Celebrating a Lifetime of Achievement: Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
On Tuesday evening, December 10, 2019, in a filled-to-capacity hall at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, 400 people came together for OTS’s Annual Dinner in celebration of Rabbi Riskin’s lifetime of achievement, featuring the spirited dedication of a Sefer Torah. Words do not suffice to describe the abundant energy and love in the room as the Sefer Torah was completed and dedicated (click here for highlights from the dancing).
“What better way to pay tribute to Rabbi Riskin than to give him a Sefer Torah,” noted OTS President and Rosh HaYeshiva Rabbi Kenneth Brander in his remarks. “Rabbi Riskin is a walking Sefer Torah. He reads the Torah text year after year, just like all of us, but he is always able to find new meanings and insights which help him re-imagine the Jewish world and society.”
A Love of all Human Beings and an Ability to Dream
The Sefer Torah dedication is part of a months-long initiative celebrating Rabbi Riskin’s 80th year which was launched in early December through educational and chessed projects in the various OTS schools, and which will culminate in a festive event in Israel in March 2020.
Pirkei Avot says that 80 is considered to be the age of gvurot – vigor, strength and acts of heroism. Many reference the verse “ki gavra yado,” that he has overcome adversity – as the source of this statement. In the case of Rabbi Riskin, both are true. His fortitude and unwavering vision have enabled him to accomplish heroic, history-altering achievements on behalf of Israeli society and the worldwide Jewish people, often in the face of tremendous odds. At the Dinner, we honored his wisdom and his warmth; his charisma and his accessibility; his steadfast devotion to Torah scholarship and values, his love of all human beings, and his ability to dream.
In his remarks, Rabbi Riskin spoke about his dreams; paraphrasing tractate Brachot, he said that a person must dream the dream of God – the redemption; he must dream a dream that others share; and he must dream a dream of action. “And in all the dreams that I pursued in my life,” he said, “I was privileged to have had all these things… I had the cooperation of the best people around me who shared the dream and pulled it forward,” he said, thanking the OTS general staff, educators, rabbis and administrators, board members and “a group of people too numerous to mention. And the students, who also shared my dream, and always gave me strength to continue.
“I never really stopped to think about what all these dreams would cost,” he said with a smile. “And Baruch Hashem, my numerous marvelous partners have enabled me to continue to live and work that way. Partners who understood the high cost of education, including secular education on the highest of levels which produces graduates including rabbis, educators and female spiritual leaders who serve throughout the world.”
“You’ve touched me even more”
Rabbi Riskin acknowledged that even though so many of his dreams were fulfilled, there are more which he still hopes will come to fruition. “But I’m exceedingly comforted by the fact that today I’m still involved in teaching and writing within the OTS family, and because my successor, Rabbi Brander, will fulfill those dreams and expand upon them even further.” He offered heartfelt thanks to his wife Vicky, “Sheli, v’shelachem—shela hu,” he said. Everything is due to her. “And I am most grateful to HaKadosh Baruch Hu to have lived the most blessed life possible of Torah and teaching. It is only because God set it all up for me this way. It couldn’t have happened otherwise.”
Rabbi Riskin concluded his remarks by thanking everyone present. “If I’ve touched your lives even a little bit,” he said, “understand that you’ve touched mine even more.”