July 17, 2024
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Marking the Shloshim of Seymour N. Chesir, z”l: 50-Year Veteran and Past President of the Yeshiva of Central Queens

Seymour N. Chesir, z”l’s dedication to the Yeshiva of Central Queens preserved its legacy of excellence in both Judaic and secular education and nurtured the vision for the years that lay ahead. In the month since Mr. Chesir’s passing on November 19, his lasting impressions have emerged from those who knew and worked with him, solidifying his consistent efforts. For over half a century, Mr. Chesir devoted countless hours serving on the YCQ Board of Trustees as president and chairman of the board, and his name remains synonymous with the contemporary YCQ.

The Yeshiva of Central Queens’ name was predominant in the Chesir household. Seymour’s beloved wife of 67 years, Elissa z”l, paid much attention to her husband’s endeavors and together they took pride in watching their wonderful children thrive as they raised their family in Bayside, Queens. It was only a few months ago, on September 30, that am Yisrael lost the esteemed Elissa P. Chesir, a former leader in the YCQ Parents’ Association and a stalwart supporter of AMIT, the children’s organization once known as Mizrachi Women’s Organization of America. Their successful children include Joshua, who graduated from the yeshiva in 1971, David in 1972, Aaron in 1975 and Benjamin in 1984.

Born August 22, 1930, and raised in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, he was the second of three children, in a home infused with strong Zionist and professional academic values. At the young age of 22, Mr. Chesir’s activism began to shine. Mizrachi Youth of America, a Zionist organization for youngsters of the era, appointed him its national president, a first for the group. Educated at Brooklyn College, Mr. Chesir went on to take courses at the Jewish Theological Seminary. In 1954, he graduated NYU Law School and eventually rose to a partner at Stein Schwartz Chesir & Rosh, LLP, a Manhattan law firm where he established a respectable reputation for himself over a 50-year timespan. He was known to provide for every need of his cherished family and was a role model for each of them in becoming involved in communal endeavors and Israel advocacy.

Rabbi Yaakov Lonner, executive director of YCQ, remembered Mr. Chesir’s influence. “YCQ did not take Mr. Chesir’s suggestions and advice lightly. His opinions held great value and are ingrained in the framework of the yeshiva that continues to, baruch Hashem, flourish today. For decades, Mr. Chesir stood alongside Rabbi Menachem Rottenberg z”l, the former executive director at YCQ, as an advocate in striving for the highest levels of Torah and general education.”

It was the encouragement of a dear friend, Mr. Ben Grossman, z”l, the then president of the YCQ Board of Directors, that advanced Mr. Chesir’s activism at the yeshiva. As the yeshiva board chairman, Mr. Chesir was responsible for leading the monthly meetings, covering the agenda, and keeping order. Mr. Chesir was a gentleman with extensive foresight and imaginative and practical ideas. He was respectful to the countless speakers who addressed the board and expected the membership to follow suit.

Mrs. Reize Sipzner, longtime YCQ vice president and annual dinner chairperson, had a deep admiration for Mr. Chesir and his wisdom. “It was an absolute honor and privilege to ‘sit at the table’ with Seymour Chesir a”h for well over 20 years,” she said. “Seymour was first to arrive at every meeting, handsomely dressed in a business suit and bowtie. He listened and always gave us his wise counsel and sage advice. The yeshiva was of utmost importance to him, and he made it his life’s mission to enable YCQ to provide a superior Jewish and general studies education while closely watching the bottom line.”

In 1972, when his mentor Rabbi Rottenberg observed the extensive growth of the Queens Jewish community, an ideal location was sought for a new modern yeshiva building outside of the Jamaica home where it was once held, now the site of York College. Mr. Chesir became a leader in the yeshiva’s expansion project, and it was in part his concept that remains on display at the intersection of 70th Road and 150th Street in Kew Gardens Hills today.

“We are eternally grateful to Mr. Chesir and Rabbi Rottenberg for laying a strong foundation so that the yeshiva can successfully pursue its mission to give each child a superior Torah and general education and raise a new generation of Torah-loyal families l’hagdil Torah u’l’ha’adirah,” said the reigning president of the YCQ Board, Dr. Joel Wein.

