Tuesday, Jun 18, 2024

Rav Avner German ztl

“He was life itself,” said Rav Dovid Cohen, rov of Congregation Gevul Yaavetz and an old, dear friend of Rav Avner German zt”l. He lived a life of true chaim – “ki heim chayeinu.” He took his deep love of Torah and enriched everyone he met. He was a kiruv pioneer who engaged in kiruv rechokim more than sixty years ago when the term was practically unknown. His kiruv was sharing his life, his chaim, his love of Hashem, and his love of Torah with his fellow Jews. His love of his fellow Jews and his love of Torah were the threads that ran through his entire life. He was so alive until virtually his last day. That is why it so difficult to internalize the fact that Rav German passed away this past Sunday.

Rav German was legendary in his lifetime. His ahavas Torah was legendary, his ability to connect with his fellow Jews and bring them closer to Hashem was legendary; his chinuch acuity was legendary; his humility, utter selflessness and deep, personal connection with Hashem were legendary. He was a walking legend, a pioneer and unique marbitz Torah on the American scene who raised a family of true talmidei chachomim and gedolei Torah.


It is this legend, this person full of life and ahavah, whom so many Yidden from all walks of life mourned this past Sunday and will continue to mourn for years to come.


Rooted in Torah, Bound to His Lifelong Rebbi


Rav Avner German was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1926. His father, Reb Mordechai Nochum, was a talmid chochom whose ahavas Torah had a profound impact on his young son. His father was a talmid of the Novardok Yeshiva and had been a chavrusah of Rav Alter Shmulevitz, son-in-law of the Alter of Novardok, Rav Yosef Yoizel Horowitz, and father of Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir. Rav German would relate to his children that although his father was a grocer by profession, his most vivid memory of his early youth was waking up in the middle of the night in their St. Paul home and seeing his father bent over a Gemara, engaged in limud haTorah.


He would often relate to his talmidim that his father taught him to use his intellect and his creativity to solve a problem and never take the easy way out. His father didn’t spoon-feed him, but rather tried to encourage him to use his own talents to understand and figure things out, both with regard to Torah learning and, lehavdil, in worldly matters. Rav German would emulate his father and do the same things with his own talmidim, challenging them to constantly use and cultivate their own abilities.


Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l: His Rebbi for Life


When he became bar mitzvah, his father sent him to New York to learn at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. After spending a year there, he transferred to Yeshiva Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin. The move to Yeshiva Chaim Berlin was a watershed in his life. At Yeshiva Chaim Berlin, he became bound with every fiber of his soul to his rebbi muvhak, the rosh yeshiva, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, zt”l. The spiritual bond that he developed and enjoyed with Rav Hutner was so deep that it is impossible to describe. Suffice it to say that Rav German’s son-in-law, Rav Binyomin Shulman, related that “not a day went by when my shver did not mention Rav Hutner or say something that he had heard or learned from Rav Hutner.” Rav Hutner, in turn, was extremely close to Rav Avner. When Rav Avner was a bochur, during the summer when he would return home to St. Paul, Rav Hutner would send him a weekly postcard.


He constantly learned Rav Hutner’s maamarim. Before a Yom Tov, he would look over his notes that he had taken down during the maamarim. He would listen to his tapes and he constantly found in his rebbi’s lessons new wellsprings of knowledge and inspiration. Even after Rav German married, he spent the Pesach sedarim during those early years as a guest in his rebbi’s home. Rav Hutner, too, recognized the unusual qualities and phenomenal potential of his talmid and cultivated those talents, overseeing his growth into a towering figure who ultimately impacted thousands upon thousands of talmidim and their families.


In 1951, Rav Avner married his life partner, Mrs. Laya German. The two of them formed a powerful team. Together, they were responsible for bringing thousands under the wings of the Shechinah and creating a colossal kiddush Hashem wherever they went. They were truly a team whose singular focus was to serve Hashem in any way they could. Rebbetzin German was the quintessential ishah kesheirah who partnered with her husband. Her home and her life were consecrated to helping further their spiritual goals and raising their wonderful family. For the last decades of her life, she served as principal of Be’er Hagolah alongside her husband.


Pioneering Kiruv Efforts


After their marriage, the Germans moved to Waterbury, Connecticut, where Rav German served as a rebbi in the local school. Approximately a year later, they returned to New York, where he embarked on his life’s mission.


