By Joel M. Schreiber
In a famous scene in Tanach, Elisha watches as his master Eliyahu rides up to the Heavens in a chariot of fire. Elisha calls out to Eliyahu, “Avi, Avi rechev Yisrael u’farashav. My Father, my Father, Israel’s chariot and horsemen.”
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik asked: Why did Elisha wait until he saw his master high up in the Heavens to cry out to him? He should have embraced him and clung to him while he was still on earth before he soared to the Heavens. The Rav answered, “One needs some distance to truly appreciate what one has lost . . . and to be able to say what one could not say face to face.”
From a distance I can speak of Shelly Rudoff, a”h.
I weep for the loss of a longtime friend. For almost sixty years, Shelly and I had a close relationship. When I summon up his image—as I have done many times now—I see a most unusual person.
He was a renaissance man; one who was steeped in learning. He was a communal leader, an outstanding lawyer—all achieved with quiet resolve. With a smile in his eye, he was modest but aware of his abilities.
He was a graduate of Yeshiva College where he served as editor-in-chief of the Commentator, and a musmach of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary where he became a talmid chacham. An attorney of distinction, he was the quintessential Modern Orthodox Jew—the best that Yeshiva University could produce.
Shelly loved and appreciated literature—the written word. His mind was open to new ideas and concepts, such as women’s evolving role in Jewish life. He once told me, “We have afforded women a wonderful Jewish education. They must find an outlet for it.”
As a communal leader, he served as president of the Orthodox Union and president of the Beth Din of America. He was a leader in Federation and was active in Camp Mogen Avraham and in the Claims Conference, as well as in many other organizations.
Many years ago he served as president of the Young Israel of the West Side in Manhattan. He and I made a deal: he would serve as president and I would serve as his gabbai, and then we would reverse positions. We worked in tandem for years and sat together in shul for many decades.
OU leaders meet with Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, then chief rabbi of Israel. L-R: OU Past President Julius Berman; Mr. Rudoff; Rabbi Lau; OU Past President Mandell I. Ganchrow, MD; Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO, OU Kosher; OU Past President Professor Shimon Kwestel, and Past Chairman of the OU Board Marcel Weber.
His favorite commentator on Chumash was the Netziv. I cannot recall a time when he did not quote the Netziv at the Shabbos table. He mastered the difficult abbreviations and esoteric references in the Netziv’s writings and truly enjoyed explaining the “chiddush.” His ultimate smile served as proof of that.
He had a great sense of humor, and loved a good joke. I can still see tears running down his face as we both enjoyed listening to a comedian many years ago.
With all his accomplishments in communal affairs, Shelly never forced his way into a leadership position. He had a keen sense of modesty, almost a shyness that prevented him from doing so.
He was a wonderful son, who adored his parents. He possessed an acute feeling of responsibility for his family, for his devoted wife Hedda, and for their daughters Shaindy, a”h, Sara and Simone. But he also had a strong sense of responsibility for his extended family, and for the Jewish community at large.
And so I weep for a lost friend, for the vacuum that was created in our lives and in the community at large by his leaving us.
But I celebrate the fact that I knew Shelly, that he enriched so many lives, that he will be remembered by a grateful community of friends. His fine character and living a life of value will leave an indelible mark on his children and family who will carry on his example in their hearts forever.
That such a man could have lived such an exemplary life in this age brings hope for generations to come.
“Chaval al d’avdin velo mishtakchin, Woe that there are those who are gone and no replacement for them is found.”
Joel Schreiber is an honorary vice president at the Orthodox Union and chairman emeritus of Jewish Action.