Memory Lane: Rav Yisroel of Bluzev
Boro Park was privileged in the aftermath of the World War II to be graced with the presence of a very unique leader, who bridged multiple generations, and in many ways was influential and instrumental in infusing our generation with the old world traditions.
Harav Yisroel Spira, zt”l, of Bluzhov was unique in that he was born in the year 1890 in Galicia—meaning, he was 25 years old when World War I, the first rumble in the turmoil that would displace the Jews of Eastern Europe, broke out. He would go on to live—and lead and guide—until the ripe old age of 100.
In this time he would play an influential part in the founding of Agudas Israel of America, and a longtime member of its Moetzes Gedolei haTorah, the Nasi of Kollel Chibas Yerushalayim, and serve as a listening ear and a source of support to the Yidden of the area of that time.
During those early years in Boro Park, the Bluzhover Beis Medrash on 58th Street—where it still stands today—was a rare oasis of chassidus in Boro Park of that time.
There was another prominent Boro Park resident who was exceptionally close to the Rebbe; Rabbi Moshe Sherer, the venerated leader of Agudas Yisroel.
Relates his son, Harav Shimshon Sherer, “My father was unusually close to the Rebbe, zt”l.
“While we davened exclusively at the Agudah on 14th Avenue, I recall that each Yom Tov there was one ma’ariv that we would daven in Bluzov. Year after year, on the night of Rosh Hashanah, we would go for ma’ariv, and to receive the Rebbe’s wishes for a gut yahr—and every year the Rebbe would be mechabed my father with pesichah for the recital of l’dovid mizmor.
“The second night of Sukkos, for simchas beis hashoei’vah… this was something we never missed. I sat in my father’s lap, and the aura… was not shayach… even a little child was able to feel that sitting in the presence of kedushah, and in the presence of greatness. I could not place my finger on it at the time… but I definitely sensed it—I would walk out of there feeling special, mamish uplifted. I cannot say for certain whether it was own feeling, or whether I saw with such utter clarity the awe that my father held for the man… he held that he was a brilliant person.
“This respect was limited to the lay leadership of the Agudah—all of the Gedolim of the time looked up to him. Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Hutner, Rav Ruderman, and many others revered him as well. My father would seek out his brachah before embarking on overseas trips on behalf of Agudah.”
Rabbi Moshe Sherer will forever be remembered as a personality who exhibited the strength and the pride of Klal Yisroel wherever he went and with whomever he met. It becomes clear that a primary source of that was the early encouragement of the Bluzover Rebbe who recognized the qualities in this man early on—way back in the 1950’s—and was a great part of who he became. The walls of our home were permeated with reverence and love for the Bluzever Rebbe.”
Rabbi Berish Rubin, menahel of Kollel Chibas Yerushalayim recalls the Rebbes leadership as Nasi of the Kollel.
This leadership of the Rebbe that is so remembered in the eyes of American Jewry began—and already gained fame—back in Galicia, where he served as a prominent Rav. He lost his entire family in the Holocaust, but was undaunted, and made his way to America where he rebuilt.
In a 1990 article in Dos Yiddishe Vort, upon the Rebbe’s petirah, a writer expressed how walking into the Rebbe’s beis medrash in Boro Park—as so many did, because it was the address for anyone in need—one was truly transported to the old world; because the Bluzover Rebbe was a part of that world.