At the levaya, the Novominsker Rebbe eloquently related how, some sixty years ago, “Rav Avner embarked on a great vision, a long journey. He was one of the very first who understood the possibility of bringing many Jewish souls back to our tradition. He was a singular leader in an era when kiruv was not a well-known idea. It was in a storefront on Stanley Avenue near Linden Blvd. that this great man embarked on his journey through life. He took countless neshamos into his heart, from the young to the old, and gave them a taste of Yiddishekit, breathing into them ruach chaim and a spirit of life that remained with them and their children until this very day. Can anyone comprehend the hundreds upon hundreds – nay, the thousands upon thousands – who came to hear the devar Hashem, to drink the waters of Torah, to say, believe and live Shema Yisroel as a result of Rav Avner and his great rebbetzin? This began 60 years ago in East New York. Later, we were all witness to the families they built. [From his nurturing,] dry bones began to grow – ‘bosor gidim ve’atzamos.’”


His son-in-law, Rav Binyomin Shulman, related that Rav German had two distinct eras in his life of harbotzas haTorah. During the first thirty years, when he lived in East New York, he headed an afternoon talmud Torah while serving as rov of his shul, Bnai Israel. During the second thirty years, he led Be’er Hagolah, bringing Torah to thousands of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union and building an entire community as rov of his shul, Bnai Israel of Starret City.


In East New York, Rav German headed an afternoon talmud Torah where children came to learn after spending the morning in public school. Rav German was a person who spoke little about himself and his accomplishments. He was forward looking. He didn’t look back in order to rest on his laurels, but rather was constantly focused on the future and on what he could still do. Therefore, it is impossible for us to ever know all of the countless neshamos he impacted. His focus at the talmud Torah was to accomplish one thing: to try and convince his young charges to attend yeshiva. He understood that the only way that they would remain true to Yiddishkeit would be if they would attend a yeshiva.


At the levaya in Eretz Yisroel, Mr. Yitzchok Langer, one of his talmidim from the early talmud Torah years in East New York, spoke. He explained how, fifty years earlier, Rav German had such a profound impact on him that he maintained a relationship with him for the rest of his life.


“I would come to America (from Eretz Yisroel) and would stop by the shul on the way from Kennedy Airport to say hello to my rebbi,” he recalled.


Mr. Langer related a story that occurred during his last visit to Rav German this past October.


“I came to the rov and he engulfed me in a big hug, as was his trademark. Later, he took me into his office, opened up his drawer, rummaged around for a second, and then pulled out a picture. The picture was from some fifty years earlier. I was back in my talmud Torah days playing a guitar. I was flabbergasted, as I had no idea that such a picture even existed! But Rav German had kept that picture in his drawer for fifty years. That is how much he loved us! I begged him to send me a copy, and just last week it came in the mail. It must have been one of the last things he did before he became sick. He wrote a personal message with the picture, telling me how precious I was to him and how he wanted me to have that picture. That was Rabbi German – a man who had thousands of talmidim, each one an individual whom he loved and cherished.”


Love of Torah


The underpinning of all of Rav German’s tremendous accomplishments was his deep, unbending love of Torah. He loved Torah, he loved learning, his eyes lit up when he heard a chiddush, and he loved sharing Hashem’s Torah with others. All of his accomplishments in kiruv rechokim were byproducts and outgrowths of his deep connection with Torah. Rav German was himself an erudite talmid chochom who loved nothing more than to sit with a Gemara or a Chumash and plumb their depths. All of his kiruv efforts also stemmed from his bond with Torah. He did not engage in kiruv by teaching philosophy or by citing incontrovertible proofs of Hashem’s existence. He felt that the greatest and only kiruv tool was the light of Torah. The light of Torah would bring them back. Torah has a deep power to ignite the Jewish soul, and that was his recipe for talmidim and for baalei batim. To him, everything consisted of Torah and limud haTorah.


He was himself the embodiment of ahavas haTorah and kavod haTorah. His son-in-law, in his hesped, recounted that when he would come to his in-laws’ home on a Friday to spend Shabbos, Rav German would jump up to take his bags and shlep them into the house. When the son-in-law would protest, Rav German replied, “I took you as a son-in-law because you are a talmid chochom!” He continued to shlep those bags even when he was in his 80s. He deemed this to be a great zechus.


