Living Legacy: Rebbe Eliezer Chaim Rabinovitch of Yomapoli, zt”l, the first chassidishe Rebbe in America.
By: Yehuda Alter
Scion of Royalty
The year was 1892, and a chassidishe Rebbe from eastern Galicia (today Ukraine) alighted the ship at Ellis Island. It was the first time America had ever seen a sight like this. Rebbe Eliezer Chaim of Yampol came into the spiritual barrenness of America, and illuminated it with his holiness, his purity, and his Torah.
He was a scion of the greatest tzaddikim of the chassidic movement. He was born in 1841 to his father, Rebbe Baruch of Yompoli, the son of Rebbe Yitzchok of Yampoli, who was the son-in-law of Rebbe Baruch’l of Medzibuz, and the son of the Zlochiver Maggid. On his mother’s side he was descended from the Sheloh Hakodosh. It is said that, before he was born, his father visited with Rebbe Meir’l of Premishlan who said: “Your wife will bear a child who will illuminate the world.”
His son, Rav Baruch Pinchas later wrote among his observations of his holy father: “I have personally witnessed how he never forfeited tikkun chatzos to mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh. He would tell me that the niggun that he would sing was a tradition from the holy Zeide, the Rebbe Reb Baruch of Medzibuz.
“He was fluent in every facet of Toras hanistar (kabboloh), and the miracles that he would perform—specifically for the childless—were an everyday occurrence.
But the Rebbe foresaw what would become of European Jewry, and he urged many people to leave. In many ways, his own decision to leave for America was to pave a spiritual path for his descendants, so they could withstand the forces of assimilation. The Skulener Rebbe, zt”l, said in later years, “if not for the presence of Rav Eliezer Chaim in America, who knows if Yiddishkeit would have flourished in the same way.”
His son also related how Rebbe lived in teshuvah every day of his life, and constantly thought about his last day, as Chazal urged us to do. “Once, we were walking on the outskirts of the town off Skolya, and we observed a goy who plowing the rows of his field, and then smoothed out the top soil. ‘You see, my son. When a person is buried, they do the very same. First they put him in the ground, and then they smooth out the soil above…’
“I’ll be back in 20 Years”
He came to America alone with his son, the young Rav Baruch Pinchos. Among the places that they visited on the Lower East Side was the famed Beis Hamedrash Hagodol, a haven for many frum Yidden in New York. When the congregation asked him to speak, he gave the honor to his young son. During his time, he was known as an ardent supporter of the Rav Hakolel, Rav Yaakov Joseph, who battled for the sake of Torah and Yiddsishkeit.
After about two years, it was time to return to the family in Poland. The Rebbe told the people in America, “I will return here in twenty years.”
The years passed, and the year was 1908. The Rebbe prepared to make his second journey to America, to make his home here. As he was about to get on the ship, he remembered the words he had uttered all those many years before. That was enough. He returned home, and waited another six years, until 1912, when he returned once again—all so his earlier words would remain true.
During his years here, the Rebbe continued his many mofsim, and his immersion in Avodas Hashem. In addition to his son, the Skolya Rebbe, he had a son, Rav Shmuel Avrohom Rabinowitz, who was known as the Brownsviller Rebbe. Through both of these branches, the holy legacy is continued by the many descendants in our communities.
Following his passing on 5 Iyar, 1916, and was interred in Mount Judah Cemetery, where many of his descendants have since been laid to rest, concluding a fascinating saga of a holy Rebbe, from the holy family of the Ba’al Shem Tov charted a path to America 130 years ago.
In honor of the yohrtzeit, buses will depart for the tziyun, which has become known as a place for great yeshu’os, on Friday morning at 9:00, 10:00, and 11:00 from the front of the Skolya Beis Medrash, 1335 48th Street.
Zechuso yagein aleinu.