September 20, 2018

Rabbi Yehoshua B. Gordon, Chabad of the Valley founder, community educator, 66

Rabbi Yehoshua Binyomin Gordon, founder and executive director of Chabad of the Valley and spiritual leader of Chabad of Encino for more than 40 years, died Feb. 8. He was 66.

Also known as Rabbi Joshua B. Gordon, the rabbi oversaw 26 Chabad centers in the area, including Hebrew schools, adult education institutions and summer camps. He is widely credited with growing Chabad life in the San Fernando Valley after moving to the West Coast with his wife, Deborah, in the 1970s at the urging of Chabad West Coast leader Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin.

Still, he will perhaps be remembered most for the work he did that reached beyond local community members. Beginning in 2009, he led daily live audio and video classes — which are downloadable on the Chabad online platform, Jewish.TV — about the Chumash (The Five Books of Moses); the Tanya, a book of Chabad philosophy; and the commentary of the medieval philosopher Maimonides, also known as the Rambam.

Gordon’s son-in-law Jonathan Herzog told the Journal that Gordon reached thousands of people worldwide through his teachings. 

“He recorded thousands of online classes covering Chumash, Tanya and Rambam and various other topics,” he said. “I don’t have the exact numbers but they are quite dramatic, with many thousands of students tuning in with him on a regular basis.”

Gordon was born in 1949 in New Jersey to Chabad Rabbi Sholom Gordon and his wife, Miriam, an educator. According to Chabad.org, influenced by the teachings of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, he studied in yeshivas in France and Montreal. As a young, recently wedded rabbi, he and his wife moved to Detroit to join the city’s network of Chabad rabbis. Cunin recruited him to the West Coast in 1973.

Gordon’s work at Chabad of the Valley began with a single “small home under the rabbi’s stewardship” before it “grew to encompass 26 centers, each one a vibrant generator of Jewish life,” according to the website.

Rabbi Mordechai Einbinder, associate director of Chabad of the Valley, said he worked alongside Gordon for approximately 25 years. He described him as someone who was committed to serving not just Chabad members but any downtrodden people he found — from the homeless man who died and would not have had a proper burial if not for Gordon to the family that could not afford to send a daughter to an Orthodox school. Einbinder said Gordon personally drove a girl from this family to school so that she could have a religious education.

“He would always help everybody. It was one of his weaknesses … [but] it was really a strength — his sensitivity to anyone who needed help … in ways that were not estimable,” Einbinder said in a phone interview.

“Rabbi Gordon’s success guiding the many Chabad representatives and centers under his aegis made him a role model to many shluchim [emissaries]. His many accomplishments, and the inspiration he brought to so many individuals and families through his classes and his leadership, make this a very sad day,” Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based education arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, said in a statement released the day of Gordon’s death. “His premature passing will leave a huge void.”

Gordon is survived by his wife, Deborah, and their six children, Rabbi Yossi (Daniella) Gordon, Yochanon (Miriam) Gordon, Faygie (Jonathan) Herzog, Rabbi Eli (Dina) Gordon, Dena (Rabbi Avi Rabin) Rabin, and Chaya Mushka (Dovid) Drizin, 21 grandchildren and six siblings.

His funeral took place the day of his death at Mount Olive Memorial Park in Commerce. He was buried there, per his request, alongside his late friend, Rabbi Avrohom Levitansky, whose children, Isaac and Eli Levitansky, are Chabad rabbis in Santa Monica.

A shloshim memorial service, marking 30 days since the day of his death, is scheduled for March 7 at the Chabad of the Valley headquarters, 18181 Burbank Blvd. in Tarzana.