Indeed, the way that Rav and Rebbetzin German supported their children was legendary. Throughout their married lives, the Germans gave significant monthly support to every one of their children. Rav German considered it the greatest zechus to be able to facilitate the learning of his illustrious sons and sons-in-law. His son-in-law, Rav Avrohom Brog, mentioned at the levaya that when he became a chosson, the Mirrer rosh yeshiva, Rav Shraga Moshe Kalmanowitz zt”l, told him, “You should know that your father-in-law is one of the five biggest mokirei Torah in America.”


Just crossing the threshold of his apartment, the first thing to meet the eye was seforim – thousands upon thousands of them, wall to wall, ceiling to floor. Rav German even had shelves hanging from the ceiling. When his wife passed away some five years ago, he built shelves in every closet in his bedroom so that he could put more seforim there.


The way that he taught Torah to those embarking on their early steps in Yiddishkeit was also indicative of his unique bond with Torah. He never “watered” down Torah. He taught Torah to them the same way that he had received it from his rebbi, Rav Hutner. He felt that teaching undiluted Torah according to the mesorah that he had learned it was the only way to transmit Torah to anyone.


Torah was the foundation upon which he ran the shul and his school. The daily schedule at the shul began at 5:30 a.m. with a shiur delivered by Rav German. Every evening, he again delivered a shiur. One of his devoted congregants, Mr. Pinchos Gabay, related, “I have a seder in the shul every night with a chavrusah. Recently, Rabbi German suffered from a foot ailment and had difficulty walking. When Rabbi German hobbled out of his office, clutching his cane while heading towards his car, my chavrusah jumped up to help the rov. Rabbi German, in a voice that brooked no compromise, emphatically declared, ‘Go back to learn!’


“‘But rebbi,’ my chavrusah replied, ‘you can barely walk. Let me help.’


“‘Go learn! Go learn!’ was the determined response.”


That was the ultimate “help” that he wanted from the members of his shul.


Similarly, Mrs. Pearl Kaufman, executive director of Be’er Hagolah, relates how, often, former students would consult with Rav German.


“I remember how a girl contemplating marriage approached Rabbi German to discuss her desire to marry a nice boy who was shomer Shabbos,” she said. “Rabbi German would steer her to a learning boy. ‘You need a boy who learns Torah!’ he said.


“As important as a shomer Shabbos and a shomer mitzvos was, if the boy was not dedicated to limud haTorah, Rabbi German simply did not consider it sufficient,” Mrs. Kaufman said.


Connecting with Everyone


At his levaya, his son, Rav Mordechai Nochum German, explained the source of his amazing ability to connect with every person he met. He cited the words of the Netziv that Chazal refer to Sefer Bereishis as “Sefer Hayoshor.” The avos, Chazal continue, were called yeshorim. The Netziv expounds that a yoshor is a person who has the ability to share his unique relationship with Hashem and connect with the generation. Avrohom Avinu and the other avos succeeded in spreading Hashem’s Name to an entire generation because they were able to take their own connection to Hashem, their own ruchniyus, and share it with others. This knack of connecting with every person at their own level and forging a true, profound spiritual bond with others was something that was totally distinctive about Rav German. He connected with every Jew. He brought every Jew into his own rich, beautiful, spiritual world and had the ability to elevate everyone, from the most unschooled person to the greatest talmid chochom. Wherever he went, Rav German connected with his family members, his talmidim, his congregants and even the person he met on line in the grocery store. That also explains his aptitude for teaching Torah at any level. At any given time, he could be learning Alef-Bais with some people, Gemara with others, Mishnah Berurah with a third group, and relating stories and lessons to parents or to women at a Shabbos afternoon Tehillim group. He was so alive and so connected, and he found room in his great neshamah to share it with others.


His connection to others enabled him to feel for them and care in a way that is most unusual. One of his close congregants, who had been davening in his shul for decades, reminisced: “Years ago, I had a successful business with a partner. One day, I arrived at the business only to find that my partner had changed the locks to everything, and since the business was not in my name, I had no legal recourse. I was devastated. At that time, I was in the early stages of becoming a baal teshuvah. I went to Rabbi German, crying bitterly, ‘I am in the street with nothing, no money and a growing family. What should I do?’ The first thing he told me was that hakol letovah, everything Hashem does is good. Then he asked how much it would cost me to start a business again and I replied $100,000. He asked me, ‘What about in the smallest possible way?’ I replied, ‘I could restart a small business with $5,000.’ He said, ‘You got it!’ He gave me the $5,000, I started the business, and Hashem showered his bracha on me!”


