A Note from Ellen Lipkis

Dear Rabbi Buchwald,

Thank you for always being there for the Lipkis family.

It is not easy for me to express all that I would like to say to you. Words are not something that come easily to me. “Thank You” is not enough for all you have done. It cannot adequately express the influence you have had on my life. It is certainly not enough to express the kindness and compassion you have shown to me and my family throughout the years.

When I first entered the Beginners Service held in classroom 2 on the second floor of the old Lincoln Square Synagogue building, I had no idea what to expect. Initially, I was going more out of curiosity. After all, I already felt completely out of place in the Shul. I did not read Hebrew, and, frankly, did not believe that I could ever learn. Being dyslexic, Bs and Ds were hard enough. Hebrew went backwards. And, I was too old. To keep all 613 commandments seemed overwhelming.

You stood in the front of the classroom, with your jacket open, speaking to the group. It was obvious that everything you said was heartfelt. You spoke with warmth and conviction. At the same time, you were not afraid to use humor to get a point across. Most questions were answered. Those few that were not, were usually given the response, “I am just a ‘beginner’s’ Rabbi, go ask a real Rabbi.” We were learning and connecting to Judaism.

One Shabbat, there was a discussion about Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest Sages. He did not start learning until he was much older. This resonated with me since I did not start learning Hebrew until I was much older (40 years old). The Amidah was one of the prayers I learned to recite in Hebrew. The first request that is made in the Amidah prayer is for knowledge–insight. That request for insight made a strong impression on me. It meant that G-d wanted us to understand, to think, to use our brains. Torah was to be a conscious part of our life, not just rote behavior. I started to read the parsha ahead of our classes to be able to understand it, and to ask you more questions on Shabbat.

The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. I took classes and started reading books. At first, questions about “free will” were the most interesting to me. But, you were there to make sure that I did not go off on wild tangents. Judaism is action oriented– with a specific structure. You came to my home to make sure that I got Kashrus “right,” taking all my dishes, pots, silverware, glasses, and more to the Mikveh. Eventually, you started to send me guests for Shabbat lunch, which heightened our enjoyment of our Shabbat meals.

More importantly, you were there for me and my family when we needed you most. When Mordy got sick, you came to the hospital every day, for over four months. I still want to know who told you that his operation was taking place on Shabbat. You walked through Central Park, in the cold, and at night. Your presence comforted me and our family greatly. In time, your words of encouragement, ultimately inspired Mordy to get out of bed and to push himself to recover. A year later you spoke at Ari’s Bar Mitzvah, with humor and seriousness, reminding us that G-d had gotten us there and for this we should thank Him. You were right. But, it was a long haul–one that lasted more than 15 years. And, you were there every step of the way, literally, walking up 17 flight of stairs to see the bicycle Mordy got, to make sure it was “real,” and to see to it that he was committed to losing weight. And, you were there in the recovery room at the end of this ordeal, when there was finally a cure. On Mordy’s 6oth birthday you roasted him, as only you could, and, as always, reminded us to thank Hashem for all that He has given us.

And now you are honoring us–by being honored with you. There are not enough words. What does one say to their teacher and their friend, the person who has shown them this beautiful gift of learning, and taught them how to use their mind and heart?

I thank God

I thank your wife, Aidel

I thank your family

I thank you…

for the gift of keeping us connected to the chain!

Shoulders on shoulders.

Ellen Lipkis