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No Compromises

Ruti Kepler

Having lived through destruction and rebuilding, poverty and plenty, war and peace, Reb Aryeh Alter — a scion of Gerrer royalty — is a walking chronicle of modern history and a window into the lives of five Gerrer Rebbes. From the Imrei Emes’s passing on Shavuos 1948 to the leadership of the current Rebbe, Reb Aryeh has always been more than a cousin: he’s been the ultimate chassid.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Our generation is like a ship, moving farther and farther from the shore. Among the passengers, there are some who don’t even remember what the coast looked like. We are the children born on the ship — children who cannot possibly remember those things that we never saw. That’s why people like Reb Aryeh Alter, a scion of Gerrer royalty and a walking chronicle of modern history, are such a treasure. Their memories are invaluable, their own experiences a bridge connecting us to a bygone era. “Well, I really don’t know so much,” demurs the 87-year-old accountant and scholar, chassid of five Gerrer rebbes, great-grandson of the Sfas Emes and brother-in-law of the Pnei Menachem of Gur. He’s not used to being interviewed, and doesn’t really see what the fuss is all about. But when he begins to share the story of his life, the listener can’t help but be transported back to a time when he too, could see the shoreline.   Sweet Rebuke The family of Reb Aryeh Alter, born in Jerusalem in 1928, were the “Israeli relatives” of the illustrious Alter family. His father, Rav Mottel, was the son of Rav Moshe Betzalel Alter — son of the Sfas Emes and brother of Rav Avraham Mordechai Alter, the Imrei Emes of Gur. His mother was the daughter of the Viershover Rebbe. Rav Mottel and his wife had little money, but they managed in the Holy Land while most of their relatives lived in Poland. On one festive day, the young Alter family went to a professional photographer to take pictures of their children. The photographer had the older daughters — Miriam, Rivka, and Tzipporah — stand together, and placed Aryeh, the youngest child, in the middle of the group. The picture was charming, and Rav Mottel, the happy father, mailed a copy to his father in Poland. But the grandfather, Rav Moshe Betzalel Alter, didn’t share his son’s pleasure. “A boy should not stand among girls,” he wrote back, with typical Gerrer sharpness, “and besides, you don’t have any parnassah. Why are you going to photographers?”

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