July 13, 2024
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July 13, 2024
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Last year, on December 25, 2017, Heichal HaTorah hosted a grandfather-grandson morning of Torah learning. It was beautiful and touching to see grandfathers sitting next to their grandsons learning together.

On that morning, I was about to begin my shiur by saying how touched I was by the event, and that I would give anything to have the opportunity to spend a morning learning with either of my grandfathers. Just before I began, Rabbi Mitch Bomrind, grandfather of my student, Elazar Milstein, said to me, “You know I learned with your zaidy! He was a very special person!” I was very moved by that statement, and it threw me off for a few moments.

My zaidy, Rabbi Yaakov Meir Kohn, zt”l, was indeed a great talmid chacham and a beloved personality. He remains one of my greatest influences and inspirations, almost three decades after his passing.

The following week, Rabbi Bomrind texted me that he had a great story about my zaidy to share. I called him, and he related the following:

“In the early ‘80s I was at a dinner for Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim. Your grandfather was the emcee and he was sitting next to the rosh yeshiva, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, in what may have been the last dinner the aging rosh yeshiva was healthy enough to attend.

“The executive director, Rabbi Eidelman, approached the Rosh Yeshiva and mentioned that they had a dilemma: the honoree was a wealthy fellow named Daniel Potkaroni. He owned a hosiery store on Orchard Street and was very successful. Although he donated money to the yeshiva, there were two other donors who had pledged twice the amount of money to the yeshiva. It would look funny for the yeshiva if there were two people who gave double the amount that the honoree gave.

“Your grandfather immediately turned to the Rosh Yeshiva and asked for permission to rectify the situation. The Rosh Yeshiva told Rabbi Eidelman to leave it to Rabbi Kohn.

“Your grandfather walked to the podium and related the story at the end of Yevamos (121a): ‘Rabbi Gamliel said: I was once traveling on a boat and from a distance saw a boat that shattered and sank. I was grieved over the apparent death of the Torah scholar who was on board. Who was it? Rabbi Akiva. But when I disembarked on dry land, he (Rabbi Akiva) came, and sat, and deliberated before me about halacha. I said to him, “My son, who brought you up from the water?” He replied to me: דף של ספינה נזדמן לי וכל גל וגל שבא עלי נענעתי לו ראשי—A plank from the boat came to me, and when each and every wave came before me, I bent my head before it. (Thus, the waves didn’t wash him off the board, and he was able to ride the waves until he reached shore.)

“Your grandfather continued, “The word דף (which Rabbi Akiva held onto) is an acronym for דניאל פוטקרוני. Whenever the yeshiva has been in a dire situation, whenever the waves and challenges have threatened to wash the yeshiva out, that דף has come to its rescue. The yeshiva has been able to count on and hold onto its דף and that is how it has been able to endure.”

“Mr. Potkaroni was so moved and enamored by your grandfather’s witty presentation, that he immediately tripled his original pledge, which of course solved the problem.”

Rabbi Bomrind then added:

“I had the privilege to learn with him on numerous occasions when I was a rav on the East Side. He had Shas on the back of his hand. But what was more, I learned from him how to deal with people!”

This past Sunday, 27 Cheshvan, was my zaidy’s yahrtzeit, R’ Yaakov Meir ben R’ Yosef Yitzchok. May his neshama have an aliyah!

By Rabbi Dani Staum

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a rebbe and guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, NJ, principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor, and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He can be reached at [email protected]. 
Looking for “Instant Inspiration” on the parsha in under five minutes? Follow him on Torahanytime.com

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