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Retiring Oceanside Jewish Center rabbi left mark on community

Rabbi Mark Greenspan prepares to retire

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Sunlight shone through the windows in Rabbi Mark Greenspan’s office on the second floor of the Oceanside Jewish Center. Just a few days before his retirement party — and a few weeks before he officially retires — he sat in the center of the room, surrounded by packed bookshelves and some boxes on the floor, 22 years’ worth of belongings slowly being shuffled into storage, moving on to their next chapter.

“Pardon the mess,” Greenspan said. “I’m in the midst of packing up my books and everything . . .”

After more than two decades of spiritual and educational leadership, Greenspan, 65, will retire at the end of the month. His office’s wealth of rabbinic literature, philosophy, poetry and history books reflect the fulfilling rabbinate he served in Oceanside.

“There’s very little that I haven’t done in the time that I’ve been here,” he reflected.

Greenspan’s many duties included performing marriage ceremonies, celebrating bar mitzvahs, leading weekly Shabbat and spreading knowledge about Jewish faith to the community. Since he was appointed rabbi in 1997, the synagogue has seen demographic changes, and he expressed pride in maintaining an active congregation during this time of change.

“A lot of the young people who were children when I first came have now married and are parents themselves,” he said. “That’s one of the good things about the rabbinate — you follow people through their lives and you’re part of that.”

Greenspan also contributed to the surrounding community. He spent time teaching at Friedberg JCC. “I’m the unofficial rabbi of the JCC,” he said, noting that he would miss being known as “the rabbi” around town. He was a volunteer firefighter, served as Oceanside Fire Department’s chaplain and was president of the Interfaith Council. “I really believe it’s important for a rabbi to be involved in the community,” he said.

Greenspan recalled the World Trade Center attacks and Hurricane Sandy as defining moments of his time in Oceanside. “After 9/11, we brought everyone in the community — churches and synagogues alike — together here because people were grieving,” he said. “And then after Sandy, I would say that 80 to 90 percent of the congregation couldn’t live in their homes immediately after, so finding ways to help people became very important.”

Above all, Greenspan was a teacher to Oceanside’s Jewish population, his close friends and colleagues said.

“I’ve learned a lot from him over the years,” said Jeff Resnick, a longtime congregant and volunteer at the Jewish Center. “He will be sorely and surely missed. I have lots of good memories of the rabbi with children in our nursery or Hebrew school, celebrating Purim or preparing for Passover.”

Greenspan taught people of all ages, from nursery school children to older adults. He taught Jewish education at Oceanside Jewish Center’s nursery school, South Shore Chai Hebrew High School and other religious education programs.

Rabbi Howard Diamond, of Congregation B’nai Sholom-Beth David in Rockville Centre, worked closely with Greenspan at the Hebrew high school for the past decade. “There will be a hole in our communities,” Diamond said. “He is a great mentor, a great reader, just a good, educated, sensitive and caring man.”

In addition, Greenspan collaborated with Gloria Lebeaux, the JCC’s Partners in Caring program and social services director, to help heal and educate seniors at the JCC.

“It’s a loss that won’t be filled easily,” Lebeaux said, noting that the rabbi has been clearing out his home and donating old books to her about social work and ethics. “His impact will always be remembered.”

“He’s so much of an advocate for his congregation and generous with his time,” she continued. “He understands the connection between social services and congregations.”

Greenspan earned an undergraduate degree from Columbia University, then spent five years studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary, a rabbinical school in Manhattan. His first position as a rabbi was in Knoxville, Tenn., from 1980 to 1986. He worked in Harrisburg, Pa., from 1986 to 1997 before coming to Oceanside.

In retirement, Greenspan and his wife, Marilyn, will move to Manhattan and take care of their newborn grandson. They also plan to live in Israel for a while. What comes next, he said, is a mystery. “I honestly don’t know what retirement is going to be like,” he said, “and I’m trying to be completely open.”

The community gathered on Sunday to celebrate the Greenspans with a brunch at the Jewish Center. Many attended the sold-out event, and a number of attendees took to the lectern to wish the rabbi well, including Diamond, who said that Greenspan could see into teenagers’ hearts and his words were gems to them. Others who spoke included Greenspan’s children, Mordy and Naomi, rabbinical interns Aviva Fellman and Daniel Graber, and Saul Weinstein and Dan Schiller, both of the Oceanside Jewish Center.

“My mentor, my rabbi,” Schiller said of Greenspan. “My friend.”