Through The Eyes Of Some Of Our Rabbanim And Community Members
Tribute from Yaakov Serle, Co-Publisher
Queens Jewish Link and Bukharian Jewish Link
Yaakov and Atara Serle have merited to have their children Dovi and Chana Miriam Chitaitovsky live in Beitar, Israel. When the Serles’ youngest daughter Bracha was on the search for her zivug, son-in-law Dovi offered to bring a kvitel to Rav Chaim. A special appointment was arranged, and the name was delivered for t’filah; this was mid-2019. In June of that year, the Chitaitovskys were zocheh to have a son and were honored when Rav Chaim agreed to be the sandek at the bris milah. Yaakov arrived at the bris milah prepared with a list of his family members to receive brachos for their health and prosperity. Rav Chaim reviewed the list and suddenly pointed to Bracha’s name and inquired of her well-being. When Rav Chaim was informed of her engagement, his eyes lit up with excitement; the Sar HaTorah recalled the original request. The wedding was, baruch Hashem, held that upcoming July.
Tribute From Rav Doniel Lander, Rosh HaYeshivah, Yeshivas Ohr HaChaim
“There is no one in the world today, nor will there ever be anyone, who will learn Seder Z’ra’im in earnest without Sefer Derech Emunah on his table,” stated Rav Doniel Lander, on the impact of Rav Chaim’s s’farim that have become part and parcel of the mesorah of Torah SheB’al Peh. “Hundreds of years from now, talmidei chachamim will remark how fortunate was the dor that lived with Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Indeed, we were so fortunate, and he was the picture of perfection in y’dios haTorah.”
Rav Shmuel Gordon, menhael of Mesivta Yesodei Yeshurun, took 40 of the yeshivah’s bachurim, part of a hasmadah program, to Eretz Yisrael on a whirlwind four-day trip that included a visit to Rav Chaim. The students entered as the gadol was immersed in learning and remained in this trance for around 15 minutes. “He was completely oblivious to the fact that 40 bachurim entered his room. In his world, it was Rav Chaim Kanievsky together with the Ribbono Shel Olam.”
In describing Rav Chaim as the heart of klal Yisrael, Rav Lander related an incident where a friend of his visited Rav Chaim, asking for a r’fuah for his wife who was stricken with cancer; the doctors had given up. Rav Chaim advised that the illness would subside, and sure enough, to the surprise of the physicians, she entered remission. Years later, Rav Chaim had his gabbai contact the family to inform them that the cancer had returned. Yet, when the woman had tests run, they all came up clear. Rav Chaim persisted to check again when, lo and behold, signs of the dreaded disease reappeared.
Tribute from Rav Chaim Schwartz, Executive Director, Vaad Harabonim of Queens
When Rabbi Chaim Schwartz moved to Queens, he was zocheh to daven by Rav Shlomo Teitelbaum zt”l, rav of Khal Adas Yereim, who said that it was a mitzvah to repeat the following incident. Rav Teitelbaum and Rav Chaim shared a unique connection and often engaged in phone conversation, including responding to community questions. Before Rabbi Schwartz moved to Kew Gardens, he learned in the Boston kollel, where he learned with a doctor in his mid-70s who had intermarried. In conversation, Rabbi Schwartz detailed a recent trip to Eretz Yisrael where he visited the holy sites and met with g’dolim. The doctor noted that he also visited Israel in 1984 but had a different experience and yearned to have what Rabbi Schwartz described.
In the summer of 2008, the two planned a trip to the Holy Land amid a rocky time during the elderly man’s marriage. This Jew from Brookline, Massachusetts, was having great difficulty and needed advice. Rabbi Schwartz sought company with Rav Chaim zt”l for guidance on if he should attempt to mend his marriage. Standing before the Sar HaTorah in his upstairs room, Rabbi Schwartz relates the situation and asks if the couple should divorce. When Reb Chaim hears that the wife is a shikse, he responds with “Oy!” The doctor persisted for a deeper response, to which Rav Chaim in his choice words advised against staying married.
Back outside on Rashbam Street in Bnei Brak, the doctor further questioned for a translation on Rav Chaim’s exact words. Rabbi Schwartz finally relented and said, “The rabbi said that she is like an animal.” The doctor thought and said, “You mean to say that she does not have a soul and is comparable to an animal?” adding, “Wow, that’s a real rabbi! To tell the truth and not be afraid.” The pure unadulterated language of Rav Chaim reached the doctor and the marriage fell apart. The doctor continued to support Torah until his final days.
Tribute from Rabbi Shaul Arieli, Mara D’Asra, Cong. Ohel Yitzchok
Ten years ago, Rav Shaul Arieli received a phone call from a talmid of Rav Chaim, who has since passed, explaining that Rav Chaim was having difficulty following the p’tirah of his cherished Rebbetzin Batsheva. It was decided that a costly extension was needed to be built from his son’s apartment to his own to the tune of $55,000. Rav Arieli retained a donor who had but one condition: to fly to Eretz Yisrael together to deliver Rav Chaim the payment. And so it transpired. At Rav Chaim’s, Rav Arieli received a note with a cherished brachah, and the two rabbanim formed an everlasting friendship that included discussion on sh’eilos with near immediate replies.
About a month ago, Rav Arieli received a medical question from a community member. In turn, the rav reached out to an established doctor at Columbia Presbyterian for advice. This doctor asked the rav his own opinion on the response, to which the rav said a second opinion was necessary and so a Mt. Sinai doctor was contacted who offered a completely different path. At this point, reaching out to Rav Chaim appeared to be the next step. The Gadol HaDor advised us to go with the second opinion.
Recognizing the midos of Rav Chaim, Rav Arieli related a story of bein adam la’chaveiro highlighting a couple that got engaged, but a few weeks ahead of the wedding, the groom was diagnosed with cancer and the parents thought it best to break the shidduch. Nonetheless, the bride wanted to continue with the wedding plans. Rav Chaim questioned the kallah on her motive, to which she said that she would not want to bring more pain to her chasan. Rav Chaim agreed and gave the couple a brachah of long life that ensued.
This past Purim, just last Thursday, a different community member came forward with a query to which Rav Arieli suggested that Rav Chaim’s response was needed in lieu of his own. As we know, Rav Chaim returned to the Olam HaEmes on that fateful Friday.
Tribute from Rav Hershel Welcher, Mara D’Asra, Cong. Ahavas Yisroel
“Rav Chaim was the ultimate manifestation of Torah,” said Rav Hershel Welcher, who over the past two and a half decades was privileged to visit Rav Chaim zt”l roughly 50 times on nearly every trip he took to Eretz Yisrael. Rav Chaim’s entire life was filled with Torah and every response given to Yidden who came forth with issues was resolved based on this astounding and vast knowledge. Twenty years ago, in the Welcher family, there was a member who required surgery. There was a discussion if the procedure should take place in America or in Israel, and soon a date was chosen for the procedure to take place in Mt. Sinai Hospital. The family went to Rav Chaim, who advised that for this operation, Israeli medical teams could handle the surgical treatment, and so it occurred without complications. The story was not over, as the doctor who was due to operate in New York was sitting shiv’ah in Eretz Yisrael. Out of hakaras ha’tov, the family member went to be menachem aveil. The surgeon revealed that had they kept their original appointment; he would not have been able to perform the procedure due to the loss of his mother and an inexperienced physician would have been tasked with the surgery.
In another incident revolving around a cyst in a difficult area, Rav Chaim advised the family of Rav Welcher to conduct the operation in London at a significant cost, as insurance would not cover the international procedure. Little did the doctors know that the procedure would be more invasive and that the Israeli team would have been unequipped to handle the treatment. The genius of Rav Chaim knows no bounds as it was all based on Torah.
In yet another medical quandary, a mispallel of Rav Welcher’s shul had a reoccurring medical ailment that baffled the doctors. Rav Welcher offered to have Rav Chaim pray on his behalf and, sure enough, just as the t’filos reached shamayim, the issue subsided.
Tribute from Rav Yigal Haimoff, Mara D’Asra, Ohel Simcha
Fourteen years ago, a young budding couple from Queens entered into a beautiful marriage but were fraught with financial difficulties. The new chasan was of Israeli origin and the kallah had a good education that seemed to suggest that making aliyah was the correct choice. The couple came before Rav Yigal Haimoff and his son Rav Asaf with their dilemma. The solution was far from clear cut, and the couple chose to pen a heartfelt letter to Rav Chaim zt”l. Rav Yigal himself delivered the letter to Rav Chaim, who spent half an hour giving over that the couple should remain in America, as Israel was not the place for them to start their lives. The couple was advised that they should be patient and not despair that a solution would come up. Sure enough, the groom found an appropriate path for parnasah and the couple’s bleak situation changed course, and today their family thrives in the Queens community.
Tribute from Rabbi Marty Katz, Executive Director, Just One Life
Rabbi Marty Katz may have been the final Queens resident to sit with the Sar HaTorah. Rabbi Katz had the z’chus to meet with Rav Chaim on March 3, together with Rav Chaim’s grandson Reb Areyh. Their conversation was limited, as the venerable Rav was quite weak and weary, but for Rabbi Katz it was the presence of being in a room with the Gadol that brought the most value. Rabbi Katz brought up items of pertinence to the klal, as well as updates from organizations dear to Rabbi Katz, including Just One Life, Har HaZeisim Preservation, and Eretz HaKodesh, and gave over names for t’filah.
Two years ago, Rabbi Katz met with Rav Chaim and exchanged nice dialogue on relevant sh’eilos and community organizations. Rabbi Katz vividly recalls how certain questions excited Rav Chaim and underlined the loftiness of his stature of being our gadol ha’dor. Often his responses turned to reality.
Tribute from Rabbi Daniel Pollack of Kew Gardens
A few years ago, Rabbi Daniel Pollack joined his chavrusas Reb Aaron Cyperstein and Rabbi Alomi Russek on a special trip to Eretz Yisrael. Their excursion included a visit to Bnei Brak to the homes of Rav Chaim zt”l and Rav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman zt”l.
While the trio had an appointment to visit Rav Chaim, the group ended up waiting a few extra minutes for the gadol to complete a masechta. It was an awesome privilege to witness the sage make a siyum and partake in wine and cake as part of the celebration. Rabbi Pollack came prepared with his requests jotted on a paper, but once standing before Rav Chaim, the sage only uttered, “Sha’on, sha’on,” the lashon ha’kodesh translation for a wristwatch. Within a few moments Rabbi Pollack realized that he should remove his watch, which resulted in a wide smile from the Rav. As it turns out, Rav Chaim was known to frown on the concept of men wearing a watch, but only voiced his opposition to the custom after the p’tirah of his father-in-law Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l who wore a watch.
To Rabbi Pollack, Rav Chaim epitomized kulo Torah, never stopping even for a mere moment for breath. His title of Sar HaTorah was most fitting, as he was a true example of a gadol who offered the most concise responses in halachah and within his vast array of s’farim.