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Tatteh, Tatteh, Who Will Answer My Questions?

Malky Heimowitz

The night when a son asks his father the Four Questions, the night when a father tells his son how Hashem took us out of Egypt. This is the night when the mesorah is cemented, as each father in turn transmits the legacy he received from his father. Yet for some, Seder night may be the most aching reminder of the loving father who once reclined at the head of table, resplendent in his kittel, and listened to the questions of his son. Now, the son still has questions aplenty, but who is there to ask?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Only someone who’s been there can really understand, and only someone who’s been there can show other young yesomim that it is possible to emerge from the experience with one’s spirit intact. As the Gaavad of Yerushalayim, Rav Yitzchak Tuvia Weiss — himself an orphan — told a young yasom who went on to become a prominent rav in Antwerp: “A person is not a rachmanus — a person makes himself into a rachmanus. If you’re going to think you’re a rachmanus, you’ll become one. But if you know that you’re not a rachmanus, then you won’t be one.” 

Mishpacha spoke to four prominent individuals who lost their fathers at a young age, and went on to become fathers not only to their own children, but to their talmidim and to the community as well. Here, they share their stories, their personal struggles, and their messages to other yesomim.


Rabbi Yaakov Bender

It was 6:30 a.m. when Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky awakened Yaakov Bender to tell him that his father was sick. “You should daven,” Rav Shmuel told the15-year-old bochur. “Then, Rav Elya Svei and I will come with you to New York to visit your father.” 

“This struck me as strange,” recalls Rabbi Bender, today the rosh yeshivah of Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway. “Why would both my roshei yeshivah come all the way from Philadelphia to New York? But I didn’t want to think the worst. My father was a healthy man.”

Rav Shmuel and Rav Elya accompanied Yaakov on the train to New York, and then switched together to the A subway train. When they got off the A train to transfer to the D train, Yaakov came down the steps and saw his cousins from Lakewood standing on the platform. (“People didn’t travel much by car then,” he explains.)

“I turned around to Rav Shmuel and Rav Elya, and I understood that it was all over.” 

It was 12:50 when Yaakov arrived at his house. His whole family was waiting for him to leave to the levayah, which was at 1:00 in Torah Vodaath, where his father, Rav Dovid Bender, had been the menahel. 

Since Yaakov had only recently switched to Philly and had been homesick there, his brother-in-law, Rav Chaim Epstein, felt that it would be better for the distraught teenager to be home with his mother. “It was very demoralizing,” Rabbi Bender remembers. “Not long before, I had gone out of town to Philly, which was like Harvard, the top yeshivah, and now I was back home in New York.”


Yaakov enrolled in the Mirrer Yeshiva on Ocean Parkway, where he was welcomed warmly by the mashgiach, Rav Tzvi Feldman; the roshei yeshivah, Rav Shmuel Berenbaum and Rav Shraga Moshe Kalmanowitz; and two rebbeim, Rav Shmuel Brudny and Rav Elya Jurkansky. But even with all the fatherly attention they showered on the orphaned newcomer, it took him a long time to adjust. “I couldn’t find myself,” Rabbi Bender recalls. “I cried all day. I didn’t know anyone in yeshivah. I was all alone at home. I was exhausted because I had to travel on the subway to and from yeshivah every day. It was a terrible time.”

During that period of intense grieving, Yaakov found solace in writing his memories of his father. The 60-odd pages that he wrote during that time, 47 years ago, became the basis of the biography later written about his parents by Mrs. Devora Gliksman (ArtScroll/Mesorah). 


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