Remembering My Father
September 27, 2016
Dear Friend of The Fellowship,
It is with a heavy heart that I write to you today. On Saturday my father, Rabbi Simon L. Eckstein, passed away at the age of 96. He was surrounded by his loving family as he slipped into the arms of God.
As we grieve his loss and celebrate his legacy, I find myself reflecting on his 96 years of life well lived.
I remember my father as an avid learner. He earned degrees in Hebrew literature and psychology, and received his rabbinic ordination at Yeshiva University, where I also studied. He worked in the Department of Religious Knowledge at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, in the 1950s before serving as the chief rabbi of Ottawa for more than a quarter of a century, a post that had him overseeing four synagogues.
He did not slow down upon his retirement from the rabbinate, but continued to serve in his synagogue while he wrote columns for local newspapers and went back to school to further study his lifelong passion of psychology, this time specializing in gerontology.
It was with pride that I watched my father become a leading specialist in this field – at an age when he was considered a senior citizen himself, no less – teaching it at the college level, and then setting up practice as a psychologist when he and my mother, Belle, moved to Florida.
But if any act in his life was a measure of my father’s strength and boldness, it was his decision to make aliyah (immigrate to Israel) at age 91 (and when my mother was 84). I will never forget my father, upon arrival in Israel, kneeling, kissing the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport, and with tears in his eyes reciting the traditional blessing, “Thank you God for sustaining me, giving me life, and enabling me to reach this milestone.”
I am so grateful to God for my father’s example. He showed me the inestimable value of education, the far-reaching impact of a life of serving others, and the truth that it’s never too late to fulfill your life’s dream. He also showed me the beauty of a long and loving marriage to my mother, Belle, and a life dedicated to loving and serving God.
God truly was my father’s guide throughout his life. He died where he was born, in the land of Israel. I am grateful to God that he got to live out his final years in this country that he always knew was his home, among the people he loved the most. And I am grateful that I was counted among them.
With grief, gratitude, and prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein