Memory Lane: Rav Avraham Ever Hirschowitz
The groundbreaking for Cong. Beth El, opened in 1907 on Twelfth Avenue, was attended by Rabbi Abraham Hirschowitz, Rav of the shul. Who was this man, and what do we know of his time in Boro Park of yesteryear.
Born in 1838 in Šilalė, Lithuania (pronounced Shilel), a hamlet 145 km west of Kovno, and 235 km northwest of Vilna) to his father who was a shochet in the town, Avraham Ever showed promise from a young age. He began learning privately with his uncle, and would go on to receive semichah from Rav Yitzchok Elchanan Spektor, the Kovner Rav.
His actual last name was Goldberg, and his five siblings who moved to Sydney, Australia—and whose descendants still live there—kept that name. But since he was the oldest, and wanted to evade conscription into the army, he toll the surname of an uncle.
Wherever he would go, he would transform the communities, and inspired them with his brilliance and eloquence. He was also active in attempting to raise the level of shemiras hamitzvos, and authored many booklets to spread awareness.
He moved to Vilna, to Berlin, and in 1887 lived at 73 Old Montague St, London. On doctors’ orders he relocated to Melbourne, Australia, in 1891. Here he truly elecvated his congregants through the “chevrah Torah” in which the men would come to learn in the wee hours of the morning, as well as late in the evenings. He served the community as a mohel, and of course performed all other Rabbinic duties. During this time we also find a letter to Rav Shmuel Salant regarding the question about Australia’s unique dilemma whether to say v’sain tal umatar during the months that the worldwide Jewish community does so, while it is the summer over there.
In June of 1906, Der Morgen Zhournal announces, “Rabbi Hirschowitz in New York. The Rabbi who was these last three years in Toledo, Ohio, has moved to New York. He is very beloved and respected there. The move was a difficult one, but it was hard to be far from their children. He has previous positions in London and in Australia, and was the Rabbi of the large Eldridge Street Shul (Lower East Side of Manhattan) for five years before leaving for Toledo.
“Aside from being a gadol b’Torah and a ba’al middos, he is also a worldly person endowed with a sechel hayashar who understands, and can get along with, many different classes of people. He is in every aspect a most ideal candidate for the position of Rabbi of a large congregation. As though foretelling a prophecy, one year later, Rabbi Hirschowitz led Congregation Beth El of Borough Park in inaugurating their newly erected beis mikdash me’at.
In the American Jewish Yearbook (an annual almanac of Jewish personalities and institutions) tell us that he resided at 1178 41st street—half a block up from the shul which is at the corner of 12th Avenue.
The Yiddish newspapers of that time tell of the “Largest Bar mitzvah that Boro Park had ever seen, the son of the lamdan and maskil Reb Moshe Stoll. “Yitzchok Stoll had his Aliyah at congregation Beth El, on Twelfth Avenue, where his grandfather was the Rav.”
Throughout his rabbinic tenure, he corresponded with the greatest gedolim of his generation, including Rav Shmuel Salant of Jerusalem, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spektor, Rav Ya’akov Shaul Elyashar (Chacham Bashi) of Yerushalayim, and Dayan Yaakov Reinowitz of London.
Another important question with which he dealt was the question of when to observe Shabbos when crossing the International Dateline—something that we also find in his responsa, and the story is reported in a San Francisco newspaper… the day he traveled to Japan to divorce a very wealthy couple.
As noted he authored many sefarim, among them Ohel Sarah, and Religious Duties of the Daughter of Israel.
In 1922, the Rav endeavored to live out his years in Eretz Yisroel. In his sefer Beis Avraham, he notes the farewell speech that he delivered at Congregation Beth El on Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Av of that year, stepping onto the holy soil Erev Rosh Chodesh Elul.
He passed away at the home of his son in law in Yerushalayim in the year 1925, and is interred on har hazeisim—having lived a life of inspiring and leading yidden with his dedication and love for Torah.