Rabbi Manfred Gans “didn’t need to explain with Talmudic erudition why he loved his fellow Jews. He simply didn’t see their flaws,” Rabbi Yossi Mendelson said of his predecessor, Rabbi Manfred Gans, on the one-year yahrzeit of his passing.
If a person did have a flaw, Rabbi Gans would say, “That’s not them, they’re really a special person,” said Rabbi Mendelson.
More than a hundred people honored Rabbi Gans at Congregation Machane Chodosh in Forest Hills with memories and a siyum on Wednesday, July 28, that was both live and on Zoom.
Starting at age 25, in 1950, and until his retirement in 2010, Rabbi Gans served the synagogue and the Talmud Torah school. The synagogue and congregation moved from Crown Heights to Forest Hills in 1977. Their building was completed in 1981.
Rabbi Gans was also principal of the elementary schools at Yeshiva Rabbi Dov Revel, the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, and in Prospect Park Yeshiva during his lifetime, said his son, Jerome Gans.
Rabbi Gans took a 1927 gemara, produced in Poland, with him as one of the few possessions allowed when fleeing Nazi Germany in 1938 before Kristallnacht. The Gans family still has that gemara with Rabbi Gans’ handwritten address in Leer, Germany.
Rabbi Gans wanted Jews to connect to that “unbroken string, all the way back. He wanted everyone to understand that, that they were valuable, and to connect to that,” said Jerome.
Despite destroying the Second Temple and renaming Judea to Palaestina, it is the Roman civilization that’s in museums. Jewish people still go to a shiur, to a minyan, and get involved with a Jewish community, said Jerome.
“The one thing that keeps us here, that’s special, that’s eternal, that’s the Torah. My father pushed people, in his gentle way, to try to understand that… Rabbi Gans encouraged everybody to do more, more chesed, attend a minyan, do something else.”
“His rabbinical style was dignified and approachable,” said Rabbi Mendelson of Machane Chodosh. Rabbi Gans expressed his love of Jews with “humor, compassion, and real, genuine concern.” If Jews had a disagreement, Rabbi Gans would try to make peace.
Rabbi Gans had a deep commitment to tradition, but done “in a way that was dignified, appropriate, respectful, and that had a beautiful kind of aesthetic,” said Rabbi Mendelson.
Rabbi Gans loved learning Mishnah, so congregants learned for months, finishing the Mishnah section of Moed (holidays) in Rabbi Gans’ honor and for his soul to have an aliyah on his yahrzeit.
Rabbi Michael Schoen, a nephew of Rabbi Gans in Israel, said, “His existence, the way he acted, was the biggest influence on people around him. It wasn’t just intellectual discussions, of proving right and the wrong; it is by example, it is by the action. We should take upon ourselves, first of all, to realize that our actions are more important than words.”
Rabbi Gans’ grandson, Ephraim Cohen, said Rabbi Gans did the big and small mitzvos “carefully, slowly, and with the proper kavanah (intention).” The Rambam says we earn reward in Olam HaBa for every mitzvah. “We can’t even fathom what he has in Olam HaBa.
Gary Jacoby, a gabbai who has been attending Machane Chodosh since 2000, said that Rabbi Gans “was the most wonderful human being you ever met.” He was considerate of everybody, very kind, very warm. “He always made time for everybody, no matter how big or small your problem was… They don’t come better than him.”
By David Schneier