By Rabbi Yosie Levine
(Delivered at the funeral, Monday, December 19, 2011)
Tomorrow night we’ll start lighting Chanukah candles. And as we all know, over time, the practice of how to perform this mitzvah has evolved. In ancient times, as the שלחן ערוך writes, Jews would light the candles at the entrance to their homes so that everyone outside could see them. By the middle ages, the social and political climate had changed; it wasn’t possible to light outside the home, so as the רמ"א writes: כלנו מדליקין בפנים. The principle מצוה became the act of lighting inside our homes for the members of our families.
But the רמ"א adds that, to the extent possible, we should try to accomplish both: We light the candles on the interior of our homes, but we do so סמוך לפתח – next to an entryway or window so that the candles are visible to the exterior as well.
Shelley Rudoff’s legacy was defined by a lifelong capacity to accomplish both of these ideals. He had a public persona as a communal leader that was visible to all – supporting and advancing major Jewish institutions. And at the same time – out of the public eye, known really only to בני ביתו, he led an equally outstanding life as a husband, brother, father, grandfather and uncle.
In the public sphere, anyone involved in Jewish communal life knew Shelley – and he knew them. He loved people, took an interest in them and remembered them.
He was exposed to Jewish communal leadership from a young age and became a champion of תורה ומדע, not just philosophically but on a practical and daily basis.
A product of Torah V’daas, BTA, Yeshiva College, RIETS and NYU Law School, he saw first-hand from his parents what it meant to lead. His mother was so active in Yeshiva University and Mizrachi which became Amit. It was almost natural for him to put his many talents to use on behalf of the Jewish community.
He excelled professionally as an attorney and was a man of the world: He loved books and music; opera, theater and ballet. He loved history and learning and whenever outside the confines of Manhattan, he often doubled as a tour guide. He was a proud American who loved baseball and Thanksgiving. He was a gifted teacher and orator.
All of this fit so seamlessly into his unstinting devotion to Hashem and the Jewish people.
He made תלמוד תורה a regular priority and always had a thoughtful insight into the פרשה or upcoming חג.
I remember the many occasions on which he shared with me his always learned thoughts on what I had taught in shul. He always had a source up his sleeve that either corroborated or – even more frequently – eviscerated the argument I was trying to make.
His communal involvement was simply remarkable:
I counted at least six shuls with which he was involved: Ohav Shalom, the Besser Shtiebel, Biyan, Lincoln Square Synagogue, The Jewish Center and Young Israel of the West Side where he served as president.
He didn’t just love shul, he loved davening and was always happy to serve as a בעל תפילה.
As you know, he was President of the Orthodox Union; he was President of the Beth Din of America; he was a trustee at Yeshiva University; he was a leader at NCSY, Yachad and the Claims Conference. The list goes on.
The rabbis, ראשי ישיבה, presidents, chair-people and distinguished leaders who are here in this room this morning – too many to name – are a testament to the lives he touched and the world he changed.
But often unseen by the public eye, Shelley’s legacy was also that of a man who loved nothing more than his precious family, took care of them, and showed them by quiet example how to care for others without fanfare or flourish.
Evelyn set her brother up with Hedda more the 45 years ago and together they made an amazing team.
He was a hands-on parent who was generous, encouraging and always supportive of his children’s ambitions and aspirations. The Rudoff Shabbos table was always a place of זמירות and דברי תורה. Even when Hedda and Shelley were empty nesters, there was always a discussion of the פרשה – always an exchange of ideas and thoughts on topics of Torah – which Hedda described as a force that unified them.
His nieces and nephews loved him as a father. And when he became a grandparent, the moment was simply transformative. When Rachel was born, he would drive up to Riverdale just to hold his granddaughter. And how amazing it was that Shelley was able to learn with his grandson, Eli and celebrate his Bar Mitzvah together with his family this past summer in ארץ ישראל.
And when Shaindy passed away, there were no lengths to which Shelley wouldn’t go to memorialize his daughter. And despite the university’s skepticism, Shelley single-handedly raised a $1 million so establish the Bar Ilan Writing Program to perpetuate Shaindy’s name and the work she was most passionate about.
Quietly, without anyone really knowing, he would help people – help them get a job, help them get back on their feet.
When you light in the entryway to your house, the שלחן ערוך writes that the Menorah should go on the left side. That way the מזוזה will be on your right and you’ll be surrounded and entirely embraced by מצוות.
Hedda, Evelyn, Sara and Ira, Simone and Mark, Rachel, Meir, Ellie, Yonina, Yamin and Shaina:
This was Shelley’s life. Publicly and privately – he was שקוע in עבודת ה'.
He surrounded himself in the warm embrace of the מצוות and people he loved so dearly.
תהא נשמת רב שלמה בן רפאל צרורה בצרור החיים
May the soul of Shelley Rudoff be bound in the bonds of eternal life.
Rabbi Yosie Levine is Rabbi of The Jewish Center, New York, NY