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Rabbi Yakov Hilsenrath

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Rabbi  Yakov Hilsenrath Obituary
Rabbi Yakov Hilsenrath

Highland Park

Family, friends and congregants are mourning the loss of community legend and luminary, Rabbi Yakov Hilsenrath who passed away on February 17, 2014. As Rabbi, mentor, guide and family patriarch, the Rabbi transformed the lives of three generations during a period of 5 decades. Rabbi Hilsenrath, born in 1932 in Vienna, Austria, immigrated to Brooklyn with his family after miraculously escaping the Nazi horror. The Rabbi was a student at Yeshivah Torah Vodaath and the Ner Israel Rabbinical Seminary of Baltimore, where he was ordained as a Rabbi in 1953. After marrying his dynamic life's partner Devorah Goldberger, a survivor of Auschwitz, they moved to Wildwood, New Jersey where the Rabbi served for 11 years at the Beth Judah Temple. Simultaneously, the Rabbi also served a as Chaplin for the Jewish members of the Coast Guard. He was very active in civic organizations was named as one of five Outstanding Young Men in the State of New Jersey and also established the Cape May County Mental Health Clinic. During his tenure in Wildwood, the Rabbi recited the opening prayer in both the Senate and the Congress in Washington, D.C. In 1964 Rabbi Hilsenrath accepted a position at the Highland Park Conservative Temple and Center in Highland Park, New Jersey where he served with unparalleled distinction. Rabbi Hilsenrath dramatically enriched the weekly Sabbath experience where the initial handful of members at services blossomed into over 400 weekly attendees. The Rabbi infused the Jewish Holidays with a renewed spirit of joy and passionate observance. Rabbi Hilsenrath believed that Torah education was the essential ingredient towards personal and spiritual growth, and that parents are the vehicle through whom to transmit tradition and values to their children. In 1970 the Rabbi created a nationally recognized and replicated Parent Education Program, which reflected these concepts. Rabbi Hilsenrath established the American Jerusalem Academy for Contemporary Judaic Studies in 1982, which was noted for its scholastic excellence. As a result of the Rabbi's innovative approach of Jewish education, the Highland Park Conservative Temple and Center was awarded 14 Solomon Shechter awards of Jewish Theological Seminary for outstanding achievement. These awards recognized excellence for the teaching Jewish worship and ritual, youth programs, adult education, special education and the development of an extensive synagogue library. The Rabbi was also honored by the Anti-Defamation League, Israel Bonds, Jewish Federation and the city of Highland Park. The Avi Chai foundation awarded the Temple a significant grant in support of the numerous creative outreach programs instituted by Rabbi Hilsenrath. Additional innovations included the Temple's Free Loan Fund, Blood Bank, Ben/Bat Torah Summer Scholarships, the Bikur Cholim Hospital Visitation Fellowship, Temple Jewish Art Gallery and Museum Showcase, and the 10,000 Jewish National Fund Highland Park Temple tree forest in Israel The Rabbi enhanced the Temple sanctuary with priceless stained glass windows. It was during Rabbi Hilsenrath's 30 year career that the Temple hosted educational lectures by prominent figures including Noble Laureates Eli Wiesel and Batsheva Singer, Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzchak Rabin, Abba Eban, Talmud scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Senator Edmund Muskie, Chief Justice Douglas, Chaim Potak and Simon Wiesenthal. Rabbi Hilsenrath shared his love of Israel by leading the Temple congregants on several memorable and life altering trips to the Holy Land. In 1973, after the Yom Kippur War, the Rabbi brought a Torah scroll to the Israeli Army due to a severe shortage in army bases. He also took hand knitted hats and other articles of clothing, knitted by Sisterhood members, which were given out to Israeli soldiers who were protecting the cold northern Israeli borders. Upon Rabbi Hilsenrath's retirement, he continued to serve as a spiritual guide and teacher for the Jewish and general community at large. This commitment included continuing to serve on the Medical Ethics Committee at the Robert Woods Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick where he also was instrumental in establishing a permanent chaplaincy. Rabbi Hilsenrath had been recognized and awarded for his untiring and unwavering commitment to the Jewish community, to the values of Judaism and to the teaching of the Torah. Rabbi Hilsenrath's warmth of personality, gratitude towards G-d for the blessings of everyday and for the gift of His Torah, belief in the ability of each person to achieve greatness, and his limitless love of family are traits that energized his essence. His infectious smile at times of joy, and his comforting soul at times of sorrow will be sorely missed. This past fall, the Rabbi's Torah commentaries were published on the book of Bereshet (Genesis) in a Limited Family Edition. Entitled, Middot L'Dorot (Ethics for the Generations): Torah Reflections, Practical Implications. The family looks forward to publishing his scholarly work in the near future. May Rabbi Hilsenrath's memory serve as an inspiration for generations to come.

Rabbi Hilsenrath is survived by his devoted wife of 60 years, Devorah and his children Chaya Heuman & family residing in Israel, Baruch Hilsenrath& family residing in Brooklyn, Rochelle Goldschmiedt & family residing in Teaneck, Aviva Rappaport & family residing in Highland Park, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Donations may be made to the Rabbi Hilsenrath Memorial Free Loan Fund, 200 Cedar Avenue, Highland Park, N.J., 08904. Arrangements were under the direction of the Crabiel Parkwest Funeral Chapel, 239 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ.

Published in Home News Tribune on Mar. 12, 2014
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