On Sunday, June 27, 2021, a virtual memorial tribute was held for Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld z”l ’52R, founding rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills.
Rabbi Schonfeld’s rabbinical career brought enormous benefits to his local community and the Jewish world at large, and his connection to Yeshiva University ran deep throughout his life. He was a community rabbi and spiritual leader to many YU graduates and spoke about his beloved rebbe at YU, Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik, on a day of learning commemorating his 20th yahrzeit in 2013. Rabbi Schonfeld was awarded an honorary degree by President Richard Joel at YU’s 78th Commencement Exercises in 2009.
“Rabbi Schonfeld’s warmth and sincerity fostered the growth of a community dedicated to Torah,” said Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University. “He had the adoration of the multitudes who were privileged to know him, and his respect and sincere concern for the well-being of others has left an indelible mark on our community and the world.”
The memorial tribute began with Paul Glasser ’73YC, former chazzan [cantor] of the shul, who sang the Star-Spangled Banner and Hatikvah. Tribute Chair Rebecca Wittert discussed the care, compassion and generosity Rabbi Schonfeld displayed towards his congregants, followed by an address by Rabbi Stuart Verstandig ’80YC, ’83F, ’84R, president of the shul. Rabbi Verstandig discussed Rabbi Schonfeld’s involvement in the significant expansion of American Orthodoxy and his dedication to passing along the teachings of Rabbi Soloveichik. Esther Lopata, founding member of the shul, talked about the fond memories she had of the shul’s beginnings and Rabbi Schonfeld’s tenure as rabbi.
Aviva Pinchuk, eldest child of Rabbi Schonfeld, spoke from Israel, and thanked the many congregants and family friends who spent time with her father over his long career. She relayed how he shared in the joys of his congregants, and Glasser, a friend of the Rabbi’s for many years, discussed Rabbi Schonfeld’s unrelenting support for the State of Israel since its early years. Rabbi Mordechai Willig ’68YC, ’71R, the Rabbi Dr. Sol Roth Professor of Talmud and Contemporary Halachah at Yeshiva University and rabbi of the Young Israel of Riverdale, discussed the affection he had for Rabbi Schonfeld as a child growing up in Kew Gardens Hills and how the Rabbi reflected the radiance of the rebbeim from whom he learned. He also noted that Rabbi Schonfeld would often quote the Rav, passing his knowledge to the next generation of the shul’s congregants, and also talked about the Rabbi’s love for learning and teaching Torah.
Many of the speakers also mentioned Rabbi Schonfeld’s devoted wife, Ruth, who passed away in 2017, and her dedication to the shul. The tribute also included a video of Rabbi Schonfeld when he was interviewed by students at the Samuel H. Wang Yeshiva University High School for Girls in 2013 for Names, Not Numbers™, an oral history project that has captured the testimonies of Holocaust survivors for over 15 years. In the interview, he expressed his astonishment at a German army officer who risked his life to retrieve Rabbi Schonfeld’s tefillin after it had been confiscated. His son, Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, current rabbi of the shul, talked about his father and the many institutions that had great impact on him, including YU. The program concluded with the singing of Keil Maleh Rachamim by Glasser.
The memorial was the first is a series of future tributes in honor of Rabbi Schonfeld. In late fall, in conjunction with his first yahrzeit, a memorial tribute book featuring personal memories, stories and photographs will be published. Anyone who has stories or photographs of Rabbi Schonfeld is invited to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org