After 43 years serving as a rabbi — 13 of which were spent at the Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre — Rabbi Andrew Warmflash said it was sad, but relieving to call it a career in early June.
“It’s a very rewarding job, but it’s very tough and very demanding, and I’m not getting younger,” he said. “None of us knows how long we have left, and for me, it’s just time to do something else. I want to spend more time with my family.”
Warmflash, 66, is preparing to move from Hewlett to West Orange, N.J., with his wife, Beth, an artist, and said he hoped to spend more time with his three children and five grandchildren. He noted that though he was ordained as a rabbi in 1980, his first job was working as a part-time rabbi on weekends in West Hempstead in 1977, and retirement was something he mulled for years.
Though it is bittersweet, Warmflash said, the prospect of retiring felt freeing for him after serving as the spiritual leader of the HERJC for more than a decade. He said he was initially drawn to East Rockaway because it fit his needs, appeared to be a welcoming community and was also near his in-laws, who live in Franklin Square.
“I have loved being a rabbi and that really means working with people and trying to care for them and help them through difficult times in their lives,” he said, “and also to have the privilege of sharing the happy moments that they have. The things we’ve done together, I’ve found meaningful, I felt valued and that’s been very nice.”
Warmflash said there have been many highs and lows during his time in the East Rockaway community. He recalled that Hurricane Sandy was devastating to the congregation, but many residents came together to help one another, and he went knocking on doors to talk to community members and make sure they were OK.
“You saw who people really were in that, and they were such good people,” he recounted. “You saw people caring for each other and looking out for each other, so it was probably the worst time, but there was such good in there, too.”
He said one of his favorite memories was when the congregation raised money to write a new Torah scroll. Those who participated wrote a letter to put into the scroll. Warmflash said that since the Torah is the center of the Jewish religion, it was meaningful to bring people together, and noted that it was an example of how many congregants were generous to the synagogue through the years and didn’t expect anything in return.
Warmflash said he will not be involved in the process of choosing his successor, but noted there would likely be an interim rabbi until a new spiritual leader is selected. He added that he plans to return for the High Holy Days in the fall to lead services, though he was unsure if they will be in-person or virtual because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Warmflash also said it was difficult to say goodbye to the HERJC, but since congregants haven’t met in-person in more than three months, it made it a little easier to enter retirement.
“What I will miss is the community,” he said, “that sense of being with people.”