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[Page 153]

[Photo:] Rabbi Avi Aryeh Lewy


Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Lewy was born on the first day of Cheshvan [October 19], 1876 in Drohitchin, Grodno gubernia. His scholarly father, R. Shmuel Lewy, provided him with an authentic Orthodox upbringing. R. Zvi Aryeh studied under the best teachers in town, and later he became close to the greatest scholars in the region, and studied on his own part-time in the House of Study. Among those who took him under their wing and studied with him was the chief rabbi of Drohitchin, Rabbi Menachem Reichman.

        R. Zvi Aryeh later moved with his mother and family to Jerusalem (his father was in the United States), where he studied at the Torat Chaim Yeshiva, and became a main student of Rabbi Zvi Michel. R. Zvi Aryeh wrote his teacher's Torah commentaries in the evening until midnight when he recited the midnight penitential prayers, and the went to sleep.

        When he was eighteen years old, his teachers advised him to study to be a Torah scribe. He then became one of the best scribes in Palestine. At 24 he got married to the daughter of R. Aharon Cohen (who in those days became known for his miniature model of the Jerusalem Temple that he later sold to a museum in Berlin). Until a year after his wedding R. Zvi Aryeh remained devoted to his work as a scribe, though he didn't make much of a living doing it. Therefore, he started working as a senior instructor at the Talmud Torah school in Rehovot. During his time there, R. Zvi Aryeh published a large number of articles in Chavatselet, a journal published in Jerusalem.

        When he left Rehovot, he was hired as a teacher in the settlement of Ekron. Due to his work, the Talmud Torah school developed, and became famous throughout the region. Other settlements were jealous, and asked him to establish similar schools for them. Rabbi Lewy later became the secretary of Ekron, and in 1908 he was appointed an emissary to England, Canada and the United States on behalf of the large Jerusalem institutions, Talmud Torah and Bikkur Cholim [Medical Assistance Society], and was successful in establishing constant contacts between American supporters and the institutions in the Holy Land.

        After World War I, Rabbi Lewy and his family moved to New York, where he became involved in education, and single-handedly established Talmud Torahs, educated children, and a short time later, he succeeded in establishing the great yeshiva, Torah Me-Zion on Stone Avenue in Brownsville. During the next ten years, the yeshiva was one of first to get Jewish children involved in Jewish studies.

        When he realized that his own neighborhood of East Flatbush was a virtual desert in terms of Jewish education for children, he started teaching children in a basement, and quickly attracted dozens of Jewish families who were happy to send their children to study under Rabbi Lewy. In a short time, he managed to collect funds to build a structure for a second appropriate yeshiva, which had been known as Yeshivat Rishon LeZion in East Flatbush. In 1935, R. Zvi Aryeh published a book of homilies called Machaneh Shmuel.

        In his final years, unfortunately, he shared the same fate of many intellectual pioneers who devoted their entire lives to the welfare of the people, but who themselves were overlooked. At the very end he was able to establish a Talmud Torah school and a synagogue, Machaneh Yisrael in Boro Park and a second Talmud Torah and synagogue, Rechovot, in East New York. As educator of young and old, R. Aryeh Zvi died on the 5th of Tevet, [Dec. 19], 1936. He was buried in the cemetery of Agudath Achim Anshei Drohitchin [Association of Drohitchin Emigrés] in New York.

[Page 154]

R. Mendel Kaminetsky

[Photo:] From right, R. Mendel and his father, R. Moshe Isser

R. Mendel Kaminetsky was born on 2 Elul [August 23], 1838 in Drohitchin, and was endowed with great intellectual abilities. He never studied in any yeshiva, and performed extremely well in his studies. Until he was 11 years old he studied and excelled under his father, R. Moshe Isser. Thereafter he studied on his own in the House of Study.

        R. Mendel once got involved in an academic dispute with R. Benzion, the rabbi of Belz in the home of Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk. R. Benzion then commented to R. Mendel, “my son-in-law and your student, R. Yosef Valevelsky, said about you that you have an intellect comparable to that of the great 16th century Talmudic commentator, Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Eidels. I just laughed, but now I see that he was right.”

        Besides being an illustrious Torah scholar, R. Mendel was also involved in general knowledge such as jurisprudence, mathematics, machinery and astronomy. He was also thoroughly fluent in Russian and Russian law, and even wrote a legal petition like a professional lawyer. R. Mendel could read complicated mathematical formulae understand the structure of complicated machinery, and owned a collected of various devices which worked on for many hours. He also had the ability to independently calculate the new moons and intercalation of the calendar.

        There is a story of how the Rovno nobleman, Minkov, once went to court to force the Jews of the “new gardens” in Drohitchin to turn the gardens over to him. R. Mendel, as the defense attorney, took the case to the gubernia offices in Grodno and skillfully defended his clients. The result was that the famous and heroic General Minkov, who had conquered the Turkish fortress Plevna, for Russia lost the case. The Russian court ruled that the gardens, which had been developed by Jews for 99 years, should remain in their possession.

        R. Hersh Beilin, the Genius of Pinsk, and a friend of R. Chaim Soloveitchik, once exclaimed, “Who can attain R. Mendel's mind?” R. Mendel died on the 3rd of Tevet [December 25], 1919 in Drohitchin. He had 11 children: Yossel, Motya Leib, Lotsa Beila, Pinya, Yehoshua, Lana, Gavriel, Fradel, Shlomo, Miriam and Chana.

R. Asher Weitsel

R. Asher Weitsel, known as “R. Asher the government rabbi [kozinyer rabbin]” was the son of R. Mordechela Weitsel-Rosenblatt, known as “R. Mordechela Slonimer.”
We have no information about R. Asher's life, and especially about his youth. We only know that he got married in Drohitchin to R. Isaac's daughter, and referred to himself as R. Asher Isaacs.

[Photo:] R. Asher Weitsel

        R. Asher knew how to study well, and learned the Russian language. Over the years before World War I, R. Asher handled the vital statistics documents of the Drohitchin which recorded the births and deaths of the residents of town, and therefore was nicknamed “Asher the Government Rabbi.”

        R. Asher was a very quiet and modest man, and most of the time he was occupied in his shop located in the market. For a short time after World War I he taught religious subjects to children at that Moriah school. He died in the 1920s, and was survived by his son, Benzion, and daughter-in-law, Chana Gittel Valevelsky.

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