Rockaway Mourns The Loss Of Rabbi Joseph I. Weiss
Community & Religious Leader For More Than 50 Years
By John C. McLoughlin
Rockaway suffered a loss last week with the passing of Rabbi Joseph I. Weiss, 88, the religious leader of the West End Temple-Sinai Congregation, Neponsit. A resident of Belle Harbor, Rabbi Weiss served the congregation of West End Temple for 52 years.
Born on April 13, 1913 in Macon, Georgia, Rabbi Weiss was ordained in 1939 and received a doctorate in divinity from Hebrew Union College, New York, in 1964. He furthered his education while attending numerous summer sessions at Columbia University, University of Haifa, and Hebrew University.
Rabbi Joe, as he was known to many Rockawayites, served as a chaplain in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946 in the South Pacific.
From 1947 to 1948 he was the rabbi at Temple Israel, Columbus, Georgia, and was the religious leader at West End Temple from 1949 to the present.
Rabbi Weiss’ résumé was impressive, to say the least. He was involved with many professional and civic organizations during his 88 years of life. He was the past president of the New York Association of Reformed Rabbis; past president, Association of Jewish Military Chaplains of the U.S.; past president, Brooklyn Association of Reform Rabbis; past president, National Association of Retired Reform Rabbis; board member, New York Board of Rabbis; and board member, Central Conference of American Rabbis.
Locally, Rabbi Weiss was a senior active member of the Rockaway Rotary Club; board member, South Shore Division of Boy Scouts of America; board member, Rockaway Catholic-Jewish Council; and board member, Rockaway Peninsula Interfaith Clergy.
While eulogizing Rabbi Weiss, John Shure, president of West End Temple, said, "…what made Rabbi Weiss so special to all of us; what makes the enormity of our loss so overbearing; what makes us grieve with such intensity, is that in addition to all of his extraordinary and exceptional qualities, he was also our very best friend."
Shure remembered Rabbi Weiss as a man who "has ‘carried’ all of us with his brilliance, exceptional strength, genuine love and extraordinary devotion. He has led us in prayer and understanding of Torah. He has laughed with us, cried with us, struggled with us when our burdens seemed most overbearing, and joyfully reveled in our accomplishments. He was a strong and powerful force that penetrated our souls with wisdom, gentleness, kindness, and empathy."
Most appropriate of all, Rabbi Weiss can be called a "mensch." To know him was to love him. Children adored him, and he adored them back. He listened. He taught. He had a phenomenal memory, giving sermons without notes and recalling names and faces of people from long ago. And everyone seemed to know Rabbi Weiss. Some way or another he seemed to touch everyone’s life…often in the most gentle and simple way.
He was a man who loved life – and lived it to the fullest. He traveled extensively to many parts of the world, and went to Israel on numerous occasions. Rabbi Weiss was athletic; an active participant in tennis, golf, and ice skating. He was a member of the 70 Plus Ski Club, partaking in ski trips to Engelberg, Switzerland in 1984, to Innsbruck, Austria in 1985, and Davos, Switzerland in 1987.
He enjoyed music, art, theater, and modern literature. He was a supporter of the Rockaway Music and Arts Council.
Rabbi Weiss was a Renaissance Man.
He was a family man. He married Bath-Ammi in 1942 and had two sons, William and Edward. It was William and daughter-in-law Kathlyn that gave him his first and recently born grandchild, Houston Moses Weiss.
In an interview with Newsday in 1997, Rabbi Weiss said, "Over the years, I’ve seen generations come through my congregation. Children who were educated here and have gone on to become parents and even grandparents. It’s very rewarding to watch children grow up and develop."
Rabbi Weiss felt blessed. The more than 500 people that attended his memorial service on Sunday, March 25 were blessed for having Rabbi Weiss in their lives.
Rabbi Weiss will be missed, but his story is guaranteed to live on: A good man with a good heart who did good things.
We say to Rabbi Weiss what he has said to so many:
"May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord cause His Countenance to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace."
Farewell, Rabbi Weiss.
(The Men’s Club of West End Temple will memorialize Rabbi Weiss at the Friday evening service, March 30, 2001)