Stories

Share_Your_Experience

Many Rabbis, community leaders and colleagues of the Rabbi wrote their most fond memories of him below. Please take a moment to read some submissions and write something from your heart. Use the search bar below to search submissions by name.

50 comments on “Stories
  1. Bella Scharf Zelingher says:

    Our memories of a wonderful man

    We have been truly blessed to have known Rabbi Ezra Labaton. We came to know him through the marriage of our daughter – Debra Zelingher – to David Sutton, son of Marc and Lilly Sutton. We live in Marlboro (NJ) and had heard wonderful things about the Rabbi over the years, especially about the beautiful community that he inspired and helped build around Congregation Magen David of West Deal. Simon had in fact attended one of his lectures at Sons of Israel in Manalapan in 1988 and was very impressed even back then by the Rabbi’s delivery, his intellect, and his relevant message. But it was only after the kids’ wedding in 2005 that we had the opportunity to discover first-hand, and “up close and personal”, what a wonderful man Rabbi Ezra Labaton was.

    We learned that there was a very strong connection between the Rabbi and our son-in-law David and his parents, Marc and Lilly Sutton. They had been one of the founding families of the Shul and had known the Rabbi for many years. The Rabbi had officiated at David’s Bris – his very first one at Magen David, then David’s Bar-Mitzvah, and years later, David’s wedding. The Rabbi was amazed at that life-cycle continuity and expressed his delight about it in his speech under the childrens’ Chuppah. (Several years later, in 2010, the Rabbi also officiated at the Bris of David’s and Debra’s son – our grandson Marc Sutton).

    We saw how delighted the Rabbi was that the wedding was being done in a traditional Ashkenazi style, with a “Bedeken” (veiling of the bride) and a “Chosson’s Tish” (the groom’s table), as well as the custom of the bride encircling the groom seven times under the Chuppah, and the seven blessings (“Sheva Brachot”) during the Nissuim ceremony. We can still remember his excitement as he hosted the men at the groom’s table, then escorted my elderly father out to the hallway so he could bless Debra as she was sitting in her regal Kallah Chair. In fact, he encouraged every family member, especially the elderly, to go up at that moment and give Debra their blessing on the marriage, an experience that was so memorable to everyone.

    Rabbi Labaton was always so welcoming to us when we were visiting our daughter’s family and we prayed at Magen David, whether for just an occasional Shabbat, or for longer stays – like the High Holy Days. As Ashkenazim, we always have felt very much “at home” at Magen David, just as we do in our own shul. That is definitely a credit to Rabbi Labaton and his wife Emily as well, who built a culture that was inclusive and welcoming to all Jews, from all backgrounds, and have inspired the congregants and community to act that way too.

    But the memories of Rabbi Ezra Labaton that we will treasure the most were his kindness, his gentleness, his empathy, and his reaching out to us when we were going through tough times. He was there for us when Simon’s mother had a difficult and Halachically-challenging hospitalization, and offered support later by making a Shiva call to our home in Marlboro after she passed. And more recently, he was there with encouragement and concern and advice when Simon was going through health problems, even though the Rabbi himself had so many of his own health issues. He would call, he would always ask how Simon was doing and how I was holding up, and we are sure he was praying for us, as well as for the entire congregation and the family that he loved so dearly.

    Again, we have been so very lucky that we got to know Rabbi Labaton and we will always remember him as the most incredible and the most genuine person that he was. We hope and pray that all the wonderful lessons that he taught and the Middot that he practiced will inspire our children David and Debra Sutton, and our grandchildren – Lilly, Sophia, and Marc – to follow in his footsteps.

  2. Esther Tokayer says:

    Rabbi Labaton, z”sl,was a source of inspiration to me as I was growing up. He created a space where we were free to share ideas, to grow, to challenge ourselves, and to stretch beyond the comfort zone of our community and become more than who we thought we could be. For myself, the Rabbi was very supportive of my studies in graduate school. Asking about my classes and my professors whenever he saw me. He shared with me his experiences in graduate school and gave me pearls of advice of how to learn and be successful, which pitfalls to avoid. I felt a very special camaraderie with the Rabbi when he shared some stories about the professors I had. All that helped me pursue my studies and my dreams. His confidence in me gave me special hizzuk. I know that I was not alone in how I felt and that was the greatness of Ezra Labaton, zs”l – he knew how to support individuals. He knew how to connect with each person and say the words they needed to hear so that they could develop, grow, and contribute to the world in the best way possible. The Rabbi’s support have given life and vibrancy to not just this generation, but for the many generations that will follow. We will miss his grace, guidance, wisdom and smile.יהי זכרו ברוך.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I always remember shabbats in shul running up to him on stage to shake his hand and he would always greet me with such a huge smile, regardless of how late I came. He always had the biggest smile and was always there to listen to what you had to say. It’s such a shame that he passed away so young. The community will never be the same.

  4. Linda Dayan says:

    I didn’t know Rabbi Labaton as well as some of my friends and family members, but he had a tremendous impact on my family, and, by extension, my life. Through his teachings, he helped my mother, who never learned Hebrew or how to formally engage with Jewish texts, find her own organic, personal, and positive relationship with Judaism through Torah and tradition. I learned from him, through her, the importance of questioning aspects of Torah and Halacha that I don’t understand, and that there’s no one true way to engage with Jewish learning. From our few interactions, I knew his kindness as a person. He was the first non-family member to arrive at the hospital when my grandmother passed away, and was there for us for support and comfort in our time of need. I looked forward to working with him on my thesis, as the rabbi I trusted most to show the world the many truly beautiful sides of our culture and tradition. We lost a great man today. May we honor his memory. Baruch Dayan Emet.

  5. Rabbi Haim Ovadia says:

    Farewell, Dear Mentor and Friend! Rabbi Ezra Labaton, a loving husband and father, a wise and compassionate educator and counselor and a towering beacon of loving kindness and spiritual light, was accompanied today in his last journey on God’s earth which he loved so much, by thousands of friends and disciples who refused to believe that his invincible spirit, his eternal optimism and his passion for life and wisdom have finally waged and lost their last battle against the disease he has been fighting courageously for so many years. As the hearse pulled out of the unassuming Bloomfield Cooper funeral home in Ocean Township, New Jersey, a perplexed office worker, who has never before seen so many people milling around the chapel, asked: “who passed away?” “A rabbi”, someone answered, and the word felt so small and insufficient, a generic title acquired by a certain amount of years of learning, tests, diplomas, position or pulpit. The word rabbi cannot define the indomitable spirit, infinite heart, unquenchable thirst for knowledge and uncompromising quest for justice which formed the essence of Rabbi Ezra Labaton’s personality and leadership and which have helped him leave his unique mark on so many people and touch so many lives. The word Rabbi, rather than define, contain and limit him, was given a new meaning, a true, honest and challenging meaning by this man with the shy smile and the seemingly frail physique. I had the merit to serve under him as an assistant rabbi for three years, to learn from him, argue with him, and venture into his immense and intriguing library which seemed to have been hit by a tornado. I would beg him to let me help him organize this Alexandrian library but he always insisted that this is how he wants it, and I realized that this is his mind’s modus operandi, reviewing and connecting at once threads from a thousand books and scholars into a breathtaking fabric celebrating the universe, mankind and spirituality. As I was listening to Rabbi Shaul Kassin telling how Rabbi Labaton asked him for his verse, saying that everyone should have a verse from the bible which defines him or her, I had an image of me trying to pin a medal with a verse on it to his chest. I started with “And God created man in His image, in the image of God he created Him” (Gen. 1:26) and then realized I have to add “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you, only to do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God” (Micah 6:8) and this one also “men will seek rulings from his mouth for he is a messenger, an angel, of the Lord of Hosts” (Mal. 2:7). And the verses kept rolling in, like awards or trophies: For his thorough knowledge and fascination with creation: “When I behold the heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars that You put in place” (Ps. 8:4) and all of Psalms 104. For his dedication to every human being and anyone in need, whether in Darfur, the Soviet Union or Croatia: “Did not He who made me in my mother’s belly make him?” (Job 31:16) For his compassionate love to his family, God and creation: “Vast floods cannot quench love, nor rivers drown it” (Song of Songs 8:7) For his unyielding Zionism: “It is a land which the Lord your God looks after, on which the Lord your God always keeps His eyes” (Deut. 11:12) For his whole personality: Psalm 112; Lev. 19:9-18; Deut. 10:20; Is. 10:1-2; Deut. 5:14; and chapter 58 in Isaiah (check these out, he would have wanted you to do so) and as a matter of fact every advice, commandment or praised character trait, every leadership quality and human aspiration described in the Bible and every rebuke and reproach against injustice, inequality, cruelty and dishonesty, all of them typified him and were embodied in his persona. But after I finished, in my mind, pinning the whole bible to him, I realized I am not done yet, because there is still the vast philosophical and moral legacy of Maimonides and his son rabbi Avraham, and the poetry of medieval Spain and the writings of the Rav, all of which he lived by and exemplified, so I stopped and redefined this Mission Impossible – trying to find a verse for him, and concluded that we must look up to him and his legacy as a human Bible, a true role model and exemplary man of vision who teaches how we should live our lives. May HaShem grant the family and us the strength to learn from Rabbi Ezra Labaton and emulate him, to live and act with honesty, integrity, loving kindness and spirituality and strive to do as much as we can to leave this world in a better state than the one into which we were born – Tikkun Olam, Amen!

    • Carole Shamula says:

      Your testimony to Rabbi Labaton was astounding, as the Rabbi would say. I never heard about Rabbi Labaton’s assertion that every person should ׳pick a pasuq׳ until he passed away. I was crying more and more with every pasuq you mentioned and how he was Torah.
      Did he ever tell anybody what pasuq he actually chose? I’ve been curious since Rabbi Saul Kassin spoke about this concept at the funeral. Because he encapsulated the Torah on all fronts, I wonder what pasuq he chose above all? Did he keep
      it secret to not influence anybody?
      I look forward to reading the Tehillim passages you suggested.
      I wondered why your name is familiar, then realized you’re the famous Rabbi Ovadia my friends hail. You gave classes at Sephardic. Do you offer any classes in Brooklyn now? Where and when, I’d love to hear more.
      I was a Rabbi Labaton groupie since he was a rabbi at Beth Torah more than 30 years ago. He was a giant and can never be replaced. Your words gave me comfort and I thank you.

  6. Eddie Ancona says:

    It was this past Thursday night when I suddenly got goosebumps and a sense of a spiritual reality. First, I must say, I never knew the rabbi personally or met him, though I’ve seen him around… It all really started of me going through my grandmothers house for pictures and old video tapes last Sunday , my grandmother and aunt A’H passed away in recent years , and I was hoping for video treasures of them I haven’t seen before , so I found a bunch of VHS tapes and just took it home and said to myself ill go through all the of them slowly at my leisure. Comes Thursday morning, I’m seeing all the news of Rabbi Labaton A’H passed away, I felt bad, and sad but went on with my day… Comes the evening time at let’s say 9pm I say to myself , let me go and watch one of the old tapes, so I pick a tape without looking, and it was one of my cousins wedding. As I put the tape in , the date of that day, of the wedding was DECEMBER 5th It was the same date as that day! Ok, nothing happened just yet, but a few moments after , the tape cuts right to the Ketuba signing… All of a sudden everyone there is saying, WAIT Where’s Rabbi Labaton , we need him, we need a witness……….at that point I’m like wait a second isn’t that the one who passed away today , DECEMBER 5th? Then he comes and it was really crazy how he was the center of that moment….anyways another Rabbi was there who also passed away a year ago on the 3rd of Tevet , which was THIS NIGHT! Rabbi Lieberman!!! How do I know, well I was just so happening reading the IMAGE , and there was a whole article talking about how his arleyat was gonna be on the 3rd of Tevet , so at that point I’m just glued to the screen freaking out… They were both standing with each other… eventually I realized they both were the rabbis who married my cousin at the chuppah , they both gave wonderful speeches, and I was just in awe of the coincidence??? As the chuppah celebration faded off, I just witnessed something that just didn’t happen cause it happened, or a coincidence. The rabbi was obviously very special, to touch a person (me) who didn’t even know personally, is enough to know that we lost someone beyond words. It felt like such a rush of emotions , and a force making sure to the unknown , what was lost that day.

  7. Freddy Sam Zalta says:

    My Blog – Freddy S. Zalta All writings by Freddy S. Zalta unless noted Being There I woke up before five this morning; no alarm clock. I looked at my phone and read about my friend, my role model and someone I revered – which is very rare for me – since the mid 1980′s. During the summer of, I believe 1983 my family rented a house on Deal Road in Oakhurst, New Jersey. My father went to the synagogue that was a few blocks away and me a young Rabbi there. The prayers were held on the second floor of what I can remember to be an old small home. One Saturday morning I met my father in the shul (I am not one to go too early) and was promptly greeted with a full smile and a handshake by the Rabbi. It was that morning when my admiration and love for this man began. A little about me – I am a very critical person who does not just admire people because of their finances, titles or physical appearances. In fact when a title is bestowed I usually have the opposite reaction and wait for the beholder to prove themselves to me. I am not fooled by speeches, appearances and handshakes. Kisses and hugs are best saved for intimates not acquaintances and speeches are best given by the intellectuals not the minimally educated. But with Rabbi Ezra Labaton there was an ingredient that is way too often missing in people. Sincerity. With his every act his heart and soul were revealed to be true. With Rabbi Ezra Labaton there was an ingredient that is way too often missing in leader. Humility. He never tried to stand taller or to have the loudest voice. When you met him you would know just where he stood as he spoke with words that forced you to think and to think hard. I was instantly taken by the Rabbi and found myself more than a couple of dozen times calling him for advice, affirmation and just to say hello. That small second floor prayer room has grown into an enormous synagogue on the same spot where the original edifice stood. Since he became the Rabbi of West Deal it has taken on his identity. People bought homes or moved to the area so they could attend the Shul. The community has grown in population, intellect, outreach and in charitable acts. To visit Magen David of West Deal on a Shabbat is to see the community there in action. Mothers and Fathers, both old and young, children and grandchildren and infants and expectant mothers all standing as one. The common denominators are love, sense of tradition, sense of family, love of Torah and the never ending task of Tikum Olam (making this world a better place). That was the Rabbi. Along with his wonderful wife Emily, they were living examples of what it means to live as Sephardic Jews. But most important how to live as fellow human beings in a world that can be full of corruption, greed and freezing temperatures. Their children have been leaders as well championing causes within the community and throughout the world. The Rabbi always listened to my complaining, personal troubles and family struggles with an open heart and not an ounce of judgement. He would speak gently with great care and respond in a way that make me realize what was important, what was correct and how or whether I should act in response to the situation. His loss leaves a void in our world – it leaves us wondering whether future generations will ever have a man who was as sincere and intelligent; as caring and full of humility; as Jewish with a mind full of questions and answers as this man. I have had the honor of knowing Rabbi Ezra Labaton and his family. I have had the honor of him knowing who I was and would reach out to me when he would hear that I was in some sort of situation or another. He called me when I came out of the hospital in March to see how I was doing. When I hung up from him I felt sad because as much as I hated being in the hospital my prognosis was good. His was not. But he never lost faith and he always wanted to know how my father was. In fact he used to call my father several times a day just to say hello to him; knowing how much it meant to my father to receive the call. I could go on and on about Rabbi Ezra Labaton and how he helped make this world a much better place when he left it than how it was when he first arrived here. We will miss him forever – but always remember and be inspired by his humility, intelligence, sincerity and his love of the Torah and its messages. I thought about what I can do to honor him. What did he mean to me? He was always there. I would leave a message on his machine and he would always call back. He was always there. I guess the first step to making a positive impact is just being there. Once you are there its up to you whether to act or to watch. The Rabbi watched, learned and taught – and he was there. He was always there.

