| Magazine Feature |

Make a Name for Yourself  

Five men whose namesakes were famous Jewish personages share what it’s like to carry their names

 

It’s just a name. Or is it?

Is it satisfying, amusing, or annoying to come into a room and be introduced as “Moshe Feinstein” or “Ezra Attiya”? What’s it like to sign a check or fill out your child’s camp forms with a name everyone around you associates with a famous gadol? Five men whose namesakes were famous Jewish personages share what it’s like to carry their names


Akiva Eiger

Location: Boro Park
Profession: diamond industry
Namesake: Rav Akiva Eiger of Posen (1761–1837)
Quote: “I always think to myself — nu, you have such a name, did you learn enough today?

 

I’ve been meeting Rabbi Akiva Eiger for years, and not always in the beis medrash. I’ve met him walking the streets of Boro Park, a tall man with his head bent over. I’ve encountered him at a Downtown Brooklyn train station. I’ve even davened in shul several times next to the person carrying one of the most revered names our nation holds.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger, a Boro Park resident, is an eighth-generation ben achar ben from the great figure entitled by his generation of greats as a gaon. With his high fur kolpik and illuminative eyes, he even looks like his saintly ancestor, though his physical bearing would likely tower over the famously diminutive figure of the man whose kushiyos and piskei halachos are studiously labored over to this day.

“Baruch Hashem, I was zocheh to this name,” says Rabbi Eiger, who works in the diamond industry. “But it’s a tremendous responsibility. It’s too chashuv of a name to have, to be honest. It’s not an easy name to carry. I get used to it, but on the other hand I always think to myself — nu, you have such a name, did you learn enough today?” It demands a lot from me.”

The present-day Akiva Eiger’s genealogy reads like a seforim shrank. He is a son of Rav Ezriel Meir, son of Rav Mordechai Menachem Mendel, son of Rav Yehuda Leib, son of Rav Ezriel Meir — the last Lubliner Rebbe in that city — son of Rav Avraham, the Shevet Mi’Yehuda, son of Rav Yehuda Leib — known in the family and by many Polish chassidim as Leibel Shloime Akiva’s and the first Lubliner Rebbe — son of Rav Shlomo, who was a son of Rav Akiva Eiger.

Rav Akiva Eiger, who lived from 1761 to 1837, was a son of Rav Moshe Ginz, a son-in-law of the first Rav Akiva Eiger. His grandson took the family name of his maternal uncle, Rav Binyamin Wolf Eiger, when he wanted to study under him in the German city of Breslau and authorities did not allow in foreigners unless they were relatives with the same family name of a resident.

Even prior to Eiger, the family’s surname changed several times over the years. The original name was Ginz, but before that it was alternately Margolis, Schlesinger, and Yaffe. (Rav Akiva Eiger was a direct descendant of Rav Mordechai Yaffe, the Baal Halevushim.)

Rabbi Eiger says that when he was born, his grandfather, the previous Aleksander Rebbe of Boro Park, asked his son-in-law to add a second name from his side of the family. But his mechutan, noting that the bris would take place on the day before Rav Akiva Eiger’s yahrtzeit, said that there was something special about the name he wanted to give — Akiva. “My grandfather was taken aback to hear that, he couldn’t say anything to that,” Rabbi Eiger says.

 

There are hardly any family traditions about the great gaon of Posen that are unknown. But Rabbi Eiger does state emphatically that the claim that Rav Shlomo Eiger sat shivah for his son Rav Leibel when he became a chassid is a myth. “In our family,” he says, “it isn’t accepted that he sat shivah. It’s just not true.”

Rabbi Eiger has no family tradition on whether the famous picture of his ancestor is accurate, but he shares an interesting story. Rav Shmuel Wosner ztz”l was once studying a complex Rav Akiva Eiger that he couldn’t understand. That night, Rav Akiva Eiger appeared to him in a dream and explained it to him. When Rav Wosner met the late Lubliner Rebbe of Bnei Brak, Rav Avraham Eiger, he told him that his features appeared strikingly similar to that of his ancestor.

Rabbi Eiger is used to people doing a double take when they see his tallis bag. He recalls davening as a bochur in a shul in London, when Rav Chanoch Dov Padwa, the rav of the largest kehillah there, passed and noticed the name on his tefillin bag. The elderly gadol gave a startled second glance. “I can’t believe what my eyes are seeing,” he exclaimed.

