Seven years ago, when I was marching in the 63rd Salute to Israel Parade, I vividly recall the emcee announcing RYNJ with a special welcome to Rabbi Dovid Kaminetsky. As part of the introduction, it was announced that Rabbi Kaminetsky has marched at practically every Salute to Israel Parade. This past week, thousands of lives touched by this tzadik (at Moriah, Frisch, Manhattan Day School, NCSY, the OU and most recently RYNJ) had to march on without their beloved “Rabbi K.”
I had the unique opportunity of getting to know Rabbi Kaminetsky, z”l, as person before an educator, since my oldest was in kindergarten when we first met. Almost 12 years ago, when he and Rabbi Shmuel Goldstein hired me to coach the then-YNJ basketball team, we were sitting in his office speaking about my role. Being new to junior high coaching, I asked Rabbi Kaminetsky what his thoughts were on the distribution of playing time. I am not sure what answer I was expecting, but was shocked when he opened his wallet and took out a hand-drawn picture of a boy wearing a basketball uniform, sitting on the bench. A man of few words, but with an ear-to-ear smile on his face, Rabbi Kaminetsky told me that the picture was of himself, during his high school days. I took two lessons from this meeting; Firstly, everyone has a role on the team; sports are a microcosm of life and it is very important to always know your role in life. Secondly, if a man like Rabbi Dovid Kaminetsky who has accomplished so much in his life carries this picture with him 50 years later, as a coach I need to be cognizant of the lifelong impact (positive and negative) a coach can have on his players’ lives. I still have this picture taped to my basketball clipboard and try to live up to this lofty standard in every game I coach.
I can say with the exception of myself, Rabbi Kaminetsky was at more RYNJ Jaguars games than anyone else. After every game, win or lose, Rabbi Kaminetsky would shake hands with all the boys and then shake my hand and say “Good job, Coach.” It meant so much to him that the boys would play with proper middot. The boys (and I) valued and relied on his presence at almost every game. This past year, when there was a game that he couldn’t attend because of a simcha conflict, the boys seemed out of sync without him in the bleachers cheering them on.
As the years went on and my sons moved into the RYNJ middle school, I developed a whole new appreciation for Rabbi K, as the boys affectionately called him. I came to know him as a scholar, educator and a master conflict negotiator. He managed to keep the peace without ever raising his voice. I recall one time I was in his office, it was the end of the year and some eighth graders were having a hard time staying in class. Rabbi K excused himself, calmly stood up and opened his door. As he peered out, the boys scattered into the rooms that they were supposed to be in. I must admit I was in awe, but even more so when I asked one of the boys why they ran so quickly. I expected him to tell me he feared punishment or consequences, but he told me he ran because he didn’t want to disappoint Rabbi K This was Rabbi K; so revered and respected by the talmidim of RYNJ that the thought of letting him down was enough to cause them to run to do the right thing.
Rabbi K was the ultimate advocate for each and every boy in the RYNJ middle school; it didn’t matter how long they were at RYNJ, who their parents were or what they had supposedly done. He knew them all by name and greeted all as if they were the most important person in the world.
Last week, a little bit of RYNJ died along with Rabbi K; There will be a little less simcha at bar mitzvahs without the original Shnitzel Guy, a bar mitzvah boy’s Shabbat leining will not be the same without his beloved principal having walked all over Teaneck to wish a mazel tov in person, and most importantly there will be an irreplaceable void in RYNJ without Rabbi K there. As I was driving my seventh-grade son to RYNJ after the levaya, he, like many (myself included), was very upset. I told him that although I know it is hard, it will all be OK. To which he answered, “How can it be OK? Rabbi K is the one who always made things OK.”
Rabbi, you will be missed by the many whose lives you have touched, but we are all thankful for the time we had with you and the profound effect you have had on us and our children. May your neshama have an aliyah.
By Steve Gutlove, JLNJ Sports Editor