For 56 years, Rav Tzvi Hirsch Grodzenski led Omaha's growing Orthodox immigrant community
Title: Elder of the American Rabbinate
Location: Omaha, Nebraska
Document: The Jewish Press of Omaha, Nebraska
Long before Omaha was home to Berkshire Hathaway, the scion of a great Lithuanian rabbinic family invested it with a spiritual legacy — Rav Tzvi Hirsch Grodzenski, who was several years older than his more famous second cousin and boyhood chavrusa Rav Chaim Ozer.
Following study in Ivye (Rav Chaim Ozer’s hometown), Vilna, and Tavrig, Tzvi Hirsch attended the Volozhin Yeshivah, and later became close with Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor. In 1891 he followed the masses of immigrants to the United States, taking up a rabbinical position in Omaha, Nebraska.
He would never leave. For 56 years he led the growing Orthodox immigrant community as it diversified and added shuls. He acted as a paternal guide to his community, giving shiurim on all levels. This towering scholar made himself constantly available for the mundane needs of all the people. Beyond the confines of his Midwestern enclave, he was instrumental in the founding of the Agudas Harabbonim in 1902, and traveled to Sacramento, California, to supervise the making of kosher wine.
Away from the highly charged atmosphere of the bustling New York Jewish populations, he utilized the relative calm to pursue his scholarly endeavors, producing a prodigious amount of writings. Some were published in his own lifetime to high acclaim in the wider Torah world, while others were left in manuscript form and have begun to be published in recent years.
Did you know
While Rav Tzvi Hirsch received important visitors such as the Ridvaz and Rav Baruch Epstein (author of Torah Temimah), it was during the final year of his life that he had a most memorable encounter. In 1947, a large group from the Mir Yeshivah stopped in Omaha en route from San Francisco to New York, following its arrival from Shanghai. While the group was welcomed with gifts and a banquet, Rav Nochum Partzovitz used the opportunity to speak to the great Omaha gaon in learning — possibly his first such encounter on American soil.
A Yerushalmi in Nebraska
Rav Yechiel Michel Charlop, son of the rav of Shaarei Chesed, Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlop, served as rabbi in Omaha for a time during the 1920s prior to his move to the Bronx. His son Rav Zevulun Charlop shlita related that on Rav Kook’s 1924 fundraising trip to the United States on behalf of the Central Relief Committee, Rav Charlop conducted a Shavuos appeal in Omaha’s four shuls. After personally delivering the funds in New York, he unsuccessfully tried to persuade Rav Kook to visit Omaha, and then traveled with him to Boston to assist with further fundraising efforts.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 842)
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