BDE: Sudden Petira of Rabbi Ronnie Greenwald Z’L Founder of Camp Sternberg; Famed Spy Trader [UPDATED 3:00PM ET]

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YWN regrets to inform you of the sudden passing of Rabbi Ronnie Greenwald Z”L, the world renowned Askan, spy trader, major community activist and founder of Camp Sternberg.

Rabbi Ronnie Greenwald, was suddenly niftar while on vacation in Florida. He had suffered from a heart condition, but showed no signs of imminent death. He lay down to sleep, and was taken from this world as he slept.

Hatzolah of Miami Dade were called at around 6AM to the home he was staying at, in North Maimi Beach and found him in Cardiac arrest. Despite all attempts to revive him, he was unfortunately pronounced dead at the hospital.

UPDATE 3:00PM ET: The Niftar is being flown to New York, and the Levaya will be held in Monsey at (tentatively) 6:00PM on Wednesday afternoon, at Yeshiva Ohr Sameach, 244 Route 306. The Niftar will be flown to Eretz Yisroel for Kevura, on the 11:59PM flight from JFK.

Askonim have secured a permit at the parking lot of the Ramapo High School, 400 Viola Road for people to park their vehicles. The lot is across the street from Yeshiva Ohr Sameach.

Rabbi Greenwald (born January 8, 1934) Born in New York City, he has made a career of spy trading, international hostage mediation, and other forms of high-stakes, high-intrigue diplomacy. He served as presidential liaison of President Richard Nixon to the Jewish community during the Nixon administration. He served as a community activist, chaired various civic boards, and directs a high school and a summer camp.

rg1Ronald Greenwald was born to European Jewish immigrant parents and raised on the lower east side of Manhattan before his family relocated to Brownsville (in Brooklyn). He studied at Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland after high school. After getting married, he settled in Boro Park in Brooklyn. In the early years of his marriage, he worked as a teacher of both Judaic and secular studies in Brooklyn yeshivos.

Rabbi Greenwald became active in politics in 1962 (at the age of 28) lobbying on behalf of Torah Umesorah to promote the creation and success of Jewish day schools in the United States. At the request of Jewish activist George Klein, Rabbi Greenwald became involved in the gubernatorial campaign of Nelson A. Rockefeller and helped Rockefeller win an unprecedented share of the Jewish vote for a Republican at the time. After this success, the Rockefeller campaign recommended Greenwald to the campaign of Richard M. Nixon and the Nixon re-election campaign appointed Greenwald to work for the President’s 1972 re-election in the Jewish community. In winning 35% of the Jewish vote in 1972, Nixon, like Rockefeller, did far better among Jewish voters than would be expected from a Republican in that era.

During the Nixon administration, Rabbi Greenwald served as liaison between the administration and the Jewish community in a variety of ways. He obtained a $1 million grant to open a legal aid office in Brooklyn to assist the needy in the community of Williamsburg among other accomplishments.

rg4During the Watergate scandal, Rabbi Greenwald contacted various Democratic Jewish members of Congress, including Elizabeth Holtzman, Bella Abzug and Arlen Specter to try to convince them that impeaching the President would weaken the United States and, by extension, hurt Israel, which, in the wake of the Yom Kippur War needed the support of a strong United States. Although his entreaties did not work, as President Nixon was eventually forced to resign rather than face impeachment, he did earn a Presidential letter of thanks (see the letter at the bottom of this article).

Rabbi Greenwald had been involved in scores of release efforts for various prisoners from around the world.

In perhaps his highest profile case, Rabbi Greenwald worked closely with Representative Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) and East German lawyer Wolfgang Vogel to secure the release Soviet dissident and Refusenik Natan Sharansky from Soviet prison in the late 1970s. He made more than 25 trips across the “Iron Curtain” to East Germany as part of that effort. The Rockland Journal News reported that Rabbi Greenwald was the “man behind the talks” that freed Sharansky.

rg3In conjunction with Representative Gilman, Rabbi Greenwald negotiated the rescue a 24-year-old Israeli citizen named Miron Markus in 1978 who was living in Zimbabwe. Mr. Markus was captured when an airplane piloted by his brother-in-law, Jackie Bloch, was forced to land in Mozambique, where Mr. Bloch was killed and Markus taken hostage. Rabbi Greenwald, Congressman Gilman and others arranged for a complex swap that involved four countries Mozambique, Israel, the United States and East Germany, convicted East German spy Robert Thompson and U.S. student Alan van Norman.

