Memory Lane: Rabbi Isaac Swift, z”l
During the 1950’s, the Sfardishe shul was led by the dynamic Rabbi Yitzchok Yehuda Swift.
He was born in England in the year 1911. His father, Avraham Dov (Beryl) Swift came from the Ukraine, and sold shoes. He had seven children—three of whom would go on to become prominent Rabbanim.
Since there was no cheder during that time in London, the boys would get up before dawn to learn with their father—while their grandmother would wake up to serve them tea. When day broke, their father would go to daven, and the children would daven, eat, and then go off to public school.
Then, a yeshiva was opened—through the following story: In 1912, a Jew and his family, were meant to set sail on The Titanic. Through Hashgacha Pratis, he was prevented from doing so, and his family was saved. This Yid was thus nicknamed der Titanic. His story created such a ripple that the Jews decided to stay put, and build a community—which would include a yeshiva.
The Swift home was known in England as an outpost of authentic Yiddishkeit; The Ponovezher Rav would only eat in the home of Beryl Swift, in all of England.
As they grew older, the three brothers each held their respective pulpits at London Shuls. Every motzei Shabbos, they would meet at their father’s side, when he was staying with one of his daughters. They would each need to repeat their shabbos drashah... with a sense of trepidation—because they really wanted his approval—and he would critique it.
In 1950, Rabbi Isaac Swift left for Australia where he was offered a Rabbanus. In 1954, he was offered the position as the Rav of Anshei Sfard of Boro Park, and thus he brought his family to America. His impression on the community would be indelible.
With his phenomenal knowledge, and his great oratorical skill, he could reach a wide audience which would sit rapt at his Shabbos derashos. People would walk from great distances to hear the Shgabbos afternoon drashah in Yiddish. At that time, there was a rotation between the five big shuls in Boro Park—Rabbi Kirzner of Bnei Yehuda, Rabbi Mirsky of Young Israel, Rabbi Wohlberg of Shomrei Emunah, Rabbi Schorr of Beth El, and Rabbi Swift of Anshei Sfard—who would preside over ‘the Friday Night forum’ to which the young people would come and be inspired.
Dismayed that there was no orthodox Jewish orphanage, he led his ba’alei Batim in establishing Ohel—which exists to this day. He was instrumental in many klal causes, and his door was always open to everyone in need. His children distinctly understood the need for privacy of those who came to the door. So they were not allowed to answer the door.
He was a legendary ba’al tefillah, and since the family was descended from the holy Kedushas Levi of Berdichev, they used the unique Berdichever nusach for the hagadah. People would come especially to hear his nei’lah… which drew sobs from the crowd.
In the spring of 1991, Rabbi Yitzchok Yehuda Swift passed away, leaving behind a legacy of brilliance and kindness, which he shared with the Jews of Boro Park of yesteryear.