Rav Dovid had the bearing of an old-school baal mussar and a master educator
Title: Reunited at Last
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Document: Inventory list from Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc.
Prior to his untimely passing in 1972, Rav Dovid Kronglas served as the beloved mashgiach of Ner Israel in Baltimore, following his arrival in the United States after his wartime stay with Mir Yeshivah in Shanghai. In addition to his responsibilities as mashgiach, he delivered a daily blatt shiur and served in an unofficial capacity as the yeshivah’s posek.
Rav Dovid had the bearing of an old-school baal mussar and a master educator. Through his shmuessen and the personal connection he forged with his talmidim, he inculcated them with the mussar ideals of his upbringing, coupled with an understanding of modern day challenges. He earned the respect of the rosh yeshivah, Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman, who gave the mashgiach considerable latitude in his educational approach. Rav Dovid was also remembered for his impassioned leading of the yeshivah’s Yamim Noraim davening, and some of his liturgical customs remain part of the standard Ner Israel nusach to this very day.
Rav Dovid Kronglas served as a bridge between his rebbi, the great Mir mashgiach Rav Yerucham Levovitz, and a new generation of yeshivah students. That role and mission would be symbolized by an incident that occurred not long after he began his position at Ner Israel.
Aside from trying to kill all the Jews of Europe, the Nazis also plundered their property, including financial assets, real estate, artworks, religious articles, and cultural heirlooms taken from libraries, archives, and museums. The Nazis wanted to collect material for an “Institute for the Investigation of the Jewish Question,” amassing warehouses of Jewish books and artifacts throughout Europe.
After the liberation, the newly formed Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc., distributed some of these materials to various (mainly Jewish) institutions; many shuls, schools across the country received sifrei Torah, seforim, and Judaica in 1949–50. As one of the nation’s premier rabbinical schools, Ner Israel received its due share of “Jewish books” from the US Army. When the first cartons were delivered to the yeshivah, Rav Dovid personally supervised their opening, perhaps to sanctify the memory of the presumed victims by having the talmidim study from their seforim.
Lo and behold, the first sefer that emerged from the pile was Chever Maamarim: Daas Chochmah U’mussar by his own rebbi, Rav Yerucham Levovitz! Upon opening it, Rav Dovid was shocked to see his own name in the flyleaf.
His own sefer had survived the travails of the war and the Holocaust, and traveled halfway around the world to be returned to his hands. This original volume of Rav Yerucham’s shmuessen had been published by a group of his senior talmidim in Vilna 1939. His copy had presumably been purchased and inadvertently left behind during the yeshivah’s short stint in Vilna, to which they had fled shortly after the war’s onset.
Rav Dovid Kronglas clutched the tangible connection of prewar Mir, filled with a resolve to bring it to life by imparting its lessons to his postwar students.
The Paper Brigade
With the 1941 Nazi occupation of Vilna, the plundering of the Strashun Library and the YIVO archives began. The Nazis wished to preserve the choicest of the collections, while the remainder would be consigned to the paper mill. A group of Jews in the Vilna Ghetto led by Avraham Sutzkever and Shmerke Kaczerginski were commissioned to sort the materials. At great risk to their lives, they smuggled as much as they could to hiding spots around the ghetto area. Most of these caches were discovered following liberation.
In his book At His Rebbe’s Side, Rav Yehoshua Liff describes how Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel summed up Rav Dovid’s greatness:
“Rav Dovid was a groise lamdan. But there were bigger lamdanim in the Mir.
“Rav Dovid was a groise masmid. But there were bigger masmidim in the Mir.
“Rav Dovid was a groise baal mussar. But there were bigger baalei mussar in the Mir.
“Rav Dovid was a groise baal halachah. But there were bigger baalei halachah.
“But there was no one who possessed all of those character traits like Rav Dovid did.”
11 Teves marks the 49th yahrtzeit of Rav Dovid Kronglas
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 890)
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