The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
What could I possibly write to justly summarize the magnitude of my/our dear rabbi, the Rishon LeTzion Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, zt”l? I can’t believe I am actually sitting and writing about him in the past tense.
I met Rav Eliyahu about a month before I joined the IDF. There had been a bombing on one of the buses in Tel Aviv the day before and the entire country was depressed. I had heard a lot about him before meeting him, but the way he spoke about every Jew lost in that terrible bombing joined me to his personality.
Two hours later I walked out of his house a completely different person. I was able to grasp that truly great people actually live among us. It wasn’t his fancy chief Sephardic rabbi garb or the number of people who came to hear his words that impressed me, but rather the aforementioned sensitivity and passion he had for every Jewish soul.
That awe translated itself into an ongoing learning relationship, an ongoing desire to emulate that care and love toward every other Jew in the world that was so evident in Rav Eliyahu. It was his guidance and personal attention that brought my wife, our (then) three boys and me to Vancouver, British Columbia; and it was his continued tutorship that helped us succeed in developing such a strong relationship with the Jewish community at large and teens in particular.
NCSY grew from 15 to 500 teens during our five years in Vancouver and it was Rav Eliyahu’s love of Jews that encouraged us to move halfway around the globe and connect ourselves to a community we had never heard of earlier, simply because it was a Jewish community.
We were on our way to my parents’ anniversary party when we received the terrible news of Rav Eliyahu’s death; for our own safety I probably should have stopped the car but I decided to turn around and drive back home. I sat crying by my computer and started watching video after video of my conversations with the rav. I am not sure why I filmed them, but I’m really glad I did.
More than 100,000 Jews from every segment of life in Israel came to Rav Mordechai’s levaya on five hours’ notice. I don’t know how many people in the world merit to witness such unity at their funeral.
In a conversation between Rav Eliyahu, his sons, a friend of mine and myself just three days before he had his first heart attack two years ago, he said, “We have more Torah today than ever in the history of the Jewish people. We have more chesed in the Jewish world than ever in the history of the Jewish people. We have more kosher food then ever in the history of the Jewish people. The one thing that we are missing is unity and that is what is holding back the Mashiach from coming!”
Rav Eliyahu cut the first snip of hair off all of my five older boys at their upsherin and was the sandek of my sixth son at the OU Israel Center. When watching the videos yesterday I came across the one in which he told me he felt I should take my current position as executive director of OU Israel.
It is almost four years since I took his advice and not a day goes by without my seeing firsthand the positive impact this organization has on Klal Yisrael and how it is, Baruch Hashem, connecting the Jewish people with each other.
I thank Rav Eliyahu for giving me his guidance and I hope to take his legacy, his Torah, his passion, his love and continue spreading them across the Jewish world. In his merit, let us leave all the fights aside and unite as one people.
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