Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears - Breslov In America [Part 2]
Continued from Part 1 here:
Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld
A pioneer of Breslov kiruv (outreach) in America was Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Ben Zion Rosenfeld (1922-1978). Born in Gydinia, Poland, Reb Zvi Aryeh traced his ancestry back to Reb Aharon (d. 1845), who was the Rav of Breslov and a member of Rebbe Nachman’s inner circle. During the Russian Revolution, his father Reb Yisrael Abba Rosenfeld (1882-1947) saw part of his family murdered by the Bolsheviks. He escaped to Poland, where Zvi Aryeh was born, and emigrated to America with his family in 1924, settling in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. As a child, Zvi Aryeh attended Rabbenu Chaim Berlin elementary school. After finishing high school at Yeshivah Torah Vodaath, he attended the Beis Yosef-Novhardok Yeshivah, where he learned under the legendary Rav Avraham Yaffen and received semichah at age twenty-three, after completing the study of Shas for the second time.
Two years later, his father passed away, and Reb Zvi Aryeh assumed responsibility for some of his father’s charitable obligations. He also began to correspond with the preeminent Breslover elder in Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz (who was already over eighty years old); and in 1949 he made the first of approximately fifty trips to the Holy Land in order to visit his revered mentor. Reb Avraham instilled in the young American Chassid the passionate drive to disseminate Rabbi Nachman’s teachings in America.
For most of his life Rabbi Rosenfeld worked as a melamed, spending fifteen years teaching in Rabbi Yechezkel Kahana’s Shaarei Tefilah synagogue and talmud torah, where he brought countless students from non-observant or minimally observant families to Yiddishkeit. A group of youthful Breslovers soon began to form around him, most of whom (although not all) were baalei teshuvah or from the "Modern Orthodox" world. Some parents were encouraging to their children and grateful to Rabbi Rosenfeld; others were hostile to their children’s new-found religiosity. More than one student endured beatings from an irate father for refusing to eat non-kosher food with the rest of the family, and even Rabbi Rosenfeld was physically threatened on several occasions, but refused to be intimidated.
Rabbi Rosenfeld trained both of Rabbi Yechezkel Kahana’s sons for semichah: Rabbi Meir Kahana (1932-1990), HY”D, who later founded the Jewish Defence League (JDL), and (yibadel bein chaim l’chaim) Rabbi Nachman Kahana of Jerusalem, a prominent Torah educator in Eretz Yisrael and author of “Mei Menuchos” on Tosefos. He also was friendly with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994) and it is said that for a time the two rabbis studied together b’chavrusa. (This is a point which needs further investigation; however, if true, they must have learned together before the Lubavitcher Rebbe was appointed to that position.)
Aside from giving shiurim to his talmidim in all areas of Torah, Rabbi Rosenfeld collected substantial funds for the Breslov Yeshivah on Rechov Meah Shearim in Jerusalem, and sponsored the publication of Rabbi Nachman’s works in Hebrew. He also initiated the translation of the Rebbe’s seforim to English, beginning in the early 1970s with Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s translation of Sichos HaRan, “Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom,” which he edited. In addition, he raised charity for poor families in the Holy Land, while living a meager existence with only a melamed’s salary to support his family.
During the 1960s and 1970s he led some of the first trips to the Rebbe’s grave site in Uman since the Stalinist destruction of Jewish religious life there, and planted in the hearts of his talmidim a profound sense of connection to the Rebbe’s Tziyun. One of his talmidim, Mr. Stan Kopel, sponsored a major part of the rebuilding of the Rebbe’s Tziyun in Rabbi Rosenfeld’s memory.
In addition to his sons Rabbi Yisrael Abba and Reb Shmuel Eliyau (may he have a speedy refu’ah sheleimah), who are both Breslover Chassidim, Rabbi Rosenfeld's talmidim include his sons-in-law: Rabbi Chaim Kramer, prolific author and director of the Breslov Research Institute, and Rabbi Nasan Maimon, director of the Jerusalem-based Breslov World Center (more on both organizations below). Other talmidim include Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Gottlieb of Ramat Beit Shemesh, known for his highly original in-depth shiurim in Likkutei Moharan, who now teaches in a Breslov Kollel in Beitar Illit, Israel; Rabbi Gedaliah Fleer, whose tells the story of his pioneering youthful trips to Uman during the 1960s in "Against All Odds"; Rabbi Leibel Berger, a pillar of the Borough Park Breslov community and now a travel agent for pilgimages to Uman; the late Reb Shlomo Fried, founder of Nesia Travel (now managed by his wife, Mrs. Miriam Fried, who specializes in arranging trips to kivrei tzaddikim); and Rabbi Shlomo Goldman, one of the outstanding teachers of Likkutei Moharan in America and Rosh Kollel of the newly-formed Breslov Kollel in Lakewood, NJ.
Some of these individuals went on to learn from other teachers in Eretz Yisrael. For example, Rabbi Chaim Kramer also studied with Rabbi Elyah Chaim Rosen (1899-1984); Rabbi Nasan Maimon was close with Rabbi Michel Dorfman (1911-2006); and Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Gottlieb and Reb Shlomo Fried studied with Rabbi Gedaliah Kenig (1921-1980).
