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Reb Chaim Gelb:
A LIFE OF
The Williamsburg baker who became
a one-man chessed institution
by Rabbi David Fisher
REB CHAIM GELB
Anyone who remembers Williamsburg in its early
days as a Jewish community has a warm spot
for Reb Chaim Gelb. He was an original, a man whose
love of the Creator and the Torah was matched only
by his love of people and his totally unselfish devo-
tion to their welfare.
One person remembers him in sub-zero weather,
dashing back and forth, bringing cake and hot coffee
to shivering firefighters. Another remembers him
buying hot knishes for little yeshivah students whose
parents couldn't afford to give them five cents for the
popular recess delicacy. Still another remembers him
collecting coins and bills in his outstretched yarmul-
ka at weddings, for distribution to poor people
whose privacy and self-respect were as safe with him
as the gold in Fort Knox.
Behind all the sentimental Chaim Gelb stories
were the man and his loyal wife, Hena. Together they
built a Jewish home and played an important part in
molding a neighborhood. Moreover, they did this
during the years when it was so hard to be a jew that
most people despaired and hoped that their children
would be good Americans who wouldn't forget to
recite Kaddish and Yizkor. The Gelbs were fighters.
They would not give in - and they succeeded, not
only for their own children, but for those of all the
people who took heart from them.
Chaim Gelb's life was the living embodiment of
kindness. The memories are still fresh, and thanks
to this book, they will remain the legacy of generations
that were never privileged to be inspired by him.
©Copyright 1989, by MESORAH PUBLICATIONS, Ltd.
4407 Second Avenue / Brooklyn, N.Y. 11232 / (718! 921-9000 / www.artscroll.com
Table of Contents
Reb Chaim Gelb
Reb Chaim's Williamsburg
Reb Chaim's Philosophy of Life
Teshuvah and Prayer
Reb Chaim's Words of Wisdom
R' Chaim's Final Years
My sincerest and heartfelt thanks are due to Mrs. Deborah
Wenger for the excellent job she did in editing this book. May her
father Dr. Sholem Krumbein continue to have much nachas from
Foremost, of course, I must acknowledge the contribution of my
wife Serel, "Shirley," Reb Chaim's oldest daughter. Without her
there could not have been any book. Many of the stories were
recalled by her as a witness to their having happened. Simulta-
neously I wish to thank her for enabling me to devote my time to
the study of Torah.
My family, children and grand-children were the inspiration
that made me continue my efforts when at times I did become
discouraged. They always encouraged me and stated that every-
thing would turn out well, and it did.
To them, my children Rabbi Mosheh Yitzchok, Malka, Feiga
Breindel, and Rabbi Josef and their spouses I wish them and my
grandchildren Aliza Hena Davidowitz, Yael Raisel Davidowitz,
Ruchamah Hena Fisher, Deena Fisher, Royale Shloma Shonbrun,
Miriam Esther Fisher, Drorit Chayah Shonbrun, Rochel Pearl
Fisher, Adiah Sorah Fisher, Galiah Chasya Fisher, Leah Elishevah
Fisher, Batya Fisher, Mosheh Aaron Fisher, Chava Shoshannah
Fisher, Tziviah Fisher, and Yeshaya Fisher, I wish them continued
years of good health and happiness. May Hashem bless them, and
may they continue to follow in the footsteps of their Grandparents
and Great-Grandparents Reb Chaim and Hena Gelb Z'"L.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT to write a book about Reb
Chaim Gelb? My intention is not to stress his great accomplish-
ments, his myriad deeds of chessed, kindness, that he performed
during his lifetime. Rather, I am interested in the total man, in the
What was Reb Chaim Gelb? His intimate friends will first
respond, "A Chassid." That is true. In fact, he was a Klausen-
berger Chassid and during his last twenty or thirty years he
worshiped in their synagogue. But that alone does not make him
outstanding after all, there are thousands of Chassidim in this
country today. What, then, was his singular achievement that
merits being recorded for posterity, so that his exemplary life
should serve as a role model for generations to follow?
