With the bare aron kodesh forming a stark backdrop, the aron of Harav Mordechai Krausz, zt”l, was carried into the Yeshiva Ohr Hachaim beis medash one last time Wednesday morning, scarcely a week since his indomitable voice had boomed through that very hall.
Rav Krausz, one of the two founding Roshei Yeshivah of the Kew Gardens Hills yeshivah, was niftar Tuesday night, shocking the estimated 1,000 talmidim he had taught over a nearly 35-year career in chinuch. He was 73. “We’ve lost our aron hakodesh,” cried Harav Doniel Lander, the Rosh Yeshivah who served alongside Rav Krausz since 1983, at the levayah.
Rav Krausz was recalled by talmidim and colleagues as a person who was totally immersed in Torah, knew intimately areas of study that few people even heard about, and combined perfectly his chassidishe persona with his Brisker style of learning.
“He blended it all together in a masterful symphony,” Harav Mordechai Finkelman, Mashgiach of Ohr Hachaim, told Hamodia while waiting for the aron to arrive at the levayah.
Harav Yitzchak Paler, Rosh Yeshivas Mekor Chaim, declared Rav Krausz to have been the finest talmid of his late father, Harav Binyamin Paler, zt”l.
Born in 1942 in Hermannstadt, a city in central Romania with about 2,500 Jewish inhabitants, Yehuda Mordechai Hakohen was “inquisitive and intellectual” since he was a young child, his older brother, Reb Simcha Krausz, recalled in his hesped.
His parents, Harav Avraham Dovid — who was the city’s Rav — and Rebbetzin Charna Perel, left in 1948 for Marseilles, France, where the family of four remained for a short time until they immigrated to the United States. They settled in the Bronx, where the younger Rav Krausz struck up a lifelong friendship with the Bick family — Harav Moshe Bick, zt”l, the Rav of Mezhibuzh, and, ybl”c, his son Harav Avraham Yehoshua Bick.
Reb Simcha Krausz recalled how he would speak with his brother “up to 10 times a day,” although he lived in Eretz Yisrael. The last conversation was on Sunday.
“He was lively and strong,” he said. “The telephone almost exploded from his voice.”
Reb Simcha said that his brother always wanted to learn new concepts, explore novel ideas, and search for fresh solutions in all areas of life. Yet, he never told his family about his successes.
“He was a great nistar, my brother,” Reb Simcha said. “He never spoke about himself. “
In the 1960s, Rav Krausz went to Eretz Yisrael to study under Hagaon Harav Berel Soloveitchik, zt”l, from whom he acquired his well-honed Brisker approach to learning. While there, he used the opportunity to acquaint himself with other Gedolim, many of whom grew to love the young man who had an unquenchable desire to learn and know everything.
Harav Nochum Partzovitz, Rosh Yeshivah of the Mir in Yerushalayim, “showered him with attention,” asserted Rav Lander.
When Rav Krausz returned stateside, he married his Rebbetzin, the former Chaya Rokeach, and proceeded to build a family of renowned marbitzei Torah and yirei Shamayim. Her father, Harav Baruch Rokeach, zt”l, a descendant of the first Belzer Rebbe, was the Skohler Rebbe. The young couple moved to Boro Park where Rav Krausz established a kollel in the Mirrer Minyan.
In 1983, Rabbi Dr. Berish Lander, z”l, the visionary who set up the sprawling Touro College network , wanted to establish a yeshivah that would combine what his son, the Rosh Yeshivah, called, “the lomdus of Brisk with the varmkeit of chassidus.”
“Rav Krausz,” said the younger Rav Lander, “was the total package.”
Rav Krausz was then asked to join with Rav Doniel Lander in creating the yeshivah. The two men have led the mosad in Queens since then.
“For 33 years, in an unusual arrangement,” Rav Lander said, “we both gave parallel shiurim to the same group of bachurim. In any similar situation this would lead to discord. But I can tell you that there was not for one day even an iota of disagreement.”
