Rabbi Erwin Schild looks back on 95 years

Rabbi Erwin and Laura Schild in their wedding photo.

TORONTO — For Rabbi Erwin Schild and his wife Laura, it has been a very exciting year. This past December marked their 70th wedding anniversary and on March 9, Rabbi Schild celebrated his 95th birthday.

While chatting informally about his life, Rabbi Schild – who served as spiritual leader of Adath Israel Congregation from 1947 to 1989 – was charmingly soft-spoken, articulate and open. What emerged were some very compelling thoughts about his personal and professional life and about changes in the Toronto Jewish community.

Rabbi Schild continues to serve as rabbi emeritus of Adath Israel, and on May 31, the synagogue is holding a special celebration for him and his wife.

Reflecting on his life, he says balancing his responsibilities as a rabbi with his role as a husband and father was not always easy. He unhesitatingly acknowledged that Laura never expected him to change diapers or make coffee. Her goal, as she herself explained, was to make her husband’s life easier, and it’s clear that he is indebted to her for the role she has played in his success.

Their first meeting was quite by chance. One evening while Laura was spending the evening with friends, Rabbi Schild, also visiting, decided to sit down and play the piano. Laura, went over to listen and they struck up a conversation. After greatly enjoying her company, the rabbi decided to take a certain route each day, knowing he would meet Laura walking home from Central Commerce. Their “chance” meetings became more regular, and a wonderful romance began. However, becoming a rebbetzin was a very big step for Laura, who was somewhat quiet and reserved. But she blossomed in the role and became more comfortable socially and extremely capable, bearing much of the responsibility of raising their three children.

Rabbi Schild's longevity in the community gives him an interesting perspective on changes that have occurred in it.

He recounted how at one time, Shabbat sermons at Adath Israel Congregation were given in Yiddish. He explained how the growth in the number of synagogues, especially after World War ll, was a reflection of the self-confidence and pride the Toronto community felt. This growth was also due in part to the influx of Holocaust survivors – including Rabbi Schild himself – and the establishment of the State of Israel. Synagogues like Adath Israel grew steadily.

Reflecting on Jewish education in the past, Rabbi Schild remembers a time when students got their Jewish education at cheder from stern and sometimes incompetent teachers. He laments the high cost of tuition fees today, as well as the decline of after-school programs and kids who are too busy to make Jewish school a priority.

He jokingly remarked that early in his career when he presided over funerals, the people were all older than he was, and that now, most of them are younger. As well, years ago, when he married young couples, they would come to him with two different addresses. Now, he notes, there is often only one.

What has retirement meant for Rabbi Schild? At first, there was a feeling of loss in terms of responsibility and authority. He worried that it might be difficult to fill his days, but that never happened. He has been so busy travelling, writing, teaching, officiating, delivering sermons and even talking to school-age children about his experiences in World War II that he jokes about needing an assistant rabbi emeritus!

Intellectually, he is as sharp as ever. He actively uses the Internet to continue his research, attends to daily email correspondence, Skypes with relatives around the world, and even joined Facebook.

As for their future goals and plans, Rabbi Schild and Laura have many. He has several projects on the go, and while continuing his current activities, he is also planning to publish a new book. Laura attends classes at the synagogue and is very proud of her three children, 12 grandchildren and 45 great-grandchildren!

When asked what advice he would give to others to ensure a successful marriage and a meaningful life, Rabbi Schild said that one must try to do what is right, live ethically and morally – always try to be unselfish and put others’ needs ahead of your own. But it is also important to take care of yourself, live in a nice environment and maintain a healthy lifestyle (he jogged well into his 80s).

As his father used to say: “The good man thinks of himself last, but he does think of himself.”