Rabbi Benjamin and Shevi Yudin hit the ground running in Fair Lawn a half century ago and have yet to let up. Bump into an Orthodox Jew almost anywhere on the globe, say the words “Fair Lawn,” and more often than not the response will include mention of Rabbi Yudin.
Rabbi Yudin first came to Fair Lawn to join the 17-family Jewish community in 1969. He recalls driving around town on Fridays near sundown in his 1965 Plymouth, picking up people to ensure there would be a Friday night minyan, which was held in the Yudin’s basement. He employed a similar strategy to launch a daily Shacharit minyan in the early ‘70s.
Two major community milestones clearly had an assist from above: the construction of the shul, Shomrei Torah, and the building of the mikvah. Around 1980, two adjacent houses across the street from the Yudins simultaneously came to market, providing the opportunity to build a shul. As for the mikvah, after much anticipation, it was completed and set to open in advance of a three-day Shavuot Yom Tov. However, it lacked the requisite amount of rain water. Things looked bleak as Shavuot approached. Suddenly, it began to rain and continued for four straight days.
One by one, more goals were set and met. A daily Mincha/Maariv minyan was established, an eruv was built, a Chevra Kadisha was formed, a Daf Yomi began, a morning breakfast shiur for retirees took root, and nightly shiurim fleshed out, followed by a new beit hamedrash program.
Rabbi Yudin is particularly proud of how the mini-kollel transformed the shul. As the average age of members increased, a committee was formed and approached Yeshiva University leadership, requesting four families to form a kollel. “We’ll pay their rent. If they like it in Fair Lawn, all we ask is that they tell their friends.” Rabbi Yudin then added, “In the past 10-12 years, 80 young families have moved to Fair Lawn because of it.”
One of Rabbi Yudin’s bedrock beliefs is that every Jewish child should be given the opportunity to have a Torah education. Nearly two decades ago, there were two yeshiva elementary schools serving the Fair Lawn community. Each had essentially maxed out at over 800 students. With that backdrop, Rabbi Yudin worked with others to create another option—Yeshivat Noam—which first opened its doors in 2001 and now itself has over 800 students.
To Rabbi Yudin, there’s no such thing as a non-observant Jew. There is, however, a not-yet-observant Jew. A trip to the former Soviet Union in the late 1980s profoundly affected him in this regard. Over the years, Shomrei Torah has had a strong Russian presence, and Rabbi Yudin has formed close bonds with many from the former Soviet Union.
Outreach for Rabbi Yudin also includes a weekly parsha talk on JM in the AM. From a one-time guest speaker, he became a Friday morning fixture for 38 years.
As for Shevi, a family friend described her by saying, “There are dozens, if not hundreds, of people who are her closest friends. She raises ahavat chinam to new heights.”
Shevi explained that shortly after moving to Fair Lawn she knew she would have an open-door policy. Stories of the Yudin’s hospitality are very well known. Visitors to the house include shul members who stop by to strategize for upcoming simchas, others who quietly reveal their challenges, ask the Rabbi or Shevi for advice—halachic or otherwise—or simply offer their help for some of the many chesed projects that emanate from the Yudin home and often require a small army of volunteers.
Then there are visitors who are complete strangers, who suddenly appear at the door unannounced. They either find their way there because it’s across the street from the shul or because they are informed by those from outside the community of the Yudins’ reputation for chesed.
Shevi noted that chesed is not limited to Jews, where the Yudins are concerned. Janusz was a math teacher from Poland who came to the US 30 years ago. He took on the job as shul custodian. Over time, he was drawn more and more to the warm atmosphere and teachings of the Rabbi. Although Rabbi Yudin repeatedly tried to dissuade him, eventually Janusz converted and has become an integral and beloved member of Shomrei Torah.
Then there are the somber situations. Shevi spoke of one such example that occurred when she and the Rabbi were in their 30s. She came home to find a chasidic lady and her child at their doorstep. The woman explained that she was from Brooklyn, her husband had been beating her, and that she was told this would be a good place to hide. The woman stayed for a month. This and similar revelations led Shevi, along with several others, to become founding members of Project SARAH for battered women.
On a more upbeat note, Shevi observed that “chesed is a boomerang,” praising the community for all the times it has been there for her.
Shevi reflected on how fortunate she’s been to have spent 50 years serving the same congregation. Not only did it offer stability for her children, but also the opportunity for her and Rabbi Yudin to become a part of the lives of so many families.
For those who would like to give kavod to this very special couple for their lifetime of commitment, a gala dinner honoring them will take place at the Atrium in Monsey on Sunday, April 7.
For information, visit www.yudintribute.org, or call 201-791-7910.