There was great sadness among his relatives, friends and former congregants in the United States, Canada and Israel last week following the news of Rabbi Avraham Feder’s death.
A people person in every sense of the word, Feder who was 87, had a profound influence on scores – if not hundreds of people – who had made aliya, simply because he had inspired them to do so.
Raised in a Modern Orthodox home in New York’s Lower East Side, he initially became a cantor and worked for several years in congregations across the US, and found himself attracted to the Conservative Movement.
Following his ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, he went to Canada and in 1967, was the founding rabbi of Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto as well as of the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto.
He was a born teacher and a passionate orator, and every sermon that he gave contained some mention of Zionism and aliya On the Beth Tikvah website, a notice stated: “Beth Tikvah Synagogue mourns the passing of our Founding Rabbi, Rabbi Emeritus and Senior Scholar, Rabbi Dr. Avraham Feder zt’l. He taught a Judaism grounded in social justice, love of Israel, devotion to Torah, and service to the Jewish people. His passion and depth were expressed both in words and in song. His legacy will endure as a blessing for our congregation, and for all who were touched by his friendship and leadership.”
The fact that he had become rabbi did not mean that he had given up on being a cantor. He successfully combined both positions and was probably one of the few rabbis in the world who would burst into song in the middle of a sermon.
The singing always had a rousing effect on the congregation and was related to the message that he wanted to convey.
Sometimes he sang traditional liturgical tunes and at other times he dug into his immense Broadway repertoire, giving a fresh meaning to familiar prayer book and Biblical lyrics.
In addition to his rabbinical duties, Feder worked as a consultant in moral education in Canada and Israel. He earned his PhD in the Philosophy of Education from the University of Toronto and also held master’s degrees in Hebrew Literature and Sacred Music.
Feder and his first wife, Leona, made aliya in 1981 but returned ever so often to Toronto for lecture tours and to catch up with old friends.
In 1983, Feder was appointed rabbi of the Moreshet Yisrael congregation in Jerusalem, succeeding the congregation’s first rabbi Yosef Green, who retired after 21 years at the helm. Feder retired in 2003, but remained rabbi emeritus, just as he was at Beth Tikvah.
A sought-after lecturer in the US, Canada and Israel, Feder was also the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel president and a recipient of the Menachem Begin Prime Ministers Medal from Bar-Ilan University Leona, Feder’s first wife, died some 14 years ago. Following his retirement, he continued to maintain contact with former congregants and called them before Passover and Rosh Hashana to offer season’s greetings.
In addition to his second wife, Tzipora, Feder is survived by his children Bracha Feder, Nechama and Zvika Twito, David and Maayan Feder, Chaim and Irit Feder and his six grandchildren, Lielle, Batya, Etai, Hila, Lianna and Ilai.