Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Reb Ari Dovid Block zt"l

Hundreds of talmidim, friends, relatives and community members filled the massive auditorium of Yeshivas Shor Yoshuv as they stood in shock at the levaya of Reb Ari Dovid Block, z”l, a 24-year-old yungerman of the Sho’or Yoshuv Kollel in Far Rockaway, who was niftar suddenly on Sunday, May 13th. Reb Ari was niftar only a year after his marriage to Feigy Ludmir, the daughter of Reb Chanoch Ludmir and the day before the Pidyon HaBen of his bechor, Avraham Yeshaya n”y.

Reb Ari Dovid who was known for his tremendous hasmada and power of hashpa’ah, was beloved to all his friends and Rabbeim and the hundreds of people who knew him, all of them who openly wept like children at the largely attended levaya.

Raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Ari grew in Torah in Eretz Yisrael and most recently in Yeshivas Shor Yoshuv where he became a close Talmid of the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Naftali Jaeger, shlit”a. Rav Jaeger spoke about Reb Ari’s commitment to sidrei Hayeshiva and his unwavering hasmadah. Ari learned in the Yeshiva for three years but this past year, his shana rishona of marriage, he showed unparalleled hasmada. His shemiras hasedorim was extraordinary for any yungerman, let alone one who was recently married. In fact, the day he was niftar, R’ Ari Dovid had gone to the vort of a chavrusa during Bain haSedorim on Sunday. When he realized that the distance from the vort back to yeshiva was longer than expected, he called his chavrusa to say that he would rush back but that he did not realize how far (West Hempstead) was from far Rockaway and would be a little late. He implored his chaver to please tape the shiur that he was supposed to hear, just in case he would miss the first few minutes.

Ari, would never hear that shiur in Yeshiva shel matoh. He collapsed moments later and passed away.

With tearful eyes, Rav Jaeger mentioned that as they were discussing the upcoming Pidyon HaBen, of Ari Dovid’s newborn son Avraham Yeshaya, Ari Dovid’s asked if he could give a donation to a tzedaka fund that was dear to the Rosh Yeshiva. When Rav Jaeger mentioned that as much as he appreciated the offer, it was not necessary for a yungerman of small means to contribute, R’ Ari Dovid did not argue and seemed to be content not to give.

On the day of the Levaya, the Rosh Yeshiva found a check inside under a sefer on R’ Ari Dovid’s shtender. It was made out to the tzedaka and contained a note mentioning that the donation was l’kovod the Simcha.

R’ Ari Dovid’s father, Dr. Yitzchok Ahron (Robert) Block, a well known psychologist both in Phoenix and Lawrence, spoke about Ari Dovid’s devotion to Torah and how it was he who inspired his entire family to grow in Torah and Yiras Shamayim. Even after a difficult operation a few years back, Ari mustered strength to be at the side of his ailing grandfather, Rabbi Morris Block, the founder of the Brooklyn School for Special Education, one of the first schools for severely handicapped Jewish children.

Ari’s Uncle Rav Zvi Block, Rav of Kehilas Toras Hashem of Los Angeles spoke warmly about his long-standing relationship with Ari. During his formative years Ari had a seder with him via telephone, and never missed calling. Ari had a personality which brought a Simchas HaChaim to everyone who was in his sphere. People wanted to be close to him, to talk to him, to hear his divrei chizuk about everything.

His family members commented how so often, no matter what the situation, Ari would walk into his home singing a nigun. And the simcha he exuded complimented his leibedikeit in learning. He was makpid to learn before the davening until late at night. He not only learned for himself but he inspired others. A chaver, Yoni Sebag of Phoenix who is currently a talmid at Shor Yoshuv, was one of the many friends from Phoenix and across the country who were directly influenced by R’Ari Dovid’s effervescent personality. “If not for Ari, I would never have reached any madreiga in Torah and Yiras Shamayim,” he exclaimed tearfully, echoing the sentiment of so many who were inspired by Reb Ari Dovid’s enthusiastic approach to Avodas Hashem.

Ari’s father in law, Reb Chanoch Ludmir gave a stirring hesped in which he mourned the loss of his son-in-law who was indeed a matana. The combination of Ari’s tremendous commitment to limud HaTorah and the mesiras nefesh of his wife Faigy gave them aspirations of a couple that would grow to greatness. Ari named his son Avraham Yeshaya after someone he idolized his entire adult life, the Chazon Ish. Rav Chanoch cried bitterly as he shouted, “I am sure that this Shavuos you will be learning together with the Chazon Ish in Yeshiva shel maalah!”

In addition to his infant son Avraham Yeshaya, R’ Ari Dovid is survived by his parents Dr. and Mrs. Robert Block, two sisters, Rachel married to R’ Noach Tomashevski and Naomi who is engaged to be married next month to Yehushua Goldstien, a a younger brother Yoshi, a talmid at Yeshiva Toras Chaim of South Shore.

May he be a meilitz yosher for his wife, his son, his entire family and all of Klal Yisroel

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Rav Yisroel Shurin, z”l

A Revered Rav and a Link to a Lithuanian Past

This past Shabbos Hachodesh, Harav Yisroel Shurin a scion of Lithuanian Gedolim was niftar in Yerushalayim, just shy of eighty-nine years. Rav Shurin was the Rav of the Magen Avraham Shul in Efrat and helped build that kehilla from its first years. But perhaps one of his greatest legacies to thousands upon thousand of Jewish children was his teaching the next generation the faith and values of the past, and handing down to them the inheritance of our great Torah leaders of old, which was a foundation of his life. For many decades HaRav Shurin wrote a weekly feature for Olomeinu/Our World magazine on gedolei Torah (Torah giants). These 250 articles became the basis of the six-set series of books, "Morei HaUma" (Teachers of Our Nation), the lives and the way of our national Jewish leaders, men of intellect, giants of thought, men of action, whose efforts and lives influenced their generations and many generations to come.

