|Rabbi Avraham Feder Z"L|
Rabbi Feder was the founding Rabbi of Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto in 1967, a Synagogue which later expanded and grew into a shul of more than 1,000 families. He was energetic and passionate in his approach to Judaism, Zionism, music and social activism, among other passions. He worked on building a community, not just a shul. He pushed his congregants towards spiritual growth, greater halachic observance, wide ranging musical experience and Zionism.
I first came to know him in 1979 soon after our family moved to Toronto. He taught a Pirkei Avot class to a group of High School Students. More than 30 of us joined him weekly for an in-depth discussion of a wide range of ethical issues. He would always arrive early and get to know whichever students had shown up. He was happy to speak about politics, baseball, ethical issues, or whatever other topic might create some common interest between him and the students. In class, he would constantly try to find ways to engage each individual student. Though his expectations were high, he was respectful, thoughtful and, often, funny.
As the congregation Rabbi, he would push congregants to try adding new observances. For example, he implored more people to attend services for Sukkot - and to try building their own Sukkah. When he saw that many families accepted his challenge and came to shul on Sukkot, he decided that he had to reward them by making Sukkot the fun and happy holiday that it was supposed to be. He wanted to make "Zman Simchateinu" a reality - so he told adventurous stories of his heroic cousin who was serving in the Israel Defence Forces.
Rabbi Feder was an ardent Zionist who fervently believed that the mission for the current generation of Jews around the world was to do everything they could to rebuild the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. He followed what he preached and left Toronto to make Aliyah in the early 1980s. Some Beth Tikvah families joined him at that time. Other families came later and still others - children and grandchildren of the original founding families of the shul - joined him in Israel many years later.
Rabbi Feder continued to return to Beth Tikvah each year to conduct High Holy Day auxiliary services at Beth Tikvah. He had a passionate group of followers. He led services, as the Chazzan, with beautiful, inspired davening. The congregants came to know all of his melodies and sang along throughout. These High Holy Day services were a spiritual treat, intense, uplifting and fulfilling.
He would sometimes bring new songs to teach to the congregation. One year, after facing down some particularly difficult challenges, he asked the congregation to sing "LaKum Machar Baboker," the classic Naomi Shemer song about waking up to start a new day. In remembering this type of approach, one person described him today as a "radical optimist."
In his role as the Rabbi at these services, he also delivered lengthy, powerful sermons, sometimes laced with musical interludes in Hebrew, English or Yiddish. Since he was both the Rabbi and the Chazzan, he knew that the Chazzan would not complain if the sermons were too lengthy. His sermons were fascinating works. They touched on a wide variety of sources - the Torah and Talmud and other sources of Jewish law, contemporary and classic literature, current works of fiction and non-fiction, cinema, plays and personal anecdotes. Some were sewn together meticulously. Others might wander into unforeseen and provocative areas. Many of these sermons generated vigorous responses. But they always left us with ample fuel for discussion over Yom Tov lunch, whether we agreed or disagreed with what he said.
Over the years, we spoke and exchanged emails with him constantly. He attended and shared "a few words" at each of our kids' b'nei mitzvah in Israel and we got together with him several other times. He always asked about all of our family members, children, parents, brothers, sisters - he genuinely cared. He was particularly proud of our children's accomplishments - as bar and bat mitzvah teachers, as shlichei Tzibbur and with their roles in the IDF.
At his funeral this morning - several people spoke. Family members, friends and others. If there was a common thread that ran through all of these eulogies - it was Rabbi Feder's passion and his love. He was passionate about Judaism, Zionism, literature, Music, learning and had many other passions. But each person who spoke about him - shared the thought that in all of their interactions with him - they always felt love and respect going in both directions. They all felt that they had a special personal connection with him - and that this special connection touched and impacted on their lives in a unique way. This love of people and ability to connect with them - together with his true menschlikeit was what came through most powerfully from all those who spoke.
Aside from Jewish sources and classic literature (he was a Shakespeare expert), Rabbi Feder greatly enjoyed musicals - particularly classic Broadway musicals. He would often sing snippets from some of his favourite pieces. A few of the speakers today recognized this - and alluded to certain pieces - that were some of his favourites. As much as he enjoyed the "classics," he opened his mind to new music, movies and books. And he continued to try to accomplish as much as he could - reading, writing and exchanging ideas with so many people.
Apparently, he had been working feverishly on a 250 page memoir which he completed very recently. I have not yet seen it. But when I heard about it today - I thought about how much he might have enjoyed Hamilton - and its blend of American history, Broadway music, contemporary music and social justices ideas. And what more apt a line - than a line from Hamilton describing Rabbi Feder's efforts to complete his memoirs...."how do you write when you're running out of time..." and, from the finale of Hamilton - "time...if I only had more time..."
For many of his - his family members, friends, congregants....we all wish he had more time.
I hope and pray that his legacy will inspire others to emulate many of his examples - whether in the area of yiddishkeit, Zionism, Judaism - or above all else - Menschlekeit.
Published Announcement for Rabbi Feder Z"L