Harav Zisha Follman, Zt”l, Bobover Rosh Yeshiva
Harav Ezariah Zisha Follman, zt”l, who was marbitz Torah for over half a century, and was the dedicated rebbi to thousands of talmidim as menahel of Yeshivas Eitz Chaim of Bobov, was niftar on Shabbos. He was 86 years old.
Rav Follman’s absolute expertise in Torah was legendary and was reminiscent of previous generations. By 16, he had completed Shas and at 18 he began delivering shiurim for other bachurim. From a young age until he was well into his 80s, Rav Follman would deliver hours-long drashos and pilpulim, quoting disparate sources in Chazal and meforshim.
As a mechanech, Rav Follman’s influence as menahel went far beyond administration and discipline. He was available to his talmidim day and night to guide them and to help with a wide array of life issues. With his individualized approach to catering to the needs of bachurim, he had a hand in building countless young men into ehrlicher Yidden.
He made over 2,000 shidduchim and regularly traveled long distances for the chassunos of talmidim. When asked once why he took so much time from his schedule to attend these simchos, he replied, “It’s part of my job to care for my talmidim and that includes seeing them to the chuppah.”
Faced with the task of educating the first generations that would fill the void left in Klal Yisrael by the Churban of the Holocaust, he invested great effort in raising a vanguard of authentic chassidishe Yidden on the shores of America, urging talmidim to cling to the ways of their ancestors and to forge deep connections and loyalty to the Bobover Rebbe, Harav Shlomo Halberstam, zy”a. The Rebbe, who was remarkably close with Rav Follman, once commented, “Before Reb Zishe, I had chassidim, but I didn’t have beards,” implying that now, through the latter’s influence, the Bobover Chassidus had both.
Rav Follman was born in 1932 in Hungary to a family of prominent Rabbanim whose connection to the dynasty of Bobov stretched back to the first Bobover Rebbe. When he was less than a year old, he and his mother, Mrs. Sarah Follman, a”h, moved to America to join his father Reb Moshe Uri, z”l, who had moved nearly a year before.
The Follmans lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where Reb Moshe Uri was among the founders of “the chareidim beis medrash,” a kehillah of steadfast shomrei Torah umitzvos. He was from a generation of Jews who clung to Yiddishkeit with great mesirus nefesh, and often found himself looking for a new job each Sunday, having been fired for being a shomer Shabbos.
At a time when becoming “Americanized” was an accepted norm, even among Orthodox families, Reb Moshe Uri went to tremendous lengths to see that his children should grow up as authentic chassidishe Yidden, carefully supervising their friendships and forbidding them to attend secular classes in yeshivah.&
In his early years, Rav Follman attended Yeshivas Rabbenu Shlomo Kluger; however, his sharp mind and hasmadah quickly outgrew the mosad.
At age 11, he joined Yeshivas Torah Vodaath where he was placed in a shiur for boys several years older than himself. Rav Follman recalled that seeing how the beis medrash snapped to attention when the Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Shlomo Heineman, zt”l, entered the room gave him his first glimpse of true kvod haTorah and inspired him to strive for yet greater heights in his own avodas Hashem.
Despite his young age, Rav Follman was quickly moved to Rav Heineman’s shiur. The few years he spent by the Gaon would play a formative role in his derech halimud and ahavas haTorah.
While in Torah Vodaath, Rav Follman cultivated a close relationship with Harav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt”l. The master mechanech and builder of Torah in America dedicated much time conversing with the young talmid, often discussing their common homeland and Bobov, a dynasty both shared a connection to. Rav Shraga Feivel’s own mastery in finding creative and down-to-earth ways of bringing bachurim with diverse backgrounds and needs closer to a life dedicated to Torah left a distinctive mark on Rav Follman’s own approach to his talmidim in decades to come.
Rav Follman’s hasmadah was phenomenal. He regularly spent whole days and often nights learning on the benches of the Poilisher shtiebel in Williamsburg, where the family had re-located. In these years, he developed tremendous bekius in Shas, as well as expertise in many commentaries, especially the works of the Shita Mekubetes and Ketzos Hachoshen.
At the time, Torah Vodaath had become a refuge for many broken bachurim who had survived the horrors of the war and arrived in America, many without parents. Despite his youth, Rav Follman developed a close rapport with these talmidim, offering chizuk and caring.