Indeed Rav Shurin left the Jewish people a legacy of Lita. His son, Rav Yitzchak Shurin, one of HaRav Shurin's three sons, said, "He lived in America for 40 years, in Israel for 30. Yet, it seemed when you spoke to him it was as if it was that day that he left Lita. The way he spoke, the pashtus, the warmth, the Limud HaTorah. Whenever you spoke to him, you felt you were speak to a Litvishe Yid. When he spoke, I felt my father transcended time and place. And when he spoke about Telshe or Kovno, you could smell the air of Lita. When he spoke about Ponevezh, you felt you were sitting there. When he spoke about gedolei Torah, you felt their presence. I feel that as long as my father was alive, Lita was alive."

Rav Shurin originated from a renowned rabbinic dynasty of thirty-three generations, which included the Pnei Yehoshua and Rav Yisroel’s great-grandfather, Rav Avraham Aba Krenitz the Ahavas Eisan, a commentary on Mishnayos, and a direct descendant of Rav Aba Chosid of Kroiz, a man so holy that the Vilna Gaon would travel to him for advice and blessings. The sefer Tnuas Hamusar relates that every third rav in Lithuania was part of this famous family.

Rav Yisroel had the zechus to be close with many great Torah luminaries, especially Rav Isser Zalman Melzer, and his father-in-law, Hagaon HaRav Yaakov Kamenetzky, who would often confide in him and discuss major issues with him as well. Rav Shurin once quipped to his nephew, Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky, “I know the most (Litvishe) stories in the world! After all, we all know that the zaide (Rav Yaakov) knows the most stories in the world. But I already got them all from him…” Then he smiled and added, “But there are a few that I know and did not tell him!”

He will be remembered most for being a vibrant link between the gedolei Torah of the Eastern European generation and our generation today.


Rav Yisroel was born on the 27th of Iyar, 5678/1918 in Ritova, Lithuania, the third of seven children. His father, Rav Moshe, founded a yeshiva there and headed it for twelve years together with the Sgan, Rav Yitzchak Eliezer Vishnevski who was the Rav in Koltinan.

Rav Yisroel started out in cheder in Ritova, a mokom Torah which he recalled fondly. The atmosphere was charged with a reverence for Torah and Yiras Shamayim and the love of Torah flowed from the Rabbanim to the Talmidim.

Ritoveh was a Lithuanian town whose Jewish inhabitants were almost all Shomrei Torah and Mitzvos. Rav Shurin would recall how the Rav of Ritave, Rav Shmuel Fundiler, who filled the position after the petirah of Rav Yitzchok Eliyahu Gefen would come into the Cheder to be mechazek the children during Chodesh Elul.

Once, during Elul, the boys had been playing ball and were a bit exhausted when the Rav walked in with a shofar in his hand and declared. Boys, you should understand that a break is important. And it is important to play as well. But not during these days! These days were set aside to become closer to Avinu Shebashamayim, and to work on our midos. These days we must not waste our time on games. I brought a shofar for you. During recess you will practice learning how to blow the shofar!

Indeed the entire Elul, the children used their normal recess time to learn how to blow the shofar together with all the halachos. Towards Rosh Hashana, the Rav tested them and declared that they were worthy of being baalei tekiah! The trouble was that they were sill too young! “when you grow up you will be worthy of this great Mitzvah even in front of great Jews!”

From there, R’ Yisroel left to begin learning at Beis Rubenstein, the yeshiva katanah of Ponevezh Yeshiva. Young Rav Yisroel stayed in Ponevezh for his bar mitzvah where he gave a dvar Torah on the Shev Shmaitsa at one of the local shuls. The mispallelim celebrated the simcha with schnapps and special taygelach – a Lithuanian treat – that his mother baked and sent for the occasion.

Soon after, he continued at Telz Yeshiva and learned there until he and his family moved to Eretz Yisroel in 1935. But from the age of eight until the age of seventeen, Rav Yisroel didn’t see his father who was serving as a rav in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Rav Moshe sent money home to Ritova where his wife, Rebbetzin Rus, raised the family. Instead of moving to the United States, the family decided to relocate to Eretz Yisroel because it was already becoming an important Torah center. Additionally, they sought to leave because Rav Moshe sensed the impending destruction awaiting them in Europe.

Rav Yisroel began learning at the Chevron Yeshiva in Yerushalayim, but switched soon after to Yeshivas Lomzeh in Petach Tikvah when the family relocated there. Ultimately he returned to the Chevron Yeshiva where he spent his most formative and productive years of Torah learning, and where he developed a very close relationship with the rosh yeshiva Rav Yecheskel Sarna. He also participated in the guard duty of the yeshiva that each bachur was expected to do.

It was during this time that he received smicha from Rav Yecheskel Sarne of the Chevron Yeshiva; Rav Isser Zalman Melzer of Eitz Chaim Yeshiva; Rav Reuven Katz, chief rav of Petach Tikvah; Rav Meir Stolewitz of the Zichron Moshe neighborhood in Yerushalayim; Rav Yechiel Michel Zev Hurwitz, a well known dayan of the Knesses neighborhood in Yerushalayim; and rav haroshi of Eretz Yisroel, Rav Yitzchak Halevi Herzog.

On one of the occasions that Rav Yisroel got smicha, Rav Hurwitz told Rav Yisroel that he didn’t have his own stamp to use for the smicha letter. So Rav Yisroel took matters into his own hands and went out to commission a stamp with the rav’s name. When he returned with the stamp in hand, Rav Yisroel was then able to receive his smicha, and Rav Hurwitz was able to use the stamp on subsequent smicha letters.

Having more than one smicha paid off later in Rav Yisroel’s life. While living in New York, he got into a car accident and rammed into a police car. The police officer sued Rav Yisroel for damages, even though Rav Yisroel insisted the officer was lying. In court, Rav Yisroel claimed that his view of the car was blocked by a bus. Once the judge discovered that Rav Yisroel had received his rabbinic ordination from the chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog, he promptly dismissed the charges.

