A farewell tribute to Rabbi Chaim Bronstein, longtime administrator of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), was livestreamed on Friday, July 31, 2020. The administration of Yeshiva University and RIETS, along with the roshei yeshiva [heads of Yeshiva], faculty, longtime friends of Rabbi Bronstein and the extended Bronstein clan, joined to celebrate 42 years of devoted service to Yeshiva University on the occasion of his retirement.
Dr. Ari Berman, President of YU, began the tribute by emphasizing Rabbi Bronstein’s consistency and commitment to the Yeshiva. In his quiet, understated way, he always modeled humility, and on every occasion, put YU first. Dr. Berman continued his praise, telling the audience how Rabbi Bronstein gave people a sense of confidence and served as a role model for many students.
Following Dr. Berman, Rabbi Yona Reiss, who previously served as the Max and Marion Grill Dean of RIETS and is currently one of its roshei yeshiva, spoke of how Rabbi Bronstein always served as the “neshama” [soul] of the Yeshiva. “Students learned derech eretz [appropriate and respectful behavior] and mentschlechkeit [acting with integrity and honor] from Rabbi Bronstein. He is the ultimate role model for all,” said Rabbi Reiss. “Every student knows it’s Rabbi Bronstein, with the twinkle in his eye, that would be the one to make the legendary ‘deal’ to get that worthy student to the finish line to get semicha [rabbinical ordination]. He was always accommodating, spoke kindly and gently to everyone and welcomed everyone into his office with simcha [happiness].”
Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani [spiritual guide] at RIETS, addressed the participants and spoke about Rabbi Bronstein’s relationship with the semicha students. “He combined a commitment to the standards of the Yeshiva with sensitivity to the specific needs of the students,” said Rabbi Blau. “He found a way to allow them to complete semicha while being sensitive to each student’s needs for the other obligations they had while completing semicha, such as graduate school, marriage and family.” Continued Rabbi Blau, “Rabbi Bronstein’s loyalty to the Yeshiva and concern for each student is something truly remarkable, and we are not sure how we can duplicate it.”
During the tribute, a letter written by Rabbi Dr. Herbert Dobrinsky, vice president for university affairs, was read to the participants in which he praised Rabbi Bronstein and discussed how he was always a most reliable source for accurate information. In the letter, he also talked about how the concept of humility had always been intrinsic in whatever Rabbi Bronstein did and that the students and rebbeim who dealt with Rabbi Bronstein over the years admired him greatly and cherished their friendships with him. As Dr. Dobrinsky wrote in the letter,” You have been an inspiration to all who respect your Torah knowledge and your noble middos [Jewish values] and good deeds.”
Rabbi Avraham Bronstein, a son of Rabbi Bronstein, spoke on behalf of the Bronstein children, telling the audience that as children they did not really know what their father did at work. It wasn’t until they were older that they discovered how their father’s commitment to YU had helped shape the American Modern Orthodox rabbinate for several generations. He discussed how anyone who came to his father’s office was treated with sensitivity and as an individual, allowing his father to best understand the character and challenges of each person on an individual level.
Rabbi Meir Goldwicht, the Joel And Maria Finkle Visiting Israeli Rosh Yeshiva and visiting professor of Jewish history, also addressed the audience. Speaking in Hebrew, he highlighted Rabbi Bronstein’s “Ayin Tov” [good eye] and how if you have a good eye, you have a good heart and good mind. He also talked about how Rabbi Bronstein always looked at what he could do for others and did everything with warmth, good feeling and a smile.
Rabbi Menachem Penner, the Max and Marion Grill Dean of RIETS, spoke about Rabbi Bronstein’s shepherding of so many students through their years at YU. He talked about his love for the talmidim [students] as well as his love for Hashem [G-d]. “Rabbi Bronstein is a true eved Hashem [servant of G-d],” said Rabbi Penner and compared him to the prophet Ovadia. “He was in charge of everything, everything came through him, and he had a tremendous Yirat Hashem [fear of G-d].” Rabbi Penner also noted how Rabbi Bronstein took care of many students and had tremendous respect for the roshei yeshiva. “He understood that the roshei yeshiva needed to be taken care of, too. He was the Camp Father.” At one point, Rabbi Penner addressed Rabbi Bronstein directly, saying, “You have within you the American rabbinate of the last 50 years. You are the touch point for so many generations of rabbanim [rabbis]. We adore you, we love you and we have a special place in our hearts for you and your family.”
Closing out the program was Rabbi Bronstein, who acknowledged he was “blown away by the amount of people at the tribute.” He told the audience he was surprised that so many roshei yeshiva were present as well as Dr. Berman and Dr. Richard Joel, president emeritus of YU. Rabbi Bronstein added that he was deeply grateful for all those who attended the party and spoke and that the most important aspect of being at Yeshiva was continuity. “Each menahel [principal] added to the semicha program, but the essence of RIETS is its continuity over the years,” and he went on to talk about how he felt so fortunate to serve rebbeim who were his rebbeim. He ended his heartfelt speech with, “If you have to work, work in Yeshiva,” and he expressed his hakarat hatov [gratitude] to the RIETS staff “who work very hard for the students of RIETS.” He closed his speech with the words, “Thank you for being my family in Washington Heights.”