Memory Lane: Reb Moshe Zev Katz

Memory Lane: Reb Moshe Zev Katz

About two years ago, we published a column about a Forverts writer who took the train from Manhattan which made a few stops in Boro Park. 

There he met a boy—in America of 1927— who unabashedly sported long payos. The Forverts writer made no secret of his hostility that the boy aroused in him. While he—and the vast majority of American Jewry saw America as a haven from religion, this boy and a relative handful of Yidden like him, saw it as a haven for religious observance, without persecution and without disturbance. 

As much as we would have loved to know the identity of this boy—who let pesukim and ma’amorei chazal flow freely from his lips, and proudly defied the winds of America of yore—neither the author nor his subject gave us his name. However, they did leave us some clues—but at the time we wrote that article, we could not have hoped to uncover his identity based on these clues. Today, we can state with certainty that we have found the boy with long payos who rode the subway to Boro Park. His name was Reb Moshe Zev Katz. 

His father, Reb Yirmiah Katz came to America in the 1920’s and settled in Boro Park where he became a pharmacist. The family had always had a connection with the Ruziner court, and here they rekindled their relationship with the Boyaner Rebbe, a scion of Ruzin. 

Rav Yirmiah, along with his sons, ensured that there would always be minyan in the Rebbe’s Kloiz on East Broadway, and they always ensured that all the food provisions in the Rebbe’s home were in keeping with the highest levels of kashrus. They also attracted many of the youth around the Lower East Side of that time and brought them close to the Boyaner Rebbe—in many instances saving them from succumbing to the ferocious winds of assimilation. 

Rav Yirmia’s son, Moshe Zev was an energetic, driven young man (as readers of our previous column on the boy with payos already know). It took no small amount of courage to sport a beard and payos proudly in America of those days. In addition to the Boyaner Rebbe, he also gravitated to ehrliche Yidden whom he could learn from. He learned Yeshiva Torah Vodaath for a number of years, where he stood out for his frumkeit and his zeal.  

He continued to draw the youth of America close to Yiddishkeit, and a theme developed in his life: always seeking to accomplish, always thinking what Hashem wants from him next—and whatever he set his mind to, it was done with zeal and with zest. For Kavod Shomayim. In They Called Him Mike (the life and times of Mike Tress, by Yonoson Rosenblum) there is an anecdote about the times that they Vaad Hatzolah needed help with something or other, and they could readily call on “the ketzelach.” This referred to Reb Moshe Velvel Katz’s boys whom he would galvanize to action. The impact that he had on them is immeasurable—and is still felt to this day by their descendants. In this way, he stood by the side of his rebbe with great dedication, for forty years. 

It had always been a lifelong dream of his to ascend to Eretz Yisroel, and he fulfilled this dream in the late 1970’s. He was one of the builders of the Beit Shemesh neighborhood, and developed an ardent following there. 

Among the Katz descendants today—so many of whom are occupied in Torah and chessed— is the famed mikvah expert, Rav Yirmiah Katz, named for his great-grandfather who blazed a trail in Boro Park of Yore, and whose son Moshe Velvel Katz proudly espoused his holy beliefs on the train tracks leading into Boro Park of yesteryear.

Special thanks to our dear friend and colleague at Moreshes Chachmei America, Reb Aaron Feder, for his brilliant work on this story, and for his assistance always with all matters of Jewish history in America. 

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