BY Aryeh Ehrlich PHOTOS Rabbi Tal Zwecker, Rabbi Meir Kranzer
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ENGLISH MISHPACHA MAGAZINE - 20 Adar II 5776 | March 30, 2016
An upscale Israeli town has become home for the Clevelander Rebbe, who
eschews honor and recognition and wants nothing more than to bring his
Jewish brothers and sisters closer to the light of the Torah. When the Rebbe's
holy Seudah Shlishis proved stronger than a terrorist's knife, he revealed how
opening hearts is the best protection of all
The Rebbe's Secret Weapon
It seems an improbable name for a chassidus. And to
add to the riddle, it's based in Raanana — an upscale
city in the heart of Israel's Sharon Plain — an enclave
of professionals and high-tech executives. Most of its
inhabitants aren't religious, and the minority who
are don't appear to be typical candidates to join in
the weekly tish.
Yet it's there in Raanana that the Clevelander
To one familiar with the sacred path chosen by Rav Mordechai of Nadvorna (Reb Mordche'le) and his
many descendants, it's no riddle at all. It wasn't just back in the heim that the tzaddikim
of this dynasty fanned out, across Hungary, Romania, and Galicia; it was also in America.
They left Williamsburg and the Lower East Side behind, choosing places like Newark, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.
The Clevelander Rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Eizik Rosenbaum, is a son of Rav Yissachar Ber of Strozhnitz. His rebbetzin is the daughter of Rav Meir Isaacson of Philadelphia, a
brilliant talmid chacham and author of Teshuvos Mevaser Tov. Both are grandchildren of Rav Issamar of Nadvorna and descendants of Reb Mordche'le.
This elderly couple is chassidic aristocracy, yet they've made it a point, from the very beginning, to transmit their holy mesorah quietly and humbly, reaching Jews one at a time.
When the Rebbe was a young immigrant from Romania, he became close to the Klausenberger Rebbe, who had settled in Williamsburg after the war and built a yeshivah
there; he then went on to learn in Torah Vodaath and received semichah from Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Rav Yonason Steiff.
After their marriage in 1961, the new Rav and Rebbetzin settled in Long Beach, but a fire soon consumed the small beis medrash the Rebbe had established on Long Island. A
delegation of Cleveland Jews heard that the illustrious young man was contemplating a move and hastened to invite him to their city, but the young Rebbe wasn't sure he was
ready to venture forth. He wanted to be in an established frum neighborhood with mosdos and shuls for a bit longer. His father, Rav Yissachar Ber, assured him that Cleveland was
a "heimeshe city."
So they went.
For 13 years, the Rebbe and his rebbetzin manned an outpost of Nadvorna chassidus in the cold Midwest. Through that decade, a most frenzied and tumultuous era for young
secular Jews, the Rebbe provided answers, warmth, and direction to students and secular Jews, his rebbetzin providing nourishing meals and comfortable accommodations.
They created a flourishing kehillah, and it seemed that Cleveland had its rebbe, and the Rebbe had Cleveland.
But then in 1970, Rav Issamar of Nadvorna, shared zeide of both the Rebbe and Rebbetzin, left America and settled in Eretz Yisrael in the Yad Eliyahu neighborhood
of Tel Aviv. Before his petirah in 1973, Rav Issamar encouraged his grandson to move to Eretz Yisrael as well. They were honored to follow the Zeide's
directive to move, difficult as it was to part from their chassidim in Cleveland. Until recently, the Rebbe would visit the kehillah in Cleveland each year, but he no longer
has the energy to travel; still, his chassidim are in constant touch with him via phone and through personal visits. When the sons and daughters — and more recently, the
grandchildren — of those families come learn in yeshivah or seminary in Eretz Yisrael, they adopt the Rebbe and Rebbetzin as surrogate
Why was it the practice in the Nadvorna
dynasty for the sons of the rebbes to serve
as admorim while their own fathers were
"The Zeide, Rav Mordche'le, instructed his
children to assume positions of leadership
during his lifetime, commenting, 'The world
will see that Mordechai knew best.' All of
his six children, including my grandfather,
became admorim during his life. Both my
father and his brother, Rav Chaim Mordechai
of Nadvorna, followed suit and served as the
leaders of chassidic communities during their
In a city like Raanana, the importance of
making a kiddush Hashem is especially
"Certainly," the Rebbe confirms. "A chareidi
Jew, especially in a city like this one, must act
in such a way that people will not speak ill of
him. He must be kind and pleasant, and he
must fulfill Chazal's admonition to cause the
Name of Hashem to become beloved through
his actions. Throughout the years, people have
tried to convince me to move to Bnei Brak
or to Beit Shemesh, but Hashem has made
it very clear that this is my place to sanctify
And when the Rebbe sees a Jew being
"I don't walk down the street and shout at
drivers, but if I have an opportunity to talk
to a Jew when I see him driving on Shabbos,
"I say to him gently, 'You know, it's Shabbos today,
and it is forbidden to drive on Shabbos.' Shouting
accomplishes nothing, but the soul of every Yid
wants to hear the truth gently and politely"
Lone Troops The Rebbe has learned
to fuse the different roles of the shul —
chassidishe shtiebel, kiruv center, minyan
hub — into one.
