| Magazine Feature |

The Mir’s Lost Lion   

A sefer named Yonas Eilem, written by Rav Yonah Karpilov, also known as Rav Yonah Minsker

Photos: Yad Vashem Archives, Yeshivah University Archives, Mir Yerushalayim Archives, Wilensky Family, Feivel Schneider, JDC Archives, DMS Yeshivah Archives, E&S Tours, David Bald

Additional research and image sourcing by Dovi Safier


Ask a yeshivah bochur or yungerman to list the seforim “classics” of the yeshivah world and the response will likely include the Ketzos HaChoshen, Nesivos Hamishpat, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, Birchas Shmuel, Divrei Yechezkel, Imrei Moshe, the Brisker Rav — and a sefer named Yonas Eilem, written by Rav Yonah Karpilov, also known as Rav Yonah Minsker.
Unlike the others on this list, Rav Yonah had very limited years on this earth and never held an official leadership position; yet his work is discussed in the same breath as the titans of the yeshivah world.
How and why is this the case, and if so, why has the sefer languished in and out of print in an old font until now? How did a Brooklyn yungerman of Syrian heritage come to edit and publish the first new edition of the sefer to be published in 35 years? And what role did a trip to Europe and a late-night podcast play in bringing Rav Yonah’s Torah to a new generation?


was a frigid day in Yokohama, Japan, that January morning in 1941 when the Imperial Japanese Telegraph service delivered an urgent telegram to the former official chief rabbi of Vilna Rabbi Yitzchak Rubinstein and rescue leader and Mizrachi activist Zorach Warhaftig, who were temporarily located in the city’s Central Hotel. The telegram had been dispatched from Soviet-occupied Vilna and contained a desperate English-language message: “PLEASE TRY JAPAN TRANS VIZAS MY BROTHER MOSHE RAFALOWITZ AND YONA KARPILOV.”

The brief telegram was a last-ditch attempt to save one of the greatest minds of the prewar Torah world, a bright light that shone from Minsk to Baranovich, from Kamenitz to Mir, from Mir to Brisk, and finally in the shadows of war in Vilna and Kovno, where it was snuffed out by the Nazis and their local collaborators. This is the story of Rav Yonah Karpilov, known to posterity by his city of origin, Rav Yonah Minsker.

By the time the telegram was sent in the winter of 1941, thousands of Jewish refugees had escaped the communist Soviet Union by traversing the Trans-Siberian railroad and departed the Soviet Union through the port city of Vladivostok across the Sea of Japan. The previous August had seen a monthlong frenzy in procuring Japanese transit visas, distributed by the legendary Japanese consul in Kovno, Chiune Sugihara. The long application process for Soviet exit visas lasted through the fall of 1940, until travel commenced in November and continued throughout that winter.

Clutching their precious documents including Soviet exit visas, Japanese transit visas, along with either authentic or dubious end visas to various countries, the escapees were temporarily housed in clusters in the Japanese cities of Kobe and Yokohama. Among the throngs of refugees was the bulk of the Mir Yeshivah student body and rebbeim with their families. They had attempted to stay together as a group, and their unique collaborative efforts in obtaining bulk visas for the majority of the institution had thus far served them well.

For those who’d stayed behind in Vilna, a year plagued by uncertainty now gave way to desperation. The Mir group wished to be reunited with one of their undisputed leaders, one of the “lions of the chaburah,” and engaged in what would sadly be futile efforts to save Rav Yonah Minsker, who had remained behind in Soviet-occupied Lithuania.


Left Behind

It’s common knowledge that the Mir Yeshivah as an entity survived the ravages of the Holocaust in a miraculous escape that landed them in Shanghai, China. What’s less well-known, however, is that unfortunately not all Mir talmidim were saved.

Several largely subjective factors kept those students behind. Some likely went home to their families upon the war’s outbreak. Some were skeptical about the visas. Others were unable to obtain the visas — either they were ineligible due to Soviet citizenship or they were missing some other documentation. (Some were able to obtain alternative visas on their own and reached the United States or other countries as individuals.)

Tragically, there were quite a few who remained in Europe during the Nazi occupation and were murdered during the Holocaust. Perhaps the most famous of these was one who stood at the apex of the Lithuanian Torah world and was the pride of Mir Yeshivah: Rav Yonah “Minsker.”

Rav Yonah did not marry; he left no descendants. However, before he was murdered, he managed to send some of his writings to a brother who’d escaped to Mandate-era Palestine. Those writings became his legacy, published as the sefer Yonas Eilem.

Yonas Eilem was initially published in 1948, and swiftly became a classic in the yeshivah world. Now, a newly revised and typeset edition — with new material culled from Rav Yonah’s Torah mentioned in other seforim — has been published. A long, meandering journey brought those prewar papers to their new form in the crisp, approachable format of the newly-released edition. Now a new generation of yeshivah bochurim can once again connect with the Torah of prewar Mir’s “lost lion.”

Saved from the Communists

Yonah Karpilov was born in Minsk in the heart of the Russian Pale of Settlement (currently capital of Belarus) in 1909. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, waves of Jews fled from the western Russian provinces near the German border to the Russian interior due to both Czarist Russian governmental expulsions from the frontier and a general wartime flight from the front lines. Many ended up in Minsk. The silver lining of this chaos was the arrival in Minsk of large numbers of talmidei chachamim and yeshivos, including the Chofetz Chaim, Rav Chaim Brisker, and the Alter of Slabodka, and others.

In 1918 nine-year-old Yonah began attending a yeshivah in the Shoavei Mayim shul in Minsk, which was overseen by the famed Torah leader Rav Yehoshua Zimbalist. He soon transferred to a branch of the Radin yeshivah in Smilowitz, run by Rav Elchanan Wasserman and Rav Yitzchak Hirschowitz, a son-in-law of Rav Leizer Gordon of Telz. Its mashgiach was Rav Eliyahu Dushnitzer, who later served in that capacity in Lomza of Petach Tikvah.

After Minsk was occupied by the Red Army during the Russian Civil War in the beginning of 1919, and the Bolshevik government solidified its control of the district in 1921, exiled yeshivos attempted to escape the Bolsheviks by crossing the border into independent Poland. Among those was Yeshivas Knesses Beis Yitzchak, headed by Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz.

His son-in-law Rav Reuven Grozovsky made a stop in his hometown of Minsk and met Rav Yonah’s father Reb Yechezkel Karpilov, with whom he was acquainted. Rav Reuven convinced Reb Yechezkel to send his son Yonah on the journey with Knesses Beis Yitzchak, thus saving Yonah from the clutches of the communists. Rav Reuven subsequently took pride in having been the impetus for Rav Yonah Minsker’s escape and eventual emergence as a respected talmid chacham.

Yonah was still a child prior to his bar mitzvah when he parted from his family for good, going into exile in order to study Torah.

Knesses Beis Yitzchak settled in Vilna which had been incorporated into Poland, and Rav Yonah spent the next five years there, imbibing the Torah of Rav Boruch Ber. In 1926 Rav Baruch Ber transferred the yeshivah to the relatively small shtetl of Kamenitz, finding the urban setting of Vilna to have an adverse impact on his students’ spiritual growth.

At around this time, the 17-year-old Yonah Karpilov transferred to the Mir Yeshivah. There he soon emerged as one of the “lions” of the group, and developed a close relationship with the legendary mashgiach Rav Yeruchem Levovitz, who became one of his primary rebbeim and whose shmuessen he transcribed. It was in the Mir that Rav Yonah was recognized as an outstanding talmid chacham, and his renown spread throughout the wider yeshivah community.


From Mir to Brisk and Back

The elite scholars of Mir Yeshivah benefited from a rare opportunity when in 1929 Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer visited Poland from Yerushalayim, to participate in the dedication of his son-in-law Rav Aharon Kotler’s new yeshivah building in the Polish town of Kletzk. At the chanukas habayis he met Mirrer Rosh Yeshivah Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel, and casually remarked to him that the unique learning and teaching abilities of Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, the Brisker Rav, weren’t being properly utilized.

