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Eytan Kobre

Rav Hillel Zaks ztz”l, whose first yahrtzeit is marked this week, never tried to be unconventional for its own sake. But this grandson of the Chofetz Chaim stood out, says a grateful longtime talmid, for the way he turned abstract Torah into joyous real-life practice and for the love and giving he showered on all who crossed his path.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Elysha Sandler had just made it through the gauntlet of four tests to gain admission to Yerushalayim’s famed Yeshivas Chevron — a rarity for an American bochur — but he had not yet met Rav Hillel Zaks, the one rosh yeshivah who hadn’t tested the 19-year-old newcomer. And so Elysha made his way to the nearby Zaks home, but nothing could have prepared him for the scene that greeted him: It was bein hazmanim, and Reb Hillel was on the roof of his building, busy at work welding a break in the ma’akeh (gate required by halachah) around its perimeter. “There he stood,” recalls Rabbi Sandler, “tzitzis over his shirt and under his vest; his long peyos — usually neatly tucked under his oversized yarmulke — were flying. Wearing these huge goggles, he expertly wielded his soldering gun, the sparks flying every which way.” It was, says Rabbi Sandler, a memorable introduction to an impossible-to-forget adam gadol at his unconventional and unpretentious best. Over the next two years, Elysha Sandler would become a talmid-for-life, learning to appreciate the multiple facets that made Reb Hillel such a rare diamond of the Torah world until his passing on the 22nd of Teves just one year ago. 

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