  8. Morris Tabush says:

    I don’t know where to start… I met Rabbi Labaton about 23 years ago when my family started going to West Deal Shul. Keep in mind we live 2 miles away and had closer shuls to choose from, but the spirit of West Deal (as i always called it), everything from the warmth and people, to the events, the youth programs, and of course, the Rabbi, made it well worth the 30 minute walk to what was at that time a small old building. I vividly remember practicing my bar mitzvah speech in the “old shul” with my father and the Rabbi watching and giving me pointers throughout. I remember all the holidays in the shul, and will never forget the Rabbi’s reading of the Megillah every Purim. To talk about the amazing leadership of Rabbi Labaton – just look at the shul he built over 30 years, it literally became the focal point of the entire Deal community. The “be nice to mom” pre-pesach shabbat dinner, started in West Deal (and for many years was much more than just dinner). YMD, the youth group which inspired hundreds and built many leaders (which I was proud to be a part of for almost 6 years), part of West Deal. The deal community’s only Holocaust Memorial program every year, Yachad Shabbatons, senior citizen programs, and much more – all in West Deal. Of course these programs and many many others were the efforts of the committee and entire shul, but the inspiration and leadership (and much of the logistics) all came from the Rabbi and his wife Emily. I’ll never forget, for the 2 years that I was involved in running YMD (1999-2000) how many times I leaned on the Labaton family for advice, guidance, and support. When I was reluctant to have a Yachad Shabbaton, it was Mrs. Labaton who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. When we needed ideas for Seminar programming, we got it. The events we ran, and more importantly, the experience that I got, was simply amazing. Another thing that I always admired, which Rabbi Kassin mentioned yesterday, was the way that whenever someone was speaking in Shul on Shabbat, be it a guest Rabbi, a fund raiser, or even just the “shul announcements”, the Rabbi never sat back in his chair and just listened, rather he was always at the edge of his seat, leaning towards the speaker, with his eyes wide open and a huge smile across his face – he couldn’t be more interested or more proud of whoever was up there speaking at his pulpit. Finally (for now, at least) I’ll never forget something the Rabbi said this past summer. He was talking about mitzvot, which are most important, which do we keep better than others… and ended his derasha by saying something along the lines of “At the end of our days, when we face the Bore Olam, and he asks us to account for the way we lived our life, what will we say? I want to be able to say ‘I tried my hardest, and while I wasn’t perfect, did the best I could, and hope I came close'”. Rabbi, you were a beacon of leadership and inspiration for the entire Syrian/Sephardic community, and will be missed. The lessons you taught through not only your shiurim and advice, but the way you lived your life, live on through your family and the thousands of community members, Rabbis, and others who were fortunate enough to know you.

  9. Steve Bar Yakov Gindi says:

    With great sadness we have heard of the passing of Rabbi Ezra Labaton OBM, Rabbi of Magen David of West Deal, but really much more. Great Support I am really sad that Rabbi Labaton passed away. I know that he supported so many people in so many different ways, including myself and many relatives, Emotionally, Spiritually, Family Counseling, economic help and guidance. I feel that it was a great privilege to write a Sefer Torah in his HONOR before he passed on. Rabbi Labaton’s completed his doctoral thesis about a year ago while still fighting cancer. His thesis is Rabienu Avraham Ben Harambam available. Saddened I feel really bad that Rabbi Labaton passed away after years of suffering, He was like a Rabbi, uncle. brother, friend , partner and therapist, for myself and tons of our Gindis too and many Syrian Jews and Jews of all flavors. He never, ever sold out on his principles Blessings of not knowing more sadness to the whole Labaton Family, Steve

  10. Rabbi Marc D. Angel says:

    We join the Labaton family in mourning the passing of Rabbi Ezra Labaton, one of the great American rabbis of our generation. Rabbi Labaton served for many years as rabbi of the Magen David Congregation of West Deal, New Jersey.My personal and professional friendship with Ezra goes back about forty years. To me, he was one of the bright stars in the contemporary rabbinate in general, and in the Sephardic rabbinate in particular.The Talmud (Ta’anit 4a) cites the opinion of Rav Ashi that “any Talmid Hakham who is not hard as iron is no Talmid Hakham!” What he meant was: a rabbi must have strong principles, must be courageous in upholding these principles, must not bend under pressure. Ezra was a man of integrity and high principles. He was authentic, he knew who he was. In a world where so many rabbis (and others!) adopt artificial personae to pass themselves off to impress others, Ezra was genuine. He could not be pressured or intimidated by the “right” or by the “left.” He was a proud upholder of the Syrian Sephardic tradition as he understood it, and he was firm in his convictions.Shortly after Rav Ashi’s statement, the Gemara goes on to quote Ravina: “Even so, a person must teach himself the quality of gentleness.” While it is vital to be strong in one’s principles, it is equally important to be gentle. One teaches not by threatening or coercing, but by demonstrating a spirit of love, kindness and gentleness. Ezra was strong and courageous…and he also was a model of gentleness. He always seemed to have a smile on his face, a sparkle in his eye; he always seemed to have a kind word to share; he always carried himself with dignity and humility. He didn’t talk at people, but engaged with them as a caring friend and teacher.Ezra was a highly erudite scholar. He was deeply steeped in rabbinic literature and had a searching mind open to new ideas, curious to learn about various fields of intellectual endeavor. He was comfortable in the rationalist school of Rambam, but was much at home in the spiritual world of Rabbi Abraham son of Rambam. He was a unique blend of traditional and modern scholarship.Ezra, Ezra, Me’ayin Yavo Ezri? With the passing of Rabbi Ezra Labaton, our world has become smaller and darker. Where will we find another leader with such stellar personal and intellectual qualities? Where will we find Sephardic rabbis who are true to themselves and to their traditions, who are authentic, strong, gentle, intellectually vibrant?Zekher Tsaddik livrakha: The memory of the righteous is a blessing. We pray that the memory of Rabbi Ezra Labaton will be a source of blessing, strength and happiness to his family, his community and to all Israel, now and for generations to come.

  11. Irwin Cohen says:

    fond memory I have of Rabbi Labaton happened on my wedding night. Although my family was fortunate enough to know him from when we were just a small community starting up in West Deal ( I miss those days), it took several years and the right timing for him to reveal this story. While under the Chuppah he looked at Lisa and me during his speech and said he wanted to thank us. For what we wondered? “Well” he said, “many years ago when I was just a boy, I lived pretty far away from my Yeshiva. I had no other way to get there than to walk. One particularly cold day day while I was walking, your Grandfather whom I did not know pulled over and asked me where I was going. I told him I was walking to school. He told me to get in and that would drive me. I knew he was a nice man from our community so I accepted his ride. From that day on for several years, I would go to your grandfathers shul every morning and then he would drive me to school. So now I want to thank you Irwin and Lisa for allowing me to partially repay a long owned debt to your grandfather by performing your wedding ceremony.” Rabbi, you will be sorely missed. Rest in Peace. Irwin

  12. Rebecca Boim Wolf says:

    I bumped into Sara a few months ago on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and asked her why she was in New York as I had last seen her in Jerusalem this past winter. She told me that she had just come from her father’s defense of his dissertation. I was in awe (and a little jealous as a lapsed PhD candidate myself) and inspired. To persevere and never give up after 30 years is incredible and speaks volumes about Rabbi Labaton. As a history teacher and someone who always loved history, I am probably one of the few students of Rabbi Labaton who actually liked and appreciated the timelines of Jewish history he would make us memorize and quiz us on constantly. Thanks to Rabbi Labaton, I will never forget that Amos lived in the 8th century BCE or that the first Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE. I think that was also the last time I ever heard anyone mention Amos. Although Rabbi Labaton spoke way too fast and sometimes over our heads, I have fond memories of listening and watching him teach Navi with enthusiasm and passion. Emily, I spent many nights over the course of many months in your home as we prepared together for my Bat Mitzvah. I loved learning with you and being in your house surrounded by words of Torah. I can still recite the opening lines to my speech. Sara, I know your father must have been so proud that you are following in his scholarly footsteps. My sincerest condolences to you both and to your whole family. Rabbi Labaton was a true giant of the Jewish community and we will all miss him. Baruch Dayan Emet

  13. Richard (Elliot) Dweck says:

    “Optimism” – Rabbi Labaton was my rabbi, mentor, friend and practically family. I went to Israel to study in yeshiva in 1995. I remember the many letters we sent back and forth to one another. We discussed the past, present and future of the community. He challenged me and he always made me feel that perhaps I was challenging him. I remember hanging the Magen David Star, which had his picture and words of torah, on my wall in my dorm room. I was so proud of being from Magen David of West Deal. Last week, I was going through my library and pulled out Joseph Telushkin’s book “Jewish Wisdom” and found Rabbi Labaton’s inscription wishing me a great year of study in Israel. He always had a warmth, a smile, a touch that made you feel that all was right with the world. No matter how bleak the future looked, he would always give you a reason to look at the glass half full. Sometimes, I wondered how he could be so naive. Does he not see the reality of the world around him? His never ending optimism taught me how life is all about perspective. It’s far too easy to give in to pessimism, but optimism is the real struggle and one we must keep ourselves in if we are to change the world.

  14. Emily Milo Nadjar says:

    Too many feelings and memories to know what to say …. It is a great loss of a very special Jew who lived in today’s world embracing it living Torah and teaching it’s value … Not many around like him today ….. I’m so sad for his wonderful family and I’m so sad for us ….. Another great light has been extinguished in this world but it’s shining bright upstairs… Zechuto tagen aleinu LITOVA amen!!!!

  15. Linda Franco says:

    Rabbi Labaton was our modern day Maccabee. Whoever is with Hashem come with Me. In terms of community awareness, subjects such as ethics, infertility, older singles, domestic violence…the Rabbi used his shul as a platform of awareness and enlightenment. Come learn, come do what you can to repair the world. Don’t be afraid to take a stand for what’s right and important in being a proud Jew. My experience and time with the Rabbi was limited and short term. Yet he was always a phone call away for any advice and guidance. Thank you for giving light, sense of encouragement and legacy. We’ve not only lost a Beloved Rabbi, but a Maccabee. Baruch Dayan Emet.

  16. Meyer Laniado says:

    I feel there is a void, a very large void. While this is a painful feeling in the pit of my stomach, I also find it inspiring. On the one hand I see and hear about many who found comfort in knowing they had someone to turn to, lean on, and guide them. There literally were thousands of people who took comfort in knowing they could call on Rabbi Labaton for counseling, business advice, halakhic questions, help with academic research or school work, financial assistance or just someone to turn to when times were getting tough. Rabbi Ezra Labaton was a beacon of light, standing for truth, intellectual rigor and ethics. The very fact that Rabbi Labaton was with us was comforting for thousands, even those who may not have spoken to the Rabbi frequently. They knew he was there, and that offered great comfort and security. The rock we used to lean on is no longer there. What can we do now? How can we create that sense of security again? Where can we turn? Who can fill all of these roles the Rabbi filled that are no longer in our lives? I find this inspiring because one man has made a significant impact on the world. That means, that we can also make a difference, we can also better others lives. I remember him always believing in me and encouraging me, and I imagine that he was supportive to many others, encouraging each of them. Let us keep that encouragement fresh in our minds and work on continuing his legacy. We may not be able to take on everything that he did, but we should be inspired to take on at least one aspect of the Rabbi. There is a large gap now and it is up to us to fill . We can fill the void by reaching out to others. When we see someone who looks down emotionally, we can ask them sincerely how they are doing, and be ready to lend an ear or a helping hand. We can care about and launch initiatives that concern the broader community, whether our local town, state, country or those in another country that are in need. We can organize Torah classes that utilize intellectual rigor, philosophy, history, and science in the striving for truth. We can create community programming, whether for the youth, couples, adults or senior citizens. We can create “be kind to mom” dinners, Holocaust memorial programs, seminars and shabbaton’s, invite Yachad into our community and many more similar events. There are many individuals who used to go to the Rabbi for financial assistance (his hesed fund), we can also try and help those individuals, where can they turn now? Let’s make the Rabbi proud by continuing his legacy, all that he built, all that he taught us, and all that he believed in. If each of us picks up just one of the pieces, we may be able to fill the gap many of us feel. This will allow us to move forward, progress further, and continue the momentum that our Rabbi Ezra Labaton started.

  17. Eli Shaubi says:

    One year ago on Labor Day Weekend, at the request of Meyer Laniado, Rabbi ‘Ezra Labaton graciously agreed to give a small group of friends a lecture on the thought of Abraham Maimonides, whom he studied through his PHD research. In that lecture, he opened my eyes in properly understand that great man whom he doesn’t a number of decades studying. As a result of the lecture, I similarly incorporated a much larger portion of my Senior Honors Thesis to studying that man as well. I continued on to study Rabbi Labaton’s dissertation in great detail, through which I felt I also came to better understand Rabbi Labaton and his thoughts. I frequently used him as my aid through my entire hectic thesis project. As small as my interaction with him was in person, I feel that I came to know him and that he helped me through my largest academic achievement. Through that, he came to meet a lot to me. I know for a fact that he was also a great person, kind, sweet, intelligent; a great leader; and a wonderful father, Mordy Labaton. We lost today a great Hakham, in knowledge and de’oth, who I am sure will be greatly missed.

  18. Gail Cohen says:

    Rabbi Labaton was an amazing person. I grew up going to seminars with him and his family as well as shabbatons in the West Deal Shul. He was so sweet, genuine and smart. He touched so many of us and he will never be forgotten. A true leader who reached out to people and made people happy. A big loss in our community. He will be missed greatly.

