Monday, January 18, 2010

Rabbi Herschel Solnica, z"l

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.

16 comments:

  1. Rabbi Solnica was my math teacher at Central (Yeshiva Univ. HS for girls-Manhattan) in the early 70's. I also had him for Mishnah. He made learning exciting, which unfortunately, was the exception at that time, rather than the rule. He was an amazing teacher, and probably the best-liked Rebbe-teacher there. He seemed to be a math genius, at least to us, was funny, always nice to us.
    His daughter Rivky Kaganoff lives here in Chicago.
    I've always remembered him fondly. May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
    Esther (Gleicher) Weiner

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  2. I only met him once, but he was a very sweet and holy soul. A big loss for the Queens community and all of Klal Yisroel.

    I hope more rabbonim step to the plate to help future gerim in the humble and true way he did.

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  3. I was (and am) one of Rabbi Solnica's gerim. Everything you say is true: His approach was sincere and authentic yet humane. Each conversion candidate was an individual with a unique story and his/her own set of challenges -- so different from the beaurocratic approach of so many batei din.

    I saw the love Rabbi Solnica had for his family, his friends, his students, his colleagues, and all of Am Yisrael. He was a model of how to live a compassionately Halakhic life.

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  4. Thank you, all of you, for posting your comments. It is easier for me to bear this loss when we shoulder it together.

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  5. I agree with your entire article; he was a VERY special person. I am a convert myself (over 40 years ago) and consider myself very honored that he allowed me both to bring potential gerei to him and to have a hand in guiding some of the details of the candidates' teaching.

    Rabbi Solnica was adept at interviewing the candidates to identify those who were not truly committed, helping all to deeply examine their hearts and scrutinize their lives. He made sure to allow each the time that was needed to work through personal issues and situations, then joyously moved them forward into their new lives.

    He will be sorely missed not just by his adopted "children" but also by Klal Yisroel, the very body of the people of Israel, for who will now step up to tackle the issue of conversion so whole heartedly and competently?

    I do have one correction for you. Rebbetzin Sally Solnica did NOT go to Israel, but is sitting at home, at 144-21 72nd Dr., Shacharis (morning prayer service) at 7:30 am, Mincha (afternoon service) at 4:50 pm, visitors till 10:00 pm.

    May the family know no more sorrow.

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  6. I am one of Shimon Solnoica's friends, and I remember the majestic presence and personality of Rabbi Solnica at his home on Shbbos in Jackson Heights on Shabbos.I rember vividly the levayah of his first wife Bashi, when he seemed to hold things in control, and then he fell on the kever just crying out Bashie, Bashie" again and again. yehi zichro Baruch.

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  7. not to bring up a side point of the post,the loss of a friend/mentor/teacher that pains you and the Jewish people deeply, but you have a curriculim for geirim? electronosized?(if thats a word) care to post and share it? the help that curriculim will imy"H bring should be a merit for his soul.
    Brad

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  8. SMalkah-
    Thanks for your comments, as well as the updated information.

    Ari-
    Thanks very much for visiting and commenting. I hope to reach Shimon tomorrow or Sunday.

    Brad-
    I might yet do that; thanks for the idea. Of course, each curriculum must be tailored for the individual, but the skeleton is important.

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  9. As I told his Rebbetzin and family at the shiva house last night, he was a man who always had a smile and if it wasn't for him, I would not be where I am today - literally.

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  10. Zaide Heshy married my wife's mother, and brought her 15 years of joy. Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss called him "an explosion of life", and that is exactly what he was. He was everybody's friend, father, grandfather, and mentor. His unique way of connecting to others was unparalleled, and he did it in a way that made you feel like an equal. It is only after his passing that I now realize his greatness. Of all the incredible challenges he suffered, you would never know of them by watching him smile and laugh and play. I still can't believe he is gone. I know he will use his boundless energy to intervene constantly on the behalf of those he left behind. May his memory be a blessing.

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  11. I met Rabbi Solnica through his mother, who was a friend of my mom's in Far Rockaway, and what stays with me over all the years was the amazing love and kovod he showed her. Her face would light up whenever she spoke of her "Hershele," deservedly so. May the family be comforted among the mourners of Zion.

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  12. Torahteynu, Victor, ProfK-
    Thank you very much for sharing more aspects of R' Solnica. It's fascinating - and reinforcing - to see how the tiny slice of him that I knew was reflected in so many others' experience of him, in so many different ways.

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  13. Avrohom MarmorsteinJanuary 26, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    Rabbi Solnica was a hero of mine. His life included several sad losses and tzoros, and yet he radiated joy and Simchas Hachaim. A tremendous baal bitachon, and a mechanech who loved teaching Torah with every fiber of his being. Both his father and father-in-law were prominent rabbonim in the Bronx and yet he never felt he deserved anything special, lived modestly and worked incredibly hard. Mi Yiten Lanu temuraso!

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  14. This breaks my heart. I'm also one of Rabbi Solnica's geroth (1975); I was referred to him by the then-rabbi of the Young Israel in Jackson Heights. Rabbi Samuel Walkin headed the beth din at my geruth and Rabbi Solnica later officiated at my wedding. He was the kindest of men and I regret having lost touch with him. My heartfelt condolences to his family.

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    1. Note: The above comment was fine, but I deleted it because it contained personal contact information.

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