This past Sunday evening, June 26, the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills held a dinner celebrating its 70th anniversary and honoring its Rabbi and Rebbetzin, Rabbi Yoel and Peri Schonfeld, for 30 years of service to the synagogue and greater Queens community. This service was attested to by the many elected officials who came to present proclamations to the couple: New York City Council Member James F. Gennaro, Assembly Member Daniel Rosenthal, Assembly Member David Weprin, State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., State Senator Leroy Comrie, and Congress Member Grace Meng through her special community liaison Rabbi Daniel Pollack.
Weprin said, “Rabbi Yoel and Rebbetzin Peri have not only been great leaders of this shul, but of the Jewish community throughout the City and the State.” Weprin, whose father was a well-regarded politician, acknowledged to Rabbi Yoel, “We kind of went into the same business. They led the foundation for us,” speaking of the storied leadership of the shul by Rabbi Fabian’s zt”l. “All human disorientation comes from disassociation from G-d,” related Gennaro. “This congregation serves as a terrific spiritual beacon that goes way beyond the walls of this holy house.”
Addabbo, who introduced incoming State Senator Comrie to the area, said: “Now, more than ever, we need prayer, and we look to our religious leaders to get us through these dark times. We look to our religious leaders to have that flashlight that we need to get through these dark times. Whether it be hate crimes or any other issue that faces the Queens Jewish community, it is individuals like Rabbi Schonfeld who do shine the light that gets us through to a brighter future.”
Rabbi Pollack reminisced about vacationing at Twin Rivers with Rabbi Schonfeld, adding, “Rabbi Schonfeld has always stood for emes. Whatever he has done, he wanted Torah values to take precedence, always letting us know how a Jew and a community should be.” Rabbi Pollack then revealed that Congress officially declared the day as Rabbi Yoel and Rebbetzin Peri Schonfeld Day throughout the sixth Congressional district.
Rabbi Chaim Schwartz, Executive Vice President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, said that “Rabbi Schonfeld held my hand and taught what it means to be a leader, and how to care about klal Yisrael, and that we do not work for ourselves, but for HaKadosh Baruch Hu, that life is not about us but about the Ribbono Shel Olam. I learned from Rav Yoel what it means to be an ish to the tzibur and a son in how he showed bein adam la’chaveiro and kibud av to his father Rav Fabian zt”l, with respect, dedication, and the m’siras nefesh that you showed to your parents.” In presenting an elaborate goblet to Rabbi Schonfeld, Rabbi Schwartz said, “We raise the kos of y’shuos.” This followed with a presentation of messages from those closest to the Schonfeld family.
Family members from around the country – and the world – came to honor their siblings and parents. Rabbi Aryeh Schonfeld from Switzerland and Aviva Pinchik from Eretz Yisrael provided recollections about their brother as a young man and the place of the Young Israel in their family’s life. Simcha Schonfeld spoke about growing up with such wonderful parents. Guest Speaker Rabbi Noach Isaac Oelbaum, mara d’asra of Congregation Nachlas Yitzchok in Kew Gardens Hills, gave an appreciation of his colleague and chavrusa Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld and Rabbi Schonfeld’s predecessor, Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, founder of the shul.
One of the highlights of the evening’s program was the unveiling of two plaques, one marking the dedication of the main sanctuary to Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld’s memory. The other was Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld’s tribute to his wife’s role in his successes in life. Paul Glasser, who was for many years the shul’s Yamim Nora’im chazan, led in the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner and HaTikvah.
Appreciation is extended to Rebecca Rushfield Wittert; Ilana Gutenmacher; David Englander; Rabbi Stuart Verstandig; the office staff (Judy Gottlieb and Leslie Hornstein); the custodial staff (Eddie Lydten and Jose); and Rochelle Benuck, Hedda Englander, Marilyn Iseson, and Phyllis Reich for making the evening possible; and to Yossie Klein for providing music.
By the staff of the Queens Jewish Link, in recognition of Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld’s decade of service as our
Photos by Gabe Solomon of Life Capture Images