In tribute to Rav Chaim Walkin
ITwas Yom Kippur of 1945 in Shanghai, China when Rav Shmuel Dovid and Rebbetzin Tzivia Walkin brought their newborn son into briso shel Avraham Avinu and named him Chaim. The baby was named after his uncle, Rav Chaim Walkin, the last rosh yeshivah of Volozhin, but it carried a significance of its own.
Shanghai was full of refugees, separated from their homes and their families, and Rav Shmuel Dovid and Rebbetzin Tzivia made it their business to help these Yidden once again feel the taste of life, restoring an almost-forgotten drive for chayim.
“You know,” Rav Chaim Walkin once recounted, “I lived my entire childhood in the shadow of the stories of Shanghai. Any survivor who couldn’t manage on his own found his way to my parents’ home, where he was given a hot meal, a warm bed, and lots of encouragement. I kept hearing the stories of Shanghai, and those stories stayed with me for years afterward.”
Rav Chaim was born into a prominent Torah family — his father, Rav Shmuel Dovid, was a close talmid of the Chofetz Chaim, and his maternal grandfather was Rav Moshe Landinsky, the rosh yeshivah of the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshivah in Radin — and he went on to become a renowned figure in his own right in the Torah world. Perhaps it was those stories, those memories of his parents’ care and sacrifice in Shanghai, that drove Rav Chaim to become the renowned mashgiach, marbitz Torah, and mechaber seforim that he became.
After the Walkins immigrated to America, they settled in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. In fact, a picture of eight-year-old Chaim Walkin receiving his citizenship before a judge appeared on the front pages of the New York Times and Herald Tribune. He learned in Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin and Telshe Cleveland before going to learn in Eretz Yisrael, where he studied in the Mir under Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz. Over his decades-long career as a mashgiach, his many shmuessen were largely styled after Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz’s.
After marrying Henny Engel, a granddaughter of Rav Dovid Tzvi Zilberstein, Rav Chaim and his rebbetzin set out to build a home that would be modeled after their respective illustrious ancestries. For well over a decade, he learned in the Mir, most of which time he learned b’chavrusa with Rav Shmuel Yaakov Bornstein. And while he was gaining acclaim as a talmid chacham, those who knew him saw something else as well: a baal middos of the highest order. In those days, access to telecommunication in Israel was scant, and it was exceedingly difficult to stay in touch with family abroad. That didn’t deter Rav Chaim. For years, he wrote a letter to his mother every single day.
After some 15 years of uninterrupted learning, Rav Chaim was hired to teach at Aish HaTorah in the Old City of Yerushalayim. This later led to his first position as a mashgiach — in Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael of Petach Tikvah. Subsequently, when Rav Meir Chodosh, the famed mashgiach of Yeshiva Ateres Yisrael, passed away in 1989, Rav Chaim was hired to fill the gaping void.
Even as the mashgiach of a large yeshivah, his focus was never limited to the macro. He saw each talmid as an individual, guiding and encouraging each to meet his own personal potential. In addition to the shmuessen he would deliver to the yeshivah, Rav Chaim would frequently host vaadim in his home comprised of small groups of bochurim.
This past Sunday morning, on the 12th of Cheshvan, Rav Chaim left This World. And just as he strove to follow in his parents’ footsteps, he leaves behind generations of children and grandchildren who strive to follow his
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 935)
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