Memory Lane: Rav Yisroel Kravitz
In recent weeks, we have been chronicling the history of Kesser Israel/Congregation Crown of Israel, which has been located for close to one hundred years, at Eighteenth Avenue and 56th Street in Boro Park.
This week, we profile Rav Yisroel Kravitz, who served as the rov of the shul for many years.
Yisroel was born in the shtetl of Koidenov, Russia—near Minsk— in the year 1911, the fifth of seven children. His parents were Rav Yitzchok and Rochel Kravitz.
His family barely survived the WWI era, through tremendous miracles, and in 1923, they felt they had no choice but to seek save haven in America, and their family in America—some of whom had already established themselves financially—sponsored their immigration. The Kravitz’s were able to obtain Polish passports on account of their father’s birth in Mir. They settled in Brownsville.
For Mesivta, Yisroel attended RIETS. He graduated in the year 1927, at the age of 16. In that year, he would have witnessed laying the cornerstone of the new Yeshiva College building On Amsterdam Avenue, which still stands and serves as the main building of Yeshiva University, and marked the move from the Lower East Side to Washington Heights. For Beis Medrash he learned in Novaradok in Boro Park, and received Smicha from its Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Avraham Joffen.
In 1943, he married Miriam Sanders (Senderov). Her father, a son of one of the founders of Petach Tikva, was born in 1885 aboard a buggy on its way to the hospital in Jaffa. Her mother was the daughter of Rabbi Aaron Lanoil from Warsaw, who had come to the Old City of Yerushalayim in the year 1877, along with his great-grandparents (!). Miriam’s parents brought her to America in 1915. Her dream of marrying a rov was fulfilled in Rav Yisroel, who had taught her brothers in Chaim Berlin. They were introduced by a fellow Mirer. His rebbetzin would remain his partner through all his public and private endeavors.
Uplifting the Community
His rabbinic tenure began in a temporary position in Savannah, Ga. Although they wanted him to stay, Rabbi Kravitz accepted the position at Agudath Sholom of Flatbush, at 18th Avenue and Coney Island Avenue. One day a former talmid, who lived in that area, walked in. he confided to Rabbi Kravitz that his father kept his shop open on Shabbos, as it was his most profitable day. Rav Kravitz convinced them that if they would close, they would not lose out. Shortly afterward, they began earning a double portion on Friday’s. The boy went on to marry a girl from a religious family in Boro Park, and raised a beautiful family.
In 1958, he became the rov of Crown of Israel. It was not easy in those days. In those days, most congregants did not have Yeshiva backgrounds and were very ignorant of the things we take for granted today. But Rav Yisroel was able to get through to them in his own gentle way.
Aside from his long tenure of Rabbonus, Rav Kravitz’s passion was chinuch, and he dedicated much of his life to this endeavor, teaching thousands of talmidim over the decades. Over the years he taught at Yeshiva of Brighton Beach, Chaim Berlin, Yeshiva Eitz Chaim of Boro Park, and served as the director of Yeshiva Toras Emes in Boro Park—and was beloved by student and faculty alike at all of these institutions.
In 1984, Rabbi Kravitz and his Rebbetzin fulfilled a lifelong dream of Aliyah to Eretz Yisroel. Sadly, they needed to return to America for medical treatments. After the passing of his wife, in 1995, Rav Yisroel resided near his children in Boro Park until his passing in 2010—having chosen a path of Torah and righteousness in this barren land, and following a brilliant tenure of leading and teaching in Boro Park of yesteryear.