In Elul, Sephardic Selichos are recited in
the beis medrash at night, while a separate
minyan meets in the morning to recite the
Ashkenazic version. The Rebbe is also faithful
to his forebears' traditions, and so davening
on Shabbos is three hours long. During Sefiras
Ha'omer, chassidim from various locales
come to watch the Nadvorna-style avodah
of counting the Omer, which takes about
a quarter of an hour. During the month of
Elul, the Rebbe has the custom of reciting the
perek of "L'Dovid Hashem ori" when the aron is
opened for the Torah reading; the Rebbe reads
each pasuk aloud, and the congregation repeats
it after him. It's a bit of a lengthy procedure,
but it's suffused with a chassidic intensity that
is not unwanted even in the "modern" city.
"Sure, there are some people who are
deterred from coming here on Shabbos by
the length of the tefillos," the Rebbe relates,
"but the minhagim of my forefathers take
precedence. I would daven with only ten men
in order to maintain those customs, but in the
end, people feel the emes."
In the chassidic yeshivah world, a Shabbos
with the Clevelander Rebbe is considered a
sublime experience. Thousands of bochurim
have visited here over the years, drawing
profound inspiration from their encounters
with the Rebbe. The Rebbe's Kiddush — which
takes close to 20 minutes — is one highlight.
"It feels like the world is reaching its climax,
like Creation is being completed as the Rebbe
says the words," says a chassid who comes to
the Rebbe for Shabbos at least once a month.
An no one wants to miss Shabbos Parshas
Va'eira with the Rebbe, the annual Shabbos
Hisachdus for Clevelander chassidim from
all across the country. It's the Shabbos the
Rebbe has yahrtzeit for his father, and the local
residents already know that on that Shabbos,
hundreds of chassidim will converge on the
neighborhood. They don't live in Raanana,
this younger generation of Clevelanders, for
their Rebbe has sent them forth; but on that
Shabbos two months back, they came out in
force and lit up its streets, bringing a sense of
calm and normalcy to a city that's been feeling
itself under a terror siege since the newest wave
of Arab violence.
To the Rebbe, the events of these past
weeks — the terrorism just outside his window
and other recent stabbings on the streets of his
city — haven't changed anything.
"A person has to live with an awareness of
HaKadosh Baruch Hu, to feel Hashgachah
pratis. Nothing happens by itself. No bullet
can be fired unless it was decreed in Heaven.
We must beseech Hashem to save us from
the birthpangs of Mashiach, but at the same
time, we must not forget the primary way
to accomplish that: by awakening our lost
brothers to engage in complete, genuine
The Rebbe looks out the window at the
Raanana street scene, at his brothers of all
colors and stripes. "That is what we can do
during times like this — love all Yidden and
seek to draw them close."
And he smiles, this Rebbe who sends his
chassidim elsewhere yet remains heroically
in place with only his rebbetzin at his side —
the generals fighting a battle without troops.
"We live in Raanana. We do our mission
The Rebbe's Secret Weapon
—Yisroel Besser contributed to this report
CLEVELANDER REBBE STORIES
One Shabbos several bachurim from Rav Tzvi Kushelvskis Yeshiva were at the rebbe's Shabbos table and the talk turned to whether tziduk and righteousness was preferable or whether lomdus was more important. The bochurim seemed to theink the learning trumped everything else. The rebbe smiled his characteristic smile, chuckled and said to them, really is that so, well then tell me what did Dovid HaMelech say in Tehillim Hashem Shamra Nafshi ki Chossid Ani? According to you he should have said Ki Lamdan Ani?!
The Rebbe's Ahavas Yisroel extends to all Jews from all walks of life. I was once zoche to be with the rebbe in Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh on his father's Yahrzeit on the way back to Raanana we stopped at the gas station to fill up. The rebbe noticed from his window next to the driver's seat that directly across from us was another driver who was bareheaded he was about to bite into a sandwhich. One second! Said the rebbe to the driver, are you Jewish? Yes admitted the surprised driver. Well then here take this, the rebbe removed his wide brimmed felt hat and took of his own yarmulke, offering it to the stunned driver, he said "here take this and make a beracha! How can a Yid eat without a beracha?"
