Memory Lane: Rav Avrohom Kellner
In a previous installment in the history of Boro Park of yesteryear, we chronicled some of the close-to 100 year history of Crown of Israel congregation on 18th Avenue which was established in the mid-1920’s,with the current building dedicated in 1929.
This is a story of a young rov, from an illustrious rabbinic family, who came to upscale Boro Park to make a difference… to do his part to inspire the Jewish youth of America at a time when the winds of assimilation were blowing them away with ferocity.
A Golden Rabbinic Lineage
Avrohom was born into an illustrious Rabbinic family in Hungary, going back generations of leading Hungarian Jewry, with some of them still very well known today.
His father, Rav Kolonymus Sholom HaLevi Kellner was born in 1883 in the tiny hamlet of Nagykövesd, Slovakia, the youngest child to Rabbi Avrohom Kellner, the rov of the town. As a lad, he learned in the great yeshiva of Pressburg, Hungary’s most prestigious Torah institution—where he received semicha from its Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Simcha Bunim Sofer, known as the “Shevet Sofer.” In 1907, he married Leah Schick (who traced her lineage to the Maharam Schick) a granddaughter of the Menuchas Osher of Tchenger.
A short while after his wedding, he began serving as the rov of Tenka, Hungary, where his son, Avrohom was born. He also served as the Jewish chaplain in the Hungarian army. In the aftermath of WWI, worried that his sons would be drafted, he brought his family to America, where they arrived in 1924. Rav Kloynimus served as a rov in Passaic until his passing in 1958.
Avrohom, born in 1908, remained back in Hungary, where he received his semicha at 18 years of age, and only left for America to join his family in 1926. He entered RIETS Yeshiva to continue his learning. His extraordinary personality helped him overcome the language and cultural barriers, and within a short time he was elected president of the student body of the yeshiva.
With the start of his Rabbinic career two years later at Crown of Israel, Rav Avrohom was the fourteenth (!) generation in his family to enter the rabbinate. In 1934, he accepted a pulpit in Baltimore, and he married the following year.
A Life Dedicated to Chinuch
From there he moved on to a number of other posts, in each of which he made a tremendous impact.
During his time in Albany and Washington D.C., his efforts for Torah chinuch and the yeshiva day school movement were monumental, and he led very large schools, and brought them to unforeseen levels. In the 1950’s, his father Rav Koloynimus, was suffering from his final illness, and Rav Avrohom wanted to be with him. During this time, he was the principal of Yeshiva RJJ on the Lower East Side. It is likely that this position was procured for him by his cousin, Marvin Schick, who practically carried this legendary institution upon his shoulders.
After the passing of his father, he took over the helm of the Haim Fishel Epstein academy in St. Louis, named for one of America’s greatest ge’onim who resided there. The school was undergoing serious challenges at the time, but from the moment of Rabbi Kellner’s arrival, the school experienced a complete turnaround. He did not cease in this work until his last days.
An anecdote attesting to Rabbi Kellner’s supreme chinuch comes from a former kindergartner who had been part of a group of children bullying another child, causing his yarmulke to fall into the mud. It was the kindest, safest look in his eyes as he instructed her to go into the janitors’ closet and clean off the boy’s muddied shoes. And, although she cried endlessly through the ordeal, she never forgot this legendary educator who changed her life—and thousands like her—forever.
Simultaneous to his educational and rabbinic work, Rabbi Kellner was a prolific writer. A veritable ma’ayon hamisgaber, writing numerous books and articles over the years.
Rabbi Kellner was niftar in a sudden manner in 1965, and his resting place is in Eretz Yisroel.