The legendary gabbai tzedokah of Yerushalayim, Rav Chaim Goldberg zt”l, was niftar Thursday morning, 21 Adar, in Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital. He was 67.
Rav Chaim Yosef Halevi Goldberg was born in Chicago in Kislev 5709/1948. Rav Chaim’s parents, Rav Yitzchok and Betty Goldberg, were renowned for their Torah and chesed and instilled their children with ahavas hatorah and yiras shomayim. Rav Chaim learned in Telz Yeshiva and at 17 went to learn in Eretz Yisroel.
He first went to learn in the Yeshivas Metzuyanim under Rav Chaim Aharon Turchin zt”l. He married Rav Turchin’s niece, the daughter of Rav Yechiel Wislovsky zt”l. They settled in Yerushalayim and Rav Chaim joined Yeshivas Brisk under Rav Dovid Soloveitchik, where he continued to learn ad sof yomov.
Rav Chaim started his lifelong dedication to tzedokah long before it was common. Philanthropists and donors trusted him and were in awe of his integrity. His donor base expanded and the amount of money available for him to distribute increased to the tune of hundreds of millions of shekels a year.
He had a brainstorm to set up individual kupos tzedokah in cities and neighborhoods.
He delegated the background checks to local community representatives who could check the authenticity of each individual case.
When he was diagnosed 4 and half years ago Rav Chaim was not misyaeish. He told doctors, “Only the Borei Olam is chosech chaim lechol chai.” So he continued, even in the face of terrible yesurim. He continued with his exemplary gemilas chesed, often visiting the homes of yesomim, almonos, gerei tzedek, the underprivileged and the poverty stricken, giving them practical and emotional support.
Not long before his petirah he called a meeting next to his hospital bed in Ein Kerem to discuss this year’s kimcha d’pischa.
The levayah started at 1:00 outside Rav Chaim’s home, on Rechov Elkana 7. Rav Alter Kaufman from the “chaburah of chesed” was maspid.
Rebbes, roshei yeshiva, rabbonim, askonim, businessmen in yarmlkes, hats and kippos of all types were among the thousands of people who filled the streets. Many of the yungeleit in the most prominent yeshivos, kollelim and kehillos throughout the country were recipients of Reb Chaim’s gemilas chesed. The levayah continued at Yeshivas Brisk.
Hespeidim were given by Rav Refoel Berlin, rosh yeshivas Reishis Chochma; Rav Mordechai Plotke, brother-in-law; Rav Yehoshua Dovid Turchin, rosh yeshivas Metzuyanim; Dr. Dovid Yonoson Stein; and Rav Nissan Goldberg, the oldest son of Rav Chaim.
The maspidim reiterated that Rav Chaim’s whole essence was Torah and chesed, which go hand in hand, and exemplary ahavas Yisroel. They talked about how he toiled in Torah and mitzvos and described the unbelievable extent of his lifetime dedication to tzedokah and chesed.
Dr. Stein, his contemporary from Yeshivas Brisk where they both learned, described the chesed he saw firsthand. When Rav Chaim was diagnosed with a serious illness he moved into the doctor’s home, where Dr. Stein monitored his medical situation, and Mrs. Stein was dedicated to his day to day welfare.
Rav Chaim was always happy with what she served, even if it did not exactly comply with his diet. He always showed appreciation without expressing that anything was not right until his wife realized the balance of his requirements.
He continued his tzedokah work with his network of gabbaim. often referred to as his chaburah of chesed. He was able to alleviate some of his extreme pain by focusing on helping aniyim.
Rav Chaim’s son, Rav Nissan, said his father built so many homes. He revived so many families, giving them a new lease on life. He made shidduchim. He resisted carrying a cellphone for the longest time, but then, he wanted to be available for the needy so he began to carry a cell phone. He always thought carefully about what to do in each situation.
Rav Nissan expounded on his father’s chashivus and love for Torah. People young and old were drawn to him like a magnet. He had so much hakoras hatov to his wife for helping him shoulder responsibilities at home and in his chesed.