  19. David Dweck says:

    Farewell my Beloved Rabbi Labaton Dear Rabbi, How does one say goodbye to such a polarizing figure? It has been only 7 days since your passing and your impact on so many lives including myself is immeasurable. The stories seem to be endless in how many lives you touched and inspired. I had the merit of knowing you since I was 7 years old (31 years)and I thank Borah Olam for every minute I was able to know you. Saying goodbye to the most impactful person in my life is so difficult for me. The most difficult is how can I capture all that you have done and taught me in my life. I will do my best to express my gratitude to you( do they have email in heaven?) My Elementary school years -From 3rd grade you have been a central figure in my life. At that time for a few years I use to get to shul at 745 am (before there was 1st minyan in deal) and join with you for “Hodoo” and you would teach me what to say and give me parts to read with the adults in the Shabbat minyan. How about those Friday Night Tanach classes? As a 7 year old I couldn’t get enough of them? I used to sit in the front row next to you and watch you challenge everyone with question after question and use words I never heard of. They were the most enjoyable times as a child. During Tefilah, I would have the pleasure of sitting only a few seats away from you. You were always gentle , kind and even funny. You always seem to make everyone feel special whether the smallest child or older adult feel so welcome. As my pre- teen years came to be and my Bar Mitsvah was approaching I had the honor of you being my teacher. At the time I would sit in your office in the old shul for an hour twice a week and learn my Bar Mitvah part. You made me a cassette tape like you did others to practice. I was able to hear your voice over and over again until I got the right Taam or pronunciation. I would come home from school and couldn’t wait to run to shul to learn my part. And every time we finished a lesson , you would always give such words of encouragement and end off with” Good News for the Jews.” You had that way of making me feel special all the time. My High School Years- Who could ever forget those years with you? I had the pleasure of having you as my teacher. I can never forget my first class with you when you just spoke Hebrew and I was sitting in front row and had to know idea what you were saying( at that time most of kids my age didn’t speak Hebrew well, nor did we have a class that the teacher only spoke hebrew).I spent 45 minutes trying to figure out what you were saying and you were emphatic only Bivrit but ask when you don’t understand a word. But the pleasure I had that the Rabbi of my shul is my teacher in school was immense. As time went on you started to use more English and the class became a little easier to understand. I say easier because the Big Vocabulary words then became the new language to try to understand. You always knew how to keep everyone on their toes and intrigued. It was by far my best class in High school. How dare I forget the famous dates of jewish history? (586 bce, 70 ad, exodus of Egypt 1200 bce) We couldn’t forget because those dates were on every test! Then the themes of each book of Tanach (from shoftim to post exilic prophets, etc.. ) You made up your own words and catch phrases( “kiddushification”, “God’s uniqueness is unique”) . I was sad at the time with these new words because I finally understood them but never saw them on the SAT’S. My College Years- After studying in Israel for the year and applying to YU for College, I really was able to really learn how great you really were. There was this glow in your eye that I saw many of times when it came to working with college students. It is like you could never get enough of being around them. I felt like I was one of those students you took under your wing. I remember reviewing for my finals in College and on many occasions and it was like you knew the subject better than the teacher( “and you did by the way”). You would spend two hours and challenge me with questions and review the materials. Then you would ask me how I did the next week! Sometimes I couldn’t believe my own results and how well I did. After studying with you the test was much easier,lol! You loved our sessions together so much we spent the next three years every Friday morning learning Moreh Nevuchim one on one .Those moments were priceless and I “ got the flash of lightning” of how brilliant you really were .But it wasn’t only your academic scholarship that I was enamored with but your life lessons you felt the need to teach me. I had the pleasure of running Ymd during my college years with you as my mentor. I would call you and Emily at 1 am or whatever hours asking advice and checking in if I was doing things right. The countless meetings in your office where there wasn’t a place to sit because of your books, some how you made room and took notes on old deal Sephardic youth center letter head from 1986. How lucky was I to have you in my life. The college years are about shaping character and cultivating knowledge and you helped me maximize that potential. Post College Years Until Marriage- You told me after College it is not over. You told you need to do more and be productive in the world and help as many people out there. You encouraged me to go to Social work school and do it for Tikkun Olam. You were such an idealist and and you taught me to go after my dreams and don’t let any obstacles stop me from achieving my dreams. All you did was encourage and motivate. How many Syrian guys were there out there that went to social work school?( there was one Joe Beyda and that was it) It was such a novel idea! But you said you can do it , you’ll figure it out! I remember going to you when I was struggling with Racism in America and how my black professor called me a racist in my class Social Work School. And I remember your exact words even though I heard it many times Tzelem Elokim. I always thought it was nice phrase but how does it apply to my life? You explained to me blacks , Mexicans , non-jews are all created in the image of God. And your exact words were” not only Syrians are made in image of God but all people.” It was at that point it hit me like a ton of bricks this is a real concept. But I reflected and realized how you were a role model and not just a preacher. I thought to myself, did I ever hear the Rabbi call someone an obide or spic or an obide?” He never spoke down to anyone and never felt above anyone else. The next week I went back to my class and apologized to my black professor and three fellow black classmates. I told them it is wrong of me to hold these views and I will work my hardest to get to know them and not judge them based on stereotypes. That day the students and professor gave me the biggest hug. When I Called the Rabbi to report the story he was all choked up and he said you did the biggest Kiddush Hashem and that’s what it is all about. Married Years- How Could I forget your sagely advice when you met with my wife and I. All you stressed was communication and to constantly communicate. You gave us the sheets on how to fight fair? I am like were never going to fight, she is the right one she loves me! He said oh you will! Learn the rules! How Can I forget your 20 minute speech you gave at my wedding? I couldn’t get enough of them( crowd felt it was too long,lol) You always knew what to say and when to say it! It was a gift you had. As I moved to Brooklyn , I missed you dearly but we always knew how to catch up and talk on phone and make up the time in the summer. Anytime,I had a problem you were always a phone call away. You would even just call to check in and that’s when I felt most special. How can my Rabbi have time between all that he does and studies pick up the phone and call you ask how your doing? Your Lessons of life resonated with me even though I was in Brooklyn. With my Wife , we raise our children with all the wonderful values you have taught me. 8 years ago,I embarked on a Tanach project with my kids and started a class of ten kids each Shabbat to learn one perek of Tanach starting with the Neviim Rishonim. My kids and their friends got so excited when I taught it. My son Sion asked me why are you so excited when you teach it? I said to him ,this is how the Rabbi taught it. I saw myself teaching it exactly like you. Saying the same words ,same lessons and challenging them with questions but more importantly like you seem to always do bring it down to their level so they can apply it to their life. But the real pleasure set in when I invited you to my house in the summer for a siyyum because we finally finished Joshua and Shoftim and I wanted you to come over and test them. What I really wanted you to see Rabbi is how your teachings were being handed down. My kids and their friend were all excited but we had one problem. It was torrential rains and it seemed that you wouldn’t able to come but all of a sudden you showed up at the door and I will never forget your words: “Sorry I am late.” I said to you, “are u joking?” I couldn’t believe it how you showed up and all you said to me is I can’t let the kids down. As you sat down, all of a sudden I see you pull out index cards. I was in awe you took time out of your schedule to quiz the kids,Wow! And you just engaged the kids like you did when I WAS 8 YEARS OLD. My kids still talk about that day. They keep asking me one question until this day(after looking at your index cards),Does he really know how to read his own hand writing because they couldn’t understand one word! Farewell Rabbi-I want to thank you for being involved in every stage my life. You were my Teacher , professor,mentor , psychologist ,friend, and role model. I will never forget you and your life lessons that you taught me I will never let them ever be extinguished. I will continue to live my life with all the ideals and values you taught me. I hope you have found the” Daat Elokim” you so eagerly wanted and strived for. Your Student -David Dweck LCSW

  20. Anonymous says:

    As it always happens, when a Giant Rabbi leaves us only then we appreciate the time we had him. There are no words to express what a tremendous loss and void our community now has. We lost a huge pillar of our world. My family has been connected to rabbi labaton since he moved to deal. I can talk about his intellect, as he helped me write my Masters thesis on science and religion, but that’s not what I think about when I think of rabbi labaton. Behind his massive wisdom was a warm, caring and deeply religious man. I spent countless hours in his office while he helped me through not only my thesis but personal issues. I called him many times with intricate questions on halacha and to ask advice about my own life. I remember marveling at the wide array and diverse books on his shelves. He knew everything about everything. But the softness of his character will forever be imprinted on my mind. Seeing him at a wedding months after we spoke about a personal issue he would gently nod at me and ask how things were progressing. He made this world and more importantly his community a better place to live. I wish I absorbed more of his words, classes and advice because I don’t think I will ever meet such a friend, rabbi and mentor. I will forever be grateful for the many hours I spent in that office writing, confiding and simply discussing the most intricate and delicate of subjects. I hope that I can use the lessons that you have taught me every single day of my life. I am lucky to have learned from such a giant of the community. I hope these stories give his wife Emily and children comfort, knowing that He touched every single person he met in so many different ways.

  21. Florence Shomer says:

    Rabbi Labaton was a special friend, teacher, someone to ulste ; so easy to like and admire. Whenever I saw him I wanted to hug him but couldn’t. I first met the Rabbi about 11 years ago when my husband Harvey took me to a class in Brooklyn. From then on I was hooked and continued going to classes. The first night I couldn’t keep up with his fast talking, but that got to be very easy as time went on. Rabbi Labaton married us with beautiful words and thoughts. He helped us with wonderful sound advice when it was needed. He was so smart and ethical and taught and showed us how the Torah is a true guide to life. He made you always want to do better and be better. The void in my life due to Rabbi Labaton’s passing is a great one and I will miss him terribly!

  22. Heshy Rosenwasser says:

    Rabbi Labaton was, to me, the voice of erudition and moderation in a Torah world that unfortunately has been sliding further and further to the right. When called to adjudicate disputes he could always be counted on to give a learned, reasoned decision that would be fair to all parties involved. I had the honor to have him as my Mesader Kiddushin at my wedding in 1996. His loss is a great one to the community and to Jewry as a whole. May his memory be for a blessing and may all his words of Torah live on.

  23. Richard (Elliot) Dweck says:

    “He may be gone, but his legacy will never die” – A week after his passing, it is really hitting me hard. WOW! is all I can say. To think how much I took for granted in our relationship. To know we will have no more monthly hour+ calls, no more letters and emails written back and forth, no more knowing he is there no matter what. He was a simple, yet complex human being. He was there when I was 5 years old running around the shul. He taught me my bar mitzvah lesson and made sure I had the shortest possible part (Hanukah), because he understood the capability of each and every person. He came to the house on the Friday night of his son’s bar mitzvah to help console us after the loss of my grandfather. He was at the hospital when my nephew was born. We met for years before Arbit in the winters to learn and discuss life. I always felt like I was growing with him. When I moved to NYC, TX, DC and MD., he called me every month. Even when he knew I was angry with Judaism and wanted no part, he still called just to see how Richie Dweck was doing. He saw where I was and always made sure not to judge, but to focus on me as a human being created in God’s image. As I began reconnecting, he understood the famous quote “Life is a Journey, not a Destination”. We had conversations about Viktor Frankl, Twerski, Heschel, the Rav, Rambam, and so many others. He truly loved people for where they were at and not for where they should be. He lived what he espoused for all mankind. I remember when I started emailing a few years ago and asked if he read some of the articles I sent, he said I don’t really have time to go through emails, meetings, classes, calls and so on. But, then I started to receive responses via his IPAD. I was shell-shocked. The most anti-technological person I knew, started using an IPAD. The phrase my brother used below “Good news for the Jews”, was the optimism he exuded. He never made me feel less than and always wanted me to feel loved and that he was thinking of me. In my darkest moments, he was compassionate and loving. Words cannot do justice to who he was and his legacy. He was one of the greats of this generation. A class I will leave you with- http://merkaz.com/lectures/RLabaton_Soloveitchik1_05-03-04.mp3. I cannot even imagine how many possible perspectives will be about who he was, what he thought, and what he stood for. Time will tell…. Thank you Rabbi for everything you have done for me and I ask Mechilah if I caused you any “sirrus” over the years. Rest in peace Rav and I will do my best to carry on your legacy. Love, “Richie” as you always called me….

  24. Harvey Shomer says:

    Many years before I had the privilege of becoming Rabbi Labaton’s student and friend, I had a business association with a member of his congregation. One day a doctor from Monmouth Medical Center called my office saying that this man’s young son had suffered a seizure in school (Hillel) and was brought to the hospital. The doctor said the boy was okay, but needed to be picked up promptly. He was trying to reach the father. Unfortunately, I could not reach the father, and the mother, as well was not home. Not knowing who to call in Deal, I called Magen David, introduced myself to Rabbi Labaton, and asked if he might know where I could reach the boy’s mother. Rabbi Labaton told me not to worry. He said he would go pick up the boy from the hospital and take him to his house until he could reach the mother. This is but one side of the selfless, kind, and caring giant that we have lost. T.N.S.B.H.

  25. Harvey Shomer says:

    Rabbi Labaton, If not for you, I would always wonder if my sister & I made the right decisions in the last months and the last days of my Mother’s life. I was so concerned to do right by my Mother AND to do right by Hashem. You showed me that they were one in the same. You explained the 4 Rabbinical positions and helped me to understand which was applicable to my Mother’s situation. You taught me from the Gemara that we must not shorten life, but also should not prolong death- a concept I had never before learned. Your deep Torah understanding and ability to teach with compassion and friendship will always warm my heart. Throughout those countless hours, phone calls and follow up calls you yourself were weak from your chemo treatments. I would ask how you were feeling, sometimes suggesting we talk later when you felt stronger. You brushed me off and insisted upon discussing my Mother’s condition and how we were handling it. In crises, in her final days, when I called and you were resting, Emily insisted upon knowing what was happening. She advised me (having had similar circumstances with her Mother) and said you would call me as soon as you awoke. You did. And you followed up repeatedly never letting me feel alone or lost. When Hashem took my Mother you, in a weakened state, insisted upon coming to Brooklyn to give hesped at her levayah. You gathered your strength, and in your wisdom captured my Mother’s essence in your speech, bringing us to tears. All of my thanks and appreciation could never be adequate. Your friendship, teaching, compassion, and sincerity through this most difficult time in my life has taught me so much. With Hashem’s help, I will strive to always follow your teachings and example to live a Torah life. Rabbi, I love you.

  26. Allison Noam says:

    All I keep thinking is how sad it is that we will never again see Rabbi Labaton giving a derasha behind that podium on Shabbat, and how strange it is that we’ll never again hear his recognizable voice reciting berachot from under the chuppah. He will be truly missed. Baruch Dayan HaEmet.

  27. Sonia Dweck says:

    Rabbi Labaton was an extremely unique individual. He was there for me and my family through so much. I remember how special it was when he honored us by coming for a shabbat lunch or a sukkot lunch. He would engage us all and sing pizmonim with my husband and children. I remember the friday night that he had his sons bar mitsvah dinner, he came to the house to help console us only moments after my father in law past away. He helped instill leadership and Jewish values in my children. For years I would make a prayer for him as I lit the shabbat candles. Last week I cried when lighting, because I could no longer ask for his speedy recovery. It hit me deep and hard. He did so much for us and was our friend, our mentor, our teacher, and our rabbi. Thank you Rabbi for your time, inspiration, love, and kindness. Your candle might have blown out, but the light you radiated will be everlasting. Sincerely yours, Sonia Dweck

  28. Anonymous says:

    I am deeply saddened by the loss of this giant of a man. My world is really shattered. The only solace I find is in my own actions and doing my best in every possible situation. Rabbi Labaton taught me, among many other things, to be conscious about my decisions and actions. He taught me that what I do effects all of those around me. This is something I wrote the day after his passing. It is encouragement for me and I hope it can be for everyone who reads it as well: Right now we are all very emotional about the passing of a giant of a person, our dear Rabbi Labaton. We are all thinking about how he has affected us and touched so many. But inevitably our pain, awareness of his story and of the extremely fine line between life and death will be forgotten. We will forget the pain, and get lost in our daily lives. We cannot afford to have this event not be a life changer for all of us. We cannot simply take away from this “to do one small thing”. Rabbi Labaton taught universal, eternal concepts that have changed the entire human history. We cannot afford to have his passing be “remembered” by a minor detail. It is time we all, look inside ourselves and deeply examine, however painful it may be- our strengths and weaknesses and seek to change. It’s no longer a matter of changing what one does- but how one approaches God, other humans, and life itself. It is time we all looked inside and discovered our mission. We all have incredible and unique potential it’s time we all acted to actualize it. Life is too short, as we all saw clearly, to spend wandering with no goal or purpose. This event should trigger a complete change in how we live. Its time we all start to emulate Rabbi Labaton and dedicate ourselves to making this world better. It’s all in our hands. The choice is ours- will we dedicate out lives to truth, kindness, and Torah or will those be hobbies that we do when we are not busy. We define how Rabbi Labatons lives on in this world. The choice is ours.

  29. Alison Avidar says:

    Always a smile on Rabbi Labaton’s face. What an amazing person who was loved by all. He was an inspiration and role model to the entire community. Words cannot explain how special he truly was. He reached out to every person. He will surely be missed for decades.

