In an emotionally charged conversation, Rabbi Elie Mischel summed up his eight years of service to Suburban Torah: “We are leaving an incredible job for an incredible life.”
Rabbi Mischel, who has made a tremendous difference to the shul, the township of Livingston and the greater MetroWest community, is preparing to fulfill a lifelong dream of making aliyah with his family.
“I loved this job. I feel badly about leaving, but [my family] can’t wait any longer,” he shared. “The time is now.”
His four children, the oldest of whom will be entering 10th grade in the fall, “have to come first,” he said. “We should have gone 10 years ago; it would have been easier. But I have no regrets.” He leaves feeling proud of his contributions to the community.
From his early days, when he participated in an interdenominational conversation with other area rabbis, to last weekend, when he helped lead the charge at the “I Stand for Israel” rally in Livingston, Rabbi Mischel has been leading by example.
“To be a rabbi is not just to be a posek; you have to be a leader,” he stressed.
In a telephone conversation with The Jewish Link, Rabbi Mischel spoke of his pride in the community he has grown to love, and which he is sad to be leaving behind.
As he discussed the growth in the shul during the past eight years, he was reminded of a similar interview, more than six years ago, where he expressed the hope that he would “bring in another 10, 20 or 30 families.” He estimated that the shul has, in fact, grown by at least 50 families in that time. According to one of the speakers at the shul’s recent annual dinner, membership is at a 25-year high.
“It is a little frustrating to leave now. People keep moving in. We won. We succeeded. The community is in a much better place. It is primed for whoever takes over,” he remarked. “I am very invested in who comes next to continue this work.”
He was quick to share the credit. “These people moved in because of the dedication of our community members.”
The shul has not just grown in numbers. When asked about his legacy, Rabbi Mischel mentioned growth in both numbers and inspiration, and his hope that he has been “physically building” the community and “spiritually lifting up” his congregants.
“Livingston is a town with 12,000 Jews,” he said. “Here we are surrounded by so many young non-Orthodox couples who we can reach out to.
“It is amazing,” he continued. “There are people who didn’t live within walking distance to the shul who sold their beautiful homes and moved closer to the shul. We are making a difference.”
He spoke of the “exceptionally diverse community” in Livingston, saying that “unity is what we need to hold on to. It’s a prerequisite for what we need to do together.”
The rabbi praised the “power of small groups of incredibly dedicated lay people who make things happen,” and expressed confidence that they will continue making a difference after he leaves. “I have been very fortunate to have these people to work with.”
He discussed the importance of being “a mission-driven community,” adding, “We all have a mission—some to go to Israel, others to do their piece to bring redemption. It all has to lead to something.”
For his family, that means joining the August 10 Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, and being one of 20 new families set to move to Efrat.
“It is so popular; it’s hard to find a place to live there now,” he said.
Rabbi Mischel has been working part time this year at Jerusalem College of Technology’s Machon Lev men’s campus, and is prepared to take on a larger role once he is settled in Israel. His wife, Rebecca, will continue her work as a psychologist, hopefully keeping some current clients via Zoom. And the kids are set to start school and ulpan.
Yet, “we are preparing for six months of crying, and not just the kids,” he said.
The family will miss their friends and community, over 200 of whom came out to wish them well at the shul’s recent annual dinner.
“Rabbi Mischel has always been available to our family through happiness, as well as difficult times that seemed endless. He helped bring enthusiasm and determination into growing our beautiful community. I will really miss him,” reflected longtime congregant Ellen Stokar.
At the dinner, Rabbi Mischel took the opportunity to thank the community, and implore them to continue the work they began together.
“Our community must go forward with a sense of mission,” he said. “We can’t forget to look beyond the walls of our shul.”
“I don’t believe that we are here, in Livingston, because it’s a beautiful suburb that’s commutable to New York City. I believe that we—the Torah Jews of Suburban Torah—are here because we can make a difference. We are here to do our part to bring the redemption another step closer!”
By Jill Kirsch