The years in Floral Park coincided with the beginning stages of the Orthodox Union’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) movement. Early on the synagogue hosted an NCSY weekend. One of the attendees who stayed at the Lamms’ home was a young man named Steve Riskin – who as Rabbi Shlomo Riskin would go on to prominence at Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue and then in the Israeli city of Efrat. The weekend was a success.
An unfortunate event during the Lamms’ time in Floral Park was loss of their synagogue in a fire. “It was nighttime,” Shirley recalls, “and the police came for my husband. They took him to the shul and he ran in with another member and saved the sifrei Torah. Until the shul was rebuilt, services were held in a county mortgage office.
“I was teaching the women of the congregation at the time and many of them were upset with God because of the fire. I explained to them that this was the work of an arsonist and that the fault was with evil men, not with God. We spoke about it a lot and I hope I helped them.”
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After seven years in Floral Park, during which time daughter Dodi Lee was born, the Lamms were ready for another position. The placement bureau of Yeshiva University told Rabbi Lamm about a position in the Bronx. The Hebrew Institute of University Heights was looking for a YU rabbi.
“I didn’t want to live in the Bronx, so I tried to talk him out of it,” Rebbetzin Lamm says with a chuckle. Rabbi Lamm prevailed, and they moved to the Bronx.
“I did all the things a rebbetzin should do,” says Shirley. “I held sisterhood meetings and helped at bazaars and taught Hebrew to adults, and I enjoyed all of it.”
“The first lecturer we had was Isaac Bashevis Singer. I made a special dinner and we invited the members of the synagogue board. I served fruit and then soup. When I went into the kitchen to get the main course, the meat and chicken, Mr. Singer’s assistant ran in and said, ‘I hope you know Mr. Singer is a vegetarian.’ I was shocked. No one had told me that. Well, I brought out the meat and the chicken and then I put the only vegetarian item I had made, a carrot soufflé, on a silver platter and placed it in front of him. He ate the whole thing.”
Shortly after the 1967 Six-Day War, the Rabbinical Council of America organized a tour of Israel. The Lamms, who had never been there, spent three weeks in the country. On the next-to-last day of the tour, Rabbi Lamm suddenly took ill and was rushed to the hospital. The doctor said it was a heart attack. The group left and the rebbetzin stayed behind in Israel for another two weeks. It was a lonely time for her while her husband convalesced.
“That was the second time in my life – the first was our experience in Puerto Rico – that my strong faith and trust in God saw me through. I really learned how to connect to the Ribbono Shel Olam in Israel.”
In the end it was not a heart attack that felled the rabbi but a gall bladder attack.
Back in the Bronx, people were moving away and Akiva Academy, a day school housed in Rabbi Lamm’s shul, was in danger of closing. Another yeshiva that was losing students, Salanter, joined with Riverdale Hebrew Academy and Akiva Academy to form SAR Academy (SAR standing for Salanter, Akiva and Riverdale).