Rabbi Mordechai Tzvi Susna was born in 1933 to Reb Yona and Pesha Leah Susna of the Lower East Side. He attended Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yaakov Yosef.
After young Mordechai graduated mesivta, Harav Avraham Kalman Goldberg, zt”l, of Beis Medrash Hagadol, wanted to bring him to Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, to be tested for admission to Bais Medrash Govoha. In that era, many young Jews attended secular colleges, pursuing professions that would lift them above the poverty of previous generations. Harav Goldberg wanted to make sure his gifted, wholesome protégé did not follow the trend of the times.
Reb Mordechai quaked in fear as he waited with Harav Goldberg to meet the Gadol Hador.
Reb Aharon’s deep blue eyes sparkled as he smiled at the bachur before him and asked him to say a shtikel Torah. But Mordechai was so tense that when he opened his mouth, nothing came out. Attempting to put the boy at ease, the Rosh Yeshivah unbuttoned his jacket, creating a less formal posture. “Nu, Motel, zug a shtikel Torah,” he gently prodded. Again, Mordechai’s awe kept the words locked within him.
Patiently, the Rosh Yeshivah tried again to put him at ease. Finally, Mordechai began to say a dvar Torah. But he was still nervous, and it didn’t come out well. Sure he had failed miserably, he waited outside while Harav Goldberg conferred with Harav Kotler. The Rav finally emerged, smiling; Reb Aharon, joining him, told the bachur, “Motel, ich vil eich arein nemen in yeshivah.”
Mordechai was flabbergasted. How could it be?
Harav Goldberg had told the Rosh Yeshivah a story about Mordechai’s father:
Reb Yona’s dry goods business went under during the Depression. He tried to earn parnassah in different ways, but when nothing worked out he entered the beis midrash and spent much of his day learning Torah.
One day a man entered the shul in a pathetic state. His tangled hair appeared not to have been cut for months; dressed in rags, he reeked with a terrible odor. He told Reb Yona, “I have nothing to wear; my clothes are full of lice and I am terribly uncomfortable. Would you have clothes to spare?”
Reb Yona said kindly, “I will be happy to help you if I can; I will go home and see what I can find.
“No, no!” the poor man said. “I’m so uncomfortable, I can’t take this another minute!”
Without another word, Reb Yona put on his overcoat and removed his clothes in another room. Wearing only his coat, he handed his clothes to the hapless person.
When Reb Aharon heard that story he said, “I want such a person’s child in my yeshivah.”
Mordechai excelled in learning. When the yeshivah in Philadelphia opened, he was part of a group of stellar bachurim sent there for the first six months. He also spent time in Vineland, learning b’chavrusa with Harav Moshe Eisemann, zt”l, the Rosh Yeshivah, before Reb Aharon called him back to Lakewood.
Mordechai married, tbl”c, Golda Spitzer, daughter of a prominent Viener family from Williamsburg. The couple began their life together in Lakewood, as part of the kollel of Bais Medrash Govoha. Then, with their family growing, they moved to Brooklyn, where Rabbi Susna became a rebbi at Mesivta Be’er Shmuel. He was later a rebbi at Beis Yitzchak of Skver, then Rosh Kollel of Beis Yitzchak, and then Mashgiach of Yeshivas Kol Torah in Sea Gate. For 21 years, he delivered a daily summer shiur at Yeshivah Zichron Moshe of South Fallsburg.
A gifted writer and speaker, Rabbi Susna used these talents to be marbeh kvod Shamayim. As a bachur, he was encouraged by Reb Aharon to write a kuntres in English about why college was the wrong choice for a yeshiva bachur. The kuntres was called “Where Do You Stand?” and written as a dialogue between rebbi and talmid. It had an important impact, changing many lives. Many other kuntresim followed.
When a matter of Yiddishkeit needed strengthening, he was there, with his pen, his eloquence, and action. On the Lower East Side, he rode through the streets in a truck outfitted with a Shabbos table scene, announcing the time of hadlakas neiros between zemiros that he sang. He spoke to store owners about kedushas Shabbos, prevailing upon them to close their shops on the holy day.
He later continued his efforts in Boro Park, accompanying the Zutchke Rav, zy”a, in his work on behalf of shemiras Shabbos with business owners on 13th Avenue.
Concerned that his talmidim should spend vacation time productively, he created a hasmadah contest, with prizes for hours spent learning. Later he handed the reins of the project to Reb Yehoshua (Josh) Silbermintz, head of Pirchei Agudas Yisrael, to expand the contest in the context of a national organization.
Harav Yaakov Reisman, shlita, Mara d’Asra of Agudath Israel of Long Island, considers Rabbi Susna, who taught him more than 50 years ago, his rebbi muvhak. At the levayah, he spoke of how his rebbi used his own limited funds to purchase the prizes for the contest, so intent was he on encouraging the boys to learn.
Rabbi Susna spread Torah in the adult world as well. As founder of Vaad Leharomas Keren haTorah, he organized shiurim for men delivered by Harav Avraham Chaim Spitzer, zt”l, the Viener Dayan, and ybl”c,Harav Ben Tzion Strasser of Nitra, shlita; and for women by Rebbetzin Basya Bender, a”h. He later encouraged Harav Eliezer Baruch Bald to enlarge the scope of the shiurim by founding Irgun Shiurai Torah.
