As 700 friends and loved ones gathered in the picturesque Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan on Sunday, Rabbi Avi Weiss and his family had groups of supporters all around them reminiscing about bygone times. At one point, they even carried the guest of honor on a chair during a traditional dance before he gave a speech. Guests celebrated and cheered Rabbi Weiss, with one attendee catching the leader’s tie as he threw it into the audience from above the crowd.
Riverdale’s Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School honored Rabbi Weiss after he passed the school’s presidency to Rabbi Asher Lopatin last July. Rabbi Weiss founded the school in 1999 and served as president for 14 years, making Lopatin the second head of the institution. The event was part of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s 11th annual tribute dinner.
“The changes in the world you effected and the rabbis you have ordained… that is only the beginning, and we are going to be with the Weiss family into a new generation,” Rabbi Lopatin said to his predecessor during a speech.
Rabbi Weiss is an active member of Riverdale’s Jewish community and has fought for Jewish freedom and visibility around the world. Some of his most notable activism has included pushing for the freedom of Soviet Jews who were not allowed to emigrate before the fall of the USSR. Through his activism, Rabbi Weiss has been imprisoned multiple times.
He also spearheaded the inclusion of women in religious leadership and ordained the first female orthodox religious leader, Sara Hurwitz, in June 2009. Rabbi Weiss continues to serve as a Rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.
He said the impetus behind the creation of the school in 1999 was his son, Dov Weiss, and his experiences as a modern Jew.
“It became clear to create a rabbinical school that would reinvigorate modern orthodoxy,” Rabbi Weiss said.
He added that today, Jews around the world are searching for God and a modern, non-judgmental Judaism. He said what’s needed to inspire a new generation of Jews is an inclusive orthodoxy.