Memory Lane: Rabbi Yosef Fischman, z”l, longtime gabbai of the Sfardishe Shul
By: Yehuda Alter
When we reflect on what it means to spend more than half a century of ones’ life completely immersed in the needs of others—the true fulfillment of oskim b’tzorchei tzibbur be’emunah—Reb Yossel Fischman aptly fits that description.
As a matter of fact, avodas haklal was something that ran through the veins of this supreme public servant; his father, Reb Elimelech served as the shamas in his birthplace of Kerestier, Hungary, and where his own father, the author of the Lechem Abirim served his beloved Rebbe’s, Harav Yeshaya’le Kerestierer and the Satmar Rav, zy”a, with utmost dedication.
It is safe to assume that with such a family tradition, and such an innate disposition toward this calling, Reb Yosef would likely have found himself serving hi people in his native Hungary—but Hitler, ym”sh, annihilated six million Jews, Hy”d, among them most of his relatives.
He was born in Kerestier, and learned by the greatest Hungarian Rabbanim—from whom he received semichah. He was suffered in Auschwitz, and following the war he organized a shul for his fellow survivors in Bremmen, where he learned with them, beginning to nurse their shattered souls back to health. He came to America as early as 1946, straight to Boro Park… where he davened his first minchah in the sfardishe shul. And the rest is history; while the smoke was till settling over Europe, he immediately threw himself into rebuilding a lost world, all from his perch as a statesman and representative of his People.
His career was marked by round the clock work, as described in an interview entitled, “the executive director who is still on probbe (trial),” alluding to the fact that 43 years after his hiring he still did not have a contract.
“At any time that you’d enter the Sfardishe shul you will find him busy… here is writing a receipt for this one, here he folds a tallis, and there he is leining the kriah of sheini v’chamishi. From the next room he hears the conclusion of davening and he is already there to blow shofar. Here he concludes a “Molei” by the torah, and already he is serving schnaps and kichlach—and klaps on the table yahrtzeit. If you’re talking to him while he is selling esrogim… he may be called to the phone by an elderly woman who is calling to remind him that, for Heaven’s sake he should not forget to light the yahrtzeit lomp for her husband. At 11 he has a taharah, and at 12 he must be maspid at said levayah… while later in the day he has a longstanding chavrusa with the legendary, longtime chazzan Yossele Mandelbaum. A few hours later he must already begin organizing the minyanim for minchah-maariv into the evening, like he had done since before dawn that morning.”
Reb Yosef’s skillful management and administration of the shul for so many years was only matched by his tremendous sense of chessed. He was central to the founding of OHEL, and Bikur Cholim of Boro Park of which he was a vital part for many decades.
Sometime in the 1960’s the Sfardishe shul celebrated its jubilee anniversary. In honor of this event, Rabbi Fischman greeted the congregation, recalling his earliest days in America—a time when this shul was his refuge… a debt that he would go on to repay in ample measure.
“… I recall with gratitude the time, some 18 years ago, when I was chossed for the responsible office of sexton of this holy congregation, despite the fact that I was a newcomer to these shores, barely understanding the language, and American ways of life.
“Under the guidance of my revered and unforgettable teacher, the late Rev. Morris G. Finkelstein, z”l, I have, with G-d’s help, succeeded in becoming acclimated, and acquiring the knowledge and experience necessary for this position. Now, 18 (chai) have passed… 19 years of service replete with ever growing, deepening friendships, with mutual respect, understanding, harmony, and satisfaction.”
Indeed, there can be no better way to describe the legacy of this consummate osek b’tzorchei tzibbur be’emunah who for than half a century served every need of the Jews of Boro Park of yesteryear.