Other people he helped negotiate their release include:

Raul Granados
Vladimir Raiz
Shabattai Kalmanovich
Lori Berenson
Alfred Zehe

rg2When he was not engaged in high-stakes international diplomacy, Rabbi Greenwald was busy operating Camp Sternberg, a summer camp in the Catskill Mountains and ran Monsey Academy for Girls, a private high school in Rockland County, New York, of which he was the founder.

Rabbi Greenwald has served as chairman of the board of the Women’s League in Rockland County (which creates and oversees adult group homes in that county) and of the Borough Park, Brooklyn branch of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (JBFCS). He also serveed on the Board of Governors of the Orthodox Union, and as acting chairman of Magenu.

Boruch Dayan HaEmmes…

g r

(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)


12 COMMENTS

  1. BDE
    An unbelievable loss to all of K’hal Yisrael. This Gedol of an Askin truly loved all Jews and was an irreplaceable support to the entire Jewish community in his quiet and behind the scenes way.

  2. I knew him for about 20 years, and was so impressed with his tremendous practical wisdom. This is very saddening. My condolences to his whole family and to klal yisroel. May he be a meilitz yosheir in the heavenly courts for us all.

  3. Doctor Sternberg was a community general Practitioner MD doctor in Williamsburg in the 50’s and 60’s
    It was his initial donation that allowed the camp to be established shortly after Mogen Avraham was, which was also founded buy Rabbi Greenwald and Rabbi Weinberger, may he live an be well. Dr Sternber although not strictly observant himself considered everyone of his patients as his own child or brother/sister
    It was a wonderful experience to grow up ther and be part of this camp experience for so many children and families without means to attend a camp any other way
    Jay Buchsbaum

  4. What a huge loss to Klal Yisroel! Rabbi Greenwald zt’l was an activist/Askan whose prodigious activities were purely l’shem shamayim, and never for his own Kovod or self-aggrandizement. He was a giant who disguised his greatness by his humility and his engaging humor. Most importantly, he was a seriously frum Jew who never measured other Jews by the size of their tzitzis. The Jewish People in general, and the Monsey community in particular, will long remember this extraordinary tzaddik. BD’E.

  5. It is impossible to encapsulate Rabbi Greenwald using any single adjectives. But with all that he did (and we will never know), he never got frazzled. His calm humorous demeanor was capable of easing the pain of thousands who sought his council and poured out their tzaros to him. One didn’t have to knock on his door. Often, when he heard someone was in trouble he made the phone call. Can I help? As busy as he was he had time for everyone, big and small alike.

    May he be a mailitz yosher to his wonderful family and klal Yisroel.

  6. i think for those of us who knew him personally, who loved to watch his face as we sang Shalom Aleichem past the Redwood, who remember that excited and important feeling as he assured us that he remembered our grandmother from summer 1983- for us, it is not enough to read a description of his spy trading days. His thousands of Sternberg fans and followers can testify to his simple and understated manner that set the amosphere in our favorite camp. His very presence inspired awe, beacause… he was Rabbi
    Greenwald. Those who knew him understand. A generation and culture of ehrlichkeit and achrayus is gone with the loss of our beloved leader, Rabbi Greenwald. May the opportunity for growth in yiddishkeit that he presented to us girls, boys, religious or unaffiliated, in his summer camps and throughout the year serve as an aliyas neshama for Rabbi Greenwald.

  7. I went to sternberg.
    Rabbi Greenwald impacted my life in so many ways.
    I am so so sad.
    He was so loving. So caring. So full of life. So not emphasizing the little unimportant differences, instead making ua all feel special and united, all different types of Jews b’achdus. Seriously. We were all at home together.
    When breaking a fast i always remember how post Tisha B’av etc he would shout on the megaphone “everybody stop eating!! Hands on the table mow!” Newcomers would panic that something was wrong with the food, but seasoned sternbergers would put their hands on the table and count out loud from 10…9….8…and then with the twinkle in his eye like only R’Greenwald could have, he’d say “ok now enjoy your food”, and we would proceed to eat like dignified human beings.
    Like my sister, another sternberger, so perfectly summed up, “i kind of thought people like R’Greenwald just dont die”
    Rabbi Greenwald we miss you.