Bringing Torah Learning to Leisure World

Written by Fred Shapiro on . Posted in Features

What would you expect a pulpit rabbi to do after moving to a retirement community? That was the situation faced by Rabbi Moshe Samber after leaving his congregation in New Jersey and moving to Leisure World in Silver Spring, Maryland. When he learned that the Jewish residents of the community had only one Shabbat service a month, Rabbi Samber initiated a service the other three Shabbats, bringing together a growing number of Jews in the community. The service started about three years ago and is growing in numbers each week.

Rabbi Samber is a product of New York’s Jewish community and educational system. He was, and to some extent still is, a native of Brooklyn, New York. When Rabbi Samber was growing up in the Boro Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, it was a middle class, mostly traditional Jewish community — unlike today, the Chasidic community at the time was the minority rather than the majority — bordered by large Scandinavian and Italian communities. He graduated from Yeshivah Etz Chaim of Boro Park, which, together with Yeshivah of Flatbush, was the only day school in New York City using Hebrew as the language of instruction for religious subjects, and had excellent secular departments. After graduating simultaneously from New Utrecht High School (best track team in the city) and Herzliah Hebrew Academy, Rabbi Samber earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences from City College of New York and a bachelor’s degree in Hebrew literature from the Seminary College of Jewish Studies. He went on to the rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) for his doctorate in Hebrew literature.

His professional career included military service as a chaplain in the U.S. Army, and he served in Korea. He was director of the Leaders Training Fellowship (LTF) of the seminary and an instructor at the Seminary School of Jewish Studies. Another role was as the director of two Camp Ramahs. Rabbi Samber served as the rabbi of Temple Beth El of Plainfield, New Jersey, from 1960 to 1994 and was designated as Rabbi Emeritus upon retirement.

Rabbi Samber met his wife, Alisa Kornfeld, when her father was a cantor in Rahway, New Jersey. They have been married for 54 years and are the proud parents of three children and two grandsons. Alisa is a native of Israel, and both are proud supporters of and frequent visitors to Israel.

Rabbi Samber and Alisa have been residents of Leisure World for five years and are quite happy there, he said. He feels that Leisure World allows for participation in a great variety of cultural, educational, and religious interests.

Speaking of the move from New Jersey to Leisure World, Moshe feels that it was a happy solution to the problems that face people when leaving long-established ties to their community. With the variety of clubs, classes, and social functions, it has made it easier to fit in and not feel isolated.

The typical Shabbat service in Leisure World starts with Rabbi Samber devoting time to exploring some of the great thinkers of early Judaism about the meaning of Shabbat. The Torah is not taken out of the ark, but an informal discussion takes place about the sedra (section of the Torah) of the week and the message it brings to us today. Members conduct portions of the service. The service ends with a discussion by Rabbi Samber of the Mishnah, Talmud, or related sources from the works of noted Jewish scholars and historians.

By Fred Shapiro

 Fred Shapiro is currently the president of the Leisure World Center for Lifelong Learning and adjutant for the Jewish War Veterans Post 567. He served as religious chair and president of the Jewish Residents of Leisure World and recently completed service on the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council.