If you daven Shacharis k’vasikin at the Kosel, you might encounter an elderly Jew, his face exuding radiance, standing beside the entrance to Wilson’s Arch. His gentle face is framed by a snow-white beard and a white knitted yarmulke. Some people take him to be a Baba and incline their heads to receive his blessing, even though they’re not quite sure who he is.
There are some clues, though, that hint at the man’s unusual character. On the bimah before him sits a small suitcase containing thirty pairs of tefillin, inscribed with the words “Tefillin Gemach.” Below those words are the man’s name, Rabbi Yitzchak Lasry, his phone number, and instructions for borrowers to leave a deposit or collateral. Three half-full tzedakah boxes, each for a different cause, also stand silently beside the bearded man, waiting for passersby to contribute coins.
Rabbi Lasry has been davening vasikin here for the past 45 years. He spends his mornings engaged in Torah study and tefillah, then hurries to attend shiurim at one of the four kollelim in the network he has been managing for the past 19 years. The kollelim are all situated at sacred sites: the Kosel, Kever Rochel, Shimon HaTzaddik, and Mearas HaMachpeilah. The members of these kollelim learn from sunrise to sunset without cease, while maintaining a complete taanis dibbur. “The Ramchal taught us that learning without interruption is the cure for all troubles and the way to be saved from all evil decrees,” Rabbi Lasry explains.
For the hundreds of mispallelim at the Kosel, Rabbi Lasry seems part of the scenery. Few know the story of the venerable manager of the tefillin gemach, the man who as a teenager fought a personal battle against secularization — and as a grown man served all of the gedolei Yisrael who were hospitalized at Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.