Memory Lane: Rav Chaim Avraham Bialik, Rav Hamachshir of Streit’s Matzos
by Yehuda Alter
In the Lithuanian town of Yashinovke, lived the elderly and revered Rav, Rav Tanchum Gershon Bilitzky, a son-in-law of Rav Chaim Avraham Shapira of Smargon, who was the son of Rav Leibele Shapira of Kovno. He was the author of Ginas Bisan and Ginas Chemed, and had a remarkable, holy countenance. In 1896, his wife gave birth to a boy who was named for his maternal grandfather, Chaim Avraham.
As a youth, he learned under his great father, and—after amassing great breadth in Gemara/Tosafos— went on to the great yeshivos of Volozhin, where he learned under the great Rav Refoel Shapiro, and under Rav Moshe Soloveitchik, from whom he received semicha, as well as a number of very prominent Rabbanim in Russia and Poland.
His first position was in the shtetl of Rogozna—where he served until 1925.
Following WWI, he made his way to America. For a short time he was a Rav in Cleveland, and Poughkeepsie, and later at Cong. Chevrah Kadishah in Williamsburg (in Hayehudi we find a greeting upon a new year that he sends to his elderly parents, and to his brother Rav Levi Bilitzky who would eventually come over to America, as did his brother Rav Nota who was a longtime marbitz Torah in Boro Park’s Yeshiva Eitz Chaim). In 1943, his relative, Rabbi Herbert Port who owned the Boro Park Torah Center, sold it to Rabbi Bialik, and thus he became the Rav of the grand synagogue—which was located on Boro Park’s Fort Hamilton Parkway and 49th Street (Rabbi Port was the brother of Rebbetzin Moshe Shulman, the longtime principal of Yeshiva Eitz Chaim). The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on his installation, which was attended by many Rabbanim.
As noted, Rav Bialik was the longtime Rav hamachshir of Streits, and there are numerous, beautiful images of him together with the great Rabbanim who would come to observe and visit the bakery.
On Friday night of parashas Metzorah of 1965, Rav Chaim Avraham suffered a massive heart attack and passed away the following Sunday morning—having been active for the Klal until his last day.
After his passing, his son, Rabbi Nosson Bialik, assumed the leadership of the shul. For some years there was a yeshiva in the building named Yeshiva Chaim Avrohom, in the name of Rabbi Bialik.
However, by 1979, the shul—a magnificent, imposing structure—had met its demise. One old-time Boro Parker described his visit to the site in 1979: “In mid-March, I happened upon the synagogue on Fort Hamilton Parkway, corner 49th Street. It was an imposing stone building with a wood and shingle pitched roof. What I saw was heartbreaking and caused me to go inside. The building was in ruins, and the windows and frames in the building were broken or missing; they had all been stained glass windows. All the doors were broken in.” The site was soon replaced by a medical complex.
Hapardes lamented the passing of “one of the chashuvei harabanim of New York who carried the banner of traditional Rabbanus with pride. That Friday he had still sent food packages to needy families—as was his custom, in his life which was filled with gemilus chassadim. A large crowd of Rabbanim gathered to pay their last respects to the niftar. He was a member of the leadership of Agudas Harabanim.
“He was eulogized by his cousin Rav Chaim Karlinsky, Rav Moshe Feinstein, hisbrother Rav Levi Bilitzky, Rav Nafatli Riff of Camden, Rav Aaron Soloveitchik, Rav Mordechai Shulman, Rosh Yeshiva of Slabodka.
Rav Chaim Avraham was laid to rest on Har Hamenuchos.