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Lasting Link

Pearl Herzog

Rav Yisrael Tzvi Weinberg, who passed away this past Succos, left behind the fulfillment of his father-in-law’s last hope: the continuance of a chassidus on the verge of oblivion

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

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The Tolna Rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Menachem Weinberg¬— a worldwide expert mechanech¬— initially had no interest in becoming a rebbe, but felt obligated to preserve the dynasty and fulfill his zeide’s request (Photos: Mishpacha Archives)

W hen Rav Yisrael Tzvi Weinberg, a young Torah scholar from Toronto, married Gitel, the only child of Montreal’s Tolna Rebbe, Rav Yochanan Twersky ztz”l, he never imagined he’d be the pivotal link in a chain going all the way back to the Maggid of Chernobyl, whose eight sons spread chassidus all over Russia and the Ukraine.

Father of the current Tolna Rebbe of Jerusalem, Rav Yitzchak Menachem Weinberg shlita, and grandfather of Tolna Ashdod Rebbe, Rav Amitai Twersky shlita, Rav Weinberg passed away last month at age 88. Yet he left behind the fulfillment of his illustrious father-in-law’s hope — the continuance of Tolna chassidus, the rich heritage that was on the verge of fading into oblivion.

Who was this rabbi — who grew up in Toronto in the 1930s and ’40s, came to Eretz Yisrael as an idealistic moshav rabbi, held an influential position in Israel’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, was a master talmid chacham and baal chesed with the peyos and up-hat of a typical chassidishe Yid — and who merited seeing five generations of eineklach in Eretz Yisrael, and both a son and grandson as rebbes continuing the venerated Tolna line?

Open Homes Forever

When the Tolna Rebbe’s daughter Gitel Twersky was to meet her future husband Yisrael Weinberg back in 1948, she was thrilled to learn that he was a close chassid of Rav Moshe Langner, the Strettiner Rebbe of Toronto — a well-known composer of niggunim and the first chassidic rebbe to establish himself in Canada… and her zeide. Her mother — the Tolna Rebbetzin — was, after all, the Strettiner Rebbe’s daughter.

Gitel and Yisrael discovered that they had a lot in common, in addition to the Strettiner Rebbe. Weinberg, born in Iliyev, Galicia, on 22 Adar 5688/1928, emigrated to Toronto with his parents when he was six years old. He was the only boy among three sisters, and she was her parents’ only daughter. And both his parents came from chassidic homes as well. His father, Reb Tzadok Weinberg, a staunch Lubliner chassid, was one of the first babies named after Rav Tzadok HaKohein of Lublin and his mother, Bella (née Kaufman), came from a family of Rozdov chassidim. Both had grown up in open homes, which was to be a marker for the bayis ne’eman they would later build together in Eretz Yisrael. The Tolna Rebbe’s beis medrash in Montreal was especially popular with European immigrants; the Rebbetzin had an open home where anyone could come and go (that included not only the indigent, but prominent rebbes such as Rav Yoel Teitelbaum of Satmar and Rav Yaakov of Karlin-Stolin), and the Rebbe took dozens of bochurim under his wing and even married them off. Similarly, Reb Tzadok Weinberg, a successful furrier and developer, had a generous heart and opened his house to all. Rebbes and rabbanim would frequently stay at the Weinberg home when they came to Toronto to collect for a variety of causes.

During the period of the Holocaust and pre-state Israel, the stakes for the Jewish People were higher and the barriers lower. Reb Tzadok Weinberg served as the executive vice president of the Mizrachi movement in Canada; and Gitel’s mother, a chassidishe rebbetzin, also found a way to express her love for Eretz Yisrael and the Jews living in the Holy Land. She would address women in her ladies’ auxiliary and raise money for packages that she would send to the poor in Palestine. The Tolna Rebbetzin was also a gifted poetess. In one of her Yiddish poems entitled “Mir Yidden in Galus” (We Jews in the Diaspora) she writes how we Jews in galus keep coming up with farshidene teirutzim (all kinds of excuses) regarding moving to the Holy Land. “Come quickly before you become too sick and too old,” she advised. “Our hope is that we will have another million new olim and our dream is that this will help bring true peace.”

