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“What Will You Do with a Name Like Heshy when You Become a Big Rabbi?”

Yisroel Besser

There is something about the weekly dvar Torah from Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb that makes it seem like a personal letter. But labeling Rabbi Weinreb a great writer is to minimize a man who accomplishes so much in so many fields. He is a man of learning and oratory, a pioneer in the world of mental health, an advocate for battered women, a baal tefillah, a diplomat, and — of particular delight to me on this sunny summer morning — a great conversationalist. But it was his pen that drew me to him first.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

“My grandfather, Reb Chaim Yitzchok, was a chassid of the Tchortkover Rebbe, Reb Duvid Moishe, and later of his son, Reb Yisroel. When his shtetl in Ukraine was nearly wiped out in a pogrom, the survivors banded together and decided to emigrate as a group to America. They chose Batavia, New York, where they could continue the kind of life they’d had in the shtetl, amidst orchards and chicken farms. The Rebbe encouraged my grandfather to join them as their shochet, so he did, and spent his time there sitting and learning.”

Rabbi Weinreb pauses. “Let me share an amazing chinuch insight with you. My grandfather switched his minhagim when he arrived in America, keeping the halachos as delineated in Shulchan Aruch without the minhagim of the chassidim. He kept his gartel, but started to fast on his own father’s yahrtzeit, for example, and to eat in the succah on Shemini Atzeres — both of which are brought in halachah, and are unlike the minhagim of chassidim. In his wisdom, he saw that America wasn’t like Europe. If children see their fathers veering from Shulchan Aruch, even slightly, then they will take it as a license to change it even more. So he taught them that we don’t change, period.”

Reb Chaim Itche’s decision bore fruit: He succeeded in raising beautiful generations on alien soil, here in America.

Rabbi Weinreb shares another historical footnote. After the war, when Reb Mordechai Shlomo, the previous Boyaner Rebbe, had to reestablish the Chassidus, he asked Reb Chaim Itche Weinreb to come serve as his gabbai. The Rebbe loved his new gabbai’s style of writing, calling him a “safra rabba,” a gifted scribe. “I still have many of his letters from that era,” says Rabbi Weinreb.

Rabbi Weinreb’s legacy from his maternal grandmother is no less impressive. Reb Mordechai Hartman was a founder of a small shul in Boro Park called Shomrei Shabbos. “The name was serious business. These were people who were interested in real shmiras Shabbos, who were bucking the trend of hashkamah minyanim followed by a full Saturday workday that was so common in America. The founding group, my zeideh’s chevrah, would visit potential members at home and feel out the situation, making sure that the standards were high enough; they wanted to be shomrei Shabbos! I often think that perhaps that’s the zchus of the shul — Boro Park’s minyan hub — the reason it merits hosting thousands of Yidden a week. It isn’t the most spacious or convenient, but it has a special history.”

The family later moved to Boro Park, where they davened in the Bertcher shtiebel. “My father once walked in there on Pesach night in search of a Hallel, and he was taken by the Bertcher Rebbe’s davening. That became my father’s home until his last day — literally. He davened Shacharis in Bertch on that day and then went home and passed away.”

Young Heshy was sent to Toras Emes. “I still meet the principal, Rabbi Elias Schwartz. He comes to the Tisha B’Av program every year. I tell him, ‘Rebbi, I see you once a year and I can’t even say sholom aleichem!’ ”


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