Remembering the Chuster Rebbe of Boro Park

Photography by Eli Wohl

Rav Shmuel Shmelke Leifer, zt”l, the Chuster Rebbe of Boro Park, a renowned rav, mechaneich and baal darshan, was niftar on Monday. He was 78. 

Rav Shmelke, as he was lovingly known, was a scion of the chasidic courts of Nadvorna, Chust and Skolya, and a son of Rav Aharon Moshe Leifer of Chust. His father was the last Nadvorner einikel to lead a court in Chust before the war. After arriving in America, Rav Aharon Moshe lived in several communities, where he was greatly mechazeik many Yidden with his trademark warmth as well as his greatness in Torah. 

As a bachur, Rav Shmelke learned in Yeshivas Mattesdorf, under the guidance of the Mattesdorfer Rav, Rav Shmuel Ehrenfeld, zt”l, as well as in Yeshivas Krasna and Ger. He also was close to his uncle, the Skolya Rebbe, Rav Dovid Yitzchok Aizik Rabinowitz, zt”l. 

Rav Shmelke was a master mechaneich. He served as maggid shiur in the Gerer yeshivah for many years, where he influenced hundreds of bachurim who considered him to be their rebbe and mentor. He eventually opened his own yeshivah, Yeshivas Toras Chesed.

A cause that was very near and dear to Rav Shmelke was the plight of bachurim who did not fit perfectly into the standard yeshivah system and were having a hard time finding a place to learn. He drew these bachurim close and turned over heaven and earth to find a makom Torah for them. Many of them have gone on to build beautiful Jewish homes, and they credit their success in life to Rav Shmelke, who believed in them when they were young and worked ceaselessly to ensure that they find their place in klal Yisrael.

He was very vocal about this problem and would publicly urge yeshivos not to turn away bachurim unless it was absolutely necessary.  

For many years after their wedding, Rav Shmelke and his rebbetzin were not blessed with children. After 16 years of marriage, they adopted their oldest child, and after 21 years of marriage, they had their first biological child. 

Rav Shmelke would use his own life experiences to encourage others and provide a listening ear. He would tell those struggling with infertility that he understood them, as he and his wife had gone through the same challenges, and he was always there for them. 

He was a very gifted orator, who had an uncanny ability to move any crowd with his fiery words and deep insights. He was the guest speaker at many events and gatherings. He captivated his audiences and held them spellbound as he related the words of Chazal or poignant stories that he used to bring important lessons to life. 

He had the rare distinction of being extremely skilled as a speaker both in Yiddish and in English, which allowed him to connect to virtually any crowd. 

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