When Alvin Reinstein of Teaneck had to borrow class notes, find a study buddy, or get advice on courses toward ordination at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary — RIETS — he turned to a classmate two years ahead of him: his son, Sam.
The Reinsteins were the first father-son pair simultaneously studying for the rabbinate in the history of the 121-year-old RIETS.
On March 19, they will be among 130 rabbis from the classes of 2014-2017 celebrating their ordination (semicha, or “semikhah” as YU transliterates the Hebrew word) at the Chag HaSemikhah convocation on YU’s Washington Heights campus.
If the triennial event were held every four years — in other words, in 2018 — it would also include Alvin’s son-in-law and Sam’s brother-in-law, Josh Botwinick, husband of Margot Reinstein Botwinick, now in his fourth year at RIETS.
Nevertheless, the Reinsteins’ achievement is unusual enough that YU has interviewed them for a special video.
“The Chag HaSemikhah is about the passing of the mesorah [tradition], and the meeting of the generations,” RIETS’s dean, Rabbi Menachem Penner, said. “A father and son completing semicha at the same time, in the same yeshiva, exemplifies the beauty of that never-ending chain. It is also a testament to the vitality of our yeshiva and yeshiva campus, with students of all ages learning side by side.”
Alvin Reinstein, now 66, is the son of Holocaust survivors who raised their three boys in the Bronx. He graduated from MTA, YU’s high school for boys, in 1968, and from Yeshiva College, with a bachelor’s degree in math, in 1972. “I always wanted to learn Torah,” he said. “I feel it is our primary duty to achieve spiritual growth by learning Torah and doing mitzvot,” he said.
After his 2010 retirement from a 32-year career in administration at the New York City Housing Authority, he had the opportunity for serious Torah study but encountered many distractions. Seeking a structured framework, he registered for RIETS in January 2012 — two years after Sam began the program — with the strong encouragement of his wife, Esther Lauber.
That year, at the class of 1972’s 40th reunion, YU President Richard Joel noted that Alvin Reinstein was the only class member now enrolled as a student in any of the university’s various schools.
“It was a case of the father following the son,” he said. “It wasn’t my intention to get a job as a rabbi; I just wanted to study. And my son Sam was an inspiration for me. We took many courses together and studied together. When he was going through Yavneh Academy and Torah Academy of Bergen County, I would learn with him — but now it was on a peer basis.”
Rabbi Sam Reinstein, 27, is an actuary at Prudential and has a weekend pulpit as the assistant rabbi of Congregation Kol Torah, a 90-year-old synagogue in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood. He, his wife, Hannah Dreyfus, and their six-month-old son, Leon, live in Brooklyn.
“Being in classes with my father was a little weird but very special,” he said. “Especially with Torah topics, transmission usually flows downward from father to son, and with us it went the other way because I was advising him which classes to take and sharing my notes with him. It was great.”
The convocation also will include several Bergen County residents whose fathers — and in some cases, their grandfathers — are RIETS alumni.
Rabbi Yaakov Taubes (class of 2014) is the son of Rabbi Michael Taubes, the leader of Teaneck’s Zichron Mordechai synagogue, a RIETS Rosh Yeshiva and instructor, and Rosh Yeshiva at MTA.
Yaakov Taubes and his wife, Racheli, are in their third year teaching and mentoring University of Pennsylvania students through the Orthodox Union’s Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus. They have two children.
“I grew up in a rabbinic home, going to shul with my father and learning Torah with him my entire life,” Rabbi Taubes said. “I don’t recall having ‘rabbi’s son syndrome.’ I was very proud that my father was a rabbi, and it felt natural to me.”
He enrolled in RIETS after finishing Yeshiva College and also earned a master’s degree in Jewish history; he is now a doctoral student.
“I worked in administration for YU for a couple of years and then had the opportunity to work with students on campus, something I never thought I’d be doing,” he said. “Once I started, it really spoke to me. There’s something very powerful about the ability to be there as a resource for people.”
Rabbi Michael Taubes said he didn’t expect Yaakov, his middle child, to become a rabbi. “This opportunity at JLIC almost fell into his lap, and I hope he enjoys being a rabbi as much as I have over the years,” he said.
Rabbi Taubes added that he and his wife, Bassie, made their household a place where their five children’s needs and feelings were prioritized above all. “We rarely if ever discussed matters relating to shul or school at the table,” he said.
Teaneck’s Rabbi Kenneth Brander, the vice president of University and Community Life at YU, similarly said that he and his wife, Ruchie, “always made sure there was a healthy balance in the house between engaging in the community and being there for our children.”
Rabbi Tuvia Brander, 29 (RIETS class of 2015), now leads the Young Israel of West Hartford, Connecticut, and is vice president of the Greater Hartford Rabbinic Association.
He hopes to attend the Chag HaSemikhah convocation not only with his father but also with his grandfather, Rabbi Aaron Brander, a RIETS-ordained rabbi who was formerly the principal of the Yeshiva of Central Queens and now splits his time between Far Rockaway, New York, and Deerfield Beach, Florida.
Rabbi Kenneth Brander started his career in 1986 as assistant rabbi of Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue. From 1991 to 2005, he was the senior rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue in Florida, and was involved in founding and leading several communal institutions.
“I tried to make sure that during the more than 20 years I spent in the rabbinate, and as a community leader and activist, I never said my children should act a certain way because they’re the rabbi’s children,” Kenneth Brander said. “They were part of the conversation and part of the experience instead of resenting the experience.
“I definitely went into this with eyes wide open,” Tuvia Brander, the oldest of five children, said. “In our home, the work of the rabbinate was a family project, and we were all included in this holy work. It was a way for our family to give back to the community, and to see firsthand how we could help people in all different stages of life and effect change on a broad and individual scale. Over time and with an incredible partner in my wife, Miriam, I was able to do this myself.”
He originally thought of working in a math-related field, but a summer in Kansas City through YU’s Jewish Experience program — which combines communal work with business internships — convinced him that he belonged in the pulpit, and he returned the next summer as a rabbinic intern.
“I always wanted to contribute to the Jewish community in an active way, and there are ways you can do that as a lay leader and there are ways you can do that as a rabbi,” he continued. “I enjoy working with people, and going into the rabbinate was a real opportunity to engage with people and be involved in the community on the most intimate level.”
Two sons of Rabbi Menachem Genack of Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Englewood are taking part in the March 19 event: Rabbis Moshe Genack (2017) and Chaim Genack (2014). Their father also is a RIETS rosh yeshiva, and he is the head of the Orthodox Union Kosher Division.
Another intergenerational feature of the Chag HaSemikhah convocation will be the presence of 10 men who were ordained at RIETS and whose grandsons are in the new cohort.
Among these are Rabbis Motti Neuburger (2015) and Yechiel Neuburger (2017), sons of RIETS Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger (1979), maternal grandsons of Rabbi Zevulun Charlop (1954), and great-grandsons of Rabbi Yechiel Michel Charlop (1921). Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield.
Special mention will be made of Rabbi Jason Grossman (2014), a Teaneck native and the grandson of the late Rabbi Zelo Schussheim, a RIETS graduate and longtime RIETS Rosh Yeshiva.
The three classes of new rabbis represent an internationally diverse group, hailing from five continents and more than 50 North American cities. The convocation will be presented as a live webcast to the public at www.yutorah.org/live.