Rav Shmuel Yerachmiel Kaufman zt”l, Legendary Mechanech of Detroit

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It is with great sadness that Matzav.com reports the passing of the Rav Shmuel Yerachmiel Kaufman zt”l, legendary mechanech from Detroit, Michigan, who impacted thousands of talmidim over many decades.

He was 82 years old.

Born in New York, Rav Kaufman was a son of Rabbi and Mrs. Fishel and Fraida Kaufman. Fraida, Rav Kaufman’s mother, was a daughter of the great tzaddik, Rav Yaakov Yosef Herman zt”l, Torah pioneer of All for the Boss fame.

In his younger years, Rav Kaufman learned at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and then at Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland, where he was impacted for life by the roshei yeshiva, Rav Elya Meir Bloch and Rav Mottel Katz, and by the derech of Telshe in Torah and avodah.

As a bochur, Rav Kaufman moved to Detroit, where he began his remarkable chinuch career, teaching locally.

Rav Kaufman subsequently went to Los Angeles, where he taught and was a counselor in a summer camp under the auspices of Rav Simcha Wasserman zt”l. That summer was an eye-opener for Rav Kaufman. It was the first time that he observed that there are so many Jewish children who weren’t frum. Most of the children in that camp came from homes that were not Shabbos observant. They knew very little about Yiddishkeit, but were very receptive to the messages and lessons imparted by Rav Kaufman.

Rav Kaufman was very successful that summer, and Rav Wasserman was so impressed that he offered Rav Kaufman a teaching job in Los Angeles for the coming year. Not knowing what to do, Rav Kaufman called his uncle, Rav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg, and asked for an eitzah. He said not take the job. As a child, Rav Kaufman had been inflicted with polio and suffered from a limp. Rav Scheinberg felt that it would be too difficult for the parsha of shidduchim to be in Los Angeles, so Rav Kaufman declined the job.

Rav Yosef Elias, who was then the principal in Yeshiva Bais Yehuda, visited Telshe in Cleveland at the time, and Rav Kaufman went to talk with him, seeking a job in chinuch. Rav Kaufman had no formal experience, so Rabbi Elias asked him, “What makes you think you are cut out for chinuch and that you will be a good rebbi?”

“I’ll tell you the truth,” Rav Kaufman answered. “I love children and I love being mashpiah!”

Upon hearing that, Rabbi Elias exclaimed, “You are hired!”

After his marriage, Rav Kaufman taught for four years in Elizabeth, NJ, where he settled so that he could be near his wife’s mother, who lived in New York City. His influence in Elizabeth was strongly felt, as he instilled Torah haskafah in the young charges under his tutelage.

In 1956, Rav Kaufman moved back to Detroit, where he would spend the rest of his life teaching at Yeshiva Bais Yehuda. His career in chinuch there is difficult to encapsulate. The hashpaah he had on so many people rendered Rav Kaufman one of the most outstanding mechanchim in the country. Untold numbers of talmidim are indebted to Rav Kaufman for inspiring them, teaching them, and serving as a role model for them to emulate.

Rav Kaufman transformed the lives of the numerous Jewish children entrusted to his care, and because of the positive exposure to Yiddishkeit that they encountered in his classes, they went on to build exemplary Torah families. In addition, many of his talmidim themselves became mechanchim, mechanchosmenahelim and menahalos who have in turn taken the opportunity to transmit the love of Yiddishkeit that they received from Rav Kaufman to future generations of talmidim.

Bais Yehuda had an afternoon school, catering to children in public schools whose parents wanted them to have a minimal Jewish education. Some of Rav Kaufman’s greatest success stories came from those afternoon students.

Rav Kaufman once asked the Ponovezher Rov on one of his visits to Detroit, “I am a rebbi. What is the best way to reach American children?” The Rov replied emphatically, “Nohr mit gutskeit, nohr mit gutskeit, nohr mit gutskeit!” These words made such an impression on Rav Kaufman and became his motto: “Nohr mit gutskeit – only with goodness” with positive reinforcement and simcha.

As mentioned, as a child, Rav Kaufman contracted polio, a disease that returned later in his life, ravaging his body. Despite being a tremendous baal yissurim, Rav Kaufman possessed unbridled simchas hachaim. He lived his lived amidst immense simcha, never allowing his physical ailments to impact his mission in life to inspire youth and to radiate the joy that comes from living purely for the Ribono Shel Olam. During the last years, he had difficult sleeping and was forced to ingest dozens of pills a day to address his various medical issues, yet his face shone with pure happiness and gratitude to Hashem, and he vibrantly went about teaching, influencing and uplifting all those who were blessed to enter his orbit and bask in his presence.

Rav Kaufman is survived by his devoted wife, Mrs. Risha (nee Ostrov) Kaufman; his siblings, Rav Yosef (Soroh) Kaufman of Brooklyn, Mrs. Mina Valdsheim of Yerushalayim, and Mrs. Sarah (Yitzchok) Cohen of Brooklyn; his children, Rabbi Yonah (Dina) Kaufman (Monsey), Mrs. Fraidel (Moshe) Goldberg (Montreal), Rabbi Meir (Esther) Kaufman (Toronto), Rabbi Dovid (Bassi) Kaufman (Monsey), Rabbi Yaakov Yosef (Liba Yehudis) Kaufman (Switzerland), Rabbi Boruch (Shira) Kaufman (Far Rockaway), and Mrs. Nechama (Shimshon) Jonas (Detroit); and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren following in his path.

The levayah will be held today, at 7 p.m., at the Hebrew Memorial Chapel, located at 26640 Greenfield Road in Oak Park, Michigan. The aron will then be flown to to the tri-state area, where a levayah will be held tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. at the Lakewood Cheder, located at 725 Vassar Avenue in Lakewood, NJ.

To listen to the levayah live, call 1-401-694-1602 and than enter 766277#.

Kevurah will take place in Eretz Yisroel after Shabbos at the Eretz Hachaim Bais Hachaim in Bet Shemesh.

Shivah will take place at the home of Rabbi and Mrs. Shimshon and Nechama Jonas, located at 15620 Arbor Place in Southfield, Michigan, until Thursday morning. Shacharis will be at 8 a.m., Minchah at 8 p.m., and Maariv at 10 p.m.

Yehi zichro boruch.

{Gavriel Sitrit – Matzav.com Newscenter}

19 COMMENTS

  1. If the above information is correct, the niftar started as a Rebbe, as a bochur, before twenty years of age.

    Not something that is common nowadays. And perhaps it was not common then either.

    Can anyone shed light on the matter?

    • I once read an interview with R’ Kaufman in which he said that due to the difficulty involved in finding quality Rabbeim, many of the Rabbeim were brought in as bochurim. It was a different time…

  2. Very nice and very fast! Quite impressive! A couple of quick hearos. His mother in law lived on the Lower East Side. Elizabeth was closer to her than Detroit, but she never lived there. Also, 1956 was when he went to Detroit the first time, before his marriage. After his marriage and after Elizabeth was in the 60s.

  3. A very great person to whom I owe so much! he built a beautiful family of ehrlicher yidden and groisse bnei torah. yehi zichro boruch!

  4. Rabbi Kaufman was instrumental to sending many boys out of town to learn in yeshivos. I still say over things I heard him say when I was a kid over 40 years ago.

  5. Will there be any update as to where in Israel the burial will take place?

    I was one of the Rebbes former students and he has helped change my life for the better. I only wish to be present at the burial for a final opportunity to be around him.

  6. I remember as a young boy around 15-20 years ago Rabbi Kaufman would come to Camp Agudah Midwest and speak to us. Rabbi Kaufman always made me feel special and important and he had a way of infusing excitement for yiddishkeit into all of us. Very sad to hear of his petirah.

  7. Rabbi Miller is an uncle of Rabbi Kaufman daughter in law.
    Yes he was a a rebbe at the age of 20 before he was married. It wasn’t common in those days to find good rebbeim to go out to the Midwest. He was a true inspirational person who changed the lives of many.
    May he be a Mayletz Yosher for everyone and our family.

    Zaidy you will be sorely missed.

  8. A Living Legend and possibly from the greatest mechanchim of recent history. He loved chinuch and loved his talmidim.An amazing story teller with first hand maase Ravs of many Gedolei Yisroel Zichronem Livracha. His geshmak and Simchas Hachaim was something special.He was a Mashpia par excellence! Just being in his presence was mechazik you. What bittul he had to his Rebbeim and to Daas Torah. Rav Kaufman Klal Yisroel is much better today because of you and you are irreplaceable! Yhi Zichro Boruch!

  9. I was a neighbor for four years when I was young boy. He was a person that you looked up too and felt the love and warmth from him.

  10. Lived down the block from rabbi Kaufman. His house was one that was always open. That I learned from him and follow in his footsteps. He used to tell the best stories to us kids-which was turned into a book All for the boss, by a relative ruchma shain. He was the one to convince my mother to send me to bait yaakov schools from the age of 4. If not for this I probably would be only another number in the American melting pot of intermarriage. Yehiyeh zechuro buruch.

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