Tuesday, January 10, 2012

He was my Rabbi

My rabbi from before I can even remember died in late December. Rabbi Bernard Stefansky was a mentor, a leader, and an inspiration. He could summon fire and brimstone in his sermons, and he could communicate a fearsome disapproval in conversation, and both of those were absolutely overwhelmed in my experience by his tremendous love for the next generation. He taught me to lead services, and he taught me to teach others to lead services, and he taught me to question authority while respecting tradition. He was a major part of my life for many formative years. I miss him deeply.

His daughter wrote the following.

Broward County Bar Association
President’s Message
By Jordana Goldstein

When arranging the program for the Bar installation dinner last June, I had to decide who was going to give the invocation. Since my father was a Rabbi it seemed natural just to ask him to do it. However, I hesitated asking him because my father had significant health issues, requiring him to be on oxygen 24 hours a day. I was concerned that he would be unable to walk to the dais, let alone walk up the few stairs that would enable him to reach the podium. Ultimately, someone suggested that he use a wireless microphone, which would allow him to give the invocation from his seat. Problem solved. When I asked my dad to give the invocation, he said it would be his honor to do so. So on June 9th, my father, Rabbi Bernard Stefansky, gave the invocation at an event that was so important to me both personally and professionally. He sat at a table right before me and before the evening ended, he handed me a bouquet of roses and said some beautiful things to me in front of very many people. He made me feel proud to be the President of the Broward Bar, and I was very proud he was my father.

I never imagined that my father would not be sitting in front of me at the next installation dinner, when my tenure as President comes to an end. However, on Friday, December 23rd, my father passed away at the age of 78. He fought a long and courageous battle against heart and lung disease. I have never known anyone who had such a will to live as my father did, which is why he survived as long as he did with such an insidious disease. While my father was sick for many years, I do not want to remember him that way. Instead, I am choosing to focus on what he accomplished in his life and to celebrate his life. My father was an incredible person, because he was so selfless. His passion, and really his mission in life, was to help others and to inspire others to do the same. He was the Rabbi and spiritual leader of several congregations in New York, Massachusetts and Florida. In that role, he mentored and counseled hundreds of people, which is something he truly loved to do. So many people benefitted from his ideas and words of encouragement. He visited people in the hospital on a weekly basis until he became sick himself, where he often prayed for their recovery and provided emotional support for patients’ family members and friends. I can remember accompanying my father on these visits because often times the patients were elderly, and he felt they enjoyed having children visit.

Despite the fact that my parents were of modest means, my father always emphasized the importance of giving to charity. He worked tirelessly to raise money for various causes and encouraged many others to do the same. He was also an educator. He enjoyed conducting adult education classes on various topics. I believe so many people attended his classes not only to learn something new, but to hear him tell his famously funny stories and jokes. He truly loved to learn and to read. He loved history and prided himself on becoming a World War II aficionado. He was a war veteran himself, having served as a paratrooper in the Korean War. He offered comfort and strength to so many in difficult times, particularly when he was the Chaplain for the Massachusetts State Police and Medford Fire Department.

Most significant was the love he had for his family and friends. On December 27th, my parents would have celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary. My parents were true partners in life who supported and encouraged each other throughout their marriage. My brother and sister can attest to the fact that my father expected a lot from us, and, therefore, could be pretty tough at times. But we knew he truly loved us, because he took the time to tell us so. It is difficult to fathom that he will no longer be calling me to express how much he loved me. My father was the very proud grandfather (believe me when I say he had absolutely no shame when it came to bragging about them) to seven wonderful children who will miss him terribly. He loved his friends, he loved being with his friends, and most importantly he loved laughing with his friends.

I am so thankful for my father because he was the one who taught me the value of an education, the importance of giving back to the community, and to always strive to be the best that I can be. He taught me to be strong, to work hard, and to believe in myself. I have always worked to make him proud and I hope I accomplished that in some small way. He was a man of honor and a true fighter. No matter how difficult life could be, he handled everything with courage and grace for which I will always be proud of him.

I have received phone calls, emails, texts, and condolence cards from so many of you. I cannot express to you in words how much I have appreciated you reaching out to me during this difficult time. While I cannot thank each one of you individually, please know that I will always be grateful for your support. You have reminded me just how kind and compassionate people can be. At the start of each new year my father would always say, “I wish for you in the coming year, what you wish for yourself.” In his memory, I extend that same sentiment to you. But I also wish for you to follow in his footsteps. My hope is that you will be more helpful to others, be more charitable, remember to tell your family how much you love them, be a good friend, and remember to laugh even during the most difficult of times.

The obituary from the Sun-Sentinel.

Stefansky, Bernard of Boynton Beach, FL passed away on Friday, December 23, 2011, at the age of 78. He was the Rabbi and spiritual leader of several congregations including: Temple Beth El in Patchogue, NY; Lake Success Jewish Center in Lake Success, NY; Temple Shalom in Medford, MA; and Beth Israel Synagogue in Longmeadow, MA. While in Massachusetts he served as Chaplain of the Massachusetts State Police and Medford Fire Department. Upon moving to Florida, he became the Rabbi of Congregation Anshei Sholom in Century Village, West Palm Beach, FL. He was a member of the Palm Beach County Board of Rabbis. He served in the United States Army during the Korean War, 1951-1953. He was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia to the late Joseph and Esther Stefansky. He is survived by his beloved wife of 47 years, Evelyn; his adored children, Jordana (Jeffrey) Goldstein, Jonathan (Bracha), and Rebecca; his cherished grandchildren Yosef, Esther, Shira, Boaz, Avigayil, Ariel and Jonah; his sister Rachel Brody; and many cousins; nieces and nephews. He was a mentor, teacher, counselor and dear friend to so many who often sought his advice and guidance. He will be remembered for his sense of humor, his passion for learning, his love of history, particularly events surrounding World War II, and his significant contributions to the community and various charitable organizations. Memorial contributions can be made to the American Lung Association in Florida, West Palm Beach, 2701 N. Australian Ave., Suite 100, West Palm Beach, FL 33407 (www.lungfla.org); American Heart Association (www.americanheart.org); and Rabbi Meir Baal-Haness, 18 Hayward Street, No. 3, Brooklyn, NY 11249.

1 comment:

Becky said...

This is Rabbi Bernie's youngest daughter, Becky.

I just wanted to take a minute to thank you for posting your kind words about my father *and* Jordana's article, as well as the obituary.

Today marks 2 months since he passed, and happens to be the first "bad" day I've had in awhile. As a result, I've been reading through messages people sent in the immediate days after his death and been googling his name.

As it turns out, and it's not a surprise to those who knew him so well, he touched SO MANY people and because of this, your posting and others like it give great comfort to me and my family.

So thank you again for reminding us all what a giant *and* a man my father was. May we all aspire to leave such a lasting legacy.

All the best to you,