Upon the request of the niftar, according to the tzavoah of Rav Akiva Eiger, as many as 2500 envelopes were distributed at the levayah, each one containing 200 shekel. A number of gabboei tzedokah led by Rav Chaim Turchin mingled with the crowd and distributed the envelopes to avreichim.
Reb Chaim’s life was so intertwined with his rosh yeshiva, Rav Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, who broke his longstanding minhag and for the first time since his father’s levayah 56 years ago, he walked behind the mitah. The levayah continued to Beit Shemesh for kevurah near the niftar’s parents.
Just days later, Rav Dovid became an ovel when his brother, Rav Meir Soloveitchik, was niftar.
Rav Chaim lived with his family in a modest third floor apartment with no elevator. He never took anything for himself. In the early years, Reb Refoel Berlin recalled, although he was distributing thousands of shekels, he himself was a nitzrach. Some of his friends would in fact collect for him so that his family could make yom tov.
The Vilna Gaon says, “Al sheloshah devorim ho’olam omeid: al hatorah avodah ugemilas chasodim.” Since Torah today is not what it once was, and we no longer have the avodas hakodesh of the korbonos, the Gaon says that the only pillar that remains is that of gemilas chasodim. Rav Chaim Goldberg dedicated his kochos to gemilas chesed.
How did it all start?
When Reb Chaim was a bochur learning in Eretz Yisroel, his father, Rav Yitzchok, who was a rov in Chicago, would send him donations from mispallelim to be distributed to aniyim. Reb Chaim would seek out underprivileged people in the poorer neighborhoods of Yerushalayim, where he saw the abject poverty and its devastating ramifications on the families. Through word of mouth he would hear of needy cases or be referred to the “suffering in silence,” whose needs he would verify on a case by case basis.
When he was 18 or 19, Rav Chaim wrote home to his parents and asked them to send him a new toothbrush. They read between the lines and understood that not only had he given away his own toothbrush, but he probably had given away a lot more and needed to be replenished with other necessary supplies.
Ten years later, when his childhood friend Reb Dovid Leib Cohen also moved to Eretz Yisroel, they joined forces to become lifelong partners in tzedokah vochesed.
What is the difference between this tzedokah and all other tzedokah campaigns and organizations in Eretz Yisroel?
They do not require a tedious processing system and criteria for eligibility. No lengthy applications, passports, visas, or driving licenses are required. Several major mosdos in Eretz Yisroel and America enabled this unique team to channel the funds under their umbrella and they were set.
This means, without delay, they could directly alleviate the suffering of those who were silent. They could appear out of the blue with that desperately needed heater, stove, refrigerator, food and provisions. They built a database of the shlish hatachton, those in dire need. They developed a network of 70 gabboim ne’emonim, dedicated men and women with inside information in their local communities.
Ultimately, most of the other main distributors of tzedokah have to turn to the Goldberg-Cohen partnership for assistance. They are also the go-to for roshei yeshiva and magidei shiur of the major yeshivos and kollelim when they need to help out struggling avreichim.
A gabbaei tzedokah, “Mattisyohu,” just received a package of carriages for distribution. Families throughout the country without carriages can request one. Where did the package come from? A group of ba’alei batim in Lakewood heard of a closeout and approached Mattisyohu. He said, “Go for it.” Countless families will now be relieved of another source of stress, one item at a time.
100% of the money collected by this tzedokah goes directly to the recipients. There are no overhead expenses.
Since Rav Chaim became sick, even more funds have been raised. Be’ezras Hashem the network will continue to fill the void of those suffering in silence.
Rav Chaim had a very hectic schedule, beginning at the crack of dawn and lasting into the late hours of the night. He learned two sedorim at Rav Dovid Soloveitchik’s Brisk Yeshiva. He was only available for phone calls between 2 and 3 in the afternoon. From 4-6 he would be out distributing funds, appliances, and provisions, physically exerting himself. Reb Dovid would pick him up every day at 4 and drive him around. Rav Chaim would often appear unannounced to some dilapidated apartment with a stove, heater or item of furniture which he had schlepped on his back since he knew the recipient desperately needed it.
From 7-8 he learned with his chavrusa of 45 years.
