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He Gave Us His Fire

In Tribute to Rav Dov Sternbuch ztz”l

Growing up as the daughter of world-renowned Jewish outreach personality Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz, I was no stranger to excitement about Yiddishkeit — in our home Judaism was certainly alive and relevant. But throughout my Bais Yaakov education — to my teenage mind, at least — Tanach in general, and Chumash in particular, were more a rigorous study than an applicable blueprint for life.

Until my first class with Rav Dov Sternbuch ztz”l at Gateshead Seminary, when I was 17. Gateshead was for me, as it was for thousands of others, transformative on so many levels. Suddenly, through Rav Sternbuch’s passion and conviction, the Chumash became alive, animated, relevant, real. For me it was novel, exhilarating — a new frontier in Torah learning I cherish to this day.

In order to fully appreciate the impact, you have to understand that Rav Sternbuch — a veritable walking lesson in humility — was a gadol, and despite efforts to conceal the extent of his vast Torah knowledge, he was known to have been a baki in all of Shas be’al peh. (He was the older brother of yibadel l’chayim tovim Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Jerusalem posek, rosh yeshivah, and raavad of the Eidah Hachareidis.) But that didn’t deter him from his life’s mission: For more than half a century, he was an educator of young women, instilling within them his own fiery enthusiasm and emunah.

When Gateshead Seminary was founded in 1945 with a handful of girls in the Kohn family living room, appreciation for Torah learning in general was low, all the more so for girls. But Rav Eliyahu Dessler, who realized the future of young women was the future of Klal Yisrael, taught the young women himself, and then appointed his star talmid, Rabbi Mordechai Miller, to lead the seminary once Rav Dessler moved to Eretz Yisrael. Joining Rabbi Miller — also at Rav Dessler’s behest — was Rav Dov Sternbuch, a young talmid chacham from the Gateshead Kollel.

Meanwhile, Rav Sternbuch was offered a prominent position in Eretz Yisrael, and asked Rav Dessler, who was himself already living there, for advice.

“We have rabbanim teaching in yeshivos,” he told Rav Sternbuch, “and we’ll always have bochurim filling the batei medrash. But who will marry them? Klal Yisrael needs you to educate the young women, Klal Yisrael needs you in the seminary!”

Rav Dessler gave Rav Sternbuch a brachah that if he stayed put, he would have arichus yamim. And in fact, Rav Sternbuch was niftar last month at age 96, after suffering a heart attack while walking to the Volozhiner Kollel in Bnei Brak for Minchah, as he’d done for the past 15 years since retiring from the seminary and moving to Israel.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 796)

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