That story is just one example of how very much he cared for every Jew.


His Back to the World


A Torah thought that Rav German would consistently relate truly encompasses his worldview and much of his life’s work. The posuk tells us that at Har Sinai, the Bnei Yisroel camped “facing the mountain.”


“Facing the mountain,” Rav German would say, “means that they had their backs to the world!” It was this thought that he absorbed from his rebbi, Rav Hutner, in the name of the Chiddushei Harim, that encapsulated so much of what he accomplished.


Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky once said that Rav German was the founder of the kiruv movement. Indeed, he embarked on that unique path before the word kiruv or the concept of kiruv was even known, let alone “in style.” Rav German saw a world of neshamos that were detached from their source, and he made it his life’s work to connect them. Thousands upon thousands of neshamos became connected to a life of Torah and mitzvos as a result. He had a deep wellspring of ahavas Yisroel, tremendous optimism and a forward-looking personality that constantly spurred him further, never letting him harp on failures, disappointments and betrayal. Instead, he continuously focused on what still needed accomplishing. That is why even at 85 years old, when he had multiple physical ailments, no one noticed. He was simply so alive, he had so much to do and accomplish, and so many people to reach, that nothing else was important or worth harping on.


When it came to reaching out to neshamos and ensuring that they would learn Torah, nothing was below his dignity. Once, a mother complained that her child did not like the long bus ride to Be’er Hagolah. Rav German, afraid that the child’s dislike of the bus ride might result in his leaving and attending public school, drove his car each morning to pick up the boy.


On another occasion, Mrs. Pearl Kaufman recalls receiving a telephone call from a relative living in Queens who related that he saw the elderly Rav German walking on Queens Boulevard. What was he doing walking on Queens Boulevard? A boy had complained to him that he was being bullied on the bus and he did not want to go on the bus. What did Rav German do? He took the bus to Queens with the boy. He was walking on Queens Boulevard seeking a ride or taxi back to Starret City.


Rav German arrived in Starret City in the 1970s, when there was barely a minyan of shomer Shabbos Jews there. Today, it is a thriving community. Not only that, but his shul, Bnai Israel of Starret City, is the only shul in the entire area. Everyone felt loved and accepted. Everyone connected with him and thus felt at home in his shul.


Rav German’s kiruv efforts, both in his shul and school, were legendary. On Pesach, he would conduct a Seder for hundreds of Russian Jews. He would ensure that they ate matzoh, learned about Yetzias Mitzrayim and had a real Seder experience. Only at midnight, when the Seder ended, would he begin his own family Seder. On Purim, he made a massive Purim seudah with his kehillah. He deeply believed that the actual performance, not mock enactments, of mitzvos had the spiritual power to transform them. Similarly, he insisted that there be school on Chol Hamoed Sukkos so that the children, most of whom did not have a sukkah or Arba Minim at home, would have the opportunity to engage in the actual observance of the mitzvos rather than just learning about them.


On Rosh Hashanah, even when he was in his late 70s and 80s, he would walk up umpteen flights of steps to blow shofar for a Russian woman. He would then continue to the next building to blow for another person.


Every Shabbos, the German house was open to the public. Reb Dovid Gabay, who grew up in Starret City, related, “When we were kids, after the Shabbos seudah every week, all the children in the neighborhood would go to Rabbi German’s house to play. They had tons of toys and it was the most natural thing for us to go there. The door was always open and we knocked and walked right in. Later in the afternoon, Rebbetzin German would give a shiur for the ladies while we played. That was their house – open to all, warm and full of Yiddishkeit and inspiration.”


Making the Impossible Possible


Rav German would frequently quote a thought from Rav Meir Shapiro that identified his approach to his spiritual goals in life. In Parshas Lech Lecha, we find that Hashem tells Avrohom to go outside and count the stars. “That is as numerous as your descendants will be,” Hashem told him. Rav Meir Shapiro said, “Is it not impossible to count the stars? Why was Hashem demanding the impossible from Avrohom Avinu?” He answers, “Hashem was telling him exactly that: ‘This is what your children will be like. They will go out and do the impossible!”


