Eulogies for Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Scher, ztz”l

The following audio is from the funeral service for Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Scher, who was the Rabbi at Kol BeRamah from its founding until 2013.  Unfortunately, the recorder cut off in the middle, so that half of Daniel Israel’s eulogy, and Rabbi Wittenstein’s closing remarks are missing. The speaking begins around the 3 minute mark, as Rabbi Wittenstein took a while before he could compose himself enough to speak.

The speakers are:

  • Rabbi Wittenstein
  • Bob Nestor
  • Gary Brouse
  • Len Goodman
  • Rabbi Wittenstein reading an e-mail from Rabbi David Bogart
  • Daniel Israel

Download audio of eulogies.

Please leave your reminiscences of Rabbi Scher in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

 

Text of Daniel Israel’s Eulogy

I first want to note that in Jewish tradition, funerals are not held in the synagogue, in the Beit Midrash. The exception is for great leaders and Torah scholars. When I spoke with Rabbi Wittenstein about arranging this service, we immediately agreed that it was only appropriate that it be held hear in the Beit Midrash.

Rabbi Scher was not someone who wanted to be in the spotlight. He did not seek to be a leader. His greatest joy was to sit in the Beit Midrash and learn in the traditional ways that Jews have learned for millennium, and to have anyone who wanted to learn HaShem’s Torah to sit with him, and learn. To start at the beginning of something, and work through it as it was meant to be learned, until they got to the end. And then to move on to the next thing.

Ten years ago, when we started KBR, he said we didn’t need a Rabbi. He was happy to be a teacher, but we had to insist that we wanted him also to be the Rabbi. His vision of KBR as a real, traditional, Beit Midrash laid the foundations of this institution, and what makes it so special and unique.

He was a tremendous Torah scholar. I know all of you have seen his erudition, his love of Torah, and his command of it. Even with that, I’m not sure how much we all appreciate just how knowledgeable he was. Even in a community of scholars, Rabbi Scher would have stood out. Many guests, people who lived in communities with great scholars and learned people in their own right, have commented to me about how impressed they were with Rabbi Scher.

Rabbi Scher was fundamentally a teacher. The halacha states that a person should not eat or sleep in a Beit Midrash, except for a Torah scholar and his students, “because the Beit HaMidrash is his home.” (SA O”Ch 151:1, MB 8) Rabbi Scher was definitely someone for whom the Beit Midrash was home. He learned for many years in Merkaz HaRav, the yeshiva of Rav Kook, in Jerusalem. When it came time to take a teaching position he only sat for a smicha exam because his colleagues told him he needed it for getting a job as a teacher. Although he far exceeded the knowledge needed to be a shul Rav, he never wanted to be treated as such. I don’t know that he ever quite forgave me for insisting on calling him “Rabbi,” but I felt obligated to do so out of respect for his Torah.

We all saw how much he loved to teach, how much he loved being in an environment of Torah learning. When we had, for several years, students from YU who came to join the congregation for Rosh HaShanah, he had such joy in just being in the presence of people who cared about Torah, and reminiscing with them about their Rabbis when they learned in Yehsiva.

Rabbi Scher had many other interests, and served in many other ways. There are more things than I can mention, but I would like to highlight a few that come to mind. He served in the IDF. As a veteran, he always had a great concern for soldiers and veterans of both the United States and Israeli armed forces. He volunteered with search and rescue, worked for Medflight, and as an ER Nurse. Even there, his love of Torah came out. Dr. Billowitz, who is an ER doctor told me how he would search out Rabbi Scher when there was a lull in the ER so they could learn something together. And he co-taught a class in Jewish Medical Ethics for the hospital staff. He loved the outdoors, motorcycles, and his dogs. Finally, his unlikely friendship with Marvin Schwab, the Rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom, was a major factor in healing some of the rifts on the Santa Fe community, and I believe began a process of bringing people together that has changed the Santa Fe community.

He also would never have let a public occasion such as this one pass without praising and thanking his wife, Dr. Shulamit Yaarah Scher. Looking at him at those times it was clear that his dominant feeling was lasting shock that he had made such an amazing catch.