It was during the time that Rav Yisroel spent in Yerushalayim that he truly forged an unbreakable bond with the holy chachachim there.

When Rav Yisroel initially went to introduce himself to Rav Isser Zalman Melzer of Eitz Chaim Yeshiva, who was also originally from Lithuania, he was warmly greeted as “a Ritover!” Rav and Rebbetzin Melzer quickly made a simcha out of the occasion, bringing out the schnapps to celebrate a bachur coming from such a chashuv place.

Rav Shurin recalled his first meeting with Rav Isser Zalman. “It was a winter day in Yerushalyim. It was bitter cold and pelting rain. Rav Melzer who suffered from the cold was by the wall in which the oven was. When I told him that I was from Europe and had learned in Telz, he greeted me with such warmth, he made me a tea and offered home-baked cookies. At the time, seventeen year old Reb Yisroel was shocked. He was coming from Telshe where one would not sit in front of a Rosh Yeshiva without permission, and here he was in the home of the world-reknowned Gadol HaDor being treated as if he was either a child or a cherished peer!

Rav Shurin became extremely close with Rav Isser Zalman, and was almost a ben bayis in his home. Once, Rav Aba Grosbard, Mashgiach in Yeshivas Petach Tikvah was visiting the Chevoner Yeshiva in Yerushalayim and asked rav Yisrael to bring him to Rav Isser Zalman. When they arrived at the home they saw a note on the door, “Please do not come from 2-5 PM.”

As soon as he saw that Rav Grossbard began to turn on his heels and leave. But Rav Shurin who was younger was not deterred. He knocked lightly and immediately Rav Isser Zalman answered. He warmly invited them to come in, but Rav Shurin explained that Rav Grosbard was hesitant because of the note on the door.

“That note is not for you, Reb Yisrael!” exclaimed Rav Isser Zalman. And then he turned to his wife, “Baila Hinda, Please! Have rachmanus on me and remove the note!”

When the Chazon Ish first met Rav Yisroel, he asked Rav Yisroel where he grew up.

To this, Rav Yisroel replied, “And if I tell you, would you know?”

The Chazon Ish responded, “Try me!”

“Ritova,” Rav Yisroel revealed.

“You were wrong! I do know Ritova!” exclaimed the Chazon Ish. “I stayed in your uncle’s hotel when I used to buy the wares for my wife’s store.”

This rebuttal shocked Rav Yisroel.

Rav Yisroel frequented the home of the Chazon Ish, and he followed the practice of the Chazon Ish of entering the house from a window on street level, so as not to disturb the Chazon Ish’s wife.

Once Rav Yisroel asked the Chazon Ish a question in Masechta Kesuvos.

The Chazon Ish responded to Rav Yisroel’s query by stating: “It’s a good question, but you don’t know how to ask the question.”

So the Chazon Ish taught Rav Yisroel how to express the question properly.


Rav Yisroel continued to learn in the Chevron Yeshiva until 1939 when war broke out. The situation in Eretz Yisroel was dire with poverty striking the Jews everywhere. His father had said at the time, “If I had a little bit of hard bread to dip into some tea, I would have stayed in Eretz Yisroel.”

While trying to figure out what do, Rav Yisroel sought the eitzah of his rosh yeshiva, Rav Yecheskel Sarne. Rav Sarne replied that since the situation was a “sha’as cherum” (emergency situation), he could not tell Rav Yisroel what to do; Rav Yisroel would have to make the decision himself.

With a heavy heart, Rav Yisroel left Eretz Yisroel with his family though never abandoning his memories of those wondrous impressionable years with the gedolim. He arrived in New York in 1940 and learned under Rav Moshe Soloveichik – the eldest son of the illustrious gaon Rav Chaim Brisker – who recognized Rav Yisroel to be a talmid chacham. Subsequently, he sent him shortly thereafter to his son Rav Yosef Dov in Boston along with four other European talmidim. These were the five original talmidim of Rav Yosef Dov. Prestigious bal habatim used to ask Rav Yisroel to speak as a representative of the other talmidim at events where Rav Yosef Dov spoke.

Rav Yisroel remembered that Rav Yosef Dov used to give shiur for nine hours each day with only a short break for lunch. During the shiur, Rav Yosef Dov would learn the masechtas with the talmidim while giving over his sevoras at the same time. In this way, they were able to cover much ground in their talmud Torah.

When Rav Yosef Dov moved to New York, he brought Rav Yisroel and his fellow talmidim with him. For a short period, Rav Yisroel wrote articles in Hebrew in a weekly va’ad hakashrus publication under the supervision of Rav Yosef Dov. He also wrote book reviews on sifrei halacha for the rabbinic journal Talpiyos.

After a brief stint as a rav in Portland, Maine in 5705/1945, Rav Yisroel returned to New York where he married Malka Kamenetzky, the daughter of hagaon Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky, rosh yeshiva of Torah Vo’Daath. From then on, Rav Yaakov would consult Rav Yisroel, his oldest son-in-law, on many family matters and through those consultations, Rav Yisroel was able to help a number of the family members find their zivugim and first positions in chinuch.

After getting married, he served as the rav of Magen Avraham Kehillah in the East New York section of Brooklyn, which was famous for its many European rabbonim. While in Brooklyn, Rav Yisroel taught at the Beis Yaakov Seminary in Williamsburg, which was the first Beis Yaakov School in America. There he educated many future Torah leaders, amongst them Rebbetzins David and Freifeld. Every Beis Yaakov in the United States had staff members who had benefited from their training under Rav Yisroel.

