Memory Lane: Rav Shimon Scher
Crown of Israel was founded in the early 1920’s, and entered their current building in 1928. The first long-term Rabbi of the shul was Rav Shimon Scher, a dynamic and talented leader, who brilliant tenure as one of Boro Park’s prominent rabbonim ended with his sudden, premature passing in 1957.
A Metzuyan in Telz
Rav Shimon was born in 1899, in the Lithuanian town of Plungyan (Plungė in Lithuanian). After learning in the local cheder, he was enrolled in Telz at the tender age of 15. The poverty was so great, the he walked the 30 kilometers from his hometown to Telz. Perhaps it was this foundation of mesirus nefesh that propelled him to the heights that he reached in the yeshiva.
The Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yosef Leib Bloch was mekarev the young lad, and he soon became from the metzuyanim. With time, he was sought out by his fellow talmidim for his Torah, his middos, and his wise counsel. In the 1920’s, the towns of Lita were being ravaged by the winds of secularism, and so many young people fell prey. Shimon Scher was at the forefront of this battle; he was on the Vaad Haruchani in Telzer Yeshiva, wrote and published articles to strengthen the youth, and founded organizations called Tiferes Bachurim in many towns.
He became engaged to Chanah Stamm, the daughter of Rav Yisroel, from the Baalei Mussar in Kelm, and the couple married in Kelm, in the year 1930, in the presence of Rebbetzin Dubbeh Rivkah Stamm (a great-great-grandmother of this writer), while her husband Rav Yisroel was already in America as the emissary of the Slabodka Yeshiva.
In 1931, they arrived in America, where they were reunited with Rav Yisroel, while Rebbetzin Stamm remained in Kelm, at least until 1935. She would later join the family in New York.
A Distinguished Rabbinic Tenure
Rav Scher left behind notebooks… by now yellowed. In it, we can read a beautiful, flowing script of his transcription of his droshos throughout the years, and the first entry is for the first night of selichos of the year 1932—which is indeed the time that he assumed the leadership of Kesser Israel, three blocks from his home.
Reading through the content of his droshos—more than ninety years later—we can see his eloquence, his insightfulness into the Torah, Midrosh, and mussar with which he was saturated during his early life, and the way he sought to illuminate the darkness and the apathy that pervaded Jewish life in America with pure emunah and with the light of Torah.
Those who remember him recall his impeccable appearance… “He was an aristocrat,” recalled his cousin—legendary writer, Rav Aaron Benzion Shurin. He was extremely close with the Ponovezher rov, and would introduce him at various events. He was also the head of the Telzer histadrus in America.
“Besides his greatness in learning he was a tremendous ba’al regesh and ba’al middos, and truly a Torah’dige aristocrat!—blessed with so many qualities; a phenomenal orator and writer, in yiddish and in Hebrew. On top of this was deeply humble, and would do a favor for anyone,” wrote Rabbi Shurin.
A Beloved Mechanech
Rav Shimon taught at Bais Yaakov Seminary in Boro Park, and he is remembered to this day by some of the talmidos—many of whom are great-grandmothers today. The lifelong impact that he left upon them is due to a confluence of his regal presence, his humor, his mussardige conduct that he absorbed in the Lithuanian yeshiva world, and his warmth and compassion.
Rabbi Uri Hellman, who led Bais Yaakov for many years, said that Rav Scher was one of the most respected teachers in the school. “He was loved and admired by his colleagues as well as his students, he was extremely makpid on what came out of his mouth, and never did he become involved in any controversies that inevitably occur at an institution.”
Rav Scher suffered a heart attack in the year 1957, and was interred on har hamenuchos, following a distinguished tenure as a rov and mechanech.