A student and shamash for seven years of Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l and a close talmid of Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l, Rabbi Elyakim Getzel Rosenblatt had the promise of just following a brilliant learning career, but he chose a different direction.
The Queens community and klal Yisrael mourn the loss of Rabbi Elyakim Getzel Rosenblatt zt”l, Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Kesser Torah. His p’tirah was on 20 Adar Beis. All of the community rabbis, alumni of the Yeshiva, and community members gathered for the levayah on Thursday morning, March 28, at Yeshiva Kesser Torah.
The Yeshiva is unique in our neighborhood as it bears the imprint of Rabbi Rosenblatt. He created a makom Torah where everyone feels welcome. Sefardim, Ashkenazim, chasidim, beginners – everyone comes together here, and there is a true feeling of achdus. Rabbi Rosenblatt always stressed that what is inside is what matters; he didn’t look for any emphasis on externals. A shul member shared, “Yeshiva Kesser Torah is a mirror of what Hashem wants, accepting all Jews and not judging by anything external.” “Rabbi Rosenblatt wanted to create a place where Jews could talk to the Ribbono shel Olam,” Rabbi Henach Savitsky, rav of Machzikei Hadas, shared. Rabbi Rosenblatt did not want Kesser Torah to be called a minyan factory. It is a shul known for heartfelt, slow davening and minyanim throughout the day until very late at night. This special yeshivah hosts the most minyanim in the neighborhood. The yeshivah and
shul reflect the warmth and caring of Rabbi Rosenblatt and his rebbetzin, Trani Rosenblatt. Yeshiva Kesser Torah is known for Rabbi Rosenblatt’s beautiful original nigunim and for a special warm non-judgmental atmosphere There is always a spirited dance at the end of davening on Shabbos morning, and even this past Shabbos with the community and shul members mourning, the men danced around the bimah as they knew Rabbi Rosenblatt would have wanted them to do.
Rabbi Rosenblatt grew up in Brownsville, New York, and learned at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin. After high school, his best friend urged him to attend the Telshe Yeshiva with him. He stayed there for a short time and then decided to leave. A chavrusa there was also leaving and suggested he come with him to Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in Williamsburg. This was great hashgachah, he said, because it was the beginning of a special relationship with Rav Henoch Leibowitz, the Rosh HaYeshiva. Rabbi Rosenblatt learned there and then, at one point, he decided to go to Lakewood where he learned under Rav Aharon Kotler.
Rabbi Rosenblatt spent seven years as a shamash for Rav Kotler. For those seven years, he walked his rebbe, Rav Aharon, to yeshivah and he brought him his tea. He often told a story about witnessing Rav Kotler’s incredible joy in learning Torah. He began dancing and celebrating with one of his talmidim when he figured out an interpretation of the Vilna Gaon that had been troubling him for 25 years. Rabbi Rosenblatt would emphasize what a wonderful lesson this was for us to incorporate into our lives. In Lakewood, he met Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, and they became close. Rabbi Carlebach learned there in the summer z’man, and they were chavrusos then. He used to say to Rabbi Rosenblatt, “Getzela, you join me, and we’ll turn over the world.”
He then returned to Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim where he learned for many years. Later, when Rabbi Rosenblatt was married, he spent summers in New Hampshire with Rav Henoch. Rav Henoch’s style of learning had a profound effect on Rabbi Rosenblatt. He influenced his desire to spread Torah to as many people as possible. His unique style of learning is what was instituted at Yeshiva Kesser Torah.
Rabbi Rosenblatt once told this writer during an interview, “Baruch Hashem, my Rebbetzin Trani has been my partner in Torah over all of the years.”
Rabbi Rosenblatt was urged by his students to start Yeshiva Kesser Torah, which originated in Corona, Queens. The name came about like everything else about Kesser Torah, through pure hashgachah. Rabbi Rosenblatt was sitting with one of the bachurim in his study, trying to think of a name for the yeshivah, when he noticed a sefer facing him with the title Keser Torah. That was it! How fitting that the name was chosen in Corona, which actually means crown in Italian.
In the 1980s, Kesser Torah flourished, teaching Torah to many full-time bachurim who have all become part of the Kesser Torah family. Today, talmidim from the Yeshiva are living in communities all over, including Israel. Rabbi Gedalyah Meyer finished Shas and was the rav of a shul in Israel. He is a talented marbitz Torah. Yaakov Blackman is a rav in Aish HaTorah. Many talmidim teach Torah in their communities. Many use Rabbi Rosenblatt’s parshah sheets, which they disseminate in their communities. Many former students call every Erev Shabbos.
In 1994, Rabbi Yair Hoffman, one of the Yeshiva’s rebbeim, urged Rabbi Rosenblatt to move the Yeshiva to Kew Gardens Hills so it could reach more people. Again, Rabbi Rosenblatt recalls amazing hashgachah. Rabbi Rosenblatt and Rabbi Hoffman were driving through Kew Gardens Hills one day, when Rabbi Hoffman spotted a hidden “For Sale” sign in front of a small house. Rabbi Rosenblatt realized that it was the perfect home for the Yeshiva. He paid a very small deposit and the house became the new home for Yeshiva Kesser Torah. The location proved to be perfect, smack in the middle of Kew Gardens Hills, between the Mikvah and the Queens Library.
Rabbi Rosenblatt wrote and arranged three original professionally orchestrated music CDs. Yamim Nora’im davening was especially awe-inspiring at the shul, accompanied by Rabbi Rosenblatt’s original melodies. On Shabbos morning, during kiddush, Rabbi Rosenblatt shared chasidishe Torah that illustrated valuable lessons on the parshah. Rabbi Rosenblatt would share the pasuk from the parshah and then state, “That’s the simple, the chasidishe Torahalach say…”
Rav Noach Isaac Oelbaum, rav of Khal Nachlas Yitzchok, stated, “When a leader of a community, the rav of a
k’hilah dies, it’s a tragedy for the entire community.” Rav Oelbaum met Rabbi Rosenblatt 45 years ago. “Rav Rosenblatt was an energetic ambitious man of many talents. He was a talmid chacham, a rosh yeshivah, a magid shiur, a speaker, and a mashpia.” He was m’kareiv so many Jews to a life of Torah and mitzvos. He used all of his talents to give nachas to Hashem.” When a person has talents,” Rav Oelbaum taught, “he has a responsibility to use those talents to serve Hashem.” If he doesn’t use them to serve Hashem, then Hashem will take them away. Rabbi Rosenblatt quoted Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l, former Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, very frequently. Rav Henoch taught, “to succeed in being marbitz Torah you have to love Jews.” If you don’t have sensitivity to another Yid, you won’t succeed. Rav Oelbaum stressed, “You need ahavas ha’briyos. “Rabbi Rosenblatt loved Jews. This is why he established Yeshiva Kesser Torah. Look what he accomplished. Yeshiva Kesser Torah is a magnet attracting Jews from all different places and backgrounds. There are continuous minyanim here. This should be a nechamah for his soul.”
Rabbi Henach Savitsky stated, “Rabbi Rosenblatt exuded ahavah to others. He had a smile for everyone. He greeted everyone who came into the Yeshiva.” Rabbi Savitsky said that Rabbi Rosenblatt incorporated the three aspects taught in the mishnah in Pirkei Avos: Torah, avodah, and g’milas chasadim. Rabbi Rosenblatt had greatness in Torah, greatness in avodah, and greatness in g’milas chasadim. He recalled how Rabbi Rosenblatt taught that every person has to know his strengths. When there were Sheva Brachos or a community Yom Tov meal, Rabbi Rosenblatt would call each of his talmidim by the title”Reb” and ask them to say a vort. He held that everyone was capable of saying something. The Yeshiva had certain standards. The minhag is to daven slowly and for men to wear a hat and jacket. “Rabbi Rosenblatt took the strength of neginah and used it for t’filah. You could feel every word of his davening.” One of Rabbi Rosenblatt’s favorite Gemaras that he liked to share was the story of Rav Preida who had to repeat a lesson to his student 400 times. One time, after repeating the lesson the requisite 400 times, the student was nervous that Rav Preida was going to leave, so he couldn’t concentrate and the rav had to repeat the lesson another 400 times. Rabbi Rosenblatt was a great lamdan with a promising career in learning, but he would bring down the Gemara to the level so his talmidim could understand and he would explain it until he was sure they understood. He could have just worked on his own brilliant learning, but he chose to use his talents to teach others. He and his Rebbetzin helped so many people over the years.