On the days when Rav Dovid gave a shiur, Rav Chaim would head to Rechov Amos the shiur in Rav Dovid’s home, rain or shine. If Rav Chaim had to go out of town, he made every effort to be back in time for the shiur.
Every week the gabboei tzedokah from different cities would come to meet with Rav Chaim. They presented each case and determined what was needed. Rav Chaim would give them the responsibility to raise half the amount needed, and he would match the funds.
As the number of people he helped multiplied exponentially, he had to modify his communication system. He accepted phone calls for hachnosas kallah between 10 and 11 and a secretary and others would take the calls between 2 and 3.
The stories are endless. The scope of his gemillas chesed is hard to fathom. These few examples will perhaps portray the tip of the iceberg.
The principal of a school for Russian girls sought out Rav Chaim for various needs for her students. She recalls one time when a student accompanied her to see Rav Chaim. As he listened to the principal’s specific request for help for this student, who came from a dysfunctional home yet was looking to grow in Yiddishkeit, he focused his attention on the student. Then he turned to the principal and said, “This girl needs major dental work.” He ultimately paid close to $5,000 for extensive treatment. Even though he refrained from paying towards dental work or apartments, when it came to helping Russian baalei teshuvah, he pulled out all the stops.
Reb Dovid Leib stresses that this unique chesed was made to tide people over through a crisis that presents extraordinary expenses, including yom tov and therapy. They seek to help those who help themselves, not those who expect others to carry their whole load.
They do give consistent assistance to single parents, who have a credit of about $100 a month, and of course there are other exceptions.
This same principal from the story above said that she had 12-year-old twin students whose mother was Jewish but father was not and the situation at home in Kiryat Atta was extremely difficult. Rav Chaim regularly assisted with necessary funds for the girls’ education and supplied food and provisions on a regular basis.
Rav Chaim constantly followed up with the people he helped and shared in their simchos. He never forgot anyone. A few years later, these twin girls were staying with their mother, who had moved to a small town in Canada. One day, one of the twins called her principal in Yerushalayim and said, “Guess who came to visit us today?” It was none other than Rav Chaim Goldberg! He was in Canada and had gone out of his way to visit them and give them chizuk.
Today, these twins, with help from Rav Chaim, are happily married to bnei Torah and live in Eretz Yisroel.
The principal recalls approaching Rav Chaim on erev Sukkos for urgent yom tov needs for her students, including lulov and esrog. She saw that he was inundated with requests and asked if he had managed to get his own lulav and esrog. His answer? “Lo!”
Reb Dovid describes the humble beginnings of their partnership. At its peak, when the world economy was booming, they raised and distributed about 5 million dollars a year. Currently the annual distribution is about 3.5 million dollars.
They pride themselves on their integrity and thorough system of inquiring and following up each individual case. The gabboei tzedokah are keenly on the lookout for unscrupulous people. They have seen it all. They consider the funds entrusted to them hekdesh and maintain a high level of erlichkeit.
Those who were involved with Rav Chaim’s chesed on behalf of unfortunate people knew that he did his own due diligence. He knew which families to approve and which to decline. It was not a free for all.
The chesed fund services families of all types and stripes. Many times, people in Rav Chaim’s family were eligible for much needed funds, but Rav Chaim never allocated money to them. On rare occasions, Reb Dovid Leib would advocate for family members to be helped on a one time basis.
On their daily trips, Rav Chaim and Reb Dovid conducted house to house inquiries and follow ups. On Fridays they would go a bit further afield to Beitar, Beit Shemesh and Kiryat Sefer. During bein hazmanim they would travel throughout the country and check individual cases.
Rav Chaim’s daughter, Mrs. Esti Orange, recalls that the family would often accompany them on their longer trips during bein hazmanim. She says before leaving, her father did extensive preparation, checking information with the local representatives and reviewing details of every one of those he was planning to visit.
He opened new doors for the hopeless and downtrodden and brought simcha to their homes, smiling at their babies, playing with their children and showing genuine concern for their welfare.
