This week we lost a man, known as â€śEveryoneâ€™s Rabbi,â€ť who was a leader, a teacher and a friend to the people of the city of New Britain and its surroundings - not for years but for decades.
After escaping Nazi persecution, Henry Okolica settled in Connecticut and not only guided New Britainâ€™s Congregation Tephereth Israel but he also served as chaplain to the cityâ€™s fire and police departments and the Connecticut Veterans Home at Rocky Hill. And he hosted a weekly television program, â€śJewish Life,â€ť for 40 years. The program was devoted to Jewish causes.
His philosophy, as reporter Lisa Backus told us in Tuesdayâ€™s New Britain Herald, was, â€śI didnâ€™t escape Germany to live my own life. I escaped because God commanded me to be his helper.â€ť And help he did, offering friendship to his congregation, his city and anyone who needed his guidance.
Okolica retired to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in 2010, but was welcomed back to the city in 2013 to be honored on his 100th birthday. Gov. Dannel Malloy issued a proclamation declaring Nov. 27, 2013, Rabbi Henry Okolica Day in the state.
And, though he retired, he never stopped teaching. At another event to celebrate his 100 years, he exhorted those gathered to continue to reach out to one another each and every day because that is what our tafkid (lifeâ€™s goal) should be. And because that is what Hashem (Jewish name for God) requires of us.
It was a philosophy that he not only taught but lived. The world will be better for his life - and is sadder for his passing.