This past Shabbos, Rabbi and Rebbetzin Yudin celebrated the completion of their 50th year as the spiritual leaders of Congregation Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn, NJ. Hundreds gathered to participate in a very memorable and historic Shabbos. On Friday night, my wife Chaviva shared these personal words of tribute in honor of her parents.
There are certain moments in life which are so surreal that it is difficult to know if what is happening is real or just a dream. I feel like this is such a moment. While my parents must remember what life was like before they came to Fair Lawn 50 years ago, this is the only life that I have ever known. I was born into this community, raised in this community and, most importantly, shaped by this community.
Growing up in “19-09” was the greatest privilege in the world. It is true, as you have all heard, and many, if not most of you, have witnessed firsthand, it had its drawbacks as well. Now is not the time to reflect on the chaos and dysfunction, the constant traffic and never-ending noise. Because at the end of the day, each and every one of us only gets to live one life. And I consider myself profoundly fortunate and I am forever grateful that I had the privilege to live in a home which served as the control center for a universe of Torah and chesed. My parents built an empire and their impact upon this community, and the entire world is truly and absolutely immeasurable.
So, what am I to say at this time? What words am I supposed to string together to capture the awesomeness of this moment? How can one possibly summarize 50 years, without inevitably diminishing something so unfathomable and cheapening something so truly profound? How can I start if I won’t be able to finish? How can I begin something which has no end? Honestly, I don’t know the answer to these questions. And I don’t know that anyone else does either.
But I need to say something. I want to say something. So, here is what I am going to do. I am going to single out 10 lessons that I have learned from my parents; lessons that I hope to continue to cherish and hold onto every day of my life. I am selecting 10 because 10 is a round number and because it enables me to start something and allows me to finish. Otherwise, I would go on and on and on because there truly are countless lessons that I have learned from my parents.
Lesson #1: Torah must always be the foundation of our lives. Torah gives us direction and focus and provides meaning and purpose in every moment of life. Every moment of every day can be enriched through Torah study, Torah observance, and Torah living.
Lesson #2: Always talk to Hashem. Davening is so powerful and so meaningful. Whether it is formal prayer in shul or grasping onto a sefer tehillim at the kitchen table. We are so fortunate to have a connection to Hashem and it is our responsibility to cultivate and nurture that relationship through tefillah.
Lesson #3: Never turn anyone away. When you see someone in need, extend your hand. Even if you have nothing to give them. A cheerful word or a smile can go such a long way. My parents have modeled for us on literally countless occasions the power of a smile and a good word.
Lesson #4: If you’re going to do something, put your all into it. Whether you’re sitting down with a bar mitzvah boy or preparing a sheva brachos meal, don’t cut corners. Put yourself into it entirely. Don’t just do an act of kindness for someone, do it with elegance and with class. Go all in. Or, as my father loves to say, אם כבר אז כבר.
Lesson #5: Always be forgiving. People are people. Sometimes they will be unfair. Sometimes they may even be cruel. But life is too short, so don’t hold a grudge. My parents, like each and every one of us, have been hurt on occasions. But they always, and I mean always, forgive. Life is too short and it’s always best to forgive and move on.
Lesson #6: Be hopeful and optimistic. It is true that there are times in life where it seems as if all is lost. We find ourselves in situations in which there seems to be no way out. Often, we experience moments like these with pessimism and fear. My parents have taught me to always believe that things will get better. As they sometimes like to say, גם זה יעבור. Right now, where you are at the moment, it’s tough. But hold on and you will see it will get better. גם זה יעבור.
Lesson #7: Don’t procrastinate, don’t delay, don’t push off. If you have an opportunity before you, take it now. Some people may think that my parents’ greatest accomplishments are the mountains that they moved and the oceans that they crossed. What impresses me, even more, is the way that they plow through every inch in front of them. They wake up early, they go to sleep late, and they never, ever stop in between. They are the ultimate champions of זריזות.
Lesson #8: Anything is possible. Most of us look at problems, big and small, and conclude that there are no solutions. Most of us look at challenges that we face with fear and anxiety and say there is no way to overcome this. My parents never say that something is impossible. When everyone is running in one direction, they are running in the other. They firmly believe that with סיעתא דשמיא anything is possible. They have lived their lives with this firm belief and it has enabled them to achieve and to accomplish in ways that almost anyone else would have thought to be truly impossible.
Lesson #9: We are never too old to grow. Whether we have been in the rabbinate for 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, 40 years or 50 years, we can always learn more, grow more, and improve more. My parents have never and will never say the words “we are done.” Their life’s mission is to constantly grow and assist the people around them.
And finally, lesson #10: Cherish family. Love your family, care for your family, protect your family, provide for your family, give to your family, fight for your family, pray for your family and never stop believing in your family. To all of us, my parents are Rabbi and Rebbetzin, teacher and friend. But to some of us in this room, my parents are our family. They have always made it abundantly clear to each and every one of us that while we need to figure out how to share them with thousands of other people at any point during the day, they are always and will always be here for each and every one of us.
So, I guess now I stop. I stop because I told you I would share 10 lessons and 10 only.
Before I close, I want to thank the entire Shomrei Torah community for all that you have done for us over the years. You have been there, in good times and in challenging times, for my parents, for my siblings, and for our extended family. We can never adequately thank you for making your homes part of our homes, your lives part of our lives, and your families part of our family.
Ima and Abba, this may be a major point of transition in your lives. This may be the end of a chapter in the history of Shomrei Torah. This may, in fact, be the end of an era. But it is not only an end. It is also a beginning. It is the beginning of a new chapter. It is the beginning of a new era. And I firmly believe that there are many more chapters to be written in the incredible book that the two of you began writing together many decades ago.
May Hashem grant the both of you continued health, happiness, and fulfillment for many years to come.