When Yisrael Tzvi was still a young bochur, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky — who was a rav in Toronto at the time and with whom young Yisrael learned — insisted that he be sent to New York after his bar mitzvah, and so off he went to Torah Vodaath. Later he supplemented his Torah learning by studying under Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik and Rav Yerucham Gorelick at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. Thirsting for spiritual enrichment from chassidic rebbes as well, Yisrael frequented the beis medrash of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, as well as the chassidic courts of Kopycznitz, Boyan, and Bobov. He even used to frequent the beis medrash of the New York Tolna Rebbe — the Montreal Tolna Rebbe’s father — never dreaming that Rav Dovid Mordechai Twersky would one day become his grandfather.

Across the Ocean

The wedding of Rabbi Yisrael Tzvi and Gitel Weinberg in 1948 was a huge affair, attended by many rebbes and rabbanim. The couple remained in Canada for just a few months before they boarded a ship to Eretz Yisrael, leaving a life of comfort and luxury behind.

“It was a different generation,” says Mrs. Rivka Malkiel, the Weinbergs’ oldest daughter, who was born several months after the couple moved across the ocean. “There was no contradiction between being a chassid and getting your hands dirty — literally building Eretz Yisrael.” She says her father’s role model was Rebbe Yeshaya Shapira, brother of the Piaseczner Rebbe and known as the Admor Hachalutz, who came to Eretz Yisrael in 1920, and led the Hapoel Hamizrachi settlement movement, infusing its members with yiras Shamayim and chassidic warmth. (In 1943 he finally realized his life’s dream of farming his own plot of land, but the horrifying news out of Europe caused his heart to stop, and he passed away that year in the home of his brother-in-law, Rav Chanoch Bornstein of Sochatchov.) Article 1 Article 1 Article 1 Article 1 Article 1 Article 1Article 1 Article 1 Article 1 Article 1 Article 1 Article Article 1 Article 1 Article 1 Article 1

Rav Weinberg was the link between four generations. His grandson Rav Amitai Twersky of Tolna-Ashdod (left) and a younger Rav Yisrael with his father-in-law¬— the Tolna Rebbe ztz”l¬— and son, the rebbe of the future

The young couple moved to Israel in 1949 and settled in Bnei Darom, a newly established religious moshav not far from Ashdod, where Rav Yisrael took it upon himself to serve as spiritual leader. He corresponded regularly with Rav Elimelech Bar Shaul, the chief rabbi of Rechovot, for complex sh’eilos that came up, and often visited the Chazon Ish in Bnei Brak to discuss with him mitzvos directly relating to the Land of Israel so that he could properly pasken for his compatriots in Bnei Darom.

The couple didn’t schlep many luxury items with them, but one thing Gitel brought with her from Canada was the exquisite wedding gown she had worn the year before. It was a magnificent display item that had graced a wedding salon vitrine in Canada, and she lent it to numerous kallos, including the many she and Rav Yisrael married off and escorted to the chuppah.

Gitel’s parents, Rav Yochanan and Rebbetzin Twersky, visited Eretz Yisrael just in time for the birth of their first grandchild, Rivky, and stayed with them for a period before returning to Montreal. But by the time two more children were born in Bnei Darom, the Rebbe and Rebbetzin had decided to make their own move. And so, in 1953, in the zechus of Rav Yisrael and Gitel, the Tolna Rebbe bid farewell to his Montreal kehillah and followed his only daughter to Eretz Yisrael.

They initially settled near the Tchebiner Rav on Rechov Abarbanel in Jerusalem’s Rechavia neighborhood; meanwhile, the Weinbergs left moshav life and moved to the new Bayit V’gan neighborhood, which was then the western edge of Jerusalem.

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