Let us glance back at the beginning of the twentieth century
when Reb Chaim, with his father, Reb Yosef, his mother, Rosa,
and the rest of his family landed on the shores of America. What
kind of Jewish environment did they encounter? The streets of
America were rumored to be treife, unkosher. The number of
people who were shomer Shabbos was infinitesimal. Yeshivos
were almost non- existent. The prospect of a young man growing
up religious and observant of our faith was bleak.
Generally speaking, in turn-of-the-century America people did
not strictly observe the tenets of our faith. The lack of adherence to
Torah principles and the emphasis on other concerns led to an
environment that frowned on the individual who wished to
devote his or her life to following the laws of the Torah. The
immigrants' first worries centered on overcoming the language
barrier and adapting to the new world around them. Their
primary concern was seeking economic security. They wanted to
adapt to the American way of life and forget about the mores and
customs of their Old World ancestors. Because of this an entire
generation was lost to Yiddishkeit, although today we are
encouraged by the sight of young people returning to the religious
observance of their grandparents and great-grandparents.
Against this background we can see how great was Reb
ChainYs achievement. Not only was he shomer Shabbos and a
Chassid in spite of the antipathetic, hostile environment of the
early twentieth century; not only did he overcome all the obstacles
but he was a Chassid of the caliber of the "old school." He
attained the spiritual growth of a Chassid raised in the rich
environment of a European shtetl, a shtetl steeped in centuries of
Torah and yiras Shamayim, a community whose members were
totally committed to Torah ideals. In such an environment it was
easier to produce the burning, soul-thirsty drive to reach great
Even among such Chassidim of Europe, Reb Chaim Gelb would
have been outstanding and highly regarded and respected. Yet
where was his magnificent character developed? In the arid,
barren grounds of America. A miracle indeed!
For the reader to be able to truly evaluate and appreciate the
events and anecdotes in this book, it would be helpful to
understand the social conditions existing during the time involved.
For example, in present times poverty-stricken individuals have
many avenues of assistance open to them to mitigate their
unfortunate circumstances food stamps, rent subsidies, WIC
and Medicaid are but a few forms of government support for the
indigent. Social security gives aid to the elderly, the widowed and
the disabled. Many other official instruments exist to help the
needy and destitute.
Additionally, in the Jewish community there are now many
private charitable organizations that provide help in various forms.
Generosity is one of the traits of our people. Tomchei Shabbos
gives Shabbos meals to those who cannot afford to buy them.
There are numerous Bikur Cholim organizations which do
magnificent work providing supplementary health care to those
who require it. When tragedy strikes a family, the Jewish public is
often called on for help and responds enthusiastically. The Jewish
print media is full of appeals for aid for ill and indigent people all
over the world.
Free apartments are available in many neighborhoods so that
the members of a hospitalized individual's family may be near him
to lend moral and spiritual support in his time of great need. People
open their homes to strangers so that a family member may be
near his loved one on Shabbos.
There are free loan societies now. If a person is in need of a loan
for any purpose, these Gemilas Chessed groups extend an
interest-free loan. There are also currently many institutions in
which one may obtain job training and placement. It seems that
for every instance in which a person may require aid, an
organization of some type now exists to help.
These organizations did not develop overnight but, rather, they
are the result of decades of hard work and concentrated efforts by
various groups, governments, and individuals. They evolved over
time because of the extreme necessity and demands of our people.
The development of an affluent society contributed much to the
growth of these private charitable groups. Awareness and
empathy toward the plight of our fellow Jews were sharpened by
events such as the Holocaust. The maturation of the frum Jewish
community, which now devotes itself to the concerns of our
unfortunate brethren, aided a great deal in the blossoming of these
However, in the 1930's, '40's and '50's, the situation was entirely
different. Almost all the groups and social-welfare organizations
had not yet come into being; those that did exist were not yet large
enough to extend all the aid that was required. Remember, the '30's
and early '40's were the time of the Great Depression. Adults,
heads of families, stood on street corners with boxes of apples or
pencils, trying to sell them to the public. A tremendous portion of
the populace was unemployed, and for those who were able to find
and hold jobs, salaries were very low; the family breadwinner
might be earning $15 a week. People were unable to pay their
mortgages; foreclosure ensued and their homes were taken away
from them. Banks failed and closed down, and many people lost
their life's savings.
