HAMILTON, ONT. – Rabbi Mordechai Green built many magnificent structures during his 60 years at the Adas Israel synagogue in Hamilton, Ont., but the people he helped along the way are his true legacy, say his friends and family. Rabbi Green, who served 44 years in the pulpit of Hamilton’s Orthodox shul and another 16 as rabbi emeritus, died in Israel on July 17. He was 84.
“Rabbi Mordechai Green was the champion of the individual. He was selflessly there for people in their most trying moments, restored relationships and hope, and made countless individuals believe in themselves,” Rabbi Green’s son, Rabbi Daniel Green, who succeeded him in the Adas Israel pulpit, wrote on Facebook. “He was a mentor to many in all aspects of life. His dedication to others knew no bounds.”
At Rabbi Green’s funeral, barely 12 hours after his death, friends and family repeated that idea, as they tried to sum up a life of service, both to his own congregation and to the broader Jewish community in Hamilton.
In an emotional eulogy, his grandson, Avi Seidenfeld, recalled his zayde’s commitment to family.
“There were two circles in his life – his family and the community of Hamilton,” said Avi Seidenfeld. “Words, and certainly not mine, simply cannot express how much he loved his family.”
Another grandson, Raphi Seidenfeld, shared similar sentiments.
“He was a public figure, but first of all, he was a family man,” said Raphi Seidenfeld. “He gave each and every one of us the feeling we were the centre of his world.”
Rabbi Green built a vibrant Jewish youth movement that eventually became NCSY Canada, was part of the team that built the Bible Lands Museum in Israel, created a Jewish day school called Hamilton Hebrew Academy and helped to raise millions of dollars for charities, including United Israel Appeal, State of Israel Bonds, Emunah Women, Yeshiva University and Shaare Zedek Hospital.
“My father was a pioneer in Jewish education, building a Jewish day school and challenging the Jewish establishment at that time who were opposed to day schools and viewed them as segregationist,” said Rabbi Daniel Green.
“He also always made sure that every Jewish child was able to attend the Hamilton Hebrew Academy – religious, non-religious – and never turned away a child, regardless of the family’s ability to pay.”
Born in Montreal, Rabbi Green was 24 and fresh out of Yeshiva University when he arrived in Hamilton in 1958. Adas Israel was then operating from a 29-year-old Depression-era building in the city’s downtown core – an area the Jewish population was abandoning for greener fields in the west end. Within three years, a new building was dedicated.
“He had the wisdom and sensitivity to overcome whatever obstacles he faced,” Rabbi Daniel Green said of his father. “He was a warrior who parachuted in wherever he was needed.”
Yet, the buildings aren’t what most people will remember about the rabbi.
“If people were in pain, my father would inject himself wherever he was needed,” his son recalled. “If it was a marriage in trouble, a business relationship deteriorating or a community problem, my father would not sleep until the issue had been solved. It didn’t matter if he knew the people or not, he would inject himself where others would run away.”
Jacki Levin, president of the Hamilton Jewish Federation and a member of Rabbi Green’s congregation, remembered him as a person who was involved in all aspects of the community, including the annual fundraising drive.
“His contributions were incredible,” she said. “You just can’t overstate the contributions he made to this community. His vision for the community and his hard work and effort to make it a reality was just quite astounding. His legacy is in those institutions he brought to our community and that helped build our community up.”
In its formal notice to the community, the Federation praised Rabbi Green as a builder of the Orthodox congregation, but also of the broader community.
“His vision and efforts created the Adas Israel Synagogue and the Hamilton Hebrew Academy, both today thriving and vital institutions in our community,” the group wrote.
“He also understood the importance of the community as a whole and showed his support by acting as chair of the United Jewish Appeal. He was devoted to making sure that the opportunities for Jewish learning and Jewish living were available to all in our community. The lives of countless members of our community, congregants, students and parents were enriched by Rabbi Green.”
Rabbi Jordan Cohen, of the city’s Reform synagogue, Temple Anshe Sholom, recalled that willingness to reach out to the entire community.
“He was always very kind,” said Rabbi Cohen. “I never felt any kind of Reform-Orthodox tension in our social interactions with him.”
“Historically, he effectively built the Adas as we know it today,” he added. “He created a dynasty, raising his family in Hamilton and then having his son come back to the city to take over from him. He really was a lovely man.”
Rabbi Green is survived by wife Sylvia, sons Cemmie, Moshe, Gershon and Daniel, and daughter Rachel.