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The Mevaser Tov: What did you Create in Boro Park?

Rabbi Meir Isaacson from Nadvorna-Roman was born on the 18th of Nissan 5670 (1910) to his parents, Shlomo Isaacson from Roman and Sima Raizel, the daughter of Rabbi Itamar of Kretchnif. He was named Meir after his grandfather. Prior to his wedding, Rabbi Meir studied in the yeshiva of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vishwa. When he came of age, he married Gittel, who was the daughter of his uncle, Rabbi Itamar of Nadvorna. After his marriage, he was ordained as a rabbi by Rabbi Meshulam Roth of Schatz, author of the responsa Kol Mevaser. At the age of 25 he became the rabbi of Pukshan, where he served for 13 years.

Following the Holocaust, Rabbi Meir served for a short time as the rabbi of Reichenberg, until the passing of his father on 12 Av 5707 (1947), when he was asked to succeed him in Roman. He served as the rabbi of the Romanian armed forces and was known for his close ties with the government and with King Carol. In 5709 (1949), Rabbi Meir moved to the US and after a short time, founded a synagogue in Philadelphia. He served as a posek (Jewish law decisor), receiving many questions. His replies were printed in the three-volume set of responsa, Mevaser Tov. His letters were published as a book, Mevaser VeOmer. In addition, Rabbi Isaacson published Torah articles in the journal, HaMa’or. In 5735 (1975) he moved to Staten Island, New York, where he opened a synagogue and served until his passing on the 30th of Av, 5760 (2000). Rabbi Isaacson is buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, in the section of the rebbes of Nadvorna.

Some years ago, Rabbi Ginsburgh spoke about four people who inspired him, he defined Rabbi Isaacson as his tzaddik, as will be explained.

In 5709 (1949) Rabbi Meir and his wife decided to leave the killing grounds of Europe for the USA. At one point, they had to fly from Bucharest to Prague, where Rebbetzin Gittel’s father, Rabbi Itamar and his family, were awaiting them. The night before the flight, after all the preparations had been made, the congregation of Roman held a farewell gathering for their beloved rabbi. Suddenly, in the middle of the festive meal, police entered the hall and offering no explanation, took all the men off to prison. When they sent a telegram to Prague, informing Rabbi Itamar that all the men had been imprisoned, he said, “Nu, they exchanged prison for death.” Afterward it turned out that the reason for the arrest was allegedly forged documents. By the time the examination revealed that it was a mistake, Rabbi Meir and his family had missed their flight. And it did save their lives as Rabbi Itamar had said. The airplane on which they were scheduled to fly crashed and all the passengers except for one baby were killed.

Upon arrival in the US, the rabbi and his family lived in Crown Heights, New York for a short time and then continued to Philadelphia, which was a spiritual desert at that time. Rabbi Meir opened a synagogue there, which he named after his father, Kehal Beit Shlomo, and began his outreach to the local Jews. As part of his efforts, he would invite Jews who knew nothing of Judaism to Shabbat prayer services and then the Shabbat feast at his home. He would teach young boys for their Bar Mitzvah and do whatever he could to illuminate the spiritual darkness in the city.

One day, some Jews came to Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood and saw him, an honored chassidic rabbi with a beard and sidelocks, sitting and talking to three nuns. They were shocked. At the first opportunity, they approached the rabbi and asked him why he was speaking with the nuns. “As long as they are speaking with me, they are busy and cannot speak with other Jews in an attempt to entice them to their religion,” he answered.

“Despite the fact that he was the descendant of a family of Chassidic Rebbes,” his son related, “my father was known primarily as a rabbi and a posek. He was in contact with all the great poskim throughout the world, as can be seen in his volumes of responsa, Mevaser Tov. The family also related to him as such and all the relatives who were Chassidic Rebbes would direct all their questions in Jewish law to my father.”

Nonetheless, Rabbi Isaacson saw his outreach efforts as the focal point of his life. “At a family event,” his son continued, “my grandfather and father were sitting together and then my uncle, the Rebbe of Zutchka, turned to my father with a question: ‘What are you doing in Philadelphia? What are you achieving there? Come to Boro Park, and you will be the posek for everyone.’ It is important to understand that we are talking about the 1950s, when there were almost no poskim in New York, certainly not of my father’s prominence. ‘And what have you achieved in Boro Park?’ my father questioned my uncle. ‘What have you done to instill the light of Judaism in your community? What have you created there?’

My father’s reply was enough not only to placate my uncle, but also to influence his future. From that exchange, my uncle began to pray in a new Shabbat sunrise minyan that he established and after the prayers, still wearing his festive chassidic garb—a shtreimel, long coat, and long white socks—he began to walk through the nearby streets, knock on the doors of Jewish stores and convince them to close their businesses for Shabbat. My uncle is fondly remembered as a person who changed the Jewish face of his neighborhood.”

In 5735 (1975) Rabbi Isaacson and his family moved to Staten Island where he also opened a synagogue and continued with his outreach until 5760 (2000) when he passed away.

When we say ‘chassidic Rebbe’ some people think of a comfortable position, status, and a flock of followers. Rabbi Meir Isaacson did not see it that way. Where others might see success, he would see the need to form—to form one Jew, and then another Jew, another developing community and then another. He was, as the tzaddikim of Poland were called, a gutter Yid (literally, “a good Jew”) in every sense of the word—a good and sweet Jew who radiates God’s goodness to his surroundings.

What does the persona of the Mevaser Tov represent for all of us?

Just as every person needs a rebbe, so each of us should take a tzaddik—a good and sweet Jew who radiates God’s goodness all around—as his model of an ideal Jew and lover of Israel. For many, this is the first person from whom they learned about Judaism and the service of God. Even if one later accepts a different person as his rebbe, the tzaddik still lives within him and illuminates his soul with his unique guidance.

This differentiation can ease many people, who see their rebbe as the greatest personality of the generation and are confused as to how to relate to other tzaddikim. Just like Rabbi Meir himself, who was a chasid and rebbe of the Nadvorna dynasty but held all the tzaddikim dear and learned from them, so every person should have a warm place in his heart for the illuminating tzaddikim who guided him on his way to fulfilling his mission in life.

 

 

 

 

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