Rabbi Henry Okolica Celebrates 96 Years


rabbi-henry-okolicaFreesia Singngam of the New Britain Herald, CT, reports: Rabbi Henry Okolica has accomplished much in 96 years. He fled Germany during the Holocaust. He gave people hope serving as a chaplain for the state Veterans’ Home and Hospital in Rocky Hill, New Britain’s police and fire departments and other organizations. He raised four children and now has 108 great-grandchildren. He has been a rabbi for the Congregation Tephereth Israel for 49 years.

 Today, he is a religious fixture in the community.

Okolica says he’s always tried to help people, and has been very successful, say others.

Members of Congregation Tephereth Israel, other rabbis and members of the community gathered Sunday afternoon in honor of Okolica’s 96th birthday, and they all had stories about how he’s made a difference in their lives.

“You sort of feel like you have a direct line to God when you talk to Rabbi Okolica,” said Shereen Edelson, a member of the congregation. “He finds the good in everybody.”

“To have him in your life is a blessing,” said Bea Priola, “There’s just nobody like him.”

Both Edelson and Priola had known Okolica for a long time, as the rabbi had presided over Edelson’s bat mitzvah and wedding and Priola’s sister’s wedding and mother’s funeral. They had many good things to say about Okolica and his wife, Lisbeth.

Some members felt they were meant to be in the congregation.

Jacob Josefs said it was “meant to be” that he ended up in Okolica’s congregation. When he moved to New Britain from Manhattan, he went to the synagogue and told Okolica about his wife, Linda. It turned out that Okolica, who had previously worked in Florida, knew Linda’s father, who was a cantor, and he remembered Linda as a young girl.

“Everything, I believe, has a purpose and a reason,” he told Okolica. “My family feels blessed to know you, to be in your presence.”

Michael Miles, vice president of the congregation, grew up two to three blocks away from Okolica. He said the neighborhood could tell there was “a great man, a holy man in our presence.”

“It’s just an honor still to be here with him all these years later,” Miles said. “He’s a man that will help anyone at any time and give the right advice.”

Born on Nov. 27, 1913 in Germany. Okolica was a child when anti-Semitism grew, and he said the environment made him want to protect his people.

“It was my calling since I was a little boy,” he said. “I entered the job to save people – not only Jewish people, all people.”

One member of the New Britain community, Peter Spano, said Okolica blessed him on his death bed 15 years ago.

¬†“He came to bless me and I think he brought me back,” Spano said. “He goes to the hospital and prays for people.”

Spano and Okolica are now friends and members of the Rotary Club.

Howard Nair said that many military veterans know Okolica because of his work at the hospital in Rocky Hill and because he was at every veterans’ event.

“He did such good work for many causes,” Nair said. “Any veteran in our age group that knew him bless him everyday.”

Okolica said he remembers coming to the congregation 49 years ago. He said the same room he was sitting in for his birthday party was packed with people who welcomed him.

“It’s unbelievable what you remember most – the love and the friendship that they gave me,” he said. “I in turn tried to give back to New Britain.”

As he thanked everyone for attending his party, Okolica turned his attention back to his congregation.

“This congregation is my congregation as long as I live,” Okolica said. “I’m not going away. When I see you people here, when I see you, I feel alive.”

{New Britain Herald/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Rabbi Okolica was a very important figure in my life when I was a young boy and I’ve always held him in my heart as a model to aspire to.