Thursday, February 26, 2009

End of An Era: Memories of Mr Moses Feuerstein

On Monday, by coincidence or by Providence, I attended the funeral of Moses I. Feuerstein ז"ל. By coincidence, I had planned to travel to Boston for a few days and received word of his passing just before I left New York. By dint of Providence, I was afforded an opportunity to pay my respects to a man that, together with his family, was an inspiration for the Boston Orthodox community when I was growing up. I was also afforded the opportunity to pay my condolences to two of his children, R. Mordekhai and Esty, who were my friends at several critical junctures in my life.

For religious and becoming religious college kids in the 1970’s in Boston, the Feuersteins were the aristocracy. It was their home to which you wanted to be invited on Shabbos. They were living proof that Torah and worldly success, yet they made their guests feel at home, no matter their background or circumstance. Mr. Feuerstein was warm and dignified, elegant yet accessible, pious and truly modest about that piety. As the eulogists noted, he was very proud of the fact that he had the privilege of knowing, and of being close to great scholars like R. Aharon Kotler זצ"ל and R. Ya’akov Kamineztky זצ"ל.

As R. Mordekhai Feuerstein noted, above all, Mr. Feuerstein had a long, deep and abiding friendship with מורי ורבי R. Soloveitchik זצ"ל, whom he deeply revered.
The Feuersteins were extremely close to the Rov. The elder Mr. Feuerstein, Samuel C., was Chairman of the Board of the Maimonides School for years. The family was devoted to the Rav, and supported him and all in which he believed. The affection, moreover, was mutual. One incident that I personally witnessed is both evocative and typical.

A daughter of the Bostoner Rebbe שליט"א was married in the summer of 1973 or 1974. I was learning in the Rav’s summer shiur and was invited (together with all of the other בחורים) to the wedding (though I also received a personal invitation, as the grandson of Mrs. Anna R. Woolf, who was a longtime supporter of the New England Chassidic Center). At one stage, the Rav was walking to the Huppah and Mr. Feuerstein came over and greeted him: ‘Hello, Rabbi.’ The Rav’s face broke out in a smile, and he glowingly said: ‘Mayshe!’ The affection he bore Mr. Feuerstein just shone forth from his face. I later came to learn just how deep and abiding, how multi-faceted and mutual that affection was.

R. Soloveitchik's presence was keenly felt in his home. I cannot recall any time that I was privileged to have a Shabbat meal at their home that the Rav's teachings were not a central component of the discussion.

I was deeply saddened that the other eulogizers took no note of Mr. Feuerstein's special relationship with the Rav, or of the truly heroic things that he did for Torah in Boston. In the 1950's. 60's and 70's the Boston Jewish community was overwhelmingly dominated by Conservative and Reform Jews (both rabbinic and lay). Orthodoxy was not even on the radar. The only contact that many Jewish Lay Leaders had with Religious Jews was with Mr. Moses Feuerstein. when they wantyed to know about Tradition, they asked Mr. Feuerstein.

One anecdote, which also involves the Rav, is typical. It was told to me by my teacher, R. Dr. Aaron Wieder. Sometime in the mid-1970's he told me that he had met Mr. Feuerstein at bris. The latter was bemused by an encounter he had just had with a prominent local Jewish philanthropist. It seems this secular leader had just returned from Israel. Where ever he went, when he said he was from Boston, he was immediately asked how Rav Soloveitchik was, or to send regards. When he returned to Boston, he immediately contacted the only Orthodox Jew he knew, Mr. Feuerstein. As R. Wieder recounted, he asked Mr. Feuerstein: 'Moe, everywhere I went in Israel they asked me about Rabbi Soloveitchik. Who is he? I've been living in Boston my entire life and I never heard of him!' I am sure that Mr. Feuerstein's answer (which Rabbi Wieder did not describe) was not only informative, but included the type of presentation of Orthodoxy that would leave an indelibly positive impression upon his interlocutor.

On several occasions, I heard the Rav comment on Hazal's assertion that a wise man is one 'הראוי למנותו פרנס על הציבור.' What sets such a person apart, the Rav noted, was courage, heroism, גבורה. Mr. Feuerstein was endowed with such גבורה, along with an equal measure of חסד. Such פרנסים are much needed and much too rare.

I, along with countless others (even those beyond the Boston Metropolitan area) are blessed to have known, admired and learned from him.

ת' נ' צ' ב' ה


Harry Maryles said...

That's so interesting. I wrote about a Fuerstein on my blog today. My post had absolutely nothing to do with the subject of yours. But I beleive that my post may have been his brother. I just received a note that the one I wrote about just lost a brother and that his daugther whom I know cvery well lives here in Chicago. So I am putting 2 and 3 togher and assuming they are indeed brothers - or at least closely related.

small world.

Harry Maryles said...

sorry for the typos. they were retty bad

Anonymous said...

Why no mention of his role in the Maimonides school?