Thank you all for attending this special ceremony celebrating the life of Rabbi Simes
As a former student of the Rabbi at Hillel Academy for 5 years, I feel deeply honoured to be able to share a few things about what made Rabbi Simes so endearing and beloved by all of his students.
I thought I’d begin by sharing my first classroom experience with Rabbi Simes. Before grade 4, we only knew him as the cool Rabbi who wore the Twins jersey on Purim and could hit a softball like no other in the staff grade 8 softball game. He was incredible – they always saved a grapefruit disguised as a softball to avoid him getting a grand slam. That alone made us very excited to have him as a teacher – he definitely didn’t fit the bill of a traditional rabbi.
But what made us more excited was the reverential awe which the older students ascribed to Rabbi Simes. When we asked older students what the best part about getting to the older grades were, it was all too common to hear – class with Rabbi Simes
I remember anxiously waiting for grade 4, when we would finally have the chance to have the Rabbi as a teacher!
And when we finally did get to grade 4 Torah class, it was even better than advertised.
Rabbi Simes made every class special
He was so good at identifying the strengths of every student and always catered to them
He had this unique ability to get even the most shy or reserved students to participate in class. I remember how he would call on shyer students, and ask them simple, probing questions, building up their confidence one question at a time, until, before they even knew what was happening, they were answering a question about a difference between Rashi’s/ the Rambam’s interpretation of a passage like a regular grand rebbe
I still remember so much from that first Torah class with the Rabbi. One of the first portions we did that year was Toldot, which focuses a lot on the sibling rivalry between Jacob and Esau. I was so impressed by all the stories he would tell us, all the midrashim and clever interpretations that he shared with us. So much so, that I decided then and there that I had to do Toldot for my bar mitzvah portion, which indeed I did four years later. I still remember my first meeting with the Rabbi from my synagogue, when we would first discuss some of the major themes of the portion. He was so impressed with how much I knew, but little did he know I had a little Rabbi Simes wisdom in my pocket.
Over the years, Rabbi Simes would be our teacher for many different Jewish subjects. From Jewish history, Mishna, and Tefillah, the Rabbi’s supreme qualities were always on display. His kindess and sensitivity earned the respect of all of his students, and you could hear a pin drop whenever he told one of his many incredible stories. My personal favourite was about a series of incredible coincidences following the Sbarro’s pizza bombing in Jerusalem. I recently rewatched the video thanks to a friend who had posted it on facebook, and his natural story-telling abilities and enthusiastic charisma held me in awe just as they did so many years ago.
One thing that sticks out about Rabbi Simes’ teaching philosophy was his belief in the importance of appreciation and gratitude. He always stressed how we should never take all of the joy and good in our lives for granted. I remember how he talked about a simple thing like a peanut butter sandwich and asked us to think about all the work that went in to making it. The farmers who grew the wheat for the bread, the people who gathered the nuts, the truck drivers who brought it to the store, your parents for buying the ingredients, etc. This may seem like a silly little story but I always remembered his passion and enthusiasm when talking about it and I believe that his ‘attitude of gratitude’ – a favorite saying of his – was responsible for shaping some of the important values that I hold dear to this day.
Rabbi Simes never lost his attitude of gratitude, even after the tragic injury that so dramatically altered his life. After the accident, he didn’t ask Why me? He didn’t lose his faith or his outlook on life. Instead, he asked “Okay, what can I do now”. Even the name of his famous blog, the rolling rabbi, recognized his ability to take something difficult and find the positives in it. His perseverance had a deep impact on myself and many of my fellow classmates, and continues to be felt even today. When I asked one of my old Hillel classmates if he had any special memories of Rabbi Simes, he replied that to this day, a common saying in his house for many many years in many situations has been, “What would Rabbi Simes do?” I can imagine that his is not the only house in which the Rabbi’s tremendous attitude continues to serve as an example of how to act, behave, and love.
Rabbi Simes was a true inspiration in the face of adversity. May his memory encourage us to be more kind, selfless, and to raise up above our circumstances, just as he did his entire life.