The tremendous hakaras ha’tov that I have for Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld shlita compels me to write this article. Having been fortunate to work alongside Rabbi Schonfeld for close to a decade, I would like to publicly thank Rabbi Schonfeld for all his mentorship and guidance. The Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, as well as the Kew Gardens Hills community at large, has benefited greatly from Rabbi Schonfeld’s wisdom and leadership for 30 years, and it has been a z’chus for me to witness firsthand many of these leadership qualities. As Rabbi Schonfeld retires and leaves our neighborhood, I would like to share some of the lessons that I have learned from watching and helping Rabbi Schonfeld at the YIKGH.
1) Greatness in Torah – First and foremost, Rabbi Schonfeld is a true talmid chacham. In addition to giving numerous shiurim throughout the week on all different levels, Rabbi Schonfeld’s Torah knowledge is vast, and he is always happy to teach. One particular episode exemplifies Rabbi Schonfeld’s true scholarship. One Yom Tov, a shul member asked Rabbi Schonfeld a difficult question about the laws of Eruvin. Rabbi Schonfeld answered the person on the spot, but the very next day (the second day of Yom Tov), Rabbi Schonfeld proceeded to give a detailed shiur between Minchah and Maariv on the very same topic, casually remarking that he looked further into the topic upon receiving the question from the member. This desire to grow in his own learning, while at the same time making difficult Torah topics available to the masses, is enviable.
2) Sensitivity – Rabbi Schonfeld is the consummate shul rabbi, having tended to the pastoral needs of the shul assiduously for the last three decades. Whether it was bikur cholim, l’vayos, or simply answering sh’eilos, Rabbi Schonfeld made himself available and provided a helping hand and a listening ear to all. Rabbi Schonfeld’s patience and calmness during difficult times was soothing for countless members at all times of the day and night.
3) Welcoming – Rabbi Schonfeld is constantly welcoming visitors and others who step through the doors of the YIKGH. Rabbi Schonfeld never misses the opportunity to publicly announce visiting rabbanim, making everyone feel right at home in the shul. Indeed, Rabbi Schonfeld has gone to great lengths to ensure that all segments of the diverse population of KGH feel comfortable in the shul, often arranging for programming that is inclusive and caters to a wide array of hashkafos, ages, and levels of frumkeit.
4) Loves Family – Rabbi Schonfeld’s respect and love for his family is legendary. The closeness that Rabbi Schonfeld feels to his family, be it those who are near or far, blood relatives or not, is palpable every time he speaks about them. The fact that there is always a Schonfeld visitor – a sibling, a child, a grandchild – at the YIKGH each Shabbos highlights the beautiful bond that Rabbi Schonfeld has created and maintains. Anyone who knows the Schonfeld children and grandchildren can attest that Rabbi and Rebbetzin Schonfeld, baruch Hashem, have much to be proud of.
5) Tackles Adversity – As Rabbi Schonfeld himself has publicly written, he has faced certain personal challenges over the past few years. Yet, someone observing Rabbi Schonfeld would hardly know that. Rabbi Schonfeld always has a smile on his face and an upbeat attitude, never letting his own personal hardships get in the way of his work for the shul and the community. He is truly self-sacrificing and rises above adversity to be oseik b’tzarchei tzibur.
6) Man of Peace – Anyone with rabbinic experience can testify that being a rabbi of a shul is not an easy task. Often, rabbanim are faced with machlokes, whether between two members of the shul, a husband and wife, or simply a contentious issue within the community. I am constantly in awe of how Rabbi Schonfeld deftly avoids all types of machlokes, always being the calming and peaceful voice in the room and leading by example.
7) National Presence – Rabbi Schonfeld, in addition to his tireless work for the YIKGH, is also involved in numerous community and national organizations, showing the importance of commitment to the Jewish people. Rabbi Schonfeld helped make our Vaad the strong organization that it is today. Rabbi Schonfeld is also the President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, advocating for Torah ideals in the secular media and in other crucial venues. Rabbi Schonfeld’s love for Eretz Yisrael is clear from his drashos and conversations.
8) Humility – I have been the beneficiary of Rabbi Schonfeld’s extreme humility on numerous occasions. Rabbi Schonfeld often honors me by attending my shiurim, complimenting my shiurim, and encouraging me to continue to teach Torah. This is despite his own vast knowledge and busy schedule. His ability to guide me in a low-key, non-didactic manner is something I will always cherish. The way Rabbi Schonfeld treated me, an assistant rabbi many years his junior, is a testament to Rabbi Schonfeld’s sterling midos and humility.
9) Kibud Av VaEim – Everyone in the YIKGH knows that Rabbi Schonfeld’s extreme kibud av va’eim lengthened the lives of his parents considerably. Watching Rabbi Schonfeld interact with Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld zt”l was the most powerful kibud av va’eim lesson that a person could learn. The respect, the love, and the patience were genuine and truly a sight to witness. It is no surprise that Rabbi Schonfeld carries the legacy and mesorah of his father zt”l with such pride.
10) Integrity – Rabbi Schonfeld breathes integrity. I do not think I have ever seen anyone so dedicated to upholding Jewish and Torah values as Rabbi Schonfeld. Rabbi Schonfeld is never embarrassed or scared to defend the Torah and the Jewish people, regardless of the political correctness or social acceptance of such views. Rabbi Schonfeld is a beacon of integrity and has taught me not to fall prey to laxness in addressing timely issues of the day. Our private conversations about contemporary issues will be missed.
I would like to conclude by again expressing my thanks to Rabbi Schonfeld for all that he has done for me and my family. On behalf of my wife, Chana, and myself, we would like to wish Rabbi and Rebbetzin Schonfeld good health, happiness, and hatzlachah in all their future endeavors. May they continue to see much nachas from their wonderful family ad mei’ah v’esrim shanah.
By Rabbi Ephraim Glatt, Esq.,
Assistant Rabbi, YIKGH