Rabbi Susna, encouraged by Gedolei Yisrael, arranged many asifos for important causes. During the Gulf War, he organized a kinus tefillah at the Bobover Beis Midrash in Boro Park that drew 7,000 people.
Rabbi Susna’s own powerful koach hadibbur enhanced the impact of any event at which he spoke. Consequently, he was regularly asked to make appeals for various causes. He invested his energies in this avodas kodesh, accepting no renumeration, as was his policy for all of his undertakings for the klal. He made appeals for Rav Tov, Arachim, Hatzalah, Tomchei Shabbos, Yeshiva Zichron Moshe, and many more mosdos. Walking from Boro Park to Flatbush, even as far as Sea Gate, or flying to Toronto for a fund-raiser was par for the course for this ish haElokim. He tirelessly raised money for orphans in America and in Eretz Yisrael, as well as for organizations such as Chessed L’Avraham, established by the Skulener Rebbe, zy”a. Rabbi Susna treasured his close relationship with the Rebbe as well as with his son, ybl”c, the current Rebbe, shlita, who esteemed him highly. “Aza Yid darf men bazichen,” the Rebbe said, days before Rabbi Susna’s passing.
His excellence at teaching Torah, as well as his extreme devotion to his talmidim, made Rabbi Susna an unforgettable rebbi. Two former talmidim told the Susna family how their father had impacted their lives: As recent immigrants from Hungary, they felt strange in their new environment; the adjustment was very difficult. Rabbi Susna not only understood their pain, he acted upon his understanding. He invited each of them to write a weekly dvar Torah that was printed for the class. The rebbi publicly praised their work, and the boys earned the admiration and friendship of their classmates. Both became respected talmidei chachamim who have published many sefarim.
His love for his talmidim overflowed to the next generation. Meeting the child of a talmid, he greeted him with an affectionate hug and kiss.
Forty-three years ago, he opened Camp Ahavas Torah in Eretz Yisrael, with 16 American bachurim. It was an unforgettable experience for the boys; some of them, unsteady in their Yiddishkeit, were inspired at camp to become Yidden of whom the tzibbur can justly be proud.
Rabbi Susna regularly wrote articles of mussar and hashkafah for the Yiddish newspaper Der Yid. They were very popular with a wide audience, including many Rabbanim.
Rabbi Susna’s readiness to follow the directives of Gedolei Torah was legendary. Such luminaries as the Steipler Gaon, Harav Shach, the Tzehlemer Rav, Harav Moshe Feinstein, the Kopycnitzer Rebbe — zecher tzaddikim livrachah — and many more, across the spectrum of the Torah world, called on him to carry out important missions for kvod Shamayim, for Torah, and for Klal Yisrael.
He lived a life of simplicity, his worthy ezer k’negdo sharing his deep Torah ideals and values. It was the wealth of nitzchiyus that was important to him. His son’s bar mitzvah was held in the apartment of Rebbetzin Chana Perel Kotler, where a Minyan of some 20 people continued to daven after Reb Aharon’s petirah. When his son asked him why they couldn’t celebrate in a larger place, Rabbi Susna explained, “The first chelek of Mishnas Rabi Aharon has just been published. I would like your pshetl to be a shiur of the Rosh Yeshivah from this sefer. I believe it will give the Rebbetzin much nachas.”
Rabbi Susna later learned that Rebbetzin Kotler had listened from behind the door and expressed deep happiness.
He devoted himself to the needs of the klal. “You are such a talmid chacham, such a prolific author and speaker,” someone said to him. “Why don’t you open your own beis medrash? You would have a big following; you would have more from it.”
“Perhaps I would have more from it,” Rabbi Susna said, “but I think Hakadosh Baruch Hu has more from it this way.”
He was rosh v’rishon l’chol davar sheb’kedushah.
The last kuntres he wrote, while in the throes of a debilitating condition, was called Ein od Milvado. Its subject was kabbalas yissurim b’ahavah, with mekoros from Chazal and sifrei kodesh.
His heart beat with love of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. When that pure heart stopped beating, Hashem’s other children experienced a great loss.
Maspidim at the levayah were Harav Yisroel Pluchok, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah, Derech Chaim and a neighbor; Harav Yaakov Reisman; Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Simcha Moshe Susna, his sons; and Rabbi Shea Hershkowitz, a son-in-law.
Rabbi Susna is survived by, ybl”c his wife, Rebbetzin Golda Susna, and his sister, Rebbetzin Bracha Pollak. His sons are Rabbi Eliezer, a rebbi in Yeshivah Govohah d’Lakewood, and Rabbi Simcha Moshe, s’gan menahel, Yeshivah Ketanah of Lakewood. His daughters are Esther, wife of Rabbi Shea Hershkowitz, maggid shiur at Yeshivas Mir; Sarah Liba, wife of Rabbi Aharon Lezer, mechaber of Sefer Meil Aharon on Masechta Me’ilah; and Pesha Leah, wife of Rabbi Henoch Dovid Bandman, rebbi in the Skverer Yeshivah of Boro Park. He also leaves grandchildren and great-grandchildren, kein yirbu, who follow the noble path of their ancestors.
Yehi zichro baruch.