On Sunday evening, March 26, Rabbi Ely Shestack will be formally installed as the Rabbi of Congregation Ahavat Achim in Fair Lawn. Rabbi Shestack began with the congregation prior to the high holidays, after the previous rabbi, Rabbi Uri Goldstein, and his family made aliyah.
On March 19, Rabbi Shestack participated in Yeshiva University Chag HasSmikhah, as he recently completed his requirements. Regarding completion of the YU Semikhah program, Rabbi Shesack said, “It’s something I’ve wanted to accomplish for a long time. Receiving Semikhah legitimizes the work I’ve been doing.” Although he recognizes getting a job before completing the program was atypical, going through the program while having a position allowed him to instantly put into practice things he was learning. For Rabbi Shestack the purpose of the program was about obtaining knowledge and training in order to put it to use as an active acting rabbi.
Aryeh Brenenson, president of the shul, said of Rabbi Shestack’s obtaining Semikhah, “It lends credibility to the position and is meaningful. The installation furthers that credibility and creates pomp and circumstance and publicizes the rabbi’s accomplishment and place in the shul.” The installation will include speeches by Rabbi Yaakov Glasser and Rabbi Aharon Klein, both of whom have known Rabbi Shestack for some time and impacted him greatly.
Rabbi Aharon Kahn, a Professor of Talmud and Codes in YU’s RIETs program, is also a pulpit rabbi. He led a shul in downtown Manhattan and founded a thriving congregation in Flatbush that is open 24 hours a day for learning. Rabbi Kahn himself was influenced by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik under whom he studied for 20 years, including 10 where he acted as his assistant. Rabbi Shestack was drawn to Rabbi Kahn, who was his Gemarah rebbi. He said, “R. Kahn introduced me to a perspective on Torah that I feel has shaped me in a significant way, perhaps more than anyone else.”
The admiration goes both ways as Rabbi Kahn uses words such as smart, sincere, devoted, honest and honorable to describe his talmid. He added, “Every rav is a father and every father is thrilled when their child arrives at a milestone… Rabbi Shestack is comfortable in his skin and has an idealism that will serve him and the kehilla well. He has a bright future.”
Rabbi Yaakov Glasser is the dean of the Center for the Jewish Future and University Life at YU as well as a pulpit rabbi in the Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton. Previously, Rabbi Glasser served as the regional director of New Jersey NCSY and the NCSY international director of education. It was while in his NJ NCSY role that Rabbi Glasser met Rabbi Shestack. He said of a young Rabbi Shestack, “He had a soft yet confident personality and was always ready to step up and get involved. He was a values-driven kid who had a deep sense of the right thing to do.” Rabbi Glasser adds that seeing a person of Rabbi Shestack’s caliber join the rabbinate gives him tremendous hope for the Jewish community. Rabbi Shestack said of his mentor, “He has been there at many stages in my life and seen me develop. He’s been a guiding force, and I’ve been inspired by him.”
In the few months Rabbi Shestack has served the congregation, he has found great rewards and challenges. He particularly enjoys visiting elderly homebound members of the community. “Having a visit from the rabbi brightens their day and in turn makes me feel better.” He also counts sharing in a family’s simcha as a highlight and meaningful. One challenge is handling the shul’s discretionary funds. “People entrust me with their tzedakah, a significant mitzvah, and it’s hard to know who needs it most, what institution is most needy.”
Rabbi Shestack is moving forward on his goals for the shul, which start with why he and his wife were drawn to it: They sensed camaraderie amongst members and saw a place where children go up to any parent and find someone happy to see them and help. Making the shul proud of this quality and drawing others who want to raise a family there is one of his goals. Brenenson has been quite pleased with Rabbi Shestack’s performance to date. Reaching out to people of all ages, empowering others to get involved, a willingness to try new things and overall engagement are qualities that have impressed Brenenson.
As Ahavat Achim readies to formally install Rabbi Shestack, Brenenson calls the event a celebration and a chance to cement the relationship. While Rabbi Shestack is proud and honored to be formally installed and ordained, he does not see himself on the same plane as a more veteran rabbi but on a journey toward becoming an experienced clergyman who is more helpful and impactful. Rabbi Shestack grows more confident as he moves forward, sensing that he is doing the job he was brought in to do—and loving it. “To be installed puts a stamp which says this is your job/role. I cherish that because I love what I do.”
By Larry Bernstein
Larry Bernstein is a freelance writer for hire. To learn more about his services, visit http://larrydbernstein.com.