Hardly wasting a moment, Rav Leizer Yudel handpicked a group of students and sent them to Brisk, to imbibe the Torah of the Brisker Rav. The group included Rav Leib Malin, Reb Yonah Minsker, Rav Michel Feinstein, Rav Henoch Fishman, Rav Naftali Wasserman, and Rav Ephraim Mordechai Ginsburg, among others. Not only did Rav Leizer Yudel supply Brisk with its initial kernel of students, he also provided financial support — this despite the challenging economic situation caused by the onset of the Great Depression.

The reverence that the younger talmidim felt for Rav Yonah was evident in a statement made by Rav Simcha Sheps (later a rosh yeshivah in Yeshivah Torah Vodaath). Initially chosen by Rav Leizer Yudel to be one of the pioneer students sent to Brisk, when he found out that Rav Yonah Minsker would also be part of that group, he turned down the privilege, explaining, “Rav Yonah falls into the category of mori v’rabi, my teacher and mentor. It is not kavod haTorah for a rebbi and talmid to go study under the Brisker Rav at the same time.”

During his time in Brisk, Rav Yonah earned the esteem of the Brisker Rav. Years later, after the Holocaust, the Rav would wistfully remark that he had not found anyone of Reb Yonah’s caliber to discuss Torah topics.

Upon his return to Mir a couple of years later, Rav Yonah’s stature increased even further. Students of the yeshivah saw him along with fellow talmid Rav Leib Malin as part of the yeshivah leadership in an unofficial capacity.

Rav Yonah gained renown as a young and budding Torah scholar, publishing some of his own Torah in the Torah journals of the day. Many of the younger students became his protégés, with Rav Yeruchem arranging for the most promising to interact with him, whether in shared living space, during meals, or as learning partners. Some of them viewed Reb Yonah as their primary teacher and took careful notes of his teachings. These included Rav Mordechai Schwab (of Germany), Rav Shmuel Schechter (of Canada), Rav Binyamin Zeilberger (of Germany), and several others, all of whom revered him and would marvel at his greatness for the rest of their lives.

But war was approaching, and it would soon overturn Europe’s yeshivah landscape with terrible finality.


Narrow Escape Hatch 

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact signed between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the last week of August 1939 included a secret clause about the division of Poland between the two aggressors. Shortly after the outbreak of war in September, the Soviets entered eastern Poland. The area they occupied, which contained many yeshivos, faced the looming threat of a communist takeover.

In a surprising “magnanimous” gesture, the Soviet Union ceded the city of Vilna and its environs to independent, neutral Lithuania. The Soviet-Lithuanian mutual assistance treaty of October 10, 1939 delineated the new borders between the two countries with the transfer of the Vilna region to Lithuania in exchange for allowing the Soviet Union to station 20,000 Red Army troops on Lithuanian soil.

This incredible news opened a narrow door of escape for thousands of Jewish refugees in Soviet-occupied eastern Poland and even in Nazi-occupied western Poland. Anyone present in Vilna on the day of the transfer, would find themselves in a neutral and (somewhat) independent country of Lithuania, sheltered from the ravages of war.

At the behest of Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, many yeshivos therefore made the trek to Vilna, where they could be safe from both the Nazis and the Soviets, all without crossing an international border. Following Simchas Torah of 1939, the Mir Yeshivah left its hometown of the previous 120 years for the last time, and made its way to Lithuania as well.

Following a short stint in a Vilna suburb, the yeshivah settled into a learning routine in the shtetl of Keidan, but the ground beneath them was trembling. A Soviet takeover of the Baltic States seemed imminent. Indeed, Lithuania was officially incorporated into the Soviet Union in the summer of 1940, and under Communist dominion, religious life now hung in the balance. The mortal danger of the future Nazi invasion was not yet on the horizon. Instead, the yeshivah’s immediate concern was how to sustain religious life under Communist rule.

As bnei yeshivah who lived for Torah learning and observance, they knew it was just a matter of time before the Communists would target them. So they tentatively began to explore the possibility of escape.


