By Molly Meisels, Junior News Editor
“He never let us stand up for him when he entered the room. I think he was too humble for that,” says Eliana Felder, SCW ’20, when reminiscing about Rabbi Dr. Meir (Manfred) Fulda. Rabbi Fulda left a university in mourning when he passed away on the Shabbat afternoon of July 28th. A man as celebrated as his teacher, Rav Soloveitchik, Rabbi Fulda touched the soul of each student lucky enough to enter his classroom.
Born on December 25, 1928 in Fulda, Germany, Rabbi Fulda spent his younger years in a Germany on the brink of genocide. After Kristallnacht frightened and unnerved his family, Rabbi Fulda’s mother obtained visas for the Fuldas, allowing them to escape the unstable atmosphere of a fascist Germany. The family then settled in Washington Heights, where Rabbi Fulda’s Yeshiva University journey began. Rabbi Fulda embodied the true meaning of Torah U’Mada, graduating from Yeshiva University High School for Boys in 1945 and Yeshiva College in 1952, receiving the coveted valedictorian honor from both institutions. He then received semicha and a PhD from two other Yeshiva University establishments, solidifying his status as a true champion of Yeshiva University values. Rabbi Fulda aspired to inspire, yearning to share his Torah with the young minds of the Jewish world.
Teaching struck a chord with Rabbi Fulda, triggering him to begin his teaching career at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) in 1956. His career spanned decades, allowing him to impact the lives of thousands of male and female students. Most recently, Rabbi Fulda taught Intermediate Talmud at Yeshiva College and Family Law at Stern College for Women. Teaching seemed to keep him alive in his later years, as he has said, “The only reason I’m alive is to be teaching, and if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t still be here.” His students were his world. He was not a rabbi who merely taught his few subjects, issued examinations, and left. He was a rabbi passionately promoting Jewish ideals through life lessons and stirring anecdotes. He dedicated his entire being to those in his classrooms, instilling compassion and consideration into each student’s heart. His essence was unsullied, and that purity was felt by his students. Josh Perlman, Syms ’18, remembers Rabbi Fulda’s spirit fondly, saying, “He was one of the sweetest rabbis I have ever met. He led me to where I am today, not just with his help in Torah learning, but also through his guidance on life.”
Rabbis like Rabbi Fulda don’t come around often. He seemed to gaze into the soul of each student, not only caring about their spiritual well-being but their physical well-being too. Eliana Felder remembers being sent down to the cafeteria at the start of class, because he believed that hungry students were not good students.
Although Rabbi Fulda was unwell in his final time at Yeshiva University, his teaching abilities were not impaired, they were strengthened. He ensured that he left no words unsaid, and he shared his unparalleled wisdom with his students. Rabbi Fulda’s last semester on campus was an emotional one, as Rotem Ben Simon, Syms ’19, remembers, “We were saying our usual ‘Goodbye Rabbi, see you next semester.’ When it got to my turn, I saw that he was crying. I was so moved. Even though Rabbi Fulda had thousands of students, and hundreds of classes, saying goodbye to us was still hard for him. I don’t know if it’s because he knew his journey was over, or because he saw how much we loved him….”
Rabbi Fulda’s death has been emotional for many students. They have formed undeniable and unbreakable bonds with him, so losing him is like losing a part of themselves. Students like Ahava Palgon, SCW ’18, will carry memories of Rabbi Fulda with them for the rest of their lives. Palgon shares, “At graduation, I told him that I was engaged, and he cried… I found out he passed away the day of my wedding. I swear to you, under the chuppah, I could feel him there.”