Rodef Shalom founding rabbi celebrates 90th birthday

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Rabbi Laszlo Berkowits celebrated his 90th birthday Saturday with a dinner and Shabbat service in his honor at Temple Rodef Shalom, where he served as founding rabbi for 35 years. (Photo courtesy of Temple Rodef Shalom)

Rabbi Laszlo Berkowits, a Holocaust survivor and rabbi at Temple Rodef Shalom from 1963 to 1998, was toasted Saturday for his 90th birthday with a dinner and Shabbat service in his honor at the Falls Church Reform congregation.

The event was organized by longtime Rodef Shalom congregant, and good friend of Berkowits’, Sam Simon, who said the idea was not only to celebrate Berkowits’ life, but celebrate as a family — both his immediate family and temple family. Nearly 200 people came to commemorate their past rabbi, according to Simon.


“It was creating a simcha,” Simon said. “His family was there and [we were able] to celebrate with him and celebrate the underlying value of bringing joy and happiness.”

It is a life motto for Berkowits, Simon said, that people must create simcha because trouble comes in uninvited. And this party, which Simon and a congregation committee started to plan shortly after the rabbi’s 89th birthday, fit well into that theme.

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As a teenager, Berkowits, a native of Hungary, spent 18 months at Auschwitz and Wobbelin concentration camps before eventually making his way to the United States and being ordained in 1963.

Simon, who has known Berkowits for more than 40 years and has traveled with him to visit the concentration camps he had been held in, said his friend is still incredibly optimistic, generous and a believer in the importance of Jewish community.


“It was such a warm feeling that night,” Simon said.

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