More than 400 people paid tribute to Rabbi Yaakov and Faigie Luban at Edison’s Congregation Ohr Torah’s annual dinner at the Marigold in Somerset, New Jersey on Sunday evening, May 7. Dozens of rebbeim and heads of school from all facets of Rabbi Luban’s personal and professional life came from the surrounding area and beyond to honor Rabbi Luban’s 40-plus years of service as mora d’asra.
Speeches, presentations and videos honoring the Lubans were paused for intervals, allowing attendees to sample from a sumptuous buffet of American and international foods and desserts. As people milled about the room, Rabbi Luban stopped at each table to warmly welcome everyone and thank them for coming. Guests, in mentioning their reasons for attending the dinner, noted the model that Rabbi Luban was for the community and their desire to honor his accomplishments. Many comments mirrored those of Leonard Staller, Highland Park, who stated how “exceptionally wonderful Rabbi Luban was” to him, his family, and the entire community and how much a privilege it is to honor him.
Rabbi Ronald Schwarzberg, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park, came “to celebrate the amazing career of Rabbi Luban, who was not just a rabbi, but a true communal leader who led with passion and sensitivity.”
Current assistant rabbi at Ohr Torah, Rabbi Sariel Malitzky, spoke several times. Sometimes humorous, at times serious, consistently heartfelt, Rabbi Malitzky described his years working and learning with Rabbi Luban. “In the past seven years I’ve asked Rabbi Luban how to approach numerous tasks. Today was no different. His sound advice for my speech today was to only allow 10 seconds and five words. Wish hatzlacha to the honorees and move on.”
Rabbi Malitzky continued that although he had much to say, no matter how long he would speak would give justice to the honoree. One vignette was about a suggestion offered to Rabbi Luban that he record some shiurim and put them on the shul’s website, an easier task than photocopying and mailing past lectures. Rabbi Luban’s response was that he was only there to teach Torah and he did not want to do anything that would lose or diminish the connection he had with people who sat at the table to learn.
Videos, current tapings as well as segments taped for a dinner honoring Rabbi Luban 10 years ago, attested to the warmth and respect the community and other rebbeim have for Rabbi Luban.
Rabbi Reuven Drucker, of Congregation Agudath Israel, Highland Park, spoke about the tremendous role Rabbi Luban had in creating the unparalleled “shalom” in the community and the interrelationship between the community rabbis and synagogues.
Highland Park’s Rabbi Eliyahu Kaufman of Congregation Ohav Emeth said he was thrilled to be at the dinner in appreciation of Rabbi Luban’s dedication to the community. In a taped segment he added that it would be impossible to express all that the Rabbi and Rebetzin Luban have done and what they mean to the community. Each Shabbat they were figuratively “up the creek together” when they would pass at a small stream en route to their respective synagogue services.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, former rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Garden Hills and a childhood friend of Rabbi Luban’s, noted that mentions of the relationship between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon is listed as student/teacher and also as friend. How can this be reconciled? Rabbi Schonfeld said that one should learn to conduct life as Rabbi Luban has—to judge others favorably and live a life of Torah, adding that he was sure Rabbi Luban would continue to do all the things he already was doing pre-retirement, but without being paid. With great praise he ended with: “He isn’t just a rabbi, he’s a friend. He’s not just a friend, he’s my rabbi.”
Ohr Torah President Robert Kreitman began his remarks directed towards the Lubans’ many children and grandchildren in attendance. While they may not remember what was said, they should note how many people came from the entire Edison/Highland Park community to give honor. He added that the synagogue governing board had determined that Rabbi Luban’s new title would be rabbi emeritus. If the rabbi chose not to accept the title, they would be forced to hold another dinner in his honor.
Rabbi Luban received a standing ovation as he was given a ceremonial copy of the dinner journal. With a great deal of warmth and a touch of understated humor, he began by thanking the assemblage for their “wonderful acts of kindness, even if they were not all deserved.” In sincerity, he thanked his wife and named her the “best rebbetzin” who supported him in all his efforts over the many years. He also thanked the shul board of directors, noting that over 41 years he has had no problems with them, but reminded the audience that there were “still four months to go.” He also disputed rumors that he and his family would be moving out of the area. “If there are any plans to do so, we don’t know anything about it.” Rabbi Luban added that it is a great job to be a rabbi because you get to do chesed (charitable deeds) 24/7 and that, while not taking away from Rabbi Malitzky, he will still be available for the community.
Rabbi Malitzky concluded with a reminder that Reb Elyah Lopian came out of retirement at age 75 to be mashgiach ruchani at a yeshiva in Israel, and Michael Jordan and Tom Brady came out of sports retirements. All had great success, he said, and added it wasn’t too late for Rabbi Luban to continue in his position at Ohr Torah.
In addition to serving Congregation Ohr Torah, Rabbi Luban also played an active role in the Vaad HaRabonim of Raritan Valley and served as executive rabbinic coordinator for the Orthodox Union, all the while publishing numerous articles for a variety of respected Torah journals and popular Jewish magazines. Mrs. Luban is also known to decades of second-grade Judaic studies students as “Morah Faigie” from her many years of teaching at Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva.