By COLlive reporter
A series of high profile events in Worcester commemorated the first yartzeit of Rabbi Hershel Fogelman OBM, the longest-serving Chabad-Lubavitch Shliach who led the growth of Jewish life in Central Massachusetts and passed away on Rosh Chodesh Tammuz 5773.
At the first event, a historic property that he spearheaded in the 1950s was renamed Rabbi Hershel Fogelman Chabad Center in his honor. The 2-acre campus near busy Newton Square was the first building that Chabad has built in the United States.
Formally known as Yeshiva Achei Tmimim Academy, or “The Yeshiva,” its construction brought great joy to the Rebbe and over the years, hundreds of students have passed through its doors.
Rabbi Mendel Fogelman, his father’s successor in running Chabad in Worcester, was the master of ceremonies, recalling the early days of his parents’ activities. He read a letter from the Rebbe to his father, replying to a report sent with a picture of the Chabad building under construction,
Rabbi Mendel explained how precious each word of a letter from the Rebbe is, and the fact that the Rebbe wrote that the picture made a strong impression on him, means so much.
Honored with unveiling the center’s new name was Albert Tapper, a Worcester native and philanthropist who had a close friendship with Rabbi Fogelman. He told the overflowing crowd that his presence at the monumental event was due to a miracle.
Tapper, an accomplished writer, composer and recipient of the prestigious Peabody Award, is the son of Lou and Ida Tapper, and the grandson of Soroh Lotte Ziff, one of the founders of the Yeshiva. He said he now lives on a narrow street in New York City.
“I stepped out to cross the street and before I could blink, a car went right through me,” he said. “Call it mystical. Call it mirrored walls. The car went through me. I believe I was not hurt because just 10 minutes earlier I emailed Rabbi Mendel to say I would be attending the event. I say openly, I believe Rabbi Hershel Fogelman saved my life.”
BUILDING A WORLD
Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty presented a declaration from the City, proclaiming the yartzeit to “be forever known by the citizens of Worcester, as Rabbi Hershel Fogelman Day of Good Deeds and Acts of Kindness.”
“We give gratitude to Rabbi Hershel Fogelman for his inspiration, for his message to incorporate G-dliness in our daily lives, for his teaching that the seven Noahide commandments were divinely transmitted to Moses by G-d for all mankind, as a spiritual foundation for a just and humane society,” it read.
Rabbi Chaim Fishman, a beloved teacher in the Yeshiva for 53 years and member of the hanhola, led the audience in a prayer.
Rabbi Shmuel Fogelman, the veteran Shliach’s son and a community activist in Los Angeles, conveyed a strong message which was eloquently delivered.
“My father’s focus was on the individual,” he said. “He didn’t build a shul, a community, a city. He built individuals that he viewed as an ‘olom maleh’, an entire world. Those individuals created a shul, a community, a city. He energized his students, stirring them to recognize the effect that they can have on the atmosphere around them, making them all shluchim.”
Rabbi Yossi Gordon, Executive Vice President of Chabad on Campus International who had just concluded his organization’s annual conference, came in time for the ceremony to share a heart-warming message.
“This building is a beacon of kedusha,” he said. “A beacon of holiness and sanctity that illuminates Worcester and the entire Central Massachusetts area. Rabbi Fogelman’s holy soul is here now. He is shepping nachas from us. Without question, as the Rebbe’s Shliach for nearly 70 years, the Rebbe is here too. Without question, the holy presence of G-d Almighty, the Shechina is here.”
Rabbi Gordon added, “Tonight Mr. Tapper leads the way in bringing our renewed commitment to strong and vibrant Jewish life in Worcester. The Jewish Renaissance in Worcester is underway, and we are here to support and nurture it to greater and greater success.”
Before introducing retired Judge Ernest S. Hayeck of the District Court of Worcester, Rabbi Mendel Fogelman told a two-fold story.
“When I was 19-years-old,” he said, “I was driving down Belmont Hill when I heard for the very first time (and not the last) a siren. The policeman looked at my license and said, ‘Oh… Fogelman. It’s not your fault. Your father taught you to drive!'”
“Years later,” Rabbi Mendel told the audience, “my father appeared before a very tough judge regarding a pile of tickets. The judge banged down his gavel, fined Rabbi Fogelman $250, declaring him guilty. Then the judge stood up in front of the courtroom, pulled $250 from his pocket, and told his clerk to pay the fine.” When Judge Hayeck was introduced he quipped, “It wasn’t $250; it was $400!”
State Senator Harriette Chandler shared that when she was asked by a group of college professors to go visit Israel in 1968, she was frightened. She was advised to talk to Rabbi Fogelman who in turn asked the Rebbe for a blessing. While standing on top of the Masada rock plateau, on the first or second day of her trip, a man with his family hurried over to her, saying: “Rabbi Fogelman said to tell you, the Rebbe said your trip is good for the Jews.”
The final speaker was Rebbetzin Rochelle Fogelman, who at a meeting of the Board of Directors of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, which oversees the educational and outreach activities of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, was appointed Head Shlucha of Chabad Lubavitch of Worcester and Central Massachusetts.
In a letter to her, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of Merkos, wrote: “We are confident that you will continue to grow the rich legacy that you and your husband have created over so many years and we look forward to working together with you for many more happy, healthy and successful years.”
In her closing remarks, Rebbetzin Fogelman told a story about the importance of outreach, and that with our actions, we can bring people who are distant, closer to Yiddishkeit. Her words were inspirational and uplifting.
The dedication ceremony was just the beginning of a weekend of tributes to Rabbi Fogelman. A community Friday night Shabbos meal was attended by close to 60 family members. On Shabbos morning, over 150 community members gathered in shul.
Rabbi Levi Fogelman, Director of the Chabad Center of Natick and Metro-West, delivered an in-depth talk on the meaning of a yartzeit, making connections to Gimmel Tammuz, the Rebbe’s 20th yartzeit.
Following mussaf there was a farbrengen luncheon where the crowd was addressed by Mrs. Bassie Levin, eldest daughter of Rabbi Fogelman, who kept the crowd interested with wonderful anecdotes, including the family’s participation in shlichus in the 1950’s.
One story was about a birthday party that she attended when she was five or six years old. The girls had gathered in a circle for a game and one girl told Bassie, “I want to hold your hand. Your father is Rabbi Fogelman and he owns the Yeshiva”! Bassie came home and excitedly relayed to her father that a girl had told her that her father owned the Yeshiva. Rabbi Fogelman, in a serious but gentle tone, responded, “The Rebbe owns the Yeshiva.”
On Sunday morning, following services, Rabbi Mutty Fogelman, the Shliach’s youngest son from Crown Heights, completed learning the mishnayos and made a siyum. Rabbis Fishman, Blotner, and Phillips all made personal remarks, and Rebbetzin Fogelman completed the weekend with closing remarks which held the crowd spellbound and vowing to continue Chabad’s work.