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Iyar: His Audience of One  

    I’m not really sure what going into Yamim Noraim without a phone call from Rabbi Wallerstein means


abbi Zechariah Wallerstein ztz”l was the founder of Ohr Naava Women's Center, the Ranch at Beth El, Bnot Chaya Academy, and Ateres naava and Bnos Binah seminaries for girls. A compelling speaker and dynamic personality, Rabbi Wallerstein impacted the lives of thousands of students from across the religious spectrum with his trademark passion, clarity, and love for Hashem and His people.

The hallmark moment of my time working at Ohr Naava was always at the annual Brooklyn Avinu Malkeinu event. At some point in the night I would find a quiet corner in the packed auditorium and whisper my own personal tefillah, in the zechus of being in a room with 5,000-plus women all gathered with one common goal — to be inspired.

I’m not really sure what going into Yamim Noraim without a phone call from Rabbi Wallerstein means. His Erev Yom Tov Bircas Kohein, his excitement about traveling to Eretz Yisrael for Yom Kippur, and his focused devotion to move spiritual boulders this time of year was extraordinary. How can we do Elul without Rabbi Wallerstein? He personified this “season” of Avinu Malkeinu. It’s surreal that he won’t be physically present at any of the dozen locations he would travel to during this time of year.

Whether he was speaking to a packed audience or just to a single person, the goal was the same — creating a relationship between the listener and the Ribbono shel Olam. That was his entire focus. He wanted every person to know that everything is in Hashem’s hands, not just to know with their mind but to actually connect with their heart.

“Elisheva, it has nothing to do with you or me, or anyone in the world… you need to understand that it’s only what Hashem wants that will be,” was a common thread that he stressed during our many conversations. His confident, “You need to let go and trust. Hashem knows what He is doing,” keeps ringing in my ears, with the flashback of his deep conviction and warmth that accompanied these statements. He didn’t just speak them, he lived them.

My last conversation with Rabbi Wallerstein was via text message shortly before his petirah. “Rabbi, it’s time for you to start writing your Avinu Malkeinu speech! The world needs you!” I wrote.
It hurts so much that we won’t be able to see him at the podium and hear his amplified words of inspiration as he went through his pile of seforim and stories, not leaving a dry eye in the room. It’s a lonely thought that we will now need to dig deep inside ourselves and find this voice, his voice, and work on delivering it in our own language. He had the ability to unravel each neshamah on it’s own level, to hear what a person needed at that moment in order to feel a relationship with the Ribono shel Olam. I feel humbled and so incredibly grateful to have been just a phone call away from the lessons of emunah and connection for the last two decades.

I need to believe that he will be making a different kind of Avinu Malkeinu speech this year, this time not to an audience of thousands but to an audience of One. And if we listen closely, each of us in our own way will know what that message means and how to go about developing that relationship with the One Above. Avinu Malkeinu.


Mrs. Elisheva Perlman, founder and creative director of the Anelis Group, worked closely with Rabbi Wallerstein in her former position as Marketing Director of Ohr Naava.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 929)

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