Rabbi Edelman remembered for life of service

Date: 1/15/2015

LONGMEADOW – Rabbi David Edelman, dean of Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy (LYA), an early pioneer of the development of Jewish day schools, and a legend in the Jewish communities of Western Massachusetts, passed away on Jan. 2; the day after his 90th birthday.

Hundreds of people across faiths and generations paid their respects to Edelman at his funeral on Jan. 4 at Ascher Zimmerman Funeral Home in Springfield and during a week-long shiva, or mourning period, during which friends and members of the community visit the deceased’s family to give their condolences, Rabbi Noach Kosofsky, principal of LYA and Edelman’s son-in-law, said.

“I guess he viewed himself as having the responsibility and the mission to bring out the best in people, to elevate people,” Kosofsky said. “This is what the mission of Judaism and more specifically of the Hasidic Chabad movement. So I guess in that way, he was a legend.

“What he did was legendary, he continued. “The lessons that he’s given and the guidance that he’s given and the love that he’s shown to people and his kindness; that’s legendary. That continues to exist even a week and a half after his passing and God willing, it grows.” 

In January 1950, at the request of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the sixth Rebbe of the Chabad worldwide movement in the United States, Edelman and his then pregnant wife Leah moved from Boston to Springfield to help the struggling LYA, Kosofsky explained. LYA was established in 1946 and had three principals, who were the head of the school at that time, leave during a four-year period.

“He didn’t know where Springfield was,” he added. “There was no [Massachusetts Turnpike] at the time. You had to go through the city routes.”

 Kosofsky said Edelman drove the entire night of Jan. 8, 1950 from Boston until he reached Springfield on Jan. 9. Edelman helped save the school and was a part of the LYA community for 65 years. At the time, LYA was located on the first floor of a two-family house on Belmont Avenue in Springfield.

“Last week during the shiva, there was one person here who told us that he remembered when Rabbi Edelman came [to LYA] when he was a little boy [of about 7 years old],” he added. “He remembers [Edelman] speaking to his grandfather when he was a little boy and this gentleman has grandchildren. That’s five generations [of people that Edelman knew].

“They came to give strength and support to the family but I think a lot of people came because they needed the strength and support,” Kosofsky noted. “They felt the void of not having Rabbi Edelman here.”

Kosofsky told Reminder Publications two years ago he and Edelman were in Florida on a vacation waiting to meet someone when Edelman noticed an elderly man who seemed distraught. The elderly man shared his thoughts of being without purpose in life.

“This is an older man, probably in his 70s or even in his 80s and Rabbi Edelman turns to him and said, ‘Every person on earth has a purpose and everyone has a reason that their put here and you too have a purpose.’ And the man looked over to him and said, ‘Thank you, you’ve given me what to live for.’”

Edelman received a $90,000 model check for LYA during a gala event called “90 for 90” on Dec. 9, 2014, which was organized by Ron Eckerman and Oscar Plotkin and focused on the selflessness of Edelman and his ability to see the good in everyone, according to a press release from LYA.

“Rabbi Edelman still [called] me every Friday to tell me about the weekly Torah portion,” Eckman said during the event. “And then when I go to services on Shabbat morning, I already know what is being read from the Torah in synagogue. It means so much to me that he cared enough about me to make that weekly phone call.” 

Eckman said he had known Edelman since hew as preschooler at LYA.

Plotkin also shared with the guests, that although he and several other people no longer live in Western Massachusetts, their roots are here and go back to Rabbi Edelman and LYA.

Edelman was overwhelmed by the presentation and when he spoke to the assembled guests, he thanked the donors for the incredible birthday gift and said that it was fitting to have the celebration at LYA since “this has been your school since the start, your generosity built it.”

LYA students also prepared a gift in honor of Rabbi Edelman’s 90th birthday, Kosofsky said. The students and faculty came up with the idea of a book. which included photos of 90 acts of kindness performed by students. A special poem written by seventh grade student Chana Wolvosky was also printed in the book. Edelman celebrated his birthday with students on Dec. 24, the last time he visited LYA before he passed away.