Remembering the good in the world was important for Rabbi David Hillel Auerbach.
“The world we live in is not perfect, and bad things do happen to good people. And yet, surely in each of our lives there are blessings, but too often we simply take them for granted,” he said in one of his classic messages. “The greatest blessing is the love of family and friends: knowing that there are wonderful people who support us and love us and sustain us through even the most difficult of times.”
Auerbach, who was the founding rabbi of Bet Shira Congregation in Pinecrest, passed away Thursday. He was 78.
The current rabbi at Bet Shira, Mark Kula, remembers the first time he met Auerbach in 1989.
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Kula had just graduated from a New York seminary and was in Miami to interview at Bet Shira. When Auerbach arrived at the airport, he looked the young man up and down and told him, “You look like you’re in high school.”
When Kula protested, Auerbach laughed and threw an arm over his shoulders.
“He told me, ‘Welcome to Miami. You’re going to be moving here soon. I know it,’ ” Kula recalled. “He was so confident.”
Auerbach’s prediction came true. The pair worked together for 16 years, until Auerbach’s retirement in 2005. Since then the two kept in touch, and Kula said his loss will be felt deeply by the congregation of the conservative temple he helped found.
“He really cared,” Kula said. “He was very proud of the community.”
When Auerbach founded Bet Shira in 1985 to serve families in South Dade, the response was immediate. Within three weeks, more than 200 people pledged a million dollars to support the temple. Auerbach eventually stepped down 20 years later, which Kula called a remarkable amount of time.
During his time at the temple, Auerbach served in a variety of positions in local and national organizations. He was national chairman of the Rabbinical Assembly Convention, president of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association, co-chairman of the Rabbinic Campaign Committee of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.
He was on the Assembly’s Executive Council, the Board of South Dade Federation, the National Rabbinic Cabinet of UJA, the Chancellor’s Rabbinic Cabinet of The Jewish Theological Seminary, the South Dade Board of Rabbis, the Southeast Region of the Rabbinical Assembly and the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami.
But before his time in Pinecrest, Auerbach was a rabbi at Shaar Shalom in Chomedey, Quebec, Ahavat Achim Synagogue in Atlanta and Beth David in Miami.
After finishing his undergraduate education at McGill University in Monteal, Auerbach was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1965. He also earned a master’s in Hebrew Literature from the Seminary. In 1991, his 25 years of service in the rabbinate were honored with a Doctor of Divinity degree from the Seminary.
“He was an intellectual,” Kula said. “He loved the study of Judaism.”
He was published in many leading Jewish publications, including the United Synagogue Review, Sh’ma, The American Rabbi, the National Jewish Post and Opinion, and the Jewish Journal. He lectured at length on Rabbinics and Jewish Ethics at Bet Shira and was a faculty member of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School.
Over the years, Auerbach was honored with the Reverend Zvi Hirsch Masliansky Award in Homiletics, the Doctor Michael Higger Memorial Prize in Talmud, the Rabbi Jacob Radin Scholarship, the United Jerusalem Award, the Rabbinical Service Award of Appreciation and the Rabbi Simon Greenberg Rabbinic Achievement Award from the Seminary.
Auerbach was married to the late Gloria Bassel Auerbach and Sheila Verbit Auerbach.
He is survived by his three children and one stepchild — Lianne Eklove, Jonathan Auerbach, Jennifer Flansburg and Lynn Weiner. His grandchildren and step-granchildren are Noah, Zahava, Sarah and Josh Eklove of Toronto; Jake and Zoey Flansburg of Tampa; Logan and Harper Auerbach of Plantation; and Zachary and Daniel Weiner of Miami.
His funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Bet Shira Congregation, 7500 SW 120th St., Miami. Burial will be at Mount Nebo Kendall. Shiva will be held at Bet Shira Congregation on Sunday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Monday through Thursday from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.