He also taught at Mesivta Chaim Berlin in Brownsville, Brooklyn. He lectured in many Torah Umesorah teacher-training programs, in which he was mashpiah over many of the budding tamidei chachamim and future teachers of klal Yisroel. During those years, he took advantage of teaching in both the Beis Yaakov School and Mesivta Chaim Berlin by making many shidduchim between the students. In 1954 Rav Reuven Grozovsky asked him to become the Hebrew editor of Torah Umesorah’s day-school monthly journal for children about the gedolei Yisroel called Olomeinu.

In this venue, Rav Yisroel was able to serve as a bridge between the gedolim and the younger generation. These articles were later compiled into a six-volume set of books called Morei Ha’umah. Rav Yisroel wrote articles in many Torah publications during this period and was a member of Agudas Harabonim in America.


He encouraged his youngest son, Yitzchak, to move to Eretz Yisroel in 1977, immediately after he got married, and Yitzchak’s two older brothers, Moshe and Dov, followed soon after. In 5743/1983, he moved with his wife to Efrat and founded Magen Avraham, as a beis medrash and community kollel for the residents of Efrat, a name which he brought with him from his former kehillah in Brooklyn. He also started a gma”ch (gemilus chasadim organization) in Efrat for its residents and the surrounding areas.
When he decided that it was time to return to Israel, he asked his father-in-law Reb Yaakov about it. HaRav Shurin didn't only want to move to Israel, he wanted to help build the land, and was considering moving to Efrat, which was then only a dream on paper. HaRav Shurin received a blessing from his father-in-law that Efrat would be blessed and he would always be protected. Indeed, Efrat had been blessed by his presence for the past decades.
Before his move, the Rav approached the president of Magen Avraham in East New York, and told him that he wanted to move the shul to Efrat, the shul president, Baruch Stein agreed, and helped finance the recreation of Magen Avraham. HaRav Yitzchak Shurin noted, "My father always said, he didn't want a shul. He wanted a Beis Medrash, and if people wanted to daven there, that was okay."
He was very proud of Kollel Magen Avraham, which he founded. And at every siyum, he thanked the wives who encouraged their husbands' Torah learning.
The rav also continued Magen Avraham's tradition of chesed by overseeing a gemach that has generously helped hundreds of families through the years.
While in Efrat, he wrote and published Sefer Minchas Yisroel, which is a compilation of topical questions and answers in halacha, as well as chiddushim on the Gemara and Torah.
Menachem Kuchar, who published Minchas Yisrael and several of the rav's Morei HaUma volumes, noted that "the rabbi wanted to call his sefer by another title, but then decided to call it Minchas Yisrael. He said that the Mincha was the simplest form of korban, and it applied appropriately to the sefer, because he felt that it was his humble contribution to Jewish learning."
In this sefer, Rav Yisroel included many shaylos that people asked him, including the following story.

When he was a young rav in New York, an elderly husband and wife from his shul passed away around the same time. They had two daughters, one married and one single. At the cemetery, the husband of the married daughter told Rav Yisroel the following predicament about his sister-in-law.

“She’s engaged to a goy. Is she still, therefore, able to go to her parents’ graves?”

Rav Yisroel thought about it for a minute and said, “Absolutely not, she is not allowed to mourn for her parents.”

The girl, upon being told the psak, fainted on the spot. There were great arguments in Rav Yisroel’s shul about his psak since according to the letter of the law the girl should have been allowed to visit her parents’ graves. Yet Rav Yisroel wouldn’t change his mind.

A year later, a young girl knocked on Rav Yisroel’s door with a young man wearing a yarmulke.

She said, “Do you remember me, Rav Shurin? I’m the girl that you wouldn’t let go to my parents’ grave. Rabbi, when you told me that I couldn’t mourn for my parents, it was such a shock to me that I did a cheshbon hanefesh and broke up with the goy. Now I am engaged to this man and we would like you to be our mesader kedushin.”
He spent his days in Efrat totally immersed in learning and could often be found in his garden with an open sefer. Rav Yitzchak Shurin described what an impression that made on Efrat's residents and visitors. "He lived right above the gate of Efrat. When people got off at the first bus stop and climbed the steps, at the second house, they'd see an elderly sage sitting in his garden learning." Just as the shomer guarded the city from below, HaRav Shurin and his Gemara guarded it from above.
Rav Yisroel is survived by his wife Malka, the daughter of Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky and their three sons – Moshe, Dov, and Yitzchak – who all reside in Eretz Yisroel, and their many grandchildren and great grandchildren. R’ Moshe is a retired business executive; R’ Dov is a famous activist, radio commentator and musician, and R’ Yitzchak is the rosh midrasha of Midreshet Rachel v’Chaya of Darchei Noam institutions.

May his memory be a blessing.

This article was compiled by Yated Staff with contributions from Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky and Sharon Katz of Efrat, Isrrael.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Reb Chuni Spiegel

Editor’s note: It has been 30 years since the tragic, untimely p’tirah of our dear uncle, Reb Avraham Elchonon Spiegel, zaicher tzadik l’vracha. They say that time heals many wounds, but in this case time alone would not be enough. The great tragedy and sadness of his p’tirah is only mitigated by the work of his wonderful children and the sweetness of his grandchildren who not only remain steadfast to every principle that he believed in, but are also perpetuating his memory through their Avodas HaKodesh.

We know that this tremendous hislahavus HaTorah V’Chassidus comes only because of the zechus of his great neshama and that of his great and pure Avos that have watched the children and grandchildren grow to become the b’nai Torah and b’nai Aliyah that make their family so proud. But the great zechusim of my uncle, Reb Chuni, z”l in ensuring this hemshech hamesorah is only part of the story. It was, and continues to be the mesiras nefesh of his Rebbitzen, who, almost single-handedly, nurtured a generation of children, alone, but not really alone. The vision and strength, the sweetness and chayn of “der groiseh niftar” stood and continues to stand behind this hatzlacha in every aspect of all of their lives.

Indeed, it is the neshama of R’ Avraham Elchonon, his spirit, his vision and his ideas that played such a vital role in the founding and the development of Talmud Torah Ohr Elchonon, which is true to all the ideals for which Reb Avraham Elchonon Spiegel stood. It is a yeshiva that imbues its talmidim with the beauty of Torah, the g’feel for another yid and most of all, Ahavas HaBorai. It is not a new yeshiva. It is a yeshiva that is continuing a mesorah that was personified by the shortened but very full life of its namesake, Reb Avraham Elchonon Spiegel, zaicher tzadik l’vracha.

May the Ribono Shel Olam give the strength to Reb Binyamin, Reb Menachem, Reb Naftali Aryeh, Reb Muttie, and their chosheveh shvogger Reb Moshe Rowner and family to continue in every aspect of their Avodas HaKodesh and give richly deserved nachas to our dear aunt, Rebbitzen Shoshana, tlit”a.

May every letter of Torah learned in the yeshiva be a zechus for his holy neshama.

The sands of time have not diminished the vivid memories of so many chaveirim who shared their thoughts with the family members who conveyed them to me. It is difficult to express the emotions, the excitement, and the bren, that I heard in the brief conversations.

Can you really describe a smile that lit up a room? Is it possible to express the searing pain that went through his heart when hearing of another Jew’s tzarah?

Can one put ink to paper to describe Yiras Shamayim that transcends any mortal expressions of faith?

I spent a few hours on the phone listening to stories and another few hours typing them. But I know that no matter how much listening and typing I would have done, I still would hardly be able to convey a glimpse of an individual who seemed to have been from a previous generation in Torah and Avodah, yet was able to relate to his nephews and nieces in Woodmere almost as a peer. I will never forget the impact he made upon my life with his personification of deracheha darchei noam in every aspect of his life. T’hai Nishmaso Tzrura B’tzror HaChaim.

As this is perhaps the first written recollection of stories, it is my hope that they will prompt many more memories and ma’asiyos that will eventually become part of a greater work about Reb Avraham Elchonon Spiegel, zecher tzaddik l’vracha.

Reb Avraham Elchonon Spiegel
Yamim He’erichu – Shanim Lo He’erichu (Shabbos 105b)
Compiled by his nephew, Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky based on the recollection of his friends and family

Reb Avraham Elchonon Spiegel, known throughout his life to all who knew and loved him as Reb Chuni, was born in May of 1936, the youngest of seven children of Harav Pinchus Eliyahu Spiegel, the Ostrove-Kalushiner Rebbe in the Bronx and his Rebbitzin Basha (nee Burstein). He was the younger twin to his brother, Reb Dovid Spiegel who is currently the Ostrove-Kalushiner Rebbe, in Cedarhurst, New York.

Reb Pinchus Eliyahu was a descendant of a long history of Torah and Chassidus. His father, HaGaon HaTzadik Reb Naftali Aryeh was the son-in-law of Reb Yaakov Yitzchok Unger and a grandson of Reb Avraham Elchonon Unger, Reb Chuni’s namesake. Reb Chuni’s twin was named for his elter zaide, the great Rebbe, HaGaon HaTzadik Reb Mordechai Dovid Dombrover z”tl.

Reb Naftali Aryeh arrived in America in the late 1920s and was joined in the early 1930s by his three sons, Reb Moshe, Reb Elchonon Yochonon and Reb Pinchus Eliyahu.

Despite the winds of change when so many immigrants had r”l abandoned Yiddishkeit, let alone Chassidus, the Spiegels remained steadfast to the mesora that they had received from their great zaides, going back to the Chozeh of Lublin.

It was this atmosphere that helped raise Reb Chuni in a home that was steeped in Torah, Chassidus and Yiras Shamayim. Like his revered father, Reb Naftali Aryeh, Reb Chuni’s father, Reb Pinchus Eliyahu was a Yid who never compromised on the slightest chumra in Yiddishkeit, despite being surrounded by a community that was slowly assimilating into American culture. Reb Pinchus Eliyahu had never eaten meat in America and his father who had a small shul on Faile Street in the Bronx was so removed from this world that he did not even know what his own house looked like. Once Reb Naftali Aryeh’s shammas left him outside his home and expected the Rebbe to just enter. However, the Rebbe, steeped in thought, tarried and walked a few yards before he realized that he might have strayed from the place that the gabbai had let him off. An hour later the gabbai returned and noticed that the Rebbe looked puzzled as to where he actually lived.

As with all of their children, Reb Pinchus Eliyahu and his Rebbitzen made sure that their children went only to the best yeshivos. Together with his twin, Chuni would travel by subway from the Bronx to the Lower East Side, to Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yaakov Yosef. The Rebbitzin was wary of the influence of many of the neighborhood boys who often were lured from learning Torah by the appeal of the American life. She asked the corner police officer to make sure that every day the boys would go to Yeshiva, which he did diligently. The years there were indeed filled with success in Torah and Yiras Shamayim and his care and concern for other Yidden were clearly apparent at this very young age.

His brother Reb Dovid remembers: “We once went on a Chol HaMoed outing to a park where there was a nearby fair. Our parents gave us just enough money for the trip, as of course, being Pesach we were not allowed to eat anything – not even drink water from a fountain. On the way home, Chuni noticed a Jewish boy from the neighborhood who was eating cotton candy. Chuni was shocked and approached the kid. “It’s chametz! We are not allowed to eat this on Pesach!” The youngster replied that he would throw it away but wanted Chuni to pay him for the loss – five cents – the exact amount of carfare home. Without hesitation, Chuni gave him the nickel and proudly watched the boy throw the cotton candy into the garbage. At this young age, Chuni did not care if he had to walk a few miles to get home. He was willing to give up all his money to ensure that a Jewish child would not eat chametz on Pesach.”

After graduating elementary school, and a short stay in high school in RJJ, at age 15 Chuni left to go to the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland. Immediately he became well known and beloved, not only to his revered rebbeim, Reb Mottel Katz, Reb Elya Meir Bloch and the rest of the hanhala, but to all the talmidim of the Yeshiva. His ubiquitous smile, simchas hachaim and love for chassidus were admired by the entire yeshiva so much so that he was the first bochur in the history of the very Litvishe Telshe Yeshiva who was allowed to grow his beard and payos. And he wore the beard and every aspect of his Chassidishe heritage proudly. All who saw him realized that there was a special light coming from him. There was a spirit of ehrlichkeit and simplicity that emanated from him. In fact, when the city of Cleveland decided that they were going to produce Chalov Yisroel they decided that they had to market their product as suitable for the most pious of Yidden. Without his permission, they took a picture of young Chuni and put it on the bottle.

After spending a few years under the tutelage of the great luminaries of the Telshe Yeshiva, Reb Chuni went with a group of bochurim to learn by the great Gaon, Harav Ahron Kotler zt”l and join his brother R’ Yankel who was already a talmid there. Later his twin brother, Reb Dovid would join them as talmidim of Reb Ahron.

Immediately a close kesher was formed and Reb Chuni would sit close to Reb Ahron at the table where the Rosh Yeshiva would give the shiur. Reb Ahron would often take his eyes from the oilam and look affectionately at the 18-year-old Chuni. In fact, this closeness to a chassidishe bochur drew some curiosity from others in the shiur. A few of them had the courage to ask the Rosh Yeshiva what he saw in the young Shpiegel bochur that he seemed to favor him over others by looking at him so often in shiur.

Reb Ahron snapped back in wonder. “Vas haist? Er iz maineh balibter talmid!” (“Why do you wonder? He is my beloved talmid!”)

In fact even the Motzei Shabbos that Reb Chuni became a chosson, Reb Ahron smiled and gently chided him, “You know that I give a shiur on Motzai Shabbos, couldn’t you have chosen a different night to become a chosson?”

Reb Ahron drew a close connection with Reb Chuni and eventually the entire Spiegel family. The Rosh Yeshiva eventually became the shadchan for Reb Chuni's older brother Reb Yankel, who became a son-in-law of Reb Moshe Bick zt”l.

Reb Ahron used to praise Reb Pinchus Eliyahu, quoting the Gemara, “I have seen b’nai aliyah and they are very few, and Reb Pinchus Eliyahu is one of them." Reb Ahron smiled as he added, “ah litvishe Rebbe vos ken guht lernin.”

Indeed, Reb Pinchus Eliyahu revered the Rosh Yeshiva. He once accompanied another Chassidishe Rebbe to a shiur given by Reb Ahron at a meeting of Agudas HaRabbanim. Upon leaving, the other Rav commented on the point that Reb Ahron made a machlokes between the opinion of the Gr’a and the Rambam.

“Imagine a machlokes between the Gr’a and Rambam?’ the Rebbe asked sardonically.
Reb Chuni’s father looked at the man sternly. “Gedenkt! Dos iz Reb Ahron. Remember, you are talking about Reb Ahron!” he reprimanded.

Reb Chuni eventually became very close to the Rosh Yeshiva, helping prepare his seforim for shiur and taking charge of the papers that were filled with ma’areh mekomos that Reb Ahron would ask Reb Chuni to post before the shiur. The family still cherishes many of those handwritten pages that Reb Ahron had placed in the charge of Reb Chuni.

When Reb Ahron took ill in early 1962, Reb Yaakov Hirschman and Reb Chuni Spiegel rotated in round-the-clock care of him. Mrs. Rothschild still remembers how Reb Chuni would hardly eat anything at her home near Mount Sinai Hospital. Instead, he would quickly finish his seudah and immediately return to the Rosh Yeshiva’s bedside.

Reb Ahron, despite his weakened condition insisted that only male nurses tend to him. There were only two such nurses in the hospital. Reb Nosson Nadel recalls that one evening, the Rosh Yeshiva needed to have his bandages changed from a particularly complicated and unpleasant seepage from the wounds of his surgery. They were waiting for the male nurse, a fellow named Mr. White, to tend to the difficult chore of changing the bandages.

However, Mr. White was not coming, and the Rosh Yeshiva was becoming very uncomfortable. Reb Chuni disinfected and washed himself and undertook the unpleasant job of changing the bandages himself.

Slowly and cautiously, with the loving care afforded a child, he removed the Rosh Yeshiva’s bandages and began to replace them with fresh, sterile dressings. Suddenly Mr. White appeared at the door.

“Why are you doing that?” he inquired. Reb Chuni explained that he could no longer let his rebbe lay in such discomfort and decided to redress the wound himself. The nurse was so amazed at the delicate and meticulous care provided to the Rosh Yeshiva that he simply turned to Reb Ahron and said, “I have never seen such devotion, even from relatives. Rabbi Kotler, the truth is that with such devoted students like this young man, you really don’t need me!”

This close personal care continued throughout the Rosh Yeshiva’s stay in the hospital. Reb Chuni never shirked from attending to his every need. Once, in his frustration Reb Ahron commanded him, “Breng mir mein mantel, ich vill aheim gayn! Bring me my coat, I want to leave this hospital!”

It took Reb Chuni’s calm manner to convince the Rosh Yeshiva that he had to continue to remain there.

In 1963 Reb Chuni married Shoshana Rabinowitz, the daughter of the prominent Reb of Kehilas Ohel Moshe in the Bronx, and the mechaber of the sefer Kol Bo on Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Harav Yisrael Rabinowitz.

There was no question that as long as they could possibly sustain themselves, their she’ifa was that Reb Chuni was going to continue learning in Kollel.

Reb Chuni and his Rebbitzen became pillars of the fledgling kehilla of the Lakewood Kollel community. There was hardly a chessed or communal need that did not find a way to their doorstep, and when there was a problem, they created a solution.

When their oldest son, Binyamin turned five, they decided that the local day school could not meet the needs of educating him with the fusion of Torah and Chassidus to which they aspired. Thus, together with a tiny group of yungeleit, they found an old, decrepit building that once belonged to the American Legion, a veteran's group, and began a tiny school that was named simply: The Lakewood Cheder. Hardly anyone in Lakewood remembers that the Yeshiva that now boasts thousands of Talmidim began as a tiny group of children in a dilapidated building that had a small cache of old guns lying in its rodent-ridden basement. (In fact, some of the first Cheder talmidim remember playing cops and robbers with real pistols left there by the Legionnaires!)

Reb Chuni appointed Reb Zalman Pinchus Quinn to be the first melamed, and Reb Quinn, until this very day, after 40 years of chinuch sadly states: “Until this day, there is no parent with whom I have enjoyed discussing the chinuch of their child like Reb Chuni. I always looked forward to him talking to me about the children. He not only showed true concern for his son, but he showered me so much love and respect that it made me feel important in a way that I can never express.

One Chanuka, when I knew Reb Chuni was steeped in debt and was hardly able to feed his family, he gave me an envelope that contained a few dollars. I was shocked and I refused to accept it, knowing that he probably had scraped his last pennies together to amass even this small sum.

Reb Chuni insisted, ‘Chanuka is a time in which we show Hakaras HaTov to our children’s Rebbeim. I will not let a Chanuka go by without giving my son’s rebbe a token of our appreciation.’”

Reb Chuni cared for both the body and the soul of the Cheder. Reb Tzvi Rothberg was a chosson as a rebbe at the cheder. As the trip to New York from Lakewood was somewhat arduous, he asked Reb Chuni if he could get a substitute for the day of his wedding.

Reb Chuni understood that a substitute could never replicate the familiarity between a rebbe and his talmidim, and so he offered to wait until the class was over and then he would personally drive R’ Tzvi to wherever he had to go in order to prepare for the chasuna. Reb Tzvi agreed, and so it was!

He was constantly on the lookout for ways to enhance the chinuch of the young charges. He once suggested that all the boys in a particular class learn Parshas Ha’azinu by heart with Yiddish translation. Reb Chuni came in personally to kvell after the boys completed the parsha, giving each one of them a special prize.

When he realized that the younger boys were not davening Mincha, even though they were indeed old enough, Reb Chuni appointed Mincha Rebbeim to ensure that Tefilas Mincha was said with the right kavana, even at a young age.

Besides looking out for the community, Reb Chuni was sure to look out for the needs of individuals. Not only would he collect tzedaka for the very poor yungeleit, he would do whatever he could to lift the spirits of the disheartened.

A couple who had no children wished to have their Shabbos table enlivened by the zemiros of young children. Every Shabbos, after every Seuda, Reb Chuni would bring all his children to this couple’s home to sit and sing with the geshmak of a Chassidishe Shabbos Tish.

There was a bakery in Lakewood whose owner was not a Shomer Shabbos. Every Thursday night Reb Chuni would go to the bakery, make sure that Challah was taken, that the oven was lit properly and that all the ingredients for Shabbos Challah and bread were 100 percent kosher.

Though the bakery was closed on Pesach, on Erev Pesach Reb Chuni made sure to see that no transactions took place after the z’man, and that no deliveries of flour were brought to the bakery. Though working as if he was a paid Mashgiach, Reb Chuni never took as much as a free roll to make sure that Yidden in Lakewood would not be nichshal in kashrus or chometz, chas v’sholom.

As the town of Lakewood grew, so did its needs. Together with Reb Laizer Stefansky, Reb Chuni was at the forefront of building the mikveh in Lakewood. Until that time, people had to travel to Long Branch, New Jersey for a mikveh. The mikveh was checked and fully approved by Reb Moshe Feinstein z”tl. Reb Shneur Kotler insisted that no other Rav was needed to give his approbation, but the newly arrived Chassidishe Oilam in Lakewood were skeptical whether this “Litvishe Mikveh” would abide by every chumra that would be demanded by the Chassidishe Oilam. With quiet chachma, using his relationships with great Chassidishe poiskim, Reb Chuni devised a way that everyone in the kehilla was totally accepting of the mikveh.

When the city of Baltimore began overseeing Cholov Yisrael milk production under the supervision of Reb Moshe Heineman, shlita, Reb Chuni worked diligently to have milk from Baltimore arrive every week at prices that the B’nai Torah were able to afford.

Every Pesach, the Lakewood Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Shneur Kotler zt”l would fir (conduct) the seder for all the bochurim who were not able to travel home. The Rosh Yeshiva and his entire family would host the remaining bochurim in the Yeshiva’s massive dining room. It was financially impossible to buy all new kailim for the small amount of boys who would stay so Reb Chuni took it upon himself to kasher the entire kitchen for Pesach – milchigs and flaishigs, pots, pans and silverware, according to the strictest chumros.

When a fire broke out in the Laurel-in-the-Pines hotel on a hot Friday night in July 1967, hundreds of people gathered to watch the frightening view of a tremendous building going up in flames. Where was Reb Chuni? He lived right across the street and as soon as the fire broke out he raced into the hotel shul to rescue the sifrei torah that he knew were there. His good friend, R' Avrohom Penzer described how he emerged from the flaming shul, covered in thick, black soot from head to toe, his face beaming with joy as he clutched the sifrei torah in his arms.

But Reb Chuni did not only focus on the spirituality of b’nai Torah. Reb Chuni’s son, Reb Menachem relates that a number of years ago, he once spotted a furniture store on the outskirts of Lakewood. The enticing flyers in the window with offers of ridiculous prices lured him into the store.

The middle-aged proprietor introduced himself as a Mr. Eddie Schuster, and though he was far removed from Yiddishkeit, he was proud of his Jewish heritage.

The course of the conversation led to Reb Menachem introducing himself as Menachem Spiegel. Suddenly an elderly gentleman jumped out of a back room.
“Spiegel?” He asked. “Are you related to a Chuni Spiegel?”
“He was my father.”
“How is he?” asked the old man.
“He passed away many years ago.”
The man’s eyes welled with tears. “Let me show you something,” he said through a choked voice.
He shlepped R’ Menachem over to an old door and pointed up to the doorpost. “You see that mezuzah? Your father brought me that mezuzah when I opened this store! He came in here very often to talk to me about Yiddishkeit! He was from the only people here who would always remind me what it means to be a Yid!”
Then the man broke down and cried.

As the family grew, the pressure of providing for his family mounted and the Rosh Yeshiva together with other Gedolim persuaded Reb Chuni to become a shochet.

After immersing himself totally in the halachos, Reb Chuni was ready for kabalah. He received kabalah from Gedolei Yisrael, among them the Pupa Rav, the Tzailemer Rav, Reb Yona Furst - the Nitra Rav, Reb Moshe Feinstein, the Sigheter Rav, and Harav Landau - Veretzkia Rav.

When Reb Moshe asked to look at his chalef, he was astounded at the perfection of the blade. Reb Moshe asked if he could make a p’gam and have Reb Chuni find it. Reb Chuni left the room and heard a clear knock of the knife. He began to check the knife and at first, he was not able to see any p’gam. After a few moments, he realized what the Gaon had done. The p’gam was on the dull side of the knife!
Reb Moshe smiled and said, “A lesser shochet would have fabricated a p’gam on the sharp side to explain the knock!”

The Sigheter Rav, Reb Moshe Teitelbaum (who later became the Satmer Rebbe) was so impressed after testing Reb Chuni that he immediately made a call and got Reb Chuni his first job. By that time he had moved to New York (in the summer of 1975) and the job took a great deal of travel and preparation.

Reb Chuni took his avodas hashechita seriously with the utmost responsibility. He never left to shecht without immersing in the Mikveh. In fact when a new mikveh in Boro Park opened Reb Chuni decided that he would be the first one to use it and so he obtained the key. At 4 o’clock in the morning, he entered only to find that only the bor geshamim was filled. The main mikveh was still empty and dirty rainwater was standing in the bor – freezing and murky. There was no other mikveh open at that hour and so Reb Chuni immersed himself in that mikveh.

Reb Chuni’s parents, the Ostrove-Kalushiner Rebbe and Rebbitzin were particularly pleased that their son became a shochet. Reb Spiegel had never eaten any meat in America and the chickens that he ever ate were only from shochtim that he knew.
To have a son shecht the chickens was considered a special zechus.

Reb Chuni’s mother was extremely close to her son; his kibud Av V’Aim was of a magnitude that is indescribable. When living in Lakewood, Reb Chuni’s mother once mentioned that she needed potatoes and could not get to the store because of the terribly snowy conditions in Long Beach. Despite the miserable weather, Reb Chuni got into his car and drove over three hours to bring her the potatoes!

He was not only worried about chickens for his parents. In those days, it was inconvenient for yungeleit to shlug kaporos with live chickens. They would have to either travel to New York or find a chicken and a shoichet in Lakewood on their own. Despite the importance of the minhag, it entailed a tremendous amount of bitul Torah. Reb Chuni, now that he had a kesher with a slaughterhouse, would bring a truckload of chickens to the Yeshiva for the yungeleit – a tremendous saving of time and money for them.

During his entire tenure as a shochet, Reb Chuni continued to serve his parents each and every need, no matter how difficult, no matter how distant, and no matter how tired he was.

The kesher was so close that as a chosson, despite the Chassidishe minhag to have both fathers walk the chosson down to the chupa, the Rebbitzin insisted that she would walk her Chuni down to the chupah.

On the job, he was scrupulous about every single detail. Though shochtim were allowed a quota of chickens for their families, and though almost every shochet followed the unofficial rule of an extra chicken or two, Reb Chuni would never take anything that was not due him. If he missed a day, he would take less than the number of chickens allotted to him. If he brought home a chicken for a friend, he would pay the owner of the shlachthois the exact amount and would not take an extra penny from his friends for his efforts in shechting the chicken.

When Reb Chuni started shechting in Empire, he was bothered that there were no shiurim for the shochtim. He quickly got to work on creating a solution. Reb Chuni gathered some old gemoras from his shul and brought them along with him and began giving a daf yomi shiur for all of the employees at Empire.

Because of the long distance from the shlachthois to his home, Reb Chuni would sleep over. He was very bothered that he was away from his wife and children all week and so every night he would call home and learn with each one of his children.

The trips to Miffletown, Pennsylvania were long and difficult. There was a rotation of drivers and in addition to gas and tolls, the driver was paid $52 for his labors in driving the four hour trip. The week of the tragic accident that took the life of Reb Chuni and his fellow shochtim, the designated driver’s car broke down and Reb Chuni offered to drive instead.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, an envelope was found in one of Reb Chuni’s z’l pockets. Inside was a check for $52 made out to the one who was originally designated to drive. He obviously planned to give it to him thinking, “Just because your car broke down, I did not want you to lose out on the $52.”

Those types of actions and hanhagos were indicative of Reb Chuni’s nature. He made sure to consider the feelings of every individual in every aspect of life.

We say in Tehillim, "Uz Yimolay Sichoik Piynu." R' Shabsi Yudlevich would quote the medrash, “What is this 'sichoik', this 'gelechter', that will fill our mouths in the time of Moshiach? At the time of techiyas homaysim all who are worthy will come back to life and they will be the same age as when they were niftar. This will be the gelechter: zaides with black beards will dance with their white-bearded sons…youthful bubbes will dance with their elderly daughters…”

Reb Chuni left the world so suddenly, so tragically, but the strength of his Rebbetzin held the children and family together in a way that no one could have imagined. Every one of their sons and son-in-law, and their eineklach are surely bringing nachas to Reb Chuni in his special place near the kisay hakovod.

We look forward to the day when we will all dance together at the time of techiyas homaysim, b'viyas goyel tzedek b'mihayra v'yumaynu amein.