My Teacher and My Mentor. A Tribute to Rabbi Avi Weiss. by Yosef Kanefsky

This coming Sunday evening Rabbi Avi Weiss will be honored by Yeshivat Chovevai Torah. As this is the first time Rav Avi has ever allowed himself to be publically honored, the tribute speakers will have decades and decades of monumental accomplishments to select from. I’m suspecting that lost among these numerous accomplishments will be the powerful influence that he had upon the young rabbis who were lucky enough to learn the rabbinate from him. I was one of those lucky ones, having served as Rav Avi’s assistant rabbi for six years. Even today, 18 years after I left his professional side, there is not a single day that unaffected by what he taught me. So I’ll try to sneak this in now, alongside the many tributes that will be coming.

What did I learn from Rav Avi (and still don’t do as well as he does)? Here are just a few things:

(1) No matter what else is going on in the world, in the moment that someone is sharing his or her personal struggles with you, there is nothing else going on in the world. For each person is a world unto himself.

(2) Try your utmost to love everyone. If you can’t, the rabbinate’s probably not for you.

(3) Don’t be afraid to be different. Especially when you are being different in the name of including and embracing those who would otherwise be left out.

(4) A shul is family. And like any family, it has older people, and younger people. Healthy people and sick people. People who are more typically “abled” and people who are in some way disabled (and we are all in some way disabled). People whose Judaic knowledge is strong and people who are just now learning. When you look around shul on a Shabbat morning, it’s got to look like a family.

(5) Not everyone who is ritually observant is religious, and not everyone who is religious is ritually observant. Rabbis need to deeply understand this.

(6) Don’t sit on the bima. That’s not where the Jews are.

(7) It’s (almost) never a bad time for a niggun.

(8) Lifecycle ceremonies are teaching times. They are precious moments when people’s hearts are open in an unusual and wondrous way. Don’t let these moments become mechanical rituals.

(9) It makes no difference whether you’re teaching a class of 3, or giving a sermon in a room of many hundreds. You always give it your all.

(10) Your wife is the most important person in the shul.

Thank you Rav Avi. As I recently affirmed to the blessed members of Bnai David –Judea, “what is mine and what is ours, is yours.”

10 Responses to My Teacher and My Mentor. A Tribute to Rabbi Avi Weiss. by Yosef Kanefsky

  1. Yonina Siegal says:

    Beautiful, R. Kanefsky. Love these. We were among those privileged to daven at HIR during your time as assistant rabbi. We were honored to have Rabbi Weiss bring his magical touch, song and soul to our happy lifecycle ceremonies and his empathy and tremendous soul to our most sad times.

  2. See #10. It also applies to husband.


  3. Anonymous says:

    To add to your list, a lesson that one of my sons has shared that he learned from Rav Avi,
    “Whenever possible, take the high road”.

  4. A beautiful and SO right on tribute to Rav Avi.

  5. Karin Fleisch says:

    Beautiful – so much kavod and ahava. And all so distinctly Rav Avi. We should all have such teachers (and such students).

  6. Jonathon Ament says:

    We were priviliged to have you as our rabbi in LA, Avi Weiss in Riverdale and currently another of his assistants, Chaim Marder, in White Plains.

    It is not accidental that we chose the shuls and rabbis that we did. You are all very different but what you share in common is so powerful. You all understand community and live it every moment of your lives.

  7. tali says:

    this is beautiful and amongst just some of the reasons im proud to call him my rebbe

  8. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful. In my few brief encounters with Rabbi Weiss, I was truly blown away by his unique personality and ability to lead and, more importantly, inspire.

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