Memory Lane: The Biegeleisen’s of Boro Park II

Memory Lane: The Biegeleisen’s of Boro Park II

Last week we profiled the rich heritage of the Biegeleisen family among Galician Jewry, their extremely reluctant arrival in America, and their establishment of the seforim store that occupies a unique place in the lore of American Jewry, in its century of existence. 

This week we focus more closely on the enormous impact of Reb Yaker Biegeleisen on Jewish life in Boro Park over his sixty years as its resident. His devotion for the growth in the Boro Park community over the decades is divided into three four major categories, among his less well-known endeavors: Chevra Sfas Emes, Yeshiva Toras Emes, the landmark seforim store, and the flagship Belzer Shtiebel of Boro Park.   

Torah and Chessed 

Reb Yaker was known since his youth in Galicia as a tremendous masmid, with a keen mind, and a sharp memory. There, in the shtiebel of his hometown he sat from morning till night, under the tutelage of great Rabbanim and ovdei Hashem. 

As a young boy, he insisted on joining his father on his pilgrimage to Belz for Shavuos. The impressions of that trip remained with him for his entire life, and his ardent connection to the movement and its rebbeim was central in his life; until his last day on this he did not cease in his love for Belz and its rebbeim, and to do everything in his power for its welfare. 

Arriving in America, Reb Yaker, like his father was wary of this goldene medinah¬—and chose the seforim business for an occupation, knowing that the people he would deal with would be Rabbonim and pious Yidden.  

Even in this endeavor, the needy were not forgotten: at the end of every week, arriving home with his earnings, the majority would be sent to relatives and Rabbonim back home. 

His encyclopedic knowledge of seforim made him a primary address for Roshei yeshiva and talmidei chachomim, and he was the channel to the European Torah scholars—procuring and shipping seforim, and also assisting American Rabbonim to publish in Poland’s Torah journals. 

Boro Park’s first Chassidishe Shtiebel

Boro Park was a spiritual wilderness when the Biegeleisen’s arrived. When Reb Yosef Chaim asked people where ehrliche Yidden davened, he was pointed to a certain Shul. Immediately upon entering, they understood that for a chassidishe Yid, there was not yet a place where they could feel comfortable. So Reb Yosef Chaim and his son Reb Yaker set about founding Boro Park’s first chassidishe shtiebel, Chevra Sfas Emes Anshei Sfard. 

There is much to write about the work of Reb Yaker in Sfas Emes alone—his supreme dedication to keeping this small Chassidic nucleus united against the winds of assimilation, and his singlehanded establishment of its institutions. The ledgers of the shul and its society—mostly written in his unmistakable handwriting—bear witness to his tireless, unflinching dedication (more on this in our profile on Sfas Emes, be’ezras Hashem). 

Another major contribution of Reb Yaker was the establishment of Yeshiva Toras Emes—an institution that educated thousands of Boro Park children over the years, something that took tremendous sacrifice on his part. 

The Belzer Shtiebel

In the postwar era, with the influx of the broken survivors—many of them his fellow Belzer Chassidim—Reb Yaker was instrumental in establishing the flagship Boro Park Belzer Shtiebel. 

He had occupied a place of honor in his own shul, and this endeavor came with tremendous toil, and a great financial cost; his understood the call of the hour to establish an oasis of Chassidic warmth for the broken souls of that time, and more importantly to breed a new generation of Belzer chassidim. 

Although his son, ybl”ch, Reb Moshe was the primary force behind it—it was Reb Yaker’s wise counsel, and his lifelong example of avodas haklal that served as a guiding light to everyone in the Belzer kehillah who were warmed by the sight and the example of a truly pious and humble Yid who swam against the current, and left behind an incredible legacy and an everlasting impact in Boro Park of yesteryear.   

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