He used to ask the children whether they preferred candies or balloons. The majority preferred balloons. Someone in America sent a huge quantity of balloons, which Reb Dovid Leib used to keep in the back of his car for the kids. Rav Chaim
Reb Dovid Leib states that Rav Chaim was an encyclopedia of the who’s who of needy people. Resourceful people who had other alternatives to solve their financial straits did not qualify for assistance. His mind held every detail of a situation, often including names of a client’s children, parents and grandparents. When asked how many names he had in his personal memory bank, his immediate response was, “probably around 30,000 names,” likely a conservative estimate.
Rav Chaim would pay for new mothers to go for a few days to the Beit Hachlamah after birth. The cost per day has become prohibitively expensive and in the last few years, this expenditure has been significantly curtailed due to rising costs and less resources.
Since Dr. and Mrs. Stein’s home became the nerve center of Rav Chaim’s operation, not only did they take care of his medical and general welfare; there was a kollel and minyanim for Minchah and Ma’ariv. Singers came to generate an upbeat atmosphere of simcha, which Rav Chaim appreciated. When he was feeling well, he was an active participant.
The Steins and Goldbergs have tremendous hakoras hatov to Dr. Stein’s neighbors, Reb Aryeh Ganz and his wife, from Manchester, who spend Sukkos and Pesach in Eretz Yisroel. Their home was like an annex of chesed, providing extra refrigerator and freezer space and so much more. Their son, Menachem Ganz, was very attached to Rav Chaim and insisted that his bar mitzvah take place in Yerushalayim with Rav Chaim, and so it was.
The Ganzes made their apartment available to Rav Chaim’s guests and even built a special extension with a sukkah to accommodate the overflow crowds who came to visit Rav Chaim in the sukkah.
Rav Chaim and Reb Dovid converted many of the donations they received into individual packages and themes. One popular package was formed by the funds raised by Rebbetzin Yehudis Waldman of Monsey, who collects at weddings. Fondly known as the diaper packages, these bundles, blue for boys and pink for girls, included a blanket, underwear and pajamas. Years later, one thrilled recipient said she cannot throw out these blankets, which brought such joy. Now that she is older and needs to sleep with her feet slightly raised, she folds them up and uses them to heighten the foot of her bed!
After the sudden petirah of Mrs. Joan Dachs, a group of women in Chicago got together to raise funds in her memory. They organize an event once a year and send the proceeds to be distributed by Rav Chaim and Reb Dovid Leib.
Reb Dovid Leib describes how appreciative the myriad recipients are of the money and donated items. They receive hundreds of letters from the appreciative recipients, some of which they forward to the donors.
Rav Chaim was particular to distribute the matonos le’evyonim he received from America when it was Purim in their time zone. He would take his children and grandchildren to areas adjacent to Yerushalayim to distribute the funds bo bayom and then come back to Yerushalayim, where Purim is one day later.
At the shivah, a microcosm of Klal Yisroel was present. Prominent rabbonim, askonim, and laymen came to describe their relationship with Rav Chaim.
Many described how Rav Chaim would appear out of nowhere, like Eliyohu Hanovi, in the nick of time, and disappear just as quickly. One family came to the shivah and said that on a certain erev Shabbos, they were in a particularly desperate way, with no money for food for Shabbos. They had exhausted all their resources. They somehow arranged for a post-dated check to cover the expenses of their pressing needs for Shabbos. Suddenly, Rav Chaim turned up on their doorstep and handed them the same amount they had written on the check. They never knew who he was. After his petirah, they saw his picture in the paper and decided they had to come and share their story and show hakoras hatov.
One of the dedicated women in his network of representatives recalls accompanying Rav Chaim on some of his forays to dysfunctional homes so she could reinforce the practical assistance with emotional support and counseling. The combination, Rav Chaim felt, would ultimately enhance the lives of these families with long term stability.
The Vilna Gaon on Parshas Yisro says that “Bederech asher yelchu bo” refers to hakoras hatov. Rav Chaim was very makpid to express hakoras hatov, particularly since he became sick. He expressed his appreciation to all those who poured in to Dr. Stein’s home to visit him. He used to reiterate that every step they had made earned them schar for the mitzvah of bikur cholim.
