Memory Lane: Rav Tzvi Aryeh Levi, Champion of Torah Education
A Heavenly Messenger
For as long as there was a yishuv of Yidden in Eretz Yisroel, there was a concept of a sehlucha d’Rachmana (or Shadar), men who would journey faraway to their brethren in the diaspora to raise funds for the needy of Eretz Yisroel. In the case of Rav Tzvi Arye Levi, the term took on a different meaning; while he came over to raise much-needed money for institutions in Yerushalayim, he turned out to be a shelucha d’Rachmana to save the face of Torah education for the youth of New York.
Rav Tzvi Aryeh, or Hirsch Leib, as he was sometimes known, was born in Drahichyn, a small town near the city of Pinsk in the year 1876. His father was Rav Shmuel (founder of the legendary Zohorei CHamah Shul on Rechov Yaffo in Yerushalayim) and his mother was Chana Itta, and they were niftar in Yesrushalayim in the years 1922 and 1923, respectively.
About his father Rav Shmuel—to whom he would dedicate a sefer and the Talmud Torah that he founded in Boro Park—he would later write; “A communal askan who dedicated all of his days to the needs of the public, for Torah, avodah and gemilus chassodim.” And his mother; who “for all her days assisted him in his holy work.” As we will soon see, the tradition of tzeddaka ran in the family.
As a young boy in Drahichyn, Tzvi Arye always spent time with the lamdonim in the town, and with the town’s rov, Rav Menachem Reichman, zt”l. In 1890—when he was fourteen— the family made their way to Yerushalayim, where he was enrolled in Yeshiva Toras Chaim and became tethered to the great tsaddik and mekubal, Rav Hirsch Michel Shapira of the holy city. He was meshamesh the tsaddik for two years, and would transcribe his chidushei Torah. When he became eighteen, he was advised by his rebbeim to become a sofer stam, and spent many years studying the halachos, allocating all of his remaining time to intense Torah learning.
In 1896, he married the daughter of Rav Aaron Cohen, who created a model Beis Hamikdash, which he later sold to the Berlin museum.
A Family Tradition
After his marriage, he was sent by Rav Yosf Chaim Sonnenfeld to Rechovot, where he led the Talmud Torah. In 1901, he was asked by the Gedolim to establish a Talmud Torah in the nearby Moshav of Ekron. For seven years he stood at the helm of this institution. During this time he assisted and advised in establishing multiple yeshivos throughout the land. In 1908, he followed the path of his father who had been traveling abroad to raise funds (during his trips to America he founded Agudas Achim Anshei Drahichyn, which functions to this day).
Rav Tzvi Aryeh was appointed the Shadar for two famed Jerusalem institutions; Bikur Cholim Hospital and Yeshiva Etz Chaim, and he began traveling back and forth to Europe and North America. As WWI was approaching, he moved his family to America, and thus was opened a new chapter in the Levi family history—which would impact both the communities of America as well as the yishuv back home.
By 1917, he was already deep into klal work—founding Yeshiva Torah Mizion in Brownsville, with the help of his father. They erected a beautiful building on Stone Avenue for this Talmud Torah. After this came Yeshiva Rechovos in East New York, and in 1925 Rishon Letzion in East Flatbush.
Soon thereafter, he founded a shul and yeshiva Machane Shmuel in Boro Park—in the name of his father.
Being so heavily involved in communal work—particularly in the area of chinuch, which was in such a dire state in America of that time—often led him to disappointments in American Jewry, and through his drashos and letters to the editor he would not hold back…
Rav Tzvi Arye was niftar on 5 Teves, 1938, and interred in the Agudas Achim Anshei Drahichyn plot in New York.