Memory Lane: Rav Moshe Shulman, Sowing the Seeds of Torah Education
As we emerge from the holy days of Shavuos and Kabbolas haTorah, we profile an early Torah educator in Boro Park of yore.
Moshe Yitzchok Halevi was born in the city of Minsk in 1891, in tragedy; his mother passed away in childbirth. He would relate that Minsk was such a makom Torah that there were 40 Batei Midrash on the main street alone. As a young bachur, he entered the Slabodka Yeshiva, and made such a great impression when he returned home, that others followed him back there.
In 1911, at the age of twenty, he made the journey to America. His first chinuch opportunity was as a teacher in Philadelphia, at Yeshiva Mishkan Yisroel, under Rav Yosef Grossman, a musmach of Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spektor (one of the founders of Agudas Harabanim, he was niftar in Philadelphia in 1920). He wrote a glowing letter of recommendation for his young protégé and he entered Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon in New York. There Rav Moshe was granted semicha by the ga’on Rav Shimon Yitzchok Finkelstein of Brownsville in 1917.
In 1923, he married Rochel—the daughter of Rav Moshe Yaakov Port, zt”l, who had been a rov of seven Shuls in the Park Slope area.
In 1934, the Shulman’s moved to the Bronx—and in the fall of 1937, he assumed the helm of Etz Chaim in Boro Park. Welcoming him at his official inauguration were Boro Park’s leaders, including Rabbi Wohlberg from Shomrei Emunah, Irving Bunim of Young Israel and many more.
In a telegram, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik congratulates the school …”on their excellent choice. [I] am glad that such an experienced pedagogue was appointed. I hope that Rabbi Shulman will set this institute on its deserved heights.”
An Indelible Impact
Rabbi Shulman was a visionary in every area of the chinuch at Etz Chaim, and instituted many changes there. He was a striking presence: “he would stride like a soldier,” recalls his son. He always encouraged physical activity for the students.
Leon J. Hoffman is one child of Boro Park of those times. Today he lives out west. He relates: “To this day Rabbi Shulman serves for me as a model for many things; a mentor, a guide, a smiling face, and an accepting one, but most of all a tzadik. He was as righteous a man as I believe I have ever had the honor to know. I continue to use him as a model when delivering lectures pertaining to guides, mentors and distinguished models.”
Dr. Bernard Revel, then President of Yeshiva College, wrote his amazement that at the caliber of the graduates of the Talmud Torah students when they came for their entrance exams to the Yeshiva…as they were superior to many who came from Day Schools of the time.
When his son, Rabbi Nisson Shulman, ybl”ch, was about to graduate elementary school, Rabbi Shulman did not want him to make the long commute to the Talmudical Academy in Manhattan—so, with the permission of Dr. Belkin, he created Brooklyn Talmudical Academy for the high schoolers of Brooklyn which was situated in Flatbush for decades thereafter.
These are but a minor glimpse into the life and the educational work of Rav Moshe Shulman who overcame challenge and adversity and dedicated himself to the futures of the children of Boro Park of yesteryear.