Rabbi Yosef Stern, z’l
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Rabbi Yosef Stern, z’l

Bergen County is a thriving Jewish community. Because so many people live here, there are – happily – very many births, and there are also – sadly, terribly, at times tragically – very many deaths.

We seldom hear such sadness, coming from so many directions, as we have heard about the death of Rabbi Yossie Stern, the founder and executive director of Project Ezra.

Among the tributes was an anonymous letter that we feel compelled to share with the community.

“It is obvious that he was an exceptional human being,” the letter began. “His drive to start an organization like Project Ezra was clearly based on a key essence of his personality, which was a deep love and concern for his fellow human beings. I also believe that his deep concern for his fellow man was not limited to Jews, but extended to all people.”

The writer knew Rabbi Stern only in the context of Project Ezra – meaning, as he made clear, that he knew him only when he, the writer, was a suppliant, needy, looking for help. That is not an easy way to meet someone. “To be completely honest, I hated going to Project Ezra,” he wrote. “Once you enter their office, the issue that you are presently incapable of providing for yourself or your family becomes a stark reality.” That, of course, is despite everyone’s best intentions, but it is an inevitable, unavoidable truth.

Despite that, he could see Rabbi Stern clearly.

“He was kind and he was charitable … over time I came to realize that he was absolutely brilliant,” the letter continued. “He was not there to just throw money at a problem, believing it would repair the situation. He assessed the entire person. He looked deep into your soul to make a human assessment of how best you needed to be helped….

“He basically looked for the good in everyone, and his keen insight into understanding the human condition helped him better meet the needs of the families he was trying to help.

“He did not just learn Torah, he lived and practiced it.”

The world could use many more such people.

May his memory be a blessing.

-JP

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