It was my second year in the rabbinate, and I was approached by a potential giyyoret (convert). She had contacted a major American beit din and filled out their forms, and had not heard from them in months, despite repeated inquiries. What could I do?
I don’t remember how this developed, but someone suggested I contact Rabbi Herschel Solnica, of Queens, New York. I did, and he took care of everything. He brought the candidate to the Vaad of Queens, who approved having me teach her. He helped me develop a curriculum, and held my hand through the process. He saw everything through, bringing her before the Vaad when she was ready, and arranging the beit din for the actual conversion.
That was the first of several times when I brought potential gerim to Rabbi Solnica:
• An immigrant family who had thought they were Jewish, but turned out to be only patrilineally so.
• A family with a Conservative conversion, who decided they wanted an Orthodox conversion.
• A young man whose mother had not been through a halachic conversion.
• A young woman whose search had brought her to this point.
And so on.
I never did any conversions myself, concerned as I was that someone, down the line, might not have the slightest clue who Torczyner had been. I worked with R’ Solnica and the Vaad of Queens, New York, and R’ Solnica both vetted the candidates pre-beit din, and smoothed the way with the bureaucratic aspects of the process.
All along R’ Solnica patiently met with us, by phone and in person, giving of his time to create a process that was simultaneously thorough and sensitive. When I told him a candidate couldn’t afford a fee, he lowered it. When I told him a candidate was ready, he made himself available to move things along. He saw the gerim as his own children.
In a world of such conversion confusion, of batei din with loose standards and batei din that disqualify the work of other batei din, Rabbi Herschel Solnica represented a halachic approach which was sincere and respectful and authentic and humane.
I received an email midday today, letting me know of Rabbi Solnica’s passing; he is to be buried in Israel on Tuesday. This is a major loss for the world; יהי זכרו ברוך.