“We have lost one of our crown jewels”

Chazaq Executive Director Yaniv Meirov recently asked HaRav Aharon Walkin shlita to talk about HaRav Shlomo Teitelbaum zt”l, rav of Khal Adas Yereim of Kew Gardens, who passed away on Wednesday, May 22, at the age of 77. 

Yaniv Meirov: Rav Teitelbaum was known and accepted in our community here in Queens as a chashuve rav. His Khal Adas Yereim in Kew Gardens is well renowned and respected. Can the Rosh HaYeshivah give us a glimpse into who Rav Teitelbaum was?

Rav Walkin: Let me begin by stating and emphasizing the great loss to the community with the p’tirah of Rav Teitelbaum zt”l. Oy l’Queens she’avdah eshtonoseha – Woe is it to us in Queens what we have lost with the passing of our beloved “Rav Shloime,” one of our crown jewels.

Chazal state: “Y’tzias tzadik oseh roshem.” It is beyond words to describe the hashpaah [influence] that Rav Teitelbaum had on the “molding” of our community, and how much was his influence on making what we proudly call ourselves “a Queens Yid.”

Rav Shlomo was a tremendous talmid chacham and a meticulous y’rei Shamayim. But if I had to choose one facet and quality that was outstanding of Rav Teitelbaum, I would say it was his ehrlichkeit – his midas ha’emes.

Let me share with you two stories that illustrate Rav Teitelbaum’s ehrlichkeit – his midas ha’emes.

Customarily, he would visit my Zeide, HaRav Shmuel Dovid Walkin, every Yom Tov. Many times, as he left, my Zeide remarked, “Look, see, and learn what an ehrlicher Yid is.” I often retold Rav Shlomo what my Zeide said about him, adding how much I thanked him for being a role model of ehrlichkeit. Although he was most humble and extremely borei’ach min ha’kavod, he nevertheless thanked me and then would comment, “Coming from your Zeide, I appreciate the compliment.”

I once met a gabbai tz’dakah who told me a nice story. He remarked, “Your Zeide was Rav Shmuel Dovid Walkin – I have a nice story for you. I am a money collector for mosdos by profession. As in every businessman’s life, he will be summoned at some time to a din Torah. Being that I am a Satmar chasid, I went to the late Satmar Rebbe Rabbeinu Yoel zt”l to seek his advice and counsel over which rav I should choose to represent me in the din Torah. The Rebbe requested that I comprise a list of all the different rabbanim and dayanim who could be candidates for the task. After a few days, I returned with the list. The Rebbe began browsing the list. Though many on the list were famous and experienced rabbanim, none, though, caught the Rebbe’s interest – until it came to your grandfather’s name. The Rebbe immediately exclaimed, “Choose HaRav Walkin!” I asked the Rebbe why him over any of the others. The Rebbe responded, “The other rabbanim are big rabbanim; Rav Walkin is a big Yid… who just also happens to be a ravDe andere rabbanim, nu, rabbanim voz zenen Yidden; HaRav Walkin iz a Yid vos gradeh is a rav.”

I believe this perfectly describes Rav Teitelbaum. He was an ehrlicher Yid first and foremost – and then a rav.

Truth be told, in my bocherishe years while learning in yeshivos, I did not fully understand or appreciate the big compliment in saying that he was an ehrlicher Yid. I thought, isn’t that quite bland and basic? Is it not somewhat degrading to compliment a talmid chacham – a chashuve rav – that he is a just an ehrlicher Yid? But as I get older and wiser and experience life and meet more and more people, I realize that indeed being an ehrlicher Yid is from the greatest of attributes and the ultimate achievement, and calling someone an ehrlicher Yid is truly exalting on him the highest of praise.

The pasuk states (Yirmeyah 5:1): Search in the streets if you can find people who are true and ehrlich… Being ehrlich is truly a commodity. Chavakuk wrote, “v’tzadik be’emunaso yichyeh.” Many commentators translate this to mean “be’emunaso” – with his truthfulness, his ehrlichkeit. The tzadik is the epitome of ehrlichkeit – Rav Shlomo was a true tzadik!

I would often pay a courtesy visit to a certain talmid chacham who was a friend of my Zeide. This person was very knowledgeable in halachah and authored many s’farim but had some opposition and quite a few detractors, and it wasn’t “politically in style” to come to this person. During one such visit, Rav Teitelbaum suddenly walked in. After standing up for Rav Teitelbaum and greeting him, I innocently asked, “What brings Rebbe here?” He replied, “I came to ask a question about halachah. I don’t care about politics; I only look for the emes – I go where the truth takes me.”

Rav Shloime’s influence of ehrlichkeit left its mark on the children of his shul. So many of the nicest and most honorable, ehrlicher talmidei chachamim and marbitzei Torah of the olam haTorah are the “peiros,” the products, of the rav and his k’hilah: Rav Naftali Ganzvi and Rav Yisrael Ganzvi, Rav Mordechai Respler, Rav Naftali Respler, Rav Shia Sukenik, Rav Yaakov Hauben, Rav Yechiel Sukenik. Also amongst his disciples is my dearest friend Rav Aaron Cyperstein, who arranged all the yarchei kallahs in Rav Teitelbaum’s shul and was so close to him and many, many more.

Once on the topic of the tremendous chinuch and ruach that we were zocheh to experience here in our prestigious community of Kew Gardens, we must take notice of the loss of one of the most honorable women of valor, a true tzadekes, Mrs. Hauben a”h.

Mrs. Hauben was all heart and passion, always first to take charge for every mitzvah and chesed in our community. She was the quintessential eishes chayil and eishes chaver to her chashuver husband, a noted talmid chacham who was kulo Torah. The two of them, together with Rav Avraham Respler and Rav Moshe Sukenik, truly molded the fabric of our community. We all owe them so much. Yihyu zichram b’ruchim.