By Zevi Fischer
as appeared in The Times of Israel Blog
We lost a tremendous Rabbinic figure, one of my greatest role models, Rabbi Joseph Grunblatt zt”l. For over forty years, Rabbi Grunblatt was the Rabbi of the Queens Jewish Center of Forest Hills, New York. He assumed this position in 1967, one week after my parents were married. He held me at my Bris and, as one of my last memories of Rabbi Grunblatt, held our son at his Bris.
Rabbi Grunblatt was one of the last giants of an incredible generation. He received his ordination from Yeshiva Torah V’Daas in Brooklyn, New York where he studied under the late Rav Reuven Grozovsky zt”l. He then assumed Rabbinic leadership positions which profoundly affected the entire Jewish community. For example, he was the chairman of the Rabbinic Delegation to the Joint Kashrus Commission, Orthodox Union, vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, president of the Vaad Harabanim of Queens, president of the Quebec Region of the Rabbinical Council of America, and was honored by the Ben Zakai Society Honor organization of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth. He also was an adjunct professor of Jewish Studies at Touro College.
Significantly, Rabbi Grunblatt loved the children of his shul, the Queens Jewish Center. My earliest memory of Rabbi Grunblatt was, as a little boy, delivering Mishloach Manot on Purim to him and his Rebetzin. They would greet you at the door with a warm smile and a hug. The Rebetzin would present a basket of toys from which you were allowed to choose one. It was the highlight of my Purim. At a similarly young age, my father would take me each year to hear Rabbi Grunblatt’s legendary Shabbos Shuva and Shabbos HaGadol Drashas. Although I may not have understood each word, I sat there, marveling at the incredible attendance. It was standing room only, as people from every end of Queens would arrive to hear his Drasha.
Rabbi Grunblatt’s scholarship was boundless, but it was the manner in which he transmitted it which defined his greatness. As a teenager, I would ask him questions typically on the mind of a 1980s adolescent. Rabbi Grunblatt, “can I use an elevator on Shabbos in a doorman building, if the doorman presses the button?” or “can I set the timer on the VCR to record a television show which is airing on Shabbos?” He responded by setting aside time for me, calling me later and reviewing the entire topic with all of the sources. For Rabbi Grunblatt saw more than an obligation to merely answer a question. To Rabbi Grunblatt, it was an opportunity to learn an entire topic with, and transmit Torah to, one of the children of his shul, the Queens Jewish Center. Likewise, during my year and a half of post-high school study in a Yeshiva in Israel, I corresponded regularly with Rabbi Grunblatt. I treasure his letters to me to this very day. He emphasized the golden opportunity I had which I needed to take advantage of. On account of his words, I gained so much from my studies in Yeshiva in Israel.
Perhaps my fondest memory of Rabbi Grunblatt was Seudah Shelishes or “Shaloshudes” at the Queens Jewish Center. At the Queens Jewish Center, there was Shaloshudes after Mincha every Shabbos afternoon. Certain weeks, the Shaloshudes meal merely consisted of bottled herring, seltzer and challah rolls. But, we always had Shaloshudes. The custom, for many years at the Queens Jewish Center, was to have young people speak each week at Shaloshudes. I loved those weeks when I was asked to speak. I would sit at the head of the table with Rabbi Grunblatt, discuss issues surfacing in my life and share personal thoughts with him. After I would speak, Rabbi Grunblatt would hug me and tell me how proud he was of the preparation I put into the words which I had spoken. To Rabbi Grunblatt, it wasn’t merely about how good your speech was; rather, he was so proud of the time you spent preparing and learning.
Rabbi Grunblatt’s words to me at my Auf Ruf, one week before I married my wife Judith, have stayed with me to this very day. On that Shabbos, Rabbi Grunblatt focused his speech to me, before hundreds of people, on the importance of being “ehrlich,” the Yiddish word for honest or virtuous. It is a message I carry with me every day, one which I try to teach our own children; the same message that Rabbi Grunblatt taught the children of the Queens Jewish Center.
Yehi Zichro Baruch