Imagine sitting by a large glass picture window with a view of the night sky of Flushing Meadow Park and Queens. City lights sparkle below, and you’re seated at an elegant table celebrating the wonderful achievements of an incredible mekom Torah.
Our community is blessed with a magnificent dynamic mekom Torah that inspires our community and communities all across the United States. On Sunday evening, November 20, the Rabbinical Seminary of America-Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim held its 89th Annual Dinner and Chag HaSemichah at Terrace on the Park in Queens.
Community members and supporters of the Yeshiva flocked to join in this gala celebration of Torah and Torah learning. Rabbi Naftali Portnoy, Dinner Chairman, welcomed everyone. He shared, “We came together to celebrate 25 men’s hard-earned semichah and to show recognition to Rebbetzin Pesia Leibowitz a”h and to honor to Rabbi & Mrs. Yehuda Mandel and Rabbi & Mrs. Reuven Roth.
Rabbi Dovid Harris, Rosh HaYeshiva of the Rabbinical Seminary of America, pointed out that the world’s existence is dependent on Torah. Yeshivos are holy citadels and the fundamental life force for klal Yisrael and the world itself. If yeshivos are strong, then klal Yisrael flourishes and the world flourishes. He shared that Torah is flourishing at all levels in so many places across the country, and the Yeshiva is grateful to Hashem for the siyata diShmaya that enables this to happen. Rabbinical Seminary of America is making and has made an impact for decades on communities in Orlando, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; Portland Oregon; Tucson, Arizona; Tampa, Florida; Savannah; Ottawa; Toms River; Georgia; Buffalo, New York; San Diego; Las Vegas, Nevada; and on the Olami college campus program. Rabbi Dovid Harris shared that when you support the Yeshiva, you are supporting its influences in the rest of the country. This enables more talmidim to go out to spread Torah.
He expressed hakaras ha’tov to the hanhalah of the Yeshiva and the office workers and secretaries and to all the Yeshiva supporters. He thanked Rabbi Yehuda Jeger for all his hard work. He also thanked Rebbetzin Danielle Leibowitz for all that she did for the Rosh HaYeshiva and all she does now for the talmidim.
He noted that the dinner was dedicated in memory Rebbetzin Pesia Leibowitz a”h, who was a partner with the Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l, in building the Yeshiva. She portrayed sensitivity and dignity. She worked tirelessly for the vision of building Torah worldwide. “She lifted the lives of so many.” He also thanked the honorees for all that they do.
Next, Dr. Yehuda Allan Jacob, Chairman of the Board, lauded the musmachim for going out and teaching Torah all over. He noted that they needed to be trained in musar in order to retain their training in logic. “Musar is the science of human perfection. Torah with musar is Torah. You need both.”
Communities from all over reach out to the Yeshiva to ask them to help come build their communities. The Yeshiva has 415 men learning in the beis midrash. He noted that the new Tampa project is successfully launched this year, which includes a kollel, day school, and shul.
Next, Rabbi Shaul Opoczynski, co-Rosh Yeshiva spoke. He said that the Yeshiva receives requests from cities all over to set up programs. They know that the people in their communities will like the musmachim from the Yeshiva. “It’s an amazing z’chus to be part of something historic and important and to be part of an amazing yeshivah led by amazing roshei yeshivah. There is a special feeling of fulfillment that comes from dedicating your life to Torah.
Next, the audience viewed a video commemorating the 18th yahrzeit of Rebbetzin Pesia Leibowitz a”h, which included thoughts from the rabbis who were influenced by her.
“She was super strong and loving and caring. She was able to understand what bothered each person. She was a tremendous influence. Rav Chaim Aryeh Zev Ginzberg, of the Chofetz Chaim Torah Center of Cedarhurst and the founding rabbi of Ohr Moshe Torah Institute in Hillcrest, shared, “She was the lifeblood of the Yeshiva.”
She did everything to sustain the Rosh Yeshiva’s health. She focused on protecting him and balanced that with making sure that the talmidim received what they needed from him. She exhibited great selflessness. She once didn’t go on a trip with her husband so the talmidim would have the time they needed with him. She appreciated him and she also had strong opinions. He dreamed of yeshivos across America. He and the Rebbetzin kept at it, and they did it!
Rabbi Yosef Singer, Menahel of the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Mesivta, noted that the Yeshiva was her family. Her home was open 24/7 for bachurim. Rabbi Moshe Turk, Director of the Jewish Heritage Center of Queens and Long Island, related that bachurim would open up to her.
Next, Rabbi Akiva Grunblatt, co-Rosh Yeshiva, said that we see today the fulfillment of the dream of the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Henoch, and of his Rebbetzin Pesia. It was the dream of two partners.
Rabbi Opoczynki said, “They gave all they had to klal Yisrael. What they accomplished is incredible.”
After the video, Rabbi Portnoy shared, “Tonight we are here to remember her. I am sure that it is nachas for her that we remember her, and nachas for the Rosh Yeshiva.”
He added, “We are fortunate to have had her in our lives. We are able to remember her. It is a z’chus for us to have the ability to be part of this institution.” He shared that he can never begin to say what she did for him personally. “I only hope I could care for others as she did.”
She was a talmid of the Rosh Yeshiva. To carry on her memory, we should see what we can do for the Yeshiva and its affiliates. He then spoke about the honorees, who are two special couples.
Next, Rabbi Akiva Grunblatt said that Rabbi Yehuda Mandel, who, with his rebbetzin, received the Kesser Shem Tov Award, is the quintessential talmid. He lives his life guided by Torah. He makes himself available to the talmidim of the Yeshiva. Rabbi Dovid Harris said that he understands people and has keen insights. He is ready to do what needs to be done.
He then spoke about Rabbi Reuven Roth, recipient with his rebbetzin of the Young Leadership Award. Rabbi Roth changes lives. He has erlichkeit and he wants to do what is right and he is doing it. He and his rebbetzin have an open home. They love giving. He is working in East Meadow, New York. Rabbi Moshe Winter, Rabbi of the Kehilla of East Meadow (Congregation Shaarei Zedek), shared that Rabbi Roth has made a tremendous impact on the East Meadow community.
Rabbi Roth shared that it is a z’chus to be part of the Yeshiva’s mission.
After this, the audience viewed an inspiring video, where each of the musmachim spoke briefly. Some of their quotes include the following:
“It’s the Yeshiva’s mission to bring Torah to people waiting for it.”
“Yeshiva gave me a foundation of how to live my life.”
“It develops the capability to deal with challenges in life.”
“It’s an environment that asks the individual to be great and to be on the path of avodas Hashem.”
“Every Jewish soul deserves the opportunity to learn Torah, and every community deserves to have m’komos of Torah.”
The evening concluded with each of the musmachim receiving his framed semichah document, and the wives of each received a special gift, a framed Eishes Chayil plaque.
Everyone left uplifted and inspired by this wonderful event. Hashem should continue to bless the Yeshiva and all its work with much success and Yeshiva always!
By Susie Garber