The loss of Reb Zev Schlesingerz”l, Reb Zev Nochum ben Reb Dovid, who passed away this past Thursday night, June 19, is not just the severing of another tenuous link to the previous generations. It is the loss of a model of a Jew that is virtually discontinued. A baal habayis whose hashkofos was so strong, so solid, so rooted in the Torah viewpoint that nothing could move him from his emes. He possessed an unswerving adherence to the views of the gedolei Torah of the generation and they in turn saw him as a trusted, dedicated emissary who would execute their shelichus without veering right or left.
CHAMPION OF HASHKOFAH
Reb Zev was a grandson of Moreinu Reb Yaakov Rosenheim, the great Agudah leader who was instrumental in establishing Agudas Yisroel and helping shepherd it through some of the most difficult, turbulent times that Am Yisroel has experienced in its 2000 year golus. He grew up in a home steeped in clear hashkofah, a hashkofah that taught that the gedolei Torah of each generation are those who set the agenda for Klal Yisroel and Reb Zev never tired of relating the numerous stories and anecdotes from gedolei Yisroel that he had witnessed firsthand in his youth.
In his later years, he deemed it his holy duty to transmit the mesorah and hashkofah that he had received from the previous generation. In his autobiographical book entitled, “In Defense of Torah Values” it is clear that his only purpose and objective in writing the book was to transmit the values that he himself had absorbed from the gedolei Torah and their emissaries, such as his grandfather, Moreinu Reb Rosenheim.
He would often bemoan the fact that, in our generation, so little emphasis is placed on ideology, on hashkofah. He greatly desired that coupled with the tremendous strides in limud haTorah that the younger generation has made, they should conversely also make sure to be rooted in hashkofah tehorah. That combination of limud haTorah and deep commitment to Torah ideology is one that ensures the continued existence of Klal Yisroel throughout the difficult golus and empowers young people to withstand the onslaught of challenges that attack our lifestyle both from without and within.
A couple of years ago, after Bais Medrash Govoah of Lakewood celebrated the 50th Yahrtzeit of Rav Aharon Kotler in Lakewood, Reb Zev penned an emotional letter to the Yated that sheds light on his own exalted value system.
This past Sunday, an azkoroh for thefiftieth yahrtzeit of the manhig hador,Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l, was organizedby the Lakewood Yeshiva. I was debating whether, due to my advance age, I have the energy and the strength to travel to Lakewood from my home in Queens, NY, to participate in this event. I met Rav Aharon Kotler seventy-five years ago in Vienna in my parents’ home after the third Knessiah Gedolah of Agudas Yisroel in Marienbad. All the newly elected officers of Agudas Yisroel, including Rav Aharon Kotler, attended a meeting in our house, where the world president, Moreinu Reb Yaakov Rosenheim, was staying with his oldest child,my mother. I also recalled that many years later, during the week of my wedding, Rav Aharon Kotler sent one of his talmidim to invite me with my kallah to celebrate sheva brochos in the yeshiva at 617 Sixth Street in Lakewood. I can’t forget the warmth and kedushah I felt as I sat next to him.
Last week, after reading the long article in the Yated … describing the life story of Rav Aharon, I firmly decided to participate in this extraordinary event. I started to realize that I may be the person who knew Rav Aharon the longest, having met him seventy-five years ago. Upon arriving in Lakewood, I was assigned a seat at the very large dais due to the fact that I had met Rav Aharon Kotler seventy five years ago as well as due to my age. Sitting on the dais, I was able to look down and see tens of thousands of yeshivaleit and participants suddenly bursting into dance and song in a massive way. I suddenly came to the realization that this is the way it is going to look when we will be greeting Moshiach at the moment of the geulah. I became so emotionally affected by the thousands of people spontaneously reacting so joyously. I was not able to control the tears that ran down my face. Rav Aharon came to an assimilated America, and one aspect of his greatness was that he was not willing to compromise on Yiddishkeit, no matter how enticing the opportunities may have been. He prepared masses of Yidden for the geulah. The event was proof of the nitzchiyos of Torah. You had to be there to see the tens of thousands of people celebrating Rav Aharon Kotler’s achievements. No movie or film would be able to capture the feeling of this heilige event.
