Between the Glorıous Past Magnificent Present // A memorable visit with the Tosher Rebbe, shlita

The Tosher Rebbe, Shlita

Kiryas Tosh, with its quaint streets and neat homes, is nestled in Boisbriand, Quebec, 20 miles north of Montreal. After its establishment by the previous Tosher Rebbe, Rav Meshulam Feish Lowy, zt”l, in 1963, it attracted quite a few chasidic families who were eager to separate themselves from the impurity of “the street” and wished to live in close proximity to the Rebbe, a true tzaddik of yesteryear.

Born in 5682 (1922) in Nyirtass (Tosh), Hungary, located near the Slovakian and Ukrainian borders, the Tosher Rebbe survived the Holocaust in the Hungarian Labor Service, and was liberated by the Red Army from a camp outside of Marghita in October 1944. The Rebbe eventually made his way to Nyíregyháza, where he served as the rav and rosh yeshivah after the war. In 1951, fearing the Communist regime, he left Hungary and immigrated to Canada, settling first in Montreal. Within a relatively short time, his shtiebel on Jeanne-Mance Street began to attract chasidim and non-chasidim alike, becoming a stronghold for a bustling new Canadian-based chasidic movement. Increasing numbers of people sought refuge from the bitter cold in the welcoming warmth of the holy Tosher Rebbe.

Twelve years after arriving in Canada, in order to better insulate and protect the community from negative outside influences, on 15 Tamuz, the yahrtzeit of the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, the Rebbe purchased a plot of land in southwestern Quebec for himself and 18 of his chasidim, forming the enclave of Kiryas Tosh. To mark the connection to the Ohr Hachaim, the Rebbe named his new institution Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim-Tosh.

Today, Kiryas Tosh is home to about 600 households, or about 4,000 people, with its own shopping center that features a kosher supermarket, a butcher, a toy store and a clothing store, as well as shops selling Judaica items. The shtetl is served by its own Hatzalah chapter, making it one of only three chapters in all of Canada. The village is also served by a 20-member Shomrim group that works in conjunction with the local police force.

Renowned for his avodas Hashem and as a po’eil yeshuos whose blessings and prognostications changed people’s lives, the previous Rebbe drew many visitors to Kiryas Tosh. During the previous Rebbe’s lifetime, Kiryas Tosh was a must-visit for Jews of all stripes, rich and poor, from chasidim to Sefardim, many of whom donned a folded-up yarmulke only upon entering the Rebbe’s room. Today, six years after his passing at the age of 94, Tosh continues to draw visitors under the dynamic leadership of the present Tosher Rebbe, Rav Elimelech Lowy. After all, the previous Rebbe told his son publicly, “Alleh brachos gib ich tzu dir—I am giving over to you the power to bless people.” He also said that he would help whomever helped his son. Despite the fact that Rav Elimelech had always shied away from any public role, he was immediately crowned his father’s successor at the levayah in accordance with his father’s tzavaah.

The Tosher Rebbe’s
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Truth be told, Rav Elimelech wasn’t always the presumed heir apparent. Rav Elimelech had an older brother, Rav Mordechai, who passed away from a sudden heart attack in Teves of 5758 (1998) during his father’s lifetime.

On a personal note, Rav Mordechai was married to Rebbetzin Esther, the daughter of Rav Chatzkel Mertz, who was the first cousin of both my mother and my father. Rav Mordechai passed away the same week as my youngest sister, and although Rebbetzin Esther was then sitting shivah for her husband, I have very vivid and poignant memories of her calling my parents from Tosh to offer her condolences for their loss. The first time I visited Kiryas Tosh was on a cold winter’s day several years after Rav Mordechai’s petirah to visit Rebbetzin Esther. As groups of children played outside on the mounds of snow, we reminisced about our families’ respective losses, as well as about happier times.

Whereas both her father and her shver—who was still alive at the time—were totally disengaged from olam hazeh, I pointed out that her father-in-law, the Tosher Rebbe, had nonetheless been able to establish some mightily impressive this-worldly institutions. After driving up Highway 15 from Montreal and taking the exit for Boisbriand, the expanse of Kiryas Tosh stretches out before you, with the imposing beis midrash, yeshivah right next door and the first circle of homes to be constructed. She acknowledged this seemingly paradoxical nature of her shver, who was both otherworldly and this-worldly at the same time.

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