On Wednesday evening, June 10, the Bais Yaakov Academy of Queens held a special Zoom tribute good-bye event in honor of Rabbi Mordechai Gewirtz, its Dean, who is retiring after ten years of dedicated service to the school.

Dr. Meyer Halberstam, Co-President of the Board of Directors, greeted everyone and shared a brief d’var Torah. He noted how it says in Parshas B’Haaloscha that Aharon did what Hashem told him to do. The question is: Why is that praiseworthy, or why does the Torah mention it at all? Of course he would do what Hashem told him to do. Dr. Halberstam shared the Rashi that explains that he did the service of the Menorah every day with the same enthusiasm and excitement as on the first day. For 40 years, he brought the same excitement as on day one. It was always fresh and new. Rabbi Gewirtz brought the same devotion and enthusiasm every day to the Bais Yaakov of Queens for the past ten years. “You are irreplaceable and we are eternally grateful for all you have accomplished.” Dr. Halberstam praised Rabbi Gewirtz’s midah of humility and his unwavering leadership. “He has continued the unbroken chain of chinuch at the Bais Yaakov of Queens. Your departure is difficult for all of us,” he shared.

He pointed out that the 2020 graduates are the first class who had Rabbi Gewirtz as their Dean all the way through since kindergarten.

Rabbi Gewirtz has ensured that each of our daughters received the solid foundation to become a true bas Yisrael.

Next, Mr. Bernard Shafran, Co-President of the Board, noted: “Rabbi Gewirtz is a leader who is a consummate professional – dedicated and caring.” He enhanced the reputation of the Bais Yaakov of Queens, a place that is always striving for growth and excellence. “You set the bar so high. We are indebted to you.”

Mrs. Elisa Taub, Midos Program Director, was the MC and spoke about Rabbi Gewirtz’s sound advice and wisdom.

Next, Mrs. Nechama Jurkowitz, Limudei Kodesh Principal, thanked Rabbi Gewirtz on behalf of the BYQ staff, parents, and students. She shared a d’var Torah from the parshah and described how Rabbi Gewirtz lit a spark in the teachers and students. In the parshah, Moshe said to Yisro, “Do not forsake us. You know our encampments.”

In other words, you have been our eyes for us. You know us and what we can become. She connected this to Rabbi Gewirtz. “You have a vision of what we can become. You have taken us and inspired us with your kindness. You’ve been our eyes for all of us for what we can become.”

After this, Mrs. Sarah Bergman, General Studies Principal, spoke. “How lucky we were to have Rabbi Gewirtz with us these past ten years.” She noted that he honors everyone. He dignified everyone and he listens to everyone. He is a thoughtful, insightful man, and he is very knowledgeable in Chinuch. “This is a person you want as a lifelong friend.” Every decision he made was caring and thoughtful and always al pi derech Hashem and yashrus. “You showed us what a true educator is – what it means to help children grow to be what they can be.”

She concluded that he is a man of shalom and Hashem gives a special brachah to those people who go after shalom.

Mrs. Karen Reisbaum, Assistant Principal of General Studies, sent a message using the previous week’s parshah, Naso, as a reference. Paraphrasing Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, she wrote, “We generally define the word and the name of the parshah to mean ‘count.’ In actuality, the word means ‘to carry or lift,’ and there are other words in Lashon Kodesh for ‘to count,’ like lispor,

limnos, for example. What can we learn from the word ‘Naso’? The Torah is trying to teach us what matters most in the world. Rabbi Sacks explains that from the word Naso, we can learn how we should treat others and behave towards others – by attempting to lift others in our relating to them. Those who make others feel important and ‘lift and carry others’ truly exemplify the Torah.”

“Rabbi Gewirtz, you exemplify these midos – caring for others, making people feel good about themselves, lifting us with your wisdom and caring. Your leadership these past ten years has modeled carrying, caring, and lifting up others, and never putting yourself first.

“Thank you for showing us such care, and may Hashem care for you with brachos, arichas yamim, nachas, and hatzlachah in all you do, ad mei’ah v’esrim shanah!”

Following this, Mrs. Ora Love, Preschool Director, shared her tribute. She thanked Rabbi Gewirtz for the past ten years. She praised his sensitivity and concern for the needs of the children and staff. “He is a true role model.” She noted how he always greeted every person with a smile and a kind word. He constantly is seeking the emes. “Thank you for believing in me and in the whole staff and continuing the legacy of the Bais Yaakov of Queens. You will be missed by all of us.”

Next, there was a short slide presentation of Rabbi Gewirtz with students.

Then, Mrs. Henny Hoch, president of the BYQ Parents’ Association, offered her sincere thanks for all Rabbi Gewirtz has done on behalf of the students at the Bais Yaakov. He was always interested in what we were planning. “We have learned midos and hakaras ha’tov from you.”

Following this, three teacher representatives thanked Rabbi Gewirtz for all he did: Mrs. Baila Rochel Kievman, Mrs. Rochel Grabie, and Rebbetzin Tziporah Nissanian.

Rabbi Gewirtz spoke at the end. He expressed how inspiring and meaningful this event was for him personally. He shared a short d’var Torah about hakaras ha’tov. Moshe was limited in the makos because of hakaras ha’tov. For example, he couldn’t strike the Nile since he owed it gratitude for saving him when he was a baby. He noted how Chazal is filled with examples of the importance of hakaras ha’tov. He then expressed his hakaras ha’tov to the administrators, the principals, the moros and teachers, the board, the secretaries, the Parents’ Association, the kitchen staff and custodial staff, and the parents, as well as the wonderful students.

The program ended with a moving farewell slide presentation featuring all the classes of the BYQ students.

It was a beautiful event. Everyone wishes Rabbi Gewirtz and his rebbetzin and family good health and hatzlachah in his future endeavors.

 By Susie Garber