Harav Yitzchok Horowitz, zt”l, Melitzer Rebbe.
The Melitzer Rebbe was born in the year 1896 in Melitz (Mielec in Polish) Galitzia Poland, to his father Rav Naftuli, the son of Rav Yehuda Horowitz, in the rabbinic lineage of the Melitzer Dynasty—which traces its roots to the Ropshitzer Rav. On his mother’s side he was descended from the Nodah b’Yehuda, and other great men.
This fusion of Torah and chassidus would define his life to its end; a burning hasmadah in Torah. After marrying the daughter of the Dembitzer Rav, he came to America in 1921, and settled on Stanton Street on the Lower East Side, where he began to gain fame amongst the Galicianer yidden.
From there, he was called to the Galicianer shul in Cleveland. So beloved was he at this congregation; his contract was worth $3000 (in the heat of the Depression!). During this time, he commissioned a sefer Torah to be written in Poland (it cost $100 (enough for the sofer to marry off his daughter). It was about 8” tall, and with this the Rebbe would dance his legendary hakafos with great deveikus in later years.
In 1938, the Rebbe arrived in Boro Park, where he had his shul on 50th Street. This became a center of chassidus, and his legendary neginah which drew in the masses. He created an oasis amidst the terrible winds of those times. He would say; “In dehr hoiz iz nisht America!! In dehr hoiz iz Melitz!”In this home it is not America, it is Melitz. He would not eat out of his home, and for years he would not touch dairy, until he could acquire chalav Yisroel.
Being in America during those early years afforded him ample chassadim for his fellow Jews; so many refugees got their first start by the Melizter Rebbe, including a number of Rebbe’s; his heart beat with love for another yid. He would be mekarev so many… anyone who came to his door, with overflowing warmth, and many yidden brought close to yiddishkeit as a result. In 1942, he wrote a small sefer called kavod Shabbos, filled with the meaning and minhagim of Shabbos, so as to draw the hearts of American Jews to Shabbos.
He was close to many rebbes of his generation in the postwar era—especially with the Satmar Rebbe with whom he spent summers, and they would learn together. When the Melitzer Rebbe lost his daughter, the Satmar Rav came multiple times during the week, even though it meant schlepping up and down two flights of stairs.
The Rebbe’s neginah was legendary. Many years after his passing, there are those who cannot forget the Rebbe as he was immersed in his davening. One Yerushalmi yid exclaimed; “Once one has heard the Rebbe singing, it is impossible to die without doing complete teshuvah.”
His tefillos on the yamim nora’im were likewise powerful, moving and unforgettable.
The famed chazzan David Werdiger produced a record of Melitzer niggunim—the Rebbe’s compositions—but these are only a fraction of the nigunim that emanated from the rebbes heart. Many nigunim that are sung today (many are thought to be of other courts) are in fact the Melitzer Rebbe’s songs. Given his extreme tzniyus, this is probably how he would have preferred it.
The Rebbe was very ill toward the end of his life, and his children made him a miniature beis medrash inside his Boro Park home, where they dedicated themselves to his needs on a constant basis. He was niftar in the year 1978, and is interred in Chelkas Harabanim, in Wellwood Cemetery, leaving behind generations of upstanding families who follow in his ways.