Rabbi Becker’s parents, both Holocaust survivors, had come to the United States in 1948 imbued with faith in
AN APPOINTMENT MADE 80 YEARS AGO
An article by Rabbi Israel Becker for the Arizona Jewish Post.
A MESSAGE FROM RABBI
My parents’ home was filled with reverence for life and Judaism. I saw an overwhelming generosity of spirit as they reached out to others, opening their hearts and their home. Whenever the Rabbi needed to find a place for someone to stay for a meal, Shabbat, or even for several weeks, he knew that he could count on my parents. Even today I meet people who tell me that they still remember my parents’ Shabbat table. The table was open to others from the neighborhood, a visitor, a lonely person, and anyone my parents believed would be enriched from the experience.
Jewish living was something to be protected and nourished. My mother cherished the memory of the last moments with her parents in the ghetto of Plinsk in 1942. The Gestapo had come to take them, whereupon my grandfather put one hand on my mother’s head and the other on her sister’s and said, “We are going to sanctify the name of
Fast forward to my youth in Queens, New York, I became connected to Jews with diverse and varied backgrounds through my parents, and our synagogue Rabbi, Yaakov Pollak. I found this exciting and it was in this context that I learned to respect each Jew as unique, important and valuable, regardless of background, religious affiliation or level of observance.
At age 17, I enrolled at the Rabbinical Seminary of America and my original intention was to study there for a year, but instead stayed for 13 years. It was there that I was inspired to dedicate my life to teaching. Whether it was a verse in the Torah, a Midrash, or the Talmud and its commentary, my Rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz, the Dean of the Rabbinical Seminary of America, taught his students that the answers lie within, and it is there that one must search deeply. His pursuit of truth was astounding. Creating a lively forum for active dialogue and inquiry, he would offer his explanation and invite rigorous and energetic examination and scrutiny, to lead us on a journey in pursuit of truth. He possessed the ability to make each student feel as if he was his only student. He would implore us to dig evermore deeply into our own selves, to identify our strong areas and continuously strive to improve them, and not to fear facing our weaknesses. Over and over, he would remind us of our duty and privilege to teach the Torah. He motivated us by his own example of a profound love for each and every Jew, and inspired us to pursue outreach as a lifelong goal. He taught us the basic rudiments of faith and trust in
It was the vision of my wife Esther that led us to Tucson 33 years ago. It was evident even as we dated, that we shared a common dream. We both passionately wanted to dedicate our lives to teaching Jews about Judaism. It was her encouragement that a southwestern city with a growing Jewish community presented the kind of opportunity where we felt we could make a contribution and make a significant difference.
We are blessed by the privilege of being a part of the Chofetz Chayim family. During the past years our lives have merged with our dear congregants and students, who we view as our family. I am eternally grateful to Tucson, Arizona for embracing us, and invite you to experience Chofetz Chayim and the Southwest Torah Institute with us.