HaRav Mendel Weinbach

A Found Generation

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By Sheindel Weinbach

I don’t believe they cried and I’m not sure if they didn’t laugh, even in the midst of an intensive mourning gathering, but many in the audience must have hid a chuckle in their beards at the broken English spoken from a broken heart.

Certainly so, those who remember Aviku Weinbach as a two-and-a-half-year-old, pony tail flying, hurtling down a steep incline in the early days of Kiryat Mattersdorf, with an (abandoned) Egged bus stop sign affixed to his bicycle.

Today, forty-something years later, a Daf Yomi maggid shiur, active gabbai of a bnei Torah shul, mashgiach kashrus and administrator in a famous free-loan gemach who also spends half a day learning in Mir, my oldest son Avraham has sublimated his hyperactive childhood energies to very productive channels.

The Weinbach family was gathered in the Ohr Somayach Beis Medrash on that Tuesday to hear the hespedim of the staff at the end of the shiva of my late husband, HaRav Mendel Weinbach, the rosh yeshiva and founder of this yeshiva-cum world movement spanning continents and generations.

My boys are hardly familiar with English. The heartfelt, poignant and impeccable language of the Ohr Somayach maspidim surely went over their heads but they understood the language of the heart. My son, in particular, wished to express his feelings in English and explain why English was not even a stepmother tongue in our home.

He rehearsed his hesped before the family and we approved.

He described how “my Zeidy left Europe when my father was four and came to America.” The poverty in Europe was dreadful, but in America, not much better, if you had to support a family and keep Shabbos. The family settled in a slum neighborhood in Pittsburg and the four boys were almost the only whites throughout their school years. The father supported the family by peddling wares to outlying villages, just like in many Old Country stories, so that he could keep Shabbos.

Whenever an immigrant from the Old Country came, the father used to use his hard-earned money to employ him as a melamed for the boys after school, so that even during the week, the boys had very little contact with outside friends.

The original Jewish residents were moving out to middle class neighborhoods where the local Jewish community center offered movies on Shabbos, co-ed social activities and packaged assimilation.

“When my Zeidy was not so poor any more” and could afford a better standard of living,” my fadder and his brudders begged him to move to a different country [sic] where other Jews were living,” but he was steadfast. He already saw the younger generation being mechallel Shabbos, becoming assimilated, leaving Yiddishkeit in favor of American culture. “They became doctors and lawyers, and many times married shikses.”

Regretfully, I cannot capture the sincerity and pathos of my son’s broken English and his endearing mistakes, but I am sure the message came through. All of my father-in-law’s children became Bnei Torah, got semicha and produced wonderful children going in the ways of Hashem, no mean feat at all for those times and places.

The struggle to preserve authentic Yiddishkeit in his teenage sons became too much for the father, and my husband (and his brothers respectively) were sent off to New York, a very homesick twelve-year-old (remember that his childhood had been very home-centered), with no phone contact, coming home only twice a year.

It was this strong grounding, this dedication and sacrifice, this rejection of American glitter and materialism in favor of Jewish values, which became an integral part of my husband’s essence. And this is why he decided to move to Eretz Yisrael where he could raise his generation of Torah-true Jews so far removed from that culture that they couldn’t even speak English.

When my son Avi got up to speak in his charming broken English, I had a very weird feeling of déjà vue, rather déjà entendue (heard). His accent was so reminiscent of the `greener’ generation of new immigrants from Europe, and when he mentioned `my Zeidy’, whom he never even met, and mistakenly talked about “moving to anudder country” [instead of `neighborhood’]it struck a very familiar chord.

We remember him in our home, a budding baal teshuva who came seeking, strumming on his guitar, renowned for his country-style songs and poignant lyrics. I think that student, today a veteran staff member, captured the Ohr Somayach saga best in the song I was permitted to use as the grand finale of this eulogy.

I, too, am trying to capture the heartbreaking pathos of that lost generation. Yes, there was a lost generation in between, but one or two generations later, it was found, and the sorrow and pain became happy again through the Happy Light of Ohr Somayach.

I can see all those thousands upon thousands of Zeidys, led by Yechezkel Shrage Weinbach, proudly escorting my husband, Rav Mendel, to a seat of honor in the Mizrach wall of the Ohr Somayach Yeshiva shel Maala. They must have been waiting there patiently to thank him for his incredible achievements, for the thousands of souls he brought back to the `Old Country’, our true heritage and homeland.

He passed away on the third day of Chanuka, and I am sure that if he were here still, he would smile humbly and paraphrase his own heilige Zeidy, the Bnei Yissoschor, that it wasn’t really his credit. It was a hisorerus di’leilah, a Divine arousement when the time was ripe.

But he isn’t here, so we don’t have to let him get away with it. Success does not come so easily. The family personally knows how hard he worked, how much he loved, how fervently he prayed for every soul, and for the yeshiva and the Jewish people as a whole.

"Back in the Old Country"

In 1909 it was June or July
My family and I left the motherland
We traveled the seas in a boat named Louise
We were children in search of another land
We made our way to the US of A
We only had room for a suitcase or two
At Ellis Island they herded us through
Crying "giddy up yiddy, dirty old Jew"
Wandering New York streets
Americans stare non-discreetly
At my old Russian clothes
They were all that I had
And my big crooked nose
I was a sensitive lad
But it never looked that bad to me
Back in the old country

My son was a soldier in the Second World War
Pushing and pulling at Germany's door
Hitler had fallen the Nazis were crawling
And all that was left was the dirty work
When he reached Dachau the killers had fled
And there were the skeletons living and dead
Buckets of ashes were all that were left
And the fires of insanity whispered of death

My son is a happy man
He lives near the shores of Chicago
Of his family and home
He is certainly proud
And though religious he's not
Still he thinks there's a G-d
But he'll never forget what he'd seen
Back in the old country

My grandson was twenty when he had his say
To travel the world in the popular way
With all his possessions strapped tight on his back
He flew the Atlantic to Amsterdam
Countries and cities he came and he went
Photographs taken his money all spent

But Israel called him to witness her glow
And Jerusalem grabbed him and never let go

Where is my grandson now?

He's casting his eyes to the heavens
And he's binding his heart
To the heart of the Jews
And he's doing all the things
That I used to do

Oh but I left it all behind me
Back in the old country

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