Zev W Schlesinger,
HE ABSORBED AND IMPARTED A “FRAGRANT SPICE”
Despite the fact that due to the upheavals of World War II, Reb Zev was not able to spend years learning in yeshivos as he would have liked, the depth and degree of ahavas haTorah that Reb Zev possessed was one of a person whose life was devoted to Torah.
At the first part of his levaya held at the Lakewood Yeshiva, Reb Zev’s son-in-law, Rabbi Yaakov Gerstel addressed this by quoting the profound words of the Chazon Ish (Emuna U’Bitachon, 4-11) “Being punctilious in din can at times be found also in a person who did not [merit] to toil in Torah properly, provided that he is educated from his youth by his parents and Rabbeim in punctiliousness and he is taught to ask and seek advice from talmidei chachomim in everything he does. Accustoming himself to constantly ask [and follow their guidance] becomes part of his very essence, causing him to fear even the slightest deviation from the din….”
Indeed, the Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood, Rav Malkiel Kotler in his hesped compared Reb Zev to a store that sells fragrant spices. Reb Zev absorbed the fragrance of the hashkofah of the gedolei hador from two and three generations ago and he transmitted that wonderful fragrance and beauty to the coming generations. In fact, perhaps he saw this as his primary shelichus, his primary objective and with loyalty and trustworthiness he never tired of fulfilling that task. In fact, when someone asked him why he often repeated over and over the stories of gedolei Yisroel from the previous generations that he had witnessed, he responded. “Do we say Shema Yisroel once or do we say it twice a day, every day?!” Things that are important need to be repeated and repeated and internalized.
How did a man – born in Vienna between the two World Wars nearly ninety years ago – a cosmopolitan city where assimilation was rampant, merit to become such a repository of true Torah values? The answer is rooted in the home of his father, Reb Dovid Schlesinger and the influence of his grandfather, Moreinu Reb Yaakov Rosenheim.
Reb Zev was blessed to be part of a family of gedolei Yisroel. His father, himself a talmid chochom of stature, was born in Hamburg, Germany to his grandfather Rav Eliezer Lipman Schlesinger, zt”l, fondly known as the Tzadik of Hamburg. The best illustration of Reb Eliezer Lipman’s tziddkus, is a story told over about Rav Yeruchem Levovitz, zt”l, Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva in Lithuania. Once, while on a visit to Hamburg, Rav Yeruchem met Rav Eliezer Lipman. Upon his return to Mir, he told the bochurim, “Here in our Yeshiva we learn Mesilas Yeshorim; during my visit in Hamburg I met a living Mesilas Yeshorim by the name of Reb Eliezer Lipman Schlesinger”.
Throughout his life, Reb Zev distinctly remembered and retained the impression of living with his grandparents. When he was about 4 or 5 years old his parents sent him from Vienna to Hamburg, to spend a few weeks with his grandparents, to see and experience the life of a Tzadik in his home. He would fondly recall sleeping on a couch in the living room, waking up early while it was still dark outside. There, in the living room, a group of people would be sitting around the table with Gemaras in front of them, while his grandfather said the shiur, ba’al peh (by heart). His poor eyesight precluded him from using a Gemara.
Following the shiur, Rav Eliezer Lipman would to go to the mikva. Since there were no heated mikvaos at the time, he was sometimes forced to chop away the ice during the winter.
A Hamburg resident at the time when he lived there once said, “If I would be allowed to say so, I would say that he was certainly one of the thirty six tzaddikim. He was a talmid chochom of tremendous stature and also a doctor of philosophy, mathematics and physics.
“He had a snow white beard and it appeared as if the Shechina was resting on him. His humility and tznius, his unique middah of bittul, of making nothing of himself is simply impossible to depict with pen and paper. One had to witness it to understand it.
When he davened in the Klaus in Hamburg he looked like a malach elokim…”
IN THE HOME OF HIS FATHER
It was in the home of this tzaddik that Reb Zev’s father, Reb Dovid, was raised. He was an accomplished talmid chochom whose vast stores of Torah knowledge were by and large gained from the private tutelage of his father.
