Living Legacy: Rebbe Menachem Yisroel of Kosson, zt”l, Upon his 20th Yohrtzeit
By: Yehuda Alter
The Shabbos, the 18th of Cheshvan, will mark 20 years since the passing of the Kossoner Rebbe, Rebbe Menachem Yisroel Rottenberg, zt”l, the Kossoner Rebbe. He was an American-born Rebbe in the 1920’s, and grew up in an America where the Holocaust survivors had not yet arrived. He withstood the pressures of his time, and raised an illustrious family.
The Rebbe was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1928. One year later, his father, Rebbe Pinchos Sholom, relocated to the Bronx, where the chassidus would remain for decades thereafter.
Already as a young boy, Menachem Yisroel enrolled in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, and would make his way from the Bronx to Williamsburg every day by train. From a young age, he exhibited tremendous pride in his chassidishkeit, and would proudly wear his chassidishe levush despite the jeers and the mocking of the secular Jews, gentiles, and even some frum Yidden who felt that in America one didn’t need to dress in this manner.
(According to some, the following famous story occurred with the Kossoner Rebbe: One day as he was riding the train, he was accosted by a secular Jew–in a rich Yiddish–that was it was chillul Hashem for him to be dressed like this. The Rebbe answered in English, ‘I don’t understand what you’re saying: I am Amish, and we dress according to our tradition.’ Upon which the man thoroughly apologized for mocking his tradition. This was when the Kossoner Rebbe unleashed upon the man: “ If I am Amish, you accept my old-fashioned garb, but not if I am a chassidishe Yid?!”)
At one point, he desired to travel to Europe to learn in the yeshiva of his uncle, but the clouds of war had begun to gather, so he remained home. Following the war, Rav Michoel Ber Weissmandl, arrived in America, and sought to open a yeshiva. The Rebbe immediately joined him, and was among the first talmidim to join.
He married Rebbetzin Freida Gittel, the daughter of Rav Meir Yosef Rubin of Kerestir, zt”l, Hy”d. He then became one of the first kollel Yungeleit in America. In addition to his continuing to learn under great Rabbonim, he learned together with the Viener-Hodhazer Ruv, Rav Ezriel Yehuda Lebovics–and they would learn together for many hours.
When his father relocated to Boro Park, Rav Menachem Yisroel took over the Bronx shtiebel, with his father coming to stay there in the summers. On 25 Tammuz, 1966, the previous Rebbe was niftar in the home. The Rebbe then succeeded him as the Kossoner Rebbe in the Bronx, until his relocation to Boro Park in 1981.
The Rebbe was known for his incredible mastery of Torah, in nigleh as well as in nistar, and his home was open to one and all. As a Zidichoiver einikel, he kept many of the nuscha’os of this holy dynasty, and was known for his sweetness in tefillah.
Upon his passing in 2003, the Rebbe left behind an incredible legacy and children who continue in his holy ways.
Zechuso yogein aleinu.