That was Rav Avner German. There was no such concept as “I can’t” or “It can’t be done” in his lexicon. When it came to ruchniyus, even the impossible became possible. He refused to be deterred by anything and, as his son-in-law, Rav Avrohom Brog, said in his hesped, “Rav German went out in the night, in the dark night of American assimilation, and picked out the stars. He brought so many stars back to Hashem.”


The story of how Be’er Hagolah acquired its current campus is typical of making the impossible possible. It is the story of Rav German’s desire and selflessness. During its early years, Be’er Hagolah was spread out in basements of numerous schools. They desperately needed a building. One time, Be’er Hagolah celebrated a bar mitzvah event for boys in the school, and the well-known philanthropist Joseph Gruss was in attendance. After the bar mitzvah, Mr. Gruss asked Mrs. Pearl Kaufman, the executive director, “What can I buy for the boys?” Mrs. Kaufman replied, “We need a building!” Mr. Gruss muttered in Yiddish, “I offer a button and she’s demanding the entire garment!”


That was the end of the conversation and Mrs. Kaufman thought she had failed. Several days later, Mr. Gruss called the school and asked if they had a plot of land on which to build a building. If they had the land, he was willing to sponsor the building. The truth was that they did not have any land at the time. When Rav German walked into the office, Mrs. Kaufman told him about the problem. In the most natural manner, he responded, “No problem! I am building a shul in Starret City. Take it for the school and just leave me a room for the shul!”


Here was Rav German, who had painstakingly raised money to build a shul in Starret City to replace the shul in East New York that had closed due to neighborhood shifts, and, just like that, he offered his life’s work and the sweat of his brow to Be’er Hagolah, thereby making possible the impossible dream of procuring a building for the school.


He seized every opportunity to make the impossible possible. When there was a teacher strike in New York and public schools were off, Rav German mobilized his afternoon talmud Torah to transform it into a day school. The majority of the children who went to that day school became frum. He had no budget and inadequate facilities, but he made it possible by sheer force of his will, even though it seemed impossible. He gave his building to the other mosdos when needed. When Bais Yaakov of Williamsburg’s boiler broke and they had no heat in the middle of the winter, he gave them his building to use. When Yeshiva of Eastern Parkway could not use their facilities, he selflessly gave them his shul.


Perhaps some of the most remarkable stories of making the impossible possible can be gleaned from the effort he invested into getting Jewish children into yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs.


 “He would do anything to get a boy into yeshiva,” related his son-in-law, Rav Binyomin Shulman. “He would bang on the door, and if it didn’t open, he would go through the window.”


Once, he told his son-in-law, “Let’s stop and daven Minchah in this shul. I think the menahel of a certain school davens here. I have already asked him three times to take a bochur into his yeshiva and he said no. Perhaps if he sees me now, he will be unable to say no again.”


A young man, a true ben Torah who grew up in Starret City, wanted to send his oldest son to a certain distinguished Brooklyn yeshiva, because that yeshiva offered the chinuch that he felt would be most suited to his son. He took the boy to the yeshiva and the rosh yeshiva tested him. After the test, the rosh yeshiva told the father that he could not accept the boy.


“Was his academic standard or his yiras Shomayim not up to par?” the father asked.


“No,” replied the rosh yeshiva. “He is a bright child, a good child.”


It soon became clear that the reason for his non-acceptance was because the child was of Sephardic lineage. Disappointed, the father turned to his rov, Rav German, and told him what had transpired.


“Michael,” replied Rav German, “I will take care of it.”


One hour later, Michael received a call from the rosh yeshiva. “Please come down and register your son,” he was told.


The next day, at registration, the father asked the rosh yeshiva what happened. “Why did you agree to accept him?”


The rosh yeshiva explained: “You can tell Rabbi German that he can come down from the roof.”


It turned out that Rav German had called the rosh yeshiva and told him, “I am standing on the 20th floor – the roof – of this apartment building. If you don’t accept this boy, I will jump!”


Michael continued: “That day, I went to daven Minchah at Rabbi German’s shul. I gave him a big hug and told him that the rosh yeshiva said he can come down from the roof. Smiling, he just said two words: ‘Boruch Hashem!’”


Indeed, that talmid relates that “Rabbi German was a collector of neshamos. He took neshamos and collected them for more than 65 years and returned them to Hashem.”


