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The Rebbi Who Sparked Revival

Barbara Bensoussan

What would Rabbi Yaakov Spitzer have answered to the question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” when he arrived in America as a young survivor whose train to Auschwitz was only one of two that turned back? A rebbi? A diamond dealer? The founder of a colossal company providing home healthcare to the frum community? Probably not all three. Yet in the six decades that have passed since he stepped onto American shores, Rabbi Spitzer has done all three with resounding success.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rabbi Yisroel Reisman has recounted in his popular Motzaei Shabbos Navi shiur that his fourth-grade rebbi once mistakenly gave him three ringing potches after the boy sitting behind him made some rude noises. When the other boys chorused, “Rebbi, it wasn’t him!” the rebbi felt so guilty that he fashioned him on the spot a three-potch “credit card,” good for three smacks. Rabbi Reisman recalls having to cash in one of the smacks later that day, but shortly thereafter his precious card got left in his pants pocket, and met its doom in the washing machine.

Unable to cash in the two remaining smacks, Rabbi Reisman says he nevertheless “settled the score” with his rebbi, Rabbi Yaakov Spitzer, by marrying his daughter thirteen years later, cementing their relationship permanently. But in the broader picture, Rabbi Spitzer is usually the one settling the score — not with his son-in-law, but with the Nazis who once sought to exterminate him.

Abiding by the principle that living happily as a Jew is the best revenge, Rabbi Spitzer came to America as a boy and went on to establish himself as an iconic rebbi, a diamond merchant, an askan, and most recently, as the founder of Revival Home Health Care, an agency dedicated to providing short-term home care to Holocaust survivors, the Orthodox community, and anyone else in need.

Mishpacha met with Rabbi Spitzer at Revival Home Care, a warehouse-sized space on a stretch of Kings Highway a mile or so past Flatbush. It’s packed with offices, employees busily tending to their work in a maze of innumerable cubicles, conference rooms, and a simple shul room whose plaque boasts the moniker “Anshei Revival.” The walls are adorned with Jewish art, and well-thumbed siddurim and Gemaras are visible on many a desk.

We exchange cordial introductions. Rabbi Spitzer is immaculate in a three-piece pinstriped suit, neat gray beard, and simple spectacles, although there’s no sign of the black Homburg his family claims accompanies him everywhere. His eyes have a grandfatherly twinkle, though there’s a certain gravitas of the talmid chacham within as well.

While not very tall, Rabbi Spitzer walks through the halls of Revival exuding quiet authority, seeming to find just the right warm words for every employee, regardless of race, color, or creed. After just a few moments we’re joined by current Revival CEO Isaac Soskin and colleague Shlomo Zackheim, and we all find places around a conference table to let this consummate rebbi tell us a story. This time, however, it’s his story we’re about to hear.

 

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