There was a tremendous vacuum in the area of extending help
to the forlorn and helpless. Social Security had just been
introduced, and widows' benefits were still unknown. Help for the
disabled had not yet been legislated. Food stamps and the like were
still many years in the future.
The institutions were missing, but the need was there. So
Reb Chaim Gelb took it upon himself to become a one-man
institution. He raised money to supply weekly stipends to support
poor widows and orphans. He helped to put many destitute
children through yeshiva, so they would not be deprived of a vital
Jewish education. His bakery was always open to those who did
not have the resources to purchase food for Shabbos: He gave
away challos and offered financial help to buy other Shabbos
Reb Chaim was there to give loans to the needy to help them get
started in business. The sick, unemployed and indigent of all types
were his clientele. His home was always open to the hungry,
homeless and weary. By himself, he filled the void that existed at
that time in the field of community aid and social services.
All the anecdotes and tales related in this book are merely a
cross-section of the countless ways in which he was able to help
the needy. Thousands of Jews were aided by him, and many more
were influenced by him in numerous ways.
The Odyssey of Reb Yosef Gelb
For the purposes of this book, the saga of Reb Chaim Gelb's
dramatic, creative life begins on the day that his parents, Reb
Yosef and Rosa Gelb, embarked on their voyage to America. This
journey took place in the year 1901, when Chaim was but a boy of
What motivated Reb Yosef Gelb, the father of Reb Chaim, to
arrive at the decision to uproot his family and move them to a
strange continent, a new world with an alien culture? Why did he
and millions of other Jews leave their homeland, the land of their
birth, and move to a new, unfriendly world?
Jewish Life in Europe at the Turn of the Century
Delving into our history we will note that there were several
major causes leading up to this phenomenon, social, economic and
political in nature. Volumes have been written about these topics;
I will merely attempt to give a brief overview. The overall situation
in Europe around the turn of the century was so dire that the Jews
were literally forced to flee from their lands and their ancestral
homes. The economic situation was untenable, the political
environment was hostile, there was no peace for the Jews, and the
social fabric of these European countries was so interwoven with
injustice for the Jews that those who could were forced by
desperation to leave. They fled the oppression and hatred that had
made their lives miserable for centuries and came to the shores of
America, hoping to find a better and freer way of life for
themselves and their families.
It is worthwhile for us to spend some time discussing the
conditions in the European countries, so that we might have an
insight into why Reb Yosef, and others like him, would uproot his
family from the security of their home in Poland and move them
to a strange new land. The streets of America, he heard, were
treife, not kosher. He would be confronted there by innumerable
obstacles, including the language barrier and cultural differences.
But the climate in which Reb Yosef and his ilk lived was not
conducive to giving their progeny the kind of life that their
parents desired for them. The economic future was bleak; it was a
constant struggle merely to stay alive. The political conditions
were not bright; wrongs would not be rectified by the govern-
ments. The Jew's lot in the "old country" was not enviable to
say the least.
Jews had learned to accept the prevalent anti-Semitism; a cure
had not been discovered. However, it was abhorrent and
demeaning to them. For example, if a Jew was walking on a
narrow sidewalk and a gentile came in his direction, the Jew would
automatically move over to make way for him. Similar constant
scenes of abasement forced many thousands of Jews to leave their
native lands. In retrospect this was fortunate, for had they not left,
they and their children would have been consumed by the flames
The economic situation in turn-of-the-century Eastern Europe
was grim. The Jews lived in countries that were not economically
developed and advanced. The populace in general had a very low
standard of living, and that of the Jews was even lower. There was
little opportunity for employment as there was a great deal of
prejudice in the workingplace. Jews tended to be small shopkeep-
ers and tradespeople. At a very early age, Jewish boys and girls
were hired out to learn a trade or skill so they could help support
the family. Schools and colleges were closed to Jews.
