May 15, 2024
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Rabbi Simcha Green: A Journey Through the Earlier Days of YU

So often, while our local history is unfolding, there are people who quietly play what turns out to be an influential role in the development of someone or something that later becomes great or essential.

Growing up in Philadelphia just before and during the war, Rabbi Simcha Green recalls with great appreciation his family’s involvement in their Conservative congregation. He described Philadelphia at that time as “a major center of Conservative Judaism, the synagogue being dedicated to Jewish education via an afternoon Hebrew school/Talmud Torah.” Rabbi Green credits those teachers with a level of education that inspired him to later seek the rabbinate as his career choice, but never imagined it would lead him to Yeshiva University. During his teenage years, he admired a young Chaim Potok, serving as his United Synagogue Youth leader, and who later attended Yeshiva University, leaving in favor of the rabbinic ordination program at JTS (and later, a literary career).

Attending West Philadelphia High School, Rabbi Green, with an interest in math, planned to attend the University of Pennsylvania like most of his peers. His mother, who knew the Leventhal family from south Philadelphia, suggested that he meet Judge Leventhal, whom he considered a hero, for advice about college. To his great surprise, Leventhal told him simply, “Go to YU.” Coincidentally, his high school math teacher raved about the excellent math program at YU. And during a trip to consider the University of Pennsylvania, Rabbi Green met with legendary law professor A. Leo Levin, who also advised him to attend YU.

Rabbi Green did attend YU, graduating in 1959 and receiving semicha in 1962 (the last class to receive semicha from HaRav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik).

During his years at YU, Rabbi Green became involved with the Youth Bureau, which predated NCSY. One of his duties was to transliterate the Birkat Hamazon, which he said made its way many years later into the NCSY bencher that we use today. He also penned a number of plays that were used in rural East Coast towns for the early kiruv Shabbatons provided by the Youth Bureau. He found a musician for the summer camp program, who became his roommate at Camp Monroe—Shlomo Carlebach. Rabbi Green found himself sharing a tiny office with Dr. Bernard Lander (who would become the founder and president of Touro College), and later working alongside Avi Weiss in the campaign on behalf of Soviet Jews, which had begun at YU.

Returning to Philadelphia eight years post-semicha, Rabbi Green worked at the Jewish Community Center’s “People in the News” program. His job was to take speakers out to dinner at a nearby kosher restaurant prior to their participation in the program that night. One such guest was Elie Weisel, who was there several years after publishing “Jews of Silence,” a firsthand account of Jewish life in the Soviet Union. Rabbi Green told Weisel that he had “woken us up” with his book, and now wanted to know what was next. Weisel, considering himself a journalist, wasn’t planning a career of leadership, according to Green. He mused that often for those who don’t seek leadership, it finds them.

Rabbi Green also related his early experience after semicha towards fulfilling his life’s dream to become a pulpit rabbi. Working with the placement department at YU, which was busy filling positions all over the country with Orthodox-trained and ordained rabbis, there had been an Achilles’ heel in the process. Synagogues would send their requests and general information, and the placement department would send rabbis to interview. However, there wasn’t a thorough screening process of the synagogues. Rabbi Green accepted an offer in Plymouth, Massachusetts, only to arrive and discover that this long-time Orthodox congregation had become Reform, but didn’t share that bit of information with the placement department at YU. Needless to say, it wasn’t a long assignment.

He went on to be involved in numerous other shuls on the northeast coast and retired to Beverly Hills, where he was involved in kiruv, “teaching anyone with an interest in learning about Jewish beliefs and customs,” as he told the Jewish Press. He has written numerous articles for the Jewish Press, and now he brings his pen to Teaneck.

While in California Rabbi Green ran for a seat on the Beverly Hills City Council, realizing that “at least 60% of the 35,000 residents of Beverly Hills are Jewish.” Prior to that he had volunteered as liaison between the Jewish community and the city council, also because of the community’s significant Jewish presence: nine Orthodox shuls, two Reform temples, several kosher restaurants and a day school. So he began attending council meetings to raise the concerns of the Jewish residents.

Sadly however, it was the recent loss of his dear wife, Marjorie, mother of long-time Teaneck resident Reva Judas that has brought Rabbi Green to Teaneck.

The Jewish Link welcomes Rabbi Green to Teaneck and looks forward to his contributions to the community here.

By Ellie Wolf

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