| Tribute |

His Light Still Shines    

In tribute to Rav Gershon Neumann ztz”l


lichés about light and darkness often sprout Chanukah-time, but at times they’re unavoidable because of the simple truth they convey. Rav Gershon Neumann, rosh yeshivah of Yeshivas Zichron Leyma located in Union, New Jersey, who passed away on 29 Kislev at the age of 76, radiated light. His face shone — quite literally — reflecting the pure sincerity that penetrated, inspired, and transformed, merely by its presence.

His talmidim weren’t the only ones who came out on the fifth morning of Chanukah to pay their final respects. Aside from being a rosh yeshivah, Rav Gershon had also served as a rav and a much revered posek. He was beloved by anyone he interacted with, and the broader Union community attended the levayah as well.

They came to pay tribute to the man who loved them far more than they deemed themselves worthy.

“The world stands on Torah, avodah, and gemilus chasadim,” a talmid shares, “but with Rav Gershon, his Torah and avodah was chesed.”

Born in 1947, from a young age Gershon Neumann stood out in the Viener Yeshivah in Williamsburg for his remarkable diligence and keen intelligence. Upon graduating high school, he wished to enroll in the Philadelphia yeshivah and was granted a farher. Rav Gershon would always fondly recall how Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlita walked him all the way to the train station upon the farher’s conclusion. It was a sign of affection but also of recognition. The Rosh Yeshivah saw that this young bochur was destined for greatness.

Rav Gershon excelled in Philadelphia and went on to learn in Lakewood’s Beth Medrash Govoha, under Rav Shneur Kotler ztz”l. He was cherished by the Rosh Yeshivah and talmidim alike, respected for his depth in learning and acute insights.

In 1971, Rav Gershon married Yael Levin, the daughter of Mirrer talmid Rav Leyma Levin, and together Rav and Rebbetzin Neumann set out to build a home that would stand on those very pillars upon which the world stands.

There would be so much Torah. Rav Gershon remained in kollel for eight years and was then hired as a maggid shiur in Yeshiva Zichron Moshe of South Fallsburg. He would stay up deep into the night, opening the window so that the cold air would keep him from falling asleep as he meticulously prepared his shiurim.

His love for sharing Torah was such that it defied nature. The day before his passing, he didn’t have the strength to lift a cup of water to his mouth. Yet somehow, he managed to write down the next day’s shiur — the one he never managed to give.

Rav Gershon was uniquely versatile. Neither his learning nor his teaching were limited to the environment of a conventional litvish yeshivah.

As the Neumann children grew older, Rav Gershon and his wife sought to move to a larger frum community where chinuch options would be more widely available. They relocated to Boro Park and Rav Gershon assumed the role of rosh yeshivah and rosh kollel of the Spinka Yeshivah and Kollel. The stark contrast between the litvish rosh yeshivah and chassidish talmidim was not lost on anyone but the disparity bred no separation. They all recognized Rav Gershon for the truth he represented — and for the light he radiated.

His influence wasn’t limited to Spinka; he also accepted an offer to become the rav of Khal Shaarei Tefillah, located on Boro Park’s 12th Avenue and 44th Street.

In 1998 Rav Gershon, along with his brother-in-law, Rav Eliezer Ginsberg shlita, established a yeshivah of his own, largely in adherence with the direction of his rebbi, Rav Elya Svei. “Your yeshivah won’t be known by whom it takes in,” he told Rav Gershon, “but by whom it produces!”

Because Rav Elya understood that the light that Rav Gershon radiated was one that could penetrate, inspire, and transform.

Rav Elya saw it and his talmidim saw it as well, but they struggle to put it into words. “He said so little,” a talmid reflects. “He managed to convey so much while barely saying anything.”

There was a bochur who joined the yeshivah and had a shaky start. Rav Gershon worked with him, coaxing, encouraging, and with time the boy was progressing well. That year, prior to Rosh Hashanah, Rav Gershon, who was the yeshivah’s baal tokeia, approached the talmid.

“You will stand next to me,” he told the bochur. “I’ll motion to you to take over if I need you to.”

Rosh Hashanah came, and Rav Gershon stood in his place at the bimah, shofar in hand. The talmidim all recall those moments — Rav Gershon exuded such intense devotion during the Yamim Noraim — and the bochur stood beside him. Rav Gershon blew the first set of tekios, as well as the second. Then, when it came time to blow the third set, he motioned to the bochur, “You blow.”

And he did. Decades have passed since then, and the young bochur is a grown man with a large family, but he’ll forever remember that moment and its message.

“Rav Gershon was telling me: You made it. You are now worthy of blowing the shofar for the entire yeshivah.”

Sometimes the message came with words — but just a few.

One evening, a group of boys, rather than attending night seder, were spending time in the yeshivah’s gym. Night seder was followed by mussar seder, and the game was still going strong. Suddenly the door opened and a familiar, distinguished face peered inside. The room fell silent.

“Chutch mussar,” he said, and then walked away. Chutch mussar, at least mussar. Learning may be hard for you, but how can you not learn mussar?

It was a mussar seder they will never forget.

Words were certainly not necessary for the talmidim to sense Rav Gershon’s love for them. At the levayah, Rav Eliyahu Yagid, a son-in-law of Rav Gershon, shared the story of a talmid who was contending with a very difficult challenge. Rav Gershon felt that the most appropriate address for this sort of issue would be Rav Chaim Kanievsky. So he booked two tickets, and together, rebbi and talmid flew to Eretz Yisrael.

There was a bochur in the yeshivah who struggled with kriah, and Rav Gershon approached him. “There are a few cholim I daven for,” he said, “and I need some help. Would you be willing to say some Tehillim for them during bein hasedorim? For every page of Tehillim you say, I’ll pay you.”

After a few short months, the bochur was reading beautifully.

It happened once that a bochur did something that simply couldn’t be tolerated. Rav Gershon felt the boy would need to be expelled from the yeshivah but could not bring himself to make the move without first consulting with Rav Aharon Leib Steinman.

He entered the crammed Bnei Brak apartment and seated himself across from the aged gaon.

“There’s a bochur in my yeshivah,” he began. “He’s a baal kishron, he has good middos, he really wants to do good—”

Rav Ahron Leib looked up. “Uber… but?”

Rav Gershon cleared his throat, trying to vocalize his conviction that the boy had to be expelled, but he could not. He simply couldn’t say anything bad about his talmid.

Rav Ahron Leib’s “uber” was the answer he needed. The bochur remained in the yeshivah.

The talmidim may have lost a beloved rebbi, but the memories of the lessons they learned, and embrace they felt, will remain etched in their hearts and minds.

They will remember his great hasmadah — how he would wake up early in the morning to learn regardless of how late he went to sleep the previous night.

They will remember his passionate tefillah — the humble fervor with which he davened each day and, most prominently, his searing Neilah at the close of Yom Kippur.

They will remember his love for mitzvos — how meticulous he was in halachah, how he would get up on Succos at the crack of dawn in order to fulfill the mitzvah of lulav.

And forever, they will remember his light. How it penetrated, inspired, and transformed them.

They trudged through the streets of Union, past windows displaying menorahs with five extinguished candles looking on bleakly.

Then they went home and lit the menorah once again.

Because some lights never die.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 992)

Oops! We could not locate your form.