As his health deteriorated, he was still determined to go out when he could to participate in simchos. From his wheelchair, he would be mesameiach his protégées.
When it became increasingly difficult for him to walk, with every step he would say, “Besheim Hashem na’aseh venatzliach,” and with every medicine, “sichu bechol niflo’osov.”
He would ask the grandchildren say brochos out loud so he could answer amein. He appreciated every minute of life, every extra opportunity for doing mitzvos.
Many of the kallos he helped so discreetly would come to him for brochos before their weddings. Recently, a kallah showed up in her gown at Dr. Stein’s house. She wanted Rav Chaim to give her brochah. He was unable to travel at that time but asked his assistants to find out where the wedding was taking place. Rav Chaim sent a representative to the wedding and with great mesiras nefesh went to be mesameiach the chosson and kallah at a sheva brochos in Yerushalayim later in the week.
Last year, he went in his wheelchair to the shivah of the Sassoons. His grandson had learned together with one of the Sassoon boys in cheder. He also went to the shivah of the Sofers, whose son was niftar on a hike in Ya’ar Yerushalayim. Mrs. Sofer says Rav Chaim gave them so much chizuk. Rav Chaim did not leave until he got a smile from the aveilim, which is an inyan in nichum aveilim.
Reb Chaim’s chesed followed him even when he traveled out of the country. His wife recalls when she accompanied him on a trip to Russia, where he discreetly distributed money and provisions to boys as far out as Vladivostok. Many of these boys have established their own homes and have built families of bnei Torah.
Twenty-two years ago, a girl was niftar in America and her family established a keren to provide linen and robes for kallos. They would send suitcases periodically to a certain address and Rav Chaim and his team would send the kallos there to pick out the linen and choose a robe. About three and a half years ago, Reb Chaim’s daughter, Esti, who plays an integral role in the chesed partnership, suggested that they simplify the system. She suggested that the family send the funds and she would arrange for the kallos to “purchase” the linen and robes in a particular store.
Some donors from Chicago wanted to donate candlesticks for several chassanim and kallos. They allocated a budget of $7,500 for 4 sets candlesticks, which they insisted included a tray, a relatively expensive component. Esti thought $1,850 per set was over budget. Reb Dovid Leib suggested that they approach a certain silver store in Meah Shearim for an estimate, not only because of their competitive prices, but also as a gesture of hakoras hatov. The proprietors of this silver store used to always give “the chesed partners” lunch and kugel on their visits to the Meah Shearim area. They were able to choose a set of candlesticks and a tray in this silver store for around $500 each. Instead of 4 sets of candlesticks, they were able to buy 14 sets of candlesticks for 14 couples and at the same time show hakoras hatov to the proprietors of the silver store, who were part of the chain of chesed!
Family and friends stress how makpid Rav Chaim was to make Kiddush Levonah at the first opportunity. On cloudy nights they would anxiously keep watch for the skies to clear and for the moon to appear. Being mekadesh levonah early is a segulah to finish the month.
One couple involved in helping marry off kallos recalls how last Pesach, they know of at least 20 people who received refrigerators, freezers, ovens and vouchers for provisions from Rav Chaim . That is apart from the assistance he gave to kallos, providing linen and housewares to get them on their feet.
One ba’alas teshuvah came to the shivah crying, “Abba shelonu!” A week before her wedding, Rav Chaim stopped by at the one room abode where she and her chosson would be living after the chasunah. He was horrified. She and her equally idealistic husband had thought they could get by on the bare minimum. The ever practical Rav Chaim, whose compass could evaluate the total picture, saw and filled the need that they did not even know they had. He immediately schlepped over a stove, fridge, heater and basic furniture, for which the couple is eternally grateful. When this young woman became sick, Rav Chaim visited her in the hospital every day!
Thirty years ago, Rav Chaim was sick and needed major surgery. He was encouraged to see a private doctor. Rav Chaim said he would use a regular doctor since he could not afford the $8,000 dollars for a private doctor. Word got around that someone who wished to remain anonymous needed major surgery and could not afford a private doctor. A concerned individual approached Rav Chaim, telling him that someone needed delicate surgery and it was imperative that he retain the services of a private doctor. Rav Chaim told the individual that he had to provide him with a name. He gave the name, Chaim Goldberg, and Rav Chaim retorted, “That’s me! I am not giving and I am not taking!” Somehow, another concerned friend arranged for the money to come from elsewhere. The surgery was successful.