Be’er Hagolah


If the first thirty years of Rav German’s kiruv efforts were heroic and pioneering by the very fact that he was paving uncharted territory in Yiddishkeit and kiruv rechokim, the second thirty years were just as heroic and perhaps even more so. During those thirty years, he set out to accomplish what no one had succeeded in doing, reaching the hearts and souls of our brethren whose neshamos had been damaged and charred by generations of anti-religious Communist indoctrination that sought to extinguish the pintele Yid. Rav German, through the sheer force of his ahavas Yisroel and ahavas Hashem, managed to find the tiny flame within each neshamah, and fanned that flame until it became a glowing ember and fire.


At the levaya, the Novominsker Rebbe stressed Rav German’s role.


“Over thirty years ago,” said the Rebbe, “when waves of Jews from Russia began to flood this country, they seemed spiritually lost as a result of Communist indoctrination. And yet, their neshamos were thirsting to return to the traditions of their fathers and grandfathers. I vividly remember all of the meetings and all of the activity focusing around the idea of creating an educational infrastructure for this community. Rav German was the rosh verishon in that effort.”


Indeed, when throngs of Russian immigrants began to reach American shores, gedolei Yisroel, led by Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, insisted that we, as a community, must act, because these were our brothers and sisters who had been robbed of their heritage due to no fault of their own. It was not easy. Decades and decades of oppression, ruthless indoctrination and coercion had left their marks on the souls of our brethren, requiring that much effort and innovation in order to reach them.


When Be’er Hagolah was originally established, Rav German was a part of the vaad hachinuch on a voluntary basis. That vaad hachinuch was comprised of luminaries such as Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, Rav Shneur Kotler, Rav Elya Svei, Rav Aharon Schechter and the Novominsker Rebbe. Rav German threw himself heart and soul into helping the school. Eventually, when Rebbetzin German retired from her position as a preschool principal, she joined Be’er Hagolah’s staff. Their leadership completely turned the school around, transforming it into a most formidable force in Russian education.


Rav German was a loving father to the Be’er Hagolah talmidim. He embraced them and hugged them like children. He showered praise upon them like they were his own children and simultaneously demanded from them and rebuked them as a father to his children. His love and his demands were commensurate. Because he loved them so deeply and so wanted them to live Torah lives, he was so uncompromising in his demands of them. He knew that they could do it. He believed in them and taught them to believe in themselves.


Countless talmidim who began by learning in Be’er Hagolah continued their learning in the greatest yeshivos and kollelim. Many of his talmidos became the wives of kollel yungeleit, teachers and morahs. Even those who didn’t go that far were impacted in a way that immeasurably enhanced their Jewish life.


Rav German had to deal with home situations unlike any others in the chinuch world. Often, parents would foolishly decide that they wanted their child to attend public school. Rav German fought valiantly for every neshamah. He would pull out $1,000 from his own pocket, from his own money, and give it to a cash-strapped family, saying, “Please, leave your son/daughter until the end of the year.” He bought tefillin for his boys, took them to Eretz Yisroel, and enrolled them in yeshivos there. He did everything that he could to ensure that the neshamos from Russia would have a chance.


He never gave up on a neshamah. If he didn’t succeed with talmidim or with a family, he would place the blame on himself. “I didn’t do enough,” he would say. “I should have done more. It is my fault!”


Most people would have become discouraged and depressed after setbacks. Rav German just used them as opportunities to demand even more of himself.


Exalted Oveid Hashem


At the levaya, his son-in-law, Rav Binyomin Shulman, related that Rav German was a person about whom it could be said, “Ohev mitzvos lo yisba mitzvos.” He loved mitzvos and he was never satisfied by what he did. He always wanted to do more mitzvos and to become closer to Hashem. The amazing thing was that his tremendous activism for Torah belied his own connection with Hashem and His mitzvos and his deep emunah. The scene on Sukkos as he lovingly held an esrog and lulav cannot be captured with words. He would take the lulavim and esrogim of his sons-in-law and lovingly shake them.


Rav German reveled in kedushas Shabbos. There are times when one engages in outreach with such effort that he does not have the emotional energy or time for in-reach with himself. Rav German was not like that. He was constantly percolating with Torah and avodas Hashem. Often, he would look at his family and his children, at his sons-in-law and at his grandchildren, and he would cry with tears of gratitude to Hashem that He endowed him with such treasures. When his rebbetzin was unwell and undergoing treatments, he was the one who strengthened the family, saying how much they had to thank Hashem for His kindness. When his wife passed away, he said, “This is the first bad thing that has happened to me in my life.”