Risky Route

The fear of living under the G-dless Communists, and being required to accept Soviet citizenship, motivated Rav Leib Malin — one of the primary leaders of the yeshivah talmidim — to initiate the escape process.

In order for a given refugee to execute the entire process of exiting the Soviet Union, one had to possess a full set of documents reflecting the projected itinerary. One was required to obtain a passport of their respective citizenship country, an end visa indicating the final destination, a transit visa indicated permission to travel through any country on the way, and —most importantly — an exit visa from the Soviet Union. The entire route had to be mapped out, funded, and documented in advance of commencing travel.

Rav Leib Malin began by procuring passports for the yeshivah’s hundreds of Polish citizens from the Polish government in exile, which was then operating out of the British consulate in Kovno.

Beyond the confines of Mir Yeshivah, an escape route was already taking shape, and thousands of refugees began availing themselves of the opportunity. Along with several others, a Dutch national studying at Telz named Nathan Gutwirth achieved an initial victory when the honorary Dutch consul Jan Zwartendijk agreed to stamp their visas to the Dutch-held island of Curaçao with the vague phrase, “No visa needed for Curaçao.” The legendary Zorach Warhaftig was able to procure those visas for Polish citizens as well.

The next step was obtaining the legendary transit visas from the Japanese consul in Kovno, Chiune Sugihara. Then came the most decisive — and dangerous — diplomatic step: requesting Soviet exit visas. With Warhaftig’s encouragement, the Mir Yeshivah joined the effort.

As the Mir talmidim prepared to leave Lithuania, Rav Leib Malin and several other senior talmidim formalized their position at the yeshivah’s helm by forming a student committee of five to oversee the yeshivah’s rescue efforts. Rav Leib Malin, Rav Yonah Minsker, Rav Chaim Vysokier, Rav Michel Feinstein, and Rav Yaakov Brabrovsky initiated correspondence with the president and longtime fundraiser for the Mir Yeshivah Rav Avraham Kalmanowitz (later the rosh yeshivah of New York’s Mir Yeshivah), who had traveled to the United States with the war’s outbreak in order to fundraise on behalf of the refugee yeshivah and facilitate their emigration. The student committee updated him on the exit plans and the day-to-day affairs of the yeshivah.

The very existence of a vaad of talmidim who oversaw the yeshivah administration at this point testifies to the role the “lions of the Mir” played and would continue to play in the developing narrative, as well as to the role that Rav Yonah had attained in the yeshivah’s leadership. In addition, it attested to the fact that at least at this stage Rav Yonah Minsker was fully engaged in the escape scheme and the attempts to obtain the various documents that would facilitate their exit from the Soviet Union.


No Visa for Me

Yet Rav Yonah Minsker never obtained one of the Dutch consul visas, nor the Sugihara transit visas, nor a Soviet exit visa for himself. Why didn’t he participate in the escape scheme that he helped advance for so many others?

Many theories have been offered. In fact, after the publication of Dovi Safier and Yehuda Geberer’s profile of Rav Leib Malin (“Leader of the Lions,” Succos 2021 edition of Mishpacha), we received more than ten theories from readers why Rav Yonah stayed behind, ranging from the plausible to the impossible. A slew of personal or family reasons are cited in primary sources. One reader claimed Rav Yonah was engaged and did not want to leave his kallah behind (though none of his fellow Mirrers ever mentioned this).

Another wrote: “He was sick and worried he wouldn’t be able to get medication in China” (Shanghai was not even being talked about yet at that point). Some posit that he suspected that the Dutch visas were not reliable, since the local governor of Curaçao had the authority to deny the refugees entry. One memoir of the time even recalls some referring to the visas as “toilet paper visas.”

A more likely theory was his suspicion of Soviet intentions regarding visa applicants. All too familiar from his own upbringing in Minsk with Soviet duplicitousness, Reb Yonah was deeply suspicious of the Russian avenue of escape. He hypothesized that a Soviet trap awaited the Jewish refugees, and that rather than reaching Japan, their final destination would be Siberia.

