I remember the first time that I met Rabbi Mendy Sasonkin.
I didn’t know what to expect, except that he would not shake my hand (I had received that wisdom from a Conservative Rabbinic friend who said: “When you meet him, don’t take it personally, but he will not shake your hand.” He went on to explain that in keeping with the foundational Jewish value of modesty, an Orthodox Rabbi refrains from touching a woman other than his wife and immediate family).
I was thankful for that valuable information because it helped me avoid what could have been an awkward beginning to an introductory meeting with one of the spiritual leaders of a faith community that I was charged to cover as the religion writer for the local newspaper.
Over the years, I enjoyed building rapport with both Rabbi Sasonkin and his lovely and loving wife, Kaila.
Last week, Rabbi Sasonkin passed away (at the age of 54). When I got the news, I began to reflect on the intersection of our lives.
I recalled how there was something within him – an inner-contentment from knowing God and from his commitment to doing the will of God. That something within him, which I call God’s spirit, touched my inner spirit.
That remembrance led to my beautiful epiphany: Without using physical contact, Rabbi Sasonkin touched me in a most profound way. He embraced me with his spirit.
It didn’t matter that we were from two different faith traditions. I saw God’s reflection in him and he saw God’s reflection in me. We saw value, dignity, and worth in each other.
We had a kindred spirit connection. The light in his life made mine shine a little brighter.
I will remember what he said: “Thank God!” for everything.
I will remember what he did: Welcomed others with a warm smile, kindness, respect, and an open heart.
I will remember how he made me feel: Accepted, appreciated, and loved.
May he rest in peace.
May the Almighty comfort his family.
(Rabbi Menachem Mendel “Mendy” Sasonkin served Anshe Sfard Congregation-Revere Road Congregation in the greater Akron, Ohio area from 1995 until his death on October 2).