This past Sunday afternoon, April 23, the Kew Gardens Hills community gathered to give their kavod ha’acharon to a beloved member of the community, Akiva Fogel z”l. During the week of shiv’ah, it was constantly mentioned how the crowd at the l’vayah was comprised of all ages. Everyone, whether they were 20, 40, 60, or 80, felt a special connection to Akiva, and his loss was deeply felt by all.
Akiva was born in Bogota, Colombia, in the early 1950s to his parents who had fled from Europe. At age 11, his parents sent him to New York, to Yeshivas Toras Emes, to attend yeshivah. For two years, he stayed with an aunt and uncle while attending yeshivah, returning to Colombia only for his bar mitzvah. He then returned to the United States to attend high school at the Telshe Yeshiva in Chicago, where he formed a close relationship with both Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Levine and Rabbi Chaim Schmelzer zichronam li’vrachah. After beis midrash in Chicago, Akiva learned in Rabbi Feivel Cohen’s yeshivah, while attending Brooklyn College.
After his marriage to Barbara Altman of Forest Hills, they moved to Kew Gardens Hills and, from that moment on, he has been a fixture in the community. For the past 40 years, from the inception of Beis Midrash Beis Yosef D’Ulam (previously D’Spinka), popularly known as Rabbi Friedman’s shul, Akiva served as the gabbai of the shul. One of the most touching stories told at shiv’ah was how, 30 years ago, a new member of the community arrived at the 8 a.m. minyan, which was full. Noticing that every seat was taken, and that this new person had nowhere to sit, Akiva offered this person a seat, his seat. For the past 30 years, this has become this person’s seat, a constant testament to Akiva, who was always willing to give to others.
For the past 20 or so years, Akiva has been a nursing home administrator. Throughout the shiv’ah, co-workers, employees, and even bosses, recalled how his sterling character served as a model of exemplary midos for all. Additionally, though he was much older than many of his co-workers and colleagues, everyone felt that he was their friend, as Akiva knew of no barriers when dealing with others. One poignant story was told of someone almost 40 years his junior, who felt overwhelmed starting off in the industry. Akiva felt his pain and spent time with him, a random stranger, providing him the confidence to pursue his career.
Of course, everyone in Kew Gardens Hills was aware of Akiva’s smile. All who bumped into him, be it daily or only once in their lives, were immediately touched by his smile. The Mishnah in Avos D’Rabbi Nasan (13:4) explains that when one greets another b’seiver panim yafos, with a smile, it can be compared to giving his friend all the greatest gifts in the world. Akiva was the embodiment of this mishnah, as his smile uplifted everyone. And, with his untimely passing, it can be truly said that we all feel as if we lost the greatest gift in the world that was his smile, his giving nature, and the friendship that was Akiva Fogel.
Y’hi zichro baruch.