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Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Famous Abba, Russell Moskowitz

Bergenfield—Every Jewish home in Teaneck, regardless of religious stripe or affiliation, no doubt boasts a “Famous Abba.” He can be seen driving carpool on legal holidays or tying up the papers for recycling pick-up. What, then, makes Russell Moskowitz The Famous Abba? It seems there are several reasons. The first is that Moskowitz is the creator of the weekly Super Shabbat Sheet which appears in The Jewish Link of New Jersey every week. Featuring parsha in review, word finds, crossword puzzles, word scrambles and gematrias, the sheet offers fun activities for children ages six through 12 in preparation for Shabbos.

A closer look at the Super Shabbos Sheet will reveal a second possible answer. The sections entitled Middah of the Month, Week in Review and “Hevei dan et kol ha’adam l’kaf zechut,” or “Can you judge these situations favorably?” are what qualify Moskowitz for his lofty acronym The Famous Abba. He seeks to inject positive middot into even the simplest of games.

After hearing Rabbi Moshe Weinberger say in a shiur that “every Shabbos must be a Shabbaton for children,” Moskowitz and his wife Michele have tried to recreate that concept every week in their house. To this end, Moskowitz incorporates activities into his weekly sheet which engage children in discussions about “being a mentsch.” For Middah of the Month, he may promote rachamim, compassion, and ask the children to praise or encourage someone who is feeling sad or upset. Through Week in Review, he will ask the youngsters to share something nice that someone did for them this week. In “Hevei dan,” he shares two unclear scenarios and asks the children to comment. Recent situations were: “Your sweater was missing from your school locker” and “Your teacher took four days to grade the exam.” The hope is that through sensitive, adult-guided discussion the child will become sensitized to the extenuating circumstances which cause people to act in ways which we may not understand or agree with.

What is most unique about The Famous Abba is his inspiring, transcendent journey to becoming the observant Jew he is today. His journey is recent, but it is thoughtful, well-paced, incremental and totally genuine. Born into a completely secular home in East Windsor in 1976, Russell’s bar mitzvah consisted of one aliyah at a Reform temple followed by a non-kosher reception. After his parents’ divorce and his father’s “conversion” out of Judaism, Russell began to attend an “Introduction to Judaism” class in Hoboken at United Synagogue with Rabbi Robert Scheinberg. Around this time, Moskowitz also discovered online shiurim on the Aish HaTorah website, which he listened to regularly and credits with learning much about each parsha and Judaism in general.

An interest was ignited and propelled him to attend weekly services gradually and keep parts of Shabbos and kashrus.

September 11, 2001, found Moskowitz working on the 79th floor at Fuji Bank in Tower II of the World Trade Center. When the first plane hit Tower I, James Outerbridge, a coworker who was later hailed a great hero who saved many lives that day, told all employees of Fuji Bank to exit. As Moskowitz was making his way down the stairwells of floor number 33, the second plane above him went through floors 79 to 84. At this time, Moskowitz remembered that in his Reform Sunday school he was told that traditionally Jewish people go to their deaths with the words of Shema Yisrael on their lips, so he recited the Shema all the way down to safety. Moskowitz’s full first-person 9/11 story is retold in the Jewish Link article of September 10, 2015 (http://tinyurl.com/jjxbspv).

While attending Rutgers, Russell had met Michele, and they became friends, but they began dating in 2002. Michele also grew up in a non-religious house and began her spiritual journey while dating Russell. It was on a Livnot Birthright trip to Israel in December of 2003 that Russell proposed marriage during a visit to Tzefat. Their marriage in 2004 was held in a Conservative synagogue. Together, they continued growing in their Yiddishkeit and they became friendly with Rabbi Moshe and Shaindel Schapiro of Chabad in Hoboken. Russell and Michele also attended weekly classes for three years with Rabbi Robert Hirt, and his wife Virginia Bayer, of Yeshiva University in NYC for Birthright returnees.

They subsequently moved to Bergenfield where their first daughter Dova Baila was born on Shavuot of 2006, weighing in at 6 pounds and 13 ounces—taryag (613) mitzvot.

Moskowitz’s journey is intense and ongoing. The Famous Abba can be seen early mornings at Beth Abraham where he davens vasikin and learns for a few hours before carpool drop-off and work at The Frisch School. Moskowitz is grateful for the Torah ambience of his workplace where he is part of the business office.

Moskowitz and his family feel tremendous hakaras hatov, gratitude and indebtedness, to Rabbi Zvi and Rebbetzin Efrat Sobolofsky of Congregation Ohr Hatorah, who are close neighbors of the family. Since they joined the shul 10 years ago, the rav and rebbetzin have always been there to answer any questions they had. Every Shabbos, after davening vasikin at Beth Abraham, Russell goes to Ohr HaTorah to hear the rav’s Shabbos morning drasha. In praise of Russell, Rav Sobolofsky offered the following: “We refer to Russell as the Rabbi Akiva of our community. He is a role model for what one can accomplish in Torah and avodas Hashem if one sincerely aspires to grow, regardless of one’s background. His wife, Michele, deserves tremendous credit for the encouraging roles she plays as Russell pursues his dream of learning and spreading Torah in our community and beyond.”

How has The Famous Abba reached the Jewish community? The Shabbos Sheet and the periodic Yomim Tovim Sheets are now featured in 10 Jewish newspapers around the country including Queens, the Five Towns, Atlanta, St. Louis, San Diego, Denver as well as in our own Jewish Link of New Jersey. There are two versions of the sheets, English and Hebrew, as well as options for weekly or monthly publishing. The goal going forward is to expand to shul bulletins, school newsletters and Chabad shluchim around the world. The Famous Abba hopes in the future to create games for the Shabbos table and additional items to enhance every child’s Shabbos experience.

The Famous Abba is very excited about the recent introduction of their “Spiritual Campaign” for Israel. The campaign encourages adults and kids all over the world to commit to saying Birkot HaShachar from a siddur every day. Participants can sign up at www.thefamousabba.com/israel. The Famous Abba hopes to have Jewish leaders from around the world provide shiurim on each of the 14 brachot to strengthen the participants’ “understanding of the brachot and commitment to the campaign.”

For the past year and a half, The Famous Abba website has offered weekly podcasts featuring five-minute divrei Torah dealing with the parsha and chinuch issues. Moskowitz reaches out to potential participants from among the most prominent rabbis and Jewish leaders, most of whom readily agree to participate. Among those featured to date have been Rav Zvi Sobolofsky, Rav Mayer Twersky, Rav Ron Yitzchok Eisenman, Dr. David Pelcovitz, Rabbi Dr. Hanoch Teller, Rabbi Zev Leff, Rav Meir Goldwicht, Rav Moshe Weinberger and over 100 more speakers. The podcast is free of charge and can be accessed through the website at http://thefamousabba.com/chinuch-podcasts/. Weekly or monthly subscriptions to the Shabbos/Yom Tov Sheets for individuals and groups are available at www.thefamousabba.com.

By Pearl Markovitz