Rabbi Joel Matthew Chazin, who retired in 2018 after 53 years in the pulpit, died July 11 of COVID-19 at Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights. He was 84.
Chazin, who was born on Dec. 22, 1935, was the former chaplain and director of religious services at Montefiore in Beachwood.
Chazin left a lasting legacy at Montefiore, a place the Jamaica, N.Y., native had never heard about when he applied there for a position in 1995.
“It’s been a terrific experience,” Chazin told the Cleveland Jewish News in a June 2018 story. “It’s a very accepting place. I’ve not met people of the quality that I’ve met here in such a large number. As a whole, the dedication, the commitment and the passion is really fantastic.”
Chazin has had health issues the last few years and when Montefiore held a retirement party on June 29, 2018, he was unable to attend. Instead, he offered remarks via a prerecorded video.
“Rabbi Chazin has brought a tremendous spirit and positive energy to the residents of Montefiore,” said Seth Vilensky, then president and CEO of Montefiore in the 2018 CJN story. “He has made such an impact on people’s lives, both the residents and their families, and has been just an amazing asset to the community and to Montefiore.”
Chazin received his rabbinic ordination in 1965 from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. Although JTS is a spiritual center of Conservative Judaism, Chazin said his approach to prayer and the religious service is egalitarian and he has become sensitive to insights from both the Conservative and Reform movements.
He came to Northeast Ohio in 1992 to serve as rabbi at Agudath B’nai Israel Synagogue, a Conservative congregation in Lorain.
“I was very unhappy in Lorain, and I saw it wasn’t working,” he said in the 2018 CJN story. “So I asked for help from the director of the local hospital in Lorain, and he recommended me to a Jewish man on the east side of Cleveland who had run Mount Sinai (Hospital) for a period of years.
“He said to me, ‘Why don’t you apply to Montefiore?’ I had not heard of it, but I sent (an application) in express overnight from Lorain, and that’s how I got here.”
At Montefiore, Chazin instituted a summer concert series, “Songs of a Summer’s Night”; developed an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day program with a guest speaker each year; created a Sunday morning breakfast forum series titled “Food for Thought”; and initiated a series of “Torah Institutes” for residents in which he and guest rabbis in the area have led lectures and discussions on the Bible.
In addition, Chazin collaborated with staff at Montefiore to edit a trilingual (Hebrew, English and Russian) Passover haggadah and has edited weekday prayer books and festival morning and evening prayer books for the residents. He also oversaw the production of Shabbat and High Holy Days prayer books, all in large print, for the residents.
Chazin is survived by his wife, Linda; and children, Shoshana Chazin of Shaker Heights, Aryeh Chazin of Boca Raton, Fla., and Shayna Bach of Cleveland Heights; sister, Judith Bennahum; and five grandchildren.