It must be understood that prior to the advent of the Nazi Einsatzgruppen killing squads, the most feared retribution was Stalin’s gulag. For the yeshivah students in this area, the occupation at this point was Soviet, the threat was Soviet, and the perceived danger was primarily spiritual in nature. A Nazi invasion was not seen as an immediate risk, and certainly no one would have been aware of the Final Solution. All decisions on the visa topic were viewed at the time of spiritual sustainability under the Soviet communists.

In addition to his suspicion that the Curaçao visas were a trap and the fear of Soviet repercussion and deportation to Siberia, some posit that Rav Yonah simply wasn’t eligible for a Soviet exit visa — having been born in Minsk, he was considered a Soviet citizen. Soviet exit visas were only granted to foreign nationals.

As such, Rav Yonah did not obtain the visas.

He did, however, attempt to obtain a visa to the United States. Rav Elchanan Wasserman and his son Rav Simchah petitioned Mike Tress in New York to obtain visas for him. In addition, Rav Avraham Kalmanowitz and Rav Laizer Yudel Finkel implored Zorach Warhaftig to arrange the necessary documents for him, emphasizing that Reb Yonah was “one of the gedolim and will become a great light for the Jewish People.” But none of those efforts bore fruit.


Alone in Kovno

With the departure of his friends for distant Japan, Reb Yonah remained very much alone in Kovno, bereft of his friends, his colleagues, and the institution that was his home. Having left his parents’ care before his bar mitzvah, the yeshivah community had been his home for two decades.

Keenly aware of the danger, he focused on preserving his Torah legacy, dispatching some of his writings on Maseches Nedarim to his brother Rav Zev Wilensky in Palestine. (Rav Yonah’s brother took the name Wilensky when he managed to escape Europe to Eretz Yisrael with Rav Yechiel Wilensky, and thereafter kept the name.)

With the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, Lithuania quickly fell under Nazi occupation. The local Lithuanian population utilized the power vacuum in the early stages of the occupation to carry out massacres of their Jewish neighbors. These killings were perpetrated on their own initiative and prior to the mass murders carried out by the Nazis themselves.

By then, Rav Yonah had joined the remaining students of the Slabodka yeshivah, most of whom remained trapped in the Kovno suburb. It was there that he found his bitter end, on the night of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz. According to famed Kovno Ghetto rav and chronicler Rav Ephraim Oshry, part of Reb Yonah’s body was wrapped in a sefer Torah and set ablaze. Thus, at the young age of 32, one of the princes of the Torah World was cut down in his prime.

When Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel was informed of Rav Yonah’s martyrdom, he wept openly and bitterly, exclaiming: “Woe to the land, for a great man is gone. We have lost a piece of the Torah.”

Miles away in Eretz Yisrael, Rav Zev Wilensky made great efforts to perpetuate his martyred brother’s Torah, resulting in the publication of the sefer — or actually kuntres (pamphlet) — Yonas Eilem, a compilation of a small selection of Rav Yonah’s Torah. The work was originally published in 1948, after the writings were edited and compiled by Rav Yonah’s friend and talmid, Rav Binyamin Zeilberger (later rosh yeshivah in Yeshivas Bais Hatalmud in New York). The sefer was issued in a revised second edition ten years later in 1958, and a subsequent third edition was published in 1988.

The work comprises 42 small chapters and is arranged topically on various lomdishe topics in Gemara and Rambam, and includes Torah heard by Rav Yonah from some of his rebbeim, as well as some divrei zikaron and hesped on Rav Yonah.

While it attained immediate “classic” status, Yonas Eilem remained a challenging sefer — the layout was poor, the text was in an old font, tens of sources were lacking, there was no index, and it was not always available to purchase.

But this week, all that has changed.


Complete Overhaul

 The newest chapter of the Yonas Eilem saga has an unlikely protagonist. Rabbi Pinchas Shelby, a Brooklyn yungerman of Syrian heritage who currently learns in Kollel Hechal Shemuel, grew up with a love of seforim instilled in him by his father, who was a close talmid and ben bayis of Rav Ovadia Yosef.

