350 Years and Counting: OU To Honor Seven Rabbis Who Helped Shape Growth of Orthodox Judaism

07 Mar 2008


When they started their rabbinical careers a half century or more ago, Orthodox Judaism in the United States was widely perceived to be a small and diminishing throwback, destined to become even more marginalized as Jews embraced newer, more liberal varieties of Jewish observance more in tune with the American post-war experience.

Now, with 350 years of combined service under their belts, they are witnesses to – or better said, primary forces behind — the explosive growth of what has been termed the Orthodox Synagogue movement, which is flourishing while American Jewish demography overall is shrinking, and is rich in the resources that only a healthy community can provide. These resources include synagogues, yeshivot/day schools, mikva’ot, easy availability of kosher food, and the publication of every conceivable kind of religious book for the edification of adults and children alike.

Because of what they have seen and what they have done, the seven rabbis – Rafael Grossman, Joseph Grunblatt, David Hollander, Gilbert Klaperman, Ralph Pelcovitz, Fabian Schonfeld and Max Schreier – will receive the Orthodox Union’s Lifetime Rabbinic Achievement Award at the OU’s 110th Anniversary National Dinner, to be held Sunday, April 6 at 5:00 p.m. at the Grand Hyatt New York.

Their wisdom and their reflections on the growth of Orthodox Judaism in America will be on display for all to read in an upcoming edition of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine, when it publishes excerpts of a roundtable discussion in which the rabbis participated.

“In a generation devoid of heroes, we have chosen to honor seven authentic heroes — men who chose a path of spiritual leadership when it was not popular to do so, and who succeeded eminently in inspiring hundreds of others to follow them along that path,” declared OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb. “As a veteran of the rabbinate myself, I consider each of these seven to be my own personal mentor.”

OU President Stephen J. Savitsky was moderator of the discussion. “The seven rabbis represent American Orthodox life for the past 60 years; their insights and wisdom had to be captured in print,” Mr. Savitsky said. “It was my honor to moderate the session and to hear firsthand their thoughts regarding the past, present and future of Orthodox Judaism in America.”

At the dinner, the OU will also honor Anna Ruth and Mark Hasten of Indianapolis, IN with the Lifetime Achievement Award; Al Miller, who over 31 years built FEGS into one of the nation’s largest and most respected social service organizations, with the Lifetime Community Service Award; Jonathan Mell of Teaneck, NJ, with the Young Leadership Distinguished Service Award; and Osem USA, the American branch of Israel’s largest grocery, frozen and chilled food products manufacturing company, with the National Kashrut Leadership Award.

Emanuel J. Adler of Teaneck is Dinner Chairman. Mr. Adler urged “all those who were influenced by the seven rabbis to come to the event to share in honoring them.”

The bios of the rabbis follow:

Rabbi Rafael Grossman was senior rabbi of the famed Baron Hirsch Synagogue in Memphis, TN for thirty years, and is a past president of both the Rabbinical Council of America and the Beth Din of America, as well as a former chairman of the board of the Religious Zionists of America. Additionally, Rabbi Grossman is a practicing psychotherapist, and a noted professor, author and columnist.

Rabbi Joseph Grunblatt, a 1996 recipient of the esteemed Ben Zakkai Honor Society Harold H. Boxer Memorial Award, as well as the National Rabbinic Centennial Medallion Award, served for nearly four decades as rabbi of the Queens Jewish Center in Forest Hills, NY. He is also a former vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America and the Va’ad Harabonim of Queens, as well as an author and contributing editor to Jewish Action.

Rabbi David Hollander has been rabbi of the Hebrew Alliance of Brighton in Brooklyn for 28 years, but his notable career started well before, when he served as rabbi at K’hal Adath Yeshurun and Mt. Eden Jewish Center in the Bronx for 37 years. A former president of the Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbinical Alliance of America and Poalei Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Hollander is also a columnist for various English and Yiddish publications.

Rabbi Dr. Gilbert Klaperman was the founding rabbi, in 1950, of Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence, NY. A distinguished professor and lawyer, he was a faculty member of institutions including Yeshiva College and Hofstra Law School. After his retirement from Congregation Beth Sholom in 1988, Rabbi Dr. Klaperman has continued to serve in various roles, including assistant district attorney in Kings County, New York.

Rabbi Ralph Pelcovitz, past recipient of the Enid and Harold H. Boxer Memorial Award of the Ben Zakkai Honor Society, is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Kneseth Israel in Far Rockaway, NY. A noted author and speaker, he has lectured extensively across the United States and Israel. Rabbi Pelcovitz is also a former president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and a member of the OU’s Board of Directors.

Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, recipient of the National Rabbinic Centennial Medallion Award, serves as rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, a position he has held with distinction for 54 years. Current president of Poalei Agudath Israel, as well as past president of the Rabbinical Council of America and past chairman of the Council of Young Israel Rabbis, Rabbi Schonfeld is also the founder of the Va’ad Harabonim of Queens.

Rabbi Max N. Schreier has been the Rabbi of the Avenue N. Jewish Center in Brooklyn for the past 45 years. He is a past President of the Rabbinical Council of America, as well as a past President of the Rabbinic Alumni of RIETS. Yeshiva University conferred upon him a Doctor of Divinity Degree for distinguished service to the Yeshiva and the American Jewish Community. He is also a past President of the Va’d Harabanim of Flatbush. Rabbi Schreier is a member of the Board of Governors of the OU.

For further information on attending the dinner or placing a journal ad, contact Malka Laks at 212-613-8144, or malkal@ou.org.