Rabbi Herbert Panitch has always lived a life of faith, and at almost 91 years of age he’s
still inspired by the devotion of others.
“Faith means so much in my family,” said Rabbi Panitch. “My great grandfather was a Rabbi. I am a Rabbi. And one of my grandsons has just one more test to go before he is certified as a Rabbi. My two sons, their wives, and my 10 grandchildren all serve the Jewish community in one way or the other. It brings us all great joy.”
Rabbi Panitch’s devotion to his calling spans decades. “I was a Rabbi for 14 years in Altoona, in Western Pennsylvania. I then moved my family to the Midwest to become a Rabbi in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for 28 years. We grew that congregation from 275 families to almost 780 families during my tenure. We loved our life there, but my wife, Eveline, was excited at the prospect of leaving the snow and cold behind in retirement, so we moved to Miami. But after four months of golf and blue skies, I just felt this pull to go back and serve the community in some way. I opened the newspaper, and there was a small ad placed by Jewish Community Services of South Florida looking for a part-time Director of Jewish Resettlement. It was like a gift from G-d. I applied for the position, and before I knew it, I was certified by the Department of Justice. I worked with all kinds of refugees — from Ukrainian Jews to people from Haiti. I helped them get green cards and citizenship in the United States. I worked there for 27 years. It was very rewarding. At the same time, I also worked with The Jewish Federation in Miami to host a Walk-In Service during the High Holidays. They turned the Miami JCC into a synagogue for the holidays, and people just walked in off the street to enjoy a beautiful service together. I was the Rabbi for High Holiday Walk-In Services for 14 years. We could have as many as 1,800+ people show up. It was really moving, and so inspirational.”
Rabbi Panitch’s wife, Eveline, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease eight years ago, and his two sons suggested that they should move to be near one of them so they could help with their mother’s care. “I have one son in Cherry Hill, and one on in Israel,” said Rabbi Panitch. “I wanted to find a community where my wife and I could live together, and she could receive the personalized care that she needs. We’ve been married almost 68 years, and we don’t like to be apart. When I looked at Lions Gate, I liked that the spirit of the Jewish holidays prevails. I don’t feel I could practice my way of life in a gentile facility.”
Rabbi Panitch and his wife make it a point to attend Lions Gate Shabbat Services every Friday night. “Sometimes I’ll prepare a little something to share during the service,” said Rabbi Panitch. “Cantor Jana is very generous about including me from time to time, and I’ll give a 5-10 minute lesson during the Torah portion of the service. After the service, a group of about 25 of us will go to the Bistro and have Shabbat dinner together. Len Feldman brings the wine and the challah, and I say the Kiddush blessing. I am inspired to be sharing Shabbat services and dinner every week with people who have come to feel like extended family to me.”
Rabbi Panitch is particularly grateful that Lions Gate builds a sukkah in celebration of Sukkot. “I have always eaten my meals in a sukkah, and it means the world to me that I can continue that tradition at Lions Gate,” said Rabbi Panitch. “Whatever way you practice your faith matters here.”
We are so happy to have a Rabbi of such stature as part of our community. Rabbi Panitch, may you and your wife spend many happy years here breaking bread with friends.