“I had a lot of these type of stories,” Rabbi Eiger said. “It’s a name that’s known in every sector of Klal Yisrael, but the name itself is not so common. Even when I meet professionals, doctors, lawyers, they’re taken aback when they hear my name.”

It isn’t easy having the name, he acknowledges. He shudders whenever he thinks about it.

“I go around with a pachad that I am who I am with such a name,” he says, shaking his head. “I should be placed in a cage so that I shouldn’t go around in the street with such a holy name.”

Yoel Teitelbaum

Location: Monroe
Profession: president of Northside Coffee
Namesake: Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe (1887–1979)
Quote: “Now you can say that you kissed the hand of Yoel Teitelbaum from Monroe.”

 

Within a year of the petirah of the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, in 1979, there were 250 children named for him in that kehillah alone. There are, in all likelihood, thousands of Yoels today. So having a “Yoel Teitelbaum from Kiryas Joel” should hardly raise eyebrows.

But it does, says Yoel Teitelbaum of Kiryas Joel. And it’s a source of pride and honor for him, although sometimes also annoyance.

“It’s not the easiest,” says Yoel, 37. “Because a lot of times when I meet people for the first time and I say my name is ‘Yoel Teitelbaum,’ they make a big deal out of it — ‘ooh, who’s your father? Who’s your grandfather?’ Sometimes you want to go under the radar. I want to have the choice when to be the center of attention. But it’s still an honor and a pleasure that people should think I have a connection to the Rebbe.”

Yoel is actually a distant relative of the Rebbe, who lived from 1887 to 1979 and didn’t leave behind any descendants. He’s nine generations from the Yismach Moshe, the great-great-grandfather of the Satmar Rebbe.

Yoel’s father, Rav Yosef Meir, is a son of Rav Menachem Mendel, son of Rav Shulem, son of Rav Moshe, son of Rav Chaim, son of Rav Yosef, son of Rav Shmuel, the Gorlitzer Rebbe (not to be confused with the more famous Gorlitzer Rebbe who was a son of the Divrei Chaim), who was a son of Rav Elazar Nissan of Drohobycz, the son of the Yismach Moshe.

Since the passing of the Rebbe, known by the sefer he wrote, Divrei Yoel, there have been an incalculable number of boys named for him, perhaps more than for any other person who died in modern history, with the arguable exception of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson ztz”l.

“In the four years from when the Rebbe was niftar and I was born,” says Yoel, the president of Northside Coffee, a coffee wholesaler, “there were enough Yoelys that a Yoel Teitelbaum did not make any headlines.” His interactions within Satmar still don’t elicit a wowed reaction, but when he goes out, he says, he’s a sensation.

Interestingly, Yoel is a chassid of the rebbes of Tosh. It started years ago when he visited the kehillah’s close-knit community in Canada and the previous Rebbe told him, “You belong here.” Since then, he lives in Kiryas Joel but has remained in the Tosher kehillah.

“In the Satmar community itself people don’t think twice about it — they would sometimes just ask me who I’m an einekel of,” he said. “But outside of Satmar, even in Boro Park, when I introduce myself as ‘Yoel Teitelbaum,’ people go ‘ooh wow.’ It gives people pause.”

Yoel has developed a custom of introducing himself to people as “Yoel Teitelbaum from Monroe” and extending his hand to be kissed as some rebbes do. “This is my routine. I enjoy making people smile,” he says. “And it always draws a smile.”

He was once at an event in the mountains when he met Rav Asher Eckstein, the Belzer dayan. In a nod to some past differences the two groups once had, Yoel, dressed in his Shabbos regalia, walked over to the dayan and extended his hand. Rav Eckstein smiled and kissed his hand.

“Now you can say that you kissed the hand of Yoel Teitelbaum from Monroe,” Yoel told the dayan.

Rav Eckstein laughed and informed him that, in fact, he had been one of the Belzer Rebbe’s emissaries some years ago to reconcile with Satmar by asking his forgiveness at the Satmar Rebbe’s kever. “Now I have this zechus, too,” the dayan said.

