Mr. Moshe Samuels, a prominent resident of Lawrence, NY, was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and entered Yeshiva Torah Vodaath after his bar mitzvah. His mother was a first cousin of Harav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt”l, who periodically came to Scranton to visit his uncle, Moshe’s maternal grandfather.
Attending Torah Vodaath in his youth had a tremendous impact on his development, and he shares with us his memories of the time he spent in the mesivta as well as the influence it had on the many talmidim who were drawn from Scranton in the 1940s to Yeshiva Torah Vodaath.
How did you come from your home in Scranton to attend Yeshiva Torah Vodaath?
Yeshiva Torah Vodaath was concerned with not only educating the boys who lived in New York. They took an interest to ensure that all Jewish children would learn Torah and become ehrliche Yidden.
My cousin, Rav Shraga Feivel, actually lived in Scranton when he first arrived in the United States, and he served as a melamed for some of the boys who lived in our city. After his move to New York City, he would come from New York to visit my grandfather, so he continued to be familiar with our family and with our city.
He also visited his sister, Aunt Gussie (Davis), and tried to be mekarev her sons. He begged my parents to let me come to Torah Vodaath, saying “shik der kleiner.”
At one point, he wanted to build a yeshivah in Scranton, since his interest was to accomplish for the Ribbono shel Olam, not for self-aggrandizement. His goal was to build Torah, not just Torah Vodaath.
With the approach of the Yamim Tovim, the yeshivah would send a bus to take the Scranton boys to New York for the Yamim Tovim, and about 30 boys came along for the trip. They made sure we had a good time over the course of the trip, arranging for us to play ball and see the sights. But the high point of the trip was experiencing the excitement of the yeshivah bachurim on Yom Tov, especially the dancing and rejoicing on Simchas Torah.
When I returned from that trip, I was sold on the idea of going to Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. My parents insisted that I could not leave home until after my bar mitzvah, and when I was old enough, I joined a busload of 15 boys who traveled to learn in Yeshiva Torah Vodaath.
Some of the boys went on to become great talmidei chachamim. Harav Reuven Scheiner, a fellow Scrantonian, actually became one of the premier talmidim in Torah Vodaath and Bais Medrash Elyon, and was a Maggid Shiur in the yeshivah for over half a century.
When you arrived at the yeshivah, where did you stay, and who took care of you?
The dormitory was my home, and Rabbi Moshe Rivlin made sure we were in bed by 11:00 p.m. As far as laundry was concerned, there were no laundromats in those days, so I would pack up my dirty laundry in a cardboard valise and mail it to my mother in Scranton.
She would send it back all fresh and clean, so that was not much of a hassle for me. She also packed along some cookies and cakes, which was a lovely treat.
During the week, we ate all our meals in the yeshivah dining room. I don’t think the yeshivah had enough money to supply us with Shabbos meals, so we were assigned to eat with some families who lived nearby.
Since I was related to Rav Shraga Feivel, I ate by him for one Shabbos. But by the time I came to yeshivah, he was already quite ill. (He suffered from tuberculosis, a bleeding ulcer, and had a serious heart condition.)
So, after that Shabbos, I was assigned to go to Reb Reuven Mendlowitz, z”l, who was a half-brother of Rav Shraga Feivel. I also spent Shabbosos at the home of Reb Moshe Yitzchok, z”l, Rav Shraga Feivel’s son.
One Shabbos, I was a guest of Dr. Stern, the Menahel of the elementary school. He offered me p’tcha, “a delicacy” as he called it. I had never had this before, and when I took a hold of it, it wiggled. I was so shocked that I had a hard time digesting it. I think some of it “ended up” under the table.
Did you have any other interactions with your cousin, Rav Shraga Feivel?
When I first arrived in Torah Vodaath, the Satmar Rebbe, zy”a, had just arrived in America. Since the Rebbe did not have much of a crowd at his Friday night tischen, Rav Shraga Feivel urged me and a few friends to attend. We were just about the only ones there, and we were able to have a connection with this holy tzaddik.
I still remember observing the Rebbe the first time coming down the stairs. He looked like a malach! When the Rebbe gave me shirayim in my hands, I had no idea what to do with it. I still regret that I did not keep up with the Rebbe during the later years. I’m sure he would have remembered me.
Together with a few friends, we started going to the Klausenburger Rebbe, zy”a, who had just arrived. There, too, we were able to get a front row seat until more Chassidim arrived. Being able to associate with the Rebbe was an important aspect of my life.
Even several years later, when I entered the diamond line, I still kept up my contact with the Rebbe. Through the advice and encouragement of Rav Shraga Feivel, I was able to associate with these great tzaddikim.
Since you were from out of town, how did you get along with the other boys from New York?
Although most of the boys were from New York, we had a lot of boys from other places, including Hartford, Cuba, South America and elsewhere. We also had boys who came over from the camps in Europe, who had numbers on their arms. We were never told what had transpired with them, and I assume that was because the Rebbeim were afraid that if we knew what happened, our enthusiasm for Yiddishkeit might have been diminished.
When I was about 15, I was assigned to be the elterer bachur for some of the younger boys, some only eight years old, who were sent by their parents to learn Torah in Yeshiva Torah Vodaath.
What do you think your life would be like today if you had not attended Yeshiva Torah Vodaath?
Unfortunately, some of my friends who attended Talmud Torah with me but stayed in Scranton for high school ended up intermarrying.
On the other hand, I was able to raise a beautiful family of ehrliche Yidden and have loads of Yiddishe nachas from my family. All that, and more, are a result of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath.