VETERANS: Proud progenitor

"Quietly, I asked myself, ‘Is this the right thing to do’? I made a decision to come, and there was no looking back,” Gorlin said.

RABBI DAVID Yoel Gorlin, his wife Maira, and their extended family in Israel. (photo credit: Courtesy)
RABBI DAVID Yoel Gorlin, his wife Maira, and their extended family in Israel.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Sitting in his tidy Beersheba home on a bright summer morning, Rabbi David Yoel Gorlin smiles and says, “we came as a family, and grew as a family.” In September 1969, the 40-year-old Gorlin arrived in Beersheba with his wife, Maira, and their four children, ages 11 to 17. This September, as Gorlin celebrates the 50th anniversary of his aliyah and his 90th birthday, he has become the proud progenitor of a family that has grown to 17 married grandchildren and more than 70 great-grandchildren living throughout Israel. ‫ While the death of his wife a year and a half ago greatly saddened him, Gorlin, whose energetic, smiling appearance belies his 90 years, still drives, delivers a weekly Talmud class, attends synagogue daily, volunteers, and visits with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren‬. Gorlin was born in the Bronx, grew up in Brooklyn, and attended Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, eventually receiving rabbinic ordination from the renowned Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner in 1950. Married in August of that year to Maira Karlinsky, whose father was a noted rabbi, Gorlin began his career as an assistant rabbi in Miami, and then moved to Bangor, Maine, where he headed a community Hebrew school.
Thumbing through a well-worn album containing letters, awards and photographs, Rabbi Gorlin points to a yellowed newspaper clipping from the local Bangor newspaper that reads, “Four Escape Serious Injury in Car Crash.” In December 1951, Gorlin was driving his car on an icy road when the car went out of control, broke through seven guard rails and plunged over a 30-foot embankment, eventually coming to rest on a cement culvert that prevented the car from landing in the river. Miraculously, Gorlin, his wife, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law escaped with minor injuries. Gorlin, recalling his near-fatal accident, says, “I feel that my whole life is a story of divine guidance. Someone up there is looking out for me.” Gorlin remained in Bangor for two more years, and then became a teacher at the Yeshiva of Central Queens in 1955, and also served as a principal of a Talmud Torah. Along the way, he earned a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in sociology.
“I never wanted to be a pulpit rabbi,” he says. “I went into Jewish education. But my wife said there was no economic future in Jewish education. She recommended that we switch to public education.” Gorlin took his wife’s advice, returned to school and received both a counseling certificate and a social studies teaching certificate.
In 1958, Gorlin was hired by the Plainview, Long Island, school district, first as a social studies teacher, and then as a guidance counselor, remaining there until he and his family made aliyah in 1969. Gorlin was in charge of 300 students at the school. As a guidance counselor, Gorlin tested the students, assessed their aptitude and intelligence, helped with college placement, and assisted with vocational guidance. Maira, who had taught in Hebrew schools, also received a license to teach elementary school, and became a successful teacher. In Israel, she taught elementary and high school for 30 years, providing her students with a firm basis in English and self-discipline, that enabled them to continue successful careers in higher education.
Gorlin and his family had traveled to Israel twice before their aliyah in 1969. In 1953, Gorlin served as a madrich (counselor) for an Aliyat HaNoar group in Kfar Hasidim, composed of children from Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and India. Gorlin’s second daughter was born during that year in Israel. Gorlin and the family returned to Israel in 1966 for a sabbatical, and he spent the year working as a social worker and teaching English.
Finally, in 1969, encouraged by the late Rabbi Abraham Silbert, head of the B’nei Akiva yeshiva in Beersheba, Gorlin and his family decided to move to the Negev city, which at the time, he says, “had one traffic light.” Gorlin explains that Rabbi Silbert told him that the need for qualified educators was greater in Beersheba than Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, two other cities which they had considered. Rabbi Gorlin, who had become a successful and effective guidance counselor in the United States, transferred his talents to Beersheba, and became a guidance counselor in the new comprehensive (makif) high school, which combined both academic and secular studies. In Israel, Gorlin explains, the home room teacher (mechanech) serves as a type of guidance counselor, though he or she may not have received formal training in the field. “When I came to Beersheba,” he says, “I was the only guidance counselor. They didn’t know what a guidance counselor should do.”
In Beersheba, Gorlin developed his own tests to evaluate the students’ skills and created special tests for students whose verbal skills were lacking.
“There was a big problem especially in religious schools,” he explains, “in that immigrants from Middle Eastern countries were considered second-class citizens.” Often, they received little academic help at home, and their grades were below average. Gorlin encouraged many of his students to transfer to the school’s academic track. Many succeeded and attribute their success to the support and help that Gorlin provided. Today, 20 years after his retirement, Gorlin is still recognized and stopped in the street by former students whose lives were impacted by his teachings and support throughout the years.
“I was driving and stopped at a red light,” he recalls. “A police car approached, and the police officer started waving. “I said, ‘Officer, what did I do’? The policeman said, “Do you remember me from Makif Bet?” Recently, Gorlin was at the kupat holim waiting for an appointment. An older man came out of the doctor’s office, looked at him, and said “‘You got me into an academic program, and because of you, I became a school principal.’” Adds Gorlin, “No matter where we go, there is someone that my wife or I taught.” Gorlin is also proud to have served for eight years as an officer in haga, (civil defense), and also worked as an aliyah shaliach (emissary) in Cleveland for two years, from 1978 until 1980.
Gorlin retired from his counseling career in Beersheba when he turned 70, but his influence in the field has extended to the current generation of guidance counselors. He taught counseling at Bar-Ilan University, and wryly notes that he was the only person on the faculty of the counseling division who was actually a trained guidance counselor. Later, he helped start the counseling department at Michlala College in Jerusalem, and closer to home, taught courses at Ben-Gurion University on counseling.
“Before we made aliyah,” we had to make a final decision. “I was in the high school in Plainview, Long Island. I went out to the woods to decide. Quietly, I asked myself, ‘Is this the right thing to do’? I made a decision to come, and there was no looking back.” Fifty years later, Gorlin and his family have no regrets – nor do the hundreds of students he and his wife have helped.