The Legacy of Rabbi Simes

It is with tremendous sadness that we inform you that our beloved Rabbi Simes passed away the morning of February 7, 2017. Please find below the links to the audio recording of the funeral service that took place the past Tuesday night in Ottawa and the funeral service that took place Wednesday in New York. As well, the transcripts of the two Ottawa eulogies by Bram Bregman and Rabbi Zischa Shaps are attached.
The audio recording of the funeral service in Ottawa – Legacy of Rabbi Simes – Ottawa
The audio recording of the funeral service in New York (note: not completely audible in a couple spots, please be patient) – Legacy of Rabbi Simes – New York
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Funeral Service in New York

Transcripts of Eulogies from service in Ottawa:

Eulogy by Bram Bregman:

It is with a heavy heart that I stand here in front of you to reflect on the life of Rabbi Simes, who was my friend, colleague, mentor, role model, teacher, partner in Torah, and someone I proudly call my Rabbi.

In 2006, Kathi Kovacs and I wanted to expand NCSY by creating Torah High in Ottawa. I had heard about a teacher at Hillel Academy who was beloved by all, and that students actually looked forward to his class and were excited to be there. I knew this was the person we wanted to be the Director of Education for Torah High, and although we expected 20-25 students in our first year, we had 52, and within 5 years, surpassed 100 students. I truly believe that it was Rabbi Simes’ unique ability to teach and inspire that was the “differentiator” to grow Torah High.

Everyone knows in this room that Rabbi Simes was a fantastic teacher, but what was it about him that made him so good? I would like to share some of Rabbi Simes’ philosophies on teaching that I believe answers this question:

1. Rabbi Simes never lectured. His classes were always interactive and included debates, discussions, stories, jokes, and group activities. He was extremely well-organized and would plan his lessons weeks in advance.

2. Rabbi Simes believed that you don’t deserve respect as a teacher, but that you must earn it. He treated every student with respect, and would take a real interest in their life by asking genuine questions, and valuing what they said. He built relationships with his students, and he and Shaindel would have entire classes over to their house for a Yom Tov or Shabbos meal, and they often invited parents to come as well.

3. Rabbi Simes never sat for his classes. He would walk around the class with his arms waving and swinging to keep kids’ attention. He always smiled at his students and would greet them with fervour to show them how special they were to him. He was always positive, calm, and in control, never losing his cool.

4. Rabbi Simes was a master communicator and listener. He always taught me that our tendency, is that while we listen to others, we are evaluating what they are saying and formulating our response. He understood that active listening was seeking to fully understand the other person’s perspective.

5. Despite what you might think, Rabbi Simes did not believe that you are born a teacher. He always worked hard to train himself, read books on teaching, take part in professional development, and constantly improve his teaching methods.

6. Rabbi Simes always said that if the class was acting out and something was not working, it wasn’t them, it was him. His job was to create a class where students wanted to participate. He would say that he cannot change the kids, and that he can only change himself. He would ask himself, “what can I do differently as a teacher?” And Lastly,

7. Rabbi Simes perceived his students as equal partners who have a shared goal of learning the course material. He would give out rubrics in advance of every assignment so students fully understood how they were to be evaluated, and would find ways to see if what he was teaching was being learned by the students. As an example, he would give out cue cards at the end of a class and ask students to write down what they learned that day, so that he could take them home and see if what he set out to teach is being absorbed by the students.

This was Rabbi Simes.

Although I am sure I am only capturing a small part of who he was as a teacher, I think this gives us a glimpse of what made him so special. I received at least a dozen stories today from former students, but I would like to highlight a few. The first is from a former student that I think really demonstrates the kind of teacher he was. I will read what the student wrote verbatim:

“I remember in fifth or sixth grade, we had a test in a class at Hillel. I had never been good at writing tests, and when Rabbi Simes handed the questions to the class I blanked out on my answers. I submitted it the same way I had received it — blank. The next day I caught Rabbi in the hall. I told him that I knew the answers but I couldn’t put the pen to paper. Before I could finish explaining, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t worry about it. It happens.” I tell him that I feel as though I knew the answers, and I could orally tell them to him, but for some reason I couldn’t write them down. He says to me, there in the hallway, recess pending outside: “How about we just do the test one-on-one right now, as if we were having a conversation?” And so we did. He brought up questions organically, again, as if it were just a regular conversation, and I scored a perfect grade. I smiled, he smiled. He wished me fun at recess and I was on my way. This anecdote, as little and meaningless as it may appear, shows the type of man Rabbi Simes was — one of character and compassion, one who catered to the needs of others. One who made you feel whole with purpose, even if that meant bending the rules when it came to grading tests. It’s a lesson I’ve brought with me throughout my young academic career: it’s better to really know something and to apply it in everyday dialogue than to memorize it and recite it on paper.”

