Memory Lane: The Bercher Rebbe, Rav Tzvi Elimelech Rokeach
By: Yehuda Alter
The Bercher Rebbe was born in the town of Lancut to his father Rav Yehuda Yosef Rokeach—who was known as a great tzaddik and oved Hashem. In 1921, he married Chaya Hinda Spira, the daughter of Rav Mordechai—a direct descendants of the Bnei Yisaschar—who was the Rav in the town of Bircza (Berch), Poland.
When Hungary invaded Czechoslovakia, and began to inflict pain and suffering upon its Jews, Rav Hersh Meilech saw the writing on the wall, and in 1938, he made the journey to America, intending to bring his family later. He settled on the East Side of New York, in a very small apartment, and opened a shul there. Once he stayed there for a while, he was able to bring the rest of the family to America—greeting them at Ellis Island in 1939.
The family left behind relatives that they would never see again, and a home that was far more luxurious than the tiny tenement on the Lower East Side—but the handful of relatives that they had in America were certainly a comfort to them. One of them was the family of the Bardiyover Rebbe of Boro Park, whose Rebbetzin Chana was from the Bluzov-Ribatitch family, another branch of the Dinov dynasty—and in 1943, the marriage between two cousins from these respective families made headlines.
In 1955 Rav Tzvi Elimelech opened his shul in Boro Park (from Williamsburg where they had relocated at some point), which was at that time far from the Chassidic metropolis that it is today; Chassidic garb was certainly a rarity.
A granddaughter of the Rebbe recalls the way her father, Reb Tuvia Halberstam would walk with his father in law, the Bercher Rebbe, through the streets of Boro Park with their shtreimels crowning their heads. “It was truly a sight to see.”
Rebbetzin Chaya Hinda was a woman of great aristocracy, and countless people would come to seek her counsel and wisdom. After the passing of her husband in 1964, she was the driving force behind the Bercher Beis Medrash in Boro Park until her passing at the age of 103, and it functions to this day under the leadership of ybl”ch, her son Rabbi Menachem Rokeach. An additional Bercher beis medrash is headed in the Marine Park section of Flatbush, by his great-grandson—and namesake—Rav Tzvi Elimelech Rokeach, The Rebbe passed away a little over a decade after arriving in Boro Park, and was interred in the Wellwood Cemetery on Long Island.
His matzeivah reads in part: His love for his fellow Jews was widely known; through it he drew [Yidden] closer to the just path; he awakened hearts with his sweet prayers; he served his great Rebbeim; and taught the Torah of his fathers; his light was extinguished in the prime of his years… a descendant of the great tzaddikim, the Sar Shalom of Belz, the Bnei Yisaschar of Dinow, and from the courts of Apta, Lelovm and the Yehudi Hakadosh of Pershischa.