Over 200 people gathered last week at Adath Israel Synagogue in St. Paul to pay tribute to a beloved rabbi and legendary humanitarian. They were a diverse assemblage from every sector of the Jewish community and they were there to honor the legacy of Rabbi Gershon Giter, who passed away in August at the age of 61 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
A Soviet refusenik in his youth, Rabbi Giter and his wife Leah arrived in Minnesota in 1990 after he was invited to serve as chief inventor for an international medical company. A passionate disciple of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, Rabbi Giter established Congregation Beis Menachem and served the local Russian Jewish community tirelessly until his last days. He organized and officiated at hundreds of weddings, Brit Milahs, Mitzvahs and funerals, and his crisis counseling saved many lives, marriages and familes.
The common sentiment at the memorial was one of love: this was a towering, fatherly figure in countless lives; a man who had the time and energy for anyone who needed him.
His son, Reuven, spoke about his father’s giving attitude. “He was an exceptional father and raised us wisely and lovingly, but he raised us to always think of others first.”
Rabbi Yechezkel Greenberg of Congregation Beis Yisroel in Minneapolis recalled Rabbi Giter’s commitment to giving Jewish children a Torah education, very often covering their tuition from his own pocket. “There is no doubt that the Rabbi’s selfless dedication carried over from his heroic youth in the Soviet Union,” Rabbi Greenberg observed. “To spread Judaism, he defied the authorities there and he defied the limits of his own strength and resources here.”
“He did not understand the meaning of ‘too hard,’” said Rabbi Asher Zeilengold of Adath Israel Synagogue. “When I was contacted by a Russian-speaking woman who was distraught over her dying father, I put her in touch with Rabbi Giter, and weak and frail from his own illness, he spent over four hours by fathers hospital bedside, bringing her the reassurance she needed.”
“His devotion to the children did not end when they enrolled in school,” added Rabbi JB Borenstein, principal of Torah Academy in Minneapolis. “He remained concerned until graduation and beyond.”
Tributes were also offered by Rabbi Moshe Feller, of Upper Midwest Merkos; Rabbi Yisroel Brod of Kfar Chabad, Israel; Dr. Elie Gertner, director of Rheumatology at Regency Hospital and Rabbi Giter’s personal physician and confidant.
Visiting from Chabad of Santa Cruz, CA, Rabbi Yochanan Friedman summed up his feelings for the Rabbi he considers one of his greatest, earliest mentors: “He turned every one of our conversations – and we had many, many conversations – into a brainstorming session on who he could help and how he could help them; his humble and kindly heart benefited more people than we will ever know.”
Mrs. Galina Gozenpud, a congregant and dear friend of the Giters, spoke emotionally about her family’s beloved mentor. “He never put himself in first place. First place was his family, second place were all of us, and only third place was himself. “We cannot say goodbye to Rabbi; we will say ‘See you.’ We will pray every morning, light Shabbat candles, wear Tefillin, do more Mitzvahs and wait for the arrival of Moshiach, when we will all be together again, amen!”
A memorial fund has been established in his memory to support his wife. To donate: www.GoFundMe.com/GiterFamily. Checks Payable To: Congregation Bais Menachem, 1981 Yorkshire Ct. St. Paul, MN 55116.
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Photos by Tzvi Perlow