In 1947, the Bobover Rebbe arrived in America. Having survived the horrors of the Holocaust, he was intent on re-establishing Bobov on new shores and cultivating a new generation of Chassidim. Upon meeting Reb Moshe Uri, whom he had known before the war, the Rebbe asked if he could start to build his yeshivah with his two sons, young Zisha and, ybcl”c, Reb Lazer Dovid. The two promptly became talmidim of the Bobover Yeshivah’s first class in its first location on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.&
Almost immediately, the Rebbe and his young talmid began to develop a close bond. One summer, shortly after his arrival, the Rebbe was faced with a problem and needed to discuss the matter with someone he could trust. He hired a driver and traveled five hours each way to the Catskills to talk the matter over with Rav Follman who was in Camp Torah Vodaath at the time, and only 16 years old. Through the decades, the Rebbe would only grow in his trust and reliance on Rav Follman’s wisdom and abilities. In turn, Rav Follman was among the Rebbe’s most dedicated Chassidim, taking every opportunity to learn from the tzaddik’s ways.& &
By 18, Rav Follman was selected to lead a class of 11- and 12-year-old boys. So began his employment in Bobov’s yeshivah, which he would later follow to Crown Heights and, eventually, Boro Park. His tenure would span over 60 years, possibly making him the mosad’s longest-standing employee.&
He married, tbl”ch, Raizel Weinberger, daughter of Harav Usher Yonah Weinberger, zt”l, the Tamashovarer Rav, a talmid and Chassid of the Ahavas Yisrael of Vizhnitz, zy”a. Before the match was sealed, Rav Weinberger farhered his prospective son-in-law for eight hours, and later said that he had “gone through a whole sefarim shelf” in doing so.
The Rebbetzin stood at Rav Follman’s side for decades, tending to his every worldly need and often to those of his many talmidim as well. For years, she personally baked challos for Bobov’s summer camp as well as had the honor of providing them for the Bobover Rebbe’s Purim tisch each year.
After only a few years of teaching, Rav Follman was made menahel of the Bobover mesivta. Especially in the yeshivah’s early years, he took a patently unique approach to chinuch. Decrying mechanchim who sought only to build up especially gifted talmidim, he clearly saw his goal as finding a way to engage each and every bachur. He wanted to help them all grow into ehrlicher Yidden who would go on to establish Torah-true homes. Loyal to the path of the Baal Shem Tov, he saw his mission as helping each Yid find his individual way to come closer to the Ribbono shel Olam.
Rav Follman maintained a marathon of daily chavrusos in the mesivta, learning with each bachur a subject he thought would be engaging for that talmid. With many, he also studied sifrei Chassidus as a means of opening them up to the greater depth that Yiddishkeit has to offer. He was particularly fond of the sefer Noam Megadim, which he frequently learned.
One time, Rav Follman, who took little interest in world affairs, surprised one of his sons by asking him to buy him a newspaper. When the son inquired why his father wanted the item, he explained, “Really, I’m not interested in it at all. But there are two bachurim who come to me every day to learn and they like to talk about sports. So, I give them my opinion on the latest game and then we learn. With the nickel I gave you to buy the paper, I can save neshamos.”
Feeling that the yeshivah needs as many curricula as it has bachurim, he often pushed students to focus on whatever subject in Torah excited them, be it a certain masechta of Gemara or mishnayos or the study of Shulchan Aruch.
For decades, chassidishe garb had become de rigueur for any Bobover bachur, but this was hardly the case when Rav Follman joined the yeshivah in the 1950s. He strongly encouraged his talmidim to exchange their modern modes of dress for those of their forebears. He once commented that Chazal say one should strive to be tocho k’baro, that one’s inner quality should match one’s outward appearance, and discerned from the statement that they expected the outside to precede fine-tuning one’s character.
He regularly delivered shiurim on the parashah as well as on the sefer Yaares Dvash and Tanya. Before each Yom Tov, he offered a creative pilpul shiur followed by inspiring thoughts on the coming festival.
At Shabbos seudos, Rav Follman, who was not a naturally gifted baal menagen, could sit for hours singing zemiros with the utmost passion for the kedushah of the day. He used to quip in his typical lighthearted fashion, “It’s no trick to buy a house if you have money or to sing if you know how to.”
Rav Follman would rise daily at four a.m., reviewing seven blatt Gemara before Shacharis. Before he did so, however, he would fervently recite Tehillim for his talmidim’s success in Torah and avodah. He often remarked that when you see a bachur in the beis medrash, you should know that his accomplishments come from the tears their parents shed in tefillos for him.
Rav Follman was niftar this past Shabbos. The levayah was held Sunday morning at the Bobover beis medrash, followed by kevurah in Deans, N.J., where the mittah was placed just outside of the ohel of the Bobover Rebbes.
He is survived by, ybl”c, his wife, Rebbetzin Raizel; brother, Reb Lazer Dovid Follman; sisters, Mrs. Tzipporah Katz and Mrs. Chana Simpson; sons, Reb Yochanon, Reb Avrohom Meir, Reb Lazer Dovid, Reb Ben Tzion and Reb Tzvi Yehudah; daughters, Mrs. Esther Horowitz, Mrs. Chaya Glick, Mrs. Chava Zaidman, Mrs. Chana Kass, Mrs. Charna Rochel Rosen, Mrs. Tzipporah Rokeach, Mrs. Tuna Malka Lobel and Mrs. Sima Eisen; as well as by many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Yehi zichro baruch.
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