Memory Lane: Rabbi Shlomo Chaim (Herbert) Port of the Boro Park Torah Center
A scion of Rabbinic families hailing from the Lithuanian Torah world, Rabbi Port experienced tragedy at a young age—losing his father Spanish Flu pandemic in 1919. He overcame the tragedy, and went on to serve as a rabbi in Boro Park, and many decades at the helm of a Jewish summer camp, marrying and residing in Boro Park for all adult life.
A Rabbinic Legacy
Shlomo Chaim was born to his father Rav Moshe Yaakov Port in the year 1904. Rav Moshe Yaakov was one of the metzuyanim in Slabodka, and one of fourteen talmidim who went along with Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer to Slutzk to establish a branch of the yeshiva. In later years, his grandson, Rabbi Nison Shulman, came into the offices of Ezras Torah, where Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin was immersed in its work from morning till night. But he dropped everything and warmly embraced his visitor, “in honor of Rav Moshe Yaakov with whom I learned in Slabodka.”
After a short stint of Rabbonus in Lita, he left for America with his elderly mother, and acquired his first position in New Rochelle. His wife and children joined him in 1905. He later came to Brooklyn, where he served as the rov of seven different shuls. Tragedy struck when he was taken from this world by the influenza outbreak. His widow obtained special permission—during the prohibition era— to sell sacramental wine to the members of his congregations, and Herbert and his brother Danny would deliver the wine, labeled “Port Wine from Palestine” to the congregants.
The eldest of the Port children was Sheina Rochel, who later married Rabbi Moshe Shulman, the legendary principal of Yeshiva Eitz Chaim, whom we have profiled here previously. She practically raised her younger siblings alongside her mother.
A brilliant, personable man, Herbert got a law degree and semicha. Since he wasn’t making much money as a lawyer, he became a Rabbi.
History on Fort Hamilton
Readers may recall that we profiled in the past Rav Chaim Avrohom Bialik, who hailed from the family of Rav Leibele Shapira of Kovno, and was the longtime mashgiach at Streit’s Matzoh Bakery. Simultaneously, he was also the Rov of Boro Park Torah Center, beginning in 1941. But he had purchased the congregation on Fort Hamilton Parkway & 49th Street from Rabbi Port who had converted it from a non-Jewish house of worship in the year 1938.
We were only recently able to locate a photograph of the towering Shul from the year 1940, two years into Rabbi Port’s tenure. They say that lightning does not strike twice, but this poor building—which suffered a fire in 1941, which devastated the building, and was likely the reason it was sold to Rabbi Bialik later that year—was struck by lightning many years before that, as we read in The Chat on July 22, 1916: “A bolt struck the cupola of Borough Park Congregational Church at Fort Hamilton Parkway, and it fell with a crash. Fire started immediately, but it was quickly extinguished.”
On June 1st, 1941, we read in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle: “Holy Relics Saved in Synagogue Fire. Fire of undetermined origin yesterday damaged the Borough Park synagogue, a three-story frame structure at 49th Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway. Chief John J. Bennett of the 40th Battalion estimated the damage at $2,500.
“Before firemen arrived, a half dozen men in the candy store at 4902 Fort Hamilton Parkwat rushed in across the street and helped carry the holy relics, prayer shawls and books from the endangered rear of the building to the front, which was not affected. The Rev. Herbert S. Port is the rabbi of the congregation.”
(Featured here is a photograph of The Boro Park Torah Center on Fort Hamilton and 49th Street).