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So Little, So Much

Dovid Shapiro

The sudden passing of Reb Uri Weinberg last year left his many friends around the world — especially those who knew him from Yeshivas Mir-Yerushalayim — feeling as though they had lost a grandparent or close friend. Reb Uri’s life was filled with tragedy, yet his eyes always twinkled and he engendered strong feelings of closeness and admiration among the many who knew him. At 88, what was the secret of his youth?

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

manReb Uri was born in 1923 inErkelenz,Germany. As the National Socialist Party grew stronger, anti-Semitism increased in the smaller towns, and so in 1937 the Weinberg family moved to the larger city ofCologne. At the age of 16, Reb Uri was separated from his parents and sent toLiverpool,England, along with many other young German Jews. Not long after, in July of 1940,Englanddeclared many of the German refugees who had come toEnglandto be enemy aliens and Reb Uri was sent aboard the HMT Dunera to an internment camp inAustralia, where he remained until he immigrated to Eretz Yisrael in 1943.

Shortly after arriving in Eretz Yisrael, Reb Uri joined Yeshivas Kol Torah, and he remained dedicated and connected to the yeshivah for the rest of his life. He studied to be a sofer and in 1953 he married Bluma Lapidos a”h, an American-born granddaughter of Rabbi Gershon Lapidos. Reb Uri and his wife were not zocheh to have their own children and early on began what would be his lifelong practice of hosting yeshivah bochurim for seudos, first in Bayit Vegan and later, following his wife’s passing, in his small apartment in Batei Ungarin.

When I arrived at the Mir in 2000, Reb Uri’s physical pace had started to slow down and he wasn’t hosting bochurim quite as often as he had in the past. Most weeks though, he would still make his rounds through the dining room of the Mir, soliciting guests for Shabbos meals. These invitations and the manner in which he extended them, like almost everything with Reb Uri, were performed with a ritualistic consistency.

You couldn’t always know why Reb Uri would approach you or the fellow next to you. I’ll admit that in the beginning, I was wary: Who was this guy in the odd-looking gray coat, and why did he want to have people over? What could I expect when I got there? On Rosh HaShanah 5760 I decided to take the plunge and accepted Reb Uri’s invitation, along with a number of my fellow apartment mates. It was to be the beginning of a long and rewarding friendship.

For an American bochur seeking authentic Eretz Yisrael experiences, this was certainly it. Reb Uri lived in a tiny apartment in Batei Ungarin. Walking in was like walking into a time warp. The aged wooden door creaked open to reveal a tiny dark space. The dining room — if you could call it that — also functioned as the living room, storage space, and entranceway. It was abutted by the kitchen to the right and the single bedroom to the back. The unevenly plastered walls hadn’t been painted in years and contained shell marks from the Jordanian attacks during the Six Day War. The old clock seemed to be chronically set to the wrong time, although I later learned that Reb Uri used “Eretz Yisrael time,” which began at nightfall each day, as opposed to the “modern” European convention of beginning at midnight.

Reb Uri had many regulars at his Shabbos seudos, some of whom ate at his home almost every week for years on end. As it turned out, most of the Shabbos meals that I was privileged to share with Reb Uri were in my apartment in Maalot Dafna when I returned to Eretz Yisrael following my marriage. Although Reb Uri was fiercely independent, it had gotten harder for him to cook big meals every week and he had begun to accept Shabbos invitations.

He was equally comfortable in English, Yiddish, or Hebrew (not to mention German), and part of the charming style in which he spoke was the way he moved seamlessly between the three. He had a sparkle about him and a youthful sense of humor. You could speak to Reb Uri for hours, listening to his captivating stories about Yerushalayim of old and his relationships and interactions with some of its gedolim and other well-known figures, among them his rebbi and the rosh yeshivah of Kol Torah Rav Yechiel Michel Schlesinger, Rav Yosef Salant (author of the Beer Yosef) and the Tchebiner Rav. Someone aptly described him as “a raconteur of the old school.”


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