You will always be our rabbi

Dear Rabbi Orenstein, 

Today is the day of your bday celebration, and I’ve been thinking about what to say to you for weeks. There is so much that fills my mind and my heart, and although words cannot do you justice, it is a joyous responsibility to represent my family in speaking to you. My first memory is attending schul during one of the high holidays. My children were in the childrens’ service, and I had the opportunity to sit as an adult and listen and pray. It was a fairly quiet, mostly adult, room. You, Rabbi, were speaking, delivering your sermon, I believe. I don’t remember what you were saying, in content, but I so remember what you said, in humanity. The air was suddenly pierced by a child crying, and your sermon was interrupted. The perpetrating child was being carried out by an embarrassed parent. You stopped your sermon, looked at the family, and said “Please stay here with us and your child. Your child was just making music to accompany my words. I appreciate the interaction.” That said it all for me.

I remember studying with you, Rabbi, and other young mothers. It was a chance for us to get together and bond and use our brains in learning. Always relevant, always inspiring. The coffee and tea and sweets were a chance for us to socialize with our Rabbi and hear about your tennis games. I remember a field trip into NYC with you, Rabbi, and our same ladies group. Again, I don’t remember where we were going, in content, but I do remember what you said, in wisdom. We had lunch in a NYC diner. I asked how you could eat in a non-kosher establishment. You said that it makes you think about being Jewish and the point is less the strictness of the kashrut and more the thinking about being Jewish and what that means for each of us and how we each negotiate our Jewish journey through life. You and Sylvia housed my Orthodox cousin (and her boyfriend) so that in the spirit of Shalom Bayit (conservative mixed seating and women to the Torah was difficult for them, but if they could walk to schul…), they could attend my son’s Bar Mitzvah.

 There was my own adult Bat Mitzvah and learning with the Rabbi and the Bnai Mitzvah of David and Michael. Warmth and wisdom. The cherishing of the children. Life cycle memories. You personally promised to make my receiving The Get efficient and painless. I resisted, but you knew I wanted to remarry in the Conservative tradition. So much empathy for my distress. And then my remarriage to Harvey. You made the day so special. You said under the Chuppa that you had to admit you came from “the bride’s side” — the 50 plus year old bride. You made me feel so young and so special. You were family. And I will never forget your travel to NYC to sit with David following the loss of his girlfriend. You talked with him about life and grief the way only a beloved uncle could approach and be heard.
Your were already unfortunately in the early grips of your illness for the marriage of Michael and Pam. But Pam’s parents remember sitting in your living room meeting you for the first time and connecting with you over conversion and family. They adored you, as we all did. And when Michael confessed to you that he had anxiety about a tic and not being able to stand still under the Chuppa, you said to him “I will also have trouble standing still. We will move about together.” And you married our children, standing there with your cane, a little less strong on your feet, your big voice just a little softer, but the words and the wisdom and the love oh so loud. And you made the day for us, warm and special. Thank you from the bottom of all our hearts.
Daivd and Erika, Michael and Pam, Pam’s parents Gail and Bennett, Harvey and I wish you a happy birthday and peace and love as you are surrounded by those who love you, honor you, and care for you.

 With love, Sue (Horowitz)

By: Sue Horowitz

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