On Wednesday, May 9, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) will hold its annual evening of tribute. The guests of honor will be Rabbi Zvi and Dr. Efrat Sobolofsky of Congregation Ohr HaTorah, which was founded upon their move to Bergenfield 13 years ago. Both have spent their entire professional lives working for the YU and RIETS community, Rabbi Sobolofsky in RIETS and Rebbetzin Dr. Sobolofsky as the director of YUConnects, a matchmaking service for those in the YU community and others.
The couple finds it very meaningful to be honored by the institution from which they have been influenced and blessed. “The YU Beis Medrash has been my home since I arrived at Yeshiva in 1982,” Rabbi Sobolofsky told The Jewish Link. He has been a continual presence at YU over the past 36 years. Rebbetzin Dr. Sobolofsky has been a steady presence on the Wilf campus since 1993, when she began her master’s degree at Wurzweiler Graduate School of Social Work.
Growing up in Riverdale, Rabbi Sobolofsky was a ben bayit in the home of Rabbi Mordechai Willig of the Young Israel of Riverdale and Rosh Yeshiva at YU. “I began YU at the age of 17 in Rabbi Willig’s shiur,” Rabbi Sobolofsky recalled. Rabbi Willig, speaking several years ago at a synagogue event about his student, compared Rabbi Sobolofsky’s love of learning to Yehoshua Bin Nun. “As a younger man, Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky had the reputation of always being in the beis midrash. The defining characteristic of Yehoshua Bin Nun is never wanting to leave the tent of Torah,” said Rabbi Willig.
These days, however, Rabbi Sobolofsky is constantly pulled from the beis medrash, mainly to answer shailot (halachic questions) from his many congregants in the Bergenfield community and also from rabbinic colleagues and former students around the country and worldwide. He is considered a posek, or subject matter expert (a rav’s rav) in many matters of Jewish law, particularly taharat hamishpacha (family purity laws), on which he has authored a definitive text. “His phone buzzes at all hours of the day and night with people asking a great variety of halachic questions,” said Rabbi Willig. “Sometimes I walk with the rebbe (the Rebbe Zvi, as my children call him), and his phone is vibrating all the time. He is always answering she’alos, day in, day out, night in, night out, in the funniest places,” said Rabbi Willig.
“His command of an all-encompassing amount of material in so many areas and the clarity of presentation have made Rav Sobolofsky’s shiurim highly popular in YU, our community, and far beyond,” said Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger, also a RIETS Rosh Yeshiva and the mara d’atra of Bergenfield’s Congregation Beth Abraham. “As a result he has emerged as a foremost teacher of Torah and a much consulted rav. We in Bergenfield/Teaneck are so fortunate to call him our own,” Rabbi Neuburger told The Jewish Link.
Graduating from Yeshiva College in 1987, RIETS in 1990, and Azrieli Graduate School in 1996, Rabbi Sobolofsky’s shiur is popular and well attended in the yeshiva. He serves as the spiritual leader of Congregation Ohr HaTorah in Bergenfield, New Jersey, a large and growing community adjacent to Teaneck. Rabbi Sobolofsky lectures at the Bergen County Beis Medrash Program housed at Congregation B’nai Yeshurun in Teaneck and has over 5,000 shiurim on YUTorah.org. He spends his summers in Israel as a Rosh Yeshiva for the NCSY Kollel, a summer learning program for high school boys.
In the words of a Rabbi Sobolofsky talmid now based in London, Rabbi Ben Kurzer, a graduate of Azrieli, who also studied in the Katz Kollel and the Kollel Elyon at YU, his “Rebbe” was unique in influencing his learning. “Rebbe beautifully put together the ‘puzzle’ of Torah in a way that opened my eyes to sugyas (topics) I could never have seen; and even as I continue to learn sugyas that I never heard in shiur, I can hear Rebbe’s voice guiding me through our mesorah to understand the dvar Hashem,” he told The Jewish Link.
“There is so much more I have gained in hashkafa as well but it is difficult to put it into words. Suffice it to say that all that I and my family achieve, is largely down to Rebbe’s influence,” he added.
It is well known that the fact that the Sobolofskys live in Bergenfield has influenced the growth and vibrancy of the community now more than ever, as a true community of serious Torah learners. Rabbi Sobolofsky’s shul collaborates and harmonizes with the two other Bergenfield synagogues, two equally Torah-focused institutions: Congregation Beth Abraham and Bais Medrash of Bergenfield, led by Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger and Rabbi Moshe Stavsky, respectively. “People are being drawn to Bergenfield as a community because of the Sobolofskys,” said Nina Eizikovitz, a member of Congregation Ohr HaTorah and a real estate agent for Links Residential. “People who were his talmidim want to come to live near him because it’s an incredible experience to live near one’s own rebbe. People want to be here because they (the Sobolofskys) have an amazing reputation, and his talmidim see it as a privilege to be able to daven alongside him,” she noted.
