Passing of Rabbi Ralph Pelcovitz

Naflah Ateres Rosheinu

We announce with deep sorrow the passing of our revered Rabbi Emeritus

Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz zt”l

beloved husband of Shirley Pelcovitz and cherished father of Ethel Gottlieb, Judy Gribetz, David Pelcovitz and Nachum Pelcovitz and dear Saba of Shraga Gross, Oralee Kanner, Carmi Gross, Efrom Gross and Gila Schwerd.

 The levayah will be held todayWednesday, March 14th at 1:00 pm at the White Shul, 728 Empire Avenue, Far Rockaway.  Cohanim should be out of the building by 12 noon.  

Kevurah will be on Har Hamenuchos on Thursday, March 15th.  It is estimated that the levayah in Israel will take place at 2:00 pm.  This time is subject to change. An email will be sent as soon as further information is available.

Shivah will be observed at the Pelcovitz home, 781 Caffrey Avenue, Far Rockaway, through Tuesday morning (March 20).   Ethel Gottlieb will begin sitting shivah at the home on Wednesday evening; Due to airline issues, the family has been delayed in returning. Therefore, there will be no Shacharis Friday morning at the Pelcovitz home.  Minchah Gedolah has been moved to 3:00 pm on Friday.  

Rabbi Pelcovitz zt”l was my rabbi.
He spoke always with insight, brilliance and humor.
There was nothing like Rabbi’s sermons when he returned
from Eretz Yisrael.  The shchinah/holy spirit, brought home
and radiated in his eyes, voice and face.
His illustrious white shul career started in 1951.
The Davis family arrived in the Five Towns in 1964.
He was the family Rabbi, marrying our family members,
including me.  He always liked to remind me that mine
was the first wedding he officiated on the sand…and how
he had to remove that sand from his shoes after the chupah.
He sadly buried our family as well, and every simcha
in between.  He has been rabbi to our six generations,
and multi-generations of most of his congregants.
He was an intellect.  He was an orator.  He was a great
Torah scholar and generational personality.
 He came to the community and built bridges.
He had foresight and insight in dealing with all
denominations, to build the foundation of this
very strong Five Towns/Far Rockaway community.
This is what I wrote, when I attended his 60th anniversary
shabbos celebration seven years ago.
If you weren’t among the one thousand plus people at the white shule today to honor Rabbi Ralph Pelcovitz’ 60 years of serving the shule and Five Town/Rockaway communities, then you missed a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Was there a dry eye when Rabbi Pelcovitz was danced from his Kisei Hakavod to the bimah for his aliyah, danced on the bimah, and danced back to his kisei? I brought my children with me for this milestone. They saw the present Rabbi, Rabbi Eytan Feiner, escorting Rabbi Pelcovitz to the bimah. The Kavod and derech eretz role-modeled by Rabbi Feiner bespoke thousands of words. The outpouring of love and respect by congregants, former congregants, non-congregrant residents, and Rabbis from all walks of community life.
Rabbi Pelcovitz started his speech noting “the variety of faces” present. Although he did not state so, in my mind, I connected this statement to a speech he gave to the Ballroom minyan one Rosh Hashanah several years ago, where he talked about the sea of black and white now present in the neighborhood, and, if I remember correctly, Rabbi Pelcovitz felt that the sea of black and white which represents homogeneity, was crowding out “the colored” people, or those who did not look exactly like the black and white, and represent the “variety” that makes up a community. Tolerance and intolerance of those who are different.
Rabbi Pelcovitz went on to talk about shalom/peace and shlaymut/roughly defined as being complete. If I understood correctly, Rabbi Pelcovitz defined shlaymut as a person’s being one with the kehilah and the kehilah being one with the individual. When he said that, I had a flashback to two weeks ago, as I was driving down Reads Lane toward Oak Drive and from a distance, I saw an elegant couple shpatziring up Reads Lane, and as I passed and turned the corner, I recognized this couple as Rabbi and Mrs. Pelcovitz. It was Rosh Chodesh Elul, and I just couldn’t resist driving my car around the block again so that I could park, get out of the car and wish them a good year. As always, I was received with a warm “Hello Suri, how is Doron and the kids?” and mutual wishes for a good year. It is rare to have a Rabbi in a community for so long, and for him to be so shalaym with the community and the community with him.
Of course, I am biased. My great grandmother, grandparents, parents, siblings and I grew up in the white shule with Rabbi Pelcovitz. While we enjoyed each weekly sermon, it was on his return from Eretz Yisrael that we knew we could expect an extra treat, for no one equals Rabbi Pelcovitz on the topic of Israel. And, of course, when Doron and I wanted to get married on the beach, literally on the sand, Rabbi Pelcovitz had one qualms going along with the idea in good humor. And of course, Rebbetzin Shirley. There isn’t a time that she sees me that she doesn’t greet me with “hello mameleh” or “hello mama shayna, how are you?”
On wives, too, Rabbi Pelcovitz discussed both is wives. His first wife, Rebbetzin Frumi, about her, Rabbi Pelcovitz quoted the passuk “lechtech acharai bamidbar, b’eretz lo zruah”, walk after me in a desert, in an ungentrified land.” Those present understood that when Rabbi Pelcovitz came to Far Rockaway, there was not much Orthodox Judaism growing in the community. But rather than coming and shunning those less frum, he built bridges with the other Rabbis and congregations that were present. There was a mutual mission to ensure that Judaism would be planted and developed in the area, no matter what branch of Judaism.
About Rebbetzin Shirley, Rabbi cited the verse quoted by Rabbi Akivah when his wife Rachel came to greet him and his students did not want to let this “strange” woman approach, Rabbi Akiva said “sheli, shelah, v’shelachem shelah”, what is mine is because of her, and what is yours is because of her.
As always, Rabbi Pelcovitz spoke earnestly, honestly and with humor. One of the punch lines was that you might be old, but I am not. How true about Rabbi Pelcovitz. Our community has aged, is aging and evolving, but Rabbi Pelcovitz continues to toe the line, the voice of moderation, the voice of inclusion, not exclusion, not me, but us, not my, but ours.
Several years ago, I spoke with Rabbi Pelcovitz, I interviewed him for the purpose of writing an article for you, my friends. I never published it. Rabbi Pelcovitz’ message was stronger, outspoke, the Rabbi himself. By that I mean that if you think of figures like Yeshayahu, Yirmiyahu and Yechezkel, their message, thoughts and ideas are so great, that it could eclipse the details of their lives. I had attempted to write an article about Rabbi Pelcovitz, the Rabbi, but upon reviewing my notes, after two hours of speaking with him and hearing his message, it was his message that eclipsed what I had set out to do.
What is that message? I believe I know what it is, but do not want to speak for Rabbi Pelcovitz. His words are clear, and message clearer, but each recipient of a message will hear what they will, they will hear based on their history, experience, and what they want to hear, and in that way, I don’t mean to interfere.
The take away for me was unity in the community. I was so thrilled to have a reunion with my white shule friends and family. I was brought to tears at the Hakarat Hatov the community felt for a Rabbi who remains a beloved and respected “servant” of the shule and community. I am awed at the derech eretz and kavod that the present white shule Rabbi, Rabbi Eytan Feiner, shows and showed yesterday as he personally escorted/danced Rabbi Pelcovitz to and from the bimah. These are rare lessons for us and for our children and for generations to come. There are no photographers/videographers/you tubers that caught the moment, just the one thousand plus people who will forever have this day etched into our memories. Thank you Rabbi Pelcovitz, Shirley and family.
Rabbi, you will be missed.

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