Rabbi Steven Dworken, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, a professional body serving over 1,100 Orthodox rabbis, died suddenly at his home in Teaneck, N.J., on January 13 of a heart attack. He was 58.
Hundreds of mourners came from as far away as Chicago, Boston and Miami to attend his funeral Tuesday at Yeshiva University’s Lamport Auditorium, where colleagues remembered him as a rabbi’s rabbi.
“When a rabbi has a problem, who does he turn to?” asked Rabbi Heshie Billet, president of the RCA. “Steve Dworken.”
Dworken was a native Bostonian with “a Boston accent he never lost,” according to Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union. He attended Maimonides High School in Boston and later Y.U., where he studied under Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the late pillar of Modern Orthodoxy.
Before Dworken became involved with the RCA, he served as a pulpit rabbi for synagogues in Stamford, Conn., and Portland, Maine, before settling in New Jersey.
Ten years ago, when he took the reins of the RCA, the organization was struggling. The death in 1993 of Soloveitchik, who guided policy decisions at the organization for nearly 40 years, sent shock waves through the organization and the Modern Orthodox rabbinate. “The organization basically floundered for a while,” Billet said. “We were basically the Soloveitchik organization, without Soloveitchik. Steve got the organization back on its horse.”
Dworken lured hundreds of rabbis to RCA conventions, established relationships with the O.U. and the rabbinates in England and Israel, and made strong — often affectionate — ties to Conservative and Reform rabbis. “He was an individual who always tried to find the good in everybody in every area,” said Rabbi Joel Meyers, head of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly.
More than anything, Meyers said, Dworken cared about education. “He was making certain the Orthodox world would have very good teachers and continue to produce good rabbis.”
“He was always reaching out to others — he reached out to the maximum number of people,” Weinreb said. “Unfortunately he didn’t get a chance to complete his mission.”
Dworken is survived by his wife, Susan, head of school of the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, in Livingston, N.J; his children Aliza, Nomi and Arye, and four grandchildren.