He spent many years in Israel, and it was always his true home. Even before buying his home in Katzrin, he was only living here, in America, in galut, as a temporary thing. When he would return from a trip to Israel, I was always had a strong feeling that I couldn’t say, “Welcome home.” I believe I once even told him, “Welcome away.” Especially once he became ill, I looked forward to the few occasions we had a minyan for a Yom Tov, so I could give him an Aliyah, because the mi-sheberach that we give after an Aliyah on Yom Tov has a special addition. Usually we say “״וישלח ברכה והצלחחה בכל מעשה ידיו, but on Yom Tov we add “ויזכה לעלות לרגל”. Some of you may know the town of Katzrin as the home of the Golan Heights Winery. Rabbi Scher’s neighbor there started the Golan Heights Distillery. Their first batch was ready for distribution recently, and Rabbi Scher told me the owner had contacted him: his bottle was waiting for him. He even texted me a picture of it. It wasn’t just that his heart was in the Land, he was already at home there. So, it is entirely appropriate that as the Shabbat was departing, at the time when in the shul we would be reading the verse, “וַיֵּרָ֤א ה׳ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם וַיֹּ֕אמֶר לְזַ֨רְעֲךָ֔ אֶתֵּ֖ן אֶת־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַזֹּ֑את” (Bereshit 12:7) the soul of Mordechai Yosef the son of Avraham began his journey back to the land of Israel.

I would like to conclude by quoting something, which as I recall he said in the name of one of his teachers, but I will recall in his name. “Don’t learn about it, learn it.” We are not here, in this Beit Midrash to learn about Torah, we are here to learn the Torah. As it has been learned for millennia. His greatness of his legacy depends on our learning. All through his illness, as far as I know he never canceled a class due to his illness until this past week. And whenever he had to be away for work, or any other reason, he always pushed the people in his classes to meet without him so that the learning would not be interrupted, even if it was an advanced topic and the students were beginners. He was fond of saying, “all we have to do is daven, and study HaShem’s Torah.” Am Yisrael chai. The learning will continue. We will have to learn without him.

Text of Rabbi David Bogart’s E-mail

My prayers and thoughts are about Mordechai, Ya’arah, and his daughters. May they be comforted.

Mordechai and I met 30 years ago when we both were attending Yeshivat Shalvim’s SHAAL program – a rabbinical program designed to educate rabbis for working in Jewish Education, Youth Group Programming and Shul Rabbinics. I recall Mordechai being very deliberate with his questions, comments and opinions.

We spent two years together in SHAAL meeting twice a week at the NCSY Center on Rechov Strauss (Strauss street) Jerusalem. Upon completion, Mordechai moved to Houston, Texas, and I to Birmingham, Alabama. He teaching high school; I teaching middle school.

One of the very best and meaningful Pesachs I ever had was when Rav Mordechai drove from south Texas to Birmingham. He outpaced a hurricane and met at Jewish state patrolman in Mississippi who left him off with just a warning to keep the speed under 90 mph .

After bedikat chametz, the severe winds struck. Trees and power lines came crashing down. We were fortunate no trees hit the house and only power lines were ripped from the wall of the house. Erev yom tov, Rav Mordechai and I navigated to the Sears which was open. I had no camping experience. Baruch HaShem, Mordechai did. I bought everything he said to buy. We cooked in our fireplace, used the new Coleman stoves, lit candles and lanterns. With this kind of ambience, the Seder was amazing. Rav Mordechai’s divrei Torah – excellent.

The following year, I moved Dallas Texas. I discovered that no sofer had been to town to check mezuzahs or tefillin. I invited Rav Mordechai to Dallas for Shabbos. He set up in the JCC Friday and Sunday. The community was blessed to have his expertise. And during that visit the story “the sofer and the spider” was conceived.

Over the years we kept in touch and we have visited in Santa Fe. A very meaningful Shabbat was 4 years ago when we stayed at the Israels’ guest house (they were out of town). Mordechai brought over his crockpot loaded with cholent, etc. And with Elisheva, Dr. Billowitz (who also prepared a great feast) and the Schers, we had a mile-and-a-half-high Shabbos Kodesh.

Many memories flashed through my mind last night as I lay awake. These were just a couple I wanted to share.

May Mordechai’s neshama be elevated.