On Wednesday, March 24, after over six months in health care facilities, Rabbi Shmuel Greenberg, the rabbi of the Young Israel of White Plains for 26 years, returned to his own home. Undeterred by the pouring rain, over 100 family members, friends, congregants, neighbors and a DJ escorted the ambulette up his street in celebration of his continued recovery. While his discharge home was expected within the week preceding Pesach, the community had less than 24 hours to arrange this event.
The event was recorded and disseminated via social media to the thousands of people who had been participating in nightly Tehillim groups, weekly challah baking groups, scores of mitzvah projects by his former students at
Westchester Hebrew High School, the groundbreaking and dedication of the new White Plains mikveh building in his honor and many other activities in his merit, leading up to this homecoming.
YIWP member Yael Rosenberg said, “There was no single person in charge of the festivities. Logistical questions arose: What are we going to do to greet the rabbi? Can we meet him? Can we line the streets? Can we have a parade? So many people were so thrilled to have him back home, to know he is coming home for Pesach, to know he’s going to be with his family.”
Rosenberg added, “People were just overjoyed to come to greet him, but we also wanted to be respectful of him. Once his children said it was okay to come, we could not have kept people away. I do not think the weather made any difference, I think it could have been a blizzard, and we would have been there.”
Rosenberg described that the dancing began a half hour before the ambulette actually arrived. She told her children that it is very rare in your life that you will be able to see a miracle. “That night, we saw a miracle with our own eyes.”
White Plains City Councilmember Justin Brasch, also a member of YIWP, exclaimed, “Our congregation is ecstatic and relieved to have our rabbi home. He is an incredible role model for our community. We have been praying for six months for his return home and feel blessed. It’s a miracle.”
Brasch helped arrange the safety of the event with the city’s law enforcement, enabling the “red-carpet” reception. White Plains Public Safety Department’s Facebook group even posted the news on its group site.
In his remarks on the occasion, Rabbi Greenberg said, “Thank you for this lovely reception, this big simcha. It is truly a simcha to be able to be back home. I am home now for the first time in six months, and it is such a good feeling. Hodu laShem ki tov ki l’olam chasdo. This is a rebirth of myself. It is a z’man chairut for myself that I am able to be free, be home, and it should be a z’man of redemption and healing for myself and everybody else.”
On the Yom Tov days that followed, members of the shul were invited to walk past the Greenberg home. Rosenberg added, “He was able to greet many well-wishers. Keeping our distance, we walked by the house. Luckily, it was a beautiful day and we were able to talk to him for a little bit. He said it was so meaningful to him to know that everybody was davening for him and that he feels that Hashem heard all our prayers.”
The first sign that Rabbi Greenberg was on the mend was on January 20. He began sending his community a weekly dvar Torah on the parsha. Rosenberg recalled that days before this first recording of the rabbi was released, she had asked her husband, “Can we just hear his voice?” Her husband responded, “It’s not our place to ask; we just have to wait. “The next day, that first dvar Torah came out. Rosenberg noted with each weekly dvar Torah, you could hear his voice getting stronger.
Rabbi Yaakov Bienenfeld of the Young Israel of Harrison and Rabbi Greenberg have been long-time friends. The nightly Tehillim Zoom calls coordinated by Rabbi Bienenfeld will continue while Rabbi Greenberg continues his recovery at home.
By Judy Berger