Another time we had just finished davening by the kosel, as we walked back to the car waiting for us we passed by a large group of youn Israeli soldiers who were there to be "sworn in" in their induction ceremony. Unabashed the rebbe walked straight up to the leader of the group and asked him in Ivrit if he was in charge of this group of soldiers. respectfully he answered in the affirmative and then the rebbe asked if he would do him a personal favor. I am assume you are swearing these soldiers in to serve? The latter nodded and indicated that this was so. Please if you are doing so and mentioning G-d's holy name I urge you to at least see to it these young soldiers have their heads covered with a kippa. He smiled and continued on his way.
In fact the rebbe is the only chassidishe rebbe I know that says the MiSheBerach for Tzahal himself at the amud on Shabbos and concludes it asking Hashem to return them all BeTeshuva Sheleima BiMehara. I once asked him why he does so? As he does not recite the MiSheBerach for the Medina nor does he celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut. He told me that since they guard and protect us we must daven to Hashem that He gives them the ability to do so. We must always daven to Hashem for His protection and they are His shlichim, the rebbe explained. In fact he was extremely distressed when he heard news that soldiers had been attacked by fanatics in the charedi camp and told me that it was a terrible unthinkable thing that they did to attack a Jew.
A non religious Jew asked to get an aliyah and bentsh gomel. But Rebbe I said, the man is not shomer shabbos. Nu said the rebbe, I never saw him be mechallel Shabbos, and you, you say so? So I dont have to believe you when you say something bad about another Jew. The Jew got his aliyah and Bentshed gomel.
There was once a ger tzedek who visited the rebbe many times before his conversion when he was still a non Jewish gentile. He was studying in a yeshiva and when the rebbe asked them to send bachurim to help make a minyan they sent our gentile friend who had never told them he wasnt Jewish! In fact he often visited the rebbe many times, no one knew he wasnt a Yid and no one took any precautions around him for Yayin Nesech counting him for the minyan etc. One day he revealed to the yeshiva he was attending the truth. They sent him back to the US to convert. When he had undergone conversion he then realized what he had done. Here he had attended the rebbe's minyan and home and accidentally caused the rebbe to not have a minyan of ten or stam yayin etc. He wrote the rebbe a letter of apology. Not only was the rebbe not makpid. He welcomed the ger tzedek with open arms back to his home and treated him as an honored guest many times. Finally when B"H the young man was engaged the rebbe himself sent out the invitations signed himself and the Rebitzen on them and led the couple down to the chuppah to build a bayis ne'eman beYisroel.
The Rebbe was raised in a rebbishe home and he and all his brothers were crowned to serve as rebbe even in their father's lifetime. His older brother lived in Williamsburg was called Strozhnitz, the next brother was the Moshulou Rebbe of Moshulou Parkway Bronx and later in Boro Park, his youngest brother is called the Kalischer and holds court in Flatbush.
The fact that the rebbe would be a rebbe was to his parents a foregone conclusion. He told this story about his mother A"H
1. Three stories I heard recently from my Rebbe Shlit"a the Clevelander Rebbe of Raanana:
The Tafkid of a Rebbe
We were discussing the hardships of working for a living and how a Rebbes parnassah and financial hardship are part of his mesirus nefesh, "A Rebbe is a Rebbe, not a businessman, my Rebbe told me," and so he continued with the following story:
When my Rebbe was a teenage bachur he was studying the beis medrash. He soon met a chassid of his father, the Strozhnitzer who took a liking to the young Rebbe's son and began to involve him in some of his ideas. He was a wealthy succesful businessman and entrepreneur, and he was eager to partner with my Rebbe. My Rebbe's mother noticed this and did not like it. One day she called my Rebbe in to her and said:
"I notice you are spending too much time with that businessman." Then my Rebbe continued to quote his saintly mother, in choked sobs with tears in his eyes he related, "Isaac'el," she said (My Rebbe is named after Rav Yitzchak Isaac of Komarno) "Isaac'el, I did not shed tears to the Ribbono Shel Olam and daven and beg Him for children so they should be businessman ! I want you to be devoted Oved Hashem and nothing else!" With tears in his eyes my Rebbe concluded: "Azay Heilige Mama! - I had such a holy mother!"
He certainly did . . .,
2.The Golden Coin Dripped Blood
and then he added regarding Pidyonos - the monetary donation handed to a Rebbe along with the kvitel - the note inscribed with the names and requests of the petitioner(s). "My zeide (grandfather) the Rebbe Reb Mordechail'e (founder of Nadworna's dynasty) once told his chassidim that if they could snap the golden reinish coin he accepted as a pidyon in half his very own blood would pour out from the coin!" (Alluding to the sweat blood and tears of toil that the tzadik did in order to grant his petitioners salvation and thus earn his keep).
3.Who's the Ba'alHaBus?
