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“We’ve Never Parted”

Aryeh Ehrlich

Ido Ehrlich was a young soldier searching for Hashem when he first entered the home of the Yerushalmi tzaddik, Rav Moshe Weber, ztz”l — the man who was to change his life forever. Today, as Rav Moshe Weber’s yahrtzeit approaches on 18 Adar, Rabbi Ido Ehrlich-Weber reveals the story of their unusual relationship and his own search, and how a father and son can be so much more than blood relations.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

That wintry Shabbos night in Jerusalem has been etched in my heart forever. As on every Shabbos, Jerusalem’s Batei Ungarin neighborhood was transformed, its ancient floors shining as much as ancient floor tiles can shine. The men strode home from shul in their majestic gold Yerushalmi kapotes, and in my youthful imagination, it seemed as though the neighborhood itself had donned one tremendous shtreimel.

A group being led by a rav with a snow-white beard was heading toward one particular house — #182, in a neighborhood where homes are numbered without apparent order. It was our home; it was also the rav’s home. While the splendor and refinement of his noble figure seemed to radiate light, those who marched after him clashed with the local landscape. No shtreimlach, caftans, or gartlach. At best, a cardboard yarmulke from the Kosel Plaza; on others, a ponytail and earring. They entered the house, sat around the long table, and gazed curiously about them. Were they curiosity-seekers? Somehow, in my child’s mind, it seemed like they were anticipating transformation.

As on every Shabbos and Yom Tov, that table in our home was overflowing. Guests from various countries — more accurately, from various worlds — crowded around, conversing in a babble of mixed languages. And there, between a Brazilian boy who was becoming frum, and a Jewish doctor from the United States who had asked to meet the legendary Yerushalmi figure he’d heard so much about, I sat together with my siblings.

At the head of the table sat the Rav, Rabbi Moshe Weber, ztz”l, ready to open the hearts of those who had never tasted Torah or nearness to Hashem. At the Rav’s side sat my father, Rabbi Ido Ehrlich-Weber, translating the Rav’s words into English.

I was just twelve years old, and couldn’t possibly appreciate the exceptional home in which I was being raised. Sometimes I envied my friends, sitting around their “normal” Shabbos table with only their own family. But this was our life and I had gotten used to it.

I often sat at the tzaddik’s right, and between one Torah vort and the next, he would whisper words of encouragement to me: “If you learn Torah, you’ll be a gadol b’Yisrael.” Tears spring to my eyes when I remember those caressing words. In my preteen mind, I somehow felt that among all the guests — the newcomers and the regulars, and even my father, who never left the Rav’s side — I was the closest to the Rav. Maybe everyone felt that way.

That Shabbos, while my father was translating the Rav’s remarks, the Rav leaned over and whispered to me, “When is your bar mitzvah?”

I stared at him, astonished. He had been my sandak; I was named after his father. He was more than a grandfather to me. How could he forget my birthday? Every year on that day he would sit and talk with me, asking me to take on some good practice and to continue walking the path mapped out for me. Hadn’t we talked about buying my tefillin? About my preparations for the day when I would accept the yoke of Torah and mitzvos?

But I answered only, “On the 16th of Elul.”

What happened then made me shudder, though I tried to conceal it: With a pained expression, the Rav turned away. And miles away from the sparkling white tablecloth, I noticed a gesture of distress and resignation.

Several weeks later, on 18 Adar 5760/2000, dozens of students stood around him, brokenly reciting Krias Shema as, after eighty-three years on earth, his soul departed.

Rav Moshe Weber did not merit to have biological children. But he was a father. Through him, hundreds discovered the G-d of their fathers — and not only those who arrived in ponytails and earrings. Many American bochurim — now proud fathers and even grandfathers — will forever relive the moment they were first enveloped by the smile that could melt ice, or the occasional loving slap that shattered feelings of despondency.

At the funeral, the streets of Meah Shearim went black with throngs of students, admirers, Yerushalmim, gedolei Torah, and mekubalim for whom the Rav had been a guide, along with thousands of baalei teshuvah whom the Rav had drawn near.

In his parting words, my father declared that he would never depart from his teacher, who would always be among us, illuminating our way through this tough world. The following week, the headline of the popular newsletter Shimu v’Tchi Nafsheichem, which my father edits, read “We’re Not Parting.” And indeed, eleven years later, it feels like we have never parted.

 

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