Good nutrition as we know it today was unheard of. A typical
meal consisted of bread and onions, with an occasional piece of
herring. It has been observed that many boys and girls who
arrived from these countries sadly undernourished began to thrive
on the American abundance of food, and quickly caught up with
Living conditions were primitive in the small European towns.
Indoor plumbing and running hot water were unheard of.
Sanitary conditions were abominable.
Political oppression was widespread. In Russia, the Pales of
Settlement had been set up in the nineteenth century, limiting
Jews to certain areas where they could reside. The prime locations,
of course, were reserved for the gentiles; the Jews were allowed
only the less desirable spots. There was no freedom of movement
from place to place. Harsh taxes and fines were levied against the
History records the decree whereby the Russian government
could forcibly take young boys from their families and conscript
them into the army. They were taken away from their homes at an
early age and brought up in the army, in an environment devoid
of anything Jewish, in order to estrange them from their people.
Many families were destroyed by this decree; no one knows how
many Jewish souls were lost in this manner.
Pogroms were rampant in Russia at this time, one of the most
violent being that in Kishinev in the 1880's. Without any
provocation, and while the government stood by in mute
approval, mobs went wild and decimated the ranks of the Jews.
The entire Jewish population in Russia was stirred up by these
tragic events, and a mass emigration began.
One must realize that political, economic and social factors and
conditions are intertwined. For example, if the political system
does not allow a person to obtain a proper education, that
individual will be deprived economically due to his inability to get
a good job. If the social system causes a group to be treated as
outcasts, it is needless to say that economic deprivation will follow.
If a group is economically poor, then their social prestige will be
low, and their political power weak.
One may easily compare our country's system with those in the
countries where the Jews resided for centuries. In the United Sates,
because of the political freedom we enjoy, many Jews hold
positions in government. In every sphere of life we find
high-ranking Jews; we are in the forefront socially, economically
and politically. In the "old country," on the other hand, the Jew
was in a dramatically different position. Very few Jews attained
positions of prominence and wealth. As we compare the situation
of the Jew here with that of the Jew there and note such a manifest
difference, we can easily picture how the Eastern European Jews
were motivated to leave their homes for unknown shores. Is it a
wonder, then, that Reb Yosef left the Old World behind to find an
environment that would be free of all the hostility, suffering, and
brutal oppression meted out by the other nations of the world?
So, you see, when Reb Yosef made the weighty decision to leave
the land of his fathers with his wife and small family, it was not
due to an isolated incident but, rather, as the result of centuries of
anti- Semitism, lack of economic freedom, and political oppression,
all supported and abetted by the various governments of the lands
in which the Jews dwelled.
It was not easy for Reb Yosef and his family to forsake their
home and the security of the Torah and Yiddishkeit that they
possessed in their little shtetl. They were true observers of Torah,
and their lives were lived according to its precepts. The shtetl itself,
although surrounded by oppression on the outside, was an insular
community in which they could easily follow in the footsteps of
their forefathers. Giving up their religious security for the treife
environment of unknown America was not a decision to be made
lightly, but required much soul-searching.
America was a barren wasteland, a spiritual desert in the area of
Yiddishkeit. But this mass emigration by our brethren in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was, as noted earlier,
really a blessing in disguise. As we know, Hashem prepares the
cure before the sickness. By coming to the United States, these
early settlers and their descendants were able to escape brutal
slaughter by the Nazis half a century later. Once here, they
established and built up Jewish communities which have since
thrived and blossomed. Large Jewish populations emerged in
cities where there previously had been none. We now have in
this country many vibrant Jewish communities in which a
Torah-true life can be lived and for this we owe these pioneers
Reb Chaim Gelb
CHAIM GELB WAS BORN IN THE CITY OF GORLICE, in
north-eastern Poland. In the eighteenth century, Gorlice had a
small Jewish population. However, by the end of the nineteenth
century there were about 2,500 Jews there, com-
prising about half the population of the town.
