Remembering the Sadigura Rebbe ztz”l
Photos: Mishpacha archives; Illustration: Menachem Weinreb
Despite all the events of this past year, for many of us who were privileged to have a connection to the Sadigura Rebbe, the Ateres Yisrael, Rav Yisrael Moshe Friedman ztz”l, hardly a day has gone by without a thought, a krechtz, or a memory. Whether the kesher was long term or more recent, the void left by his petirah last year on 20 Av is empty and very painful.
We all knew the Rebbe’s health was terribly poor, yet we could never, ever have imagined such a situation. Through the hardest and most painful times, the Rebbe always remained positive and upbeat, exuding joy and confidence to all. Perhaps that is why, of all the emotions swirling in our hearts, a feeling of longing and love is stronger than sorrow.
How is it possible that even people who had just recently gotten to know the Rebbe were able to develop a connection with him as deep as with a family member?
I myself was very fortunate to have such a kesher with him, for many years. Through a very strange hashgachah, I was zocheh to spend a lot of time in the Rebbe’s presence over the last year and a half of his life.
I was born into a family of Sadigura chassidim. My great-great-grandfather, Rav Gedaliah Schorr ztz”l, was very closely connected to Sadigura in Europe, an inheritance passed down to his son, Rav Avraham Schorr ztz”l, and then to the next generation, including my grandfather Rav Aaron. (The Knesses Mordechai zy”a, the Ateres Yisrael’s grandfather — who led a very large chassidus Hy”d before the Holocaust — is known to have said that he was left with just a few chassidim after the war, among them my great-uncle Rav Gedaliah Schorr and the Skulener Rebbe, Rav Eliezer Zusia Portugal ztz”l.)
Having heard expressions from elder chassidim that it is possible to connect to a Rebbe and enjoy an ahavah like that of a father toward a son, a grandfather toward a grandchild — I must be honest, I was skeptical.
But after the Rebbe’s passing, I quickly realized how very true it is. I may not have understood at the time the depth of the connection that we had, but after the petirah, it became quite clear. I will share a story to try to illustrate.
In the summer of 2001, I traveled to Eretz Yisrael to learn in the yeshivah of Rav Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik ztz”l. My first Shabbos in Yerushalayim, just before Rosh Chodesh Elul, I stayed with my sister in Ezras Torah. I recalled hearing that the Ikvei Abirim ztz”l, who was then the Sadigura Rebbe (father of the Ateres Yisrael), traveled from his home in Tel Aviv to the kloiz on Shmuel Hanavi Street every Shabbos Mevarechim.
I had met the Ikvei Abirim on his previous infrequent visits to the US for family simchahs, but only briefly. I decided to try my luck and arrived in the kloiz in the middle of Shalosh Seudos. There probably were about 100 or 150 at the Rebbe’s tish, and I made my way quietly onto the parentshes. Not wanting to interrupt the proceedings, I did not take the opportunity to give shalom to the Rebbe. Although I did not recognize most of the people there, I was still comfortable and felt that I naturally belonged there.
At Havdalah following Maariv, I heard one of the gabbaim asking on the Rebbe’s behalf if there was a Schorr in the room. I was in complete shock. I didn’t think the Rebbe had even seen me, let alone recognized me. Yet in his heart he had sensed the presence of a Schorr einekel in the room. This experience I will never forget — “nafsho keshurah b’nafsho.”
My personal relationship with the Ateres Yisrael ztz”l began later. I had seen him many times over the years, in his capacity then as the rav of the Golders Green kehillah, but never had any real personal interactions with him. In January 2008, my dear mother, Mrs. Georgie Schorr a”h, was sadly niftar. After a long, hard battle with the machlah, we lost our queen. Our family was devastated. My father, siblings and I were sitting shivah together in our parents’ home in Brooklyn.
Amid all the very special support from our extended family, friends, and community, we received a totally unexpected visit, a complete surprise to us all, that will always remain in our hearts. In walked the Sadigura Rav, having made the long journey across the Atlantic as a special messenger of his father, the Rebbe, who couldn’t make the trip from his home in Tel Aviv.
(I cry as I recount the warmth of this gesture. During the shivah, the Ikvei Abirim called from Tel Aviv and spoke to each of us separately, apologizing for not coming in person to be menachem avel. He explained that travel was difficult for him and he was sending his personal shaliach, his beloved son from London.)
