Harav Chaim Mordechai Twersky, zt”l


Chernobyler Rav of Boro Park

Harav Chaim Twersky, a descendant of the famed Chernobyler dynasty who served as one of Boro Park’s earliest Rabbanim and the longtime Rav of Maimonides Medical Center, was niftar on Friday night. He was 92.

Rav Twersky, beloved and related to scores of Rabbanim and Rebbes, was a final conduit for many firsthand reports of the lives of the Gedolim of previous generations whom he knew and was acquainted with.

“He was always there for his mispallelim, as well as anyone else who needed his help,” a grandson related to Hamodia yesterday. “He was a pillar of support in times of need, and with his whole heart celebrated their simchos. He was a powerful orator in public, and in private, always seemed to find the right words to make a listener feel good. But when it came to areas of halachah and mesorah he exhibited an unyielding, iron stance.”

Born in 1921 to Harav Pinchas and Rebbetzin Chaya Sarah Horowitz, the daughter of the Loyever-Chernobyler Rebbe, in Uman, the tiny infant suffered a calamity within his first week.

It was during the Russian civil war, and Jews were targeted by both the Communist rebels and the czarist White forces. The spillover into the central Ukrainian city of Uman triggered a pogrom by local forces. Entering the home of the new mother, they brutally killed her as she was lying in bed.

But the murderers did not notice the infant, who was born prematurely and was thus smaller than a normal-sized baby, lying wrapped up near his mother. Rabbi Twersky’s life was consequently spared days after it began.

“Look,” he would encourage mothers of premature children in his later years when he served as Rav in the hospital, “I was born prematurely; look at me now, baruch Hashem.”

It was the couple’s first child; Chayah Sarah, Hy”d, was only 18, Reb Pinchas 19. Young Chaim’s maternal grandparents adopted the child as their own. Facing imminent arrest by the communists, the Loyever-Chernobyler Rebbe, accompanied by his Rebbetzin and young Chaim, fled to the United States, but before they left they arranged a shidduch between his widowed son-in-law and the daughter of Harav Moishela Twersky, the Rachmastrivka Rebbe of Odessa.

Reb Pinchas Horowitz, Hy”d, was subsequently killed in the Holocaust, a fact that Rabbi Twersky did not know with certainty until some three decades afterward.

The young Chaim arrived with his grandfather in Pittsburg, where his grandfather hired a private melamed to learn with him. When truant officers forcibly took the child to a local public school, the Loyever-Chernobyler Rebbe took his grandson and traveled that very night to New York.

“I am not sleeping even one night in a city where my grandson has to go to public school,” he declared.

After settling in Brownsville, then a Brooklyn neighborhood densely populated with Orthodox Jews, Chaim was enrolled in Yeshivah Torah Vodaath, where he developed a relationship with the legendary menahel, Harav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt”l.

During that time, he rode the train every day into Williamsburg for yeshivah. He would frequently drop in for lunch at his uncle, Harav Yaakov Chaim Perlow, zt”l, the Stoliner Rebbe. However, feeling guilty that the Rebbe would stop what he was doing in order to dine with him, Chaim stopped going.

The Rebbetzin called him the next day, asking why he was not coming any more. Hearing his reasoning, she begged him to continue coming there to eat.

“You don’t understand,” she said. “The Rebbe only eats lunch when you’re here. If you don’t come, he does not eat the entire day.”

When Reb Chaim married, to Ruchama Esrog, a daughter of the respected Slonimer chassid Reb Shimon Dov Esrog, the Rebbe came by one night to give him a chasunah gift: $500, a huge sum in those days, for the couple to buy themselves a couch.

It was a story that Rabbi Twersky treasured, repeating it countless times, including it at the yahrtzeit tisch in honor of the Rebbe, which was held in the Stoliner shul in Boro Park.

In the late 1940s, Rabbi Twersky was invited to become Rav of Beis Medrash Toras Moshe, a shul with 1,000 mispallelim in the then-gentrified neighborhood of Boro Park. He accepted, and as one of Boro Park’s first Rabbanim, was involved in steering the community to where it is today.

Throughout his life, he remained extremely careful to keep his forebears’ minhagim.

Harav Twersky’s ahavas Yisrael was evident throughout his life. Harav Shlomo Halberstam, zt”l, the Bobover Rebbe, said that Rabbi Twersky was instrumental in getting him a visa that allowed him to come to the United States after the war.

“He exaggerated [to immigration authorities], saying that I was a great rabbi” the Bobover Rebbe said, with a twinkle in his eye.

When Mike Tress embarked on his legendary visit to the Displaced Persons camps in 1946, he asked Rabbi Twersky to come along.

Since his shul, located where the Bais Brocho school for girls is situated today, on 10th Avenue and 43rd Street, was near Maimonides Medical Center, Rabbi Twersky started visiting patients on a volunteer basis. He was later offered the job as Rav of the hospital, a position he filled until his retirement about 10 years ago.

Despite his advanced age, Rabbi Twersky was in excellent physical health until recently.

Rabbi Avraham Heschel, a grandson of Rabbi Twersky through marriage, said that his grandfather never lost his sense of optimism and serenity.

Rabbi Heschel recalled visiting shortly after his grandfather broke a hip and had been taken to a rehabilitation center to recuperate.

“He was just so grateful that he was among Yidden and that he had a minyan,” Rabbi Heschel said. “He was a very positive, uplifting person, always expressing his gratitude to the Ribbono shel Olam. He always had on his lips either a firsthand story of a Gadol, or a dvar Torah.”

He was niftar Friday night in an assisted-living home.

The levayah took place at the Sorvasher beis medrash, where he davened the past few years. In line with Chernobyler minhag, there were no hespedim, although the Novominsker Rebbe, shlita, and his oldest son briefly delivered divrei preidah.

Kevurah was at Wellwood cemetery. The same awe that he exhibited towards the grandfather who had raised him his entire life, was also evident in his choice of kevurah. Though the plot adjacent to his grandfather is empty, he insisted on being buried in the plot behind his grandfather instead, feeling that he was not worthy of being buried in the same row.

Harav Twersky is survived by his Rebbetzin Ruchama and children Harav Baruch Benzion, the Chernobyler Rav of Monsey; Harav Avraham Yaakov; Harav Menachem Nochum, and Mrs. Sarah Gittel Weinberg, who is married to Harav Yitzchok Mattis Weinberg.

Shivah will be observed at 1470-53rd street until Friday morning

Yehi zichro baruch.