The RCA published many of his sermons which were surely preached and repreached.

In Miami he organized the Vaad Hakshuruth and spearheaded the building of a Mikva. He was a civilian military Chaplain and was part of a rabbinic delegation which tried to save the passengers of the "St. Louis."

In Chicago, the rabbi was president of the RCA, the Chicago Board of Rabbis, and the Mizrachi. His sons, Efrom Zev and David, both joined the RCA, partly in his honor. How his recommendations for them overflowed with love and pride!

My first venture at a rabbinic convention was to be on a panel shared with Rabbi Mescheloff and other notable rabbis. I was a scared rookie. It was Rabbi Mescheloff who said to me, '''Myron, be strong. You will be good."

Rabbi Mescheloff was a strong leader and was better than good - הזקן שבחבורה.

Rabbi William Z. Novick
William Z. Novick was a legend in his day. His entire career was dedicated to serving Am Yisrael. As a pulpit rabbi immediately after World War II, he helped establish Rescue Children, which brought over 3,000 orphans to Israel.

He came to Chicago for the Jewish National Fund and then for 50 years he was Midwest director for the Weizmann Irisitute in Rehovot, Israel. Where is the Midwest? It seems that the Midwest was the entire world. He was an innovator. He wrote the book on fundraising. His personality was one that made you want to give on your own. Stuart Eizenstadt, Chairman of Weizmann declared that "no man singlehandedly has done more for Weizmann." After the Six Day War, Rabbi Novick organized an AMA mission to Israel.

A talmid of the Hebron Yeshiva, "Bill" received semicha from R. Isser Zalman Meltzer. He was the Kotel when the British forbade blowing the shofar, after Yom Kippur and he treasured the memory of the sound. Accompanying the rabbi's aron to Eretz Israel were eight suitcases of clothing for the poor – just as he would have brought in life.

Rabbi Jack Pianko
Rabbi Jack Pianko loved people, all kinds of people. He was humbled and unassuming, but had a burning passion to help people and to teach Torah.

Rabbi Pianko was a talmid of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin and always maintained a strong bond with his rabbaim, Rabbis Miller, Shurkin, and Zimmerman. Keeping with his ohev habriot attitude, upon receiving smicha he studied and received an MSW from the Wurzweiller School of Social Work at Yeshiva University.

A quarter of a century in the active rabbinate followed. He chose to serve the non-metropolitan areas of New Jersey and Pennsylvania to give of himself as a rabbi. I remember him as a colleague in New Jersey. He was always so congenial and assuring.

In the second stage of his career which lasted an equal amount of time, Rabbi Pianko became a social worker for the State of NJ. His temperament and training made him well equipped to deal with the state's penal system worst offenders.

Rabbi Pianko loved Torah. A regular in "Partners in Torah", he taught so much to so many, one-on-one. He enriched the lives of the partners he taught and nurtured.

Rabbi Jack Pianko an oheiv and a mekareiv.

Rabbi Jacob Rubenstein
Fire struck in the middle of the night and a beloved rabbi and his dear wife were the victims.

Rabbi Jacob Rubenstein was a gavra raba. He retained the southern refinement of his Memphis youth and combined it with the dignity of Harvard and the New England communities he served. Rabbi Jacob Rubenstein was selected unanimously by our colleagues to serve as President of the RCA, a position for which he was so fitted, and he served so well.

Our leader assumed the pulpit of the fledgling Young Israel of Scarsdale and built it into one of the most prestigious and active Synagogue in the country. Cited by so many institutions and groups, he led the Rabbinic Advisory Committee and Cabinet of U.J.A. I was witness to the honor, respect and appreciation that the more liberal leaders of U.J.A. felt toward him, especially as an Orthodox Rabbi.

He came to leadership through yeshiva study in Skokie, at the Mirrer Yeshiva in Jerusalem, and at the Yeshiva Har Zion in Jerusalem which he helped found. His semicha was from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. The rabbi wrote scholarly as well as popular articles and was a member of the Orthodox Caucus.

He was a nasi – our nasi – and we are all elevated because he was our president and leader.

Rabbi Zev Segal
As a young Yeshiva College student, I heard only praise and appreciation for Rabbi Zev Segal, the rabbi from Newark, from fellow students. Rabbi Zev Segal inspired a community and sent its young to yeshivot. Coming from the Beis Medrash L'Torah in Chicago, Rabbi Segal assumed the pulpit of the Young Israel of Newark, created a citadel of Torah, and transformed a community. Rabbi Segal was the original outreach rabbi.

Later on, I was privileged to be his colleague in New Jersey. He was commanding in stature, yet warm and embracing. He was a natural to elected president of the RCA. Under his leadership, much of our agenda and direction was determined. The "Segal Years" were of growth and progress. When Newark declined, Rabbi Segal moved his congregation to the suburbs together with the local day school.

He then moved across to New York, continuing to work for klal Yisrael even into his tenth decade. With the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, this giant of a rabbi helped guarantee the future of Jewish culture and learning. He was building Jewish culture from the ashes of our people.

An original outreach Rabbi, Rabbi Segal ever reached and succeeded. וידו פשוטה

Rabbi Alex Weisfogel
Rabbi Alex Weisfogel was a gentleman of dignity. His British accent went so well with his bearings. Born in England, he learned in the yeshivot of Poland. Among his Masmichim was R. Simcha Zelig of Novardok.

Coming to America, in 1942-45, he served in the U.S. Army, teaching French pilots to fly. The versatile rabbi served in Wallingford, CT.

His shul for the rest of his career was Congregation Kodimoh in Springfield, Mass. His predecessors were formidable and his successors were most fortunate, because after he retired he remained as a guide and loving colleague. Rabbi Weisfogel built the community mikveh. The local day school even named its new wing in tribute to his leadership. He was beloved and respected. The Rabbi also taught in colleges, was a hospital chaplain, and was active as a masgiach for the Orthodox Union.

He went from strength to strength. Always Kodimoh, always forward.

Rabbi Norman Zdanowitz
R. Norman's career was primarily divided between Auborn, Maine and Canarsie, Brooklyn. He was a musmach of Yeshiva Tifereth Jerusalem and always remained loyal to Rav Moshe Feinstein. Rabbi Zdanowitz was a member of the RCA for nearly sixty years. His son, our chaver Dr. Joel, continues in the RCA tradition.

A roeh neeman, he gave his all to his communities. His leadership was exceptional during the racial trials in Canarsie. He spoke with perfect diction and his R's just rolled so beautifully. The rabbi loved to teach bar mitzvah boys. Norman's voice was exceptional and his interpretation of tefillot was inspirational. The Rabbi loved to learn. We used to learn together in his study, where he would always tell his secretary "this is too important to interrupt."

Every Purim, we exchanged manot. Norman always got to our home first. I could never beat him to the draw. Norman was always there first!

Shalom, Chaver.

Conclusion:
Who more than our chaverim have labored so arduously and successfully in the service of Hashem and in the vineyard of Torah? We thank the Almighty for them and their being part of our lives and for the noble examples they have set.

Hazak! They have given us strength, and we in turn will strengthen others.

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