It was a shock. He was just 64, and a leader in the community who showed us how to live. He didn’t lecture us. He didn’t stand at a pulpit and talk. He sat and listened to the sad and desperate circumstances our neighbors find themselves in, and did something about it. His name was Rabbi Yosef Stern, z”tl—Yossie to many of Teaneck’s old timers, friend and adviser to the then young couples learning to cope with mortgages, parenting, and tuition, some of them in the most dire straits imaginable.
Our eyes fill when we consider the enormity of the loss, and realize he is not with us anymore. The crown of our Jewish community is suddenly gone, and so young, with so much left to do—leaving a void at the very heart of our community that will be hard to fill.
How does one replace an erliche person and an anov whose door was always open to all, who understood the true meaning of chesed and tzedakah, who sometimes dispensed very tough love, and lived by the notion that it was much more important to teach people HOW to fish, instead of just feeding them fish? How do you teach his love for the pintele Yid, even for those in the community who seemed to be miles off the derech or never knew it existed in the first place? How many kids did he bring back and help put through school? How many lives did he save? What do we like to say when we talk about those who rescued Jews during the Holocaust (and of course, he too, knew all too well about those realities): “He who saves one life it is as if he saved a nation.” How many nations has Yossie Stern saved? We will never know, because Yossie kept it all quiet. Anonymous and pristine, transparent and just—the way they taught us about tzedakah when we were kids. He kept it pure.
They say that there are among us 36 righteous people who keep the world safe from destruction. We believe that Yossie Stern was one of the 36. May he be a Melitz Yashar for all of us, and hope that we can follow in his footsteps.