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Rabbi Yaakov Perlow zt”l

A wonderful person whom I knew for the past half century, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, passed away recently from the plague of the Coronavirus. He was better known as the Novominsker Rebbe. He was a person of many talents and of wide perspective. In our Jewish world today, such a person is becoming exceedingly rare. There are not many people like him who were able to bridge different groups and who have something of value to say to every Jew.
Rabbi Perlow was the descendant of great Hasidic Rebbes and was also a student of renowned Lithuanian yeshivas. He was a man of worldly knowledge, himself a college graduate. He was well-read, soft-spoken, pleasant of manner, with a wise demeanor. He understood people and never allowed himself to be diverted by titles or reputations.
In Chicago, where I knew him from, he was one of the senior teachers at Bais Medrash L'Torah in Skokie, IL. Here at the yeshiva he developed many students. Even back then he was seen as a Hasidic Rebbe as well, especially because he was married to the daughter of Rabbi Avrohom Eichenstein of Zidichov in Chicago, a Hasidic Rebbe in his own right. I was no longer a student in the yeshiva when he began teaching there, but I was a member of the Chicago Jewish Orthodox community and benefited from his presence and from the fact that he was able to teach and inspire a younger generation.
He was an exemplary person because his personality combined so many different worldviews. A person of tolerance, of understanding, and love for his students and for the Jewish people, he was an asset to Chicago Jewry in those years.
He moved from Chicago to New York and here he took on a different role. He was the head teacher in the yeshiva of the German Jewish community of Washington Heights,  known as Breuer’s, Yeshiva Samson Raphael Hirsch. Here he was able to be of great influence in a setting which was not necessarily custom made for Hasidic Rebbes. But he was an educator of vision and tenacity. Just as in Chicago, in Washington Heights, New York, he developed students and raised generations of loyal, intelligent, and observant Jews who today serve as the backbone of many different Jewish communities throughout the world.
However, his main calling was his return to his roots as a Hasidic Rebbe. He moved to Boro Park and upon the passing of his father, he became the Novominsker Rebbe. His contribution was that he created a great yeshiva with Hasidic overtones and direction, but with the flavor and intensity of the Lithuanian yeshivas which also existed in the New York area. He was a loving father to his students and the yeshiva was a great success. Many attempted to emulate his success, but only a few succeeded. The success of the yeshiva lay in his great personality, his diverse background, and his tolerant and loving demeanor. He was not only a teacher and a confidant, but he was the person who gave of himself to others selflessly and constantly.
He arrived on the national Jewish scene in the United States by becoming the titular president of Agudath Israel of America. The Agudath in America is a far broader organization than its Israeli counterpart. In Israel it is a political party, whereas here in the United States, it is a religious organization. Again, he brought to the Agudath a personality that could accommodate many different groupings and inspire various types of people. His pronouncements were always sage, and to the point. He shied away from controversy yet always had the correct thing to say about issues that were potentially divisive and often sensitive. He was a rare individual who was able to navigate the waters of the organizational life of the Jewish community in the United States.
Because of his willingness to take a silent role and not become the focal point of issues and controversy, he was of enormous value. But because of that, in my opinion, he was also undervalued and unappreciated and in fact almost unknown to the great segments of American Jewry that he serviced, and which benefited from his deeds. He was from a generation that dedicated itself to building and to creating and to restoring greatness to the religious Jewish world. I do not know whether we will see people of this caliber again who can handle the issues of the times. Simply because the circumstances of generations have changed, with many different faces and facets, the issues have never really disappeared.
He was personal friend of mine and I certainly am deeply saddened by the fact that he no longer is available for conversation, advice, and good cheer. May his memory be a blessed one, and I hope that his influence will continue to reign not only on American Jewry but on all the Jewish people.
Shabbat Shalom.
Berel Wein

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