On Sunday, June 16, a jubilant crowd gathered at Congregation Ohav Emeth in Highland Park to welcome into its midst a brand-new sefer Torah commissioned in Israel and written in honor of Rabbi Eliezer and Aviva Kaminetzky, who have served the shul for 50 years.
Rabbi Kaminetzky was religious leader of Congregation Ohav Emeth from 1967 until his retirement in 1999. He helped lead the congregation’s move from New Brunswick to its current building in Highland Park in 1983. Additionally, he is credited with driving the effort to establish the Highland Park Mikvah in 1969 and providing halachic supervision of the mikvah until the Vaad HaRabonim assumed responsibility in 2010. Rabbi Kaminetzky also served as chaplain of the Highland Park Police Department for over 20 years. Aviva Kaminetzky is a noted educator who was very active in the shul, teaching shiurim on many different occasions and participating in other programs of the shul.
The Torah dedication began with a kesivat sefer Torah, where the sofer wrote individual letters in the Torah on behalf of specific family members, friends and congregants. It was followed by a joyous procession of the new Torah under a chuppah, in the streets surrounding the shul. The Torah was “greeted” in the parking lot by congregants dancing with the shul’s other sifrei Torah. This led to a series of speeches in the main sanctuary and then a seudas mitzvah.
Rabbi Eliyahu Kaufman, the current rav of Ohav Emeth, credited Rabbi Moshe Flaumenbaum—a sofer and former student of Rabbi Kaminetzkty—with persuading the usually reticent Rabbi Kaminetzky with accepting this honor. And he marveled at the “overwhelming response of the shul’s membership, and so many who wanted to be a part of this project and express their hakaras hatov to the Kaminetzkys.”
In his speech, Rabbi Kaufman cited Gemara Makos (22:2) that states: “Rava said: How foolish are the rest of the people who stand before a Torah scroll that passes before them and yet they do not stand before a great man (of Torah scholarship).” He added: “Rabbi Kaminetzky and Aviva have been to us all that living, breathing human sefer Torah. They have been a light to our community, inspiring, teaching, living by example, for all these many years and we say thank you through this Torah we dedicate today.”
Shul members took great delight in the opportunity to honor the Kaminetzkys.
“This sefer Torah dedication is a celebration of the legacy of Rabbi and Aviva Kaminetzky,” said Sharon Glaser of Edison. “In their humble leadership style they served as amazing role models, teaching the community how to be ovdei Hashem and the centrality of being ameilim baTorah, the centrality of Torah learning in our lives. They have helped to build HP/Edison from the 1960-’70s to the vibrant center it is today. Rabbi and Aviva have personally always been there for our family in friendship and in time of need, giving Torah guidance and support and encouraging us to emulate the Divine in all of our activities. We are so happy to be celebrating with the Kaminetzky family today!”
“Dedication to teaching Torah principles and applying them with halachic integrity and compassion to all life’s challenges, lack of any pretense, close confidant, sagacious adviser, caring and empathetic counselor, and attentive listener and sounding board, all make Rabbi Kaminetzky so very special,” said Ira Widman of Edison. “Add to those qualities Rabbi and Aviva’s unbelievable extreme humility and you will understand the deep love Mindy and I have for them. What better way to express our shul’s deep feeling for this couple than to dedicate a sefer Torah in their honor.”
Eddie Lowinger of Edison remarked: “It is a real pleasure to be here today, to celebrate the many wonderful years of service of Rabbi Eliezer and Aviva Kaminetzky to the shul and the community and to show appreciation for all their inspiring accomplishments.”
The Kaminetzkys and their extended family were deeply touched by the honor.
“I truly believe my father’s 50-plus-year relationship with the Highland Park/Edison community is unique,” said Benjamin Kaminetzky, Rabbi Eliezer and Aviva’s son. “Certain pulpit rabbis are builders of communities, others focus on developing deep personal relationships, and yet others focus on teaching and scholarship. In his quiet and humble way, my father excelled at each of these.”
“I watched O.E. explode into a vibrant center of learning, prayer and growth (first in our basement and then on Raritan Avenue). To this day—and this just happened again last week—people who I don’t know walk up to me and say, “Your father saved my life.” I could not be prouder, and this wonderful celebration is most certainly well deserved.”
Another measure of the widespread support for this Torah dedication were the over 120 dedications and sponsorships of different aspects of this Torah, including a few dedicating more than one parsha. This reflects the deep love the congregation has for the Rabbi and Aviva and their collective hope that they both live ad me’ah v’esrim (to 120 years).
By Harry Glazer