Regarding the concept of Shidduchim my Rebbe related how his mother and father's shidduch came about.
"My Babbe, (Reb Isamar of Nadworna's Rebbitzen) once came to the zeida Reb Isamar (son of Rav Meir of Kretchnif) and said, I was told in a dream last night that Esther'el from Satmar (my Rebbe's mother, the daughter of Reb Bertzi of Satmar [son of Reb Mordechaile of Nadworna] ) is the shidduch for our son Ber'l (my Rebbe's father). 'Well,' replied Reb Isamar, 'who do you think is the Ba'al HaBus here? (who is the master of this house?) you or me? If she is the heaven sent shidduch for our son, let them reveal to me from on High in a dream!' And so it was that night Reb Isamar dreamed that he was standing at the window and saw people running to and fro outside, he asked them where they were all hurrying off to? and they said, didn't you hear that the Rebbe Reb Bertzi is here! (who was no longer alive at the time), Reb Isamar put on his Razhvulke (the silk satin overcoat) and proceeded to the train station where the train had arrived, he stepped onto the platform and the door opened, Reb Bertzi stretched out his hand to him in greeting and said Mazal Tov Mazal Tov! and so was the shidduch, sealed. The next morning Reb Isamar wrote a letter to Satmar and his parents became engaged."
I had the zechus a few time to travel with my Rebbe, the Clevelander Rebbe Shlita of Raanana up North to Kivrei Tzadikim.
He related that we would imyh first stop in Tiveria by Rav Meir Baal HaNess, as to why we would go there first (usually many people begin with Rashbi in Meron) he related that when he asked his zeide, Rav Isamar of Nadvorna Zatzal, where to go first that Rav Isamar told him to first visit Rav Meir.
I asked my Rebbe, why? My Rebbe said he did not ask his grandfather as to the reason for this. I speculated whether it was because the Nadworna dynasty hails back its ancestry to Rav Modechaileh's uncle Rav Meir of Premishlan of whom the tzadikim used to say (I saw this in the sefer Raza DeUvda Kretshnif) that Rav Meir of Premishlan is Rav Meir Baal HaNess and that he is the same Rav Meir (Der Reb Meir and Der Reb Meir zaynen der zelben Rav Meir) ? He speculated that it is possible that this is why.
He then related a story that (I saw this also in Raza DeUvda) once a Jewish woman came crying tearfully pleading with Rav Meir of Premishlan that her son merit to have the same level as the tzadik did. Rav Meir answered her admonishingly with a jest "Not in all gardens do such Meiren (carrots in Yiddish) grow!"
Last year around this time before Shabbos HaGadol I was in Detroit with my rebbe staying by Rabbi Meir Kranzer the rebbe's achsanya and we visited a neighbor HaRav Shmuel Kaufman an einikel of Rav Herman (of fame as in the bio about him All for The Boss).
The two sat and exchanged Eliyahu HaNavi stories!
Rav Kaufman related how many many orchim would be his zeide's Rav Herman 's guests as he kept a home open to orchim with a high standard of kashrus. Often he would help them make the many beds, cook the food for Shabbos and help get the orchim anything they needed.
One "guest" came and asked for a meal, Rebitzen Herman quickly prepared it for him for which he gave them his beracha but when they came to attend to his needs further he had vanished! Rav Kaufman said that they believed it must have been Eliyahu HaNavi.
My rebbe then countered with a story of how they had had a "guest" who also visited their home in Cleveland who had similarly vanished without a trace.
It was erev shabbos chol hamoed pesach and a strangely attired "guest" came knocking at the door.
In Cleveland the rebbe's shul & beis midrash was on the ground floor and the
2nd floor was were the bedrooms & dining room and pesach kitchen were located.
The Yid rang the bell, and he looked strange like a beggar, he asked if we had anything to eat
but strangely enough whatever the rebitzen offered he seemed to eat just a bit
and refused the rest, again and again he requested food yet he didnt seem to actually
eat anything really at all. Then he got up thanked us and gave us berachos for our kindness
and hospitality and announced "I am leaving please give me some food to take along,"
We were surprised and so we asked him "Where are you going?," "I have where to stay."
He took the package of food and walked out. At that moment I thought to myself, recalled the rebbe
where can he possibly go and stay on erev shabbos chol hamoed? So after left I also followed
I went down a flight, and I watched to see him leave, I wished to see where he was going
But When I went down and he had vanished, now he was not a young enough man to have run,
and he had to have gone down a flight of stairs and gone out of eyesight?
Yet he vanished, I searched for him and came up emptyhanded
Finally when I came back I discovered the package we had given him
all the food was left by the door, blessings he gave food he didnt eat
I said to myself perhaps it was Eliyahu HaNavi!?