His family had few interactions with his namesake outside the regular routine of all chassidim. But Yoel’s father once dreamed that the Rebbe came to him, upset that he had hung a picture of him in his house. “But it says, ‘vehayu einecha ro’os es morecha — your eyes should see your teacher,” Yoel’s father protested in his dream. The Rebbe, hearing that, smiled.

“I’ve thought many times of what the Gemara says, that a person’s name affects who he is,” Yoel says. “If my name would have been Yoel ben Chana, that would have been the full thing. But I still feel I must act better than others because of who I am.”

Yosef Shlomo Ganzfried

Location: Boro Park
Profession: contractor
Namesake: Rav Shlomo Ganzfried, mechaber of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (1804–1886)
Quote: “I think, when will I reach his madreigah? I always have this little pressure in the back of my mind.”

 

Reb Shlomo Ganzfried recalls the time he was asked by a friend to be the “tzenter” for a small basement minyan. “I’m happy you’re going to be there,” the friend said, “since we have a shiur in Kitzur Shulchan Aruch after Minchah.”

Yosef Shlomo Ganzfried, who’s known as Shlomo, has been chased by his holy name his entire life. A Bobover chassid, he feels a special affinity to the seforim of his zeide, though he allows that, “I probably don’t learn them enough.”

“I get a lot of reactions when I meet all different types of people — it could be Sephardim, modern, chassidish, children — and I say my name is Shlomo Ganzfried,” he shares. “They say, ‘One second, from the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch?’ ”

Reb Shlomo is a ben achar ben of the mechaber of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, the shortened version of Klal Yisrael’s main halachic work, who lived from 1804 to 1886.

Rav Shlomo Ganzfried, one of the valiant fighters against the Neolog, the Hungarian Reform movement, was the rav of Ungvar and a prolific writer. Most of his seforim were aimed at simplifying what Yidden had to know and were formulated with the simple Yidden in mind. The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch is his biggest claim to fame, of course. It’s been printed hundreds of times and is considered the most popular halachah sefer, along with the Mishnah Berurah. His Kesses HaSofer is a staple for those studying to become sofrim; the Chasam Sofer decreed that a sofer cannot be ordained without knowing this sefer.

His descendant Reb Shlomo, 47, is six generations and 4,000 miles away. His grandfather, Rav Moshe Dov, a talmid of the Arugas Habosem, lived in Budapest and arrived in the United States after the war. He made a stop in Paris where his son, Rav Boruch Yeruchum, Reb Shlomo’s father, was born.

Rav Moshe Dov was a son of Rav Menachem Mendel, son of Rav Moshe Dov, son of Rav Yosef, son of the baal Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. Recently, Reb Shlomo says, there’s been talk in the family that the first Rav Moshe Dov was a son-in-law, not a son, of Rav Yosef, though regardless, his last name was Ganzfried. “He might have been a cousin,” he conjectures.

The baal Kitzur Shulchan Aruch has thousands of descendants alive today spanning the spectrum of the Jewish world. “I keep on meeting people of all types who say that they know for sure that they are eineklach,” Reb Shlomo said. “All Ganzfrieds are related, but there are a lot of different spellings. The first Ganzfried to come to America arrived in the early 1900s — he was an accountant in Queens.”

Reb Shlomo said that a recent story that happened in Eretz Yisrael has sent a shot of excitement through the Ganzfried family.

Reb Avraham Moshe Keller, an elderly man who lived in Argentina, made the Kitzur his life’s book, learning it religiously every day and following its piskei halachah. He moved to Eretz Yisrael several years ago and was niftar days after this past Pesach at the age of 87. It was the height of the coronavirus outbreak, and his levayah took place at one o’clock in the morning. The nocturnal hour, combined with the fact that he had virtually no relatives in the country aside for his children, meant that the levayah was sparsely attended.

One elderly person there struck the others as odd. No one asked him who he was or what his connection to the niftar was. Some figured that he came to the wrong funeral by mistake. Following a brief hesped, the small crowd left to Har Hazeisim for kevurah. Suddenly, the man spoke up, saying that he wanted to go along. People tried discouraging him, warning him that his age meant he was more vulnerable to COVID. But he insisted, climbing into the chevra kaddisha vehicle for the short trip.

Along the way, the passengers pressured him to reveal who he was, but he refused, merely saying that he was a relative. This further mystified the others, who finally asked him point-blank what his name is. “Ganzfried,” he responded, ending the conversation.

