Rabbi David Rebibo, z’l

Once when I was hiking in the wilderness, I began to descend a canyon on a narrow foot trail. There was a sign at the trailhead: “Leave only footprints. Take only memories.” In an effort to maintain the pristine beauty of the landscape, someone had posted that pleasant but clear admonition. The wilderness should not be sullied or tampered with. Candy wrappers, beer cans, and other garbage are not welcome here. The desert needs its cacti and no one is welcome to haul away saguaros in order to give their front yard a Southwestern look. Leave only footprints. Take only memories.

This is a metaphor for life as well. We live out our years with busy schedules. We work, we play, we eat, and we sleep. Some people accomplish a lot. Some people accomplish much less. Hashem gives us each our talents and our proclivities and then it’s up to us and our circumstances to choose where we direct our energies. Those of you who have read some of my earlier columns may recall the “RSS”—the importance of establishing a routine, adhering to a schedule, and structuring our time in order to stay stable, regulated, and composed. Ideally, we do our RSS and then are left to face the existential question: What has our life amounted to?

The footprints we left. Do they lead anywhere that makes a difference? The memories we made for and about ourselves. Are we proud of them and the values for which they stand?

{IMG Rabbi David Rebibo of Beth Jacob Congregation in Pheonix with Merkos Vice Chairman Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky

{Caption Rabbi David Rebibo, z’l, of Beth Jacob Congregation in Pheonix with Merkos Vice Chairman Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, z’l

Last night, to my sorrow, I learned that my father-in-law, Rabbi David Rebibo, zt’l, had passed away after ailing for several months. I did not make it to the funeral in Israel, which was held long before I could arrange a flight. I am about to leave now for there, but have been reflecting on him and his life. What were his footprints? What direction did he travel? Born in Salé, the Jewish quarter near Rabat, he was the only child his community chose to send to yeshiva in France while not yet in his teens. While in France, he studied at the Yeshiva of Aix-les-Bains under Rav Chaim Chaikin, who took him under his wing. He returned for a while to Morocco, where he was the youngest musmach of that town’s beis din. Rav Avraham Kalmanowitz of the Mir met him while on a mission to bring young boys out of North Africa to study in yeshivas, and he became a translator and confidante of the great Torah leader. He studied in the Mir and in Ponevezh, where he developed close relationships with the luminaries of those famed institutions.

Dr. Joseph Kaminetsky discovered his talents as a rebbe and sent him to Memphis, where he worked closely with his lifelong friend, Rav Nota Greenblatt. After becoming a leading force in the Memphis Torah schools, Dr. Kaminetsky informed him of his dream of establishing Jewish schools in every major city across the continent. He told my father-in-law that he was sending him to the hot and dusty town of Phoenix, Arizona where there was no shul, no mikveh, and no Orthodox synagogue. Arriving with his Rebbetzin, Odette, and their young children, he labored and struggled to begin a Jewish day school. He put his children to work. Even his daughter helped prepare the bar mitzvah- age boys to lein their parshiyos. His sons coaxed their classmates to wear yarmulkes, to only eat kosher food, and to learn how to enjoy Shabbos.

The Phoenix Hebrew Academy was soon on the map. It was a Torah Umesorah school and my father-in-law became a vice president of education for that organization, hosting TU principals’ conventions in Phoenix, working with the Federation to only host kosher events and no Shabbos events, and eventually blossoming into Congregation Beth Joseph, named after his father who had died of tuberculosis when my father-in-law was a child. He spoke in Congress about supporting Torah education. He consulted in France and other countries on how to establish religious schools and communities. He formed a Vaad HaKashrus, which provided both local kosher products as well as putting Phoenix on the map for many exclusive Pesach programs. He built a mikveh with the guidance of Rav Moshe Feinstein with whom he was close. In time, a yeshiva high school and beis midrash and a girls high school took root in the city. A beis din for gittin was established through the input of Rav Greenblatt. For nearly sixty years, he and his wife served the community which they had built. They made aliyah on the last flight out before COVID closed the airports.

Leave only footprints. We marvel humbly at the trails he blazed and the paths he forged, while urging others to follow along. Take only memories. His rich life came to an end just after Shabbos. We take endless memories of him. His life was a rich example of how to live a Jewish life. I hope that his example will continue to serve me and my family for many generations. HaRav Dovid Yaish ben Yosef. Yehi Zichro Baruch. n


Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox is a forensic and clinical psychologist, and director of Chai Lifeline Crisis Services. To contact Chai Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis helpline, call 855-3-CRISIS or email crisis@chailifeline.org. Learn more at www.chailifeline.org/crisis.



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