To know Rabbi Barry Robinson z”l was to love him. In every arena—whether as a computer programmer, a Northwestern University adjunct professor, a Daf Yomi teacher or a ba’al tefillah—Rabbi Robinson’s warmth, smile, sense of humor and wit drew people to him. This was true among his students at Ida Crown Jewish Academy more than anywhere. Rabbi Matanky says, “He was a man of prodigious intellect that placed him head and shoulders above so many others. But his humility and warmth drew people in.”
For the hundreds of students fortunate enough to call Rabbi Robinson their rebbe, he served as teacher, mentor, advisor and confidant. Students were wowed by his encyclopedic breadth of Torah and Talmud, coupled by his depth of knowledge in general studies. When students entered ICJA as freshmen already in advanced levels of math, Rabbi Robinson was called upon to teach college level math courses to meet those students’ needs. No topic was too complicated for him to explain. He embodied the tagline of ICJA by inspiring students to become bnei Torah thriving in the modern world because every day he did just that.
Through knee surgeries, chemotherapy and more, Rabbi Robinson continued to teach and inspire his students. His classes were known to gather for shiur wherever he was at the time—in the hospital, a skilled nursing facility or at home. His dedication to Torah in spite of the pain he endured left the most lasting life lesson of all. Rabbi Robinson showed up on a scooter to teach at ICJA right up to days before he passed away because as his son Rabbi Yehoshua Robinson explained at the levaya, he didn’t feel pain while he was teaching. “Students would fight to be in his shiur, and adults would want to be at the table around him,” says Rabbi Matanky.
Speaking at the ICJA retreat at Camp Chi that took place following the levaya, alum Jacob Zwelling (’15) spoke to seniors at a bonfire, saying that Rabbi Robinson embodied the idea Rashi states on the last pasuk in Va’yelech: A teacher loved his students as much as his body. But in the case of Rabbi Robinson, it’s clear that he loved his students more than his body.
ICJA alum Erez Kaissar (’18) encompassed the thoughts of so many of his peers when he beautifully wrote, “On Rosh Hashanah תשעט, the world lost an amazing teacher, rebbe, and role-model. Rabbi Robinson, in two years you taught me more than I ever could have imagined. You had an unbelievable grasp of both secular and religious studies, and I only wish I could have had more time to learn more from you. Your stories, jokes, and brilliance made class particularly special. You had an ability to relate to your students that no teacher has ever had. You never let anything get in the way of our learning, regardless of how important we thought it might be. Your encyclopedic knowledge of Torah was amazing to witness, and an inspiration to learn. You truly are the foundation for all my learning this year in Yeshiva and hopefully throughout my life. I remember so vividly on our first day of class my junior year you said, ‘If you wouldn’t do something proudly in front of your parents and grandparents, you shouldn’t ever do it.’ This was an unbelievable message for me to live by throughout high school and beyond, but it was just the first of many valuable lessons I took away from our shiur. Rebbe, I’m sure that you’re already crushing someone in a New York Times crossword puzzle right now. Without you, Daf Yomi will never be the same, shiur will never be the same, but we will forever be your Talmidim.”
Gabe Cohen (’18) writes, “Despite the fact that he was often tired and weak, Rabbi Robinson always found a clever way to bring energy into the classroom. I will never forget the way he used to lift his cane and smack it against the desk as hard as he could to get quiet. After watching how his loud noise startled all of us and got us quiet, he would smile and say, ‘Wow. That was a good one.’ Then, we would all laugh and get back on track with the learning.
He was an encyclopedia of Torah. I will always remember the time I asked him a question tangentially related to the learning, and he knew the exact masechet and amud that dealt with my question. I would have been in awe if he had only known where my question appeared, but he was so brilliant that he actually knew the exact case and the way it plays out in the Gemara. I had always known he was special from my friends that had already taken his class, but after seeing that firsthand, I knew I was sitting in the classroom with a generational mind.”
Ephraim Wiesenberg (’18) writes, “Rabbi Robinson, your love for your students was unmatched. I remember all the times you would show up to class with Dunkin’ Donuts, or when you would give someone your credit card to pick up food for the whole class, just because they asked you to. But more than that, you never let anything get in the way of our learning. Your love of learning and your knowledge of both Torah and secular studies was amazing. You were one of the smartest men I ever knew. You knew everything about everything. Rebbe, I just wanted to say thank you for all of your stories, jokes, and most importantly, for instilling in me a love of learning that I had never had before. You are the greatest teacher that I’ve ever had, and you were a true role model. I learned more than I could have ever imagined from you. You inspired me in so many different ways, and I’ll forever be indebted to you. I hope there is an infinite amount of crossword puzzles for you to do, and that you can eat as many cakes and cookies as you want. You will forever be missed, and your students will always cherish the time we had with you.”
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