At that time, he himself suffered from multiple health conditions and various difficult setbacks in his life, but he saw everything as chessed. He only saw Hashem’s love.


Even after his wife passed away, he was able to move on, to transcend his pain, and to be positive and return to his avodas Hashem. There was so much to accomplish.


When his beloved son, the great talmid chochom and tzaddik Rav Avrohom Yeshaya German zt”l, passed away just a month ago, his family did not know how to break the devastating news to him. His daughter related that they went into his room and said, “Abba, something not good has happened.” He replied, “Nothing not good ever happened to me.”


Perhaps the greatest testament to the special relationship he had with Hashem and his lifelong connection to Hashem and His service is the remarkable family that he and his rebbetzin raised together. His children all grew up in a home of kiruv where people from all stations in life came, and, simultaneously, it was a home that was an island of closeness to Hashem. His sons, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren are among Klal Yisroel’s greatest treasures, talmidei chachomim and gaonim. The Novominsker Rebbe eloquently said at the levaya that the “kochos haben,” the amazing attributes of his children, all came “mikoach ho’av” from the special power generator of ruchniyus that was Rav Avner German.


The Great Kabbolas Ponim in Shomayim


Even after the tremendous blow of losing his beloved son, Rav German was determined to carry on. He resumed his schedule at Be’er Hagolah and at his shul, until he was struck last week by a debilitating stroke. One of his daughters put it most succinctly when she said, “The Malach Hamovess pursued him for 35 years. Life-threatening illnesses, personal loss and tragedy could not stop him. As long as his brain was alive, that is what kept him alive. He was 85 years old, but he was a young man as long as he had his brain and as long as he was driven by his inner ratzon. Only when his brain was hit by a stroke was the Malach Hamovess able to take his special neshamah.”


The Novominsker Rebbe, in his hesped, said, “He brought Hashem’s Shechinah into the hands of thousands of Jews. One can imagine the zechuyos that escort him to the Kisei Hakavod.”


His close friend, Rav Aharon Schechter, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, wept uncontrollably at the levaya. His parting words were, “He only lived for neshamos. All of the neshamos will now receive his neshamah!”


The Levaya


Despite short notice, a massive crowd gathered at Be’er Hagolah for the levaya this past Sunday. Students and congregants cried openly at the loss of their “father.”


Hespeidim were delivered by Rav Aharon Schechter, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin; Rav Dovid Cohen, rov of Congregation Gevul Yaavetz; the Novominsker Rebbe, Rav Yaakov Perlow; his sons-in-law, Rav Moshe Pohrille, Rav Chatzkel Rotkin, Rav Avrohom Brog and Rav Binyomin Shulman; and his son, Rav Mordechai Noach German, who will succeed him as rov of the shul in Starret City. The levaya then continued at Kennedy Airport, where additional hespeidim were delivered. He was buried in Eretz Yisroel on Monday afternoon.


Rav German leaves behind a family of gedolei Torah who are prominent marbitzei Torah in both the United States and Eretz Yisroel. Mrs. Tziporah German, wife of his late son, Rav Avrohom Yeshaya zt”l, and family live in Beit Shemesh. His son, Rav Mordechai, is a maggid shiur in Elizabeth, NJ. His four daughters are Mrs. Nechama Pohrille, whose husband, Rav Moshe, is a maggid shiur at Yeshiva Derech Chaim; Mrs. Bruria Rotkin, whose husband, Rav Chatzkel, is a prominent maggid shiur and talmid chochom in Lakewood; Mrs. Rachel Shlomovitz, whose husband, Rav Moshe, is a rosh kollel in Eretz Yisroel; Mrs. Shifra Brog, whose husband, Rav Avrohom, is a maggid shiur at Yeshiva Ohr Hameir of Peekskill; and Mrs. Yocheved Shulman, whose husband, Rav Binyamin, is a maggid shiur at the Engelwood Yeshiva.


Yehi zichro boruch.



My Take on the News

  Hostility in the Court This week’s top story, without a doubt, was the Supreme Court hearing this Sunday that dealt with the draft of

Read More »


Subscribe to stay updated