Reb Zev, in his book, writes much about his father and the home in which he was raised:
“My father served as a role model par excellence. Throughout daily life we absorbed the importance of Torah, mitzvos and middos tovos just by interacting with him. For example, on those occasions when one of the children broke or spilled something, my father would never get upset. Rather, he would explain to us that, “The only time a person should get upset is if one sins against Hashem! Otherwise, if one gets upset over a mishap, it would lose its effect when someone does an aveirah which is a real reason to be upset!”
Perhaps the words of Rav Shmuel Wosner said years later at the levaya of Reb Dovid best sums up the greatness of Reb Dovid. Rav Wosner, today one of the senior Poskei Hador and the person who was appointed by the Chazon Ish to be the Rav of Zichron Meir neighborhood in Bnei Brak grew up in Vienna and he knew Reb Dovid from his youth.
At Reb Dovid’s levaya he began to cry, exclaiming, “Ich zog tzu as Reb Dovid Schlesinger is a Ben Olam Haba”–I [Rav Wosner] can promise that Reb Dovid Schlesinger is a Ben Olam Haba.”
GROWING UP IN A GATHERING PLACE FOR GEDOLIM
Reb Zev was very proud and devoted to his mesorah from the Chassidei Ashkenaz and would often relate that when ybl”ch his older brother, Rav Elyakim Schlesinger, today a Rosh Yeshiva in London, went to learn by Rav Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky, zt”l, Rav Dushinsky told him, “You will see here different minhogim and behavior from what you have seen in your father’s house. However, I want you to conduct yourself the way you have been used to and have been taught by your father.”
The Schlesinger home in Vienna was a true bais vaad l’chachomim and a home of chesed. As a child, young Zev was privileged to meet the greatest Roshei Yeshiva, Rabbonim and Admorim who frequented Vienna and often stayed or attended meetings at his parents’ home with his grandfather, Moreinu Rosenheim.
Reb Zev would speak of the time in 1936 when the Rogatchover Gaon, Harav Yosef Rosen came to Vienna to undergo surgery. Unfortunately, he was niftar shortly after while still in Vienna. His aron was brought into the home of the Zeirei Agudas Yisroel (Jugendgruppe) where hespedim were delivered. After the hespedim, he was brought to Poland for kevura.
A watershed in young Zev’s life was the Third Knessiah Gedolah of the World Agudas Yisroel movement in Marienbad, Czechoslovakia in 1937. Mr. Schlesinger recalled several meetings to plan the future of the fledgling Agudah movement held in his apartment in Vienna before the newly-elected leadership of Agudas Yisroel in Marienbad returned to their respective countries. His grandfather, Moreinu Reb Rosenheim, who stayed in their house, chaired all of those meetings. Throughout the meetings, throngs of people milled around outside to catch a glimpse of Reb Yaakov Rosenheim and the other dignitaries in attendance.
It was during this period of time that Reb Zev first met Rav Aharon Kotler, who was one of the younger participants. He also distinctly recalled the impressive appearance of Rav Moshe Blau who had come especially from Eretz Yisroel to attend the convention and the meetings.
On one occasion, he heard a heated discussion taking place between the various participants, which was followed by loud voices. Moreinu Reb Yaakov Rosenheim, who was sitting quietly at the head of the table listening, suddenly arose and said,” Gentlemen, I simply cannot tolerate this noise!” At that, the room fell totally silent, thereby showing the respect towards the person who was chosen to receive the title of Moreinu by the Chofetz Chaim, Reb Chaim Ozer, the Imrei Emes [the Gerer Rebbe], and other luminaries. This event, that attested to the deep respect that his grandfather engendered by even the greatest Rabbonim, leaders and askonim, is one that remained permanently engraved in his memory bank!
With the rise of Hitler in Germany and his subsequent invasion of Austria, Reb Dovid Schlesinger realized that he and his family had to escape. With the help of family members already living in Eretz Yisroel, his wife and children were miraculously able to escape Austria and journey to Eretz Yisroel via Switzerland. The family settled in Eretz Yisroel and Reb Dovid followed them a bit later, leaving all of his material possessions behind. Many who couldn’t bear to leave behind anything remained in Austria and ultimately perished under the Nazis. Reb Dovid who never attached importance to the material was able to overcome that nisayon and thus saved his life.
