Harav Elchonon Scheinerman, Zt”l

Harav Elchonon Scheinerman, zt”l

Harav Elchonon Scheinerman was niftar at the age of 98 on Shabbos Parashas Shlach. He was one of the few remaining talmidim of Hagaon Harav Yeruchim Levovitz, zt”l, in the Mir.

Rav Elchonon was one of the nine children in the Scheinerman family who grew up frum in Washington, D.C., in the 1920s. When the Depression hit, the family moved to New York, on the advice of Harav Yaakov Yosef Herman, zt”l. At the age of 15, Elchonon was sent to Mir in Lithuania. First he learned in Baranovitch, under Harav Elchonon Wasserman, zt”l, for two years and then learned in Mir for four years. He got semichah from the Mir and learned shechitah there as well. His original plan was to learn there for years, but when the War hit Europe, Reb Chaim Ozer advised the talmidim to escape to America. The trip to America was arduous, but the boys held strong.

There was a group of 85 frum passengers on the freighter and the journey that should have taken one week took three weeks because they had to carefully avoid U-boats. They stopped in Bergen (a city in the Norwegian county of Hordaland) for a week because the freighter had to be refitted for the passengers. The frum women in the group went shopping but the only kosher food they could obtain was sardines and rye bread. They were thrilled to find something even more important: one lulav and esrog for the whole group, plus a sefer Torah. The boys built a sukkah on the deck of a baggage container and put s’chach on the roof. When they arrived in America the boys refused to get off the boat because it was still Yom Tov. This kind of steadfastness was something that Rav Elchonon held tightly day after day.

When he was 21, he became a talmid of Harav Dovid Leibowitz in Chofetz Chaim. He considered Rav Dovid Leibowitz his Rebbi muvhak all his life.

He married Esther Yachnes six years later, so determined was he to find a wife who valued limud haTorah and shemiras hamitzvos as much as he did. Together they shared this passion and raised a beautiful torahdik family.

Rav Scheinerman was a tower in chinuch for years. He was the Menahel of numerous schools, including Shaarei Tzedek on Coney Island, Ohev Shalom in Williamsburg, and Bais Yaakov of Boro Park.

Torah was his core strength from beginning to end. At his levayah, his children spoke about how limud haTorah was always his focus.

In their younger years, it was hard for Rav Scheinerman and his wife, Esther, to support their growing family. At one point he was making a mere $6,000 a year and the going was tough. A job offer of $18,000 a year came his way, to be the principal in a school that he was unfamiliar with. Unsure if the community was a frum enough place in which to raise his children, he asked daas Torah. He was told to follow his instincts and not to accept the position. He came home and told his wife with tears in his eyes, “I wish I could accept the position but I cannot.” He was taught to follow daas Torah and he did. No ifs, ands, or buts.

In his later years one of his grandsons asked him, “Zaide, why is your tallis so white? You have had it so long and it resembles a chassan’s new tallis!” Rav Elchonon responded, “A yeshivah bachur should always look neat and clean and presentable, as is bekavodig to his job as a Torah learner.” In his mind, he was still the same yeshivah bachur that he was in Mir. And indeed he was! The mesorah never left him; it remained fresh in his mind, perhaps even grew stronger throughout the years.

When he was elderly, he moved from Brooklyn to Far Rockaway to live near Rabbi Shmuel and Shani Strickman, his son-in-law and daughter. The boys in Yeshiva Darchei Torah reveled in his presence, recognizing him for the treasure that he was. At one point, his son in law asked him to speak to the older bachurim after davening.

“I am so tired,” responded Rav Elchonon but he saw how badly they all wanted him to speak, so he agreed to speak for five minutes. Fifty minutes later, he was done, having inspired the bachurim with tales of his years in Torah learning. “He was a seamless bridge from the Torah generation in Europe to the boys nowadays!” says his child.

After many years of kollel life, his son-in-law, Rabbi Shmuel Strickman, approached his father-in-law and informed him that he would have to start work (in chinuch) for parnassah purposes. Tears streamed down Rav Scheinerman’s face as he cried, “Oh, how I wish I could support you in learning forever! I am so sorry I cannot.”

Beloved by his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, the words they use to describe him clearly show their adoration and respect for the man he was.

“Until the 1960s, when the Torah community was ready to accept what Yiddishkeit truly entailed, he was incessantly tested. He was in constant battle to defend the ideals he learned from his home and Rebbeim.”

“When my father was niftar, I was young and Uncle Choonie took over in so many ways. He was my rock and he loved our family fiercely.”

“Just sitting with him and holding his hand felt special.”

“How the children were drawn to him like a magnet. In shul, they would flock to him and he would dole out Bazooka gum.”

He was “a pillar,” “warm,” “loyal,” “totally honest,” “family minded,” “steadfast,” “vintage Yid,” “transcending generations.”

“He placed such value and importance on the mitzvah of tzitzis. How fitting it is that he was niftar on Shabbos Parashas Shlach, where it talks about the mitzvah of tzitzis.”

As his great-niece, I can attest that he was a marvelous combination of focusing on the top priorities in life yet he possessed a sense of humor and joy for living laced through it all. Like all his siblings, he possessed this certain zing that made him delightful to be around. He loved us fiercely? True. And with that very same fierceness, boy, did we love him back.