During the shivah, talk arose about the strange Ganzfried who showed up to the levayah. No one recalled seeing him before. But the family is convinced that it was none other than Rav Shlomo Ganzfried himself, coming to escort the man who followed his precepts to the Next World.

For Reb Shlomo, the opportunity this story presents is finally getting the chance to see what his ancestor looked like. He’s trying to see if perhaps a surveillance camera recorded the face of the funeral attendee. All he has now is a description of an elderly man with a white beard, a brim-up hat, and a long rekel.

“I spoke to the chevra kaddisha there,” Reb Shlomo says. “They told me they never saw him before. These people know everyone in Yerushalayim, but they don’t know who this man is.” The famous picture of his ancestor is not so accurate and wouldn’t be a good reference, he says.

Regardless of how his ancestor looked, however, Reb Shlomo feels that the name he carries gives him a push to better himself.

“I think about it a lot,” he says pensively. “I think, when will I reach his madreigah? I always have this little pressure in the back of my mind.”

Chaim Pinto

Location: Givat Ze’ev
Profession: avreich/Hatzolah responder
Namesake: Rav Chaim Pinto Hagadol (1749–1845)
Quote: “Sometimes people ask me to give them a brachah. It’s not my thing but I do it anyway.”

 

A strange and long-winded path separates Chaim Pinto from the great mekubal of Morocco whose name he carries to the hilly streets of Givat Ze’ev where he lives today. He is regularly stopped and asked for brachos by Sephardim who recognize the great name he has, though he admittedly identifies more with his Gerrer lineage and Lakewood upbringing than his Moroccan past.

“People tell me that my name has a good ring to it,” he said. “When you say ‘Chaim Pinto’ people lift their eyebrows. Sometimes people ask me to give them a brachah. It’s not my thing but I do it anyway.”

Rav Chaim Pinto Hagadol, who lived from 1749 to 1845 (he was born on the fifth yahrtzeit of Rav Chaim ibn Attar, the Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh, and was likely named for him), was known across the Maghreb for his saintliness and chesed. Eliyahu Hanavi was said to be a steady visitor at his house and there are numerous accounts of his brachos effecting miracles.

Rav Chaim Pinto had four sons, all famous tzaddikim — Rav Yehuda, Rav Yosef, Rav Yoshiyahu, and Rav Yaakov. In fact, the family tree boasts another Rav Chaim Pinto, stemming from Rav Yehuda. He was known as Rav Chaim Pinto Hakatan of Casablanca, so named to distinguish him from Rav Chaim Hagadol; he lived from 1855 to 1937 and was known as a po’el yeshuos. His modern-day namesake carries his name but not his parentage, as present-day Chaim Pinto descends from Rav Yaakov.

The family tradition is that they are also descended from the mechaber of the Ein Yaakov, and from Rav Chaim Vital, the prime talmid of the Arizal. Going back in history, they claim many of the geonim in their lineage, including the greatest one, Rav Hai Gaon.

“I’m very proud and honored to have such a special name,” Chaim Pinto says. “It’s a great zechus. You look at the stories of the gemilus chasadim he did — it was unbelievable.”

Some of that chesed certainly carried through the generations — Rabbi Pinto has to cut the conversation short when he receives a Hatzolah call; he serves as a first responder in his hometown.

Rabbi Pinto is a mixed breed. His mother comes from Ashkenazic stock — her Abramczik grandparents were Gerrer chassidim who lived in the Polish town of Otwock — and his father, Rav Raphael Pinto, studied in Beis Medrash Govoha in Lakewood where he learned b’chavrusa with Rav Shneur Kotler, the Rosh Yeshivah.

“I’m half and half,” Rabbi Pinto says. “A mix.” When asked to explain how Sephardic royalty mixed with the best of Polish chassidim, he lets out a long “oyyyy, it’s a long story, it’s a long, long story.”

But to make a long story short, Rav Raphael learned in Morocco with Baba Meir Abuchatzeira, the son of the Baba Sali. After learning together for 12 years, he expressed the wish to learn Kabbalah. Baba Meir then told him that he had too good of a head to not focus on Gemara and sent him off to Lakewood. He then married and moved to Baltimore.

“Ask any of the roshei yeshivah in Lakewood today, they’ll remember him,” Rabbi Pinto says. “He was a famous personality there.”