  30. Rabbi Raymond Harari says:

    EULOGY FOR RABBI EZRA LABATON DECEMBER 5, 2013 This eighth day of Hanukkah is ordinarily one of happiness and intense light – when we kindle eight candles, we recite the full hallel and read about the multiple korbanot brought by the princes of Torah times. But with the passing of Rabbi Labaton, our day has been darkened. The light will never be the same. Usually, eulogies are not offered on Hanukkah. But in the words of a contemporary rabbi: מותר להספיד דברים קצרים על חכם וגדול בתורה לפניו. It is permissible to eulogize in an abridged manner for a scholar and esteemed person in Torah. Rabbi Labaton surely qualifies. With all the warning signs, I was in denial and did not prepare myself emotionally for this day to come so soon. He appeared, after all, to be invincible. My words therefore represent unbaked, raw thoughts formulated in the wee hours of the night. For his family, he was a beacon of light, a guide, a strong pillar. For the Magen David -Deal community, Rabbi Labaton was an untiring community servant, dynamic leader and an exemplar of Torah values. For his students in synagogue, schools and countless other venues, he was a provocative, reflective, energetic, challenging teacher who seemed never to give up or give in to human frailty. For me, he was simply an extraordinary friend for close to 50 years – who will never be replaced. Four years separate the two of us. But that mattered very little as we grew up in Beth Torah Congregation, pretending to be hazzanim, arranging youth activities and involved fully in synagogue life. In Magen David Day Camp, we were the young inexperienced teachers, anxious to make a difference. Our relationship intensified during the three years of overlap spent in Yeshivah University, when we would typically eat two to three meals together every day of the week except Shabbat. In our free time, we were advisors at seminars run by Yeshiva University and Young Shaare Zion, perused book stores in the Lower East Side, took long walks together, talking about Judaism, marriage, community, sports and everything in between. During our adult years, our contact could not be as frequent. But I cherished the conversations we had on the phone once every week or two, the Friday lunches we ate together during the summers, the visits that we carved out to share our thoughts – get-togethers which were always fast and furious. For me, he was a sounding board, someone with whom I could speak without fear of rejection, a wealth of knowledge and support. We were cut from virtually the same cloth. Indeed, I was often confused with him by people in and around the community. What an honor! Rabbi Labaton greatly impacted my life. In those formative years and ever since, I learned an enormous amount from him. He had a voracious appetite for knowledge, especially Tanakh and Jewish Philosophy. Early on, I was struck by his quest for truth and his unending honest journey to learn and teach the truth he learned. He was probing, analytic and incisive, constantly on some campaign. One thing that turned his stomach — simplistic and fundamentalist solutions to difficult issues. His world was one of complexity, grays, colors, dichotomies and paradoxes. Rabbi Labaton had little interest in materialism, extravagant vacations or new gadgets. Books were his best non-human friends. In fact, anyone who visited his office just once knows that people were not granted seats; seats were reserved for his cherished books. My appreciation and love for books was undoubtedly a bi-product of his passion. I bought my first set of gemarot with him on Division Street in Manhattan; the philosophical books of the Rambam and many others came into my home under his influence. He taught me and countless others that to be a good Jew you had to combine dramatically different values and attitudes. He was steeped in tradition and could quote at will from Tanakh, gemarot and Rambam but he insisted on learning from modernity and benefitting from contemporary knowledge. I remember his intense tefillot and insistence on a spiritual relationship with the Almighty at the same time that he would tolerate nothing but sophisticated meticulous scholarship. He was open to and tolerant of all stripes, but he had a well-defined moral compass that did not allow him to compromise on issues of principle. He had a magnetic personality and could be aggressive when needed but was exceedingly humble, modest and forgiving about his personal honor. Some of Rabbi Labaton’s guiding words were “creativity,” “dynamism,” “profound.” Yet he was punctilious in his commitment to Halakhah and reverent of the Sages of old. His world was one in which he delighted in the melodies of pizmonim, Sephardic reading of the Torah together with a reverence for the Hasidic masters (Emily’s ancestors), and lifelong colleagues identified with the Ashkenazic world. The community came to know him as the founding rabbi of Magen David of West Deal. He was not just its rabbi; he was its soul. And its soul is gone. He never missed an opportunity to teach. His abiding lessons about tiqun olam (a Jew’s responsibility to repair the world) and Selem Elokim the community’s obligation to hear the silenced voice of the disadvantaged; each individual’s mandate to do sedeq umishpat – justice and righteousness; the need to learn the lessons of our painful past, including the Holocaust, and memorialize those lessons; the privilege each Jew has to form a personal relationship with the Almighty; the commandment to respect the indigent as much as, if not more than, the affluent – all these lessons have become part of the fabric of the West Deal community. Over the last decade and a half, I have come to know another side of my friend – his indomitable spirit, his courage, his positive thinking and his upbeat can-do attitude. We spoke very little about his illness. He wasn’t interested in talking about his multiple treatments or surgeries. And even when I pressed him, he would regale me about how great life is. When I would come home from one of our fast-and-furious talks, Vicky would often ask me how he’s doing. I could only answer – “I think he’s fine.” We didn’t even talk about the cancer. Only in late August did he once refer to himself as sick, and that was in the context of talk about what he would do in his retirement years. Neither of us realized then that those days would never come. But despite that, look at how many dreams he achieved – as a loving father, husband, son and brother; an always-there community rabbi; a builder of institutions; a gifted lecturer; an accomplished scholar with Semikhah and the long coveted Ph.D. Doctorate. My life cannot be the same without him. I will miss his wit, his greeting me with his cheerful רחמים מן השמים, his deep understanding of the community and how to navigate this world, his instant ability to see through façade, and his love of wisdom. But most of all, I will miss his friendship, a friendship I just assumed would live on forever. And in a sense it will, because I will always continue to hear his voice, his humor, his passion resonating in me. I have no words of consolation for his family: His mother – Doris Labaton His sisters & brothers – Sari, David / Robin & Eve His wife – Emily His children – Sara & Gabriel, Ovadia, Devora & Mica, Mordehai His grandson – Ezra But I hope and pray that our families will continue to share our lives together.

  31. Morris Cohen says:

    In Memoriam – Rabbi Ezra Labaton A’H – Our Brightest Star. Delivered on Shabbat Shemot 12/21/13. Some of my favorite memories of Rabbi Labaton A”H were his Motzaei Shabbat classes dealing with issues regarding Science and Religion. When everyone else would bolt out of shul as soon as Shabbat ended, a few regulars such as Stanley, Charlie, Dr. Shamash, Yossi and myself would remain. As Charlie would prepare our teacher’s favorite green tea, I would look forward with the greatest anticipation to this series of special classes, commencing each Winter, when Shabbat ended earlier. Although, I must extend my apologies to the Labaton family for my selfish monopolization of the Rabbi’s time spent away from them, this sublime hour jump-started my entire week. Rabbi Labaton was the first spiritual leader I had ever met who had the courage to delve into subjects dealing with Maase Bereishit or Maase Merkavah, as Ha’Rambam demanded of us. He helped us grapple with the mysteries of G-d’s universe, to not only help us better understand but, to love our Creator- Boreh Olam. These subjects were not for the faint-hearted. Yet, for us brave few who attended, he would expertly guide us through our perplexity without holding back his breadth of knowledge – in complex matters of both science and philosophy. Our Rabbi would read to us from his collection of essays, articles and books written by scientists and scholars, as part of his singular quest for truth. He always presented a balanced approach– showing us various sides and opinions on certain hot topics still under debate. I would come home almost giddy from these discussions. Rabbi Labaton used to describe a sensation he sometimes experienced when attending certain lectures given by The Rav Soloveitchik. He said he would come home feeling: “Intellectually innebriated”… I could definitely relate, because that was a feeling that I could ascribe to my own Saturday night sessions with Rabbi Labaton – which always felt like they ended much too soon. As the Rabbi rattled off certain scientific facts of the cosmos at his typical speed of light pace, such as: • The weight of the sun is a billion trillion tons OR… • The speed of the ever-expanding universe is 73.8 kilometers per second, OR… • The distance between our Milky Way galaxy to Andromeda- the next nearest galaxy- is 2.5 million light years, etc., etc., etc…. …. my head would spin- just like a planet in our solar system ! As he described the properties of gamma rays down to sub-atomic particles, it was all meant to convey a deep respect and appreciation of G-d’s masterwork: His wondrous universe. So, when we say in our daily prayers: “Mah Rabbu Maasecha Adonai, Kulam Behochma Assitah…”, those words would resonate with us. I recently read a quote by Rabbi Marc Angel, former Rabbi of the historic Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue- Shearith Israel, written “In Memoriam to Rabbi Labaton”. He wrote: “To me, he was one of the bright stars in the contemporary Rabbinate in general, and in the Sephardi Rabbinate in particular…” When I read that – I said to myself, how apropos that the Rabbi himself, would be described as a bright star. I was instantly reminded of one of our numerous discussions related to Supernovas. One can easily draw the comparison to Rabbi Labaton; A Supernova is a blindingly bright star that burns like a beacon in the night sky. Let me clarify that… That bright star isn’t actually a star- at least, not anymore. The brilliant point of light is the result of the explosion of a star that has reached the end of its life- known as a Supernova. Supernovas can briefly outshine entire galaxies and radiate more energy than our sun will in its entire lifetime. They’re also the primary source of heavy elements in the universe. During a Supernova, when a massive star explodes at the end of its life, the resulting high energy environment enables the creation of some of the heaviest elements across the universe, scattering the stardust which makes up planets, including our Earth. The Rabbi used to tell us: We are all made of stardust. It sounds like a line from a poem, but there is some solid science behind his statement too: Almost every element on Earth was formed at the heart of a star. So, the next time you’re out gazing at stars twinkling in the night sky, please spare a thought for our Rabbi—our “Brightest of Stars”, who was always bursting forth with the most intense energy, as the infinite light of his Torah wisdom travelled from his amazing mind- to shine onto each and every one of us. As all life on Earth and the atoms in our bodies were created in the furnace of now- long faded stars, our souls have also been imbued with the heavenly light that our dear Rabbi radiated whenever he spoke words of Torah truth. As Elliot Braha reminded us, the light of our souls are still all connected to the Rabbi’s- which is an intriguing and a miraculous thought to be contemplated! Rather than be reminded of the gaping Black Hole caused by his passing, let’s focus on the infinite light of his teachings. His legacy will forever remain the spark that ignited my soul as, I am sure- for those of many fortunate others. May his family find consolation in these words and be forever blessed by his loving memory. Thanks and Shabbat Shalom!

  32. Michael Mishaan says:

    Rabbi Ezra Labaton, A”H–Speech on the Occasion of the Arayat for the Sheloshim, January 1, 2014/29 Tevet 5774 Each and every day since we lost him, I have been thinking about what Rabbi Labaton meant to me and to so many in our community. I have been thinking about what I will do without him, what we will do without him. To whom will we turn for advice on the halacha in a given situation? To whom will we turn for advice on how to deal with a personal issue or problem? What was it about him that makes him so irreplaceable? What was it about him…at the arayat during the shiv’ah, Rabbi Haim Ovadia spoke so well when he described Rabbi Labaton as an integrated, wholesome person, all of his many qualities emanating from the same essence, from his humility, his integrity, his honesty. Closing his remarks, Rabbi Ovadia challenged us to choose just one of the roles played by Rabbi Labaton, to “own it” for ourselves and to do all we could to emulate the Rabbi and to develop that role, that quality to our greatest ability. The roles or qualities that Rabbi Ovadia identified with Rabbi Labaton were the Great Educator, the Community Builder, the Freedom Fighter, the Loving Father and in the way of Moshe Rabbenu and David Hamelech, a ro’eh tson–the Compassionate Pastor. To this list I would add another persona, one that inspired me and has had a great impact on my life. I am referring to Rabbi Labaton, the Pious Intellectual. For me Rabbi Labaton reconciled my curiosity with my tradition. I first encountered Rabbi Labaton when I was about ten or so years old. He was a senior counselor at Magen David Day Camp and I was a young camper. Haham Baruch, a”h, incidentally, was the camp’s rabbi. So when Rabbi Labaton first came to West Deal in 1982 i had fond memories of him and remembered him as the one counselor who was always with kippah and tsitsit. In 1982 i was already attending college. Success there seemed to be predicated on an ability to question, to consider, to be open to different perspectives and points of view. How could one learn otherwise? Yet my religious education to that point really discouraged that line of thinking. Before Rabbi Labaton there was a choice to be made—between open inquiry and halachic observance. If one did not want to fall off the derech, one had to severely constrict his exposure to society at large. One was discouraged from asking certain questions or too many questions. Rabbi Labaton just didn’t seem to fit that picture. So one day I stopped by his office to talk with him. Actually I came to him because I thought, unlike other rabbis I had learned with previously, he would actually be open to discussing his sermon from the previous Shabbat. Met with a warm reception, I spoke with him in a conversation about the parasha that moved to a discussion of science and philosophy and back again. Finding a willing teacher, my questions came fast and furious. Not only did he have answers, he showed me where they came from—from our Torah and from our tradition. Furthermore, not only did he show me where the answers came from, unlike any rabbi i had previously encountered, he encouraged me to ask more questions. In fact, I remember the day when I told him I wanted to learn more. He asked me to hold out my hands and he loaded me up with a half-dozen books on Jewish history and philosophy. In giving me these books, the Rabbi was at once showing me that there was a whole lot more to limud torah than I had been shown and also that it was there for me to acquire, if I could just make the effort. The first great lesson that I learned from Rabbi Labaton, then, was to be proud of my Jewish inheritance, to be proud of my Torah. It could stand up to any intellectual challenge and I should not cede any ground to those intellectuals—or rabbis– who argued or inclined to the contrary. Rather, the Almighty had given us torat emet—and the search for Torah was the search for truth—they were one and the same. Rabbi Labaton also showed me that although choices most definitely did have to be made, halacha was there to guide us in making those choices and if one would consult halacha, oftentimes one could find a path forward. As he used to say, Torah need not be a wall; rather it could be a filter. His love for ideas and his appreciation for nuance and detail, for situation and context, made him a true intellectual, one whose powers of critical thinking ranked right up there with any university professor. But unlike many thinkers to whom I have been exposed, Rabbi Labaton was more than an intellectual, he was an honest intellectual, willing to evaluate and consider other points of view. We live in the Age of the Internet and Social Media, a time when the dizzying pace of technology has enabled us to “connect” without “conversation.” Anyone with an idea can have a blog and there seems to be unlimited bandwidth and an endless number of cable channels. But as our politicians talk past each other and fundamentalists fight fundamentalists from D.C. to Damascus, ideas have increasingly been “liberated” from experience. We find intellectuals who are so enamored of their own ideas that they take little time to check their ideas against reality. Often we find intellectuals who seem to lack a moral compass or who have trouble relating their ideas to people. Not so Rabbi Labaton. Torah was his filter, his compass, his grounding. He was very concerned with halacha and this made him pious. And as much as he loved Torah, he loved people. He loved interacting with them and he loved helping them. This love of Torah and his ability to relate to people made him very spiritual. A Pious Intellectual, it’s become almost a contradiction in terms…. This devout intellect made him difficult to typecast and so, for many, difficult to understand. As someone who was close to Rabbi Labaton, I would be asked on occasion, where are his students? As if to be a student, to respect a man, to adopt his values as one’s own, one had to wear a uniform. As if those who learned from him must be walking behind him lockstep like ducklings behind their mother, moving in unison. At other times I was asked: Where is his kollel? As if a man’s true measure could be quantified by the number of seats his students occupied. We look around and congratulate ourselves on how numerous and crowded are our shuls. And we should, we should be proud of the blossoming of Torah study and observance and never, ever take it for granted. But the measure of a teacher is not merely how many students he may have but what it is that those students accomplish. Rabbi Labaton has turned out people who are social activists, people who are moral–people who at once care about their fellow man and about sanctifying G-d’s name. As many filled seats as we have in our shuls, how many more are sitting elsewhere? As many observant Jews as there are, how many more are not observant? As many religious Jews as there are, how many more are little versed in our tradition, or worse, are simply uninspired? Rabbi Ezra Labaton was not just interested in the committed. He was not just interested in the observant. He was not just interested in the religious. Yes, he wanted all of those people to share in his joy with Torah, to share in his passion for Torah, to share in their inheritance of Torah. But he wanted more! To borrow a metaphor from basketball, a game which he enjoyed—he did not just look to make open jump shots. He was working in the paint, where the contact was heaviest, where the obstacles were fiercest, where the degree of difficulty was greatest. He wanted to make inroads with the uncommitted, with the unobservant, with the irreligious. He wanted to bring them all one step closer, all one step closer to G-d. Rabbi Ezra Labaton’s method, his vision and ultimately his success was much greater than that. His method was to plant seeds of love, seeds of wonder, seeds of faith, seeds of joy, seeds of contentment and seeds of appreciation in the hearts of all those with whom he came into contact. He did it while he was healthy and he did it while he was sick. He did it through his words but, more importantly, he did it with his actions. He was never down and he was never out. He never complained, he always persevered. And if he had that strength to persevere, than so could I and so could others. Rabbi Labaton led by example. If there is a person whose appreciation of the Almighty, whose faith in his fellow man, whose respect for our law did not grow after spending the least bit of time with Rabbi Labaton—regardless of the appreciation, faith or respect that man may have possessed prior—I have not heard of him. And if such a man does exist he is undoubtedly a lonely man, because to know Rabbi Labaton, to know Rabbi Labaton was to smile, along with G-d. In an age of conformity, in an age of comfort, in an age of cha-riz-ma, Rabbi Labaton was about none of the above. He did what he believed was right, not what he knew was popular. He worked with those with whom he could build but did not obsess over those who were not interested in trying to understand him. He did not rest on his laurels, but pushed himself to prepare for every class, every sermon, every occasion. And as challenging as it might be, he sold the steak of Torah, not the “sizzle.” Because although it had to be digested, ultimately it was the steak that would sustain his fellow Jew. Why focus on the esoteric, why traffic in superstition, why engage in gimmickry, what need to prioritize remez and sod when the p’shat and d’rash were so rich and so compelling? Focus on the substance because it is all there…ki hem chayenu v’orech yamenu… Once you dealt with him, you were amazed by his intellect and his command of the Tanach, Talmud and Rabbinic commentaries. You were struck by his humility. You were drawn closer by his warmth. And because of these qualities, he reached many. Rabbi Labaton’s students come in many shapes and sizes and from many backgrounds. He reached Ashkenazim as well as Sepharadim, Israelis as well as Americans, novices as well as the initiated, the wealthy as well as the poor, the handicapped as well as the healthy. As an intellect he conceived the beauty of the Creator’s world in its diversity—how many different species, how many different fruits, how many different colors—and understood that human beings are no less diverse. Each with his or her own experiences, circumstances, talents, shortcomings, strengths, weaknesses, yet each made in the Divine image of the Creator. Yet as a pious man he was awestruck by the precept that despite all of this diversity, Boreh Olam was one. Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad. I have so many memories of Rabbi Labaton. He presided at my wedding, the brisses of my three boys, a pidyon, two bar mis’vahs, the shiv’ah of my father and numerous Torah classes in our home. He inspired me to visit refuseniks in the former Soviet Union, to lobby for freedom of emigration for Syria’s Jews. We met countless times during my service as an executive committee member and later president of the synagogue. However, the memories that stand out most for me were the conversations that we had upon his arrival to the shul in 1982. For me, he will always be the Pious Intellectual. As we try to emulate him, we shall never forget him….