Rav Dovid Harris, Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, spoke of Rabbi Rosenblatt’s sweetness, his lev tov, and his welcoming everyone with a panim yafos, a smile. He and Rebbetzin Rosenblatt had a close connection with Rav Henoch Leibowitz and his first rebbetzin. Rabbi Rosenblatt was influenced by Rav Henoch’s gentleness and eidelkeit and he was m’kabel this and the focus of musar and to be marbitz Torah. “Rabbi Rosenblatt gave his life to spread Torah. He led a life of commitment to the tzibur.” He led a life of dedication and persistence with tremendous success in spreading Torah for families and generations. “The secret of this was the connection, the love.”
Rabbi Herschel Welcher, rav of Congregation Ahavas Yisroel, shared that Rabbi and Rebbetzin Rosenblatt are still connected to talmidim from 30 and 40 years ago. “The m’siras nefesh they had for klal Yisrael we have to celebrate today.” Rabbi Welcher shared, “It’s sad that we can’t see his smile, and warmth, and friendliness. This place, Yeshiva Kesser Torah, is an ongoing z’chus, and the talmidim of the Yeshiva are an ongoing z’chus. Doros.”
Rav Aryeh Sokoloff, rav of the Kew Gardens Synagogue, said, “I was drawn to his sincerity, his integrity, his extraordinary midos, and his ahavas Yisrael, and the way his talmidim and baalei batim related to him like a father. It was extraordinary.” Rav Dessler taught that “Love your neighbor as yourself” means that after you do something for someone else, you put a piece of yourself into that person. That part I can love as much as me. Rabbi Rosenblatt was such an individual. “He cared so much, you could feel it. He had unbelievable, unconditional ahavah. It makes you feel good when someone cares for you like this.” Rabbi Sokoloff stated, “He was a walking kiddush Hashem. He was real. He was genuine. Pure emes. Pure ahavah. He was a role model. He was unusual, extraordinary.”
Yaakov Rosenblatt, son of Rabbi Rosenblatt, stated, “My father had no greater pleasure in the world than to uplift someone in Torah or t’filah. For him, that was everything. He had a single purpose: to bring the warmth of Yiddishkeit to others. My father used to say, Hashem should help us. So, Hashem should help us realize the strength each neshamah has and be able to help one another.” Both of Rabbi Rosenblatt’s sons, Yaakov and Moshe, mentioned how happy their father was to record his shiurim on TorahAnytime so more people could hear them. Rabbi Rosenblatt had a very serious health issue 12 years ago and he recovered miraculously and continuously expressed his hakaras ha’tov to Hashem for his recovery. He was able to record 546 recorded lectures on TorahAnytime over these past 12 years.
This writer’s family has felt a close connection to Yeshiva Kesser Torah and to Rabbi and Rebbetzin Rosenblatt for many years. It is with great sadness that I write this article. Rabbi and Rebbetzin Rosenblatt have always treated us like family. They made Sheva Brachos for our children when they married. Kiddushim for the birth of our daughters and our son’s bar mitzvah all took place at Yeshiva Kesser Torah. Rabbi Rosenblatt always liked to share the story that our son was almost born at Kesser Torah, literally. I remember once when I was running a Shabbaton and I had planned out meals and housing for 80 people. I became flustered when so many people arrived at once and I ended up sending almost 30 of the guests to the Rosenblatts for dinner, and they graciously accepted them. Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur davening with Rabbi Rosenblatt’s melodies were always so special, as were all the Yom Tov and Shabbos davenings.
Today in shul, I felt the tremendous loss. I didn’t want to cry on Shabbos, but I feel like we’ve lost a family member. At the same time, I feel so much gratitude to have known such a chashuve rav who had such a tremendous impact on our lives. My husband, Rabbi Avraham Dovid Garber, learned at Yeshiva Kesser Torah in the 1980s. We owe a tremendous hakaras ha’tov to the Rabbi and Rebbetzin and the Yeshiva for all they have done to help our family grow in Yiddishkeit.
Hashem should bless Yeshiva Kesser Torah that it should continue in the ways of Rabbi Rosenblatt. May the family and the Queens community and klal Yisrael be comforted with the mourners of Tzion.
The levayah can be viewed on TorahAnytime.com.