A second story I received included a student who had asked Rabbi Simes a difficult question at one point, and he called her back 2 years later to say he thinks he now has a better answer that he wants to share. And a final story: a student shared today how Rabbi Simes told a story from 9/11 about a man who got stuck under rubble, and his professor spent days sifting through debris. The student remembers to this day what Rabbi Simes then told his students: “I want you all to know that whatever happens to you in your life, I will never give up on you and I will be there searching for you in whatever circumstances you might find yourself in”.

This was Rabbi Simes.

As we know, Rabbi Simes’ life changed in June 2010 following the car accident. But we were able to quickly see the impact that Rabbi Simes had on the community. One example that stood out was that a week and a half after the accident, 250 people gathered at the SJCC for a prayer session.

In the following year, Rabbi Simes and I spent a lot of time together in the ICU and Rehab centre. We spent Shabboses together saying kiddush and singing zemiros together, had a 4 person Shalom Zachor when Nochi was born, and celebrated yom tovim together like bringing my guitar to a Chanukah party for his family at the rehab centre. In all the times I spent with Rabbi Simes, I never heard him complain once and he always said “thank you” to me, despite what was going on with him.

One of the most incredible memories I have is from only a few weeks after Rabbi Simes was transferred back to Ottawa. I came to see him, and started talking to him. He had tubes in his mouth that day, so was talking but I had a hard time understanding him. The next day, I got a call on my cell phone – and it was Rabbi Simes calling with a nurse holding a phone to his ear. He wanted to apologize for not being understood the previous day and to see how I was doing.

This was Rabbi Simes.

Rabbi Simes made it his mission to return to teaching, and he did that – his first public speech was at the 5 Year Celebration of Torah High with 270 people in June 2011, only one year after the accident, and he started returning to Torah High in November of that year. His messages were always clear – he did not ask why did this happen to me, but rather, what does G-d want of me now? He would convey that G-d does not send a struggle without the tools to overcome them. At the 5 Year Celebration of Torah High, I remember him telling the story of a group of people who stand in a circle and put their problems out in the middle of the circle for everyone else to see. Each person sees the other’s problems, and then decides to take back their own.

This was Rabbi Simes.

Many people ask “how was Rabbi Simes able to remain so positive following his accident?” And I believe the answer is quite simple. The positive Rabbi Simes that many got to know after his accident was the same exact positive Rabbi Simes as before the accident. This is the essence of who he was. His whole life was dedicated to serving G-d, spreading Torah, and caring for others. This is who he was before the accident, and this is who he was after the accident.

I would like to conclude with a story. About ten years ago, I was asked to present Rabbi Simes with the Greenspoon Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education, and related a story that captured the essence of Rabbi Simes. It was about Rabbi Shlomo Hyman, who was the first dean of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and an exceptional teacher. He put his heart and soul into every class, speaking with passion and fervour as he explained the beauty of Torah and its precepts. His powerful voice and style captured the attention of his students.

One snowy day, in the early 1940s, only four boys showed up to class. Nevertheless, Rabbi Hyman gave his class the same way he would as if hundreds of students were there. His arms waved as he enthusiastically explained his thoughts for the day. Beads of sweat rolled down his face as the four boys looked at him in disbelief. As the Rabbi was catching his breath, one of the students spoke up and said, “Rabbi, please — there are only four of us.” The Rabbi looked at them and quickly replied: “You think I’m giving this class to four students? I am giving this class to hundreds of students. I’m giving this class to you, your children, their children, and their children. I see thousands here.”

Rabbi Simes has done just this – inspired thousands for generations to come.

Eulogy by Rabbi Zischa Shaps

Yehudah Pinchas – like his name so is he himself כשמו כן הוא
Jacob’s son, Yehudah was named by his mother Leah as a sign of being thankful to HaShem for a 4th son. The name signifies thanking Hashem for whatever you have.
The Jews are known as Yehudim, we are a thankful people.
Pinchas is known for his zealousness in defending the honour of Hashem.
He was rewarded with the Covenant of Peace.
Both of these traits were characteristics of Yehudah – He appreciated everything he had, every moment of life, even when it was extremely difficult. He appreciated his family and his friends and his students.
When he was well and teaching he was a walking Kiddush Hashem. After the accident, he was the Rolling Rabbi, a model and inspiration to all of us. His soft spoken manner engendered positive feelings in all those around him.

