Last Shabbos, 20 Adar/March 2, Klal Yisrael lost Mr. Hershel (Harry) Ostreicher, who passed away at the age of 91. After surviving the Holocaust, Mr. Ostreicher went on to become one of the earliest kiruv leaders in America, and a legendary baal tzedakah.
Hershel Ostreicher was born on October 25, 1921, to Menachem and Golda (née Seidenfeld) Ostreicher in Munkatch, a town of 60,000, in what was then Czechoslovakia. Reb Menachem Ostreicher was a devout Munkatcher chassid, and the family was very close to the sainted Munkatcher Rebbe, the Minchas Elazar, zy”a.
Hershel was the oldest of six boys; an older sister had passed away at the age of one year, before Hershel was born.
At the outset of World War II, Hershel moved to Budapest, the capital of Hungary. In 1944 he was taken to Buchenwald, and later transferred to Theresienstadt, from where he was liberated.
After the war, Hershel returned to Budapest. There, he met his brothers Yumi and Luli — who had survived several concentration camps together — and learned that his parents and three youngest brothers had perished at the hands of the Nazis, ym”s.
In April 1946, Hershel married Helen Weinstein. A survivor of Auschwitz, Helen had lost her parents and four siblings in the war.
The Ostreichers’ daughter Agi was born in April 1947; a year later, the family immigrated to America where a son, Yossi, was born in 1951.
Until 1952 the family lived in New York, where Hershel worked pressing ties. They later moved to Pennsylvania, where Hershel found a job plucking chickens, before settling in Peoria, Illinois, in 1954.
In Peoria, Mr. Ostreicher worked as a shochet, shul youth leader, and principal of a Hebrew school that children attended after public school. “At the time, frum life was almost non-existent in Peoria,” says a granddaughter. “In her public school grade of 650 students, my mother was one of only five Jews — and the only frum one.”
Sensing a significant need for the introduction of religion into the lives of the youth, Mr. Ostreicher founded the organization that came to be known as NCSY. “He was into kiruv before kiruv became fashionable,” recalled his son Yossi at his father’s levayah.
In 1969, the Ostreichers moved to Forest Hills, Queens, and Hershel began what would become a flourishing nursing home business. He became known as a tremendous baal tzedakah, supporting many yeshivos and mosdos, with a particular fondness for Munkatch, a chassidus to which he remained close throughout his life. The Munkatcher Rebbe’s daughter told the Ostreicher family that upon hearing of Mr. Ostreicher’s passing, her father sadly said, “I feel like I have lost a brother.”
In 1993, Mrs. and Mrs. Ostreicher moved to Lawrence, N.Y. All the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the close-knit family still live in the Five Towns-Far Rockaway area, and are noted for their generosity in tzedakah.
Hershel Ostreicher is survived by his wife, Helen; brother, Yumi; children, Agi and Yossi; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His family members are noted for being baalei tzedakah, yirei Shamayim, and ohavei Yisrael. As they perpetuate his legacy, they will surely continue to bring nachas to their patriarch in his lofty place in Gan Eden.
Yehei zichro baruch.
A full tribute will, iy”H, appear next week.