April 11, 2024
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Rabbi David M. Feldman Passes: Beloved Rabbi Served JCT for 25 Years

Rabbi David Michael Feldman, Rabbi-Emeritus of the Jewish Center of Teaneck and medical ethicist extraordinaire, passed away last Friday in Holy Name Medical Center at the age of 85, after a long illness. The beloved rabbi, who was admired by leaders from all streams of Judaism and members of the extended community in Teaneck, was world renowned for writing a number of books on the subjects of fertility, procreation and medical ethics.

He served as Chairman of the Committee on Medical Ethics of UJA-Federation and its Committee on Marriage and the Family. Rabbi Feldman was also the dean of the Jewish Institute of Bioethics, and editor of the Compendium on Medical Ethics, who served on the Bio-Medical Ethics Committee of Hackensack University Medical Center and on the Board of Trustees of the New York Society for the Deaf. He had graduate degrees from Columbia, Yeshiva University and The Jewish Theological Seminary and smicha from Rav Natalovitch. He was also a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, and an active member of Teaneck’s Post 498 of the Jewish War Veterans. The list of his accomplishments can fill pages.

Rabbi Feldman offered the most accepted scholarly explorations into abortion, euthanasia and the right to die. Among his books were “Birth Control in Jewish Law,” “Health and Medicine in the Jewish Tradition” and “Where There’s Life, There’s Life,” an exploration of end-of-life decisions. In it, Rabbi Feldman used Talmudic sources, science and his personal experience as a pulpit rabbi and as a top-notch medical ethicist to guide people in end of life issues. His son, Rabbi Daniel Feldman, told those who attended the funeral that the book was used as a guide to care for his father in his last days, so that even when Rabbi Feldman could no longer speak, his book spoke for him, and his family and his caretakers knew exactly what to do.

At the funeral in the Center on Sunday, more than 1,000 mourners packed the main sanctuary and the extended ballroom to hear his family members and others speak about the rabbi who had headed the Center for 25 years. Before he came to Teaneck, the Los Angeles native was a rabbi in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

Soon after he joined the community, Rabbi Feldman told The Bergen Record that he had become, “enamored of this community,” which at that time consisted of more than 1,000 Conservative families. “It’s a wonderful discovery,’’ he said in an interview. ‘‘People here seem to be a cut above. They are socially involved, and there is so much cooperation between religious, racial and community groups.’’

“I always find time to help or counsel any member of my congregation,” Rabbi Feldman said. “That is my primary function and one that I fully enjoy. The role of a rabbi is to be an arbitor in decisions relating to Jewish religious law,” he said. “He should be a rabbi of all the congregation, not just to those who attend services, and should steer people to greater religious and social achievement. He should also be a promoter of human development.”

“I knew I wanted to be a rabbi before I was born,” he jokingly told a reporter.

All of Rabbi Feldman’s three children spoke at the funeral service. He had been sick for a long time, and they were prepared for the passing. They talked about their father with much love. And described how his smile would light up a room; how his idea of bikur cholim would be to bring cake and ice cream to the hospital, because ice cream always made people feel better. He would visit everyone, and even if a person wasn’t alert, he would say it was important to visit them.

In his eulogy for his father, Rabbi Daniel Feldman spoke about how many sons of rabbis refuse to become rabbis because their fathers were never around. He talked about how his father married late, and supported everything his wife, Aviva did. He described how his father was in awe of his own family, and how amazing it was that he spoke nine languages. He did all that he did and was still a strong family man. He found balance, and set an example for his children, unlike others who devote their lives to being rabbis and forget to be fathers.

The son described how, when he was writing his own book, as sick as he was, his father went over every word, because it was Daniel, his son, and he believed that that is what you do for your children. He led his children by example. “He found great joy in the principles of the Torah; in the foundations and the values of Jewish law, ethics and commandments, and understood that by studying them, teaching them, and modeling them, he could enhance the lives of others,” said his son. “My father was enormously compassionate and sensitive. He felt compassion for people others didn’t feel compassion for.”

“He was a warm and welcoming rabbi,” said Michael Laves, a 40-year member of the congregation. “A rabbi doesn’t last two decades if he isn’t well-loved.”

Janet Hod, a family friend, described him as a rabbi without boundaries, everyone’s rabbi. “We need more people like him in the world.”

Ira Greenberg, who was the cantor, said it was an honor to work with him through all the life cycle events experienced by the congregants and beyond. Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik, rabbi of Shearith Israel in New York City, spoke about his growing up with the Feldman boys in Teaneck. Rabbi Larry Rothwachs recited Tehilim.

Rabbi Feldman is survived by his wife Aviva, sons Rabbis Daniel and Jonathan Feldman, daughter Rebecca Becker of Jerusalem, sisters Goldie Fendel, Miriam Landau, and Trude Feldman, and many grandchildren.

The Feldman family has set up an online memorial for Rabbi Feldman at http://obits.dignitymemorial.com/dignity-memorial/obituary.aspx?n=David-Feldman&lc=4459&pid=173316771&mid=6215594

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