Eventually the Schlesingers settled in Tel Aviv, where Reb Zev attended the Sinai Day School and subsequently Yeshiva Kol Torah in Yerushalayim, then headed by his uncle, Rav Yechiel Michel Schlesinger.
ON THE “BATTLEFIELD”
At the time, there were two concurrent battles going on in Eretz Yisroel. The first was the battle against the British Mandatory government by many Jews and the second was the battle for the soul of religious youth. In those years Zionism, both its secular form and also its religious incarnation as the Mizrachi Party was capturing the hearts and minds of religious youth and they were leaving their yeshivos, their families and in many cases abandoning their religious observance to join the splinter paramilitary groups, like Etzel and Lechi that fought against the British. Young Zev was rooted in the authentic Agudah hashkofah and not only was he not enticed to join these forces when many of his friends were, but to the contrary he tried to convince his friends not to fall for the tinsel of Zionism and Nationalism, even in its religious form.
It was for that reason that, for his entire life, Reb Zev felt very strongly that the ideology of religious Zionism, or Mizrachi as it was called back then, was so dangerous and so wrong. He would constantly point out that the hashkofah of religious Zionism was impossible to reconcile with authentic ideology as espoused by the gedolei Yisroel and he railed against those who, in the name of false achdus tried to paper over these differences. In fact, he devoted a whole chapter in his book to exposing these fallacies.
Even as a bochur he was so strong in his ideology that there were threats against his life from Etzel who saw him as a pernicious force that sought to discourage young people from joining them and therefore being considered a traitor to the Zionist enterprise.
CHANGE OF LOCATION; CHANGE OF LIFE!
Things got so bad that his father decided to send him, in early 1948, to the United states to visit his grandfather, Moreinu Reb Rosenheim who was then living in New York. Thus, young Zev Schlesinger found himself in New York for a visit which ended up changing the course of his life. In New York he lived with his grandfather for two years, until the latter moved to Eretz Yisroel. He became very active in Zeirei Agudas Yisroel joining Mike Tress and later Moshe Sherer.
Throughout his life Reb Zev chose to focus on the ideology of Agudas Yisroel. Notwithstanding the wonderful things that Agudah did to bring together the youth of that time and later to advocate on behalf of Jews and mosdos haTorah, Reb Zev as a member of Zeirei and later a member of the Agudah and an active member of their Vaad Hapoel, never let them forget why the Agudah was founded and how the message and ideology of Agudas Yisroel must remain relevant and be transmitted to the youth.
Another watershed in his life was his engagement in 1953 to Tziporah Goodman of Baltimore. Her father, Reb Eliyahu Zalman Goodman, was born in Timkowitz, a small town on the Polish-Russian border, and was fortunate to have learned at an early age in the yeshiva of Reb Isser Zalman Meltzer, zt”l. Reb Zev would frequently recount the following incident involving his father-in-law. One evening he [Reb Eliyahu Zalman] fell asleep on a bench in the Bais Medrash. When he awoke he found himself covered with a fur-lined coat. Later he was stunned to discover that the coat with which he was covered belonged to none other than Reb Isser Zalman Meltzer!
Reb Zev’s mother-in-law, Menya, was born in Yerushalayim to her parents Rav Aryeh Leib Hacohen and Rivkah Lapin, who ultimately settled in Baltimore.
Tziporah Goodman was a student and graduate of Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan’s Bais Yaakov located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. When the couple met, she was already teaching in the Bais Yaakov on the West Side.
Mrs. Schlesinger was supremely devoted to her husband and throughout their life together she embodied the ideal of being an ezer k’negdo. On many occasions Mr. Schlesinger would say that he would not have been able to accomplish even a fraction of what he did without her. They embodied that which Chazal say, “When a man and women live in harmony the Shechina resides among them. The harmony of purpose, the fact that his goals became her goals, was a tribute to her. The way that she cared for him in his later years when he was plagued by ill health was truly remarkable.
CHOOSING A KEHILLAH… THE INFLUENCE OF RAV YAAKOV TEITELBAUM
After his marriage, Reb Zev, who strongly felt that being part of a kehillah was imperative to family life, insisted on joining a kehillah that had an active Rov that would give his congregants hadrocha; a Rov who could maintain respect from his mispallelim; and simultaneously a Rov with the courage to express his Torah hashkofos without fearing any of his mispallelim.
