Rabbi David Halpern was the founding rabbi of the Flatbush Park Jewish Center, where he served for 60 years.
He began his career in Brooklyn in 1952 as the temporary leader of a fledgling synagogue that met in an Avenue N storefront, according to The Jewish Week. Newly ordained as a rabbi by Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, the 23 year old Rabbi Halpern found himself in an area that could barely scrape together a daily minyan, but over time began flourishing with the promise of affordable homes and the influx of World War II survivors looking to start anew in New York.
While Rabbi Halpern had been planning to move on shortly to study in an Israel yeshiva that had offered him a scholarship, he was still with the congregation two years later when members decided to vote on whether to follow a strictly Orthodox path or to turn in the direction of Conservative Judaism. Members of the group chose to follow Orthodoxy, a move that kept Rabbi Halpern with the congregation.
“I would have handed in my resignation,” Rabbi Halpern said, noting that he believed that the synagogue’s Orthodox affiliation was the reason for its success.
In 1956 Rabbi Halpern began serving in the 71st Infantry, 42nd Rainbow Division in the New York National Guard, reporting for duty every summer for two weeks over a six year period, reported the Canarsie Courier blog.
While the Mill Basin area evolved over the years to a large Orthodox Jewish community with close to a dozen synagogues, Rabbi Halpern spoke fondly of his early days in the area before his retirement in 2012.
“Those were years of striving together, a congregation, small as it was, in the first few years, praying and children learning in a rented store; yet having the power and vision to look to the future with confidence and courage and to name our venture: Flatbush Park Jewish Center,” said Rabbi Halpern. “They knew the journey would be fraught with obstacles. Yet, they would not be derailed or deterred. They continued and we persevered. Every family pitched in as much as they could.”
A member of the New York Board of Rabbis, Rabbi Halpern delivered the opening prayer in the House of Representatives in 2003 and a joint legislative resolution honoring Rabbi Halpern and his wife Sheila on the occasion of his retirement from the Flatbush Park Jewish Center was passed in both houses of the state legislature praising the Halperns as “a beacon of light” to the borough of Brooklyn.
Rabbi Yisroel Perelson who took over for Rabbi Halpern after his retirement said that his predecessor saw some of his congregants through their entire life cycle.
“He did everything for everybody,” Rabbi Perelson told VIN News. “He went through generations, from some congregants’ bris to marrying them to doing the same for their children. “There were some he saw from their bris to their graves.”
Rabbi Perelson praised Rabbi Halpern as a problem solver who encouraged people and was a problem solver par excellence. He noted that Rabbi Halpern often offered him words of encouragement and attended services daily up until the final days of his life.
Rabbi Halpern’s funeral will be held tomorrow at 11 AM at the Flatbush Park Jewish Center 6363 Avenue U with burial at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, New York. He is survived by his wife, Sheila, his children Neil, Risa and Beth and several grandchildren.