Celebrating Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
A celebration of Rabbi Riskin’s lifetime of achievement was launched this week with the debut of a one-man play developed and performed by renowned Israeli personality Jacky Levy, the first in a series of events designed to inform the next generation about Rabbi Riskin’s legacy and impact. The educational initiative goes hand in hand with the Sefer Torah dedication in honor of Rabbi Riskin to take place in the USA and in Israel. Rabbi Brander: “We are building upon the foundation that he has prepared for us.”
Not everyone’s life merits a one-man show created by a famous Israeli media personality – but then again, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin isn’t just anyone.
“The Man and the Legend: Stories of Rabbi Riskin,” created by renowned Israeli actor and comedian Jacky Levy, is based upon the life of OTS founder, chancellor emeritus and rosh hayeshiva, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. The play’s first showing kicked off a season of trans-Atlantic celebrations in advance of Rabbi Riskin’s 80th birthday this spring.
Pirkei Avot says 80 years of age is for “gevurot” – generally defined as “special strength.” The modern-day dictionary also defines “gevurot” as courage; bravery; fortitude; or grit.
As Rabbi Shlomo Riskin approaches 80, OTS is celebrating these very qualities, the courageous strength and heroic fortitude in the face of all odds which enabled him to achieve astounding goals. For more than half a century, he has been one of the Jewish people’s most articulate and beloved spokespeople for a Judaism of warmth and inclusion, vibrancy and renewal. This is reflected in his teachings, his enormous influence on the global Jewish outreach movement, his founding leadership of Manhattan’s famed Lincoln Square Synagogue, his historic activism on behalf of Soviet Jewry, his decades of religious and legal battling on behalf of agunot, his visionary leadership as the founding Chief Rabbi of Efrat, and his herculean role as the founder and chief architect of our international Ohr Torah Stone network.
Indeed, Rabbi Riskin’s entire life has been dedicated to the Jewish people and the State of Israel. “Rabbi Riskin’s contributions to Israel and world Jewry over the course of the past five decades have been instrumental in shaping today’s Orthodox society,” said President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander. “Today, we are building upon the foundation that he has prepared for us.”
A celebration of admiration, affection and appreciation
For those who know and love him, Rabbi Riskin is best described as a living Sefer Torah – which is why OTS has chosen to celebrate him through the dedication of a Torah scroll. One of the special things about this Torah scroll is that it has been written with the partnership of thousands of people from all over the world who have been touched by Rabbi Riskin’s Torah teachings. Rabbi Riskin has always maintained that just as one flawed letter in a Torah scroll renders it invalid for use, each and every person in the world is important enough in his or her own right to make a difference. It is therefore only appropriate to honor him with a Sefer Torah in which each person’s letter combines together in a true celebration of admiration, affection and appreciation for RSR.
On Tuesday evening, December 10 at the annual OTS Dinner in Manhattan, OTS will complete, dedicate and dance with this Sefer Torah. The Torah will be brought afterward to Israel, where there will be another hachnasat Sefer Torah celebration featuring festivities in both Efrat and Jerusalem, as the scroll is brought to its final home at Midreshet Lindenbaum women’s college.
“I am especially proud that this Sefer Torah will go to Midreshet Lindenbaum,” Rabbi Riskin related. “One of my profound convictions remains the fact that teaching Torah – and especially the Oral Torah of the Sages, the Talmud and its commentaries – to women, 51% of our Jewish population, is critical to our post-holocaust generation.”
We can make a difference
Alongside the festivities, a special educational curricula has been produced for students and educators within the OTS network. Based upon RSR’s teachings, the educational units cover subjects such as “keeping mitzvot,” “What is a dilemma?” “Everything is a matter of interpretation,” “Dreams,” and more.
Only after learning about the man who founded and cultivated the institution in which they are learning will the students see the one-man “Man and the Legend” show by Jacky Levy.
My name is Jacky, and I have for the past two months been eating, drinking and sleeping Rabbi Riskin,” said Levy during the play. “I dream Rabbi Riskin at night and I am breaking my head trying to figure out how to tell all of his incredible stories – and even more so, how to decide which to leave out. This is what I do for a living; I tell stories. But this particular story, well, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to tell it is backward, from the point of view of the person whose life Rabbi Riskin touched, and you know why? Because I myself still cannot understand how he did it. There are so many stories with a positive ending but which don’t begin to explain how he was always able to find an answer. And the fact that he keeps it a secret from us is a good thing,” he continued. “Because it gives each and every one of us the chance to say to ourselves that we too have the capacity to change the world – or at least the little piece of the world that we inhabit – with a bit of faith, a bit of goodwill, the right educators and parents, and a lot of humor – we can make a difference.”
“I am extremely humbled and moved that students, friends and supporters of Ohr Torah Stone have partnered in this wonderful gift,” said Rabbi Riskin. “I have always viewed my positions of Rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva as a privilege, as well as a responsibility, to impart our sacred Torah to the next generation. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for listening to the Torah that I have taught over the years, and for working together to give overlooked or marginalized populations a chance to learn and teach their Torah as well, thus enriching us all and bringing the entire Jewish nation closer to God.”