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Golden Returns in Silver Spring

Gitty Weber

Rabbi Gedaliah Anemer changed a shul with a thirty-five-man membership and an outside chance of survival into the thriving center that is the pride of Silver Spring, Maryland — with a flourishing yeshivah, yeshivah gedolah, and kollel. A year after his passing, the community of Silver Spring is just beginning to comprehend its loss.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

As the train clacked farther and farther away from Akron, Ohio, a little boy stared out the window. Nine and a half years old, his only seat in the crammed car was on the lap of the unfamiliar rabbi who had plucked him from his childhood home so he could join his older brother in yeshivah.

Throughout the journey, little Gedaliah Anemer kept reliving his mother’s goodbye at the train station. Years later, he would never forget the vision of his widowed mother from the window as the train pulled out. Although it was tough to raise her three children while keeping her job in the Akron soda factory, it was even harder for her to let him go away to yeshivah. “It was at that point,” he said, “that I realized how important learning Torah must be, because why else would my mother put herself through such pain?”


Sandwiches under His Bed

Rav Gedaliah Anemer was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1932. In a time when it was rare to find a Jew in middle America who was shomer Shabbos, his father, Reb Zev, turned down an offer to own a Coca-Cola franchise — a deal that would have made him a very wealthy man — because upgrading his own soda factory to a Coca-Cola affiliate would have forced him to work on Shabbos. Tragically, Reb Zev was killed by a drunk driver while delivering a case of soda to a customer, leaving his wife, Rivkah, alone to raise three young children under the age of twelve. At age seven, young Gedaliah’s childhood effectively died, as he recited Kaddish at his father’s funeral. (Many years later in the rabbinate, he found himself in the position of having to comfort other orphans. He would tell them that “becoming a yasom is not a life sentence,” and he would encourage the children that if he could succeed, so could they.)

After the tragedy, Rabbi Shmuel Greineman ztz’’l, the director of Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim (MTJ) in New York, visited Akron to fundraise. Whenever Rabbi Greineman would visit a community without a yeshivah, he would volunteer to take any young boys back to New York so they could get a Torah education. As there was no yeshivah near Akron, Rivkah agreed to send her older son, Chaim, to New York. The loneliness was devastating for young Gedaliah, and after Chaim’s continual urging, Rabbi Greineman agreed to take Gedaliah as well on his visit the following year. With a heavy heart but with the knowledge that she was doing the right thing, Rivkah allowed Gedaliah to go, at the age of nine and a half.

Shortly after his arrival in Tiferes Yerushalayim, Rav Anemer came down with tonsillitis. When his mother and younger sister, Mashie, visited him in the hospital, some irate nurses informed Mrs. Anemer that Gedaliah was a difficult patient and was refusing to eat. Ten-year-old Gedaliah explained to his mother that he had eaten only a few pieces of fruit during his stay, because that was the only food he knew was kosher. Pointing under his bed, Gedaliah showed his mother a concealed pile of uneaten sandwiches.

At Tiferes Yerushalayim, Rav Anemer developed a close relationship with Rav Moshe Feinstein ztz’’l. Since the yeshivah did not provide Shabbos meals at the time, Rav Anemer frequently ate at Rav Moshe’s home. Rav Moshe used to give a dollar to any talmid who memorized a blatt Gemara. Young Gedaliah made sure to memorize many blatt Gemara and saved up the money so he could buy a train ticket to go home and visit his mother.


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