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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ordained By The Shoah

Here’s a story as it appeared in the New York Jewish Week as part of an article entitled “Ordained By The Shoah” by Steve Lipman

A stranger who called Rabbi Yaacov Haber in Buffalo had an unusual accent and a more unusual request.

The stranger, a minister in the Hungarian Reformed Church, wanted to meet to discuss the “Old Testament.”

Rabbi Haber, spiritual leader of a small Orthodox synagogue and director of an educational outreach center, usually was wary of possibly missionary-inclined Christian clergy. But he invited the stranger – the rabbi, who now lives in Jerusalem, calls him Rev. Andre Fekete, a pseudonym, to protect his anonymity – to his study.

Why are you so interested in Jewish scriptures, Rabbi Haber asked.

“I’m Jewish,” Rev. Fekete answered.

“What do you mean you’re Jewish?”

Rev. Fekete explained – raised in a secular Jewish home in Budapest, he and his sister were sheltered in a convent on the outskirts of the capital after the Nazis occupied Hungary in 1944. Bar mitzvah age then, he stayed in the convent after liberation and converted to Christianity; he eventually married a Jewish girl who also had been protected by the nuns, became a minister in the Hungarian section of the Protestant church, moved to the United States after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, took over a pulpit in Buffalo, and struggled with his Christian faith.

Then he read an article about Rabbi Haber and requested a meeting.

The day after his first meeting with Rabbi Haber, he went to a class at the rabbi’s Torah Center of Buffalo. He kept going for more than a year, attending Shabbat services at the Saranac Synagogue and becoming a frequent guest at the Habers’ Shabbat meals.

The more he learned about Judaism, the more Rev. Fekete came to doubt the tenets of Christianity. He and his wife raised their children, he told Rabbi Haber, without a religious tradition.

How did he preach on Sundays without mentioning Jesus?

“I listen to your sermon” on Saturday “and I say it over in Hungarian” the next day, Rev. Fekete told the rabbi.

He began coming less frequently to Shabbat services, to avoid driving on Shabbat.

Finally, tired of “living a lie,” Rev. Fekete left his church. He quit his job, and with his wife, a nurse, opened a nursing home in a wealthy suburb of Buffalo.

Before he died about a decade ago, Fekete, no longer a reverend, lived as an identified, if not a fully observant, member of the Jewish community.

“He definitely lived as a Jew,” Rabbi Haber says. “He definitely died as a Jew.”

Posted on 11/13 at 11:24 AM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Rabbi Yaacov HaberRabbi Haber has been a leading force in Jewish Outreach for the past 25 years. A founding trustee of AJOP, the Association of Jewish Outreach Professionals, he was the founder and director of the Torah Center of Buffalo from 1980-1990 while serving as a community rabbi in Buffalo. From Buffalo he and his family traveled to Melbourne, Australia where as a project of Kollel Bais HaTalmud he founded the Australian Institute of Torah, a national outreach and adult education program. He directed that program from 1990-1995, at which time he was sought out as National Director of Jewish Education for the Orthodox Union in the United States where he created the Internationally acclaimed and highly successful "Pardes Project."

In addition to his duties at the OU, in 1996 he replaced Rabbi Berel Wein as the spiritual leader of Congregation Bais Torah in Monsey, NY. In keeping with the position of Congregation Bais Torah in the Monsey community, Rabbi Haber was involved in issues involving the greater Monsey community, and counseled hundreds of individuals in the surrounding area.

Rabbi Yaacov Haber is the founder and driving force behind TorahLab. Through TorahLab, Rabbi Haber is bringing together educational and media specialists to create dynamic learning experiences which will be accessible to adults of all backgrounds and levels. Rabbi Haber has published numerous articles and books and is a sought after international lecturer.

Rabbi Haber and his family are presently living in Ramat Beit Shemesh where he is the Rabbi of Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted at