Memory Lane: Rav Yaakov Meir Kahana-Shapiro - Part 1
The Kahana-Shapiro family traces its roots to Krakow of yore, where their famed ancestor and patriarch, Rav Nosson Nota Spira, known as the Megaleh Amukos (1585-1633), was the chief Rabbi. Since their arrival in the Holy Land, they were among the great men of old Yerushalayim, and today are branched out in all areas of Torah leadership in Eretz Yisroel—a tradition that Rav Yaakov Meir brought to American shores.
His father, Rav Tzvi Asher was a tzaddik and mekubal, and one of the founders of Yeshivas Hamekubolim Shaar Hashamayim in 1907, and served as a dayan in the Bucharim neighborhood, where he would sit all day clad in tallis and tefillin. He was niftar in Yerushalayim in 1938, leaving behind a number of children, numerous of whom served as Torah leaders—including Rav Yaakov Meir who was born in Yerushalayim around 1890, and learned under the Gedolim in Yerushalayim, and received semicha from them. He married Chana Kahana, from a prominent Karliner family in the holy city.
Torah in a Barren Land
He was preceded in America by his brother Rav Nachum who had traveled extensively in Europe, and was drawn close to Rav Chaim Brisker. With the outbreak of WWI, he escaped to America, where he served as a Rav in Stamford, Connecticut from 1914-1924. The state of Yiddishkeit among the youth in America disturbed him greatly, and he resolved to establish a yeshiva, which he did when his brother arrived in America in the early 1922. From 1922-1924, Rav Yaakov Meir served as the Rosh Yeshiva of Mishkan Yisroel in Philadelphia.
The brothers established two important institutions. The first was Yeshivas Yavneh, founded in Boro Park as early as 1924 (!). It was located at 510 Dahill Road, in the building that has continues to serve Yeshiva Zichron Melech for many years now. The building had been built by Tifereth Israel, which later became Ocean Parkway Jewish Center—and vacated when they moved to their larger quarters on Ocean Parkway, where they still exist.
In addition to Yeshiva Yavneh, we find that Rav Yaakov Meir was also the principal of Yeshiva Toras Emes High School—a major Boro Park institution—during a time of great expansion. In the summer of 1942, we read in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle; “Yeshiva Torath Emeth, 4407 12th Avenue, today announced acquisition of the 100 x 100-foot building at 14th Avenue and 43rd Street for its Mesifta High School, organized last year. Rabbi Jacob M. Shapiro, principal of the yeshiva, said alterations will provide with 16 large classrooms, a study hall, auditorium, dining room, offices, gymnasium and swimming pool.”
To Be continued next week iyh