  33. Rabbi Joey Beyda says:

    Rabbi Ezra Labaton has been a constant in my life for over thirty years. He was my family and synagogue Rabbi at Congregation Magen David of West Deal. He was my teacher at Hillel Yeshiva High School. He was my counselor for many life choices including decisions that impacted career, education, and family. He was my mentor in community service and in how to lead a congregation. He was my neighbor. He was the Sandak for my son, Joshua. He was my hero as he dealt with stresses and challenges of all sort with dignity and determination. He was a confidant in matters in which there was no one else I could turn to. He treated me as a colleague, even though I was many years his junior and far more dependent upon him than he was on me. With all of that, he was my friend, who could leave the professional on the side and show a personal side, when called for. As this fixture in my life has passed on, I marvel and stand in awe at what he was able to accomplish in his lifetime while at the same time I shudder to think what life will be like without him. To eulogize him is a daunting task, people could speak forever about his virtues and his impact. I’ve noticed that when people talk about him, they don’t end – there’s a distinct carry-off, the product of a certain knowing that this is a special person that cannot be fully praised. In a particular situation in the Talmud, our Rabbis were forced to make a choice for Rosh Yeshiva, the Rabbinical head of the Talmudic Academy in Babylonia. The choice was between” Sinai” and “Oqer Harim” (one who uproots of mountains), two different types of scholars. The “Sinai” was a Rabbi who possessed a breadth of knowledge. He mastered all of the laws and sources of the Jewish tradition and could recall them with ease. The “Oqer Harim” had the ability to analyze, to plumb the depths of a particular issue to the heart of its matter. In the Yeshiva setting this ability is valued, as hours upon hours are spent analyzing arcane and complicated concepts. The assumption is that a person can only possess one of these traits, one must come at the cost of the other. Rabbi Labaton belied this assumption. On the one hand, the Rabbi was an expert in all areas of Torah knowledge – Tanach and Philosophy, his favorites, but also Talmud, Midrash, Halacha, Liturgy, Ethics, and Kabbala. His knowledge was not limited to Torah. He loved to study science, was a master of psychology, was always up on current events, and knew sports, as well. On the other hand, Rabbi Labaton had a keenly analytic mind, one that he used on a daily basis in his dealings in the synagogue and community but also to obtain his coveted PhD, which took him years of careful, painstaking work. Having worked together with Rabbi Labaton in a number of different settings, I can personally attest that he was one of the sharpest minds I have ever encountered. Yet neither Sinai nor Oqer Harim is an apt term for Rabbi Labaton. In the model of his Rabbi and teacher Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik, Rabbi Labaton is best described as a “Ma’ayan HaMitgaber,” an overflowing wellspring. Rabbi Labaton’s indefatigable cheeriness and bubbly personality was a direct outcome of his non-stop creativity. Rabbi Labaton gave tens of classes each week and each one was an original creation. He never let himself suffice with what he derisively referred to as a “Chumash with Rashi” class, the type of class that all lesser Rabbis seem to succumb to as a necessary limitation of their talent or time. No matter what the topic or who the audience was, Rabbi Labaton would always be prepared with pages of his hand-written notes generating a presentation that no one else had thought of quite that way before. Whereas Rabbi Labaton’s intellectual greatness was no secret, his intense religiosity was less well-known. Not because he was less religious than others – the reverse is true, he was saintly, a true Hasid, the type referred to in Pirkei Avot – “Lo Am HaAretz Hasid”. Rather, it was because his piousness manifested itself without grand public displays and not in ways that others generally associate with religiosity. His prayers were fervent and his belief in Hashem rock solid. He exemplified Lifnim MiShurat HaDin in all he did. The Rabbinate is filled with dedicated individuals that put the needs of those they serve before their own. Despite that, it is difficult to find a person that worked harder than Rabbi Ezra Labaton. He never slowed down, never took time off, never turned down a case, and never failed to return a call. His office light was on early in the morning and late at night. If he was not there preparing classes or helping those in need, he was out at a simcha, a funeral, a shiva call, a bikur holim visit, or teaching in school. The rabbinate was not an occupation for him, it was life and he was fully invested. Vacations were nonexistent. Everything he did, he did with full energy and perspiration. Although not imposing in size or stature, Rabbi Labaton displayed incredible physical strength. He had an inner strength that allowed him to absorb years of slights and insults, unintended and otherwise, from those that could not fully appreciate him. Never once did he lash out or “put someone in their place.” Over the last fifteen years, he underwent countless rounds of chemotherapy. His ability to bounce back was nothing short of astounding. It seemed that no matter what he went through, he was in the shul the next morning, giving class, bright and cheery as ever. As the Torah recounts about Moshe Rabbenu, “his eyes never dimmed, his vigor was unabated.” His integrity was absolutely impeccable. He had no self-interest. People came to him and needed complete confidentiality and knew that they would receive it. His word was golden. He never promised that which he could not deliver. Rabbi Labaton was a man of principles and strong convictions. Not only did he live by them however, he dedicated himself to and succeeded in transmitting these beliefs to others. The concept of Tzelem Elokim, that all humans are created in God’s image and are thereby endowed with infinite value, was his most core belief. By repeating and utilizing it tens of thousands of times, he inculcated it in legions who now live by it and repeat it in his name. He championed the Prophetic ideals of Tzedek U’Mishpat, dealing with all people fairly and fighting for the underprivileged. He made Tikkun Olam a household word for all of his students and congregants. Each and any of the above would be a life well lived, but not truly are at the heart of the Rabbi’s greatness. The Rabbi could best be described as “Kol Demama Dakah” the still silent voice that God showed to Eliyahu HaNavi (see Kings I Chapter 19) to demonstrate that God was not embodied by power but by subtlety. Because of all of the above, it was patently clear to all that Rabbi Labaton had no equal. Nobody was in his league. Yet, he never made anyone feel that way. His humble and unassuming nature was his greatest quality and made him so successful in all that he did. I must have learned hundreds of life lessons from him, but not one through preaching. The Rabbi’s way was with love – a soft-spoken-voice, questioning and listening. Each moment with a smile, warmth, attentiveness and genuine concern for those he was around. It was this trait that made him beloved, it was this trait that made him successful. It is this trait we will miss most and will have the most difficult time to replace. Rabbi Labaton knew the secret of love, that it necessarily must be boundless. This is how, despite showing genuine love for all that he came across, he was still able to love and care for those most special to him. His children were his greatest pride and joy. He once told me that his greatest joy in life was having the opportunity to teach his children in school. “You must do it,” he advised me, “there’s nothing better.” Because of his unending love for them, each child has turned into a gem, with each vastly different form the other. His partner in everything was his wife, Emily. As great as the Rabbi was, he always attributed his success to Emily. She was with him shul, school and the community, his advocate, support, and protector. They formed an amazing synergy of greatness and he was always aware of this fact. As we look ahead to life without this giant of the Community, we know that he cannot be replaced. We can, however, take comfort in the fact that his accomplishments in life were real and lasting. The impact he made on God’s world will live long after he will be able to see it. He inspired and impacted thousands, if not tens of thousands, a true Tikkun Olam.

  34. Jack Hidary says:

    My family had the privilege of being around and learning from Rabbi Ezra Labaton every summer for over 30 years. The Rabbi led by example, and his enthusiasm for life was contagious. In every conversation, speech or class I attended, Rabbi Labaton’s approach made learning Torah feel fun and exciting, stimulating to the mind and always relevant to our modern-day lives. Rabbi Labaton gave unique classes. His classes were a means of bringing past generations of Torah scholars, and their thought processes, into our lives. On any given topic or question, it wasn’t only about a definitive answer, but about the different opinions, the reasons behind them, and what we thought about it. He brought the Torah to life and gave everyone, whether on a beginner’s or advanced level, the confidence to contribute to the discussion, and ultimately to continue the conversation at home. Rabbi Labaton introduced us to special people and amazing organizations from around the globe. His worldly outlook was the embodiment of Tikun Olam and Selem Elokim. He reminded us over and over that every human being is special and that we have a sacred duty to engage with and improve the world. Rabbi Labaton was a gifted orator, as his Shabbat speeches always managed to blend the Shabbat Parasha to current events, and to motivate us to do our part to improve the lives of those around us. And it was always delivered in a way that was easily adaptable to our Shabbat table family discussion. Rabbi Labaton had an innocent smile that made everyone feel like his best friend. For such a great man to be so approachable is rare. We were lucky to live only about a block away from the Rabbi – and every summer, Rabbi Labaton would grace my parents’ home with a visit. We’d sit as a family, sometimes three generations, and talk about life, family, sports, Tsedaka and Chesed. From when I was 4 or 5 years old, my father started bringing me to shul. It was the early 1980’s, and West Deal shul was the old Walter Reade Mansion. We’d walk up the creaky staircase, and see and hear a wonderfully energetic and loving young Rabbi. This past summer, in a much larger and very vibrant atmosphere which serves as a testament to our brilliant Rabbi, Rabbi Labaton seemed just as young and energetic as he was three decades earlier. He continued to make us think and smile through his classes and derashot. He even graced our new home for a class, as he did by my parents so many times over the years – something my wife and I will cherish always. His memory will continue to inspire me and my family.

  35. Jack Doueck says:

    In the book of Shemuel (I. 25:29) Nabal’s wife Abigail gave King David a blessing that his soul should always be “bound with the souls of the living”. Rabbi Ezra Labaton’s soul was always bound with those of the living – with his family, his students, his congregants, his community, his people, and the entire world. His soul is bound with my soul. I first met Rabbi Labaton in the fall of 1982. I was 19 years old, and was just back from my year in Israel. We instantly became friends. He had such an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and passion for teaching. He would say “I could have been a good lawyer… But this is what I love to do…” I was overwhelmed by that. When he gave his classes, he was in heaven. He would perspire even with full-blown air-conditioning and short sleeve shirts. How? You see, the rabbi was so passionate about his topics—his whole body would get into it with his mind and his voice… so he would perspire from excitement! Rabbi Labaton didn’t just love HaRambam, it seemed to me that he was actually IN LOVE with him. But it was his compassion, his loving-kindness, his constant support and continuous encouragement that touched me the most. He was always so supportive. He would always ask me what I was learning, what I was writing, what I was thinking about. We would spend hours together on Friday mornings talking all about ME and my life – my marriage, my kids, my business, my classes, the books I was writing. He would give me books to borrow, books he would recommend I read, sources for ideas I was talking about. He would proudly show me his immense library with his 10,000 books and no matter how many times I volunteered to organize it for him – he would always decline and claim he loved it that way because he knew where every book was, every article, every pamphlet. In 2002, during the Intifada, when a terrorist attack was hitting Israel every single day, and Israel was at war with Hamas – I heard that reservists in Israel were being called away from their families to fight. So I organized a trip to Israel for businessmen to volunteer in the Israeli Army. I called him to ask him if he would announce the trip in the Synagogue and see if anyone would want to join us. “Are you kidding? I want to come!” He was my first recruit and he was arguably the most cooperative, most dedicated soldier in the bunch. Whatever troubles and tests I faced in life, I knew I could call the Rabbi and I would be overwhelmed by his generosity of spirit, his emphatic optimism: “How are you doing Rabbi?” “Incredibly well!”. He had an invincible spirit that was infectious and just being in his presence would encourage me and support me and give me strength. A few years ago, Ricky Rudy and I donated a plaque that was put up right outside the Rabbi’s office. When the synagogue underwent renovations, they had to take the plaque down. He must have sensed that I felt bad about that. Of course, he called me to tell me “Jack, even though they took the plaque down, I have it in my office and I look at it every single day. Thank You!” That call meant so much to me. Not only did I feel better, but as usual, the Rabbi modeled his ideals and his lessons: he embodied “sedek sedek tirdof” – you shall always pursue justice and righteousness. He embodied compassion and love and sensitivity and connection to others. He was truly ‘serurah b’srour hahayim’. His soul was always bound to other people’s souls. Yet I’m sure I am not alone in the feeling that no matter how much I admired him, he always gave me the feeling that he admired ME more! No matter how much I loved him, he made me feel that he loved me even more. In November of 2011, my father passed away. The week I was sitting Shiva the Rabbi was undergoing chemotherapy treatments. He finished his chemo on Friday and I got up from my shiva on Sunday morning. I went to the cemetery, came home and had the most beautiful surprise: a day and a half after doing chemo, the Rabbi managed to get a lift from Deal, and take the hour+ trip with Raymond Saka to come visit me. We sat in my den without any distractions and it was such a fulfilling visit – I got such nehamah, such comfort and consolation. I didn’t know how to thank him. I was at a loss for words. About five years ago the Rabbi told me that he was running 5 miles a day so he can detox his system after his chemo treatments. I asked him how he had the strength to do that? Where did he find the energy? He said he had a secret: Our friend Sammy Sutton bought him a whole box of seasons of the show “24″ and he would watch the episodes as he ran on the treadmill. I had never heard of “24″, but I thought that was a great idea. So, when I started to have problems in work, I bought the series and I would get on either the treadmill or the stationary bike while I watched episodes of “24″ – just like my rabbi! I continued that practice almost every night for the last 5 years. It enormously helped me to deal with the stress I was enduring. When he started to drink gallons of green tea every day, he instructed me to buy and read “The Green Tea Book.”. Of course I complied, and started copying the Rabbi and drinking at least 4 cups a day (he told me numerous times that we all need to drink 8 cups a day). I continue to drink a lot of green tea every day. When I started a program to learn Mishna every day, the rabbi encouraged me and was the first person to sign up to join me. After the summer of 1998 I made an “end of summer speech” during Seudah Shelisheet. That speech was called “The Ideal Synagogue”. I spoke all about Rabbi Labaton: his values, his ideals, his love of learning, his tolerance of all people, his respect for the dignity of all human beings, and about how much I would miss him until the next summer. He would sometimes mention that speech to me, about how happy it made him feel. So I turned it into a “Thank You” letter and sent it to him. He called me when he received it and expressed his gratitude to me for sending it. I found this letter in my files and re-read it this week. He was often asked to speak at my Grandmother Virginia Sultan’s book club and she always loved to hear his words of wisdom. But what was even more impressive was how he admired my grandmother! He would complement her and make her feel good about her wisdom and experience. This past summer, he found out that my grandmother was in the audience one Shabbat. So, before he started his speech – he stopped and mentioned that he was “pleased to welcome a special woman: Mrs. Virginia Sultan”. My Grandmother, who is 97 years young, was just ecstatic: “Did you hear that Jack? The Rabbi mentioned my name!” She was like a little girl in a candy store on her birthday. So excited; so pleased; so honored. That was one of a million little acts of kindness of Rabbi Ezra Labaton. Acts that made people feel good about themselves; Acts that encouraged people to make their individual contribution to better society, to make the world a better, more loving, more dignified place. When I published my books: he celebrated them with me and I will never forget how when I gave him a copy, he hugged me! Not a day will I ever stop mourning the death of my rabbi, my compass, my mentor, confidante, my friend. His loss has created a void in my life that will be impossible to fill. I only hope I can live my life thinking about his legacy, his ideals, his values, his lessons: justice, righteousness, truth, integrity, human dignity – principles that, if lived properly, will create a better world. When someone passes away, we say: “Tehi nishmato serurah b’srour ha’hayim.” “May his soul be bound with those of the living.” Rabbi Labaton: Your soul will always be bound with the living because you made such an impression on our lives. You instilled your love of Torah within us. You taught us your legacy: of “Tikkun Olam”, of the concept of “selem elokim”. Of the dignity of all man. Of the ethics in the Torah. Of “deracheha darchei noam”. Of sedek sedek tirdof. You didn’t just teach these concepts – you lived them. You were the embodiment of “EBED HASHEM” – yet you loved people and loved to teach us, help us, encourage us, inspire us and be with us. Rabbi Labaton: I’m going to miss you so much. I’m going to miss praying with you in the morning, observing how you pray with fervor. I’m going to miss sitting in your classes and watching you teach with passion. I’m going to miss your Shabbat speeches, and the way you sing the Kiddush and other prayers with enthusiasm (even though you were so tone deaf!). I’m going to miss your wise counsel, your unconditional friendship, your constant support and encouragement, the loving way you looked at me with your big beautiful smile, your optimism, your wisdom, your Torah – ALL OF YOU. I’m going to miss your essence, your soul – which was and will always be bound to mine. In the last 24 months, I lost both my parents – now I have lost you. But just like a parent – you enriched my life to no end, leaving me without words to express my grief and without enough adjectives to express my profound gratitude. I will never be the same because I had the good fortune and blessing to find you and have you in my life. Tehi zicrono baruch, ve’tehi nishmato serurah b’srour ha’hayim. Amen.