Reb Chaim's early education was typical of that
in any small Jewish community in Poland at that time. He went to
cheder, studying the subjects that were taught in all religious
Jewish schools: davening, Chumash, Rashi and the like. That, we
shall see, was the only formal Jewish education he had. Arriving in
America in 1901, his family found that there were few opportuni-
ties for continuing his Jewish learning. He felt this deprivation
throughout his life, and therefore constantly stressed the impor-
tance of a Torah education. He loved learning and understood its
necessity for the survival of our people.
At the time of his departure from Gorlice, Reb Yosef was
already the father of ten children. Altogether, his wife Rosa was to
bear fourteen children, ten of whom survived childhood: Moshe,
Chaim and his twin Shimon Yiddle, Herschel, Yaakov, Hana,
Avraham, Breindel, Ita and Esther. Today the only surviving
children are Yaakov, who resides in Miami, Florida, and Esther,
who lives in Connecticut.
It is told that before Reb Chaim left with his family for America,
his father took him to the Gorlicer Rebbe for a blessing. The Rebbe
blessed him with the brachah that he should be a Yerei Shamayim.
Reb Yosef had already noticed in his son, even at that early age,
the sterling qualities that would make him such an outstanding
individual later in life, and he therefore took only him to the rebbe
for his special blessing. Because people like him were so rare, his
distinctiveness was later attributed to the Rebbe's blessing that he
grow up to be a Yerei Shamayim, one possessing fear of G-d.
Details of the Gelbs' journey from Gorlice to the Lower East Side
of New York are sketchy. Private cabins for the entire family
would have been financially prohibitive, so we may assume that
they traveled in steerage, which was the way that most immi-
grants found their way here. The Gelbs slept in close quarters and
shared their small stores of kosher food. It was a stressful journey
for the adults but an adventure for the children.
They made their way through Ellis Island without mishap, and
found an apartment on the Lower East Side, which at that time
was a pulsating, vibrant Jewish community. It is not known where
the Gelbs received the money to get themselves started here, as
they had no close relatives to give them aid. It is possible that Reb
Yosef himself had accumulated the necessary funds to establish
himself. His business ventures in Gorlice must have been
successful to a certain degree, as they had enabled him to purchase
tickets for his entire family for the long sea voyage; perhaps there
was enough left over to enable him to get settled here as well.
In those days the East Side most notably Essex Street was
noted for its rows and rows of pushcarts selling all types of goods
and food. This kind of merchandising was popular among
immigrants just starting out, because little money was required to
become a "tycoon." There was no store-rental fee; space at curbside
was free and pushcart rentals were cheap. Some even owned their
own carts. Business flourished as people from all over the city
flocked to this neighborhood, attracted by the good buys and the
variety of products to be found there.
Reb Yosef started a pushcart business selling men's hats and
caps. His children helped him in his work. One daughter was
employed to watch the cart and guard it against theft. Reb Chaim
was found to have the gift of salesmanship, which he no doubt
picked up from his father, who was a clever salesman.
As far as Reb Chaim's American education is concerned, he did
attend the local public school for a while, until he went to work in
the family business. He learned to speak English perfectly, with no
trace of an accent, and was easily taken for a native-born
American. A yeshiva education was not possible, because yeshivos
were almost nonexistent at that time. Reb Yosef, however,
conducted his new home in the same manner as he had done in
Gorlice, following the same principles that he had followed there.
Kashrus, Shabbos and shul attendance were scrupulously ob-
served and strictly required of all his children. All aspects of
Yiddishkeit were adhered to in America, just as they had been in
their old home in Gorlice. This provided as good an education for
the children as any school could have done.
One must remember that in those days there were many
synagogues on the East Side, and the various shuls had prominent
rabbis as their leaders. It is fair to say that Reb Chaim, although
deprived of a more formal education, did absorb a great deal from
these religious leaders. He often quoted many of them, citing their
opinions on various facets of Yiddishkeit. Many shuls held
regular study groups at which one could procure and absorb a
great deal of Yiddishkeit; these also had an effect on Reb Chaim's
vision and outlook on life and Torah.
