There he went, the diminutive man dressed in his distinctive garb. He was walking the streets here on American soil, but he seemed to still be living in his native country, some 7,000 miles away. Head bowed, with a siddur in hand and his lips moving purposefully, he appeared to be in another world. His silver peyos framed his face and his distinctive black hat made him seem a bit taller than he truly was. He was unmistakably unique. His tefillah and approach to avodas Hashem were reminiscent of a world gone by, a time and place long forgotten.
He was a person who was not only from a different generation, but, in essence, lived in a different world. He dwelled in a realm that is connected to the Ribono Shel Olam completely. He was a “throwback,” a Yid who lived with the Borei Olam in every respect and at all times. He was a yochid bemino, one of a kind, on the North American continent and beyond.
This was Reb Yosef Dahari z”l, the patriarch of a large Lakewood, NJ, family, who passed away last week at the age of 93.
Born in 1920 in Yemen, Reb Yosef immigrated to the United States about 22 years ago, settling in Lakewood. He was embraced by local residents, who demonstrated the remarkable chessed and ahavas Yisroel that the Ihr HaTorah is known for, and he served as an inspiring figure in the community, leading his wonderful family while maintaining the singular mesorah to which he adhered his entire life.
Before moving to the United States, Reb Yosef, who was known as Mori Yosef – mori being a term to describe the respected leader of a large family – lived in the city of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen.
When the decision was made to leave Yemen, the primary motivation of Mori Yosef to do so was his desire to raise his family in a makom Torah and a community that had proper yeshivos and mosdos hachinuch for his children. Mori Yosef was presented with the option of resettling in Eretz Yisroel, where he would have been offered various benefits, including a home. The proposal sounded like a good one, as well, because most of the Teimanim were immigrating there, until Mori Yosef heard that some of the Yemenite natives who moved to Eretz Yisroel experienced regression in their Yiddishkeit. Stories of people cutting off their peyos and assimilating shook him to his core. He refused to consider subjecting his family to such an environment, despite the many gains of settling in Eretz Yisroel.
Ultimately, Mori Yosef chose to emigrate instead in the United States, first arriving in Flatbush and then joining the Lakewood community at the recommendation of an acquaintance whose son was, at the time, learning at Bais Medrash Govoah. Mori Yosef was overjoyed to join a city of Torah and many talmidei chachomim and refused, on several occasions, to move elsewhere, despite tempting incentives and offers, expressing great satisfaction at being blessed to live in the Ihr HaTorah.
At the levaya, Mori Yosef’s son-in-law, R’ Binyomin Kubani, quoted the Mishnah in Maseches Avos which relates that Rav Yosi ben Kisma said, “Once I was walking on the road when a certain man met me. He greeted me and I returned his greeting. He said to me, ‘Rebbi, from what place are you?’ I said to him, ‘I am from a great city of scholars and sages.’ He said to me, ‘Rebbi, would you be willing to live with us in our place? I would give you thousands upon thousands of golden dinars, precious stones and pearls.’ I replied, ‘Even if you were to give me all the silver and gold, precious stones and pearls in the world, I would dwell nowhere but in a place of Torah.’”
That, said R’ Binyomin, perfectly depicts Mori Yosef, to whom living in a place saturated with Torah and Yiddishkeit was of paramount importance. Mori Yosef drew close to the local rabbonim in Lakewood, including the roshei yeshiva of Bais Medrash Govoah, as well as Rav Nosson Wachtfogel zt”l and, lhbcl”c, Rav Matisyahu Salomon, the mashgichim of Bais Medrash Govoah, and Rav Mordechai Beztalel Klein, the Satmar Dayan of Lakewood.
While Mori Yosef had relocated to Lakewood, he still lived in Yemen in every sense. His attire and daily conduct remained unchanged, and he clung with steadfastness to the beautiful and precious mesorah that was bequeathed to him by his parents and grandparents going back thousands of years.
Above all, Mori Yosef lived his every day with an almost tangible recognition of the omnipresence of the Ribono Shel Olam. Like those from a century ago, about whose unwavering emunah and bitachon tales are told today, Mori Yosef’s day-to-day conversations were replete with expressions of thanks to Hakadosh Boruch Hu and the cognizance that everything is controlled by Him.
Whatever the Ribono Shel Olam decided was embraced wholeheartedly by Mori Yosef. His simchas hachaim and complete acceptance of the direction his life had taken were all the more remarkable when one considers the challenges he encountered upon moving to a foreign country. Being hurled into the unfamiliar American milieu could have been intimidating and distressing, as he was surrounded by a strange culture, with an alien language. It was very difficult, and almost impossible sometimes, for him to converse with others due to his foreign dialect and way of life. But for Mori Yosef, there was no language barrier, because he spoke one language and one language only: the language of the Ribono Shel Olam.
Living at the corner of Fourth Street and Forest Avenue, Mori Yosef frequented the Satmar Bais Medrash nearby, spending hours immersed in tefillah, Torah learning, and the recital of Tehillim, which he knew virtually by heart.
Among the many extraordinary aspects of Mori Yosef’s personal conduct was his unparalleled hachnosas orchim. Guests related that upon entering the Dahari home, one was enveloped by genuine love and concern, reminiscent of the great machnisei orchim about whom books have been written. Mori Yosef would tend to each guest personally, caring for their every need and practically begging them to eat and make themselves comfortable. Sometimes, he would immediately bake something fresh, on the spot, for the benefit of a guest. The hachnosas orchim exhibited by Mori Yosef was not commercialized or Westernized in any way. It was an exceptional brand of hospitality that we are rarely witness to.