  36. Ricky Rudy says:

    Which Rabbi Labaton shall we eulogize? Should we lament the disappearance of the world-class academic mind from our midst? The rabbi was certainly an erudite scholar – a man who spent decades steeped in the study of subtle philosophical writings and concepts. As a holder of a Doctorate degree, he possessed knowledge and understanding that few of us could lay claim to. Or perhaps we should wail the passing of an educator whose wit and energy kindled countless minds? As a pedagogue to students old and young he consistently, over generations, demonstrated a singular capacity for simultaneously informing and inspiring – a combination that only elite educators may call their own. Instead, we could bemoan the loss of our faithful and constant shepherd who suffered many a ‘cold night’ on our behalf. As a pastor he offered limitless time and heart-felt attention upon those who sought his guidance. Alternatively, we could pine over the decades of penetrating oratory that our ears shall never hear. The Rabbi was all of these and much more. Anyone who spent time basking in the Rabbi’s light could not but be filled with the certainty that the Rabbi reached heights surpassed by none in our generation. The fact is that Rabbi Ezra Labaton, עליו השלום, could be the subject of a dozen different eulogies and, were they combined into one, they would barely scratch the surface of the life so painfully cut short. One thing, however, is certain: when we look at the 63 years of the Rabbi’s life, it is clear that he understood, internalized and then embodied what is most important and precious about God’s expectations and about life itself? L’taqen ‘Olam – To Improve our world It comes down to this: while there is little we are capable of judging, there is one thing that only we, as individuals, can judge. Only we know who makes us feel loved, appreciated, understood, cared for, valued and cherished. When it comes to fundamental and affirmative unconditional love, we are each uniquely and solely qualified to issue judgment on who has passed that test. In the last weeks (if not the last several decades) hundreds and hundreds of community members have issued their unanimous verdict: Rabbi Ezra Labaton loved, guided, embraced and affirmed them in ways that reached the very core of their beings. Such love (and the word is woefully inadequate to capture the effusive outpouring of light and joy that we felt in his presence) disappeared too soon and our souls ache when we contemplate the gaping chasm that he left behind. Created in the Image: One of the problems of our generation is that we have trouble finding God. It isn’t that we don’t want to find Him – we do, desperately. But with all of our blessings of wealth and peace, we cannot seem to perceive beyond the day-to-day and grasp any of His essence – we cannot find a toehold on the mountain of God that we know surely stands before us. But what we now realize, in looking backwards, is that Rabbi Labaton gave us, in some difficult-to-define way, access to the Divine. I don’t mean that he spoke to God for us or that he intermediated with Him on our behalf (although he certainly did so). I mean, instead, that he was so pure a reflection of what God wants from each of us that, through his actions and, ultimately, through the person that he became, we got a clear glimpse of what God had in mind when He told us that man was made “b’selem elokim”. It’s not irony that we sense when we reflect on how closely the Rabbi was identified with that phrase – it’s a strong sense of congruence and correspondence – a feeling that there could be nothing more fitting than for our generation’s spokesman for ‘selem elokim’ to be the most sublime paradigm of the very phrase. And if we are right, all of us, that the Rabbi was a person who most closely reflects (to the extent possible) the Divine ‘selem’, then, in fact, what better way for us to understand and grasp the Divine than to understand who and what he was. A Quiet Revolution: Rabbi Labaton fooled us. Because he operated via a very gentle ‘user-friendly’ “interface”, we may have been lulled into thinking he was merely a soft-spoken and simple man naively in love with all that surrounded him. But what is clear upon reflection is that he was a revolutionary. What is so absolutely revolutionary about him is that his passing has confirmed a principle that could only be guessed at during his life: seemingly naive goodness, for its own sake, can do what hard-nosed, political, take-no-prisoners power can never do. What a lesson for any thinking and sensitive person! The Rabbi’s life taught us that there really is a viable alternative when faced with the good/difficult vs. the expedient/less good choice. Anyone who observes life is troubled by the success of the powerful, harsh and ruthless characters that we all know. When we are able to eke out a few truly good moments in life we feel that we are paying the heaviest price for doing so. R. Labaton showed that by living the purest of lives with what we might call “naive” joy and wonder, you can have it ‘all’. And he did it under the most difficult of circumstances which include severe health problems. This lesson is not be lost or buried along with him. We loved him for how he treated us and what he gave to us as a leader, teacher, pastor and scholar, but I am in awe of him for how he lived. I stand silent before his absolute refusal to give in to what the rest of us compromise with all the time. He was simply a Man in the highest and best sense of the word – a Man in the way that God designed men to be. A Man who lived life as an image of God. Once in a Generation: Let me close with a description of a once-in-a-generation luminary: “What made him so attractive …..? His unique blend of intellectual accomplishment, sincere pious conviction, and dynamic, forceful, humane and humble leadership. “(He) deeply impressed all those with whom he came in contact. His personal sense of piety and integrity, his devotion to the religious ideals that characterized all of his work, and his humane, forceful and clearly articulated vision of leadership brought (those who he interacted with) to a profound sense of appreciation for this devoted and committed (leader).….The reasons for his impact are very clear. (His) personal demeanor, charisma, depth of heart, brilliance of mind, total involvement in community life and transmitter of the Maimonidean heritage …. A man of this stature comes along once in a generation“ These words, now prophetic, were written by R. Ezra Labaton years ago and reflect his views of the 13th century luminary, R. Abraham ben HaRambam (the subject of his Doctoral dissertation). How fitting is it that the very words penned by the Rabbi himself concerning the subject of 30 years of PhD. study should so aptly describe the Rabbi himself? And how instructive is it for us that he would never have recognized himself in those words? Rabbi, I will sorely miss you and I know there is no one who can stand where you stood. May we merit to emulate Rabbi Ezra Labaton and, in doing so, sharpen the reflection of our Divine image and thereby hasten the tikun ‘olam he so diligently sought. Amen

  37. Morris Bailey says:

    For many years, I have been privileged to have an ongoing dialogue with Rabbi Labaton. This wonderful relationship made an everlasting impact on my perspective of the community and the world at large. A meeting with the Rabbi was always an experience dominated by his intellect, wit, and his expressive face that emanated love and compassion. He was a passionate man always ready to defend and fight for the principles he believed in.My discussions with Rabbi Labaton focused primarily on our community and the challenges we face in addressing the ever more complex world we live in. He deeply loved our community and was committed to the struggle of maintaining our core values while preparing our children and grandchildren to connect with and flourish in our society. He taught the values of love, education, kindness, and respect for each other, as well as, of course, a deep love for the state of Israel. His love and knowledge of the Torah was legendary, and he believed in the obligation we all have to engage with and enlighten the world Hashem has given us.In recent years, our discussions focused on the Sephardic Community Alliance (SCA), an organization founded four years ago with the Rabbi’s enthusiastic support. He served as a strong voice in encouraging the SCA to continue to expand our programs and mission, and we are grateful to him for the successes we have had in implementing educational and leadership programs that are helping to advance the ideals he so fervently advocated.Rabbi Labaton has inspired us all with his vision of love and respect and his passion for education and enlightenment. Although we lost a great man, Rabbi, and warrior, his values will be with us forever.

  38. Rabbi Isaac Farhi says:

    The Rabbis of the Jersey Shore Orthodox Rabbinate would like to convey our heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Emily Labaton and entire Labaton family on their tragic loss. Rabbi Labaton was a devoted husband, son, brother, father and grandfather. May the praises and memories shared by the members of the community and the Jewish world beyond be a source of comfort and consolation. His valiant struggle, and his deep drive to carry on with all of his many activities despite his personal nisayon, was an inspiration to all who came in contact with him. Only a special, driven person can choose to carry on, striving to do the maximum, while refusing to be held back by the challenges that he faced. As a member of our group of the JSOR, Rabbi Labaton, alav HaShalom, was an active member of our organization for over twenty five years. He participated in countless meetings, gave his encouragement and very much wanted to be a part of the unifying goal of providing Kosher food to the Jewish Community of the Jersey Shore. The Rabbi was also very supportive of the activities of the JS CommUnity, the organization that strives to unite the members of the different Jersey Shore Synagogues. As the Rabbi of Congregation of Magen David Of West Deal, Rabbi Labaton was a devoted and beloved leader. His dedication and his love of teaching attracted multitudes of students of all ages. His decades of teaching in the Hillel Yeshiva were another of his many achievements. There too, his influence left a special mark on generations of young students. The outpouring of the many people whose lives were touched by Rabbi Labaton was evident at the massive funeral, where many stood outside in the cold, just to feel a part and to pay their last farewell. It is a testament to how much the Rabbi will be missed by the Jersey Shore community and by the Sephardic community at large. Y’he Zichro Baruch

  39. Renee Beyda says:

    When I heard that Rabbi Labaton’s, a”h, condition had worsened, I was completely immobilized with feelings of sorrow and pain, love and regret. I regret not calling the Rabbi with every question, not attending every class I could have, not living my life in a way that would make him completely proud, and not being a better friend throughout his illness. Words of consolation came from friends who knew how dear the Rabbi was to me. One person said that many people live their lives without really making a significant mark, but that the Rabbi had affected so many and so significantly! When I looked around at the funeral and thought of the others filling auditoriums in schools and shuls in Brooklyn and in Deal, I realized that what the Rabbi did for me was what he did for multitudes! How many of us feel that we have lost a father… He always made me feel that I was important – worthy of his time and attention. I was just 17, and I used to stop in the Rabbi’s office a few times a week to share thoughts, poetry, or to borrow a book (that I had to promise to return). He guided me to read his favorites: From reading writings of Viktor Frankl, I understood that a healthy life is fueled with a sense of purpose; From the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel, I understood that G-d wants a relationship with us. From the teachings of Rav Soloveitchik, I learned that there are two duties of man, one to reflect upon and appreciate the world and the other: to act upon the world and make a difference. I remember at one point, he kept suggesting for me to read a book he knew I had already read. I presume now that he recognized I did not fully absorb the message. I plan to reread. When we were teenagers the Rabbi held weekly classes in his home for my friends and I. He taught us to think about the quality of our relationships and about issues that we would one day have to think about once married, about treating people with compassion and respect; He taught us that prayer should be reflexive; that it should make an impression on our souls. He showed us the difference between reading the text of the Torah and reading into the text of the Torah. When I was in high school, we worked together to plan events for the youth. One of his ideas we put into action was a weekly dinner with film and discussion. He carefully chose films that were thought provoking. When I think of how he shaped our minds… And then, he took an active interest in each of our educations post high school and beyond. Now I see that the Rabbi and Emily were working together like artists quietly weaving a tapestry. They were on a mission to grow our minds, raise our levels of morality, spirituality, scholarship, and activism. And boy, is their masterpiece admirable! Together they influenced the lives of their kahal and the entire community immeasurably. When I think of the unborn children that will be affected by how he has shaped the minds of their parents and grandparents, I am awestruck. The Rabbi also taught us so much by his actions. I remember once during a couples’ class in his home there was a mosquito dancing up and down his white dining room wall. My family just went through a terrible season plagued by mosquitoes. Our children would wake daily with welts. At night there would be that buzzing in our ears. The Rabbi did not know this. When I saw this insect threatening to bother the Rabbi’s family, I got up in the middle of the class, took a piece of paper, and ferociously slammed to kill. Somehow I missed. That was when the Rabbi got up with a cup and ever so gently released the insect into the summer air. Since then, I think twice before assuming that I have the right to end the life of any living thing just because it is a nuisance. I remember once stopping in to the Rabbi and Emily’s house to talk with them. They were occupied, so I had to wait. I wandered into the kitchen where their oldest son, Ovadia was sitting at the table and we began to chat. Ovadia was just about 4 years old, but right away, he began to ask me questions about my life. I was amazed! How indicative this was of the home was being raised in. The Labatons are all about catering to the needs of others. A few months ago, I arranged a meeting between the Rabbi and some of the youth I felt were drifting from Judaism because they had unanswered questions. I realized that doubt could convince a person that he is not religious, nor a true follower of Judaism. The Rabbi told of a very wise person who found that the wiser he became, the more questions he had. Our Rabbi koshered the questioning with one swift story. Because of the great effort he put forth in life to be a true servant of Hashem, I believe that the Rabbi is now basking so close to Hashem. I hope that he will always inspire my mind, my heart and my actions. I pray that my family and the entire community will be blessed this way as well. We will miss him greatly.

