Living Legacy: The Beis Yisroel of Ger, zy”a, on his 45th yohrtzeit.
By: Y. Halevi.
It has been forty five years since the passing of the heilige Beis Yisroel, Rebbe Yisroel Alter, zy”a, the fourth Gerer Rebbe—and his most ardent chassidim are now in their upper sixties, and low seventies. And yet, the burning fire that he implanted within them refuses to wane, and they carry out the expectations that he has set for them as though he had espoused them only yesterday.
The Rebbe transmitted the fire, the kedushah, and the purity of Kotzk and Ger to a broken postwar generation, and more importantly, to the children that they brought into the world following the great Churban that sent their entire worlds—their fathers and mothers, their sisters and brothers, and the thousands of fiery chassidim from throughout the shtetlach of Poland—upward, in a holy fire that we cannot fathom or comprehend.
The Beis Yisroel was born in Gora Kalwaria, Poland, following Sukkos of the year 1894 to his father Rebbe Avrohom Mordechai, who would later become the Gerrer Rebbe known as the Imrei Emes.
In his youth, he learned with his illustrious grandfather, Rebbe Yehuda Leib, known as the Sfas Emes—who seforim on Shas and Chumash occupy a unique place in the world of Torah. From his earliest youth, he was known as a brilliant mind.
He married in the year 1910 to his first cousin, and the couple had one son and one daughter. His wife and two children would be consumed in the great fire that was to come, Hy”d. Already during the tenure of his father, the Beis Yisroel was tasked with overseeing the spiritual growth of the youth—and this would remain his primary focus for all the years of his leadership.
He was fortunate to survive the Holocaust along with his father, whose miraculous escape is a story for itself. As he emerged from ashes, he was broken from the immeasurable loss—his personal pain and that of Polish Jewry’s—but he was filled with fire and purpose.
The Beis Yisroel was a tremendous innovators; implementing initiatives that were thought by most to be unreasonable from a nation that had just been through so much. But he understood that doubling down on Torah and kedushah was precisely the correct response, and the only way forward.
He would be seen walking the streets at all hours of the day and night, lifting up the broken souls, and infusing them with fire. He did not stop demanding, and his trademark style was wit and sharpness... but beneath it was unbridled love.
The Beis Yisroel remains one of the most consequential figures of the postwar era, and everything that he built and accomplished was with deep love for his fellow Jew, and a with mesirus nefesh to rebuild upon the foundations of what had been lost.
Living Legacy profiles the lives of our great tsaddikim upon their yohrtzeits, a special project of BoroPark 24