A large crowed escorted Rabbi Yitzchak Mayer, z”l, of Bnei Brak on his final journey on Thursday, after he passed away at the age of 96. Reb Yitzchak was one of the heads of Agudas Yisrael, an elder Gerrer chassid, a former director general of Chinuch Atzmai, a mayor of Bnei Brak, one of the founders of the Chief Military Rabbinate and an early resident of Bnei Brak who documented its history.
Rabbi Mayer was active until a very short time ago. In recent weeks he became weaker and was hospitalized until his passing.
Reb Yitzchak was known for being a genuine chassid, a very deliberate, thinking person, with refined character traits. He greeted each person he met with warmth and rose for anyone who was advanced in years, despite his own age.
Reb Yitzchak Yosef Meir was born in 5679/1919 in Zelov, Poland, to Reb Tzvi Meir, z”l.
In 5685/1925, the family moved to Eretz Yisrael, and settled in Bnei Brak, which at the time had 660 residents.
As a child he studied in the first class of the first cheder established in Bnei Brak, Talmud Torah Rabi Akiva. He would emotionally share details about things that happened in Bnei Brak in those early years and wrote two books entitled Al Chomosayich Bnei Brak, about the first three decades of the city.
Reb Yitzchak was always careful to speak positively of Eretz Yisrael, and said that despite the hard work, the Jews of Bnei Brak were thrilled with their lot and never even considered returning to Poland.
In 5690/1930, the Gerrer Chassidim established the first yeshivah ketanah in Bnei Brak, and after finishing cheder, Yitzchak entered the yeshivah. Then he went to Yerushalayim to learn in Chevron. At the time, he lived with Harav Shlomo of Zhvill, zy”a, with other children who came from different cities to learn in Yerushalayim. Reb Shlomke appointed young Yitzchak to be in charge of the other children.
He then studied in Yeshivas Sfas Emes. When the Imrei Emes visited Tel Aviv in 1936, he instructed his son, the Lev Simchah, to establish a branch of Sfas Emes in the city, which later became Yeshivas Chiddushei Harim. Reb Yitzchak became one of the first maggidei shiur in the yeshivah.
After the establishment of the State, he served as the Agudah representative to the Military Rabbinate, which was established at the time. He rose through the ranks until he became a Lieutenant Colonel and the stand-in for the Chief Rabbi of the Army.
He was the head of the military chevrah kaddisha and helped bring to burial the casualties of the War of Independence. A year later, he risked his life by going into areas under Jordanian control to retrieve the bodies of casualties that remained there and bring them to burial.
After the Six-Day War, he was responsible on behalf of the army for the holy sites of Yerushalayim and Yehudah and Shomron.
In 5722/1962, Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, made a special trip to Eretz Yisrael to enlist Reb Yitzchak to become the director of Chinuch Atzmai. In the two years that Reb Yitzchak served in this capacity, he established thirty-six schools around the country.
He was able to use his many contacts for his endeavors, and together with the leader of Agudas Yisrael, Harav Yitzchak Meir Levine, facilitated extensive funding through the Finance Ministry. The education minister at the time, Zalman Aren, funded the Chinuch Atzmai expenses for a year and a half retroactively.
Reb Yitzchak was the first to introduce seniority pensions for teachers in Chinuch Atzmai.
Nearly fifty years ago, he was chosen to be a member of the Bnei Brak municipality, and in 1974, was elected the mayor. He worked extensively to develop the city and build its Torah institutions.
In addition to the the Rebbes of Ger, he was close to many other Gedolei Yisrael, including the Chazon Ish, Harav Yechezkel Abramsky, Harav Yechezkel Sarna, Harav Zalman Sorotzkin and others.
Until a very old age, he learned with great concentration. Sometimes, he seemed terribly weak, but as soon as he sat down beside a Gemara, it was as though he was infused with a new life.
Until a month ago, he still attended the Daf Yomi shiur in his shtiebel with young avreichim.
The levayah departed from his home and passed by the Gerrer Shtiebel on Rabi Yehoshua Street. Hespedim were delivered by Harav Yitzchak Dovid Alter, a son of the Pnei Menachem, zy”a; Rabbi Avraham Yosef Leizerson, chairman of Chinuch Atzmai; Bnei Brak Mayor Rabbi Chanoch Zeibert, and the gabbai of the shtiebel Reb Yehudah Broiner. He was buried in the Vizhnitz cemetery.
Reb Yitzhak is survived by his brother, Reb Avraham Menachem, shlita; his sister, the wife of Reb Dovid Davidson, z”l, a Modzhitzer chassid, and his children, Reb Yehudah, Reb Tzvi Nachman and Reb Yisrael, and a daughter, the wife of Reb Moshe Steinmetz, and five generations of descendents.