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Fearless Truth and Love

Dovid Sussman

: He was a rosh yeshivah, a father figure, a confidant, a friend, and an endless wellspring of inspiration. He grew up on Long Island, but became a disciple of the luminaries of the Israeli yeshivah world. Rav Asher Zelig Rubinstein was a man of truth, but he was also the epitome of warmth, joy, and inspiration, transforming the lives of countless young men who became bnei Torah.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On the surface, the worlds of the Modern Orthodox American day school and the cloistered powerhouse Israeli yeshivos seem unbridgeable. People are often surprised when great Torah scholars make the leap from one to the other, but for Rav Asher Zelig Rubinstein ztz”l, his background is part of what made him beloved by the entire spectrum of the Torah world — from venerated talmidei chachamim to American bochurim deliberating about staying in yeshivah another year before starting college.

Tall and distinguished-looking, with his dignified rosh yeshivah’s frock, Rav Asher Zelig looked exactly like what he was: A renowned talmid chacham, rosh yeshivah, and disciple of the gedolim of the previous generation. In the years he spent learning under Rav Chatzkel Levenstein, Rav Shach, the Ponevezher Rav and other luminaries of his day, Rav Asher Zelig had made it his mission to continue to spread the light of their Torah. But he had no qualms about invoking his own beginnings in a different place.

Rav Asher Zelig Rubinstein grew up in Far Rockaway, New York, where he received his elementary school education at the Hebrew Institute of Long Island (HILI), which later became known as HAFTR, the HebrewAcademyof the FiveTownsand Rockaway. In later years, Rav Asher Zelig would bemoan the absence of passion for Torah that prevailed among his peers, lamenting that of the kids who were in school with him, there may have been a handful who were inspired enough to go on to raise families of bnei Torah.

But that didn’t stop him from maximizing the spiritual opportunities that were available.

In his family’s shul, the Friday night davening was often led by the chazzan Reb Dovid Berry (the father of Suki Berry), who infused his davening with feeling and passion. Rav Asher Zelig would also mention his tremendous debt of gratitude to his first-grade rebbi, whom he perceived as a model of avodas Hashem. As a child, he would see the rebbi sitting in shul learning in his tallis and tefillin, and this gave him a picture of what avodas Hashem could really look like. Years later, Rav Asher Zelig even named a mussar kollel after him.

Another value that would go on to define Rav Asher Zelig’s life was his resolute commitment to truth, a trait he learned from his own father, Reb Yirmiyahu, who worked as a butcher and was known for his uncompromising honesty.

As a teenager, Rav Asher Zelig chose to take his learning to a higher level by enrolling in the Telshe Yeshivah inCleveland,Ohio. He once told a friend who opted to stay inNew Yorkthat he preferred a quiet place with a dormitory where he could learn day and night with no distractions. He wanted to reach a certain level of accomplishment in Torah learning before he moved on to college. Little did he know that even more dramatic changes were in store for him.


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