Rabbi Rosenfeld also reached out to Sefardim, and due to his efforts there are quite a few Sefardic-American Breslovers in Deal, NJ, and in Flatbush (plus more recently in Montreal and Toronto, Canada, although not through any connection to Rabbi Rosenfeld). There are various Sefardic leaders in America, Canada, and Eretz Yisrael, who have succeeded in combining the Rebbe's teachings and different aspects of Sefardic culture, much as Polish and Hungarian Chassidim succeeded in doing the same from their points of view.
During his early years, Rabbi Rosenfeld studied with Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz on his visits to Eretz Yisrael, and after the latter’s death on 20 Elul 5715 / 1955, with Rabbi Elyah Chaim Rosen, head of the Breslov Yeshivah in Jerusalem.
When he was diagnosed as terminally ill during the summer of 5738 / 1978, Rabbi Rosenfeld settled his affairs and moved to Jerusalem. A father figure to his students, he was visited by many of them during his final months. Often they would sit at his bedside and read the Gemara, Zohar, or Likkutei Moharan, while he would interject various insights from time to time. Rabbi Rosenfeld passed away at age 56 on 11 Kislev 5739 / 1978.
Breslov Research Institute
Guided by the outreach vision of Rabbi Rosenfeld, the Breslov Research Institute (BRI) of Jerusalem is directed by his older son-in-law, Rabbi Chaim Kramer. Since its inception in 1979, BRI has been the main publishing-house for translations of classic and contemporary Breslov books. More than 100 titles are currently in print, in English, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish, French, and even Korean. BRI is a diverse group of individual scholars united by common goals. Staff includes Spanish translator Guillermo Beillinson of Argentina, Trevor Bell of England, R. Ozer Bergman, R. Symcha Bergman, R. Moshe Breines, R. Yaakov Gabel, Hebrew author Dovid Hillel, R. Moshe Mykoff, R. Moshe Schorr, R. Dovid Shapiro, Diaspora Yeshiva Band co-founder and music producer Ben Zion Solomon, R. Yehoshua Starrett, and others. I, too, have worked for BRI since the early 1990s (although I first met Rabbi Kramer as a relatively new Breslover in 1985). English-born Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum had his start with BRI and left to form his own Azamra Institute, which is a learning center and publisher of Rabbi Greenbaum’s works.
In addition to overseeing BRI and raising funds for sponsorship of new publications, Rabbi Kramer is the author of “Crossing the Narrow Bridge” (a practical guide to Rabbi Nachman’s path), “Through Fire and Water” (a biography of Reb Noson), and the ongoing annotated English edition of Likkutei Moharan, among many other books. He is a sought-after lecturer on Breslover Chassidus by English-speaking congregations around the world. During the late 1990s he and a group of associates bought a property in Uman not far from the Rebbe’s grave site. (The original rented house was nicknamed the “Uman Waldorf-Astoria,” while today’s permanent location is called “The Ritz.”) Geared to Americans, Rabbi Kramer’s compound provides accomodations to members on a time-sharing basis, as well as Yom Tov meals accompanied by spirited singing and discussion to numerous guests.
Breslov World Center
After the passing of his father-in-law in 1978, Rabbi Noson Maimon, still in his twenties, became the leader of the small but close-knit Brighton Beach Breslover chaburah. In these years, he also became extremely close to the late Rabbi Michel Dorfman, last of the old Russian Breslovers, who had emigrated to Jerusalem in 1970. Rabbi Maimon moved to Eretz Yisrael with his family in the late 1980s, where he continued to teach Americans. He has also orally translated the entire Likkutei Moharan and copious amounts of Likkutei Halakhos to English, which are available on audio format. These audio files as well as numerous original shiurim are available through Rabbi Maimon’s website.
Reb Michel Dorfman married Reb Avraham Sternhartz’s grand-daughter, Maryasha, and was an important Breslov leader in his own right, both behind the “Iron Curtain” and in Eretz Yisrael. By his appointment, Rabbi Maimon now administrates the Breslover institutions in Uman, and is trying to complete the building of the Kloyz (synagogue) which houses the main minyan on Rosh Hashanah. The umbrella-organization for these efforts is the Jerusalem-based Breslov World Center. Rabbi Maimon usually travels to America every year to raise funds for the Kloyz, and gives shiurim in various communities.
Just a brief note on Breslov and politics. Breslover Chassidus is a spiritual movement, not a political one. There are Breslover Chassidim who subscribe to a wide range of views from left to right of the political spectrum, and who may be found in various political parties in Eretz Yisrael. We do not have any mesorahs about this from Rebbe Nachman. We have his advice in avodas Hashem: to shun machlokes and pursue shalom, to study and follow the Shulchan Arukh, to practice hisbodedus every day, to learn the Rebbe’s seforim, to perform acts of tzedakah and chesed, etc. That’s what Breslover Chassidus is all about.