12/14/2008

Rabbi Mendel Feldman, ob”m

Yedidai,
It is with great personal sadness that I note the passing for Rav Menachem Mendel Ha-Kohen Feldman, ob”m, in Sydney, Australia.
I was fortunate to have known Rabbi Feldman in many different contexts. When my father spoke of “Rebbi”, he meant Rabbi Feldman. Later, Rabbi Feldman became the rav of Khal Ahavas Yisrael Tzemach Tzedek, a shtibl (now with a proper building) on Park Heights Avenue, a block away from the house where I grew up. That was our shul for about a decade, from when it opened until the family made aliyah, like a number of Rebbi’s other close talmidim, in 1995. A few years after opening the shul, the Feldmans moved to a condo one floor below my grandparents’ on Park Heights.
An illness prevented him from being mesader Kiddushin at my wedding, but he spoke at Sheva Brachot and blessed the young couple with Birkat Kohanim, which was his trademark to the degree that it is possible for that ancient blessing to be the trademark of one person. In my mind’s eye, I can recall lining up after shul on Friday night, when all of the children would line up and be individually blessed by Rabbi Feldman. I still see the wispy ends of his never-shaven beard resting on his plain black frock coat, and still even smell him, as I bend my head to receive Rebbi’s Birkat Kohanim on Friday night. I remember doing the same at my Bar Mitzvah. In addition, he was Koreh Shem at my brit milah, and read the ketubah at the wedding of my parents. I remember my father lining up behind all of the children on his last Friday night before making aliyah from Baltimore. I remember Rebbi reaching up to give my father his bracha; they were both crying. He also lent my father a pair of Tefillin aliba de-Rabbenu Tam, so that his physical aliyah would be accompanied by a spiritual aliyah. My father still wears Rabbenu Tam tefillin daily (he bought his own set a year later). The following picture is of Rabbi Feldman being podeh my eldest nephew:
Rabbi Feldman, who passed away at the age of 89, was born and lived almost his entire life in the United States. He grew up in New York and studied in Yeshivat Tomchei Temimim, under the guidance of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, and at Mesivta Torah Vodaas. After a short stint as a rabbi in Jacksonville, FL, he moved to Baltimore with his wife, Rochelle/ Rochel (nee Simpson), where he served as a Rebbi at the Talmudical Academy and succeeded Rav Shimon Schwab as the Rav of Shearith Israel (the “Glen Avenue Shul”), where he served for over 25 years. After his retirement from AYTT after two decades, the Feldmans emigrated to Australia to be near their son, Rav Pinchas Feldman, Chief Chabad Rabbi of New South Wales, Australia. Rabbi Feldman outlived his wife by several years.
He made the greatest impression, though, with his personal humility, care and concern. He was never a charismatic speaker (though each of his drashot opened with “Yedidai” and ended by expressing belief in the impending arrival of “Mashiach Mamash” – I do not know if that practice continued after the passing of the Rebbe, ob”m), but he attracted a very loyal and devoted following in Baltimore with his warmth and humor, by being accepting and offering guidance to his devotees. Once he became a person’s Rebbi, he remained so for life. He was also an active member of Baltimore’s Beit Din, especially with regard to matters of giyur and gittin, and the chavruta of Rav Moshe Heinemann.
An aspect of his personality which often flew under the radar, especially in Baltimore, was his Ahavat Eretz Yisrael. A significant number of his devotees made aliyah, and he took a tremendous amount of pride in their decision. On one of his last visits to Israel, his former students met with him at a restaurant, and reported that they had never before seen him in such a state of ecstasy.
Tehe Nishmato Tzerura be-Tzror ha-Chayim.
Post a Comment