  40. Elliot Braha says:

    אתו ברא אלוקים בצלם בצלמו האדם את אלוקים ויברא כז,א בראשית All of what our Rabbi, Rabbi Ezra Labaton A”H taught and represented stems from this fundamental teaching: each and every person is godly; each and every person is unique and dignified; each and every person should be respected and each and every person’s thoughts and feelings need to be appreciated. The rest is commentary. Our Rabbi prepared all his speeches with care and attention, but hespedim were different. They were sacred. He stayed up late talking to family members and then shaped the word to express the essence of a person and comfort his family. At the same time, he knew this task was impossible, that even the people he knew well were ultimately too complex and that he did not know the person as well as his family did. He also knew that each person had a different view, his unique perspective, and that he could not capture all the dimensions of a person. So, too with our Rabbi, each and every one of us has shared a different set of experiences with the Rabbi. He brought each and every one of us into his life, the life of Torah, the ideas, and ideals and values of Torah. He developed different relationships with elders, with children, with high school students and with shul members, who varied, sometimes so greatly and yet he managed to listen to what each person had to say and valued his selem Elokim. This was his signature. I may be speaking before you today but these words are our words, the words of each and every one of us. The unique character of our Rabbi, his essence, who he was and how we should remember him, can be summarized as Rav, but a particular kind of Rav: one, strict and unbending, authoritative in his halachic positions and, the other, flexible, warm and welcoming, bringing people into the circle of Torah. He would teach endlessly, teach and speak at every opportunity, teach and speak. He studied Torah as an academic. He believed that the tools of scholarship unveiled beauty, truth, spiritual truth. At the same time, however, he maintained a childlike, personal and emotional relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu and Torah. He seemed to have developed this intuitively as a little boy, which his teachers at Magen David, among them Rabbi David Bitton and Hacham Baruch, nurtured. His academic pursuits, including his thirty-year persistent endeavor, the writing of his dissertation on Rabbenu Abraham Ben HaRambam, and his love of books and ideas never waned throughout his years as the Rabbi of Magen David of West Deal. However, a different kind of education occupied the foreground, a different book to be studied, the book of peoples’ lives and experiences. He served the people and empathized with their plights. He knew that every person, no matter their level of education, could be inspired by these ideas, that every person should engage as a philosopher and wrestle with ultimate questions. When he and Emily first came to Deal, he thought that he would spend his days learning, teaching, reading, finishing his thesis in a year or two, but almost immediately he learned that the real education he was going to get was from the people he spent his days with. He learned from people much younger and older; he learned about life and its complexity and learned how and when he could help, sometimes just by listening and taking people seriously. He eventually learned about illness and there, too, he learned from people. He was passionate about the rabbanut. He believed in the power of the rabbanut and the need for devoted, trained rabbis, but he did not have any illusions about the ability of rabbis to do it all. He wanted people to find answers for themselves. He delighted in referring people to books to read for themselves, giving people volumes to read. He wanted families to go home at the end of the week and develop Torah ideas with their children at the Shabbat dinner and lunch table. He was passionate about his role in the community and he loved what he did every day but he did not take himself too seriously. In moments of insecurity and self-doubt he would ask, “Had I done enough? Have I made enough of an impact?” He believed deeply in unity, for families, the community and the Jewish world. He did not believe, however, in accomplishing unity by erasing differences but by respecting differing ideas, by talking openly about differences and fostering, thereby, deeper connections. The distinguished and esteemed rabbis can speak volumes about the Rabbi but from a different perspective. He valued his relationship to you. As well, community leaders learned from the Rabbi and he from them. He loved the community, studied its history and its halachic traditions and brought those lessons to his qahal. The Rabbi reached, as well, beyond our time and beyond our place. He spoke about the past. He took most pride in the Holocaust programs in the shul and, most importantly, the Holocaust Memorial of the one and a-half million children lost in the holocaust. At his spearheading, volunteers collected the pennies, one and a-half million pennies, in bottles, in bottles, and finally represented that collection in a memorial in our shul lobby. He remembered the past but also focused on the present, on suffering of people and on political oppression. He worked hard to free Ethiopian, Soviet and Syrian Jews and heightened our awareness of injustice around the world. He raised funds and motivated our qahal to do hesed: Darfur, a swimming pool for IDF soldiers, a Sefer Torah in Croatia, cancer research, an ambulance for Magen David Adom. The Rabbi and Emily brought Yachad to our shul and the One Family organization of victims of terrorism; he moved our qahal to stretch our efforts and do more. Even at home, he would make it a practice every Thanksgiving Day to bring a turkey dinner to the Ocean Township Police. He wanted to recognize those who work hard to protect us on a day when everyone else was home with his family. He believed so strongly in the idea of selem Elokim that he summarized his life’s goal in the following way: to make the world a better place, to make the world a better place by feeding the hungry, caring for the elderly, relieving the pain of the ill, through acts of kindness and charity. At the end of the day, these values remained the most significant. Thank you, Rabbi, for making the world a better place. החיים בצרור צרורה תונשמ הית

  41. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin says:

    Rav Ezra, talmidi, yedidi, mechubadi, alufi, haver nafshi, This past Friday evening in Efrat, after the Evening Prayer, Abie Reichman and I wept on each other’s shoulder over your having left us much too soon. When I mentioned that I would be leaving right after Shabbat to give a eulogy in the Deal Synagogue on Sunday afternoon, he shared that every time he ended a telephone conversation with you it was with the words of the Mishnah (Yoma, Chap. 3 Mishna 1), “‘Is the light still shining from the East’?”Is your light still illuminating the Sefardi – Mizrahi world of Halabi – Deal?” For you see, Ezra, for us, your Ashkenazi friends and admirers, you were the אור פני מזרח, the light illuminating the face of the East! Allow me to cite the entire Mishnah – and to interpret it, an interpretation which cries out to me as I think about you and your very special persona. The Mishna is speaking about the Daily Morning Sacrifice in the Holy Temple, the תמיד של שחר, which must be brought first thing in the morning, but only after the rising of the Morning Star. And Ezra, your life was a קרבן תמיד , a daily sacrifice to God every day, 24/7, every working moment – and you didn’t have many sleeping moments, – dedicated to service to God, עבודת ה’, teaching, learning, pastoring. I. The Mishnah teaches: “אמר להם הממונה: צאו וראו אם הגיע זמן השחיטה, האיר פני המזרח עד שבחברון? “The Holy Temple official would explain: ‘Go out and see if the time for the sacrifice has arrived, if the face of the Eastern sky is illuminated all the way to Hebron? ” Were we to ponder a similar question about you, Ezra, from whence came the light, the strength, the power of your illumination Ezra? Did it indeed emanate from as far back as Hebron, from the first Hebrew who lived in Hebron and received God’s covenantal promise in Hebron, from Avraham Avinu? The answer is a resounding yes, your light came from Hebron, you were a true disciple, a son, of Avraham Avinu. Just listen to how the Rambam, Maimonides, describes the earliest years of Avraham Avinu; I always thought the Rambam was describing himself, but he was certainly describing you, Ezra. It is in his laws of Idolatry, chapter 1, and he is describing how ethical monotheism came into the world: “כיון שנגמל איתן זה, התחיל לשוטט בדעתו…” “Once that titan (Abraham) was weaned, he began to roam around the rivers of his mind (what an apt phrase for you, Ezra!), and although he was still young, he would ponder by day and by night, “How can this earthly sphere continue to operate, to spin on its axis, without an operator spinning it?’ And his heart would continue to roam until he arrived at the truth, until he understood from his own intellect, and realized that there is one God who operated the earthly sphere, and that He is the creator of everything, and that nothing exists outside of Him…” Ezra, we first met in the late sixties, four and one-half decades ago, in Neveh Hadassah, a small village outside of Netanyah, in the summer Camp Yaron. You were a young counselor, in your first or second year at Yeshivah College, and I was a very young rabbi at Lincoln Square Synagogue, then still an apartment-shul in Lincoln Towers on West End Ave. My young and developing family had come to Israel for the summer, and I was – still in my twenties – the Camp Rabbi. You began to ask me questions, profound questions, theological questions, about God, about Torah, about halakha, about life. We spent many hours walking and talking along the beach, by day and by night. I was amazed by your intellect, by your intellectual honesty, by your profundity of thought, by the fact that you would never let go of a subject unless you felt that you understood the answer or at least that you had formulated the proper questions for further discussion. Just like the young Avraham you roamed in the rivers of your mind along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and just like Abraham you emerged from your meditations with a whole and perfect faith. “והאמן בה’, ויחשבה לו צדקה” (בראשית טו:ו) II. “האיר פני המזרח, עד שבחברון” “Is the Eastern sky aglow with light, reaching to Hebron?” The Torah explains that the name “Abraham” means the father of a multitude of nations, because Abraham’s mission was to bring blessing and redemption to all the families of the earth. (Gen 17: 5) Abraham’s Torah was to embrace and engage the world – and that was your Torah, Ezra, as well. You also understood, along with the Ibn Ezra, that the רע in ח)” ואהבת לרעך כמוך (ויקרא י”ט: יwas not only רעך במצוות, other Orthodox Jews, and not only even your fellow Jews, but your fellow-human beings, who were all created בצלם א-להים, in the image of the Divine. And as the Rambam continued to explain in his Laws of Idolatry (1: 3), the Avraham who founded ethical monotheism achieved in his personal life קו הצדק, the trait of absolute righteousness. At a time when the profession of Rabbi is not always identified with ethical integrity – in Israel as well as in America – you, Ezra, were always a paragon of probity, a selfless servant of God to whom materialistic blandishments meant very little. Your treasures were of mind, heart and spirit, your riches were to be found in books and ideals. With אברהם אבינו מחברון you would always say: בראשית י”ד: כ”ג)) אם מחוט ועד שרוך נעל, Not a thread nor a shoe-lace, You never looked to gain material advantage from your congregants, you only wished to teach them, to inspire them, to help them… III. האיר פני המזרח, עד שבחברון? Abraham HaIvri, the individual who stood on one side of the world while the rest of humanity stood on the other, the leader who understood that to be alone with God was to be with a majority of one. Ezra, the necessary result of your intellectual integrity, of your rationalist interpretation of the Torah, of your fealty to the Torah of the Rambam and to the Torah of Rav Soloveitchik, meant that you would not always be politically correct, that you sometimes had to face powerful and even religious forces in your greater Halabi community with whom you disagreed intellectually and spiritually – and you stood up to those forces with great courage and fortitude, with the conviction that it is more important to please God than to satisfy people. And you always stood your ground without sacrificing the graciousness and respect for the other opinion which characterized the majority which was always evident in the dignity of your bearing. But Ezra, I know such trials are difficult and, although you never said so, they must have cost you much suffering. With all my heart I beg מחילה from you if I was sometimes a cause of your suffering… IV. האיר פני מזרח עד שבחברון? You were also a disciple of אברהם, Ezra, in that you found your parallel to Avraham’s Sarah in your Emily, who was a true life’s partner and רע אהובה, who was the love of your life and the light of your soul, whom you could always rely upon to give the right advice and to keep everything together – familiarly and congregationally – even in the most difficult of times. And she could always rely upon you to do the right thing and to garner the spiritual strength to continue to teach and to counsel and to love even when your physical strength was beginning to fail. And it is about this relationship that I feel almost paternal. In certain measure, Ezra and Emily’s courtship took place at our Shabbat table. I always thought – although I never really knew for certain – that this was because in the Halabi Labaton world – Ezra your grand-father wrote פיוטים for the חלבי מחזור (Halaby Mahzor), and with such Sefardi Tahor lineage it might not have been considered proper for a Labaton to seriously date a J. Dubb Ashkenazia, even though Emily was a true מיוחסת as the grand-daughter of the Boyaner Rebbe. But for whatever the reason, I had front row center seats to your courtship, which was uniquely composed of both passion and purity at the same time. V. האיר פני המזרח? . Now Ezra, that you are no longer with us in the land of the living, will there still be a light emblazoning the Eastern Sefardi-Halabi communities? The answer lies in the fact that Ezra, you were not only a true son of Abraham, but you were also a גלגול – a soul transmigration – of your ultimate namesake, Ezra Ha Bavli, כשמו, כן הוא. “As is his name, so is he,”. (I Samuel 25: 25) Ezra HaBavli was first and foremost described by the Bible as Ezra HaSofer, Ezra the Scribe, a man of books and a man of the Book, a scholar. Ezra, you too are a man of books and of the Book; the Torah-Bible; book of books, a true and thorough going scholar, who superhumanly had your PHD dissertation thesis on Rabbenu Avraham the son of the Rambam accepted even during this last period of your illness. And when the Temple official asked the question, “Is the Eastern sky still aglow with light, even as far as Hebron?” If the answer was positive, then the excited response would be “Barkai,” (mavrick) lightning, enlightening. Your Torah scholarship, Ezra, was lightning sharp, clear and precise, bringing light and logical illumination to whichever Torah text that you were teaching. You were truly an heir to Ezra HaSofer, Ish HaSefer Ve’sefarim. But Ezra HaBavli was also known as a Kohen, “who brought the Torah before the community of men and of women and anyone who understood how to listen…” (Nehemiah 8;2). And so you, Ezra’s name-sake, created in Deal an entire community dedicated to Torah learning and Torah hesed activities. And just as Ezra HaBavli made Torah more accessible by changing the Torah script from the ancient Ivrit to the more modern Ashuri (B.T. Sanhedrin 21b) , so did you make Torah more accessible to women (by teaching them), and to our entire intelligent community by teaching a rational rather than a voodoo Torah, a Torah whose words had to be understood in terms of its contextual time and for all eternal time (peshatt), a Torah which operates on the basis of reason and intellectual understanding, (ibid 8:8). “ושום שכל ויבינו במקרא” You created a community truly based upon and rooted in Torah, halakha and hesed, the rational and loving Torah of the Rambam and Rav Soloveitchik, of Mahran HaMehaber and Mahran Ovadia Yosef, a community which became committed to the rationality of Torah and to the hesed of Torah. And a community, with its structures and institutions often has the capacity to live on beyond the life-span of its founder, to continue his teachings and his attitudes in Torah for many generations to come. But even more importantly, Ezra, your ultimate legacy lies in and lives on in, the hearts and the minds of your students and your student-congregants, in the myriads of individuals and individual families whom you taught, nurtured and developed. For in the final analysis, a community is no more than a family writ large. The Torah commands us in the Shema, דברים ו: ז))”ושננתם לבניך”, “You shall teach Torah diligently to your children,” and our Sages in the Sifre teach that this refers to your students who are always considered as your children. And you loved your student-congregants like your own children; their joys were your joys and their travail was your travail, you taught them and cared for them and counseled them 24/7, no vacation, no time-out, not even during your illness… And here once again you are a gilgul of Ezra HaBavli, “For Ezra prepared his heart (not only his mind) to intellectually investigate and expound the Torah of the Lord, to carry out and to teach amongst the Israelites the ritual statutes and the just laws” (Ezra 7:10). Yes, Ezra your namesake, the consummate Kohen-teacher, prepared his heart to teach, because he followed the dictum of his ancestor Aharon HaKohen, “Love peace, pursue peace, love humanity and bring them close to Torah.” (Avot 1: 12) Ezra, this is the Mishnah upon which you built your life’s work, this is the Mishnah which is the foundation stone of your community in Deal. And because you loved each of your students and student-congregants, you accepted them as they were, and you guided them and developed them, and many of them are now teachers and rabbis in their own images. This too you nurtured. And they, your students, will carry on your work, will continue to keep the light of the Mizrah-East shining brightly into a glorious future. But of all your many students, Ezra, you are most proud of your wonderful children. When we had a few quiet moments in July, and you realized that the various members of the family were coming closer to home base, you said to me: “You know what makes me really proud? My children are also my students, they know and appreciate my Torah and I know and appreciate their Torah. That means more to me than they’ll ever know.” עזרא, ידידי, אהובי , You were taken from us too early. But you merited much. You and Emily raised up a generation of knowledgeable, loving caring and sensitive students, and you and Emily raised a unique family of enquiring and loving and sensitive and committed children. You raised students whom you loved as your children, and you raised beloved children who were proud to be your students – Sarah and Gavy, Ovadiah, Devorah and Micah, and Mordecai, each a unique and precious gem. What more can anyone ask of God, or of life? What more can a רב-מחנך hope to achieve? עזרא לא מת! מה זרעו בחיים , ותלמידיו בחיים, וזרעו שהם תלמידיו בחיים, אף הוא בחיים, לבנין עדי עד, לעולמו עד… יהי זכרו ברוך

