What did I learn from my father, z”l ?
Thirty-six years have passed since that tragic day when my beloved father left us.
Thirty-six years are a full chapter of one’s lifetime.
The babies of then are now parents of teenagers, and will soon be marrying off their own children.
The stories I grew up with from my father about his extended family, about the Gedolim of the times, and about the “poshute” Poilishe Yidden, were not simple bedtime stories. They were lessons in life, repeated time and again to encourage and instill in us, the children, the message of not taking a free ride on our yichus and expecting important doors to open for us. He constantly imbued in us that only yichus atzmi counted.
In his extreme humility, my father would never say that he learned with his grandfather, the Imrei Emes, zy”a, as a young man. Instead, he would say that his grandfather had a shiur with some einiklach at times.
Treasuring the lineage he came from, he knew to appreciate what was required of him. He shied away from the limelight and was, by choice, always in the shadow of his great father, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Levin, zt”l. The father was the spokesman; the son took care of the writing, fighting for the principles of Orthodox Jewry and the existence of Torah in Eretz Yisrael at a time when secularism ruled.
In his monumental work, Chassidim Mesaprim, my father writes that he was raised “in a typical chassidishe world and had the merit to listen to countless stories from elderly Chassidim.” What he doesn’t mention is the fact that, in his extraordinary, brilliant mind, he had memorized and treasured over 3,000 vertlach. Without a doubt, had he not taken pen to paper and recorded every last one of them, they would have been lost to the world forever.
The fact that every moment is precious and irreplaceable was ingrained in him simply from observing his grandfather’s daily routine. Wasting time was simply not in his realm of possibility.
4:00 a.m., 12:00 midnight, and he would sit, writing in his unique handwriting or tapping away at his old-fashioned little typewriter. Day and night. Night and day. Not one article and not 10. They are innumerable and uncountable.
Whatever needed to be covered in the Hebrew Hamodia in those days, whether it was four, six, or eight pages, it was my father who got them done. Yet, as founding editor of the Hebrew Hamodia, his name could not be found anywhere in the entire publication. You could find Y. Cohen, Y. Avirut, Avi Sefer.
In a monumental work such as his
Megillas Polin, any other author would have had his name emblazoned on the cover, preface, table of contents, etc. My father’s name appears on page six on the bottom.
Just two months before he tragically left us, he told me that he would not allow me to hide the way he had. “I had my reasons, but I won’t let you hide,” he said.
Did we manage to describe him as a genius? The man who went for a week of vacation and came back with a book that he wrote. “What kind of rest could you possibly have gotten?” I wanted to know. “You don’t allow the brain to rest, or it will get rusty,” was his unassuming response.
After he passed away so suddenly, one of his dear friends who knew him since childhood told me, “What you have seen of your father was just the shell; the remnants of the fire. His soul was burned in Treblinka, in Majdanek, in Belzec.”
He had an insatiable need to accomplish. While others spent some free time
doodling, my father was writing lists of Jewish communities and Gedolim. He wrote nonstop about shtetlach — hundreds of them. All of which he knew by heart. Big ones, small ones, tiny ones. He wrote about the Rabbanim, the Gedolim, and the simple Yid.
While emptying a wastebasket in the room where he had passed away, pages of lists with hundreds of names were discovered.
The man, who never spoke about his experiences during the Holocaust, committed everything to paper. And out of his pained silence, I learned to remember.
Until Hashem took him and left behind the vision, the mission — and his pen — for me to continue.