Remembering Rabbi Dworken

I want to express my and my family’s deep sense of gratitude for the beautiful way the Orthodox Union has treated the memory of my husband, Rabbi Steven M. Dworken, z”l (Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, “A Look at Leadership,” spring 2004). The beautiful tribute is testimony to the OU’s mentshlichkeit (decency) and adherence to the fundamental concept of hakarat hatov (appreciation). Steve was particularly elated when Rabbi Weinreb took over the reins of the OU. He felt that in him there was a model for all in the Modern Orthodox world to emulate. How justified he was in his perception!

I know Steve would feel honored by the recognition Rabbi Weinreb has given to his efforts. He believed in the mission of the Orthodox Union and felt that its hashkafah (general outlook) was needed for the survival and perpetuation of Torah Judaism. He worked hard with “his” rabbis because he believed in them and in what they stood for. It is most gratifying to know his efforts were valued; we hope they will be remembered and built upon.

Susan H. Dworken

Teaneck, New Jersey

Rabbi Weinreb’s moving tribute to Rabbi Dworken was all the more poignant because it was framed within an analysis of Jewish leadership. In the many hespedim (eulogies) of Rabbi Dworken, much was said about his having been the “rabbi’s rabbi.” But to me he was much more than that: He was my rabbi.

Rabbi Dworken made an impact on so many people, and none more than a seventh grader in the Congregation Anshe Chesed Hebrew school, testing the waters of Yiddishkeit and Torah. Rabbi Dworken knew from his own experience what it was like to be a young boy who had become enchanted with Judaism, and he was a loving guide in the early years of my odyssey toward becoming observant. His plain, good sense helped smooth the inevitable tension of a home in which a teenager is becoming frum. I vividly remember the conversation that took place in his study, during which my parents agreed to kasher the house. He helped my parents and me work out the challenges, while emphasizing my obligations of kavod (giving honor), a trait that was his hallmark in his interactions with every person, from shul janitor to chief rabbi.

A deeply emotional person, Rabbi Dworken was never reluctant to shed a tear. He once asked me to help make a minyan at a funeral. Someone who had a tangential connection to the shul had lost her mother. The mourner was over seventy, and the deceased well into her nineties. Rabbi Dworken didn’t know either of them. When we got back to the car, I saw that he was crying. In the cynicism of youth, I asked, “What are you crying about?” He answered softly, “A Jewish person died.”

When I received semichah from Yeshiva University, Rabbi Dworken told me: “The trick to being a rabbi is being able to love Jews, especially those that aren’t always so loveable.” Rabbi Dworken was able to lead Anshe Chesed for twenty-three years because he was an ish chesed par excellence. He once said to me, “After 120 years I don’t think they’ll say I was the gadol hador (the leader of the generation), but I hope they’ll say I was a good rabbi.” He was a great rabbi, friend and role model, and I miss him.

Rabbi Jeffrey Saks

Efrat, Israel

This article was featured in the Fall 2004 issue of Jewish Action.