It was an appreciation of a life’s work, told by longtime Young Israel of Queens Valley congregants and members of Rabbi Peretz Steinberg’s family, who have seen a neighborhood transformed as a result of his efforts. “His essence is being a rav. It is hard to imagine him retiring,” said one of his sons, Rabbi Binyomin Steinberg. After over 56 years at the pulpit at Queens Valley, Rabbi Steinberg retired as mara d’asra in January, with Rabbi Shmuel Marcus succeeding him. Nevertheless, he keeps an active presence in the shul.
With over 350 attending the shul’s Tribute and Celebration Dinner on Sunday at The Sands in Atlantic Beach, long and heartfelt speeches offered recognition of Rabbi Steinberg’s impact on Yiddishkeit in Queens. “Rabbi Steinberg showed us the way that an eruv and a mikvah had to be built,” said dinner chairman David Weichselbaum. “Nobody argued that the eruv was not kosher and the mikvah not acceptable.” The Weichselbaum family belonged to the shul for nearly 50 years. Prior to the eruv, Weichselbaum’s father had gone for 35 years with not carrying on Shabbos, since immigrating to this country. “Much to my surprise, my father asked who built the eruv. When I answered, he said that he will carry in Kew Gardens Hills.”
The Weichselbaums, like many of the founding families at the shul, come from a German Jewish background. Among the minhagim is conferring the title of Chaver to an individual steeped in the service of Torah, and active in the life of the community. At the dinner, this honor went to Allen Gottfried, who used the occasion to honor his parents. “My mother spent more time in yeshivah than I did. She was my bodyguard, lawyer, confidante, and best friend. My father taught me manners. When you take on a responsibility, complete it to your satisfaction,” said Gottfried.
Rabbi Marcus had known of Rabbi Steinberg’s work from his own days as a schoolchild in Toronto. “When I was younger, living in Toronto, I already knew the name Rav Peretz Steinberg as a renowned talmid chacham, the author of numerous s’farim that my father owned and learned from. When I came to New York as a teenager to attend yeshivah, I learned once more of Rav Peretz Steinberg, but this time, not just as a m’chaber s’farim and a talmid chacham, but also as a remarkable community manhig, a leader who built a thriving frum metropolis… all of this through the sheer force of his determination, driven by a remarkable vision of a beautiful model Orthodox Jewish community.” As a pulpit rabbi and educator in Queens, Rabbi Marcus found Rabbi Steinberg to be approachable, easy to speak with, and generous of his time.
Rabbi Aryeh Sokoloff spoke at length of the honoree as one to whom the local rabbis defer in answering difficult sh’eilos. “We have many wonderful rabbanim in Queens, but Rabbi Steinberg is in a league of his own,” he said. In restating what has been said by many others about his work in building the eruv, the mikvah, and founding the chevrah kadisha, “No matter how many times you mention it, you have to appreciate it.” He added that Rav Moshe Feinstein described Rav Peretz Steinberg, his talmid, as a companion with whom he had traveled through the Torah, looking into detail on its sources for halachah.
His determination meant securing the endorsement of the Kew Gardens Hills eruv from a chasidic Rebbe who wouldn’t use one personally while recognizing the legitimacy of the one built in Queens. It meant tireless phone calls and letters that secured the get from recalcitrant husbands. In his remarks to the congregants, Rabbi Steinberg spoke of the eruv, the mikvah, and the chevrah kadisha as the top institutions that made the neighborhood a magnet for Orthodox Jews.
Rabbi Steinberg’s son-in-law, Rabbi Asher Schechter (a rav in Fresh Meadows), has been a member of his family for 31 years and spoke of how he treated each individual as a VIP, with many attributing their frumkeit to Rabbi Steinberg. When Rabbi Steinberg was away from home as a result of his many responsibilities, his Rebbetzin Chaya comforted the children, as recalled by Rabbi Binyomin Steinberg. “Daddy has a very special shul with very special people who want to grow in their Yiddishkeit, and who love daddy and our family. We felt it all these years and the feeling is mutual.”
In linking his father’s name to that of Peretz, son of Yehudah, Binyomin Steinberg spoke of his father’s role in bringing down barriers between Jews of different observance levels. “Many people had no exposure to Litvishe g’dolim and chasidishe Rebbes. Rav Moshe, Rav Shisgal, Rav Pam, Rav Gedalia Schorr, Rav Aharon Kotler – all came to the shul,” said Steinberg. “There are no barriers as long as we come to elevate k’vod shamayim.”
By Sergey Kadinsky