Rabbi Chaim Bruk, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Montana, gives a glimpse into the larger-than-life personality of his prolific grandfather, Rabbi Shimon Goldman, OBM, who passed away recently. Rabbi Bruk relates the tremendous impact his grandfather had, and continues to have, on him, as well as all who had the merit of knowing him.
by Rabbi Chaim Bruk
Just a few short months ago, on the 29th of Tishrei, my beloved Zayde, Reb Shimon Ben Shmuel Zanvil a”h Goldman, passed away. He lived a truly fruitful life in every sense of the word and was ninety one at the time of his passing.
This is not his biography, not the experiences of his childhood, which is all readily available in his spellbinding book “From Shedlitz to Safety”. What I share with you today is a grandson’s testimony of how it was to grow up a few blocks away from a treasured Zayde and to be raised in his awesome presence.
I was born in the winter of 1981. We were living at 459 Crown Street, just a few doors away from Zayde and his beloved bride of over sixty years, Bubbe Esther. As the only son-in-law of Reb Yochanan Gordon, a Chassid par excellence, Zayde proved to be a unique figure in the Crown Heights and Lubavitch community. Even later when they moved to Empire Boulevard, I merited being with them all the time. Zayde wasn’t as bubbly as Bubbe, but his concern for his family was unbeatable. When I’d head out of town for Yeshiva, Zayde would give me $20 for pocket money and on the way out Bubbe would slip me another $100.
At around the age of nine, I started a Shabbos ritual, which lasted until I left for Yeshiva when I was sixteen. On Shabbos, at around 7:45am, I would head over to Zayde and Bubbe’s house to spend the morning with them. I’d arrive, call their name “Bubbe, Zayde” through the mail slot, so they’d hear me in the kitchen, and begin my visit by saying Brachos aloud, as Bubbe and Zayde answered Amen to each Bracha. Bubbe would then proceed to stuff me with mouthwatering Babke, Rugelach and cheesecake, while I sipped on her famous tea and milk. Yet, the visit was really about my Chevrusa with Zayde. I’d recap for Zayde the Chumash, Gemoro and Mishnayos that I learned in school that week, but in addition, over the years, we read together the entire Sefer Hazichronos in Yiddish (The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s memoirs from the Friediker Rebbe). I’d read a paragraph or two aloud, and Zayde would explain how life was back in the Shtetel and he enjoyed very much translating for me the rare Yiddish words. I’m pretty sure he enjoyed the learning as much as I did, or perhaps, even more than me. While I ate breakfast and caught up on life with Bubbe, Zayde would chime in here and there, but most of the time, he was saying his Shabbos Tehilim (As Tehilim is divided into the seven days of the week).
When it was time to go to Shul, Bubbe would say “Shimon, it’s time to get going” and off we were. It was a favorite part of the experience, walking on Kingston Avenue with Zayde, as we made our way to 770. Everyone knew Zayde and It was evident that everyone liked him. People knew him from his selfless work at Beis Rivkah, the Rebbe’s girl school, others of course knew him from the Gemilas Chessed he and Bubbe operated giving interest-free loans to the entire community, yet others knew him as their friendly butcher. Watching Zayde’s interactions, taught me so much about what it was that Zayde appreciated in a person: authenticity. He enjoyed chatting with Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, the Rebbe’s trusted confidant, who he admired so much, he was delighted when running into his old friends like Rabbi Yosef Weinberg, Reb Mottel Rivkin or Reb Shiya Bronstein, but more than anything else, he was excited when we’d occasionally run into another one of his grandchildren. Family to Zayde – having lost everyone in Europe by the Nazis Yema”sh – was the gift of all gifts.
Around Yom Tov time, particularly Pesach, Zayde would need help at his Flatbush butcher shop on Coney Island Avenue. Normally, it was my mother Chanchy of blessed memory and my brothers Yochanan and Yanky who’d spend a week or two working with Zayde to make sure everything was keeping up, but on occasion I would help out too. I’d say Zayde “you know, I was just next door at Eichler’s and there’s five new Seforim I’d love to have”. He’d pop the cash register open, hand me the money, and with a smile of Nachas, tell me to go buy them. In 770 there was a Chossid, Reb Azriel Schanowitz a”h, who’d sell Seforim, and the same rule applied: if there was a Sefer I liked, Zayde made sure it went home with me. Zayde wanted his children and grandchildren to have an appreciation, not only for the study of Torah and Jewish history, but the fact that in the United States of America, one can calmly sit and learn Torah, worry free.
It’s what he did in the butcher shop. When there was a quiet moment, in between customers, he wasn’t listening to talk radio or playing sudoku, he had a stack of Seforim and he’d sit and learn. Yes, he was worldly and enjoyed reading the Algemeiner and Ponim Chadoshos, but his focus was on Nuch a Shtikel Torah. There is no doubt in my mind that my ingrained love for a broad spectrum of Torah thought, is thanks to my beloved Zayde.
He grew up as a Chossid of Ger and took great pride being an “Ainikel”, a descendent of the Chidushei Hari”m, the first Rebbe of Ger and other great Chassidic luminaries. Yet, it was precisely because of his heritage that he understood the uniqueness of Lubavitcher Chassidim, Chabad Chassidus and of course our dear Rebbe. He never belittled others groups of Jews to make Lubavitch look good. Quite the contrary, he’d very often share thoughts, Vertlach, and of course heartwarming stories from all different schools of thought, mostly Chassidic and sometimes even Lithuanian, but you always got the sense that his soul was connected “with thick ropes of love” to our Rebbe and to our way of life.
