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Echoes of Boston in Boro Park

Yisroel Besser

They came from different worlds, but they speak a common language. Rav Yankel Thumim, Boro Park’s Alshtadter Rav, and his rebbetzin, the only daughter of the first Bostoner Rebbe, share a lifetime of memories about their illustrious families and the chassidishe path that they have been zocheh to help preserve on American soil.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

rabbiThe Rav has many memories of his zeideh, Rav Chaim Yitzchok Yerucham, the first Alshtadter Rav, whom the Divrei Chaim prophetically referred to as a talmid chacham when the future Alshtadter Rav was still a child.

“My great-grandfather on my mother’s side, Rav Nosson Goldberger, was the Limanover Rav, and he suffered greatly, Rachmana litzlan,” explains Rav Thumim, recounting the story. “The Sanzer Rav sent him a message that he should come live with him for a year and things would go well.

“My great-grandfather went, and his children became part of the Sanzer Rav’s household. On leil Shabbos, they would line up with the Rebbe’s eineklach for brachos. The Limanover Rav‘s young daughter, Ruchel Dinah, took her turn one Friday night, and the Rebbe, who kept his eyes closed throughout,  said, “I already wished for you that your husband will be a talmid chacham.”

In time, Ruchel Dinah became the wife of the Alshtadter Rav, an illustrious leader who resided in Vienna between the two world wars. During that period Vienna was a city teeming with Yidden and tzaddikim. The present Alshtadter Rav, Rav Thumim, grew up in that vibrant milieu.

“As a small boy, I went to see the Husyatiner Rebbe light Chanukah lecht. He fixed his beard before making the brachos, and I recall thinking, A Rebbe, fixing his beard? How strange! Then I saw his neiros, which seemed to brighten the whole world, and I said, ‘He fixes his beard, but what a Rebbe this is!’

“The rebbes of the Ruzhiner dynasty came to my cheder’s Chumash seudah. The Kopycznitzer Rebbe was among them. I don’t remember if the melamed sent me or I just had seichel, but I asked the Rebbe for a brachah. He asked me if I was an einekel of the Alshtadter Rav and he gave me a piece of chocolate.”

Though there was tension between the courts of Ruzhin and Sanz, and the Alshtadter Rav was a Sanzer chassid, he still went to the rebbes of Ruzhin for a brachah each year during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah.

“The Tchortkover Rebbe, who knew my zeideh was a Sanzer chassid, once asked my zeideh if he understood what the machlokes was about. The Zeideh told him about Reb Burech’l Mezhibuzher, who had a daily custom to ridicule and laugh at something the Berditchever Rebbe had done or said, and even guaranteed Olam HaBa to anyone who would ridicule Reb Levi Yitzchak. He once remarked that with his antagonism, he was keeping the Berditchever alive, protecting him from his opponent in Heaven, the Satan. My zeideh told the Rebbe that machlokes between tzaddikim often revolves around things we can’t see and serves a purpose all its own. The Rebbe seemed to appreciate his words.”

The Rav shares another Ruzhiner memory: “We lived with the Zeideh, who had a minyan in our home. One leil Shabbos, the chazzan sang the Ruzhiner nusach for the tefillah of K’gavna. The Zeideh was deeply moved and said that the tune defined the meaning and depth of the holy tefillah.”

During the 1930s the happy childhood memories give way to more disturbing ones — memories about the heroism of the Alshtadter Rav while under fire, and how he issued decisive, confident halachic rulings. And how he eventually instructed his beloved grandson to run.

The story of the grandson’s escape from Vienna, along with his mother, and their ultimate arrival on the safe shores of the United States is spectacular, but Rav Thumim prefers not to focus on this part of his life, opting instead to converse about the great men he has known.

 

 

 

 

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