Rav Lander attributed the yeshivah’s hatzlachah to Rav Krausz, who was devoted to his talmidim, even insisting on making the trip from Boro Park last Wednesday to the yeshivah to wish his talmidim a “good summer.” Although few people knew it at the time, the Rosh Yeshivah was in the final throes of battle for his life.
Talmidim at the levayah recalled for Hamodia a dedicated rebbi with a flair for oratory, a zest for teaching, and a propensity for delivering the most lomdishe shiurim in an interesting fashion.
Rav Krausz would walk the aisles of the beis medrash, calling over different talmidim to talk in learning or to learn b’chavrusa for a few minutes. His face would sparkle when arriving at the punch line of a good vort.
“He was very warm, he knew all of us,” said Zisha Kopelowitz, a talmid of about 20 years ago.
“His smile was contagious,” recalled Yehuda Adler, a recent talmid who remembered Rav Krausz calling over talmidim to see where they were up to in learning.
Rav Paler called Rav Krausz an “ish eshkoles” — a rare title bestowed on unique individuals with broad knowledge across a wide spectrum of subjects. A Vizhnitzer chassid, Rav Krausz had an endless repertoire of chassidishe stories that he would repeat often. Rav Lander said that this was the synthesis that his father wanted in the yeshivah.
Rav Lander pointed out that Rav Krausz had a phenomenal memory, able to repeat entire passages from Gemara by heart. However, he added, “his clarity of recollection was a result of his chavivus haTorah.” He loved learning so much, he thirsted for knowledge, that once he attained it he refused to give it up.
Rabbi Sender Gluck, the second-year Maggid Shiur in Mesivta Yesodei Yeshurun, the mesivta affiliated with Ohr Hachaim, declared Rav Krausz “a very strong, beautiful example of ahavas haTorah.”
Rabbi Finkelman marveled at the “tremendous respect” with which Rav Lander and Rav Krausz treated each other.
“They worked together unbelievably,” Rabbi Finkelman said, adding that this held true even though Rav Krausz was at least a decade older than Rav Lander and the two came from different schools of learning.
“He only saw maalos in every derech,” he said. “Everyone looked forward to his drashah at the dinner every year. He knew how to make a person feel good.”
As an example, Rabbi Finkelman said that every week Rav Krausz would come over to him to ask what he had said in his Erev Shabbos shmuess. The Rosh Yeshivah did not come to yeshivah on Fridays and wanted to hear what topic the Mashgiach had discussed with the bachurim.
“Whatever I would say he said, ‘Ah, it’s so good,’” Rabbi Finkelman said. “Everything was always good,” he added wistfully.
Rav Krausz was very sick years ago but he got better. Even during his sickness he still came to give his shiur, missing very few of them.
“Daven for me,” he would urge friends and colleagues. “But things are good.”
Rav Krausz was in yeshivah until the end of the zman last week. “I could only sleep two hours a night,” he told someone. But he came anyhow. It was if his talmidim and his shiurim gave him the strength to pull through one health crisis after another.
On Tuesday night, his neshamah was called to the Yeshivah shel Maalah. Hundreds of numbed talmidim, colleagues and friends returned to Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim for the levayah days after the zman ended. The paroches was pulled to the side of the ornate aron hakodesh, the aron placed in the center of the beis medrash and numerous maspidim bemoaned the loss to Klal Yisrael.
Kevurah was in the Vizhnitzerer beis hachaim in Monsey.
Rav Krausz is survived by his esteemed Rebbetzin Chaya, children Reb Moshe Aaron, Reb Shulem Gershon, Reb Shmuel, Mrs. Gitty Marilus, Mrs. Rivky Berl and Mrs. Miriam Teller, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Shivah will be observed in Boro Park at 1850 52nd Street, Apt 1F, until Tuesday morning.
Yehi zicho baruch.