As we commemorate the 20th yahrzeit of our beloved father, Rabbi Elias Lauer, z”l, we reminisce on a life that, though not long in years, was full in the impact it had on his family and the broader Jewish community.
Throughout his life, Elias Lauer skillfully balanced his religious and secular responsibilities and focused much of his time helping others and changing lives. He had many roles in his life—son, husband, father, grandfather, brother, son-in-law, uncle, cousin, friend, rabbi, lawyer, community leader and teacher. As a third-generation American Orthodox Jew, he felt strongly that a person need not compromise his or her religious beliefs to succeed in a secular society. Upon graduating from Yeshiva University and obtaining his semicha, he became the rabbi of the Young Israel of Briarwood, in Queens, New York, where he developed an Orthodox community over his 18-year tenure. As a rabbi, he was a brilliant public speaker who was revered by his many congregants, as well as many unaffiliated individuals. In addition to his commitment to his shul, he was active in the Vaad HaRabonim of Queens, serving as president, as well as on the boards of the local yeshivot.
Upon retiring from the rabbinate in 1973, he and our mother, Ilse, z”l, moved to Woodmere, New York. Although he transitioned to a full-time law practice, he continued to serve the Jewish community as a lay leader. He became active in running the Vaad HaKarshut of the Five Towns and in assisting with the development of a mikvah and the expansion of the Five Towns eruv. His greatest joy outside of his family was serving as a baal tefilah on the High Holidays. Congregants were inspired and uplifted by his tefilot.
Members of the Young Israel of Woodmere community attended his Perek on the Lawn classes on Shabbat afternoon for many years and continue to speak about the lessons they learned from him long after his death. Perhaps the reason that our father chose to teach Pirkei Avot is that his life exemplified many of its teachings.
In the beginning of Perek Aleph of Pirkei Avot it states “[b]e deliberate in judgment, develop many students and make a protective fence for the Torah.” This mishna highlights three of our father’s greatest characteristics.
Everyone who met Rabbi Elias Lauer would immediately sense that he was extremely friendly and nonjudgmental. He had a relationship with everyone, and everyone he spoke with felt his warmth and sincerity. He would engage anyone he met, both young and old, in conversation about their family, health and interests because he truly cared about them.
Our father taught everyone through his actions. He was a role model for honesty, kindness and empathy. He embraced his yiddishkeit and proudly portrayed himself as an observant Jew in his personal and professional life. Long before it was acceptable, our father wore a kippah in his office, never minimizing or apologizing for his religious beliefs.
With regard to his efforts to protect the Torah, our father believed in making the Torah “user-friendly.” As a rabbi, he tried to be practical as a posek (decisor) of halacha, when appropriate, because he believed that Torah observance was important and was more likely to occur if he helped his congregants to connect to the Torah. He worked on the Vaad Hakashrut and on building eruvim and mikvaot in each community he lived in to enhance the experiences of those who observed kashrut, Shabbat and taharat hamishpacha. He believed that if he brought Torah observance to the people, it increased their level of belief and Torah values. Had he lived longer, he would be astounded and incredibly proud of the tremendous growth that has occurred in the religious communities in Queens and the Five Towns.
In Perek Aleph, Mishna 15 of Pirkei Avot it states, “Say little and do much, and receive everyone with a cheerful face.” This is certainly a description of our father’s motto in life. He avoided speaking lashon harah and had a kind word to say to and about everyone.
Our father was an outstanding negotiator and mediator, and used these skills as a member of the boards of numerous Jewish organizations. Perek Aleph, Mishna 18 of Pirkei Avot states, “Emet umishpat shalom siftu bshareichem…Adjudicate the verdict of truth and peace in your gates.” In his role as a lawyer, specializing in business and real estate law, he engaged his clients in negotiation. When negotiating a real estate deal, he would bring the two sides to the table and help them understand the benefit of working out a deal. He helped people negotiate their differences and resolve matters, and he helped people understand another person’s perspective in order to minimize conflict.
Truth and peace were integral in his personal life as well. He was well known for his honesty and integrity, and as a result, people trusted and revered him.
Based on the teachings of Pirkei Avot, our father was the wisest, strongest, richest and most respected person. He exemplified the midot described in Perek Daled, Mishna Aleph, which states, “Who is wise? He who learns from every person…Who is strong? He who is slow to anger…Who is rich? Hasameach bchelko…he who is happy with his lot…Who is honored? He who honors others.”
Rabbi Elias Lauer engaged people in conversation because he wanted to learn from everyone. He was rarely angry because he was able to see the positive side of every person. He had no desire to collect objects. In fact, he preferred to surround himself with family and friends. And, he was incredibly well respected because he was respectful of others.
Perek Bet, Mishna Chet states “Kanah shem tov, kanah l’atsmoh, One who has gained a good reputation has gained it for his own benefit.” A “good name” is one of life’s greatest accomplishments and our father’s good reputation was his greatest treasure. This reputation carried him through life and continues until today, 20 years after his untimely passing. Yet, a shem tov—a good name—is a private treasure, one that cannot be shared with others, and is not easily passed to one’s children and grandchildren. As his family and friends, we must emulate his many remarkable traits in order to continue his good name. May his neshama have an aliyah and may he continue to be a meilitz yosher for his family and klal Yisroel.
Lovingly written by Rabbi Lauer’s children. His daughter Barbara is a resident of Livingston.
By Dr. Simeon Lauer, Dr. Barbara Lauer-Listhaus
and Andrew (Avi) Lauer, Esq.