Part 5-Yeshiva Torah Vodaath at 100: Talmidim of the Mesivta Speak

Torah Vodaath
Reb Mayer Apfelbaum is the embodiment of a Torah Vodaath talmid in the post-WWII days of the yeshivah. His devotion to Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and to Klal Yisrael represent the quintessential ben Torah and ehrliche baal habayis that Harav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt”l, envisioned. In this interview with Hamodia, Reb Mayer discussed his memories of the yeshivah, and how his growth within its walls brought him to his lifelong pursuit of helping the klal.
YTV-Torah Vodaath
Reb Mayer by the “old Mesivta building”.

How did you come to Yeshiva Torah Vodaath?
I was born in Galicia in a small town near Stutchin. During the war years, I was interned in Bergen-Belsen, and after liberation, I was transferred to Sweden. I wrote a letter to a landsmanschaft, an organization of people who originated from my region, and they arranged my papers to come to America. Those papers, like so many others, were underwritten by Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, which was the only home I knew from my arrival in 1947 until my marriage in 1960.

Dancing with Harav Gedalia Schorr Zt”l at his wedding.

Which Rebbi, Menahel or Rosh Yeshivah did you associate with while in the yeshivah? After leaving the yeshivah?
I connected with all my Rebbeim. When I arrived at Torah Vodaath, I attended classes at the “old Mesivta building” at Bedford [Avenue] and Taylor [Street]. My Rebbi was Rabbi Tzvi Kaplan, zt”l. We learned quite a bit of Tanach. I remember how he would always compliment me. I then entered the mesivta, where I had Harav Moshe Samuels, Harav Elazar Kahane and Harav Shachne Zohn, zt”l. In beis medrash kattan, my Rebbi was Harav Aharon Yeshaya Shapiro, zt”l. I recall that I was quite successful that year.
I also learned from Harav Eliyahu Moshe Shisgal, zt”l, who was the son-in-law of Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l. I even went to the shiur of Harav Reuven Grozovsky, zt”l, although I can’t say that I can repeat those shiurim. Harav Gedalia Schorr, zt”l, once gave us a farher on Maseches Kesubos, and I still recall some of the questions.

You were the founder and coordinator of Torah Tapes, a project which recorded and distributed tens of thousands of recorded shiurim. It has been said that Torah Tapes is the forerunner of Dial-a-Daf, which gave birth to Kol Halashon, and a whole host of other modes of disseminating the study of Torah. Can you share with us how Torah Tapes came about?
Torah Tapes is an enormous accomplishment, but if you know the origin, you will understand how truly unbelievable it really is.
Torah Tapes began as a project of Torah Vodaath talmidim, who were involved in one of the greatest chessed projects I have ever heard of.
Reb Luzer Flam, z”l, was a classmate who was one of five brothers who came to the yeshivah from Montreal. He eventually became a Rebbi in Detroit. At a young age, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and he was hospitalized in Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital (today part of Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center), located in Crown Heights.
The chevrah were very involved in the care of Reb Luzer. Reb Moshe Karman, z”l, who taught at the time in Prospect Heights High School for the NYC public school system, would jump into his car at the beginning of his lunch break, drive to Reb Luzer to feed him lunch, and return just in time to resume his teaching. Although there were groups of talmidim who visited often, there were times, of course, when no one was available.
The chevrah came up with the idea of taping shiurim for Reb Luzer, and leaving the tapes with him, so he could listen to them throughout the day. Reb Moshe Karman gave his tape recorder, which he chained to the bed. As the tapes of shiurim grew, people started asking for copies. We decided to expand our services, and we began creating a tape library. Harav Meir Weinberg, a longtime Maggid Shiur in the yeshivah, taped the first shiurim in Maseches Shabbos. Originally, every tape proudly announced that it was a project of the Torah Vodaath Alumni. Eventually, the profits from Torah Tapes were used to supplement the care of Reb Luzer until his untimely petirah.
So, as you can see, the entire Torah Tapes and everything that followed was an outgrowth of a chessed done by Torah Vodaath talmidim for a friend. Since it began completely l’shem Shamayim, it saw much hatzlachah over the last half century. Many Torah Vodaath alumni were involved. Reb Gershon Rothstein, who is married to the daughter of Rabbi Sender Linchner, z”l (son-in-law of Rav Shraga Feivel), serves as president of Torah Tapes.
Eventually, as technology has progressed, we had “competition” from newer and more convenient platforms. But in spreading Torah, there is no competition.

YTV-Torah Vodaath
Greeting Rav Moshe Rivlin z”l at his wedding.

Who was your role model?
Harav Moshe Rivlin, zt”l, was my mentor, and he took me under his wing. I ate at his house each Shabbos, Yom Tov, and even for the Sedarim. His wife was a tzaddekes as well. When I got married, they were the ones who were my unterfierers as they escorted me to my chuppah.
I was scheduled to get married in Gold Manor on Lag BaOmer, and originally there was another wedding scheduled that day. The other chassan had to delay his wedding, so at the end, everyone in the yeshivah attended my wedding.

Many talmidim of Torah Vodaath remember your canteen in the yeshivah. Tell us about your canteen.

YTV-Torah Vodaath
In the canteen in Williiamsburgh.

Before I had the canteen, Yaakov Gove would sell sodas in the dining room. When he moved on, Rav Rivlin arranged for me to have the canteen, and I served food in the off hours when the kitchen was closed. From time to time, Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l, would come down, and the boys would scatter. I even had the canteen for a while in the new dormitory building at 452 East 9th Street in Kensington until the yeshivah ketanah moved in and they needed the space.

What would you like to see in the future for Yeshiva Torah Vodaath?
I think the reason that Yeshiva Torah Vodaath has seen so much success is because Rav Shraga Feivel did everything l’shem Shamayim. I wish the yeshivah continued hatzlachah as they continue to work to be mekadesh shem Shamayim.