Shabbat HaGadol 5778 marked the 10th yahrzeit of Rabbi Jacob and Debbie Rubenstein, z”l, who were killed in a house fire early Shabbat morning in April, 2008. In “commemoration and inspiration,” the Young Israel of Scarsdale (YIS) hosted Rabbi Elan Adler.
According to YIS Rabbi Jonathan Morgenstern, “For this occasion, we were looking for someone who really knew the Rubensteins and who would be able to speak about their message.”
Rabbi Adler was a close, personal friend and talmid of Rabbi Rubenstein. He grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, where Rabbi Rubenstein served as his family’s rabbi. Rabbi Adler was a ben bayit in the Rubenstein home in Providence and the Rubenstein family was instrumental in his development as a rabbi and Jewish leader.
Rabbi Adler spoke five times over the course of Shabbat, including a Friday night d’var Torah on “the Rabbi’s favorite passuk and mine,” a Shabbat HaGadol presentation to the entire shul before mussaf entitled “In the Presence of Greatness: The Haggadah According to the Rav,” a luncheon speech entitled “How Six Years With the Rubensteins Shaped My 30 years in the Rabbinate,” a pre-mincha lecture on interfaith dialogue and a shalosh seudot discussion of his Arutz Sheva radio show.
Rabbi Morgenstern felt that the highlight of the yahrzeit program occurred following the luncheon speech, when the floor was open to anyone who wanted to share personal reflections of the Rubensteins. According to Rabbi Morgentstern, “Many stories and experiences were shared. This elevated the entire Shabbat experience. This was an exchange of memories of appreciation, love and support of both the Rubensteins and the YIS community. This is what YIS is all about.”
The Rubensteins served their Scarsdale kehilla as a spiritual team for almost 25 years after their previous pulpits in Milford, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island. In addition to serving the Scarsdale shul, Rabbi Rubenstein was also active in outreach, social activism, legislative advocacy, international affairs and philanthropic endeavors.
He was born in Rosenheim, Germany, and as a displaced person immigrated to America at an early age, residing in Memphis, Tennessee. Rabbi Rubenstein studied in Memphis, Skokie, Israel and Boston. He was one of the founders of the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He was past president of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and organized its first rabbinic mission to Washington. He also participated in many greater Westchester communal groups. In 2003, he was one of 15 rabbis invited to meet with President George W. Bush at the White House prior to Rosh Hashanah.
Deborah Rubenstein, a native of Montreal, met her future husband during her junior year abroad studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. After marrying in her hometown, they returned to Israel where they continued their studies together. Debbie’s career, as a Jewish studies teacher and principal, spanned four decades.
In a message to the community, YIS stated: “It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since we endured the losses of our dear Rabbi Jacob and Debbie Rubenstein, z”l, on Shabbat HaGadol of 2008. If the rabbi and Debbie stood for one thing it was the value and resilience of a warm and supportive Jewish community. Here we are 10 years later and we have absorbed their teachings and learned their lessons. We are, baruch Hashem, strong and vibrant, committed and caring to each other and to God and His eternal Torah. The Rubensteins’ ‘made It happen’ in their lives and left us with the sacred space that is the Young Israel of Scarsdale.”
By Judy Berger