Growing up I’d always hear Zayde talk so positively about the phenomenon of Shlichus. In 1976, His oldest son, my uncle, Rabbi Yossy Goldman and his wife Rachel were sent by the Rebbe to Johannesburg, South Africa. Having finally rebuilt his family after the war, you’d think he’d be dismayed that his Bechor was moving so far from away from home, but that was not the case. When he and Bubbe would talk about Yossy’s Shlichus and how much he was accomplishing in South Africa, It was with tears of joy. They, of course, missed him so much, but they knew he was where he belonged. On their many visits to South Africa, they learned firsthand what Shlichus looked like and Zayde was in awe of the Rebbe’s revolution. Perhaps, he saw the Jewish world destroyed once before and he appreciated that the Rebbe wasn’t allowing that to happen again.
It was always a treat to see Zayde speak at the Rebbe’s Shabbos Parshas Mishpotim Farbrengen. It is the Parsha in which Hashem commands us to offer interest free loans to our fellow Jews. Zayde would share a story or Vort and invite the crowd to the Motzai Shabbos Melava Malka to raise funds and awareness for the Gemilas Chessed. Watching our Zayde, wearing a Shtraimel, talk, as the Rebbe, – and the Chassidim – listened intently and occasionally even commented on his words, made us, his grandchildren, really proud. The Rebbe would also send an annual donation to the Gemilas Chessed fund and give a bottle of Mashke (vodka) to be shared by the participants at the Melava Malka.
One year, Zayde was giving out L’Chaim at the Melava, and as a playful twelve year old, I said “Zayde, can I have some?”. He didn’t even pause for a moment and handed me a little L’Chaim cup with vodka. I took the cup, tried drinking the vodka, and spit it all out across the table. He smiled and walked on. Talk about a genius educator. He knew me well enough and figured it’s a great way to make a kid disdain alcohol.
During the year that I studied at Yeshivas Lubavitch of Detroit, they had a parent’s Shabbaton. My father couldn’t make it and so I asked Zayde if he’d come. He did. I was so honored. At that time, he was almost seventy five years old and it was a Shlepp, but with the loving support of Bubbe, he flew to Michigan to be there for me and my cousin Yochanan Klein. This is who he was, anything for family, anytime. Yes, it’s the same Zayde who, throughout his entire career, gave his three Crown Heights children all their meat and poultry for free, no matter how much we ordered.
His love for Bubbe is something that will remain etched in my heart forever. The look of content, peace and love that was visible on his face upon seeing Bubbe whenever he returned home or when she’d pour the wine in his Becher (Kiddush cup) for Kiddush, is indescribable. When I’d share something good that gave him Nachas, he’d immediately turn his head to the kitchen area and say “Esther, Du Herst?” do you hear?. When I’d come back from various Bachur Shlichus trips to Oklahoma, Russia, or even Eretz Yisroel, he’d need to hear a full rundown of everything. Whenever he heard a Shlichus story that involved a Neshama being inspired and coming, even an inch, closer to Yiddishkait, he’s Kvell from joy. He’d say to me “Chaim Shaul, Der Rebbe Hut Gemacht Aza Groise Zach…”, the Rebbe instituted such an amazing system to save souls. When Chavie and I moved to Montana, besides for their financial support, Bubbe and Zayde were our moral support, always wanting to know every detail about the development of our Shlichus. Zayde would ask, every single time we met or spoke “Hust a Minyan?”, he really wanted me to have the same spiritual amenities he so enjoyed in Brooklyn. When I’d bring a group from Montana to New York, I’d always bring them to meet Bubbe and Zayde and they’d make them feel like they were part of the family. If you’re friends with my Ainikel, than you are my friend.
During my entire childhood, Pesach was spent at the home of Bubbe and Zayde; we’d move in. It was an experience we waited for each year. Spending all the Yom Tov meals with Zayde, singing along as he sang his beloved Polishe and Lubavitcher Niggunim, listening to his insightful Divrei Torah and having the opportunity to share a Dvar Torah myself and have Zayde take-in every word, was memorable. Bubbe and Zayde had a home that was open to all guests. We never knew what characters we may encounter at their Shabbos table. For thirty years, they also served as a South African embassy for all the Mekuravim coming to see the Rebbe or to learn in Yeshiva in New York. Zayde loved hearing peoples stories and learning about their journey.
He was a survivor, he was my hero. He was embodiment of light that Hitler Yemas”h worked so hard to destroy. He loved life, he loved humanity and he added so much good, so much light, to a fractured and dark world. He never accepted my countless offers to travel back to Poland with him. That was Zayde, always looking forward, never dwelling on the past. Zayde would say Kaddish on Yud Beis Elul for his entire family, his beloved parents and six siblings, but he chose to dwell on what he had, not on what he lost. He wasn’t a Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, New Yorker or Pole, he was just an extremely decent human being who did his very best to change the world, one moment, one interaction, one smile, at a time.
I will miss my Zayde dearly. I will miss his embrace, I will miss his stories, I will miss his Torah thoughts, I will miss my Chevrusa, and I will even miss his occasional loving chastisement. Zayde has three living children, and countless grandchildren/great grandchildren Zolen Zai Zaib Gezunt, each of whom, I am sure, has their own Zayde story. What I attempted here was to share with you my experience, one Montanan grandson in admiration, affection and reverence of his beloved Zayde.
Hareini Kaporas Mishkavo – May I be atonement for him