Living Legacy: The Stoliner Rebbe, Rav Yaakov Chaim Perlow, zt”l
by Yehuda Alter
One of the earliest chassidishe Rebbeim to settle in Williamsburg of yore was the Stoliner Rebbe, who arrived in the summer of 1923, exactly 100 years ago. His shul on Rodney Street was built by his loyal chassidim, and continued to serve the movement as it flourished even amid the darkness of America at that time. The Rebbe’s Yohrtzeit is 6 Iyar.
The Rebbe was born in the town of Stolin in Russia in the year 1891, and was raised in the court of his saintly father.
He married Rebbetzin Chana Chaya, the daughter of the Chernobyler Rebbe. She would become his partner in his chessed endeavors. She could be seen making the rounds together with the Rebbe to deliver food and care packages to the needy of Williamsburg. Her last words on this earth were, “remember to give the bottom of the chicken to that individual sitting at this place at the table... he likes this portion.”
While the Rebbe was exceptional in all areas of avodah—his chosen method of illuminating the darkness of America of those days was his extraordinary chessed. Through his loving kindness, he brought closer those souls who went on to build torah-true generations in America of yesteryear.
The Rebbe loved Torah, and he loved Bnei Torah—dozens of whom would receive a place of honor at the Rebbe’s tishen.
On one Shabbos on the Lower East Side, his host peeked through the keyhole to see what the Rebbe did on Friday night. And so he observed as the Rebbe took a Gemara, and walked back and forth, hour after hour, engrossed in learning. Toward morning, the Rebbe exited his room…rubbing his eyes, as if to wipe the sleep from them. The Rebbe’s hakafos on Simchas Torah were a highlight of the year, and residents of old Williamsburg would pack the shul on Rodney Street for these elevated and charged moments.
On what would be his last day on this earth, the Rebbe met Yaakov Zlotnick, a bachur in Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin in Detroit. The Rebbe asked him about how the Yeshiva was faring, and he said that the financial situation was difficult. To his question about government assistance to the Yeshiva, he replied that since they don’t have a library, they were ineligible to receive government funds. A few hours later, the Rebbe pulled up to the yeshiva in a taxi, whose entire back seat was filled with books. He then proceeded to pore through each book to ensure that it was appropriate for Yeshiva bachurim.
From the first moment, the Rebbes chessed flowed forth...bringing in every Jewish soul in need. Every shabbos, long tables laden with food would be prepared, where every Yid would be welcomed. These were often poor... and sometimes unsavory people whom others would not as readily invite. The same Rebbe who placed an ad in the paper asking people not to come to his hakafos by car, once severely admonished his gabbai who reprimanded a taxi driver who came to a shabbos seudah having parked his car a block away. This was no contradiction; it was all done in pure, overflowing ahavas Yisroel.
The Rebbe had a designated floor in his home for the poor and the downtrodden, especially during the Great Depression, when so many yidden were living in utter poverty. The Rebbe wold insist that they keep their shoes at the door when they went to sleep, so he could send the shoes in need of repair to be fixed overnight.
One day, when the gas was shut for non-payment, the Rebbe took a loan from a gemach. But on his way out, he met a poor person—and promptly gave all the money to him. when the Rebbetzin returned to the head of the gemach, who expressed some annoyance, she told him, “Did you think that a Rebbe is meant to take?! A Rebbe is meant to give!”
Whether it was the boy from Torah Vodaath who was crying because he left his neck tie at home, so the rebbe took off his own and gave it to him, or the boy he took to the bicycle store and paid the nickel so he could ride for a few hours, or the countless poor and needy whom he fed in body and soul—the Rebbe’s heart overflowed with ahavas Yisroel.
The Rebbe’s tefillah, and his neginah, were legendary. He would compose extremely deep and warm niggunim, and his davening for the amud was a legend in old Williamsburg—an otherworldly experience for its sweetness and deveikus. His tefillos were often accompanied by great emotion and tears.
The Rebbe traveled often to various communities in America, including Detroit, where there was a prominent Stoliner shul. He was there in the spring of 5706 (1946), when, on 6 Iyar, the Rebbe’s holy soul suddenly departed this world. When the shocked chassidim checked his belongings, they found that the tzaddik had packed his burial shrouds. He had prepared for this final journey...
Stoliner chassidim travel to Detroit every year to visit the ohel of ‘The Detroiter,’ drawing strength, inspiration, and yeshu’os from the Rebbe who dedicated his life to his fellow Yid.