Rabbi Avraham Ginzberg, who passed away earlier this month, will be remembered by many for his fifty-plus years as executive director of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in Queens, New York. He will be remembered by his congregants as “our rabbi” – the spiritual leader of our small shul attached to the yeshiva.
As a teenager growing up in Forest Hills, I knew Rabbi Ginzberg had something to do with the yeshiva, but I always felt his focus was on us at the shul. Many of the ba’alei batim I knew split their time between the Young Israel of Forest Hills and Rabbi Ginzberg’s synagogue, the Kessel Street Shul, known by many as Congregation Chofetz Chaim.
My family and I davened Friday nights and Shabbos afternoons at Chofetz Chaim and Shabbos mornings at the Young Israel. (Most of the boys my age davened at the youth minyan of Young Israel – led by Rabbi Motti Grunberg, a Chofetz Chaim alumnus.)
My friend Josh Cappel and I had a routine on Shabbos that included Rabbi Ginzberg. After shul in the morning we would walk home and stop to watch some boys play little league while we stood outside the fence. Josh would then visit his grandfather and I would go home for Shabbos lunch. I would later walk to Josh’s house where we would play chess and have cherry pie. An hour before Minchah we would go to Chofetz Chaim and learn Gemara with Rabbi Ginzberg. This was a staple of my Shabbos.
Rabbi Ginzberg encouraged and developed my ability to lead in prayer and in Torah. It was his philosophy to give young people the opportunity to assume leadership roles. At about age 14 I began leading Friday night services at shul. This had a tremendous impact on my self-confidence and I later moved forward to davening from the amud on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in various shuls. It is hard for me to remember a time I did not lead Shabbos Minchah as well.
Shalosh Seudas was really a time Rabbi Ginzberg let others shine. He would ask them to share words of Torah and offer their niggunim at the table. Yanky Lach, later the author of an important work on Chullin, and I were encouraged to say divrei Torah. Many of the ba’alei batim, including Yanky’s father, also delivered divrei Torah. It was always a tradition for Dr. Stanley Landsman to share the divrei Torah of Rabbi Hershel Schachter he’d heard at the Young Israel the previous Tuesday night.
There was never a Shabbos I was present at Rabbi Ginzberg’s Shalosh Seudas table that I was not expected to speak words of Torah. Even if I had been away from the neighborhood for some time, I was always asked to say divrei Torah when I returned. Rabbi Ginzberg had a keen sense of what we all needed, and the ability to speak every week would have an extremely beneficial effect on my life as a communal rabbi.
Rabbi Ginzberg had a special way of interacting with others. He had patience and listened to all of us. He made everyone feel special. It amazed me how he still maintained the shul after the yeshiva moved to Kew Gardens Hills and the shul’s membership began changing. There was an influx of Sephardic Jews and I felt in my heart that only Rabbi Ginzberg with his tremendous middos would be able to keep the shul together.
Rabbi Ginzberg was always concerned about how things were going for me and my family, both spiritually and monetarily. He was always available if I needed advice. I knew I was receiving words of wisdom that were clear and from his heart.
On my most recent trip to New York, during Chanukah, I was able to see the consistency of a sincere and precious man. At the amud was a teenager leading the service. At Shabbos Minchah a young boy was reading the Torah. Shalosh Seudas was jam-packed, and the priority was making sure everyone would get his share of the speaking or the singing.
Over time, more songs and divrei Torah had been added to Rabbi Ginzberg’s Shalosh Seudas. I still had my place, though, even if by this point I was coming back to Forest Hills just twice a year. Rabbi Ginzberg, as always, was happy to let others shine as he looked on with a smile.
He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.
Chaim Lindenblatt is the rabbi of Congregation Anshi S’Fard in Atlanta, Georgia.