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Monsey’s Secret

Yisroel Besser

We grace our walls with images of gedolim, men who inspired and taught the masses. Rav Shmuel Shmelka Taubenfeld was a different kind of gadol: He lived in relative isolation, far from the public eye, and his only pursuit was Torah. But the people he touched will forever carry his memory.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Walk up Monsey’s Route 306 where it intersects with Route 59 and savor the options: sushi or prime cuts of meat, upscale cafes or ice cream in a dazzling array of flavors. You can turn right, left, or go straight in Monsey, a capital of contemporary heimeshe gastronomy. Sixty years ago, this very intersection was already a capital. Back then, it also featured diversity, breadth, and range, an incredible assortment of options, though not of the edible sort. Food was fairly limited — fresh baked goods imported from Brooklyn — but the tiny settlement boasted an assortment of unique geonim. And like a gleaming display case in an epicurean heaven, it featured all sorts of scholars: some proficient in all of Shas, others capable of hairsplitting analysis. Those possessed with the penetrating self-awareness of Reb Yerucham Levovitz’s mussar alongside others filled with the crackling warmth of Reb Shraga Feivel’s chassidus; there was room for everything in the display case that was the humble beis medrash of Beth Medrash Elyon, breeding ground of gedolim. If you slip through the trees of Main Street, between the rustling leaves of Elyon Court, you can still see the old building, the rocks upon which Reb Shraga Feivel sat, talmidim at his feet, and shared mysteries of creation, the humble bungalows from which the first generation of kollel couples in America taught those who would yet come what the lifestyle demands. And with a bit of imagination you might discern the impression left by a unique figure, humble in stature, carriage, and title while towering in genius and kindness. Reb Shmelka Taubenfeld didn’t head a prestigious yeshivah or author best-selling seforim, but it was he who gave the entire chaburah its pride and prestige. His story, largely untold, is the coming-of-age tale of the American Torah world.

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