Memory Lane: Reb Eliezer Heller, z”l, a Chassidishe Yid in Boro Park of 1905
48 Orchard Street, on the Lower East Side, was home to five shuls housed, which served the chassidim who immigrated from Russia. One of them was the Koidenover chevra—who had as one of their main leaders a Yid by the name of R’ Eliezer Heller.
A pamphlet was created in the year 1909, when the Koidenover chassidim inaugurated their spacious new shul in the center of the Jewish community on the Lower East Side, at 193 Henry Street. It tells the story of the “Beis Aaron Chassidim d’Koidenov” in America. It’s hero is R’ Eliezer Heller.
“In 1891 the chevra was founded at 84 Hester Street by a handful of chassidim who found themselves here. The chevrah was small and poor, but it was a place that new immigrants could become absorbed, and within a while we moved to the more spacious 85 Hester Street.
“In the year 1892, the Russian Emperor Alexander III, expelled most of Moscow’s Jews—many of whom came to America. Among these Moscovian refugees was one of the eldest Koidenover chassidim of the Alter Rebbe Shlomo Chaim, zy”a. his name was Reb Eliezer Heller. He came along with his noble wife Sarah, and their children.
“He was born in the city of Puchovitz (a suburb of Minsk), but he lived for 20 years in Moscow. He is evocative of the chassidim of yore for whom yiras Shamayim and middos tovos were fused as one. The yidden of those generations stood out in their emunas chacahamim and middos; they simply could not eat a piece of bread when someone else does not have. This is the type of yid that reb leizer is.
“Be’er Eliezer: 20 years ago, he saw that yidden were coming to shul on Shabbos morning, and needed to go elsewhere to drink a glass of tea. He immediately devised a way to heat 50 cups of tea overnight. And so, our brother, Reb Akiva, would stand from 4 in the morning, and serve tea until 9:00. Today there are 300 yidden sitting and drinking tea on Shabbos in the morning—all thanks to him. All of this was sponsored by Rabbi Heller.
“Then he became weak, and moved to Boro Park, and no longer came around to us. He immediately built a shul near his home at 1450 49th Street, and this was the first organized shul in Boro Park. When we would come visit him, he would implore us in a weak voice to please keep the tea alive.
“Then he promised us $2000 toward a new shul. He said, ‘I know that this is not sufficient, but my wife and children will help you...”
This generosity was a way of life for the wealthy Reb Leizer, whose pearl company L. Heller & Son Co. had branches in Europe. We find newspaper articles in which he takes an active role, and appeals to fellow Jews to do the same, in helping to build a mikvah for the resort town of Hunter, N.Y. Countless institutions benefitted from his largesse.
On 8 Tammuz of 1909, Reb Leizer left this world, and was interred in the Heller plot within the Koidenover-Stoliner chelkah in Washington Cemetery. His wife Sarah enlarged the current shul in Boro Park, where she planned to build a yeshivah called “Yeshivas R’ Eliezer Heller.”
More importantly, she added to her husband’s grant of $2000, and gave a total of $5000 (!) for the new Koidenover shul at 193 Henry Street. The institutions who benefitted from his generosity in his lifetime continued to do so through his noble wife—a fitting legacy to the man who was likely the first bearded Jew in Boro Park of yesteryear.