As a teenage bochur, he developed a connection with Rav Shaul Kassin ztz”l, the chief rabbi of the Syrian American Community from 1994 until his passing in 2018, with whom he learned and discussed various topics and seforim. Naturally, after Rav Kassin’s passing Rabbi Shelby committed to editing and publishing Rav Kassin’s sefer Mitzvat Hashem on the mitzvos.

After that entrée into the world of seforim, Rabbi Shelby began to think about old “classics” in need of editing and publishing. Like any yeshivahmahn, he was familiar with Yonas Eilem and wondered why such a classic had never been updated and reprinted in a more accessible format, as is befitting a work of such stature.

He learned that the sefer was and is published by relatives of Rav Yonah, his brother Rav Zev Wilensky’s descendants, so he decided to speak to them directly. The phone was answered by Rav Yechezkel Wilensky, a rosh kollel in Petach Tikvah, and Rabbi Shelby enjoyed a conversation about Rav Yonah and sefer Yonas Eilem. In fact, when Rav Wilensky later came to America to collect for his kollel he discovered that his usual host had moved out of Brooklyn — and so Rabbi Shelby’s family hosted Rav Wilensky instead.

After receiving the Wilenskys’ permission to prepare a new edition of Yonas Eilem for print, Rabbi Shelby set about his task at hand: to create an updated edition of Sefer Yonas Eilem as befitting someone of Rav Yonah Minsker’s renown. This was no small feat, as the sefer was due for a complete overhaul, a task that would require much time, effort, and money.

Rather than bulk up the sefer with his own notes and comments, Rabbi Shelby decided to issue a simple revised and updated edition. He included a new biography of Rav Yonah, newly typeset the sefer, added sources, 11 additional chapters of Rav Yonah’s Torah material culled from other seforim, and an index.

Once Rabbi Shelby prepared the sefer, he had to find the proper funding to cover editing, proofreading, layout, graphic design, and printing. How would he procure the money?

Unplanned Podcast

This past July — just as Rabbi Shelby finished his work on the sefer — Rav Binyomin Finkel, mashgiach of Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim, landed in America for a visit.  During his stay, Rabbi Shelby’s uncle, Rabbi David M. Haber — a young and dynamic rav in the Syrian community — helped arrange a special Shabbos of chizuk with the Mashgiach in Deal, New Jersey. Another person involved in Rav Binyomin’s trip to America was Mir alumnus and Mishpacha contributor Dovi Safier, who bonded with Rabbi Haber over (among other things) their shared passion for Jewish history.

That bond soon proved its Divine providence when Rabbi Shelby mentioned the Yonas Eilem project to his uncle. Rabbi Haber immediately thought that Dovi might be interested in helping republish the sefer authored by one of the prewar giants of the Mir Yeshivah, and connected his nephew with Dovi. The sefer was nearly complete, Rabbi Shelby explained, but he lacked a sponsor for the final $25,000 in expenses. Little did he know, Dovi was eagerly seeking precisely this sort of opportunity, because he had hit upon a novel concept that he was looking to introduce to the world: Crowdfunding the publication of seforim.

Just a few months prior, Eli Slomowitz, the proprietor of E&S Tours in Lakewood, had conceptualized a trip to Central Europe geared toward lomdei daf yomi and invited the popular maggid shiur Reb Sruly Bornstein to highlight it. This was not your typical “Jewish Heritage” tour. In hindsight, it would be more properly billed as a Yarchei Kallah.

Mornings were spent learning with chavrusas, followed by an early afternoon daf yomi shiur delivered by Reb Sruly. The shiurim were enhanced by the fact that they were held at some of the most historic spots in Central Europe: The Altneu Shul in Prague, the Shach’s shul in Holeshov, and the brand-new hachnassas orchim building adjacent to the kever of the Chasam Sofer in Bratislava. A gala siyum on Maseches Sotah was celebrated by the group as well. Afternoons were spent visiting the kevarim of some of the iconic figures whose Torah is near and dear to the chaburah, as well as other historic sites in the area. It was for that purpose that the two of us and Dovi — were invited on the trip.