• My personal relationship with Rabbi Simes goes back to 1981 when he was just 14 years old and entering Grade 9. My family has an even longer relationship with Shaindel’s family, the Vinitsky family.

When I first met Rabbi Simes, it was in Milwaukee Wisconsin at the WITS Yeshiva.
He was just a young boy from Minneapolis – He went to the closest yeshiva in Milwaukee – 8 hour drive. He would only go home about once a month.
His Family sacrificed for his Torah Learning.
We lived together in a townhouse, just 5 of us in the house. I was his dorm counsellor and I also taught a class in the Yeshiva.
There was a Chein about him, a young, sweet natured boy who got along with everyone.

A number of years later, He came to Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in Forest Hills where we connected again.
And then again in Ottawa, originally working together at Hillel Academy.
• We all know Rabbi Simes was a Master teacher. But he wasn’t born that way.
Not a “natural”.
He was the product of many years of Torah learning and the study of Musar (Ethics).
Worked on himself – he worked on improving his teaching skills, but more importantly he constantly worked on himself as a person, as a Ben Torah. Even in his wheel chair he would be reading a Musar book, strengthening his character and his faith.
A thinker – would apply the skills he gained in how to learn, to how to deal with life situations

• In our first year together he was my student, later he was my friend and later in many ways he was my Rebbe.
I have learned so much from him over the years.
As a teacher, to give it everything you can and more because your students deserve it.
Work positively to provide solutions , not negatively.
Courage in the face of adversity.
Faith In Hashem,
Don’t let your troubles prevent you from enjoying the pleasure of family and friends.
The smile that would light up his face when a friend came in to the room was tremendous.

• Rabbi Simes was a great uniter. People from all parts of the community feel strongly connected to him as evidenced tonight.
In a sense, he also created a sense of mission for his family and many others both here in Ottawa as well as friends and family in other cities. All of the people who helped out in so many ways, whether it be helping with health issues, helping with the house and other day to day needs, driving carpool, helping put on tefillin or just visiting, these individuals were united in purpose by their love for Rabbi Simes and his family.
And of course he could not have done so well for so long without the tremendous dedication of his family and especially Shaindel. Shaindel has shouldered the responsibility of his care, while raising her family, arranging 2 weddings and teaching both children and adults. She continues to be an inspiration to our community.

He changed lives. Just today I heard of someone who did not even know Rabbi Simes who mentioned that her friend told her that Rabbi Simes changed her life.
Great Rebbe – love of everyone

• students felt the love
• family felt the love

Last week Rabbi Vinitsky was speaking to me about what can people do as a merit for Rabbi Simes. We talked about being positive when speaking about others and not speaking negatively.
In this week’s Torah portion it tells us that after the Jews came out of the Red Sea they came to a place called Marah where the water was bitter. The Torah says “They were unable to drink the waters from Marah because they were bitter. The standard explanation is that the water was bitter so it was undrinkable. The Kotzker Rebbe gives a different explanation. He says the word “They” is referring to the people. The problem is that the people were bitter. That is why the water tasted bitter. When you have a negative view, everything looks negative.
When you look at the positive you see everything and everyone differently. Rabbi Simes looked at the positive and therefore was able to see everyone in a positive light and show them true love.
I think that as a community we can all do something as a Zechus a merit for Rabbi Simes. I think if we all try to emulate this characteristic of Ahavas Yisroel, of love of our fellow Jew it would be a tremendous Zechus not only for his neshama but for all of us. If we can work on emphasizing the positive, show that we care even if we don’t always agree, we can truly change our community and ultimately even beyond that.

Yehi Zichro Boruch

 

2 comments

  1. I am so sad for his family; sending love. He was an amazing gentleman; I loved his words… Uplifting; encouraging and full of love.

  2. Rabbi Baruch Lederman · · Reply

    I first met Rabbi Simes when I was 23 and he was 13. I was in the Twin Cities for Pesach 1981. The Simes’ were kind enough to invite me to spend the last days of Yom Tov at their home. Everyone who knows Rabbi Simes knows that he was on the quiet, soft-spoken. His parents were much the same way. Nonetheless, when they were all gathered around the table, they were vibrant and witty and funny and there was lots of laughter and joy. I had the greatest time ever. They were the nicest most enjoyable people. Rabbi Simes became a big constant in my life. It’s hard to believe that he’s gone. I still can’t grasp it.

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