Manhattan’s Jewish Center was crowded to capacity on Motzei Shabbat, January 7; all those present had gathered for the 11th yahrzeit of the revered Rabbi Zev Tzvi Vorhand (zt”l). Rabbi Joshua Safrin spoke of a “unique shul where you can find all kinds of hats, streimels, or no hats.”
“Rabbi Vorhand’s Shul,” as it is affectionately called, attracts all kinds of Jews. Chasidim and Misnagdim, Ashkenazim and Sephardim. It is popular not only because you can always find a minyan (three for shacharit,) but the beauty of the tefillot and high level of learning are magnets that pull people back.
Thanks to the tireless, albeit hidden efforts of Rabbi Moshe Vorhand, the son, the shteibel emanates a warmth straight from the Old Country.
“These Jews from Europe saved Yiddishkeit,” Rabbi Safrin, speaking with his crisp American accent, reminds the crowd from all over the tri-State area. “The parents from Russia kept the traditions, but the offspring were rapidly assimilating.” The European Rabbis, he explains, immediately started yeshivas and Talmud Torahs.
Rabbi Vorhand the father saved many hundreds of Jews in Prague during the War. Understanding the isolation and loneliness of the Jewish orphans, he helped start a Yeshiva in nearby Marienbad. A famous resort filled with Jews before the War, it became the home to the next generation of leaders that were needed to transplant Judaism to the USA and Israel. If it was a miracle that any Jew survived, it is perhaps an even greater miracle that they retained their belief in G-d. But it was only with the help and foresight of the rabbanim who immediately set up schools to lure the lost and hungry Jews back to their source that this came to be. Thanks to them, Judaism continues to flourish today.
Whenever you bring together survivors, the subject invariably turns to the Shoah. This year’s honoree, the ever-elegant Solomon Scharf, retold his family story: As a youth, his family successfully crossed the border to the Russian-occupied Lvov. The relatives were calling them back to Poland. A Russian “KGB” director seemed to know it was better for them in the coal mines of Siberia (“some people survive,” he told them) than in
Nazi-occupied Poland and wouldn’t let them turn back. They were the only ones to stay alive. He met his lovely wife who lived through Bergen-Belsen and told her, “I survived the war so I could meet you.”
He tells the story of Yakov Klein, who ran into a fellow Jew who was desperately scrounging around for something to eat. Convinced that he couldn’t survive any longer, Klein, who always had the right words and the ability to deliver them with heart, told the man, “I can’t give you food, but I love you because you’re a Jew and G-d loves you for the same reason. All I can give is a smile and a hug…” And that carried the man through the remainder of the war. That, explains Scharf, is the essence of the Vorhand Shul!
Wedged between the three Teves’ days of mourning, a parsha that recounts the death of both Ya’akov Avinu and Yosef HaTzaddik, the Rabbi’s yahrzeit is already packed with meaning. But perhaps overlooked is the story of the son.
Usually the Torah talks about the fathers. Like so many second generation survivors, the children grew up in complete awe of their parents. The parents who overcame such monumental hardships became larger-than-life. Many children were content remaining in the shadows.
Who could measure up to such lofty neshamahs? Isn’t it enough to build upon the legacy and kedusha, the holiness, already established by the father? Isn’t that the strength of Yosef, as told by the Rosh Yeshiva Kamenitz Yerushalayim? Yosef’s greatest attribute was that during the whole ordeal in Egypt, he remained the same. He never wavered from his commitment to his father’s ideals.
There were only a few embers that survived among the ashes of World War II. They were very small and very precious and very holy. They illuminate the Vorhand Shul, whether in the broad strokes of the father or the small, delicate lines of the son, every detail attended to with love. Every person accorded the same respect. Rabbi Vorhand the younger nurtures what his father built. He is content to maintain, with great selflessness and steadfastness, this oasis of Torah and mitzvot. The Vorhand Shul is truly a treasure for all Jews.