Carrying the burden of the yeshiva was no small feat, and many of its achievements, including keeping it financially sound through savvy business strategy and the construction of the Kew Gardens Hills campus in 1975 and the state-of-the-art junior high school building in 2000, are an enduring testimonial to Mr. Chesir’s legacy.

Serving with distinction became second nature for Mr. Chesir as he and his eishet chayil set an example by accepting awards at two of the yeshiva’s dinners. The Chesirs, in the ultimate definition of a YCQ couple, did not seek the recognition; rather they felt it vital to support the philanthropic projects of the yeshiva. Together they took a hands-on approach to education and the yeshiva’s welfare, enabling generations of alumni to follow.

“He graciously accepted to be honored twice at our annual dinner,” recollected Mrs. Sipzner. “I personally worked together with him and was enriched from the experience. He taught us all how to work together for a common goal while exercising patience and respect for one another. When describing Seymour, I think of an extremely dedicated and devoted servant of Hashem,” she concluded.

It was on March 6, 2011, that YCQ held its 70th anniversary dinner at the Sands in Atlantic Beach honoring both Rabbi Rottenberg and then-chairman emeritus Mr. Chesir who, together, had led a remarkable period in the yeshiva’s history.

Mr. Chesir’s brilliance enabled generations of Jewish children to obtain a respectable religious education by working to keep tuition fees on a lower margin than other comparable academic institutions. To his credit, in the 70s, another Queens yeshiva was on the brinks of financial ruin when Mr. Chesir stepped in and developed a path to avoid their closure, thereby aiding so many additional Jewish children to be properly schooled. Then, in the mid 1970s, when Rabbi Aaron Brander was YCQ’s Hebrew principal, Mr. Chesir took a leading role in the union of HANQ – Max & Rose Heller Hebrew Academy of North Queens, originally housed in the Flushing Jewish Center, then the Bayside Jewish Center and later the Young Israel of Windsor Park, with YCQ.

Mrs. Ruth (Sole) Merrill, whose involvement with the yeshiva coincided with Mr. Chesir’s leadership, remembered the chairman fondly. “During my 20 years as a YCQ parent, I served on the YCQ board as a Parents’ Association representative for eight years, during which Mr. Chesir was the chairman for the entire time,” stated Mrs. Merrill. “My favorite memory was at the annual first grade siddur and second grade chumash presentations. The pride on his face and the joy in his voice as he called out each student’s name and presented them with their appropriate sefer and chocolate bar was totally genuine. The normally serious chairman suddenly transformed into another proud relative.”

During his time presiding on the yeshiva board, Mr. Chesir left an indelible mark. As he was retiring from the chairmanship, Mr. Israel Glaser, YCQ’s current chairman, was beginning his tenure on the board. “I always found him to be very affable and always approachable,” Mr. Glaser reminisced.

Although Mr. Chesir no longer served as the chairman of the board, his undying loyalty to the yeshiva continued. “He would still devotedly attend monthly board meetings and commuted hours each way to do so,” added Mr. Glaser. “His dedication to the yeshiva was well known, and today we continue to benefit from the visionary leadership he and others imparted on the board.”

Mr. Chesir was also the longtime president of his local shul, the Young Israel of Windsor Park, then under the rabbinical leadership of Rabbi Louis Bernstein, z”l. One of Mr. Chesir’s noteworthy projects was overseeing the construction of the shul building that remains in use today at 67-45 215th Street in Bayside. Nowadays, with a more encompassing name showcasing its membership, the Young Israel of Hollis Hills-Windsor Park, under the direction of Rabbi Barry Kornblau, continues to leave its mark in the Jewish world much as Mr. Chesir had projected.

His children, Joshua and Francine Chesir of Suffern, New York, David and Beth Chesir of Teaneck, New Jersey, Aaron and Sharon Chesir of Edison, New Jersey, and Benjamin and Blimi Chesir of Woodmere, New York, extended family, including Seymour’s brother Isaac, and friends of Seymour and Elissa Chesir, should take comfort in knowing that the labors the couple invested in furthering education will have an everlasting effect for generations to come and will serve as their eternal heritage. May they be a meilitz yashar for all of klal Yisrael.

By Shabsie Saphirstein

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