The entire Jewish people owe a thank you to the great Rabbi Avi Weiss. The American Jewish Rabbi this year celebrates his 40th year as the spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (HIR) which has grown to be one of the largest synagogues in the U.S., but indeed he is so much more than the leader of that shul. Reb Avi, as some call him is a real, authentic Jewish hero – someone who has changed the face of Jewish history and impacted so many and indeed so much in Jewish life worldwide.
The man is one who has the blood of the Jewish people – Am Israel – running through his entire essence and as he celebrates this milestone we all owe him a thank you.
The Rabbinical seminary he founded, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, recently celebrated its 10th year as a major Torah institution which is warm, authentic and celebrates open Orthodoxy. It’s a concept which simply says Judaism should be open for all types of Jews – as he always has. Yeshivat Maharat, the Yeshiva he founded which trains Jewish Orthodox women as spiritual leaders this year graduates its first class. As he has long advocated, women need to have responsibility and leadership in the Jewish community. And the entire community needs to do more to recognize the 50% of our community which are women. All of us who care about the Jewish people owe him a special thank you.
Personally, Rabbi Avi Weiss has been a constant figure for my entire life. From officiating at my bar mitzvah and wedding, my sisters bat mitzvah’ and recently my mothers’ funeral. The man is my hero, role model and much more. I love the man and am blessed today to consider him a close friend.
In 1980, I was six years old and remember his tiny synagogue in a boiler room in Riverdale and my mom speaking highly of him as a right-wing Zionist Rabbi. Throughout the ‘80’s, I remember the youth program, his warmth and advocacy on important issues and vividly remember Avital Scharansky sitting on the steps of the HIR and crying. I was a young kid and asked my mom – why is that woman crying? And that’s how I remember the Scharansky story. Remember my mother going to the women’s tefiillah group at his shul, and I have traveled with him worldwide. And of course have learned so much about life, Judaism, values – as anyone has who has been blessed to have spent time with him.
And while Rabbi Weiss is indeed the activist so many know from the media that is a small part of the man. He has spoke out against terrorism, and for Israel, stood up worldwide against Anti-Semites and so much more. He believes in doing the right thing and not being afraid of reaction – and that’s an act of holiness and not easy. He deserves as he has been named one of the 50 most influential U.S. rabbis by Newsweek magazine over the last five consecutive years – but he is so much more than that.
Rabbi Avi Weiss celebrates Judaism and humanity – he really cares for people and it’s so clear for anyone he has embraced. The man epitomizes holiness. Today, as Senior Rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, there are more than 850 members of “the Bayit”, the home which welcome Jews of all background. And anyone who encounters the man can tell his authenticity and pure love which oozes from every fiber of his body. He is everywhere as anyone who has met him can tell you.
Rabbi Avi Weiss feels responsible for the entire Jewish people – he simply has to do it and he does. He makes the entire Jewish world and indeed the entire Jewish people better. He makes us stronger. I pray he lives to be 120 and thank him as he celebrates his 40th year as the spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.