Editor’s note: The below was written originally on Facebook in honor of the Yudins’ fifty years of service to Fair Lawn’s Congregation Shomrei Torah.
Get out the tissues.
The only decision that God lets you base completely on emotions is your choice of a rebbi (teacher). Your rebbi will eventually teach you a methodology of analysis that will direct your every decision after that, but before you learn a methodology of thought, you choose your rebbi based on your emotions.
How do you choose a rebbi? The Talmud tells us, “If a rabbi seems like an angel of God to you, then ask him to teach you.” The Talmud instructed us to choose a rabbi who seems like an angel. But we don’t know what angels looks like! The Talmud’s instruction makes it seem even more difficult to choose!
Until you meet Rabbi Benjamin and Shevi Yudin. Then you know exactly who the Gemara was talking about. They are angels in human bodies.
“The Rabbi and Shevi” have led the Fair Lawn, New Jersey, Orthodox Jewish community since its inception 50 years ago. For five decades they have been everything to everyone and more. This week Fair Lawn celebrated their retirement (as if) in a gala dinner.
It’s hard to write a description of the Yudins. How do you write about the people you try to mold your entire life after? The woman who, when I was set up for the first time and dated my Aliza, the first thing on my “checklist” was is she a Shevi? (Great job, Rina Emerson.) The people you’ve modeled your own home after; who are, with no exaggeration, the kindest people you know; who are the physical embodiment of the Torah? The people I spent three to four days a week at their house growing up; who shaped the community you grew up in; whom you turned (and turn) to when things got difficult; whose house felt so much at home that when your parents went away and you slept at your grandparents and had nightmares, you went to sleep at their home? The people who are simply known to your children as “The Tzaddik” and “The Tzadekes,” who had no problem with me coming over every Shabbat to eat cholent because my parents were vegetarians and I wanted some meat? The people who so directed your life that I still don’t eat meat on Erev Shabbat because when I was 10 years old the Rabbi scolded Andi and I for having Chinese food on Erev Shabbat? The people who, when I traveled around the country with my family, we made sure that Fair Lawn was a stop so my children could spend time with the Yudins and see what real chesed, the kind practiced like Avraham and Sarah, actually looks like? The people who, when I took my students on a Torah trip from Florida to New York, we skipped staying at a hotel—not to save money, but—to stay at the Yudins because you knew that at 11 p.m. the Rabbi would get home and allow you and your students to sit in on his phone call to a sick man who wanted a daily dvar Torah from the Rabbi, all the while Shevi served everyone leftovers—chickpeas and all—from the shalom zachor they had just hosted? The people who came to Israel and brought you 20 pounds of gefilte fish and homemade potato kugels because that’s what Shevi decided you needed?
How can an article possibly encapsulate two people who lived for everyone but themselves? Who everyone in Fair Lawn knew that if the entire world forgot you they’d still love you? Whose house was always open for anyone to eat, sleep or just sit in the kitchen and talk to Shevi? Who created kiruv in the classroom, dining room and guest rooms? Who a community understood that they needed a nine-bedroom home, not for luxury, but for the guests? Who didn’t excel at chesed at the expense of serious Torah study, teaching and lifestyle, but combined it all into one complete package?
The Rabbi and Shevi raised me like a second set of parents. They were my parents at Camp Hillel. The Rabbi wrote my bar mitzvah speech with (for) me. They married Aliza and me. They were our very first guests in our very first apartment in Israel. They are always a simple phone call away to hear and help you with your problems. Their picture hangs in our house, but more importantly, their lessons and examples are forever embedded in our hearts and minds. Shevi, Rabbi Yudin: Aliza, our kids and I love you with all of our being; we are eternally grateful for who you are and what you made us. We love, love, love you.
By Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski grew up in Fair Lawn and lives with his family in Mitzpe Yericho, Israel.