Now, in all honesty, although we are a nice family from New York, and yes, for many years, loyal chassidim who had always kept a close kesher, as far as I know, we were not among the biggest supporters of the Sadigura chassidus. For whom does a Rebbe usually make such a trip?
The answer is very simple. For family. The Rebbe came specially by himself to be menachem avel his family. He arrived with all of the warmth and personality we would come to know much better as time went on. His visit made a real impact. He really knew how to relate to all of us and comfort our family. That visit was my first opportunity to see and feel the greatness of this very special tzaddik in a personal way.
When the Ateres Yisrael was sitting shivah for his father in January 2013, my father and brother Yanky traveled to Bnei Brak to be menachem avel. I sent along a letter of nichum to the new Rebbe, but doubted if it would mean much among the throngs coming to see him. My father met the Rebbe briefly and gave him my letter.
Having greeted hundreds of people in the first few days after the devastating news of his father’s petirah, what exactly could he have been expected to say about my silly letter?
He took it from my father and said, “A letter from Gedaliah is special to me, I will put it in the inside pocket of my beketshe to read later.”
How did he have the state of mind to think that through? He could have simply added it to the pile of other letters and said thank you very much. Because he loved us so much, he knew how to make a father and son feel good, with a few words. Brilliance in giving chizuk!
What was his secret to building these close relationships with all of those around him? People from all different backgrounds, some who only recently met him, were able to feel his warmth and passion.
The Rebbe always preached that a Yid must be full of simchas hachayim. His focus on positivity and growth through emunah and bitachon always had a simchahdig feel. That positivity is what we were able to connect to. Just seeing him would give a person a boost of energy and sense of purpose. The Rebbe was always there to cheer you on and make you feel like you were special and dear to him. His love for each person was palpable. Ah, just thinking of it makes one cry.
I moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 2013 to join my father-in-law, Rabbi Boruch Yehuda Gradon, at Kollel Merkaz HaTorah. At the end of February 2019, the Rebbe became ill and decided to come to Los Angeles for treatment. For the next year and a half, I had the privilege of spending Shabbosos and special occasions with the Rebbe. It was the first time in my life that I lived together with the Rebbe in the same city. Every time I went to see him, each Shalosh Seudos and tefillah, I cherished the opportunity of being able to bask in his presence.
I recall the first time I went to see him in L.A., the first Shabbos after he arrived. His son Rav Mordechai Shalom Yosef called me on Friday afternoon just before Shabbos to let me know that they were staying at the home of Mrs. Chavie Hertz in Beverly Hills, about a 25-minute walk from my home, and that I could join them for minyanim if I wanted. I immediately went over for Minchah and Kabbalas Shabbos.
The Rebbe smiling, greeted me, “Are you surprised by this visitor?”
Always a personal comment, always making you feel like you were the most dear to him.
The Rebbe stayed in Beverly Hills until Pesach, when he traveled to Lakewood. After Pesach he returned to L.A., settling in the home of Rabbi and Mrs. Shmuel Einhorn in Hancock Park, where he stayed until Tammuz 2020. The Einhorns opened their home to the Rebbe such that he was able to conduct a mini hoif, with a full schedule of minyanim, tishen, and visitors.
There were numerous times that the Rebbe was undergoing tremendous pain and yissurim. But throughout the rest of his stay, before he returned to Eretz Yisrael for what would be the final time, he always remained upbeat, full of confidence, simchahdig and malchusdig.
How is it that almost a year has gone by and we still feel it so much? How can it be that a day still doesn’t pass without thoughts of the Rebbe?
For a chassid mourning his Rebbe, the pain and sorrow is still very raw and fresh. The petirah plunged us all into a state of terrible shock, but the memories still give us strength and chizuk. His smile shines bright and his majesty stands tall. Baruch Hashem, the chassidus is flourishing beautifully with the new Rebbe shlita and continues to follow in his ways.
We know he would be smiling and cheering us on. We miss him. We will never forget him.
V’ahavasecha al tasir mimenu. Zechuso yagein aleinu.
Rabbi Gedaliah Schorr, an alumnus of Rav Dovid Solovetchik’s yeshivah and BMG, is currently at Kollel Merkaz HaTorah in Los Angeles.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 872)
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