Longtime Traditional Congregation rabbi dies at 80

Rabbi Ephraim Zimand, shown here in a 1987 file photo, died March 11. He served as the spiritual leader of Traditional Congregation for 26 years. 

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Rabbi Ephraim Zimand, who served as spiritual leader of Traditional Congregation for 26 years and a Jewish educator for two decades, died Sunday, March 11 in Jerusalem at the age of 80, according to his widow, Esther Zimand.

Rabbi Zimand was born in the Bronx, N.Y. on July 11, 1937, to Nathan and Ethel Hanover Zimand. He was a pulpit rabbi for a total of 46 years, including the 26 at Traditional.  Previously he served pulpits in Sarnia, Canada; Toledo, Ohio; Albany, N.Y.; and Schenectady, N.Y. 

He was a graduate of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, affiliated with Yeshiva University in New York from which he received his smicha (rabbinic ordination) in 1961. Rabbi Zimand and his wife, Esther, who for years was director of Adult Education at CAJE (now the Center for Jewish Learning), were both beloved and admired throughout the Jewish community.  He was the first Orthodox rabbi to be elected president of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association, and had Jews from all streams of Judaism among his loyal students.

Steve Puro, a longtime member of Traditional Congregation, spoke admiringly of Rabbi Zimand’s “fantastic teaching abilities, kindness and knowledge of all facets of Judaism.  He truly knew the Torah backwards and forwards. He could catch someone in  a mistake even while he was distracted with another chore. He will be missed.”

Rabbi Zimand and his wife received numerous honors during their time in St. Louis, including a gala retirement dinner and the prestigious Emunah Yosher Award from the Union for Traditional Judaism at its annual dinner in Teaneck, N.J. in 2005. The award is given each year to a rabbi or rabbinic couple who has “shown outstanding commitment to the ideal of “emunah tzerufah v’yosher da’at” (genuine faith and intellectual honesty), which is the motto of UTS, and its educational arm, the Institute of Traditional Judaism.

On that occasion, Rabbi Ronald D. Price, executive vice president of the UTS, said, “Together, Rabbi Zimand and Esther stand as role models in their steadfast commitment to Torah observance and knowledge.”

Jerry Chervitz, president of Traditional Congregation at the time the Zimands received the UTS honor, said he had learned much from courses taught by Esther Zimand for the Florence Melton Program at CAJE, and from the inspirational spiritual and intellectual leadership of Rabbi Zimand.

When Rabbi and Rebbetzin Zimand decided to make aliyah to Israel in 2007, he told the Jewish Light that he was fulfilling “a lifelong dream to settle in Israel.”

“My wife and I have been Zionists from when we were very young, and Israel is the Jewish homeland,” he said. “Israel is the only place on the planet where Jews are the majority.  It’s a different feeling being part of the majority instead of a minority.”

The Zimands would return to St. Louis to visit family members who reside here, and would often offer special classes through CAJE, which were attended by overflow crowds.

Zimand, who was succeeded at Traditional by Rabbi Seth Gordon, said of his tenure at the synagogue, “I feel that these 26 years at Traditional Congregation have been really great; to use the analogy of a Broadway show, a great run.”

The Zimands had six children:  Elana Zimand Pear of Atlanta; Yedida Borow of Neve Tzuf, Israel; Deena Schwartz of Hashmonaim, Israel; David Zimand of Palo Alto, Calif.; Natan Zimand of Silver Spring, Md. and Meir Zimand of St. Louis; 19 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Funeral services were scheduled for Tuesday in Jerusalem.

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