Memory Lane: Rav Yaakov Yechiel Traube
In recent weeks we have profiled two great Boro Park Rabbonim who served at Knesses Israel/Hebrew Community of Boro Park, located at 1323 42nd Street (a location still occupied by a shul, today belonging to the Skverer and Viznitzer Chassidim.
Today we tell the story of Rav Traube, who served in the shul for a number of years.
With the ge’onim of Poland
Yaakov Yechiel was born in the Polish hamlet of Piątek (pronounced Pyontek) on the outskirts of Lodz, about 60 miles west of Warsaw. His father, Reb Binyomin Tzvi was a shochet in the town, and would substitute for the town’s rov in his absence. The brilliant boy spent many hours leaning with his father, and soon, he was nicknamed “der Pyontker iluy,” and was known to retain all of his learning (upon arriving in Boro Park, he encountered the Sadavna Rov, a fellow alumnus of the Sochatchower yeshiva, where he learned. When he heard that Rav Yaakov Yechiel hailed from Pyontka, he recalled: “Around the time I arrived in the yeshiva, I heard about the arrival of the Pyontker iluy… perhaps you knew him…”).
He constantly sought out the ge’onim in Poland to spend time in their environment, one example was Rav Menachem Ziemba, zt”l, Hy”d, of Warsaw.
Saved by a Handshake
One of the most prominent Gerer chassidim in prewar Poland was Rav Yisroel Fridel, the rov of Balut, also a hamlet outside Lodz. He was revered by the thousands of chassidim, and beloved by the generations of Gerer Admorim for his scholarship and tremendous avodas haklal, which were only matched by his supreme avodas Hashem.
Rav Yisroel had a son in law, Rav Moshe Zev Traube, an uncle of Yaakov Yechiel, who chose the young scholar as chosson for his daughter Devora. A few years after their wedding, with dark clouds gathering over Europe, he traveled to England to see about moving over the extended family. But the stark contrast between the teeming world of Torah and avodah in Warsaw, and the modern life in London proved too much for him, and he returned to Poland.
But to his surprise, when he came to give Shalom to his Rebbe, the Imrei Emes of Gur, he wished him tzeischem l’shalom, which he understood to mean that he should return to London, which he did. And this saved his life and that of his wife and children.
After the war, the Traube’s arrived in America, and in 1948 he was appointed as the rov of Knesses Israel.
A Tower of Torah
Rav Yaakov Yechiel immediately grasped the treacherousness of America, and resolved to remove himself completely from it. He would constantly recall the glory of prewar Poland, and he spent his days and nights immersed in learning.
The gedolim of America soon came to appreciate the ga’on in their midst, and he was especially close with the Amshinover Rebbe, and the Kopishnitzer Rebbe, who once asked him for a bracha. There are many teshuvos, lengthy discourses to and from the Torah scholars of America. They are published in his multi-volume sefer Avnei Yaakov.
The Satmar Rov would affectionately refer to him as “der Poilisher.” Once, the Rebbetzin was imploring the Rebbe to come eat, while he was enjoying a conversation with Rav Traube. He explained: “do you see all those people waiting outside? None of them will teach me anything new. Der Poilisher, however, always has a chiddush to tell me.” In addition, he had close, mutually reverent, relationships with many of the other Admorim and Rabbonim of America.
But to the Admorim of Ger, with whom he corresponded frequently, he was a devout chossid. He was also a central figure in the Kupas Rabi Meir Baal Haness-Kolel Polin, in addition to his private generous tzeddakos.
At his passing in 1994, he left behind a beautiful family of Talmidei Chachomim, and was escorted to his final resting place by thousands, following half a century in Boro Park of yesteryear.