Living Legacy: The Kapishnitzer Rebbe, zt”l
One of the most important and renowned Chassidic figures in America, the Kapishnitzer Rebbe embodied the royalty for which the house of Ruzhin is known. His presence was princely and regal, and he dedicated himself to illuminating the darkness of America’s spiritual desert, carrying American Jewry on his shoulders until his last day. His yohrtzeit falls Friday, 16 Tammuz.
Origins in Ruzhin
The Rebbe was born in the town of Husyatin, where his maternal grandfather was the Husyatiner Rebbe. His father was Rav Yitzchok Meir Heschel, who would later become the Kapishnitzer Rebbe. He was named for the Oheiv Yisroel of Apta, of whom he was a direct descendant. Like his illustrious namesake, the Rebbe’s very essence would be love and a chessed for his fellow Jews—his kindheartedness was seen on him from the youngest age. His father foresaw his son’s unique caliber, and doted on him, preparing him for his future role.
When WWI broke out, the family, like many Jews of that region, fled to Vienna. Every day, he would go to the train station to greet the tired refugees who were arriving. He would personally help them with their valises, and assist them in getting settled. From the moment they arrived, the Rebbe would shoulder their burden, secretly leaving money under their doors.
In 1936, when his father passed away, Rav Avraham Yehoshua was crowned as his successor. For three years he began serving as a Rebbe in Vienna. But as the winds of war began blowing, he began to make plans for passage to America, where he arrived and settled on the Lower East Side, in 1939. Almost immediately, the Rebbe’s home began to serve as a place where every Jew could turn for help.
Leading His People
He entered the fray of public life, but in a private way; he had a hand in nearly every klal endeavor, yet he managed to remain out of the limelight, conducting himself in the noblest fashion. He would circulate the streets of Manhattan, and in his soft yet regal voice, would implore the storekeepers to close their shops on Shabbos. When Shomer Shabbos groups would form in Jewish communities, the Rebbe always supported them, financially and otherwise.
The plight of his fellow Jews in Europe gave him no rest, and he was preoccupied with rescue work. He did not eat any meat for the duration of the war… and this weakened him substantially. There was rarely a rescue meeting at which the rebbe was nor present, and enormous sums of money passed through his hands in this effort.
In 1964, the Rebbe transferred his court to Boro Park, and continued his activities as before. He was one of the most influential figures behind chinuch Atzmai, to provide Israel’s children with a Jewish education. Rav Aharon Kotler said that without the Kapishnitzer Rebbe, he could not have shouldered this burden. Mikv’aos were another of his great causes; and when he came to Boro Park, he did not rest from the first moment, until the mikvah was ultimately built. He did the same for countless mikv’aos around Eretz Yisroel.
He regularly attracted—and doted upon—those whom no one else would take in. And they would tag along with the Rebbe when he went places. One time, one of the guests became so unruly, and after all attempts to calm him failed, he was thrown out of the shul. When word of this reached the Rebbe, he was beside himself that a fellow Yid could be thrown out of his shul. He refused to make Kiddush until the man was located and brought back to his table.
His sudden petirah shocked the community, and people streamed toward the Kapishnitzer Shul on 55th Street, where an enormous levaya was held, giving a kavod acharon to this bastion of nobility in Boro Park of yesteryear.