HaRav Zvi Rabi Z"L
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Rabbi Tzvi Rabi, zt”l
Last Erev Shabbos Rabbi Tzvi Rabi, zt”l, departed from us following a long illness. Rabbi Rabi was born in Bamburg, Germany in 1930 to Reb Zev and Mindel Rabi, originally from Gorlitz, in what was then Galicia.
The Rabi family escaped to Brussels in 1938, upon the advice of a Gestapo officer who held Reb Zev in high esteem for his honesty as a scrupulous businessman. On Yom Kippur in 1942 Rabbi Rabi’s parents and sister were caught davening with a minyan, and they were arrested and deported to Auschwitz,H”yd.
Reb Tzvi, together with his older brother Yankel, were saved since they were not at home. The brothers were placed in a non-Jewish orphanage, where they were safe physically but not spiritually. They decided to make the treacherous journey to Switzerland on foot, with only a compass to guide them. But at the Swiss border, the guards refused to allow the boys entry, although they were required by law to do so as the boys were minors. Had they not been admitted, they would have surely been caught by the Nazis, y”s. Yankel wisely spoke up, telling the guards, “Shoot us now rather than sending us back!” The Swiss guards were not prepared to shoot two innocent children, so ultimately they had to allow them entry into Switzerland, where the boys were placed in a convent. The boys were split up and placed in different areas but nevertheless they withstood all the many challenges to their Yiddishkeit. For example, they each refused to eat non-kosher meat, even though they could have been deported if the nuns had known. Both boys vehemently declined any offer of adoption by non-Jews, escaping instead and traveling to the Montreux Yeshiva. Rav Weinberg, the Sridei Aish, lived opposite the yeshivah, and he learned with Reb Tzvi. During this time, Reb Tzvi became bar mitzvah. Despite not owning a pair of tefillin, each day he would go to great lengths to borrow the most mehudar pair. At the war’s end, Reb Tzvi and Yankel left for Eretz Yisrael, insisting on learning in yeshivah and completely rejecting any suggestion of joining a kibbutz. The boys were again split up, Yankel going to Ponevezh and Tzvi learning in the yeshivah ketanah Kol Torah in Yerushalayim.
Reb Tzvi learned with great hasmadah and developed a close relationship with Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Schapiro and Harav Wolbe, zt”l, who were teaching there at the time. Upon completing yeshivah ketanah, Reb Tzvi went on to Ponevezh, where he continued learning diligently under the leading Rabbis of the generation, including the Ponevezher Rav Harav Yosef Shlomo Kahanaman; the Roshei Yeshivah Rav Shmuel Rosovsky and Rav Dovid Povarsky; and the Mashgichim Rav Chatzkel Levenstein and Rav Dessler, zt”l.
While Reb Tzvi resided in Bnei Brak he used the opportunity to converse in learning with the Chazon Ish frequently, and the Chazon Ish would send money to support him. After many years in Ponevezh Reb Tzvi learned in Slabodka Yeshiva.It was at this time that Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Schapiro recruited Reb Tzvi to help him with the opening of a new yeshivah, which he did successfully — and Beer Yaakov is known till today.
Being honest with himself and living with reality, Reb Tzvi realised that to build a home he would need financial stability— and so he made the decision to return to Europe. Reb Tzvi went to Germany in hopes of extricating whatever money he could from his family’s property and from thecompensation that the German government was offering to victims. He then continued on to teaching positions in yeshivahs throughout Europe, particularly Switzerland, where he was a maggid shiur in Lucerne, in Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik’s yeshiva.
In 1958 Reb Tzvi arrived in London and became engaged to his chashuvah Rebbetzin Esther Rabi, from the illustrious Gukowitzki family. Her father Rabbi Shabse Moshe was a great talmid chacham, a talmid of Yeshivas Radin and Grodna who had received shimush from the Brisker Rav. He was the Rav of Spring Hill Shul known as Bruchim Habaim. After marrying, the young family moved to Gateshead where Reb Tzvi joined the Gateshead Kollel, studying with mesirus nefesh while his devoted Rebbetzin took care of everything.After he learned there for some time the family movedback to London. Reb Tzvi served as a maggid shiur in YeshivasHoroma (Schlesinger’s Yeshivah). During this time he built many talmidim, who viewed him as their Rebbe till his lastday. After that he went on to serve as a maggid shiur in the Bobov Yeshivah.
At that time he was offered the use of the building of Eitz Chaim on Bridge Lane for his yeshivah, so the familyrelocated to Golders Green to the 66 Bridge Lane, which became known as a home to Torah and chessed. Reb Tzvi carried on his holy work and started a new undertaking there, renovating the site and establishing the makom Torah and tefillah which has thrived for so many years until this day. There he served alongside Harav Ordman, zt”l, who was a great talmid chacham. Over time, the yeshivah turned into a kollel, which became the pillar of Reb Tzvi’s life and to which he was extremely dedicated. When Rav Ordman was niftar, Reb Tzvi naturally became its guiding light, though he always carried the title of Rosh Yeshivah. Reb Tzvi was happy to take care of all the practical aspects of the yeshivah. Nothing was beneath him: he would always make sure the time switches were set for Shabbos, despite his children begging him to allow them to do it. He insisted, saying in the same way as Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar, “The work does not disgrace who you are.”
His son Reb Shabsi related at his hesped that one Motzoei Yom Kippur, immediately after Havdalah, he rushed to the yeshivah. His son wondered why he wasn’t eating and asked him where he was heading, and Reb Tzvi was reluctant to explain but took his son along. Upon arrival, Reb Shabsi saw his father begin to clean up an unpleasant mess. Reb Tzvi was so grateful for his son’s help that he taught him a geshmake shtickel of Reb Chaim Halevi. Although he was of great stature, he was extremely humble and shunned conflict.
The Rosh Yeshivah was always careful of the kehillah’s feelings, taking care not to slight anyone even by accident. When asked to be mesader kiddushin, Reb Tzvi would always ask if the chassan had his own Rav. Beloved by all, Reb Tzvi’s humble character and fine middos intertwined with his avodas Hashem will forever be a cherished memory and an incentive for elevation.His levayah took place on Sunday afternoon outside Yeshivas Eitz Chaim, his beloved yeshivah.
Harav Reb Shlomo Freshwater, shlita, gave a moving hesped in which he stressed that Reb Tzvi was a true ben Torah, where the Torah became his father and mother in place of his having physical parents. Reb Shlomo observed that when speaking to Reb Tzvi one felt the Shechinah speaking from within.
Rabbi M. Weiss, a devoted talmid, echoed the message of the deep void left within the kehillah, his eidelkeit, his kavod habrios, his special chen, his profound interest in everyone’s success and wellbeing. Hespedim were given by his bechor Reb Shmuel Rabi, shlita, from Toronto, who highlighted his father’s love for learning even while going through difficult challenges. He said that six weeks ago, his father was unable to remember if he had been there for Shabbos, yet he recalled a complex Gemara question his father-in-law had asked him 62 years ago! Reb Shmuel quoted Rabbi Shmuel Schlesinger, Rosh Yeshivas Torah Temimah, describing how Reb Tzvi built his derech halimmud.
The night before Reb Tzvi was niftar he was on the phone with his son Shabsi discussing a shvere sugya, and on the same day he learned with his grandchildren.He was zocheh to be brought to kivrei avos early on Monday morning in the Ponevezh beis hachaim, near his Rebbeim. He is mourned by Rebbetzin Esther Rabi, who supported him throughout his life wholeheartedly, and organises her home with wisdom and courage, joy and laughter, care and concern to all; guests are always welcome and Yidden are brought closer to the Shechinah’s light.
May Reb Tzvi’s guiding light keep shining and his legacy continue to prosper, and may he be a meilitz yosher for his Rebbetzin, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and all of Klal Yisrael.
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