Richard Hirsch, Maria Finkle

Celebrating Emanuel Rackman’s 90th Birthday at Pierre Hotel


ven at his 90th birthday party Sunday at the Pierre Hotel, Emanuel Rackman continued to help women improve their status in Halacha. “God created men and women as equal,” he said. “Thank God not identical.”

During his years as spiritual leader of Fifth Avenue Synagogue and at the helm of Bar-Ilan University, Emanuel Rackman has consistently fought for utilizing Halacha to advance the rights of women, sometimes to the chagrin of the overzealous among the Orthodox.

Judge Sol Wachtler, Irving Schneider

Becoming a nonagenarian is certainly cause for celebration. So American Friends of Bar-Ilan University easily packed the grand ballroom with VIP admirers from the U.S., Canada and Israel to pay tribute to the former president and chancellor on his 90th milestone.

Moshe Kaveh, current president of the university based in Ramat Gan, Israel, noted that a reporter once interviewed George Bernard Shaw on his 90th and said, “I hope to interview you again 10 years from now.”

“I don’t see why not,” Shaw replied. “You look pretty healthy to me.”

Malcolm Thomson with Marion and Elie Wiesel

Many of the guests, including Gershon Kekst, Edward Berkowitz, Isaiah Sheffer, Erica Jesselson, Jane Stern Lebell, Dr. Philip and Florence Felig, Fanya Heller, Maria Finkle, Ephraim Propp and Richard Hirsch are looking forward to celebrating Rackman’s 120th birthday.

Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The Jewish Week, recalled his early days when circulation hovered “in the high three figures.”

He credited Rackman for pulling together a group of investors who “each put up $25,000 to secure the future of the paper.” Circulation is now in the five-figure range, and Rackman has been a dedicated columnist ever since.

Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert

Rackman’s son, Joseph, once found out that they are descended from Rashi, the most famous commentator of Bible and Talmud.

“Dad, how come you never mentioned that?”

His father waved his hand disdainfully. “Look at what we’ve become!”

Elie Wiesel praised the rabbi’s power of prayer. Many years ago, after he wrote a few books, Wiesel was invited to speak at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue where Rackman was the spiritual leader.

Rochelle Hirsch, Rafael Rothstein

“Don’t be surprised,” the rabbi told the congregation, “if one day you open the New York Times and read that Elie Wiesel has been awarded the Nobel Prize.”

“Some words become prayers,” Wiesel remarked, “and some prayers are well received.”

Irwin Cotler, a law professor at McGill University in Montreal and member of the Canadian parliament, said he was the only member of the women’s caucus in parliament.

“What brings you here?” they asked.

Carol and Ephraim Propp

Alluding to the rabbi’s ardent support for women’s rights in Halacha, Cotler replied, “Rabbi Rackman influenced me to come.”

Melvin Stein, president of the American Friends of Bar-Ilan, announced that the university would establish the Rabbi Emanuel Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women.

“We formed an 18-member circle, each of whom has committed $100,000. We have now close to $2 million.”

In his birthday speech, Rackman urged “less denominationalism”among Jewish segments, but  “see each other as brothers and sisters. This divisiveness is enormous. So many Orthodox Jews are distancing themselves from other Jews.”

He also called on Jews to see the good among the Arabs in Israel, and treat them with equality.

Florence and Dr. Philip Felig

“We have to reject the Arafats among them and seek the good. We have created a Jewish state and the Arabs can learn from us as they did when they first established their religion.”

Jordana Ingber, Rackman’s great granddaughter, brought the house down with lines only a teenager can deliver.

She was most grateful that great granddaddy was not footing the bill for his extravagant birthday party. He’ll be able to spring for “this cute little Corvette that I would just love for my birthday/graduation present in June.”

Since everyone was unanimous in praise of the honored guest, Jordana felt compelled to reveal a dissenting opinion. In that way, no one will walk away saying, “Come on, he can’t be that perfect.”

She told how her great grandfather failed a test on computers. He identified a list of computer terms as:

Mouse: a furry rodent that likes cheese

DVD: a brand of men’s underwear

Browser: meandering through a store

Disk: a round thing used in the Olympics

Judy and Gary Rosenblatt,
Jewish Week Editor/Publisher

“Great grandpa,” Jordana concluded, “we want you to know that you’ve received a letter of congratulations from Farrah Fawcett, that famous plumbing company.

“Mazel tov, and I’ll drive you anywhere you like in my new car.”


[ Back to Top ]
Copyright©1999, 2000, 2001
15 Minutes Magazine, Inc.

Sonar Privacy Statement

Site Designed, Developed and Maintained by Internet Web Systems

Any questions or comments regarding this website, or if you would like one of your own, please contact us at