It has been just over one year since the passing of Rav Dovid Olewski zt”l, at the height of the Coronavirus Pandemic. While his petirah hit Gerer community—and so many outside of it who knew and revered this ga’on and tzaddik—like a bolt of lightning, according him the proper kavod acharon was impossible.
It was probably the way he would have wanted it; for Rav Dovid ran from kavod like from fire, and he was as great in middos as he was in Torah. He hid his great ge’onus in Torah with his simple bearing, always humble, always smiling, relating with deep respect and love to young and old.
But for the Gerer community in America, Rav Dovid was more than a Rosh Yeshiva who built, and stood at the helm of, yeshivos and institutions of the chassidus on this side the pond, more than an address to countless individuals of all ages for every possible need, and more than a Ga’on b’Torah whose ahavas haTorah and ahavas Hashem defined his life.
Rav Olewski was a leader and a pillar of Ger in America for more than half a century—and much of the beautiful community that has grown in and around Brooklyn from the handful of Polish she’eiris hapleitah in the aftermath of the Holocaust to this very day is due to his brilliance and his leadership.
Thus, it was fitting that the institutions of which he stood as the helm would present an evening of commemoration and reflection into his tremendous legacy.
Close to one thousand chassidim packed the Ateres Chinka Hall on Sunday night for an evening packed with nostalgia and yearning. In recognition of Rav Olewski’s decades of dedication and mesirus nefesh to the Gerer community in America, the Gerer Rebbe Shlit”a sent his son, Rav Nechemia Alter, to headline the event.
The evening was begun—and interespered—with renditions by legendary Gerer Chazzan Itche Meir Helfgott, who has made his home within the Boro Park Gerer community for the past 20 years.
Shortly after the passing of the Rosh Yeshiva, it had been announced that his successor would be his son, Rav Yisroel Moshe, shlit’a, a ga’on in his own right, who had been living in Eretz Yisroel. The short time that he has served in this capacity has served as a solace to this community—as they witnessed so many of his father’s qualities in him.
In his dinner address, Rav Yisroel Moshe (named for his father’s father, one of the most prominent Rabbonim in the DP Camps in the postwar era, and known as the “Tzeller Rov’) recalled the mutual feelings of love and admiration from the community to his illustrious father, Rav Dovid, zt”l. “It was k’mayim ponim el ponim.”
Other highlights were the remarks of Rav Nechmia, shlit”a, who declared: “Rav Duvid is gevehn ah chussid,” alluding to his unwavering dedication to the Gerer Rebbes, and serving as their shliach to build an empire of Torah, yiras Shomayim and chassidus in Brooklyn.
Throughout the evening, guests were also treated to a phenomenal slew of audio-visual programming—a stroll down memory lane, to vignettes from the life of the Rosh Yeshiva, and memorable addresses that he delivered over the years, a number of them at Agudas Yisroel events.
Late into the evening, long after the dinner had formally wrapped up, groups of chassidim could be seen, standing, reminiscing, remembering, and reflecting upon the great light that they had been privileged to have in their midst for so many decades, and which had served as a central pillar of their rebirth.
As they walked out into the night, it was surely with a feeling of connection and privilege… but also with a sense of hope for the ongoing, thriving legacy of the Gerer Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Dovid Olewski zt”l.