“Home is where the heart is” is often used to describe what really matters when putting down roots. For Rabbi Michael Fuzaylov and his wife Dina, “the heart” is being with Emet students. The couple and their young family recently moved from Kew Gardens to Forest Hills. It was not the typical move – usually driven by the need for more space or to be closer to family and friends. In fact, the Fuzaylovs did the opposite. They left their comfortable existence in a community they loved, all to be able to share the beauty of Shabbos and Yom Tov with Emet students.
Rabbi Fuzaylov has been a fixture at Emet for the past seven years and currently runs the Forest Hills Fellowship. A resident of Kew Gardens since his family emigrated from Uzbekistan 25 years ago, he also chose to settle there with Dina when they married. “We had incredible support in the Kew Gardens community. I began my life in the US as a six-year-old traditional Jew, and the community saw me grow into the 31-year-old outreach rabbi I am today,” he said. “Our parents and siblings live there. We had amazing neighbors who helped our kids with homework every day. Our children’s schools and their friends were close by, as well.”
A few months ago, the couple decided it was time to make a change and pursue a larger dream they shared. The Fuzaylovs wanted to open their home to students on Shabbos and Yom Tov to connect and guide them in a more meaningful way. Rabbi Fuzaylov fondly remembers the Shabbos program he used to attend as a teenager, hosted by his current rav, Rabbi Nir Aminov. More recently, the couple was inspired by the example set by other Emet m’karvim, Rabbi and Mrs. David Delman in Kew Gardens Hills and Rabbi and Mrs. Reuven Kigel in Passaic, New Jersey – both of whom regularly host large Shabbos programs.
“People are much more in-tune spiritually over Shabbos. It’s a time when you can really get someone’s attention and demonstrate the joy of Torah and mitzvos,” he said.” It’s wonderful to learn with students during the week, but it doesn’t compare to the Shabbos experience.”
Rabbi Fuzaylov spoke with Rabbi Akiva Rutenberg, Emet’s co-founder and CEO, to get his perspective. They agreed that there was a need for an Emet rabbi in the Forest Hills/Rego Park area, since it is the center of the Bukharian Jewish community and home to the majority of Emet’s students. Recognizing that it is a challenge for even committed students to keep Shabbos without a place to go, a plan was developed to make the dream a reality and the move was set in motion. Things fell into place and Rabbi Fuzaylov was even able to find a replacement to run a youth minyan he headed for 20 teenagers in Ner Mordechai in Kew Gardens.
Fast forward to Shavuos. With their boxes barely unpacked from the previous week’s move, the Fuzaylovs hosted over 50 Emet students for meals, divrei Torah, z’miros, and, of course, learning over Yom Tov. “After hosting for two days, Dina was actually mopping the floors with a smile on her face,” Rabbi Fuzaylov said. “I asked her how she felt and she said ‘I loved it.’ That’s everything. That’s why we’re here.”
“We are fortunate to have the Fuzaylov family as part of the Emet team. Their dedication, commitment, and the relationships they are forging with Emet students brings people closer to Judaism,” said Rabbi Rutenberg. “A move of essentially three miles can make all of the difference in the lives of local Emet students. We are here to support them and wish them hatzlachah!”
Rabbi Fuzaylov is still being greeted with disbelief and wonder as students learn that he has moved to the neighborhood. “It’s so gratifying for us to be living within a three-block radius of most of our students,” he said. “Hearing the excitement as a student proclaims, ‘Rabbi, we’re neighbors!’ will never get old for me.”