May 26, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 26, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Remembering NYS Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz

On Shabbat Parshat Ki Tezte, 11 Elul 5777, September 2, 2017, the Jewish community lost a true champion. New York State Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz personified what it means to be a community advocate. The media coverage, both secular and Jewish, of his untimely and tragic passing has been exhaustive and I am not going to bore the readers rehashing all the material that one can easily glean from a Google search.

In the summer of 1971 whilst my mother was pregnant with me, her closest and dearest friend was pregnant as well. True to form, as our families did everything together, four days after I was born Sheila gave birth to Mikey, as all his close friends and family called him. Since that day, August 10, 1971, 46 years and 22 days ago, Mikey and I had been inseparable. We spent the first 17 years of our lives spending every day together, the only exception being the summers because we went to different summer camps. And even during those summers apart we wrote letters to each other.

Our educational and general life paths have diverged greatly since high school. I went to BMT, Mikey went to Ohr Yerushalayim. I went to YU and Mikey went to Queens College. I went to law school and Mikey went to graduate school for a master’s degree in political science. I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, then Riverdale and now Teaneck, and Mikey stayed in Queens. On and on the divergence went. As our paths diverged, however, our friendship and closeness did not, speaking to each other often, sharing in each other’s up and downs, sharing in each other’s smachot and each other’s tragedies. We both knew that wherever our individual lives took us the other was a mere phone call away and always available on a moment’s notice. I have taken phone calls from Mikey in the middle of court proceedings, closings, meetings, vacations, at home, in my office, abroad, wherever and whenever; when Mikey called, I excused myself and took the call. Not because of his elected office (that’s only been a fraction of the time) but because it was not Assemblyman Simanowitz calling it was Mikey. And Mikey did the same for me. It never mattered where we were and what we were doing, our lifelong friendship trumped it all.

This past week has been extremely taxing. From getting the call right after Shabbos, to making arrangements to fly with Mikey to Israel, the funeral in Queens, the kevurah in Israel and rushing back home to comfort my best friend’s wife, children, brothers, mother and father to telling my children that my best friend, their friend Racheli’s dad, has passed. However, there is a lot to be said and a lot to learn from Mikey for the entire Jewish community, not just his home community and his Queens constituency.

Mikey was a physically imposing man, tall and built like an offensive lineman. His persona, especially in his personal life, however, betrayed his tenderness; hence he never lost the moniker Mikey. He was a gentle giant, a larger-than-life teddy bear. When it came to community advocacy, though, he was a pit bull. Mikey worked tirelessly for the Jewish community. He used his elected office to bring the concerns of the greater Jewish community into the fore. His advice, guidance and leadership was sought out by Jews across the religious spectrum when it came to any issue that remotely affected the Jewish community regardless of whether that particular community was within his district or not. His goal in office was plain and simple: help the community (Jewish or otherwise).

One of Mikey’s pet projects in the assembly and the community, and one which he and I discussed ad infinitum, was the affordability of proper yeshiva education. Mikey exhaustively explored any and every avenue imaginable to raise money for yeshiva education. He raised funds in the private sector and constantly sought ways to provide state funding, within the confines of the limiting legal boundaries for doing so (Mikey’s ethics have always been beyond reproach), to yeshiva day schools. It was his hope to find access to government funding on any level to secure a yeshiva education for every Jewish child regardless of where they lived and how much money their families had. Mikey wished that whatever method he could implement in his home community, home district, home borough, home city and home state could be replicated in Jewish communities throughout the country, including our communities in Bergen County.

Mikey was a hero. Mikey was my hero. Over the years, I have learned that there is no point in asking why God takes a person from us at a particular time and by a particular means. To even ask is an exercise in futility to the point that I have concluded that it is foolish to even ask myself the question. Nonetheless, I have been running this fool’s errand since Mikey’s passing. But rather than continue running myself ragged asking why, I have been focusing on the lessons that Mikey has taught me in life. To wit: Love your friends and family, be there for them and never shy away from helping someone no matter what the circumstances.

Mikey was meilitz yosher for all in his short time with us and I have no doubt that he will continue to be our advocate in shamayim. God could not have given me a better best friend.

By Jeffrey Goldstein

 Jeffrey Goldstein grew up in Forest Hills Gardens, Queens and attended yeshiva Tiferes Moshe with Michael Simanowitz. After a stint at the now defunct Ohr Torah Institue, he attended and graduated from MTA and then spent a year in Israel at the equally defunct BMT, before earning a BA at Yeshiva College and his JD at The Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. For the last 20 years, the author has been practicing law with an emphasis on real estate concentrated in the five boroughs. The author lives in Teaneck with his wife, Lauren, and their five children, Alex, Reuben, Judah, Eden and Hannah.

 

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles