Rabbi Tannenbaum: My Shabbos in Lakewood – Bonded By Torah


rabbi-gershon-tannenbaumBy Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum

Though there is a history of some discrimination against Jews long ago, more than half of Lakewood’s residents today are observant Jews. Beth Medrash Govoha (BMG), arguably the largest yeshiva in the world with almost 5,000 students, is comfortably situated there. BMG has become a beacon of Torah scholarship exerting a powerful magnetic force that sees hundreds of young couples, intensely dedicated to Torah learning and a Torah lifestyle, move there every year. For them, there is nowhere else in the world that compares.

Rabbi Aharon Kotler, zt”l (1891-1962), one of the greatest American Torah pioneers, fled the Holocaust and arrived in the United States on Friday, Erev Pesach, 1941. Disembarking from a ship in the harbor of San Francisco, Rabbi Kotler did not know where he was going to stay for Pesach, nor did he know from where he would get wine and matzah.

He did know that he carried a mandate from Heaven to rebuild the destroyed yeshivos of Europe on America soil. He established and spearheaded the Vaad Hatzalah rescue effort and was instrumental in starting the Golden Age of Torah in America as we know it today.

Rabbi Kotler visited the United States in 1937 on behalf of the Yeshiva in Kletzk, Russia, which he led. At that time, Rabbi Kotler began building Torah in America. He corresponded with Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz, zt”l (1886-1948), and with Rabbi Shlomo Heiman, zt”l (1892‑1945), who together represented the leadership of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and, by default, Torah leadership of America.

At that early date Rabbi Kotler sought to build the world of kollelim in America. Little did he imagine, little could he imagine, that he would later be the one to literally lay the cornerstone of kollelim in America.

Rabbi Kotler’s vision of an oasis of Torah outside any big city materialized in 1943 with the acquisition of BMG’s first building in Lakewood, opening the yeshiva with but 13 students. Though many older Lakewooders maintain that Rabbi Kotler never wanted a Torah metropolis in the order of today’s Lakewood, Rabbi Kotler did approve an architectural plan for a new yeshiva building in 1946 in Lakewood. It was to have a beis medrash for almost 500 students, as well as an ezras nashim, chaburah rooms, libraries, offices, and more. In 1946, BMG had all of 40 students.

Our Shabbos In Lakewood

On Sunday, July 6, 2009, a son was born to my oldest son, Rabbi Chaim Zev Tannenbaum and his wife Devorah nee Perr (daughter of Rabbi Eliezer and Frumit Perr) in the Coventry Square section of Lakewood. The newborn is the younger brother of Yehudis. On Friday night, Shabbos Parshas Pinchas, we celebrated his Shalom Zachar. My wife and I were privileged to be in Lakewood for that special Shabbos. The Bris took place on Sunday morning, July 12, at Congregation Yekusiel Mordechai Mishkoltz, popularly known as the Coventry Shul, led by Rabbi Menachem Mintz. The baby, to my great joy, received the name Moshe Yaakov, after my father, Moshe Yaakov Tannenbaum, z”l (1921-1980).

The Coventry Shul is dedicated to the memory of and named after Rabbi Yekusiel Mordechai Schick, zt”l (d. 1989), Mishkoltzer Rav. Most interestingly, the Mishkoltzer Rav was an old school Hungarian Chassidishe Rav and the shul is an intensely Lakewood yeshivish institution. The Mishkoltzer Rav was buried in Kiryas Yoel alongside the Ohel of the Satmar Rebbe, zt”l.

The Rebbetzin of the Mishkoltzer Rav, Rebbetzin Sarah Rivka Schick (nee Moskowitz), may Heaven grant her many more healthy years, established the shul and dedicated it in honor of her late husband’s lifetime service to Klal Yisroel. The Rebbetzin was encouraged by, amongst others, Reb Nuta Kranz, zt”l (1936- 2008), whose son Reb Dovid Kranz and family have become honored members of the shul.

Of all of themispallelim of Beis Medrash Yekusiel Mordechai, it is my son alone that has any connection to the Mishkoltzer Rav. This writer was a student of the Mishkoltzer Rav, as was my father after whom the newborn baby boy was named. The story begins before the Second World War.

A Dowry Of A Free Soup Kitchen

My paternal grandfather, Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Tannenbaum, zt”l (1887-1980), heir to the Verpleleter Rabbanus and later Rav of the Sanzer Beis Medrash of Tsfas, was married to my grandmother, Esther Rivka nee Horowitz, Hy”d (d. 1944), of the renowned wealthy Horowitz-Margareten family. As a dowry, my grandfather received a large apartment house complex in Mishkoltz, literally a square block.

Before the war, his mother-in-law, Leah Horowitz, Hy”d (d. 1944), ran a free soup kitchen in the apartment complex for the city’s poor. She was known to be strict in demanding that the orchim wash their hands for their meals and pronounce the berachos aloud. Grandmother Leah Horowitz was in her nineties when she was deported to Auschwitz.

Having survived the Holocaust, my grandfather continued to use the hachnassas orchim apartments and soup kitchen as free lodging for orphan girls that survived, came from nearby areas to Mishkoltz, and had no other place to stay. My father, who alone of four children survived, procured food from various black markets to feed his father’s assumed responsibilities. Discerning an outstanding aishes chayil amongst the orphan girls, my grandfather happily found a kallah for my father.

As the Russian Army approached, my mother managed to escape Auschwitz but was caught. She repeated her attempts and was successful on her fourth try. She found shelter in the abandoned home of a gentile family that had just fled, with food still warm in its oven. After the war ended, she proceeded to her hometown of Edeleny, Hungary, where she was raised, to find it Judenrein. The next-door gentile neighbor, to whom the family entrusted their possessions for safekeeping, returned her father’s kiddush cup, one pair of her mother’s earrings, and two family pictures. That’s all there was, the neighbors told her, even as her mother’s curtains hung in plain sight.

My mother trekked to Mishkoltz, the nearby large city with a sizeable Jewish remnant population. Mishkoltz had the second largest Jewish population in Hungary, second only to Budapest. After WWII, many of the few surviving Jews returned to Mishkoltz and to its nearby smaller communities. Since the Jewish communities of the smaller surrounding cities had been obliterated, their survivors were drawn to Mishkoltz, as its communal religious life was reorganized.

When straggling survivors of the concentration camps wandered back to their empty homes in Hungary, they found no structure of religious life reminiscent of the beauty of the pre-war towns, villages, and cities. Singular Rabbis, survivors, returned and drew forth energy from inner reservoirs to rebuild, however temporarily, a religious existence.

Rabbi Yekusiel Mordechai Schick, zt”l (d. 1982) Mishkoltzer Rav, was amongst those that miraculously survived and returned to be of life-giving service to his fellow survivors. Rabbi Yekusiel Mordechai was appointed as Rav of Mishkoltz and labored mightily to re-establish all of its kehillah functions.

 A Wedding In Mishkoltz

On Tuesday, December 25, 1945, a legal holiday when most did not work, 50 Jewish weddings were celebrated in Mishkoltz, including that of my parents. All of the weddings, of course, were small modest affairs. The Mishkoltzer Rav, Rabbi Yekusiel Mordechai Schick, and his chauffeur who doubled as photographer and witness, were often needed to complete the required minyan. Since a roll of 35 mm film consists of 36 pictures and no photographer could afford extra film then, 14 weddings were not photographed. My parents never did not have a wedding picture.

The Rav’s car would pull right up to the front of the home where the wedding was taking place. From the car, four poles and a canopy, probably an old tallis, were taken and the chuppah was set up immediately adjacent to the car. A white fur coat (not mink) was also in the car, often the only wedding garment available for the kallah to wear under the chuppah. While still in the car, the Ravquickly completed the Kesubah document.

When the Rav alighted from the car, he was under the chuppah and immediately pronounced the wedding benedictions. After a glass was traditionally broken by the chassan, the Rav and the chauffeur/photographer/witness shouted Mazel Tov and were speedily off to the next wedding on the list.

The guests sat down to a modest meal, two black-market chickens for my parent’s grand wedding banquet, and at its conclusion often had to seek men to complete the bentching quorum. This was the first step in the rebuilding of Jewish families after the Holocaust.

Rabbi Schick served, successively, as Rav in Budapest, Kleinpest, Choba, and after the war, Mishkoltz, and Siksa. Arriving in the United States, he served as Rav in McKeesport, Penn.; Kensington, Brooklyn; Brighton Beach; Boro Park; and Miami.

Rabbi Yekusiel Mordechai was the son of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schick, zt”l (d. 1928), Siksa Rav; son of Rabbi Yaakov Schick, zt”l (d. 1914), Udvarer Rav and author of Yesharesh Yaakov; son of Rabbi Dovid Schick, zt”l (d. 1881), Tokay Rav and author of Imrei Dovid. Rabbi Yekusiel Mordechai was also the grandson of Rabbi Shmuel Zev Jungreis, zt”l (d. 1900), Boyaner Rav; son of Rabbi Asher Anshel Jungreis, zt”l (1806‑1873), revered Chenger Rav and author of Menuchas Asher.

The newborn baby boy was given the name Moshe Yaakov, after his paternal great-grandfather. The name Moshe is for his grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Tannenbaum, zt”l (1850-1916), Verpleleter Rav; son of Rabbi Shraga Zvi Tannenbaum, zt”l (1826‑1897), Chahter Rav and author of Nita Sorek; son of Rabbi Zev Wolf Tannenbaum, zt”l (1787-1873), Verpleleter Rav, author of Rechovos Hanohor, and patriarch of the Tannenbaum rabbinic dynasty. The name Yaakov is for Rabbi Yaakov Tannenbaum, zt”l (1832-1896), Putnaker Rav and author of Nihari Afarsemon; son of the Rechovos Hanohor. The name Yaakov is also for the father-in-law of the Nita Sorek, Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Rose, zt”l (d. 1873), first Kasho Rav.

Lakewood Impressions

The single most outstanding impression of our Shabbos in Lakewood was that of all my son’s neighbors bringing an array of food for the Shalom Zachar. I watched in disbelief as neighbor after neighbor, often accompanied with many children, brought homemade gourmet foods to be served at the Shalom Zachar. Some of the neighbors are only casual acquaintances, yet lovingly brought their preparations as though for a close brother or sister.

The food that was unused was served at the Sunday morning Bris. Being part of the Lakewood Torah community is actually being a member of a close-knit family that is bonded together by Torah as its super-glue. The mutual support and mutual simcha was emblematic of the truly unique yeshivish community of Lakewood.

{Rabbi G. Tannenbaum-The Jewish Press}


  1. “Beth Medrash Govoha (BMG), arguably the largest yeshiva in the world with almost 5,000 students…”
    The Mir in Jerusalem has as many, if not more. Why does Lakewood always tout itself as the biggest?

    “For them, there is nowhere else in the world that compares.”
    A stunning statement, considering that many of these guys just spent a year in Israel, at Brisk and the Mir, in Jerusalem, the Holy City, where you can walk Geula and Meah Shearim when they’re not burning garbage cans and stoning soldiers and feel some genuine kedusha. Or you can walk in Lakewood and, well, be walking in Lakewood, I guess. But Jerusalem, and Bnei Brak, and Tzfat, and Tverya, and Chevron it ain’t. Agreed, chevra?

    “He did know that he carried a mandate from Heaven to rebuild the destroyed yeshivos of Europe on America soil.”
    Ever wonder why no other gadol had that vision? All the others thought America was treif chazer, and warned their followers not to go there. They all were murdered by the Nazis, ymsh. Yet Reb Aharon, bless him, had a different vision. How does the velt explain this?

    “He corresponded with Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz, zt”l (1886-1948), and with Rabbi Shlomo Heiman, zt”l (1892?1945), who together represented the leadership of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and, by default, Torah leadership of America.”

    Oy vey. The rewriting of Jewish history has begun.
    Reb Moshe was chosen Rosh Yeshiva of Tiferes Yerushalayim in 1936. There were mosdos named Toras Emes, Shlomo Kluger, RJJ, Etz Chaim/Rabbenu Yitzchok Elchanan in New York then. Why pretend they didn’t exist? NYC was not as barren a wasteland as you paint. True, Reb Aharon wrought a miracle, being a visionary—the sole visionary, it would seem, as described above–but there were many great rabbis who ignored their colleagues and ran for America and were found in tiny communities all over the USA.

    “The mutual support and mutual simcha was emblematic of the truly unique yeshivish community of Lakewood.”
    And Chasidim don’t do this? And tight-knit Modern Orthodox communities don’t do this? Of course they do.
    Anyway, mazel tov, and have naches.