Saturday, March 22, 2014

How One Man Can Change the World, Rabbi Wolf, ZaTz"L, Great Neck

Can it really be a decade since Rabbi Ephraim Wolf of the Great Neck Synagogue passed away? Apparently it is.  This video click was made of the memorial evening at the Great Neck Synagogue to commemorate Rabbi Wolf.

In the economic boom of the 1950's in the United States, many Jews rushed with great enthusiasm into standard American life. And that American life didn't include Jewish practice and restrictions. The dream was to be a Real American, rather than an old-fashioned Jew.

Many Orthodox Rabbis reluctantly accepted jobs in Conservative shuls, because they were pretty much the only rabbinic jobs to be found. Popular knowledge of the time was that Orthodoxy was on its way out. Reform Judaism was much more American, and if you wanted a moderate amount of tradition, then Conservative was the best bet.  But Orthodox Judaism? That was for the elderly; when they would die, it would die with them.

In Great Neck there was a many named Solomon Goldwyn. He had a dream.  His dream was that there would be an Orthodox synagogue and community in Great Neck. He wasn't willing to compromise and he didn't give up when the first rabbi couldn't share his dream. In 1956 he found his willing partner, Rabbi Ephraim Wolf. Rabbi Wolf, his wife and two sons came to Great Neck and took to the challenge.  They didn't let Great Neck change them; they changed Great Neck.

We just celebrated the Purim Holiday. One of the questions debated is why is the Megillah, the Scroll that tells the story of Purim named after Esther and not Mordechai. Chazal, our sages say that it's named after Esther, because she took Mordechai's alert seriously, took personal risks and knew how to rescue the Jewish People. Rabbi Wolf was the Esther to Solomon Goldwyn's Mordechai.

Today Great Neck is an enormous center of Orthodox Judaism because of how Rabbi Wolf made personal contact with all potential members of the shul. The shul kept dues to a minimum so that "not having money" could never be used as a reason not to join. He welcomed all Jews and didn't condemn those who weren't religiously observant.  We moved to Great Neck in 1962. I became involved in the Teen Club, a founding chapter of NCSY, and through that learned what Judaism really is. That's why I'm the Torah observant person living in Israel I am today.

Rabbi Wolf always made great efforts to visit me when he was in Israel, and he was very supportive and proud of my move with my husband and children to Shiloh. He'd even mention me on occasion in his sermons.

Today's American Jewry is not what the experts had predicted sixty-seventy years ago. Orthodox Judaism is strong. Orthodox synagogues are full in many cities.  Davka, the Conservative synagogue we we had been members of before we moved to Great Neck, the Oakland Jewish Center, Bayside, NY, closed last summer after decades of declining membership.

Great Neck is an Orthodox center today because of Rabbi Wolf, and many people, like myself, are Torah Observant today because of Rabbi Wolf, and I am taking this opportunity again to thank him.


Unknown said...

Beautiful, Batya. Thank you.

Batya said...

Leah, I'm glad it's ok with you.