After five years at the Young Israel of Forest Hills, Rabbi Ashie and Rebbetzin Elana Schreier are going back to where they started: the Five Towns. Rabbi Schreier will become Assistant Rabbi at the Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst.
Rabbi and Rebbetzin Schreier grew up a few blocks away from each other in Woodmere. Both went to the Young Israel of Woodmere and, later, to the same youth minyan. Their parents still live in Woodmere. The Rebbetzin’s grandmother, Honey Myers, lives in Lawrence.
The Rabbi and Rebbetzin went to the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach’s elementary schools and high schools. They even went to the same summer camps.
The Rabbi will continue working as Director of Private Pay at Caring Professionals, a home care agency. He will switch from working in Forest Hills to their Woodmere office. Their sons (Aharon, 7, Akiva, 5, and Eitan, 3) will attend the Yeshiva of South Shore.
Without hesitation, the Rabbi’s and Rebbetzin’s greatest accomplishment, and what they will miss the most, are the people at the Young Israel of Forest Hills.
“We created so many life-long bonds over the past five years. It has meant so much to us and our family.” “People let us be part of their journeys, trying to grow together.”
“I feel like my family and I grew a ton. We learned a lot about ourselves, a lot of Torah, a lot about the Jewish people.” “We hope we were able to help in some way with people’s growth.”
Another accomplishment was getting the whole community involved in rebuilding the eruv. It has never been down during the five years that the Rabbi has been in Forest Hills.
Rabbi Schreier brought passion to organizing programs and “trying his hardest to make every single person feel like there’s a place for him or her at shul,” said Jacob Herenstein, president of the Young Israel of Forest Hills.
People at all three minyanim at the Young Israel feel like they’re “talking to somebody who has been a lifelong friend,” said Herenstein. “He is such a natural, in an unbelievable way, of connecting with everybody.”
The Young Professionals Minyan grew from about 40 couples to over 100 young couples at its peak. People were telling Herenstein: “What a great young community it is. It was in competition with other similar, young communities in Manhattan and Queens. Most of that had to do with his involvement.” There are currently about 80 couples in the Young Professionals Minyan.
Herenstein explained how Rabbi Schreier embodies Torah and Religious Zionism but also discusses what is happening in the secular world.
Philip Belkin, who was president during the first four years of Rabbi Schreier’s tenure and is now vice president, said the Rabbi connected “with all segments of our shul, the older people in the main shul, those in the Young Professionals Minyan, and the Sefardi Tiferet Shalom Minyan.”
Belkin said that Rabbi Schreier “encouraged and inspired” congregants to increase their level of observance, chesed activities, and Torah study. People unable to come to the shul received calls from Rabbi Schreier to see how they were managing.
The Rabbi pointed out how “he was one of us and was subject to the same challenges as the rest of us, but that we should not let our past failings keep us from striving to improve ourselves,” said Belkin.
“His energy was infectious,” said Ariel Meirov, Gabbai at the Sefardi Tiferet Shalom Minyan at the Young Israel of Forest Hills.
The Rabbi was “friendly with everyone” at the minyan: the Bukharians, Persians, Moroccans, the younger, and the older. “His ability just to fit in with every type of person is something that is unique and a bit of a talent.” “He brought the entire shul together. All the minyanim basically feel like a family.”
The Rabbi tied his Shabbos speeches “into what people know is going on right now, and into the Torah.” Many people have money on their minds, so Rabbi Schreier started a daily social media class, “Money Matters,” discussing how one should be, with regard to Yiddishkeit and to the larger picture.
The Rabbi created a daily Daf Yomi on social media and WhatsApp groups, used Skype, and took “full control ever since he came here” of the eruv. “He would always find different avenues to help people,” said Meirov.
Jonny Daniel, a congregant for the past eight years, said he and other congregants were taken by how approachable Rabbi Schreier is. “He truly cares, regardless of one’s age or stage in life.” You can discuss religious or general life questions with the Rabbi, as well as sports or current events.
Rabbi Schreier “expresses the incredible midah of nosei ol im chaveiro (empathy for another person’s pain or joy). He “truly connects to everyone in a deep and personal way. He invests in his relationships with each of his congregants, actively listening to them, constantly remembering and following up on one’s personal lives.”
On Zoom, WhatsApp, and in-person, Rabbi Schreier “made learning Torah exciting, engaging and attractive for everyone.”
“He is a true role model who has exemplified what it means to be a well-rounded Orthodox Jew who can prioritize limud HaTorah while working a full-time job and raising a family,” said Daniel.
Rachel Epstein said that nothing fazed Rabbi Schreier. He was “always positive, it’s going to be good.’” “He sees the good in people and brings the good out.” Rabbi Schreier encouraged congregants to present their own divrei Torah at the shul.
Rebbetzin Elana Schreier met with Rachel Epstein’s daughter-in-law before her wedding. The first time going to a mikvah is traumatic, “because you never did this before, you don’t know what to expect, and there are a lot of things you need to be careful of,” said Rachel Epstein.
The Rebbetzin explained “the importance of the mikvah, what it signifies, and the laws of Nidah.” It made the daughter-in-law feel comfortable and have “a spiritual experience.” She felt “joyous” and wanting to go again.
Rabbi Ashie Schreier said his wife is usually not the one in front of the congregation but “nothing would have been accomplished without her. Zero.”
Special programs and a kiddush are planned for the last Shabbos for Rabbi and Rebbetzin Schreier. Their last working day is June 25 at the Young Israel of Forest Hills. They start at the end of July with the Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst.
By David Schneier