Jack Sable dies at 87, founded Jewish Center
By Andy Gross
Pioneer. Visionary. Mensch.
These are just a few of he laudatory adjectives friends and family members used to describe Rabbi Jack Sable, who passed away Thursday, Nov. 28 after a long illness. He was 87.
Rabbi Sable — the religious and spiritual founder of the Riverdale Jewish Center (RJC), the community’s largest Orthodox congregation — was remembered as an inclusive, humane, articulate and charismatic man who brought modern Jewish orthodoxy to Riverdale in the early 1950s.
Later in life, he devoted himself to public service as New York State Commissioner of Human Rights and Regional Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
According to his son David, the RJC located at 3700 Independence Ave., was literally the “house that Jack built.”
Rabbi Sable’s passing was mourned and his life celebrated in the building his faith and hard work made a reality.
In a fond and touching eulogy, David Sable said, “Our father chose never to leave Riverdale. I think it’s clear why. His life’s blood is in this building, in this community and all of its institutions.”
David remembered his father’s “first shul [synagogue] was a shack,” not the secure, venerable building that currently stands.
Rabbi Sable was interred at New Montefiore Cemetery, according to the family.
His wife of 61 years, Elissa, survives him.
The pair met in San Francisco. Rabbi Sable was selling bonds for Israel while stationed there during the Korean War.
They married in New York City on Nov. 9, 1952.
The couple’s three children, nine grand children and eight great-grand children also survive Rabbi Sable.
According to Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, who succeeded Rabbi Sable at the helm of RJC when the latter left to work as the state Human Rights Commissioner in 1964, Rabbi Sable not only established a building and place of worship, but a community as well.
Rabbi Greenberg explained that post-World War II orthodox Jewry in New York was at a crossroads — Jewish Americans increasingly identified traditional orthodoxy with European villages and not the new America they wished to assimilate into.