June 2, 2024
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Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem to Celebrate 114th Anniversary

Three generations of the Feinstein family have stood at the helm of one of America’s earliest Torah institutions, founded in 1907. Located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and later expanding to Staten Island, Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem (MTJ) stands out as the model of Torah and middot for many of the institutions of Torah learning in America to follow. Beginning with the world-renowned Torah posek of the 20th century, Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, followed by his sons Rav Dovid Feinstein zt”l and yibadel l’chaim Rav Reuven Feinstein, and now Harav Berel Feinstein, son of Rav Dovid, the Feinsteins make up an aristocracy of litvish Torah learning and living without parallel. On Wednesday evening, February 24, an anniversary dinner marking the 114th year of MTJ will be celebrated virtually.

Rav Dovid Feinstein, zt”l, who recently passed away at the age of 91, left an indelible impression on all who knew him, whether as students, rebbeim, neighbors or simply people who gravitated to the yeshiva looking for advice and help. Beginning with the scion Rav Moshe, zt”l, roshei yeshiva from around the world, litvish and chassidish, heads of major Jewish organizations, from Agudah to Young Israel, and world leaders would make their way to East Broadway to consult with these giants in Halacha. They knew they would receive the most truthful and factual piskei halacha veering not to the right or left. Torah scholars from throughout the world sought haskamot for their writings from the Feinsteins, as they were considered the highest level of tribute. The Artscroll Publishing House began at MTJ when Rav Dovid encouraged his dear friend Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz to begin his endeavor.

Barely one month before his petira on November 8, 2020, despite major health issues that resulted in his frailty, Harav Dovid Feinstein contacted Teaneck resident Jack Forgash, who has served on the board of MTJ for the past 10 years. Realizing the serious financial needs of the yeshiva, Rav Dovid requested that Forgash and the other board members organize a dinner in support of the institution. At that time, he persuaded Forgash to be honored with the Zichron Rabbeinu Moshe Feinstein Chessed Award. Realizing the sincerity of the request and the great need to support the yeshiva, Forgash accepted. Sadly, the Rosh Yeshiva will not have the zechut to be part of the dinner that he initiated.

Jack Yonah Forgash began his studies at MTJ in 1960. Living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, at the time, he attended shiurim in the morning and evenings, attending Baruch College during the day. He was privileged to have met and interacted with Rav Moshe and was one of the first 20 talmidim of Rav Dovid. As he owned a car, he had the zechut of transporting Rav Moshe and Rav Dovid on many occasions. To Forgash, as a young student and later as a businessman and community leader, the Feinstein family were a modern replication of the Avot. Their chesed replicated the model of chesed enacted by Avraham Aveinu. Their tent was opened on all four sides to all, from the local needy on the Lower East Side to the mosdos of Torah in Eretz Yisrael. Their strength in disseminating Torah by going out into communities to help them revive and reinvigorate their Torah institutions paralleled the gevura of Yitzchak Avinu. And their erudition and scholarship, venerated and followed throughout the world, was their replication of the Torah of Yaakov Avinu. When Forgash founded his organization Just One Life, which supports vulnerable women in Israel through the births of their children, Forgash brought many complicated questions to Rav Dovid. After Rav Pam was niftar, Forgash requested that Rav Dovid be his rabbinic adviser for Just One Life, a role he undertook with great compassion and understanding and in which he served until his petira.

Forgash is greatly honored by the honor being bestowed upon him at the upcoming dinner and hopes that many in our community will register for the dinner in support of the yeshiva.

Teaneck’s Norman Shmutter, fellow board member of MTJ, claims 60-plus years of affiliation with MTJ, having attended kindergarten through beis midrash. For many of these years he was a talmid of Rav Dovid. Even after the family relocated to Forest Hills, Queens, Shmutter traveled back to the yeshiva. He proudly shared that son Chezky Shmutter earned his semicha from MTJ. For Shmutter, the greatness of the Feinstein legacy consists of their unswerving commitment to halacha and mesorah, their humility and their accessibility. Shmutter believes that Rav Dovid changed a halachic decision only once, and that was 50 years after the initial psak. Rav Dovid’s humility was evident when the high school and mesivta were moving to Staten Island. Rav Dovid opted to remain on the Lower East Side as he viewed MTJ as a community school and would not abandon the community. When asked about spending large sums of money on ritual objects such as etrogim, he would always opt for the simple as long as it was kosher. Throughout his years at the yeshiva, Shmutter saw Rav Dovid make time for everyone who sought him out. He even remembers a visit to Rav Dovid by members of the Edah Charedit.

Shmutter is indebted to Rav Dovid for the unique hadracha he received from this gadol, and feels very committed to the upcoming dinner that was initiated by Rav Dovid. He shared that over the course of years, the yeshiva has not hosted many dinners since its first in 1983, but the unusual circumstances of the past year make it urgent that the community help the yeshiva get on its feet financially.

Harvey Wrubel of Teaneck also serves as a board member of MTJ. He was born on the Lower East Side where he grew up on Grand Street, across the park from the Feinsteins. His father would make it a point of going food shopping on Thursday evenings to coincide with Rav Dovid’s shopping hours so that he could ask him questions regarding kashrut. Wrubel’s family shared a communal sukkah with the Feinsteins and he attended MTJ from third through 12th grades, where he was a classmate of Rav Dovid’s son Berel. Over the years, the Feinsteins were available to them for answering sheilos and for participating in family simchas. Last year, when Wrubel’s mother passed away at the age of 99, Rav Dovid came to be menachem aveil on Erev Yom Kippur.

Wrubel has tremendous hakarat hatov for the Feinsteins and the Torah community they created on the Lower East Side that now inspires Torah communities worldwide. He too urges the community to support MTJ in its continuing work.

In addition to the upcoming dinner, at which a newly created special tribute film to Rav Dovid will debut, a commemorative Mizmor L’Dovid journal is being compiled that will be published in conjunction with the dinner and will feature stories and reminiscences of Rav Dovid, zt”l. Spearheading the journal campaign is Chaim Meyer Mermelstein, whose family shares a close connection with the Feinstein family.

Mermelstein’s mother, Fran, who grew up on the Lower East Side in the Feinstein community and currently resides in Teaneck, recalls, “On the night of Chaim Meyer’s son’s wedding, Rav Dovid had four other weddings. Yet he traveled out to Long Island, arriving at 9:30 p.m. to participate in the Mermelstein simcha. When asked why he had made such an extraordinary effort to attend, he reminded the family that 26 years ago, when the father of the chasan was married, he was unable to attend. This was his way of making up for his absence 26 years ago. This is but one example of the actions of a true gadol.”

To register for the Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem dinner to be held on the evening of February 24, email [email protected] or visit the website at mtj.edu. For further information, call 212-964-2830.

By Pearl Markovitz

 

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