In August of 1963, as a 13-year old, I began a spiritual journey which still impacts my life 55 years later. Two of the people who were so significant in that process, passed away this week, Cantor Sherwood Goffin and Cy Shavrick.
Beginning in the 1950s the Youth Bureau of Yeshiva University began running week-long youth programs designed to expose Jewish youth to their Jewish heritage on both a spiritual and an intellectual level. The program, called Torah Leadership Seminar, was held twice a year, a week at the end of the summer at a camp, and a week during winter vacation, at a hotel. TLS was the brainchild of Dr. Abraham Stern, zt”l, the head of Yeshiva’s Community Services Division. Seminar, which started on the East coast of the US, expanded during the ’60’s to locations on the West Coast and Canada. It had a profound effect on thousands of Jewish teens, over the almost thirty years that it existed. The educational staff included some of the brightest young minds of the time, like Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Haskel Lookstein.
I was one of those teens. The way that I have led my life is due to a great extent to the ten years I spent being part of TLS, both as a participant and, later, as an advisor. There I met people who have remained some of my closest friends, and there, I met the wonderful person who would some day consent to be my wife, a commitment that is still going strong.
One of the hallmarks of Seminar was reaching the teens spiritually and emotionally. A huge part of that was a young chazzan, Sherwood Goffin, who was just starting out, a person who could take a song and infuse it with so much, feeling, that decades later anyone who heard him sing “Little Bird” could still recount the emotions that they felt. Much has been said, and will be written about his illustrious career as the famous chazzan of the Lincoln Square Synagogue. But at the beginning, there was Sherwood and TLS and young Jews thirsting to know about their heritage, coming together to create an atmosphere that influenced lives.
Ideas like Torah Leadership Seminar are easy to think about but difficult to pull off. Together with Dr. Stern, Cy Shavrick took a concept and created a reality. As director of YU’s Youth Bureau, he took a theoretical concept and developed programming, managed logistics, and in thousands of ways made the magic happen. He had the knack of being able to say the right thing, to a participant or staff member. He knew how to reach out to teens, with just the right balance of seriousness and fun. He shouldered the responsibility of positively influencing vulnerable teens with warmth and compassion. Although he was not as well known, his contribution to the lives of so many cannot pass unnoticed.
It is strange that two of the people who have changed my life have passed away in the same week. Maybe God wanted them both to come at the same time, Sherwood to sing His praise with all the beauty and spirit that he could and Cy to make sure that the heavenly kumsitz would happen, in just the way that it should. May their memory be a blessing for all of us.