  42. Elliot Dweck says:

    It was June 1979 and Rabbi Ezra Labaton’s first summer In West Deal. Rabbi Labaton was hired for the summer months. On the very first Friday night right after arbit I introduced myself to the Rabbi and he said i know you, you were the first baseman I always used to see in the park playing softball. I said to him aren’t you the kid that I saw on TV you won the contest on the quiz show “GIANT STEPS?” He said yes how do you remember i said you were the talk of Bradley Beach that whole summer.(when he was 6yrs. old) Everybody was talking about how this Labaton kid won the quiz. After our introduction we started to talk about our community and in particular our synagogue Magen David of West Deal. As we walked down the long driveway from our old house synagogue to the sidewalk. We spent an hour after arbit talking about the needs of our synagogue that first Friday night and every Friday night for the rest of the summer. When i came home after an hour my family asked me why so late i said i was talking the Rabbi and getting to know all about him As the summer as drawing to a close he agreed to come back for the high holidays. As Hashem had a different plan as the Rabbi and Emily were blessed with their first child Sarah two days before Rosh Hashanah and couldn’t come. After all the holidays i called him to pursue him to come and serve our young community. We would talk on the phone every other month. I would ask him if he would consider to be our Rabbi, his answer was always the same i am not ready to make a decision if the synagogue has to make a decision please don’t wait for me as i am not sure what I want to do. This conversation went on the same way for 2and half years. In February of 1982 he said yes I would consider saying yes. I was extremely excited I told him my job was searching for a Rabbi but the synagogue board would have to vote on it and make the final decision. We agreed for you to present your resume and your vision to our board as well as any member who would like to attend this meeting. On a Sunday in February 1982 he came from Boston and met with the entire congregation. At this meeting he brought his resume and your vision and answered any questions that were asked of him. The board met shortly after that meeting and voted to give him a contract. A few months later in August of 1982 Parashat Ekev was your very first shabat as the Rabbi of Magen David of West Deal. In his speech on that Shabat he said that as a result of your getting a semicha he is committing himself to give seven years service to the community. A short while later we enjoyed a beautiful sebbit, which was sponsored, by our synagogue and we had invited the whole shore community. We had signed a contract before his arrival and would not sign more than two years. I asked him why his answer was if the Kahal didn’t want me i don’t want to be a burden on them. After about 12 years he would agree to three-year contracts. Every Shabat i couldn’t wait to hear his speech. He spoke about so many subjects and every time the Rabbi connected to our parasha or our Jewish values. One of his first years speeches was about the “AGUNOT” problem another was about how some kids in our community were getting married too young. I remember people coming up to you and disagreeing with you, but you stood strong in your conviction as you were seeing the problems with the many young couples. As you started to do more weddings insisted on speaking to the new couples not only about the laws of marriage you spoke to them about many other issues especially communications. You shared with them what makes a happy marriage. There are so many things more that i could write but i am answering all the people who asked me about how i brought him to Magen David of West Deal. Hashem helped in watching that we made the greatest decision and we merited the zechut as having him serve our synagogue and community for 31 years and 4 months. I choose not to say farewell to our Rabbi Ezra Labaton but to make myself a better Jew a better Human Being and embrace all that he taught us.

  43. Ralph J. Sutton says:

    I was wondering why a second sheloshim set of hespeds were done, because I have never seen that before (for my parents and others it was just one arayat at 30 day point). Then I realized it was probably because people were not really ready to say goodbye to him, to get on with their business and so forth. They wanted to keep him fresh and alive and current in their thoughts, so they came back and stayed for all the hespeds. They wanted to continue to receive his love through others’ view of him. At least that ‘s how I felt. Then there was Emily’s hesped, which was the most moving and eloquent of all, full of rich detail and a full appreciation for him. Has any wife ever shared so much personal appreciation in a hesped? I think it’s never happened. And it’s a gift to all of us. But as she spoke, I realized that what she was describing was really and truly a partnership they had together in helping build the West Deal community. The passion and love of teaching torah and caring for others was so genuine and so heartfelt, without any ulterior motives, that people flocked around them. And when people flock to such wonderful people, the community around them builds and builds. And those who appreciated them aspired to and probably began to emulate the qualities they modeled: hesed, love of teaching and learning, communal support. From my outside perspective, the West Deal community seems unique among the SY enclaves because of Emily and R. Ezra, partnering to galvanize and attract people in greater and greater orbits around themselves. Suddenly today I realized that this is probably how Avraham and Sara were to the people in their vicinity. They brought love and kindness and appreciation for Hashem, and people flocked around them, building a bigger and bigger “tribe” amidst the local Canaan people. One can actually begin to understand how the world changes by the effect of such a couple, selflessly emanating love for our traditions and having generous personal qualities. Maybe it takes 10 years or more but however long, I think it’s quite rare to see that in front of our very eyes, in real-time action, starting from relatively nothing (a tiny leaderless group of 30 families) to this outpouring of appreciation for him (and for her).

  44. Maurice Zalta says:

    I visited Rabbi Labaton in the hospital the day he passed away, I attended his funeral, escorted him to Staten Island to be buried, and looked at his empty chair with his Talet draped on it in Shul on Shabbat. I attended his Arayat at the end of the Shivah, and still reality has not set in. For so many years, through all his operations and treatments, he never missed a beat. He never led on what he was going through, or let us think the end would come. He clearly put the welfare of his Kahal before himself in every way. I moved to West Deal almost 35 years ago, and was not very religiously educated or observant. Rabbi Labaton welcomed me and my family with his soft understanding way, and taught me to love and have a strong thirst for Hashem, Torah, and Misvot – where the Shul became my second home, and the Rabbi and his Kahal, became my second family. I thank Hashem, that when we made our final decision to choose a home, it was West Deal, and Rabbi Labaton was there every step of the way. He was my Rabbi, my teacher, and my friend. All my children from their birth to Bar-Mitzvahs, schooling, and weddings, had the honor of his involvement. When my Father passed away, he was there for me, helped me through it all, and taught me the importance and reasoning for everything we do. As President of Magen David, he was always available to me, and we had many discussions for hours that seemed like minutes. He understood the wants and needs of every single person in the Kahal, and always cared and reached out to each person. Rabbi Labaton and his Shul, in my opinion, is an example for every Rabbi and every Shul, in our great community. His doors were open to all; to learn, to teach, and inspire growth in Torah. I could go on with events and story after story, and I also know we could never replace him. My Family and our entire community have lost a great leader, caring Rabbi, and a mind that only Hashem could have created. May we go on with the lessons, ethics, morals, and values, he has embedded in us for the past three decades.

  45. Michael Mishaan says:

    Fewer than eighteen months ago I wrote on behalf of Congregation Magen David of West Deal for an Image article announcing the then upcoming dedication of a Sefer Torah in Rabbi Labaton’s memory. That dedication, which took place last summer, was the culmination not only of an incredible career, but of an incredible life. Less than six months later, on the eighth day of Hanukkah, we lost our Rabbi, our teacher, our confidante and our friend. I have so many memories of Rabbi Labaton. He presided at my wedding, the brisses of my three boys, a pidyon, two bar misvahs, the shivah of my father and numerous Torah classes in our home. We met countless times during my service as an Executive Committee member and later President of the synagogue. However, the memories that stand out most for me were the conversations that we had upon his arrival to the shul in 1982. At that time I had just finished my freshman year at Rutgers University. As a young man then dorming at university, I was meeting new people, learning new things and encountering new ideas. I was getting ready to take on the world. . Yet at that time it was not at all clear how these new experiences, or my ability to navigate them, would or could correlate with my prior religious instruction or social life. As there was no community yeshivah high school in Deal at that time, my parents engaged one of my elementary school rabbis to tutor me a couple of times a week, while I attended public high school in Ocean Township. While certainly I had been through the humash, and parts of the ne’biim, as well as a fair bit of Talmud, my religious studies to this point had been taken in a realm separate and apart from the literature, mathematics and science I was learning. Socially, I had managed to maintain my identity as a Syrian Jew in a non-Jewish and sometimes hostile high school environment. College, though, was a whole new ballgame. To succeed in college seemed to require me to question, to consider, to be open to different perspectives and points of view. How could one learn otherwise? My questions, then, came fast and furious. Not only did he have answers, he showed me where they came from—from our Torah and from our tradition. Furthermore, not only did he show me where the answers came from, unlike any rabbi I had previously encountered, he encouraged me to ask more questions. In fact, I remember the day when I told him I wanted to learn more. He asked me to hold out my hands and he loaded me up with a half-dozen books on Jewish history and philosophy. In giving me these books, the Rabbi was at once showing me that there was a whole lot more to limud torah than I had been shown and also that it was there for me to acquire if I could just make the effort. The first great lesson that I learned from Rabbi Labaton, then, was to be proud of my Jewish inheritance, to be proud of my Torah. It could stand up to any intellectual challenge and I should not cede any ground to those intellectuals—or rabbis– who argued to the contrary. Rather, the Almighty had given us Torat Emet—and the search for Torah was the search for truth—they were one and the same. So it was that as an ambitious and enthusiastic college student living on campus, the highlight of my week was always Shabbat. And not just for my mother’s delicious rub’at and potatoes—though that certainly didn’t hurt—but for Rabbi Labaton’s weekly class on the Parasha. Learning with the Rabbi was what sustained me and gave me the courage to pursue my career and to pursue my dreams. After learning with the Rabbi I understood that those pursuits need not put my heritage at risk, but that the study of Torah, integrated with those pursuits, would enable my success. Now as my eldest son Albert approaches college, I impart to him the same lesson. As so many of Rabbi Labaton’s students do the same, his teachings will no doubt continue into the next generation and beyond. May this be a great comfort to his family and to all of those whom he has so greatly inspired.

  46. Rabbi Howard Bald says:

    “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness and Your Torah is truth. May Your mercies come upon me so that I may live, for Your Torah is my preoccupation” (Tehillim 119:77,142) Rav Ezra zt”l, was the Ish Emet – the Truthful Man. Whenever I spoke with him, or listened to him teach, or whenever I observed him in his interaction with family, friends, congregants or students, one thought was always inescapable: this is the Ish Emet – the Truthful Man. The rabbi loved Hashem and Hashem’s truth; he loved Hashem’s Torah because it was the truth. Rambam in Sefer Hamisvot states: “the misva of the love of Hashem includes that we should call all humankind to his worship and teach the proper belief in Hashem… for if you love Hashem – through your understanding and realization of His true existence – behold you will without a doubt call out to the ignorant and teach the truths of Hashem that you already know. And the language of Siphre: ‘and you shall love Hashem’ – cause human beings to love Him like Abraham your father”. Rav Ezra zt”l was a living example of this great misva! His own love of Hashem and truth stirred in him an almost fanatical desire to teach others. Two days a week I watched him come into Hillel Yeshiva with a zeal and purpose that no illness, no medical treatment, no surgery could diminish. He loved to teach, he loved his students and he was so alive and engaged while sharing his knowledge with them. Any pain that he was experiencing became non-existent, as the Torah was his joy and preoccupation. It was only natural that our students loved and respected Rabbi Labaton zt”l. Rav Ezra zt”l, was also a parent at Hillel Yeshiva. I had the pleasure of having his youngest child, Mordechai, as a student in my shiur for three years (Ovadiah, Sarah and Devorah were students before my arrival). Given the rabbi’s knowledge and position, he could have been quite a difficult parent yet he was one of the most appreciative parents I have ever encountered. He would thank me time and time again for teaching his son Torah. Rav Ezra’s face would beam with pride that his son was enjoying the shiur and being exposed to the analytic methodology of his own rebbe, HaGaon HaRav Joseph Soloveitchik zt”l – a methodology that plumbs the fundamental truths and formulations of the Halakha. He would often comment to me “it’s amazing what you’re doing” and other “Rabbi Labaton-like” compliments. He would never let my expressions of false modesty stand and would repeat his compliments over again. Little did he know how happy and proud I was to play a role in teaching his and Emily’s child Torah. Rav Ezra’s passion for emet – truth, precluded him from “playing politics” in the communal realm. He spoke the truth, preached the truth and acted based on the truths he was privileged to perceive. He truly lived up to the view stated by Rambam in numerous places, “Hear the truth regardless of who said it.” His great love of חסד צדקה ומשפט – loving kindness, righteousness and justice, stemmed from his love of the truth of the בורא עולם – the Creator of the Universe. To quote a verse from Yirmiyahu 9:23, that he told me was so meaningful to him, “For only with this may one glorify himself – contemplating and knowing Me, for I am Hashem who does loving kindness, justice and righteousness in the land, for in these is My desire – the word of Hashem.” Our community, yeshiva and his thousands of students were privileged to observe a man who so heroically lived the words of the Prophet Yirmiyahu. I have lost a friend and great colleague – we have all lost a giant of a man. “If only my head would be water and my eyes a spring of tears, so that I could cry all day and night” (Yirmiyahu 8:23) יהי זכרו ברוך

  47. Anonymous says:

    The fundamental goodness,(and greatness) warmth,integrity,passion for teaching/Torah/Zion/Jews, kindness, compassion and erudition of Rabbi Labaton, zt”l radiated from in him in shining, vibrant tones that were impossible to miss, despite his great humility. He was a wonderful example of what is best from the Syrian-Sephardic community; a fidelity to ancient, timeless wisdoms, traditions and customs as applicable to navigate the modern world we live in with its unique and relentless challenges. Rabbi Labaton did not seek to cloister his students and congregants from the modern world but rather served as an amazing example of how to proudly carry the Torah torch and engage the modern world with one’s heritage intact and even stronger for it. He made this world and his community a better place to live, and therefore his light is not extinguished. I have been living in Israel for two years after making Aliyah and it is very painful to learn this news after his passing. At various milestones of my life: moments of triumph, life passages and challenges, I could look to Rabbi Labaton for sage advice and guidance. I wish I did so more often. The same, but more so, went for my father,Eddie, A”H. While R. Labaton seemingly could have been successful in many fields, he was a man who was blessed by Hashem to do what he was born to do. He always made you feel special and unique, and despite his many demands and later on, his illness, never gave you less than his full capacity – heart, soul and mind. He was a truly beautiful, righteous soul and a “renaissance man” in the best meanings and his various attributes could be each be the subject of its own page (or book). May these stories and tributes provide some comfort to his wife Emily and children.Baruch Dayan HaEmet.

  48. Rabbi Jack Savdie says:

    Shabbat Sermon Delivered at the West Deal Shul on Shabbat Va’era 12/28/13.

    It is very difficult to for me to speak from this pulpit. I have spoken here on previous occasions; when the Rabbi was well (while he was spending time in Eres Yisrael) and when the Rabbi was ill. And now I speak here as the Rabbi is no longer with us.
    I personally owe a great debt of hakarat hatob to the Rabbi A”H. Throughout the time I was a rabbinical student, and afterwards while I was a young rabbi, he was always very encouraging and supportive. He always made time to answer my questions, to engage in discussion, to guide and help.

    From the time that I was fortunate to marry in to a family in this kahal, and attend this kenise (throughout the summer and during shabatot & holidays), I was privileged to see a golden model of how a Rabbi should serve his community. I learned a great deal by simply watching him in action- watching how he served his kahal with the utmost care, integrity, dedication and grace.

    Each holiday that I spent here was greatly enhanced by his presence, by his speeches, and by his shiurim. It was so refreshing to hear new ideas and thoughts, always insightful and engaging. I was always inspired to see the great love and admiration he had for this kahal, and this kahal had for him.
    This admiration which the kahal has had for the Rabbi, and the influence which he had on them, is readily apparent. It is no coincidence that the members of West Deal Shul are at the forefront of many charitable community organizations. It is no coincidence that the members of this synagogue have a strong bond with Eres Yisrael; expressed through their awareness, and support of various causes and organizations in Eres Yisrael. It is no coincidence that the members of this kahal have an intellectual curiosity, and a great desire to increase their Torah knowledge. It is no coincidence that a number of girls from this kahal grew up and chose to marry young Rabbis. It is all due to the gargantuan efforts of Rabbi Labaton who selflessly invested in this kahal for thirty years with love and sincerity.

    I am sure that his kahal will continue to endear his memory and promote his legacy. May Hashem shower his blessing upon you and may you rise to new heights in Abodat Hashem. Yehi Zichro Barcuh.

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