The Bronx will never be the same now that two greats have stepped back
— Yankee captain Derek Jeter and Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale have both left their marks on the world. While Jeter’s class and dignity has transcended baseball, so too has Reb Avi as he is affectionately known had an impact well beyond New York — and well beyond the Jewish world.
On Thursday in synagogue, Rabbi Weiss — who is now 70-years young — said in front of his congregants that “It’s been a great ride”, as he and his wife Toby marked the 40th year since he founded the synagogue in a basement. Today, his synagogue is one of the largest in America, with more than 850 families. He’s also founded a women’s yeshiva, for female clerics, and founded Yeshiva Chovevi Torah which has Rabbis impacting communities all over America.
I know Rabbi Avi Weiss nearly all my life — he officiated at my bar mitzvah and wedding — and is today a very close friend. The man has taught so many people so much.
Be there. Be present: knows the importance for people of life-changing events and is simply there. From hospital visits to teaching, she understands the need to connect with people. With iphones constantly in our hands, it becomes more important to remember this point as well. So many of us forget this as we get caught up in day to day life.
Celebrate differences: Long before there were laws for Americans with Disabilities, Rabbi Weiss built one of the first wheelchair accessible synagogues. His synagogue also still hosts free events weekly for people of all faiths with special needs, and has long taught his congregants to respect people of all faiths. Similarly, wearing a kippa doesn’t make one religious – Not everyone who is ritually observant is religious, and not everyone who is religious is ritually observant.
Take chances — One can always be young at heart. Rabbi Avi Weiss turned down “safe” jobs to found an institution in a Riverdale boiler room. Great things are accomplished by people who do not take the easy route out.
American Jewry should be in panic with scary assimilation rates — and more leaders should be challenging the institutions which have failed the community for so many years.
Rabbi Avi Weiss’ “just do it” mentality has spawned so many great Rabbis who have learned from him — and went off to build on their own. He has inspired tens of thousands of people in all walks of life to believe in themselves and inspire others. With this decision, at the age of 70, he realizes that the synagogue is larger than just one man — even a great man like him. Similarly, he stepped back from Yeshivat Chovevai Torah when he named Rabbi Asher Lopatin the Chairman of the Open Orthodox institution.
And throughout it, Reb Avi did the right thing, following path of excellence. His wife Toby some months ago said it succinctly, “there are so many aspects of him which people don’t know.”
Rabbi Avi Weiss epitomizes everything a Rabbi should be. A man who connects with people, a genuine, honorable leader whose deeds come from the heart for the right reasons. He is a man who genuinely loves his family, his congregants, his religion and has such immense love for Israel and the Jewish people.
The Bronx has seen two greats stepping back this year — Derek Jeter & Rabbi Avi Weiss.
Thank you Rabbi Avi Weiss.
Ronn Torossian is an entrepreneur and author. He is a board member of Yeshivat Maharat —but writes this in a personal capacity.