April 8, 2024
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Remembering Rabbi Moshe Kasinetz, zt”l

Rabbi Moshe Kasinetz, zt”l (Credit: anash.org)

I woke up on Sunday morning in Israel to painful news: Rabbi Moshe Kasinetz, the founding rabbi of Congregation Suburban Torah in Livingston, had passed away. Though he lived a long and fruitful life, I still find it hard to absorb that this man of unusual strength and fortitude is no longer with us. I only knew him during his retirement years, but even then, as he confronted the challenges of aging, Rabbi Kasinetz possessed otherworldly stamina and moral fiber.

As a young man, Rabbi Kasinetz planned to pursue a career in accounting—but God and the Lubavitcher Rebbe had other plans for him. At the Rebbe’s urging, he served as the assistant rabbi at the Young Israel of Newark for six years, under the tutelage of Rabbi Zev Segal, zt”l (the legendary father of Nachum Segal). In the wake of Newark’s devastating 1967 riots, Rabbi Kasinetz became the founding rabbi of Suburban Torah, the first Orthodox synagogue in Livingston, where many of Newark’s Jews ultimately resettled.

Building the community from scratch was a herculean task. Suburban Torah’s founding congregants were good Jews seeking a more traditional synagogue, but few were traditionally Orthodox and most lacked the background necessary to run an Orthodox community. For decades, Rabbi Moshe and Sarah Kasinetz carried the congregation on their shoulders, taking responsibility for everything from the mikvah to ensuring the young shul did not run out of toilet paper.

Though Suburban Torah was not founded as a Chabad shul, Rabbi Kasinetz focused on reaching out to Jews of all backgrounds. He created a uniquely warm and welcoming environment where all Jews, regardless of their level of Jewish education, could feel comfortable and grow. He was adamant that there always be a kiddush on Shabbat morning after davening, for he understood that the community kiddush was a critical gateway to entry for many non-observant Jews who were seeking friendship and community. That this warmth is now part of the shul’s DNA is due to Rabbi and Sarah Kasinetz.

The impact Rabbi Kasinetz made on thousands of Livingston Jews is difficult to measure. I frequently meet Torah-observant Jews, all over the world, who tell me they grew up in Livingston and became ba’alei teshuva because of him. When we moved to Efrat during the summer of 2021, we were greeted by our new neighbor, Shoshana Judelman. It quickly emerged that Shoshana, a popular teacher of chassidus, grew up in Livingston. Like so many others, she credits Rabbi Kasinetz with making a decisive impact on her family and their spiritual trajectory. She and her family are among the thousands of spiritual descendants that Rabbi Kasinetz left behind in this world.

To say that Rabbi Kasinetz was “strong-willed” is an understatement. Once he determined his course of action, he refused to let up until he saw things through. For years, Suburban Torah struggled to get an early-morning minyan off the ground—understandably, as most of the congregants did not grow up Orthodox. Day in, day out, he called, nudged, begged and demanded that people show up—and they did.

Some of my most meaningful moments with Rabbi Kasinetz took place in his car. We drove to and from many funerals together, often to the tip of Long Island, giving me the opportunity to question him on the shul’s colorful history and the challenging early years. One time, we were stuck in standstill traffic on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Though Waze told us to be patient and wait for the traffic to clear up, Rabbi Kasinetz wasn’t having it. He directed me to “turn that thing off” and proceeded to weave through the side streets of New York City in search of a faster way home. As someone who can’t drive more than three blocks from home without GPS, it was incredible to watch him navigate the ins and outs of the city from memory. I’m not sure we got home faster than we would have with Waze, but it was definitely more fun.

During my time in Livingston, I occasionally had disagreements with Rabbi Kasinetz on community matters. But if Rabbi Kasinetz disapproved, I could be sure that it was over a matter of principle, not kavod. And no matter how strongly he felt, he always spoke with me privately, behind closed doors, which I deeply appreciated. Over the years, I’ve learned that how one expresses disagreement is not merely a matter of style or personality, but rather the key to a spiritually healthy community. It’s okay to disagree, so long as we love and respect each while doing so. Rabbi Kasinetz taught me this all-important lesson.

My most joyous moments with Rabbi Kasinetz came each year during the final moments of Pesach, when we celebrated the Seudas Moshiach together as a community. Alongside many members of his beautiful and growing family and dozens of congregants, Rabbi Kasinetz was content to let others speak and sing songs of yearning for redemption. He had done his part, and much more, to bring Am Yisrael a giant step closer to that great day.

Yehi zichro baruch.


Rabbi Elie Mischel is director of Education at Israel365.

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