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Called to the Eastern Wall

Eliezer Shulman and Yisroel Besser

Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshivah of Yeshivas Chevron, molds and shapes thousands of talmidim by the force of his Torah and personality. What makes his seforim so widely sought across the globe? Who are the mentors that influenced his trademark blend of creativity and precision? And who positioned the relatively young rosh yeshivah on the eastern wall of the Torah landscape? Students, contemporaries, and admirers paint a picture of one of the brightest lights in Eretz Yisrael’s yeshivah world.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The street was painted black by the immense crowd. The chareidi public had turned out en masse for a rally. On the dais sat the revered Rav Aharon Leib Steinman. He looked to his right, then to his left, searching for a face among the line of white-bearded dignitaries. “Where is Rav Dovid Cohen?” The Chevron Rosh Yeshivah, it turned out, had found a place in one of the back rows. “Please ask him to come sit here, next to me,” asked Rav Steinman. Rav Dovid’s face was pale as he approached. “For the honor of the Chevron Yeshivah, the rosh yeshivah is asked to sit in the front row,” Rav Aharon Leib whispered. To Rav Dovid’s talmidim, the show of respect was no surprise — they knew their rosh yeshivah was one of the generation’s great lights, despite his being a decade younger than most of the others on the dais. But some of the Rosh Yeshivah’s fellow mispallelim at the 6:00 Shacharis minyan at the Ohr Hatzafun shul might have been taken aback. Ohr Hatzafun, hidden behind an apartment building just off Jerusalem’s Bar Ilan Street, is a shul of the people. Peddlers hawk pens, hair brushes, and umbrellas at the doorway; collectors circulate and make announcements; and real citizens — Yerushalmis, Sephardim, Ashkenazim, avreichim, and shop owners — form the minyan. There is nothing in the comportment or posture of the Chevron Rosh Yeshivah to suggest his elevated station, and Rav Dovid Cohen seems to fit right in. A “tzenter” at Ohr Hatzafun isn’t usually called up to sit next Rav Aharon Leib — but this is the paradox, and the struggle, of Rav Dovid Cohen. After Shacharis, he walks through the streets of the Beis Yisrael neighborhood, joining the stream of avreichim headed to the Mir, one among the many. Though he wears a frock, there is nothing “Chevron” about his look, neither impeccability in dress nor stately bearing. His glasses slide forward on his nose, his energetic walk matches the pace of his words. Still, there is a distinctive glow, a nobility that radiates from his face. He passes by the Mir, continuing on foot for close to an hour; he won’t give up this lengthy walk — both for the health benefits and the opportunity to think in peace — and only accepts a ride for the final leg of the journey toGivatMordechai, home of the Chevron Yeshivah.

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