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Palace of Torah

In honor of his seventh yahrtzeit, Rav Elyashiv’s daughter, Rebbetzin Sura Yisraelson, recalls a childhood among giants

On a recent trip to Eretz Yisrael, while my husband was waiting for an audience with Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita, I went around the corner with my young daughters to meet Rav Chaim’s sister-in-law, Rebbetzin Sura Yisraelson. A granddaughter of Reb Aryeh Levin, a daughter of Rav Elyashiv, wife of Rav Yosef Yisrael Yisraelson, and sister of Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky, Rebbetzin Yisraelson is a scion of greatness.

The Rebbetzin welcomed us into her first-floor abode, a cozy little escape from the traffic of Rechov Chazon Ish below. Her soft features and gentle, almond-eyed gaze carry an uncanny resemblance to her saintly father.

Not only did Rebbetzin Yisraelson grow up in the vicinity of greatness, but her children, too, were surrounded by it. In addition to having a father who was a noted talmid chacham, Rav Steinman ztz’’l lived in the apartment below theirs. “Rav Steinman and his Rebbetzin were like family to us,” she tells me. “I used to knock at their door to borrow eggs.”

On our way up, I’d noticed the metal nameplate, “Steinman” in the center of the simple wooden door.

“Does anyone live there now?” I ask the Rebbetzin.

“No, not yet. My father Rav Elyashiv’s apartment is also still empty, untouched, looking exactly the way it always did.”

“Sh, Tatte lernt”

It must have been a struggle for the Yisraelsons to muffle the footsteps of their 14 children kein ayin hara so as not to disturb their downstairs neighbor, especially on the tiled floor that was the Steinman’s ceiling, but the Rebbetzin describes how tiptoeing around her own childhood home was second nature to her and her siblings, having been imbued from infancy with “Sh, Tatte lernt.”

“Already when we were tiny,” she says, “we knew how great our father was. And we knew that disturbing him from learning was the worst thing we could do. There were many geonim in his time, but his cheshek for Torah was lemalah min derech hateva. It was his food, his drink, his oxygen!”

She quotes her sister, Rebbetzin Auerbach, who would say that disturbing their father from learning was like pulling a baby away from his mother after he’d been crying longingly to be fed.

When Rav Elyashiv became frail and spent more time learning at home, many people came to consult with him; even the saintly Rav Shach once came to discuss something of import. Rebbetzin Elyashiv was distressed by the loss of privacy since she knew how badly Rav Elyashiv wanted to preserve his limited energy for learning and how it upset him to be deprived of that oxygen. She herself was never guilty of peeling his eyes away from his sefer, single-handedly running their home, even in emergencies. The stories her daughter shares are mind-boggling.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 652)