Rabbi Eliezer Kaminetzky has served the Highland Park community for almost 50 years as religious leader of Congregation Ohev Emeth and as chaplain of the borough’s police department.
On April 22, he was honored as volunteer of the year for serving as “a role model for our residents, first responders, and borough employees” and as “the voice of calm and reason through many difficult days over the last two decades, including 9/11,” according to the official program.
In a ceremony held at the Highland Park Senior/Youth Center, Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler said it was hard to choose from among the hundreds of community volunteers, but one “super volunteer” stood out.
Kaminetzky became religious leader at Ohev Emeth in 1967, when the congregation was still in New Brunswick. In 1973, it met at the rabbi’s Highland Park home until moving to its current building in 1983. He retired in 1999, when its current leader, Rabbi Eliyahu Kaufman, took over, but Kaminetzky continues to serve the Orthodox synagogue as rabbi emeritus.
He has served as chaplain for more than 20 years.
Police Lt. Gary Panichella, in presenting the award to Kaminetzky, said he first came to know the rabbi after coming on the force more than two decades ago. He quickly began to rely on him for advice and assistance.
“He always helps me and is always by my side,” said Panichella, who noted that included bringing him matza ball soup when he was sick.
He recalled Kaminetzky’s attendance at and participation in many department events and activities, including National Night Out Against Crime, Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day observances, Fourth of July celebrations, and the annual PBA dinner.
Panichella said Kaminetzky helped ensure that refreshment machines at the events met kosher standards.
“Rabbi Kaminetzky has become an integral part of our police department,” said Panichella. “He has been a wonderful influence on our officers with his selfless dedication and commitment to our community.
“Rabbi, I cherish your words and that you take the time whenever we need you.”
Police Chief Stephen Rizco called Kaminetzky “a friend and confidant to many of our officers” who is “always willing to lend his great wisdom and advice to anyone in need.”
Kaminetzky is a certified school psychologist who served as a psychologist with the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene and Office of Mental Retardation and Development Disabilities for 30 years before coming to Ohev Emeth. He holds a master’s degree from the City University of New York and a doctorate from Teachers College of Columbia University.
“I think by volunteering one commits to the goal of caring,” said Kaminetzky in accepting the certificate. He thanked Panichella for his comments, joking, “Gary, I thought your first words were ‘license and registration.’”
“Volunteers help to create a culture of a caring community and a sense of security and warmth in a world full of turmoil.”