From the time I first met him in the Rutgers Student Center handing out menorahs for Chanukah for when I left Rutgers, Rabbi Baruch Goodman really helped me out quite a lot. I would like to give some thanks.
The Occasional Run-in
Starting a few years ago, I began to run into Rabbi Goodman every once in awhile. Sometimes it was in the Student Center, sometimes outside the Student Center, but always it had something to do with a Jewish holiday, a trip to Israel, that sort of thing. He was always pleasant and kind-mannered, even though I never engaged in lengthy conversation or accepted any offers to come to the Chabad house for Shabbos.
Sometimes I was nervous that he would be less than happy to see me, who had never taken him up on his various offers to attend services, gatherings for holidays, etc. He always was happy to see me, despite my trepidation and thinking that things would be any other way. I would ask him a question or two about what he was doing, what was going on, and then inevitably would wander off, my curiosity having been satisfied.
Discussions Truly Begin
Things really began to happen right around the time I realized I wanted to be an observant Jew and not just another assimilated “cultural Jew,” so to speak. I saw Rabbi Goodman one Friday night in mid-to-late September and he was thrilled to see me at services. At the meal that followed, there came a point in the evening when he made some announcements and one of these announcements was to welcome me to the Chabad House. I was certainly not expecting such a warm welcome but I got it anyway. Later, a couple of friends of mine who regularly went to Chabad told me that Rabbi Goodman did not extend such greetings to just anyone who started going to Chabad. I was happy at the thought that I had been singled out – perhaps it was due to the few years of seeing him, conversing, and yet not going until then that had put me in that category of people.
The following morning I went to the Chabad House at the time he had suggested for morning learning. There weren’t that many people there but I thought this was normal as many people would probably want to sleep in on a weekend. I would sit amongst some other students and the children and listen to the Rabbi talk about the portion of the Torah that was being learned / read that week. I found it to be quite fascinating, and it was one of the things that drew me to be more observant as a Jew. I knew that I wanted to be more observant, and the Rabbi’s discussions helped me in that path. The personalized attention that he paid to my inquiries and needs really set him apart.
I continued to go to Chabad for services every Friday and Saturday and so spent a lot of time learning things from Rabbi Goodman. I had all kinds of questions for him, as anyone growing into Jewish observance is bound to have, and he always had an answer for me. His advice still rests with me now and helps me in day to day decisions – for example, I wondered if it was okay to shake a woman’s hand if the woman was the person interviewing you for a job. He told me that the laws of shomer negia were not negated by the fact that it was a job interview. Touch was touch, on or off the job. He related to me when he was interviewed for a job and he told the woman interviewing him that he didn’t touch women and he got the job regardless. Now, as a temp worker whose place of work consists 99% of women, I really appreciate that advice. I have heard other opinions that since it is professional all sexual elements go out the door so to speak but I decided it felt more appropriate to go with the more stringent opinion in this case. There have been many other such cases where I have been not sure what to do and then remembered something he said – and then knew what to do.
I haven’t really spoken or written to Rabbi Goodman much since I graduated from Rutgers and went away to Israel for a few months. The Rabbi asked me to consider going to Israel with one of his programs instead of the program I went to, but since his program only offered two weeks and the program I was interested in was offered as long as I wanted, I was inclined to go with the "as long as I wanted" offer. It concerns me that the Rabbi may think that I have put him out of my mind now that I am no longer at Rutgers and don’t get to see him as much as I once did, but that is not at all the case. If anything, the distance has helped me appreciate that which he has taught me even more. Out of all of the influences that shape me as a person who is growing in Jewish observance, his is one of the greatest. The fact that I am not physically at the Chabad House at Rutgers University does not mean that his lessons have faded or that I no longer care for his words – I care that much more.
I write this article to let it be known that I really appreciate the things that Rabbi Goodman did for me during my stay at Rutgers University. From when I wasn’t observant and he would offer words of advice (that, I’m sure, influenced me in some way in the long path towards becoming more observant – contrary to what some people might believe, for me it did not just occur overnight) until when I found myself leaving Rutgers, the Rabbi was there when I needed him. When there was a dispute in my home in regards to a possible mixture of meat and milk at the table, I called the Rabbi and he was there to help me sort things out. Everyone should have this kind of help or guidance for at least some time. I am grateful for that which I got.