Englewood—Rabbi Chanan (Clive) Jacobson could be found wherever, and whenever, something in the community needed to be done. One of his many acts of chessed was to learn Mishnayos with an avel (mourner) and make a siyyum. Now it is Englewood’s turn to learn in his memory. Congregation Ahavath Torah has begun a community-wide effort to express hakaras hatov for everything Rabbi Jacobson did, by learning the entire Shas Mishnayos in his memory before his shloshim on the 17th of Nissan. As shloshim ceremonies and eulogies are not conducted during the month of Nissan, a formal ceremony is being planned for the month of Iyar.
“Rabbi Jacobson was a mainstay of our community in so many ways,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, Senior Rabbi of Congregation Ahavath Torah. “Aside from the obvious roles he played, like checking the eruv, he performed countless acts of chessed on a continual basis. He was always the first to blow shofar and read the Magillah for the homebound, and he visited patients in Englewood Hospital on a regular basis.”
That’s just the beginning. Rabbi Jacobson helped supervise burning of chometz and bedikas chametz before Pesach, he supervised the mikvah for men before Yom Kippur, and he helped many in the gerus (conversion) process. In addition to his work on the eruv in Englewood, he redesigned the one in Fort Lee, and designed eruvim in Mount Kisco, NY; Tenafly, New Jersey; and Sydney, Australia.
For Rabbi Jacobson, it was always about doing the right thing. “He didn’t have a filter in the most positive way,” Rabbi Goldin said. “For him it was very simple: Something was right or wrong. If something needed to be done, he went ahead and did it.”
At the Levaya, Rabbi Goldin drew a parallel to a famous medrash about the Ark of the Covenant being lined inside and out with gold. If the ark was never opened, why did it need to be lined with gold on the inside? The ark is compared to a sage: Any Torah scholar whose interior is not like his exterior is no Torah scholar (Talmud, Yoma 72b). Rabbi Jacobson was golden through and through.
Wherever he became involved, he made a strong impact on the people he worked with. He taught English at Yeshiva Ohr Simcha and the yeshiva became his second home. Rabbi Yosef Strassfeld, Menahel, said he was very dedicated to the yeshiva, and helped with fundraising. “The kids all knew him; he felt very close to the yeshiva, and wanted to be part of it.”
As a field representative for the Orthodox Union, he developed close relationships with the companies he worked with. Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of Kashrus for the OU said he was “diligent and delicate” in his work and was much appreciated. He said Continental Seasonings sent a note just before they closed down their plant about how much Rabbi Jacobson meant to them. “He was a very special person,” Rabbi Genack added.
Old and new friends were deeply saddened by his passing. Alan Oirich, a friend who knew him since he was a young man, wrote in a tribute, “A fixture in my Jewish life for decades, he was a proud Sephardi, an amazing teacher, rabbi, gabbai, historian, joyous Zionist, children’s storyteller, lecturer, columnist, Jewish leader and friend. His sense of humor and his tenacious accent fronted a mind with multi-dimensional understanding of Halacha, Gemara, Baraita and so much more.”
Five years ago, Rabbi Mordecai Gershon, Assistant Rabbi in the Sephardic Minyan of Ahavath Torah, moved to Englewood, a few doors away from the Jacobsons. “He was quick to introduce himself to us,” Rabbi Gershon said. “He was the first person to introduce himself to someone new in the community or the shul. He’d be the first to greet them and make them feel welcome.” Over the years they become close, and worked together on projects like building a sukkah for their apartment complex. “He had an amazing love for his family, learning, teaching, and sharing Torah with people,” Rabbi Gershon said.
In 2009, Rabbi Jacobson had a stroke and upon testing, it was discovered that he had had a silent heart attack. Although he could no longer do many of his former activities—like climb trees to fix an eruv—he still learned. And he started yet another chessed activity. He became a volunteer at Englewood hospital, bringing patients comfort and a Mi Shebeirach (prayer for recovery from illness).
Rabbi Charles K Friedman, Director of Pastoral Care at Englewood Hospital, said Rabbi Jacobson came for cardiac rehabilitation every weekday and then went to visit Jewish patients from the community who were hospitalized. “He was always looking out to help people here. He had been a patient so he knew what people went through. Seeing a familiar face made a big difference.”
Rabbi Jacobson would read Megillah for patients, no matter what condition they were in. Before he passed away, Rabbi Friedman read it for him. “It was my zechus to read for him, his wife and daughter Wednesday night. Thursday morning someone else read for him,” he said.
Rabbi Jacobson was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on February 3, 1956. His mother passed away when he was six and his father remarried. He became a member of Zionist youth groups and taught English to children in the black townships—an illegal activity. “He thought everyone should have an education,” his wife Yola Jacobson said. Security police often followed him and he was arrested and detained one night for his anti-apartheid activities. He left South Africa in 1986 and went to Israel, working for the student division of the Jewish Agency, and learning. A cousin suggested he go to Yeshiva University in New York and he did, thinking he would return afterwards to Israel. Instead, he met Yola Berliant, who became his wife, and stayed in the US.
After working as Youth Director in the White Shul in Far Rockaway, he came to Englewood, where he served as Youth Director in Congregation Ahavath Torah and then became a pillar of the Englewood Community.
His three siblings, two sisters and a brother, still live in Johannesburg. He had been looking forward to attending his niece’s wedding but that was not to be. And he always hoped one day to return to Israel. In his hespid for Rabbi Jacobson, Rabbi Gershon said, “He lived and breathed Israel. Rabbi Jacobson was so connected to the land that it was almost as though he was spiritually living there, although physically still in America. It is appropriate that his final resting place is in the place that he loved and cared for so much.” Rabbi Chanan Jacobson is buried in the Eretz HaChaim Cemetery in Beit Shemesh, Israel.
By Bracha Schwartz