On the final night of the trip, we returned to our hotel following the beautiful and inspiring siyum. It was well past midnight, and we hadn’t gotten more than a couple of hours of sleep in three days, but we weren’t quite ready to let go of the moment. The two of us are both podcast hosts, and when Dovi suggested that we record our memories of the trip on a joint Jewish History Soundbites and SeforimChatter podcast, we seized the moment. After all, what could go wrong recording a podcast without any real topic in mind, zero preparation, and no proper equipment in a Prague hotel room at 1:30 a.m.?

Well, it turns out that sometimes a little bit of hishtadlus is all it takes to make history.


Seforim as a Legacy

The discussion quickly turned toward a topic the three of us had raised in a panel discussion along with Rav Shlomo Besser, rav of Manhattan’s Congregation Bnei Yisroel Chaim, on the first night of the trip. It was a phrase that Yehuda had coined a couple of years earlier following a trip to Bratislava with a shul group from Boro Park. “Upon visiting the kever of the Chasam Sofer,” he said, “members of the group approached me one by one, with a twinkle in their eyes, each remarking with pride, ‘Ich bin an einekel.’ One was even a descendant via both of his parents!”

Clearly, our community feels a real sense of pride in being able to trace their ancestry to a tzaddik or talmid chacham of previous generations. But we wondered whether that pride — or as Yehuda put it, the “Ich bin an einekel phenomenon” — could have a more tangible expression.

On our visit to the Chasam Sofer’s kever, Nachi was struck by the sad state of the kever of Rav Meshulam Igra, the great gaon who was the Chasam Sofer’s predecessor as rav of Pressburg. The kever is cracked in the middle and a plastic white placard is propped up in the gravestone with the full text of the inscription. Furthermore, much the group seemed to ignore the kever and several were unaware as to who Rav Meshulam Igra — the rebbi of his nephew Rav Naftali of Ropschitz and Rav Yaakov Lorberbaum of Lisa, author of Nesivos Hamishpat, among others — even was.

As a seforim aficionado, what bothered Nachi even more than the state of Rav Meshulem’s grave was the state of his Sh’eilos U’Teshuvos (halachic responsa) and chiddushim (novellae). Hardly available, the current editions are a cramped text from the late 1800s that run in two large columns per page.

Dovi then jumped into the conversation. Never one to mince the words, he suggested that being an einekel was more than just a zechus; it was an obligation. “While visiting the kever for the yahrtzeit and offering tikkun is surely a worthy act, emulating the way of the tzaddik is the highest form of remembrance,” he said. “And what better way to do that than by publishing or republishing his Torah!”

He then suggested that it was time to adopt the concept taking the frum fundraising world by storm and attempt to organize crowdfunding campaigns for the publication of seforim. “Ich bin an einekel” should not be merely about pride; it should result in the perpetuation of these gedolim’s Torah legacy.

The reaction from the more than 10,000 listeners to the joint podcast was extremely positive. The Charidy fundraising platform even offered to conduct the first campaign without charging any fees.

And Rav Yonah Minsker’s sefer was ready at just the right time to test the theory. Though no one can claim to be Rav Yonah’s einekel, contributors responded immediately and enthusiastically when asked to help shepherd his sefer through its final stages. Just four days, 116 donors, and 25,000 dollars later — after a tortuous wartime odyssey, a brother’s devotion, a Brooklyn yungerman’s meticulous work, an unplanned podcast, an experimental fundraiser, and an overwhelmingly eager response — Rav Yonah’s writings are seeing new life.

This week the updated edition of Yonas Eilem is making its way to seforim stores, and soon it will find a new home in yeshivos and batei medrash around the world. Rav Yonah did not emerge from the Nazi inferno, but in a certain sense his lips are still moving, sharing his spiritual wealth. In a sefer both old and new, the insights of the Mir’s lost lion continue to reverberate.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 983)

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