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Bayside Jewish Center rabbi of 50 years dies

Orentlicher was remembered as a scholar who earned three doctoral degrees and a selfless leader of his family and his congregation who went out of his way for the synagogue."His family and his faith were his two anchors, and he really devoted a lot of time to both," said Allen Oren, one of Orentlicher's five children.During his five decades at the Bayside Jewish Center, Orentlicher negotiated with Robert Moses when the architect of the city's highway system wanted to build the Clearview Expressway over the center's property. In 1959, he helped move the synagogue to its current location on 32nd Avenue. He also pioneered religious programs to get young people involved and taught at several universities, including 20 years as an adjunct at St. John's.Born in Poland in 1920, Orentlicher came to Brooklyn at 13 with "very little money, if any at all," his son said. He attended Yeshiva University in Manhattan on scholarship and worked as a rabbi in South Bend, Ind. --near the University of Notre Dame-before moving to Bayside.Although he never took the bar exam, Orentlicher earned a law degree from St. John's. He also had doctoral degrees in divinity and Hebrew literature.Orentlicher's 50-year stay at the Bayside Jewish Center was regarded as unusually long, and friends and family attributed it to his dedication."Our rabbi was a very unusual man. He loved people. He loved children, he was a very warm individual," said Sandy Schwartz, a past president of the synagogue who joined in 1964. "When you stop to think, where does a person stay 50 years in a synagogue? He has to be good."Oren said his father formed a group called Epz Haim in the 1970s and '80s that attracted hundreds of teenagers from all over Queens to Saturday services of worship, prayer and socializing."It was looked upon as kind of a model for other synagogues," he said.Schwartz also recalled that when the congregation lost the person designated to read from the Torah during services, Orentlicher took up the task without a word."There he was for all these years reading it, never complained, and he did it with excellence," he said.He also had warm relations with Christian congregations, participating in interfaith services, Schwartz said.Besides Oren, Orentlicher is survived by his wife Jeanne, his children Harriet Gefen, Gary and Paul Orentlicher, and Rona Orentlicher-Fein as well as 11 grandchildren.Donations can be made to a Yeshiva University scholarship fund in Orentlicher's name. Checks payable to the Rabbi William Orentlicher Scholarship Fund can be sent to Yeshiva University, 500 West 185 St., New York, NY 10033, Attn: Dr. Abraham Mann.Reach reporter John Tozzi by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext. 188.

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