THE YEARS PASSED, THE FAMILY GREW and then slowly
the nestbegan to empty. Seven of the Gelb children settled in
Connecticut, where they prospered and flourished and became
pillars of the Orthodox community. RebChaim, after meeting
and marrying his wife, Hena whose story is told in chapter
two of this book moved to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn,
where he was to spend the rest of his life.
Reb Yosef was a very colorful and well-respected individual in
his own right. When he bought his home in Williamsburg,
Yeshiva Torah Vodaath had only recently been organized. Its first
home was on Keap Street, in a private home which had been
converted to a school. (This has frequently been the practice for
many new schools, which modestly begin in a humble abode, due
to financial obstacles, and then grow into large institutions.) That
is where Reb Yosef went to daven. Shiya Wilhelm, a member of
the prominent Wilhelm family of Williamsburg, remembers him
sitting at the head of the table at sholosh seudos singing the
Shabbos zemiros in that shul. Until today, Reb Shiya sings the
nigun that Reb Yosef sang to the psalm Mizmor LeDavid at his
own sholosh seudos table.
Reb Chaim's travails, and the hardships he encountered in his
search for a position which offered economic security and
satisfaction while also allowing him to comply with the obligation
of keeping the Sabbath, are related elsewhere in this book. He had
a great deal of difficulty establishing himself, as did many others
who wished to uphold our traditions and laws. Reb Chaim finally
found a job as a salesman, and was highly successful in this career.
He remained in this position until the company went out of
business. Then came the weighty decision which would change
his way of life and, more indirectly, that of countless others. With
the full support of his devoted wife, he began to dedicate his time
completely to the pursuit of Torah and mitzvos.
This way of life is now manifest in Reb Chaim's children,
grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Hena bore Reb Chaim
four children: one son and three daughters. Their children and
grandchildren now all attend yeshivos and Beth Jacob schools, and
are devotedly following the path that Reb Chaim first trod almost
ninety years ago.
Reb Chaim and Hena lived at 210 Division Avenue in
Williamsburg until the time of Hena's death in 1951, at which time
he disposed of his home by selling it to a yeshiva for practically
nothing. He lived for several years in a single room on Wilson
Street, not far from his old home near Yeshiva Torah Vodaath,
where he continued all his former activities, not slowing down a
bit although he was becoming advanced in years. He moved from
there into an apartment in a new project, where he remained until
he was no longer physically able to care for himself.
In the years after World War II, the demographics of
Williamsburg changed, reflecting an enormous influx of Chas-
sidim to the community. Many old synagogues were taken over
by these groups, and they established numerous communal
organizations for the welfare and development of the people.
Today the community has developed a Jewish character which is
a wonder to behold. The sound of thousands of Jewish children
fills the byways of the neighborhood. Yeshivos are overflowing
with young talented children, which makes the future of our
people seem brighter and more secure. It was within this
community that Reb Chaim spent his later years. Just as he had
been loved and respected by the previous generations of Williams-
burg residents, so too was he now loved, revered, cherished and
respected. Although it was a different group, they were Reb
Chaim's people and he served them with the same zeal that had
characterized him all his life. Many groups of Chassidim
considered him one of their own. He represented the finest in
Judaism, and he was at home in Williamsburg.
For the last decades of his life, Reb Chaim was closely associated
with the Klausenberger Rebbe and his Chassidim. He felt a great
love and admiration for the Rebbe, and although the Rebbe was a
gadol baTorah and Reb Chaim just a simple Jew, the Rebbe also
manifested love and admiration for Reb Chaim.
When Reb Chaim passed away, his funeral was held at the
OUT OF THE EMBERS AND ASHES OF THE HOLOCAUST
emerged a giant who was to have a great impact upon the Jewish
community after World War II. He had experienced all the agonies
and torments of the Nazi atrocities, yet he emerged with undiminished
greatness to propagate Torah in America and in the Holy Land.
Coming to Williamsburg after the extermination of six million members
of klal Yisrael, his burning spirit touched thousands of Jews and
ignited a spark in them to enable them to reach even greater spiritual
heights. This figure was the Klausenberger Rebbe. After the war
he helped the survivors of the death camps and ensured that they
remain on the path of Torah rather than fall by the wayside.
