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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Breaking up is hard to do. In March of 2016, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, senior rabbi of Congregation Ahavath Torah, announced he would be making aliyah at the end of the summer of 2017 after 33 years in Englewood. The members have slowly been getting used to the idea. After a rabbinic transition process that included surveys, focus groups and meetings, 

Associate Rabbi Chaim Poupko was appointed to take over. Now the congregation is coming to grips with the reality of Rabbi Goldin’s departure. A shabbaton honoring the Goldins will take place this weekend at Ahavath Torah, with Chazzan Sruli Hersh and the Kol Simcha Acapella Group, and Scholar in Residence Rabbi Leonard Matanky, who is a friend of Rabbi Goldin. A Sefer Torah honoring the Goldins will be completed and dedicated in a ceremony Sunday morning.

President Bruce Brafman said that while the shul’s annual dinner in March recognized the Goldins as guests of honor, the board wanted to have a more scholarly, Torah-based weekend, highlighting Rabbi Goldin’s stature as a scholar and teacher. “I’ve read works by luminaries like Rabbi Hirsch and Rabbi Munk, but Rabbi Goldin’s ‘Unlocking the Torah Text’ commentaries are the best I’ve read,” Brafman said. “Every year I pick up one to learn.” What makes Rabbi Goldin truly stand out, Brafman said, is that he is a scholar who also lives Torah values, a wonderful rabbi and pastoral counselor. “He is one of the most caring, kindest individuals I know. When I had surgery, the first person I saw after my wife was Rabbi Goldin. He is always there for the congregation.”

Lee Lasher, former shul president, said Rabbi Goldin has been a friend, teacher, mentor and partner. “When I was shul president, I was the lay leader and he was the professional. But he didn’t dictate. He believed in teamwork and collaborative leadership. I learned a lot from him spiritually and by the way he presented himself. He taught by example.” Lasher said Rabbi Goldin knew how to teach at all levels. “He has taught so much Torah to us, we thought dedicating a Sefer Torah in his honor would be a fitting tribute. He has taught everyone in the community, including a weekly afternoon parsha class for adults and a Friday-night parent-child class for children.”

Bruce Prince, a co-chair of the Sefer Torah dedication along with his wife, Debra, and Michael and Gila Harary, said the Sefer Torah dedication reflects the cyclical concept of Torah learning. “We view this as finishing a cycle with Rabbi Goldin and also the starting of a new cycle with Rabbi Poupko taking over. With Torah learning, you start, you finish and you start again.”

Prince said the Sefer Torah came from a rabbi who has a passion for finding, rescuing and rehabilitating Torah scrolls from the devastation of the Shoah. “We know that this Torah is from Poland and was written in the 1920s or 1930s,” Prince said. “We’re still trying to learn the exact history.” He said this Sefer Torah was in remarkably good condition and has been completely refurbished and checked. Now it is being adorned with what he describes as magnificent silver and covers, funded by individuals in the community who will have the opportunity to help write the last letters of the Torah at the dedication ceremony.

Rabbi Goldin has lived here long enough to see a whole generation come of age. Irene Gottesman, one of the organizers of the weekend shabbaton, created a scrapbook for Rabbi Goldin with memories of shul children who have grown up with him. “He will leave a real hole in the community,” she said sadly.

The book includes quotes like these, which are by the children of Marcy Cohen, an executive officer of the shul who moved to Englewood with her husband, Adam, in the year 2000 when they were expecting their first child:

Every Friday night I go to shul and hear you say Kiddush after davening. I always make sure to come over to say Good Shabbos. My dad tells me that next year I will realize that I experienced one of the greatest rabbis in the United States say Kiddush each week and I will miss it. I think he’s right.

-Caleb Cohen, age 11

I remember when my family was taking pictures in the shul just before my bar mitzvah, and you walked by and agreed to join a photo. That photo made it into my album. I am so honored to have that photo for my memories.

-Aden Cohen, age 16

Cohen recalled how she and her husband met Rabbi Goldin in his office during the week they moved to Englewood. “He was so warm and welcoming. He gave us an overview of what the community was like and told us different things we could get involved with based on what we did professionally. My husband and I are constantly doing things for the shul. My children know what our priorities are. We hope these values will trickle down to them and they will do the same when they have children and communities of their own.”

Cohen said she is very excited about the future of the Ahavath Torah community with Rabbi Poupko at the helm. But she plans to maintain her relationship with Rabbi and Barbara Goldin. “Any time we go to Israel we will try to see them,” she said. “We will miss them but they are following their passions. This is a wonderful lesson for the community and we will be in great hands with the Poupkos.”

The breakup isn’t easy for the Goldins either, although they are fulfilling their dream of living in Eretz Yisrael. “It’s hard to leave; I made wonderful friends here,” Rabbi Goldin said. He noted that he and the shul board are discussing the idea of him returning as a scholar-in-residence, perhaps twice a year, but plans are still in formation.

He is looking forward to the Sefer Torah dedication on Sunday. “Writing a Sefer Torah is a beautiful gesture on the shul’s part,” he said. “We have tried to spread Torah, learning and observance within the community. That’s what we dedicate our lives to: tradition, God, Torah. This is a physical symbol of that relationship.”

By Bracha Schwartz