His son, Refoel, spoke at the shivah about his father:
It says in Tehillim, “Maskil el dol.”
You can give $1,000 without emotion, or like Rav Chaim, you can be a maskil, a professor who can recognize the real needs and intrinsic problems of the poor. You can get to the root of the problem rather than putting on a band-aid with a one-time emergency handout of $1,000. In many cases, financial issues sprout from lack of financial responsibility and budgeting skills, disorderly homes and chaos on all fronts. $1,000 won’t solve this problem. With Rav Chaim’s chesed, assistance came as part and parcel, another example of what Mrs. Orange calls “the Imperiat Hachesed.”
Rav Chaim tapped into another source of currency in his reciprocal chain of assistance. He employed his own carpenter, who was also a nitzrach. There was a family living in a tiny, inadequate dwelling in Zichron Moshe. Rav Chaim brought along the carpenter and they devised a way to carve out a loft and install closets, a considerable undertaking. Rav Chaim contacted a crew of bochurim who were struggling in their yeshivos. He brought them along to assist the carpenter and arranged music and motivating shiurim playing in the background. This activity built their self-esteem and provided them with extra pocket money.
Rav Chaim saw that the maintenance in this home was sorely lacking and arranged for girls from mosdos of ba’alei teshuvah to come and help the house maintain some semblance of order. These girls needed the money and were only too happy to help.
Everyone benefitted. The carpenter, the bochurim, the girls and of course the family who ultimately got on their feet and out of their perpetual cycle of chaos. Rav Chaim maximized every opportunity and brought kiddush Hashem, which was integrally woven into his tzedokah vochesed.
The ripple effects of the “Imperiat Hachesed” pyramid were infinite, especially when combined with kiruv. The aveilim recollect the saga of a non-religious family on a leftist kibbutz in Ma’ayan Parad, between Meron and Haifa. The couple had total antipathy to all aspects of Yiddishkeit. To their horror, their teenage son became a ba’al teshuvah. The parents told their son that if he chose to follow that path, he would be on his own. They would not give him any financial support to go to yeshiva. The resilient bochur still opted to go to yeshiva. The yeshiva contacted Rav Chaim, and every yom tov he would send him a stipend for simchas yom tov so that he could buy a new hat, suit and shoes as needed.
Years passed. The bochur was in shidduchim. There was a serious shidduch proposal, but during the process, the potential machatonim realized that the bochur had absolutely no financial support. The shidduch was in jeopardy. The rosh yeshiva called Rav Chaim and made him aware of the situation. Rav Chaim went to meet the potential machatonim. He made a commitment to pay the chosson’s share of the wedding expenses. The parents of the girl were taken by surprise, particularly when the amount was more than they were giving for the kallah!
The shidduch materialized bemazel tov! Meanwhile, the parents of the chosson were flabbergasted when they heard about this assistance from an unknown frum patron. They had been so blinded by their animosity towards frum people, but here, a total stranger had stepped in to help their son.
The family began to rethink their attitude towards Yiddishkeit, which resulted in immediate changes in their lives and home. Within half a year, the whole family, parents and children, became frum. Their family restaurant became kosher and their geust house became a center for kiruv.
From Rav Chaim’s contributions to one bochur, a whole family in Klal Yisroel came back to Yiddishkeit.
This bochur developed a close kesher with Rav Chaim and eagerly welcomed him when he attended the bris of his son and subsequent simchos. What nachas ruach leborei olam.
Four years ago, when Rav Chaim was already sick, he heard from the Hidabroot kiruv organization about a girl who came from a non-religious home who wanted to go to Bais Yaakov high school. Her parents were adamantly opposed to this decision and were not willing to pay the tuition. When Rav Chaim was in Tzefas, he went all the way to Akko to look for this girl. When he found the address it was about 10:00 at night. Rav Chaim knocked on the door and walked into the house. He noticed pictures of Sefardi rabbonim.