“It was in the spirit of the hachnosas orchim of Avrohom Avinu,” one person related. “Even as geirim b’eretz nochriah, foreigners in a foreign land, Mori Yosef and his family served as hosts of the highest caliber, excelling in the middah of Avrohom Avinu, who, Chazal in Maseches Sofrim say, set up small shelters at every crossroad in Eretz Canaan, seeking out those who could benefit from his chessed. This was the type of hospitality and kindness that Mori Yosef performed.”
At the levaya, Rav Eliezer Susna remarked that the meforshim explain that the posuk of “Vayomos Yosef vechol echav vechol hador hahu – And Yosef, and all his brothers and that entire generation died” is mentioned in the Torah twice, once in Sefer Bereishis and again in Sefer Shemos, to convey that Yosef Hatzaddik was the link that connected the avos – Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov – to the shevotim and the subsequent generations.
“Even though he was one of the shevotim himself and a member of their generation, Yosef Hatzaddik was also the ‘roeh even Yisroel’ – an av and a ben, as Rashi says – possessing the strength of the avos that was not diluted or watered down to a different madreigah,” explained Rav Susna. “Yosef maintained the level of the avos, fighting the tides and transplanting their identity, serving as the bridge to the next generation in Mitzrayim and beyond. For that reason, we bentch Klal Yisroel to be like Efraim and Menashe, who showed that even after the avos had passed on, this level could be retained and the beauty would not be lost.”
Reb Yosef Dahari, said Rav Susna, played this role of Yosef Hatzaddik, carrying the pure, unadulterated Teimani mesorah with him, and imbuing it into generations, who continue following those beautiful traditions on these shores.
Just as Yosef Hatzaddik lived in the country of Mitzrayim for 22 years but remained unchanged and unaffected by the surrounding culture, observed Rav Susna in his divrei hesped, so did Mori Yosef Dahari live in America for 22 years and remain unaffected, perpetuating the Teimani mesorah which has been passed down from generation to generation for millennia.
A bais medrash, named Bais Aharon, was established by the Daharis adjacent to their home, named for a grandchild of Mori Yosef who passed away. There, one could witness the Teimani minhagim in action, with many of them dating back to the period of Bayis Rishon and the zeman haGemara.
When Mori Yosef first came to the United States, his family members wore white clothing each Shabbos, continuing their custom from their native country. While that practice was ultimately discontinued, Mori Yosef demonstrated for two decades that the very mindset and lifestyle he had clung to in Yemen could be transplanted to America. Whether it was his distinctive hachanah for Shabbos, his knowledge of Menoras Hamaor by heart, or the manner in which he davened and literally spoke – conversational style – to the Ribono Shel Olam, every aspect of Mori Yosef’s avodas Hashem was a lesson in genuineness and sincerity.
Every facet of his life revolved around the Ribono Shel Olam. He lived and breathed the concept of shivisi hashem lenegdi somid. This was largely a natural outgrowth of the fact that he was totally uninterested in the world around him and the ethos, mores and temptations that are attractive to others. He never truly acclimated to his surroundings, because he didn’t want to. The world he lived in was completely filled with the devar Hashem, the timeless words of Torah and tefillah. He lived every moment, as Rav Yeruchem Olshin said in his hesped, with the mindset of “Tomim tihiyeh im Hashem Elokecha.”
Mori Yosef’s absolute devotion to Hashem was seen in his dedication to the chinuch of his children. He was continually involved with their progress in learning, sparing no effort to ensure that they had the proper encouragement to reach great heights in Torah and avodas Hashem. His son, R’ Zarab, related that his father would often travel to the yeshivos that he and his brothers attended, paying unannounced visits to check on them and be mechazek them. He thought nothing of traveling for multiple hours for the sole purpose of visiting his sons’ yeshivos and ensuring their continued aliyah.
A person related that Mori Yosef was occasionally seen making the rounds in the Satmar Bais Medrash collecting money. Most people assumed that he was collecting funds for himself. It was discovered later that Mori Yosef, an elderly man at the time, was actually collecting tzedakah to be given to yesomim and almanos.
Despite – or because of – the phenomenal heights he reached in his commitment to avodas Hashem, Mori Yosef carried himself with absolute humility. Those who didn’t know him would have never known the greatness that existed in their very midst, and that was the way Mori Yosef wanted it. He sought neither fame nor recognition, but rather dveykus with the Ribono Shel Olam every moment of every day.
His passing can perhaps be described as the end of an era, bringing to a close the life of an individual who inspired numerous people in their own service of Hakadosh Boruch Hu and whose chein, emunah and adherence to his cherished mesorah will long be remembered.
Mori Yosef is survived by his wife, Savta Sarah Dahari, a remarkable woman in her own right, whose friendly nature and emunah peshutah have touched so many people; and his 12 children, 89 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren. His sons are Shimon, Amrom, Binyomin, Shlomo, Zarab, Sadya, Levi, Dovid and Efraim. His daughters are Simcha, who resides in Yemen, and Lulu and Adina, who both live in Lakewood.
The levaya was held last Tuesday night at the Holocaust Memorial Chapel of Congregation Sons of Israel off of East Seventh Street in Lakewood. The maspidim included Rav Dovid Heinemann, rosh yeshiva of Mesivta Keser Torah of Belmar; Rav Eliezer Susna; Rav Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, rosh yeshiva of Bais Medrash Govoah; Rav Mordechai Betzalel Klein, Satmar Dayan of Lakewood; Rav Yeruchem Olshin, rosh yeshiva of Bais Medrash Govoah; his son, R’ Amram Dahari; and his son-in-law, R’ Binyomin Kubani.
The aron was then flown to Eretz Yisroel for kevurah in Bet Shemesh.
Yehi zichro boruch.