Many communities have a rabbi. In the times of the Talmud, that term was deemed somewhat narrow for the many responsibilities devolved on the community leader. Another term was needed and coined: Mara D’asra, literally ‘leader of the community.’ Such a leader is Rabbi Sender Haber who recently announced his retirement from B’nai Israel Congregation.
While the typical “rav” or rabbi attends to general pastoral needs, a Mara D’asra is literally responsible for all aspects of the community. In the Orthodox Torah world, the responsibilities are wide-ranging and significant. The Torah-observant community in many cases will not place food on the plate or make an important life decision without consulting the rabbi. Therefore, the telephone rings and the Whatsapps flow like water from a fire hose. In his 20 years or so in Norfolk’s community, Rabbi Haber has never pulled back from that fire hose.
Arriving in Norfolk in 2001 to work with the Norfolk Area Community Kollel, Rabbi Sender Haber is the son of a rabbi himself. (His father Rabbi Yaacov Haber gave him the name Sender, a shorten version of Alexander, as an honorific which recalls the kindness exhibited by Alexander the Great to the Jews of ancient times). Rabbi Sender Haber immediately stood out from the other Kollel members for his maturity, Torah knowledge, and love for the Jewish people. He soon found himself teaching Torah at Toras Chaim Day School, Yeshiva Aish Kodesh Boys High School, and at Bina Girl’s High School. With the departure of Rabbi Chaim Silver, Rabbi Haber ascended from assistant rabbi to Rav.
Over the years, the congregational calls (sheilos) kept coming and the responsibilities grew. Rabbi Haber guided the community through a period of impressive growth as the Kollel expanded, along with the other Orthodox institutions which serve the community. In his “spare time,” Rabbi Haber has served as a loving husband alongside his wife, Rebbetzin Chamie Haber, who has also gone above and beyond for the Tidewater Jewish community. He raised a family and managed to author several outstanding written works, including an illustrated Haggada published by the Mosaica Press. A true “renaissance-rabbi,” Rabbi Haber even found time to serve as the official chaplain of the Lost Tribe Motorcycle Club, where he proudly earned his vest and club colors. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Rabbi Haber’s firm, but gentle guidance kept the davening schedule on track to the maximum extent possible and helped the community through one of the most challenging periods in its 75-year history. Through it all, Rabbi Haber maintained his now famous composure, grace, and humor.
While completely devoted to the cause of Torah-true Judaism, Rabbi Haber also never shied away from his role as a rabbi for the greater community and looked forward to all his of his interactions and teaching at the Simon Family JCC and in the broader United Jewish Federation of Tidewater community.
Now that time has come to an end.
Rabbi Haber recently announced plans to relocate to Monsey, N. Y. where he will be free to learn his beloved Torah once again in a kollel setting. The congregation has reluctantly begun a rabbinic search even while it adapts to the idea that its long-time Mara D’asra will be leaving. Amidst the sadness of his impending departure, the congregation plans to carry on with its learning and commitment to the G-d of Israel in a way in which it prays will serve as a lasting tribute to Rabbi Haber’s many years of service.
A good-bye Kiddush and night of learning in honor of the Habers (with various dedication opportunities) is being planned around the Shavuos holiday of June 5–6. For information and ways in which to honor the Habers, contact B’nai Israel Congregation at 757‑627‑7358, e-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org or through the website
Jeffrey Brooke is president of B’nai Israel Congregation.
– Jeffrey F. Brooke