Upon his arrival in America he embarked on a new project:
the rebuilding and creating of a Torah environment in this country.
The loss of his wife and twelve children, although causing him
immeasurable personal grief, did not dampen his spirit.
He crusaded and preached and established a Torah dynasty
both here and in Eretz Yisrael. He also remarried and built a new
family, imbued with the same principles that he embodied.
He created Mifal HaShas, to encourage yeshiva students to
complete the Talmud and become masters of it. Another one of
his outstanding achievements was the building of Laniado
Hospital, which has since become a major medical center in
The above facts alone would have been sufficient reason for
Reb Chaim to become one of the disciples of the Klausenberger
Rebbe, but there was yet another bond. Reb Chaim came from
Gorlice, Poland. The Rebbe in that town was a descendant of the
great Rabbi Chaim Zanzer, and the Klausenberger was also a scion
of that dynasty. It was thus only natural that Reb Chaim would
gravitate to the Klausenberger beis midrash on Lee Avenue to
worship with the Rebbe and hear his inspiring divrei Torah. The
Rebbe loved every Jew, of course, but he had a special spot for Reb
Chaim, which manifested itself in many ways.
Several years ago I was privileged to personally witness the
special relationship that these two men had. I was invited to the
celebration of an engagement, at which the Rebbe was present. He
was surrounded by his Chassidim, who would not let anyone near
him, so as not to tax his failing strength. When I called out to him,
"I am Reb Chaim's son- in-law," the Rebbe quickly motioned to
his Chassidim to allow me to approach him. He said to me, "Tell
Reb Chaim he should live to greet Mashiach." Reb Chaim spent
the last twenty years of his life with the Klausenberger, before
entering the Aishel Home for the Aged in Williamsburg.
I interviewed several members of the Klausenberger shul:
Melech Weiss, Mr. and Mrs. Landau, and Mr. Nussenzweig, the
gabbai's son. They told me that when he was in his mid-eighties,
Reb Chaim started to complain that his feet ached. And no
wonder: His schedule at that time ran from 5 A.M. to 11 P.M.; for
eighteen hours a day he was always on the go in pursuit of
mitzvos. I was informed that Reb Chaim had single-handedly
closed two stores for Shabbos: Joe's and Shapiro's candy stores.
Even in his old age he never rested!
A newcomer came to the Klausenberger shul and was perturbed
by Reb Chaim's style of davening, stating that it was too loud for
him. Reb Chaim anticipated his antagonism, and when the
congregant turned to face him, Reb Chaim blew him a kiss with
his fingers. The man's animosity melted immediately, and was
replaced by a new feeling of warmth, reflecting that of the entire
congregation. I encountered similar sentiments towards him
throughout the entire cross-section of the Jews of this community.
The balabuste at whose house he ate on Shabbos told of the praise
he lavished upon her for her culinary abilities. He used to tell her,
"Only a kosher mouth should eat your food," implying that her
food was fit for the angels.
As mentioned before, the Klausenbergers told me that he was
friendly to everyone, to all races and all people, regardless of status.
He always greeted people with warmth and verve. "He was
fearless," Melech Weiss told me, and many of the incidents
recounted in this book corroborate this. Reb Chaim became the
guardian of the Klausenberger shtiebl, constantly enforcing the
prohibition against talking during the services. Even at an
advanced age he stood throughout the entire davening. He also
took home torn siddurim and Tehillim books and repaired them
himself. He never said a blessing in his house alone if he could
recite it before another Jew instead, so that someone else could
share in the mitzvah by answering "Amen."
Reb Chaim delighted in repeating the words of the Klausen-
berger Rebbe wherever he went. He loved to mention the Rebbe's
words, "When reciting Aleinu Leshabeyach, recite it with the kop
in the hoch (with the head held high)." This meant that although
physically one bows one's head when reciting Aleinu, one must
still "keep one's head high," be full of pride when praising
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