The homeowner asked him who he was. He said he was from a chesed organization in Yerushalayim. “Is your daughter home?” He was told that she was not expected for at least 45 minutes. Rav Chaim waited until she arrived. After talking to her, Rav Chaim saw that she was sincere and spontaneously wrote 12 checks to cover a year of tuition. The parents were shocked. The mother came around immediately and started making improvements in her level of Yiddishkeit, while the initially reluctant father followed more slowly. The girl’s brother also made changes and then started going to yeshiva. Rav Chaim followed the progress of her brother, sending him kugel and care packages to yeshiva. The father also eventually came around to Yiddishkeit.
There was a ba’alei teshuvah couple in Yerushalayim, whose baby, Sarah, was not thriving and had serious digestive problems. She had to be fed intravenously. The mother had to leave her other children to be in and out of the hospital. It was erev Pesach and Rav Chaim saw that they were desperate for help at home. He went to the Shvilei Beis Yaakov on Rechov Strauss.
When he described to the principal what sort of help he was looking for, she said she had the perfect solution: a diligent student who was saving up to marry a ben Torah.
This principal marveled about Rav Chaim, “Eizeh gadlus, eizeh anovah, eizeh pashtus!”
Rav Chaim’s sister, who came from Baltimore to sit shivah with the family, has her own cadre of stories to tell. When their niece from Teaneck was bas mitzvah, she had $300 which she wanted to donate to her Uncle Chaim’s chesed fund when she came to Eretz Yisroel. Rav Chaim did not just accept the money; he gave her a hands-on chinuch experience as he took her along to some of the run down homes in Meah Shearim and Beis Yisroel so she could see first-hand the extent of the poverty.
The sister described her brother’s immaculate attention to detail, which included personal thank you’s and expressions of hakoras hatov to donors large and small. One of her neighbor’s children had contributed her ma’aser money to Rav Chaim’s fund. When Rav Chaim came to Baltimore, he knocked on the neighbor’s door and asked to speak to the young girl to offer his personal thank you!
One of Rav Chaim’s granddaughters goes to school in Beis Yisroel. Her third grade teacher, a daughter of the Slonimer Rebbe, sent a letter to the family in which she described the emotional reaction of her young students to Rav Chaim’s petirah. She told the class that a great tzaddik in Yerushalayim, Rav Chaim Goldberg, the saba of their friend, had been niftar. Many of the children, recipients of her grandfather’s chesed, burst into tears as they shared firsthand accounts of how he had personally delivered a desperately needed fridge, stove or heater to their homes. They had no idea that this “Eliyohu Hanovi” was their friend’s grandfather.
Even when he faced tremendous yesurim, he was besimcha when he was active in his avodas hakodesh. Not long ago, when he was already sick for a long time, a supporter came to visit from overseas and brought along $25,000. In his weak state, Rav Chaim, suddenly energized, asked for his checkbook and lists. He was so besimcha as he involved himself in allocating the funds appropriately, beaming as he wrote out the checks.
Rav Chaim was a positive person. Friends remember how he was brought by his metaplim in his wheelchair to the simchas beis hashoeivah in Yeshivas Brisk. Many were shocked by how drastically his appearance had changed, yet he was so alive and besimcha, a sight many of those close to him will always remember.
Rav Chaim’s wife and children were actively involved and supported his tremendous chesed activities, often with great mesiras nefesh.
Reb Chaim’s wife’s parting words to me before I left the shivah were profound. “It is better to go to a beis ovel then a beis mishteh. In a beis ovel you leave and take with you nitzchiyus, an indelible impression, a sense of purpose, whereas a beis mishteh is quickly forgotten and has no lasting effect.”
Rav Chaim leaves behind his almonah; his siblings, who are among the marbitzei Torah in America; his sons Rav Nissan and Refoel Chaim; his sons-in-law, Reb Yitzchok Orange, Reb A.Y. Vey, and Rav Alter Yitzchok Meyer Ackerman; and grandchildren, all following in his benevolent ways.