Adding to Jewish life in Clifton

Adding to Jewish life in Clifton

Rabbi Moshe Mirsky heads religious services department at Daughters of Miriam

Rabbi Moshe Mirsky thinks his new position as the director of religious services at the Daughters of Miriam Center/Gallen Institute in Clifton is a perfect shidduch.

Actually, it is not quite a new job. Rabbi Mirsky had already worked there with Rabbi Ira Kronenberg, who just retired from the home this month, in the late 1980s. Back then Rabbi Mirsky was studying for simicha – rabbinic ordination. He worked there once again in the 1990s, while he was teaching at various day schools.

“I would come on the weekends for Shabbat and on yom tov to assist Rabbi Kronenberg,” he said. “I would lead davening, give Torah classes, go to the Alzheimer’s unit, and try to engage the residents Jewishly. I had a special rapport with Rabbi Kronenberg and the residents.”

Rabbi Moshe Mirsky

Indeed, then he already was doing many of the things he is doing now as director of religious affairs.

But the connection is even more personal. When he got engaged, he and his now-wife, Karen, had their aufruf at DMC.

Rabbi Mirsky, who earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Yeshiva University and his rabbinic ordination from YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, then moved on to become assistant rabbi at the Flatbush Park Jewish Center in Brooklyn. Later, he took on the position of religious leader at Congregation Beth Israel of Schenectady, where he has served for the last 10 years. Throughout this time, he kept up a close connection with Rabbi Kronenberg and maintained good relations with the other administrators and staff.

When it came time for Rabbi Kronenberg to retire, both Rabbi Kronenberg and the home’s executive director, Fred Feinstein, “asked me to come back.” And, he said, “I’m coming back now with 20 years of brand new experiences. That will be very helpful.”

Rabbi Mirsky said there are both similarities and differences between heading a congregation and working at DMC.

“My view of the rabbinate has always been to see people where they are and to help them grow spiritually,” he said. “My last congregation was an older congregation, so I have a good amount of experience with the senior population. I have respect for where they’re at, for what they’ve accomplished, and for what they’re going through – empathy is important for people of all ages.”

As for the differences, he noted that “in shul, the rabbi deals primarily with volunteers – hands-on presidents, committee chairs, gabbayim. Here there are many departments that are professional.”

“That’s a blessing,” he said. “This population needs a lot of care. There’s a whole team, and I’m part of the team that meets the needs of the residents.”

For example, he said, in his congregation, to get a minyan “I would call people and cajole them. Here they physically have to get there,” so he has to interact with nurses and the activities department.

Rabbi Mirsky said he plans to build on DMC’s existing outreach programs and bring in even more volunteers, especially students, to visit residents.

“I want to bring in younger people to lead minyans, to have students coming in to participate, to volunteer,” possibly by making arrangements with different schools.

Noting that “mutual growth takes place” when young people interact with seniors, the rabbi said he would encourage students to “come in on a regular basis to develop relationships with residents, or else just to visit.”

Noting that he would also like to encourage visits from adult volunteers, he said that Congregation Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn sends a group to the center every other Sunday to lead davening, have breakfast, and visit residents.

“Rabbi Kronenberg has done great things, keeping the character of [the center] Jewish,” Rabbi Mirsky said. He, too, will oversee kashrut, serve as a liaison to the Jewish community, and “oversee Jewish activities in a stimulating and appropriate way.”

Among his responsibilities will be leading the daily davening, counseling residents, families, and staff, and facilitating religious observance – for example, helping families who want to stay for Shabbat, and ensuring that when a resident dies, his or her body is handled according to halachah.

In other words, he said, he will be dealing with “the wide-reaching area of Jewish law and customs.” His ideology is similar to Rabbi Kronenberg’s. While it may be necessary in the future to make some changes, right now, he said, “I’m listening and learning.” He also credited Rabbi Kronenberg with helping him prepare for the transition.

Rabbi Mirsky, who will live in Passaic with his wife and their 13-year-old son, Shmuel, said he thinks one of his greatest strengths is that “I view the senior population as people. They have the same neshama and Jewish soul as younger people, even when they’re confused.” The challenge, he said, is to “view the residents with respect, and understand that at times they may get angry, or rude; to understand that these shortcomings are not under their control. I see them as human beings.

“Daughters of Miriam values both its employees and its residents,” he said. “There’s a sense of caring and respect. That’s why this is a good shidduch.”

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