Before move to Israel, a farewell to remember for Grunbergers

Shmulie Grunberger (left) presents a tribute on behalf of the Grunberger Children to their parents, Brocha and Rabbi Elazar Grunberger, during a  tribute dinner to the Grunbergers’ 26 years of service to the St. Louis community. Photo: Yana Hotter

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Rabbi Elazar Grunberger and his wife, Brocha Krakow Grunberger, were honored for their 26 years of service to Aish HaTorah of St. Louis and the U. City Shul, at a tribute dinner last Thursday, July 14, attended by 250 people at the Arts & Education Building of the Jewish Community Center. The admiration and affection of those whose lives were touched by the Grunbergers was evident in the warm tributes expressed by visiting dignitaries, professional colleagues, students and members of their own family.

Last month Rabbi Grunberger, whose tenure as director of Aish HaTorah of St. Louis dates back to 1985 and who has been serving as rabbi of the U. City Shul since 1996, is moving back to Israel to accept a major staff assignment at the Aish HaTorah World Center in Jerusalem. The job offer is what Rabbi Grunberger described as “an offer we couldn’t refuse.”

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Joan Ellyn Silber, co-chair of the tribute dinner committee and a past president of Aish HaTorah St. Louis, thanked the diverse audience of attendees, who were from all streams of Judaism, for “joining us in thanking the Grunbegers for the many things they have done for the Jewish community of St. Louis over the past two and one-half decades.” She also thanked Rabbi Hillel Weinberg, current world head of Aish HaTorah, “for coming to St. Louis from Jerusalem especially for this event,” and her co-chairpersons, Gloria Feldman, Sylvia Poe and Marci Rosenberg, “whose hard work made this evening possible”

It was pointed out that Rabbi Grunberger was born 52 years ago in Steubenville, Ohio, the son of Cantor David and Sondra Grunberger, and that when he was 5 years old, the family moved to El Paso, Texas. In high school, Rabbi Grunberger was very active in his synagogue youth group, holding several offices, including president of United Synagogue Youth, Southwest Region. He attended the University of Texas at El Paso while pursuing a career in radio and broadcasting. At the age of 16, he received his FCC license and at 17 was the youngest professional radio announcer and disc jockey working for KELP in El Paso.

In 1976 Rabbi Grunberger pursued additional studies in Jerusalem and the following year he became a student at Yeshivat Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, under the guidance and leadership of its late founder, Rabbi Noach Weinberg, father of the current head of the program. While in Israel he met Brocha Krakow, a native of Newark, N.J., raised in Rochester, N.Y., an experienced teacher, tutor and dorm counselor. They were married in 1981.

Rabbi Grunberger received his rabbinic ordination in 1984 and the following year Rabbi Noach Weinberg asked him to move to St. Louis to direct the Aish HaTorah of St. Louis program. During his tenure, Aish HaTorah vastly expanded its programs throughout St. Louis, offering classes, hosting guest speakers and raising funds for its Gloria and Rubin Feldman Aish HaTorah Center for Jewish Studies, known as the “Firehouse” facility in Chesterfield. In 1996, Rabbi Grunbeger accepted the position of rabbi of the U. City Shul, which resulted from the merger o Sha’arei Chesed Shul and Beth HaMedrosh Hagodol.

Rabbi Grunberger was succeeded as Aish Executive Director by Rabbi Yosef David, with Rabbi Shmuel Greenwald serving as education director and Rabbi Chanan Swidler as operations director.

The Grunbergers are now parents of 10 children and have “two spectacular sons-in-law, two exceptional daughters-in-law, and a multitude of adorable grandchildren,” as Rabbi Grunberger later pointed out.

Following a musical tribute by David Markowitz and St. Louis Kollel rabbis, Charlie Deutsch, a longtime friend and colleague of the Grunbergers who has been associated with Aish HaTorah for several years, offered remarks. He noted that since Aish was founded 40 years ago by the late Rabbi Noach Weinberg, and continued by his son, Rabbi Hillel Weinberg, it has filled a void in the yeshiva world by its outreach in more than 30 branches worldwide with an annual budget of $50 million.

Deutsch added that when he became involved with Aish some 25 years ago, “not everyone in the local Jewish community understood its purpose, and some even considered it strange or cult-like, and worried it would be a divisive element in the community. Quite the contrary, Aish has served to bring our entire Jewish community closer together.

“Aish trains over 1,000 college students in how to combat anti-Israel and anti-Jewish attacks on our campuses, and Aish.com has a huge number of hits every day. With the construction of the new $20 million Aish facility in Jerusalem, where over 3 million visitors go each year, Aish will be in a position to accomplish even more, and Rabbi Grunberger will be there to help make this happen.”

Rabbi Hillel Weinberg, in his remarks, compared Rabbi Grunberger to Abraham in his level of righteousness. “We learn in our Torah that Noah was a tzaddik, a righteous man, but in some ways he kept his righteousness to himself. The Almighty became angry with Noah for not taking more responsibility for others. Abraham, by contrast, did take responsibility for others, and that is the one big difference between Noah and Abraham. Abraham took responsibility and as a result, the Almighty said ‘I will make a Covenant with you and your children forever.’ My father was named Noah, and he took responsibility, teaching that we should reach out to all Jews. And one of the first people he met was Rabbi Elazar Grunberger, who has taken that responsibility during all of his work in Jerusalem and in St. Louis.”

Other words of tribute and appreciation to the Grunbergers were offered by David Rich, president of the U. City Shul, Jonathan Spetner, a close personal friend, Rabbi Shmuel and Chana Greenwald, Rabbi Yosef David, Rabbi Josh Baretzky, William Poe, and Rabbi Shmulie Grunberger on behalf of the Grunberger children and grandchildren.

In his remarks, Rabbi Grunberger said that he and his wife were “very grateful and humbled by this event.” He gave special thanks to his wife, calling her his “life partner in all aspects of our lives.”

“Several months ago, Rabbi Hillel Weinberg approached us with an offer we could not refuse, an invitation to return to Israel and continue our work on behalf of the Jewish people at the Aish HaTorah World Center in Jerusalem,” he continued. “It has always been our life goal to reside in Israel, yet just as we were destined to leave Israel for St. Louis, so we feel we are now destined to return. In today’s world, there is no such thing as ‘goodbye.’ Through email, phone Skype, visits to St. Louis and more importantly, your visits to Israel, we hope to continue to keep in close contact with each other.

“It is my hope and prayer that with the Almighty’s help, Aish HaTorah St. Louis and the U. City Shul will continue to thrive amid all of the challenges that have been sent their way. Both, each with their separate missions, are so important and have so much to offer.”