Rabbi Pinto was named for his ancestor, something that gives him both a sense of pride but also a feeling that he must be more, do better.

“It’s a very special zach to be named after a gadol,” he said, using a decidedly un-Sephardic term. “It’s mashpia on the person, you know? But it also gives you a little bit of a drive to be a better person since I happen to carry such a special name. Definitely.”

Levi Yitzchok Derbaremdiger

Location: Williamsburg
Profession: president of PCP Cleaning Solutions
Namesake: Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, the Kedushas Levi (1740–1809)
Quote: “Oh, you have a big name, you could be a big rebbe and take pidyonos.”

 

The president of an office-cleaning company is the odd holder of the holy name that generations of chassidim trembled to even utter. Levi Yitzchok Derbaremdiger, a member of Williamsburg’s Boyaner kehillah, is proud to hold the name of his ancestor, the Kedushas Levi of Berditchev.

“I was named for the Berditchever,” he affirms. Family lore has it that when an 1804 edict by the Russian czar mandated that everyone adopt a family name, inspectors came to the home of the Berditchever Rebbe to formalize the surname. When they walked in, the Rebbe exclaimed, “Derbaremdiger Bashefer — Merciful Creator,” likely a common expression of the Rebbe’s. His last name was duly inscribed as Derbaremdiger.

Levi Yitzchok, who owns the PCP Cleaning Solutions company, says that he feels a special connection to his sainted ancestor, who lived from 1740 to 1809 and was one of the prime talmidim of the Mezritcher Maggid. And if he forgets it for a moment, he’s reminded immediately

“Every time I go daven in shul,” he says, “people see my name on my tallis bag and they go, ‘oh wow — are you an einekel of the Berditchever? You have such a special name.’ They get very excited.”

The Berditchever, known as the Sanegurion shel Yisrael, the defender of the Jews, for the myriad ways he stood up in defense of the Yidden, is a largely misunderstood figure in the annals of chassidus. He indeed sought every way possible to portray the Yidden in a good light to the Beis Din shel Maalah, but he was also a fiery maggid who rebuked people when he saw something inappropriate.

The Berditchever was initially the rav of Pinsk, a center of misnagdim, and when he joined the chassidim he was forced to hurriedly leave the city hours before Shabbos. In his older years, as one of the last surviving talmidim of the Maggid, he was recognized as the elder tzaddik of the generation.

His New York descendant is easily recognized in any beis medrash he walks into, though he finds that many people are not aware that the Berditchever’s last name was Derbaremdiger. “There are not a lot of people who don’t know who the Berditchever was,” he says.

The generation preceding him, he says, is more connected to the Kedushas Levi. His father, Rav Moshe Yosef, frequently says divrei Torah from his ancestor at the Shabbos table, referring to him as “the Zeide, the Berditchever Rav.” And his uncle, Reb Akiva, is the family genealogist. Levi Yitzchok himself lights a candle every day for the Berditchever and says that he tries to emulate his ancestor by always looking for the good in every Yid.

Reb Levi Yitzchok is a grandson of Rav Akiva, who was a son of Rav Shmuel Shmelke, son of Rav Yaakov Yosef, son of Rav Chaim Ber, son of Rav Levi Yitzchok, son of Rav Elimelech of Ritchov, son of Rav Shmuel Shmelke Pikover, son of Rav Yisroel Pikover, the Kesser Torah, who in turn was the oldest son of the Berditchever Rebbe.

All Derbaremdigers today are descended from the second Rav Shmuel Shmelke, who became attached to the Boyaner Rebbe. Levi Yitzchok’s uncle, Reb Yosef Derbaremdiger, was the elder gabbai of the Boyaner Rebbe until his passing several years ago.

Rav Levi Yitzchok’s name is associated with salvation. Generations of chassidim who had to illegally cross the border away from Czarist Russia would recite or write the name of the Berditchever — Levi Yitzchok ben Sarah Sosha, or Shosha, or Sosia — as a segulah. (The different pronunciations of his mother’s name reflect an old family riddle that has never been resolved.)

“A lot of people tell me,” Levi Yitzchok said with a laugh, ‘Oh, you have a big name, you could be a big rebbe and take pidyonos.’ ”

 

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 830)

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