“I believe that we are particularly blessed to raise families where Rav Sobolofsky’s scholarship, alongside the accomplishments of many talmidei chachomim, can be appreciated,” said Rabbi Neuburger, who arrived in Bergenfield in 1990 and was key in establishing Bergenfield as a serious learning community. “The Rav’s efforts in guiding the RCBC kashrus and local eruv together with the indefatigable energies of Rebbetzin Efrat in being a helping hand and kind quiet support to so many, especially in helping shiduchim, are just a sampling in what makes the rav and the rebbetzin communal treasures,” he told The Jewish Link.
Eizikovitz added that the presence of the Sobolofskys in Bergenfield over the last 10+ years has altered the community makeup immeasurably, establishing what might be called a “second wave” of new residents in Bergenfield after Beth Abraham filled to capacity. “Since the Sobolofskys have come to Bergenefield the community has grown exponentially, and continues to grow, because they are a huge draw. They have literally built up this part of the community, one potato kugel at a time,” Eizikovitz said, explaining that Rebbetzin Dr. Sobolofsky is known for cooking a delicious Shabbat kugel and sending her husband to deliver it to every new resident who arrives in the community.
For the Sobolofskys, YU is no less than a family affair. Mr. Stanley Sobolofsky, z”l, Rabbi Sobolofsky’s father, graduated from YU and became a teacher of Torah, and his sister Miriam graduated from Stern College and received her doctorate from Ferkauf. Rebbetzin Dr. Sobolofsky grew up in North Hollywood, California, and four of her brothers went to YU: David, Ronnie, Shai, and Benji Samet. “My father, Dr. Michael Samet, attended YU and loves to tell stories about his days playing on the YU tennis team. Some of my brothers followed his lead and played tennis during their years studying at YU as well,” she said.
Rebbetzin Dr. Sobolofsky, who got her master’s in social work in 1995 and her Ph.D in 2006 from Wurzweiler, is founder and director of YUConnects, a program that serves to build healthy relationships toward marriage, which recently celebrated its 324th engagement. She also serves as the coordinator of respite services at the Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities in Paramus, New Jersey.
How the Sobolofsky’s met is also a quintessential YU story. “I came to the YU campus to pursue my master’s degree at Wurzweiler School of Social Work. I met Zvi during my second summer of the block program, married a few months later, and then moved to the YU campus community in Washington Heights. Five years later, we moved to Bergen County where Zvi began his career as a pulpit rabbi, first in Paramus and now in Bergenfield,” said the rebbetzin.
As much as they are beloved in Bergenfield, they also love the community. “In my role as a rabbi in Bergenfield, I have had the opportunity to spread the Torah I received from my rabbeim. Many of our congregants are themselves YU alumni of RIETS,” Rabbi Sobolofsky noted, expressing thanks to the administration and faculty of RIETS for having enabled him to be a part of such a thriving Torah institution.
Rebbetzin Sobolofsky also noted her gratitude at being part of the YU Community. “I am truly grateful to Yeshiva University, the Center for the Jewish Future and the RIETS administration for granting me the unique opportunity and ongoing support to develop YUConnects and further improve the venues of meeting today. I am also indebted to the faculty at Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work where I gained the education and professional skills as a social worker at YUConnects and at the Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities (J-ADD).”
Through YUConnects, hundreds of couples continue to meet each week thanks to devoted connectors manning the website worldwide. “Through our presence and office on the YU and Stern Campus, we are able to meet people in person and work on large- and small-scale social events,” Rebbetzin Dr. Sobolofsky said. “We also collaborate with community members and organizations assisting singles, provide in-person coaching, perform educational research with graduate-level students on various relationship building topics, meet with the rabbanim and professional staff of YU etc., and lots more. The resources of Yeshiva are endless and very much to our benefit,” she added.
Also being honored along with the Sobolofsky’s at the RIETS gala will be Dr. Barry and Marcia Levinson, and Dr. Daniel and Michelle Berman.
To attend the dinner or donate in honor of the Sobolofskys, please visit this link: http://yeshiva.imodules.com/s/1739/2-yu/index.aspx?sid=1739&gid=14&pgid=2030&cid=3887&ecid=3887.
By Elizabeth Kratz