Memory Lane: Rav Mordechai Gimpel Hakohen Wolk
Rav Mordechai Gimpel came to America in the 1920’s, and founded the first mossad hachinuch for girls in Boro Park, in addition to his incredible work on behalf of the Klal.
The Royalty of Lita
Mordechai Gimpel was born in Wilkomir, Lithuania, to his father Rav Tzvi Hirsh Hakohen Wolk, in the year 1894. His father was a talmid of the Beis Halevi, during his years in Slutzk. He authored the brilliant multi-volume sefer Kesser Kehuna, and he became the rov of Pinsk in 1890, following the passing of Rav Elozor Moshe Hurwitz.
His maternal grandfather was the great ga’on, Rav Mordechai Gimpel Yoffe, a son of Rav Duber—the iluy of Otiyan, and one of the prized talmidim of Rav Chaim Volozyner. The Yoffe’s, as their name would suggest, were descendants of the Levush. After 40 years as rov of Ruzinai, he went up to Eretz Yisroel in 1888, and settled in Yehud. At his levaya, Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, who rarely left Yerushalayim, made his way to this yishuv, and stood on his feet for hours throughout the hespedim.
(Another son-in-law of Rav Yoffe was the great ga’on Rav Yosef Zecharia Stern, whose daughter married Rav Yaakov Dov Rapaport, the first rov of Kfar Sava (1926). His daughter married Rav Yaakov Rinik—rov of Kfar Sava for 40 years— whose daughter, Chaya, would later marry her cousin Mordechai Gimpel Wolk—But we get ahead of ourselves).
Shulamith School for Girls
Rav Wolk made his way to America in 1923. Immediately, he threw himself into askonus across every area of Jewish life.
In 1928, we find a letter from Rav Mordechai Gimpel to his family back home on the stationary of Rav Meir Shapiro. In it he writes of accompanying the Pietrokower rov on the ship.
Around the year 1930, a woman named Bertha Schraeter, the wife of a cantor had her boys Boro Park’s yeshiva Eitz Chaim, but her two youngest, Helen and Phyllis, had no Jewish school to attend. She turned to Rabbi Wolk—who was by then known as a passionate activist—and that’s how this school was born. Its first address was in a storefront, and it later moved into the Boro Park YMHA, and this is where we find his residence in documents from those years.
For a principal, he hired his cousin, the legendary Judith Lieberman, a granddaughter of the Netziv who served as the principal of Shulamith for more than three decades.
He was also the head of the Jewish Kindergarten Association of America, and we find him appearing all over America during these years. Until this very day, there exists in Shulamith a “Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Hakohen Wolk Award,” commemorating this selfless activist who founded the school 90 years ago.
Torah Scholarship Matched by Kindness
Rabbi Moshe Shur recalls his days as a bachur in Eretz Yisroel in the 1975, and he would eat regularly at the Wolk’s at their home in Rechavia. His fellow guests for the Shabbos day seuda were Rav Yisroel Gustman, and Rav Sholom Schwadron—who would get into deep Torah conversations with Rav Mordechai Gimpel.
“I also had a weekly learning session with Rav Wolk, and even in his later years when he was practically blind, he would correct me when I made a mistake in the Mishna or Gemara that I was citing. Rabbi Shur noted that he never stopped doing tzeddaka: “Until the end of his life, he would always be handing me a pushkah, and was involved in chessed projects until his last days.
Rav Mordechai Gimpel was niftar on 13 Av, 1984, at the age of 90, following a lifetime of avodas haklal, working tirelessly for the spiritual and material needs of his People.