Part 7-Yeshiva Torah Vodaath at 100: Talmidim of the Mesivta Speak

Torah Vodaath

Mr. Peter Rebenwurzel grew up in Vienna, Austria, and due to the absence of any local yeshivah gedolah, he attended Gateshead mechinah from the age of 14 until 16. At that juncture, he transferred to Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in the United States, where he completed his high school education, and then joined the beis medrash for several years, completing Yoreh De’ah and receiving his bachelor’s degree as well.

At the ksivas sefer Torah for Harav Avraham Pam, zt”l (R-L): Rav Pam, zt”l, and ybl”c, Mr. Chaim Leshkowitz, Mr. Peter Rebenwurzel and Rabbi Dovid Shertzer, sofer.

Today, Peti, as he is known to his family and friends, runs a successful real estate business in Brooklyn, and serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the yeshivah. He is proud that six of his grandchildren attend the yeshivah at this time.

Why did you choose to attend Yeshiva Torah Vodaath?

After completing the mechinah division at Gateshead, I had to choose where to continue my education. I felt there was no future for me in Vienna, and my choices were to transfer to Gateshead Yeshiva, to relocate to a yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael, or to Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, where several boys from Vienna were learning at the time.

I knew that Moshe Zafir, who was a bit older than me, was in Torah Vodaath, as well as other Viennese boys like Yanky Edelstein, Ari Edelstein, and Tommy Steinmetz, who were around my age. I wanted to continue yeshivah and get an education, so naturally I chose Torah Vodaath.

How was the adjustment from a European yeshivah to an American yeshivah?

The adjustment was difficult, not just because I was European, but because until then, I was in a yeshivah of around 100 talmidim, and I was entering a yeshivah of nearly 1,000 students. It took several months until I found my footing, but the staff helped me immensely. I was voted G.O. president, and we created a D.O., the “Dormitory Organization,” which I was president of as well. The elections gave me confidence and a sense of belonging, and that helped me acclimate to my new surroundings.

Although I grew up speaking German, I did learn a bit of English before I arrived in the United States. In Vienna, I took four years of English before going to Gateshead, and then spent more than two and a half years in Gateshead, so I had a basic command of English, albeit with a smaller vocabulary.

Which Roshei Yeshivah, Rebbeim and staff did you associate with?

I was lucky to have a close relationship with Harav Gedalia Schorr, zt”l, who really looked out for me and assisted me in many ways. At one point, he even offered for me to stay in his house. Harav Yitzchok Kaplinsky was my Rebbi when I arrived after Pesach in 11th grade, and later when I joined the board of directors, I rekindled my connection with him.

Welcoming the new Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Yitzchok Lichtenstein (R-L): Mr. Moshe Haas, Mr. Peter Rebenwurzel and Harav Yitzchok Lichtenstein.

My other Rebbeim, Harav Shmuel Traube, zt”l, Harav Elazar Kahanow, zt”l, and ybl”c Harav Meier Weinberg, had a great influence on me. I was zocheh to learn Maseches Chullin with Harav Avraham Pam, zt”l, and this led me to have a close relationship in the future years. When I needed information about my son-in-law, Moshe Haas, Rav Pam advised me to grab him, and I have no regrets. We had farhers from Harav Moshe Dov Ber Rivkin, zt”l, in Yoreh De’ah, but in the middle of the year he took ill, so Rav Schorr, zt”l, completed the year with us.

Rabbi Avrohom Talansky was in charge of the dorm, and he, too, was a tremendous help for the foreign talmidim. Rabbi Aharon Braun, z”l, also looked out for me. Later in life, when I joined the board, we found out that we were related. He is a descendant of Harav Koppel Charif, zt”l, as I am, and he had some of his ksavim which he wanted to print and distribute at his child’s wedding. I ended up sponsoring the printing.

Rabbi Braun also helped me get my first job after I completed my degree in accounting. He connected me with Mr. Maurice Lowinger, who hired me to do some accounting work for him. I was friendly with his son Ronnie, and I began my career for his father’s company. I became the comptroller for his company and worked there for six and a half years. I was able to get this start in business due to Rabbi Braun’s hishtadlus on my behalf.

I understand that you once taught secular studies in the yeshivah. Can you share your experience with us?

In 1973, when I was finishing my degree, the yeshivah moved its elementary division from Williamsburg to Kensington. They needed a teacher for the eighth grade, and after some negotiations, I was hired to teach all four periods for one grade: Math, Science, American History and English Language Arts. Math and Science were easy enough for me. Even American History, which I never learned as a child, was not too difficult; I just made sure to stay 10 pages ahead of the class. But as a foreigner, teaching ELA was a challenge.

What is your fondest memory of your Yeshiva Torah Vodaath experience?

For the five years that I was in the dormitory, the yeshivah was not just the place where I was educated and spent my day; it was my home 24/6. On Shabbosos, they arranged for me to eat in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Baruch and Barbara Handler in Boro Park, and they were very kind to me. When it rained, I ate at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Yitzchok and Naomi Shteierman who lived in the neighborhood. I have very fond memories of the people who cared for me during my stay in Torah Vodaath.

Do you keep up with the boys that you knew from those days?

It’s interesting that during my stay in the dorm, I got to know the Goldsteins from Detroit. Thirty-five years ago, when I joined the board of directors, I renewed my relationship with them, as Rabbi Shmuel Goldstein serves as Menahel of the yeshivah ketanah, and Rabbi Simcha Goldstein is a Rebbi.

What would you like to see in the future for Yeshiva Torah Vodaath?

Today, I have six einiklach learning in Torah Vodaath: three Haas grandchildren, children of Mr. and Mrs. Moshe and Yechida Haas, and three Gabay grandchildren, sons of Mr. and Mrs. Eli and Dina Gabay. We are thrilled with the combination of chinuch and education they are receiving.

My wish is that the yeshivah should continue providing this wonderful blend of chinuch and education which I received when I attended Yeshiva Torah Vodaath nearly half a century ago.