BY MORT BECKER
Rockland residents suffered a major blow today with the news of the passing of Rabbi Ronald “Ronnie” Greenwald of blessed memory. He was 82.
Rabbi Greenwald was a well-known and admired Orthodox Jewish educator, activist, child advocate and director of Camp Sternberg, who resided with his wife in the suburban Village of Airmont.
Born in New York City, he made a career of international hostage mediation, spy trading and other forms of high-stakes, high-intrigue diplomacy. Rabbi Greenwald became active in politics in 1962 (at the age of 28). He worked on Nelson A. Rockefeller’s gubernatorial campaign and helped him win an unprecedented share of the Jewish vote for a Republican at the time.
After this success, Greenwald signed on to President Richard Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign and helped him get 35 percent of the Jewish vote. Nixon, like Rockefeller, did far better among Jewish voters than would be expected from a Republican in that era. Rabbi Greenwald was later appointed by President Nixon as White House liaison to the Jewish community.
Rabbi Greenwald made more than 25 trips behind the “Iron Curtain” to East Germany. He worked closely with Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) to secure the release of famous Soviet dissident and Refusenik, Natan Sharansky from prison. This was just one of many subsequent prisoner swaps that he helped facilitate.
Rabbi Greenwald was not one to shy away from controversial issues. He was very outspoken about protecting victims of abuse and was a leading advocate for them. Many affectionately called him “Zaidy.” He would passionately read suicide notes during his stirring lectures about the tragedy of drug and alcohol abuse in the community.
The founder of the Center for Jewish Family Life/Project YES, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, a pioneer in child-abuse prevention here in Monsey, commented, “Reb Ronnie will be deeply, deeply missed but never forgotten by his beautiful family, by the countless kids whose lives he saved, and by those of us who looked up to him with respect, admiration and awe. May his memory be forever blessed.”
Greenwald with legislative candidate Patsy Wooters and freelance journalist, political activist and founder of Airmont Scoop webpage Mort Becker of Airmont
Personal comment from reporter Mort Becker:
This reporter was privileged to live just a few blocks away from Rabbi Greenwald. As a young child, on snow days, when school busses weren’t in service and the schools closed, my friends and I would trek out to our local Shul for morning prayers. We’d be greeted with a hearty welcome by Rabbi Greenwald. After prayers, we’d all climb in to the Rabbi’s SUV and head out with him to the Avenue R Café on Route 59 for breakfast which he sponsored with a warm smile.
More recently I had the opportunity to introduce local candidates for office and elected Rockland officials to Rabbi Greenwald. They all immediately fell in love with him. He was a man who broke stereotypes. His genuine concern, respect for all, and frank chats impressed anyone who had the opportunity to interact with him.