“Oh, I’m so happy you brought a camera. I want to have a memory of this beautiful occasion”
I still think often of the Novominsker Rebbe, Rav Yaakov Perlow ztz”l. I still see his smile and feel his warmth. His ability to see the good in every person and make time for everyone was legendary.
Over 25 years ago, when I lived in the Heights, I attended the bris of a son of a friend of mine. It took place in the social hall of K’hal Adath Jeshurun, referred to by everyone in the Heights as “90 Bennett Ave,” and which was across the street from the famous Breuer’s Shul.
My friend was also a talmid of Rav Perlow when the Rebbe served as rosh yeshivah in Breuer’s, and the Rebbe was the sandek.
Many people not necessarily connected to the bris made their way to 90 Bennett Avenue that day to receive a brachah or unburden themselves to the Rebbe. I noticed how every person who approached him received the same warm smile and attention.
Even after the bris seudah had concluded, people continued to gather around Rav Perlow, and the Rebbe continued to connect with the people without ever showing the slightest hint of impatience. He gave the impression to every person that he had all the time in the world.
Finally, one of his attendants reminded the Rebbe that it was time for him to head back to Brooklyn.
The Rebbe looked at his watch and realized he had been speaking to people for so long that it was already the time when one could daven Minchah.
Perhaps forgetting that he was in Washington Heights and not Boro Park, the Rebbe asked, “Is there a Minchah minyan now? It would help me if we could daven Minchah now.
The men from Washington Heights were bewildered as the official shul Minchah wasn’t for a few hours, and ad hoc minyanim were just not part of the genre of K’hal Adath Jeshurun.
Finally, after some discussion, one man authorized a nonscheduled Minchah minyan in honor of the Rebbe in the Breuer’s Shul across the street. The crowd headed to the shul.
Rav Perlow, surrounded by a small group of talmidim, was about to go there also. Suddenly, he noticed a father with his seven-year-old son, looking longingly at the Rebbe. The Rebbe could see the father whisper something in the ears of the boy, yet the boy became bashful and hid behind his father.
A man standing next to the Rebbe said, “The Rebbe has a meeting with the Vaad HaChinuch today, perhaps we should go across the street to Minchah?”
The Rebbe then said somewhat cryptically, “I think the Vaad HaChinuch meeting has already begun.”
The talmid looked bewildered.
The Rebbe then looked over at the father and the bashful son and said, “Please come closer. Shalom aleichem, how are you? Were you waiting to speak to me?”
The boy remained speechless as the father was finally able to mumble, “Yes. We don’t want to bother the Rebbe, but could the Rebbe please give my son a brachah?”
The Rebbe said, “Of course. However, first, let’s get to know each other.” The Rebbe asked for the boy’s name, his grade, and what Chumash he was learning. When it was time to give the brachah, the Rebbe noticed the father had a camera.
The Rebbe said, “Oh, I’m so happy you brought a camera. I want to have a memory of this beautiful occasion.” The Rebbe then placed his arm around the boy’s shoulders.
Both the Rebbe and the boy were beaming. It was an everlasting memory for both father and son.
How do I know that all of the above is true?
Well, I am that father, the little boy is my son, Tuvia, and the picture still hangs proudly in our dining room.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 831)
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