Friday, May 14, 2021

Memories of a Unique Gadol

The Novominsker Rebbe zt”l was a multi-dimensional man: rebbe, rosh yeshiva, shul rov, a friend and counselor to many people, and to the many, many more who considered him their guide in personal and communal matters.

His father, the previous Novominsker Rebbe zt”l, was a member of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah, and a quiet, unassuming tzaddik and gadol b’Torah. A friend of mine was once learning in the small Novominsker shtiebel in Boro Park when the rebbe came in with a plate of honey cake and a small bottle of liquor in honor of his fourteenth Siyum Hashas!

The rebbe grew up in such a home. He was a talmid of Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l and was fashioned by these two towering, although different, gedolim.

The rebbe was a rosh yeshiva in Skokie and the SRH Kollel in Washington Heights before succeeding his father and eventually establishing his own yeshiva, which immediately earned its reputation as an elite institution, under his vigilant guidance and leadership.

He always remained very close to the Washington Heights community, which he respected for the integrity and sincerity of its people. I was once in his apartment – which was unique for its breathtaking simplicity – when one of his Washington Heights people came in, unexpectedly. He said he had a problem. The rebbetzin a”h said, “If you have a problem, we have a problem. Let’s talk.”

That’s the way the rebbe and the rebbetzin were. They were available, and if they weren’t, they made themselves available.

He had a broad outlook and, partly because he had led and interacted with different types of communities, understood all sorts of people, but nothing impinged on his honesty. He did not hesitate to be outspoken, sometimes bluntly so. As a leader, he had exceptional communication skills. His English was impeccable and eloquent, and as the rosh mamedabrim of the Torah community, he made a kiddush Hashem whenever he presented daas Torah, which was continuous.

At the first Siyum Daf Yomi at Madison Square Garden, he publicly expressed his gratitude to Jay Schottenstein for making the ArtScroll Shas possible. (The applause was thunderous.) Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz and I were taken completely by surprise (pleasantly so). The rebbe did not know the Schottensteins, nor were they supporters of the Novominsker Yeshiva. The rebbe said what he did because he felt it was the right thing to do. He always did and said what he thought was called for. I saw this whenever we spoke, even when he told me, sometimes bluntly, that I was wrong. Agudas Yisroel and Klal Yisroel have suffered an enormous loss.

Yehi zichro boruch.

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