Memory Lane: Rav Avraham Moshe Karpel
For approximately 40 years—between the years of 1922 and
1962—a brilliant Rav and talmid chacham resided in Boro Park—having been
molded in the greatest Torah centers in Lithuania, at the feet of the greatest Gedolim
of that time.
Born in 1875 in the town of Ašmena (about 50 km southeast of Vilna), Avraham Moshe Karpel immediately was exposed to true Torah brilliance—one that would later illuminate the darkness of America of yesteryear.
He began his journey fresh out of cheder in the kibbutz of Smargon“ (readers may recall this being the hometown of Cantor Moshe Koussevitzky, and a tremendous Torah center). Here he learned under Harav Chaim Yehuda Leib Litvin, the Sosnitzer Iluy, who was the Rav of Smargon and presided over the kibbutz, which was founded by the famed Reb Leibele Kovner.
From the kibbutz, he graduated to Volozhyn, where he learned under Harav Refoel Shapiro, the son of Reb Leibele, and the Rav and Rosh Yeshivah of Valozyn.
In 1903, he was accepted in the famed Kovno Kollel, a subsidiary of the Slabodka yeshivah, which bred many of the Gedolim of the previous generation. During this period, he also spent time in Eisheshok and in Vilna, where he became close to Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, and another great Gaon who lived there; Harav Chanoch Henich Eigis—and was known in Vilna as a brilliant talmid chacham.
His received semichah from: The Cheshek Shlomo of Vilna, Rav Refoel Shapiro of Vilna, Rav Moshe Danishevsky of the Kovno Kollel, and others. Finally, he accepted a position as the Rav of Aĺšany (pronounced Olshan), in the south of what is today Belarus.
Upheaval began in 1915, with the advent of WWI. But Rabbi Karpel originally came to America in 1912, and kept on journeying throughout America fundraising for Volozyn in the ensuing years.
The couple had eight children. In 1920, their son Herman became of draft age into the Polish army, so his father spirited him out to America. In 1927, Rav Avraham Moshe returned home after traveling in Poland, and announced that the family would be moving to America.
However, in 1929, with the Great Depression, the United States halted immigration, so he wrote to them from America; “Kinderlach, leave Poland, and we will reunite in Palestine. While this would happen many years later, this reunipn did not materialize immediately: some of the family members left to Eretz Yisroel, while Avraham Moshe and his wife and some of the younger children settled in at 971 47th Street, in Boro Park.
Rabbi Karpel was one of the 400 Rabbis who marched on Washington in the year 1943 to petition a stone-cold White House to do something to spare the rest of the Jews the fate that had befallen his son Yaakov.
A granddaughter recalls how, although he had no official position in Boro Park, preferring not to earn a living from the Rabbinate; had a plaque outside the house, reading Rabbi A.M. Karpel, and people from Boro Park would come to consult with him. He would kosher chickens when he needed the money, and we find many brilliant Torah articles in the journals of the time that stand out in their caliber, written by someone who had such a rich background in lomdus and geonus.
During this time, he was influential in raising the level of kashrus in New York, given his seniority as one of the older Rabbanim in the city.
In 1962, when they were about 85, the couple emigrated to Eretz Yisroel, and settled in Bnei Brak soon thereafter. Here he was reunited with many chaverim that he had known decades earlier in a world of Torah that went up in smoke. He davened in Divrei Shir, part of Zeirei Agudas Yisroel, and donated a large sum to its gemach.
In 1970, at the ripe old age of 95, Harav Avraham Moshe Karpel was niftar, leaving behind his imprint of the rich Torah world of Lithuania in Boro Park of yesteryear.