When Rav Yaakov Teitelbaum whom Reb Zev had known from Vienna, moved after the war from London to America, their friendship was renewed. Ultimately, Rav Teitelbaum settled in Kew Gardens, Queens, New York, where he opened a Bais Medrash. Even before their marriage Reb Zev would join Rav Teitelbaum and the many friends from Vienna whom he would invite, for a yearly seuda on Tu B’Shevat. Reb Zev would look forward to those seudos with great excitement because they enabled him to meet many old friends from his childhood in Vienna. In addition, they afforded him the opportunity to come into close contact with the many distinguishedrabbonim who were in attendance, such as the Kapishnitzer Rebbe, who also hailed from Vienna.
His contact with Rav Teitelbaum made him realize that this was the Rov he was seeking. The Schlesingers therefore decided to move to Kew Gardens and become part of Rav Teitelbaum’s kehilla, Khal Adas Yereim. It was a decision they never regretted.
After Rav Yaakov Teitelbaum’s passing, Reb Zev continued to be an integral part of the shul led by his son, Rav Shlomo Teitelbaum.
Reb Zev was the founder of the Bais Yaakov of Queens and served on its board of directors for many years, and was involved in many other mosdos in Queens and areas of askonus, that went well beyond Queens and even beyond the United States.
THE LOSS OF A DISCONTINUED MODEL
The loss felt with Reb Zev’s passing is the loss of a discontinued model of a Jew – A Jew who was not a Rosh Yeshiva or Rov or Rebbi, but nevertheless, the way he lived his life was something that every Jew could learn from. He lived his life without contradictions. He was a Jew who was oisgehalten, totally consistent in everything he did. His emunah was ironclad, his bitochon was such that he once said, “It is not good to be engaged in a parnassa where one is on salary. It is far better to be in a business, where you never know what you will make. In this way you see Hashem’s hashgocha protis in everything that you do.”
His avodas Hashem, his dealings in business, his every action was done with a sense of responsibility to Hashem and His people and to his illustrious ancestors so that he should be a worthy link in the chain and not shame them with his conduct.
Moreover, his emunah in the coming of Moshiach was literally tangible. He worried about Klal Yisroel. He was terrified that we were so complacent in golus that we were not noticing the simonim of potential hester ponim. He was simultaneously afraid of what the future would portend but at the same time deeply longed for Moshiach. He didn’t stop talking about Moshiach… and now, it is our fervent hope that he will go in front of the kisei hakovod and intercede on behalf of Klal Yisroel whom he so loved.
His levaya was held on erev Shabbos Parshas Korach at Bais Medrash Govoah in Lakewood. Hespedim were delivered by the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Malkiel Kotler; his nephew, Rav Eliezer Schlesinger, Rosh kollel- Harama London, and his son-in-law, Rav Yaakov Gerstel. The levaya then proceeded to Queens where Rav Teitelbaum and members of his shul where Reb Zev had davened for sixty years took leave of him. As it was after chatzos on erev Shabbos no hespedim were delivered.
On motzoei Shabbos, the aron was flown to Eretz Yisroel where Reb Zev was buried on Sunday, next to his father in the Ponovezh Bais Hakevaros, not far from Rav Shach, with whom Reb Zev was very close.
In Bnei Brak, hespedim were delivered by his older brother, Rav Elyakim Schlesinger of London who spoke via live telephone hook-up, his cousin, Rav Moshe Yehuda Schlesinger, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Kol Torah, Rav Reuven Hochster, Mashigach of the Mir Yeshiva in Kiryas Brachfeld, Rav Leizer Turk, a cousin, Rav Amram Schlesinger, a cousin and his grandson, Rabbi Dovid Gerstel.
Reb Zev Schlesinger leaves behind his devoted wife, Mrs. Tziporah Schlesinger, his daughter and son-in-law, Rabbi and Mrs. Yaakov Gerstel of Lakewood, and his daughter Mrs. Sara Axelman, their children and grandchildren. He deeply loved and cared for them and imparted the foundations of his hashkofah to the coming generations. His children cared for him with tremendous mesiras nefesh during the last period of his life. Yehi zichro boruch.