Memory Lane: Rav Osher Zalka Hakohen Rand

Memory Lane: Rav Osher Zalka Hakohen Rand

Recording history in the making

Much of the work that we do in chronicling the history of Rabbanim and personalities of Boro Park has been aided by the Toldos Anshei Sheim—a biographical overview of hundreds Rabbanim and Admorim of America—authored by Rabbi Rand. Anyone who has even a minor interest in the history of orthodox Rabbanus in mid-century America owes Rabbi Rand a debt of gratitude. For more than half a century, Rav Osher Zalka lived, taught Torah, and engaged in avodas haklal in Boro Park of yesteryear. 

He was born in a small Czekeslovakian town called Mezőlaborc. He learned in the yeshiva of Unsdorf. He was also a Talmid muvhak of Rav Yoel Adler, who was a renowned Ga’on in that area in those days. 

As a bachur, he became active in the fledgling Agudas Yisroel movement, enraptured by its ideals which offered a Torah-based answer to the dilemmas facing European Jews, so many of whom turned to Zionism, socialism and haskalah to chart their way forward. 

In the early 1930’s, he joined the Poalei Agudas Yisroel group, whose mission it was to build a frum Eretz Yisroel, and made his way to the Holy Land along with a number of other bachurim from Poland. For a while in he was in Petach Tikvah, and spent time on religious kibbutzim. 

Agudath Israel of America 

In 1939, Rav Eliezer Silver joined the Knesssia Gedolah of Agudas Yisroel in Marienbad. There he met Rav Chaim Ozer, and other Gedolim who had long sought an Agudah movement in America. While Mike Tress had launched Zeirei for the young people, and other activities, it would be a while before an official body that unified American Jewry would be established. In Rav Silver, they saw the energy and the vision to establish the movement on American soil, and in 1939 Rav Silver notified Rav Chaim Ozer of his readiness to move forward. 

An exploratory committee arrived from Eretz Yisroel in July of 1939. It consisted of a delegation of three men; Rav Itche Meir Furstenberg (a Gerer chossid who was a businessman and a wise visionary); Rav Shmuel Greiniman, a brother in law of the Chazon Ish; and Rabbi Osher Zalka Rand.

Rav Osher Zalka immediately threw himself into Agudah work, and would later be involved in Vaad Hatzolah. He met his wife—Zissel Wertenteil, the daughter of an ardent Bluzover Chossid from Williamsburg—in 1943. Rav Eliezer Silver served as his mesader kiddushin.

Teaching Torah in Boro Park 

Rabbi Rand continued his work on behalf of the Agudah, and for a number of years he worked for Ezras Torah. He would continue to make appeals for many years later. The family remained in Williamsburg until 1957, when they relocated to Boro Park.

In Boro Park, the family davened in the Gerer shtiebel that existed on a second floor near 50th and New Utrecht, and also in Rabbi Rokeach’s Shul on 50th Street—and on Yamim Tovim they would make their way to Bluzev, in part out of respect for their mother who came from a Bluzever family. Shortly before that he went into the insurance business—and he would come straight from work to teach shiurim in the evenings. 

“Wherever my father went, Hakadosh Baruch Hu arranged for him give Shiurim: Beginning in Petach Tikvah. In Williamsburg, he learned Chumash with girls and women who at that time had no programs to learn; he taught Shiurim in Ohr Hachayim in Torah Vodaath, and when he came to Boro Park in the Boyaner Kloiz on Shabbosim. 

In Boro Park there was a shtiebel called “the Shiniever (today Brezna)”. He learned through the entire Shas, with Tosafos, with these men—a cycle that took 29 and a half years! 

This tenure went on until his old age. Rav Osher Zalka was niftar in the year 2011, leaving behind generations of upstanding Torah families, and a priceless treasure of Jewish history. 

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