“A Bigger Lubavitcher Chossid Than Me”

Exclusive: The Novominsker Rebbe of Boro Park, president of Agudas Yisroel of America, passed away recently. In an interview with Anash.org, his close aide Rabbi Lipa Brennan spoke about the relationship the Novominsker and his ancestors had with our Rabbeim.

By Anash.org staff

Rabbi Lipa Brennan is a familiar figure in Crown Heights. He is a member of the Hanholas HaKinus and has been the coordinator of the Kinus Hashluchim since its inception in Kislev of 5744/1983. But his primary position for over three decades has been Executive Director of Mosdos Novominsk in Boro Park. During that period, the institutions have grown into one of the premier Torah institutions in New York. He was also a close personal aide, for over 33 years, to the late Novominsker Rebbe, Rav Yaakov Perlow, zt”l, who was niftar last month.

In honor of the shloshim, Rabbi Brennan shared with Anash.org unknown stories of the Novominsker Rebbe’s connection to the Rebbe and Chabad.

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Rabbi Brennan, how did you get so involved with Novominsk?

I was a yungerman in Crown Heights looking for parnassah, but wanted to be in the kodesh field. Novominsker yeshivah was in its infancy and was looking for an administrator and someone to assist the Novominsker Rebbe in Yeshiva matters. I went for an interview and the rest is history!

Was there a historical connection between the Novominsker Rebbes and the Rebbes of Chabad?

In fact, the history of Novominsk and Chabad goes back many generations. The first Rebbe, Reb Yaakov Perlow became a Rebbe in the town of Strashelle, where the Alter Rebbe’s talmid Reb Aron of Strashelle had lived. Reb Yakov was known to have a similar derech, and even say similar Chassidus, to Reb Aharon.

His son Reb Alter Yisroel Shimon, known as the “Tiferes Ish”, was one of the leading Rebbes in Poland. During WWI he moved to Warsaw, where he became acquainted with the Frierdiker Rebbe. In the descriptions of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s wedding, he is mentioned as one of the gedolei Yisroel who attended.

Novominsk was based out of Crown Heights for many years. When did that begin?

The son of Reb Alter Yisroel Shimon from Warsaw, Reb Nochum Mordechai Perlow, was the first Novominsker Rebbe to live to America. He arrived in the 20’s and In 5710/1950, Reb Nochum Mordechai moved from Brownsville to Crown Heights and spent some two decades there.

Reb Nochum Mordechai came many times to the Frierdiker Rebbe and the Rebbe for yechidus. He would grace these occasions by wearing his Shabbos’dikke spodik, the shtreimel of the Chassidim of Poland. So precious was the yechidus to him.

The Rebbe made mention of this fact at least 38 years later (!) when his son the recently deceased Novominsker Rebbe came to be menachem avel the Rebbe after the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka.

Did the recent Novominsker Rebbe also share the special relationship?

Of course! In fact, he was even zoche to be by the Rebbe’s first farbrengen. Here’s how that happened: His father Reb Nochum Mordechai did not stop visiting Lubavitch after the passing of the Frierdiker Rebbe. He came to speak to our Rebbe, while continuing his tradition of wearing his Shabbos’dikke Shtreimel.

In one visit, a few weeks before Yud Shvat 5711/1951, the Rebbe – albeit not official yet – told his visitor that there would be a farbrengen l’kovod the yahrtzeit of his shver on Yud Shvat. “It would be worthwhile for your son Yankel to be here,” the Rebbe said cryptically.

The Novominsker Rebbe did relay the message to his son, and Reb Yaakov – then a bochur in Yeshiva Chaim Berlin – attended that historic farbrengen.

Did the Novominsker Rebbe ever relate his memories of that momentous farbrengen?

Yes, on many occasions. He recalled how the elderly chossid asked the Rebbe to say a ma’amar. He also remembered, of course, what the Rebbe spoke about. One concept that stood out in his mind was that of kol hashviyin chavivin that the Rebbe discussed during the ma’amar.

In fact, years later he would tell me jokingly that he was “more of a chossid” than me, due to his being there at the occasion of Kabbolas HaNesius – before I was even born.

What other memories did he share of his early years in proximity to 770?

One of young Yakov Perlow’s good friends from cheder in Brownsville and the neighborhood was Reb Yisroel Gordon, may he live and be well, son of Reb Yochonon Gordon, gabbai of the Rebbe’s shul. Years later, Reb Yisroel would tell all in his inimitable fashion of his youth and friendship with the then Novominsker Rebbe’s son Yankel.

Years later, I heard from the Novominsker Rebbe how he remembers being in the Gordon home on Shabbos afternoon when Reb Yochonon would return home to Brownsville from 770 in Crown Heights and would soak his feet in cold water so that they recover from the walk. Once he came back to himself, he’d gather the family and young Yankel and tell them what happened in Beis Chayenu and how the Frierdiker Rebbe was. If there was a farbrengen, he would share what the Rebbe said.

When the Novominsker Rebbe was mesader kiddushin at the wedding of my oldest child, he and Reb Yisroel had a reunion of sorts and reminisced about the old days in the old neighborhood of “Brownsville gubernye.”

What more did you learn about Lubavitch and Novominsk once you began working there?

I once heard from the late Reb Yosef Wineberg that he was once sent on a shlichus by the Frierdiker Rebbe to spend Shabbos in Warsaw and, as an aside, go to the Novominsker Rebbe for shalosh seudos, when he would say Torah. Upon returning to the Frierdiker Rebbe he relayed what he had seen, including the fact that he spoke Torah for some two hours and it was “reine (pure) Chassidus!” To which the Frierdiker Rebbe responded: “אט אזוי דארף א רבי זאגען חסידות!”- “That is how a Rebbe should say Chassidus!”

The Frierdiker Rebbe and Novominsk actually had family relations as well. In a letter on the occasion of the Bar Mitzvah of the late Novominsker Rebbe, the Frierdiker Rebbe addresses Reb Nochum Mordechai, the Bar-Mitzvah boy’s father, as ש”ב – she’eyr besori, my relative.

This was presumably due to the bochur being a descendant of Reb Mottele Chernobler, by way of his mother, Rebbetzin Feiga Dina, who was the daughter of Reb Boruch Meir Twersky of Azarnitz, also a Chernobler descendant. The Frierdiker Rebbe was also descended from Reb Mottele, by the way of his mother, Rebbetzin Shterna Sarah.

Did the Novominsker Rebbe have any encounters with our Rebbe after having assumed leadership of Novominsk?

I remember the time that the Novominsker Rebbe came to be menachem avel the Rebbe in 5748. Despite this being the first formal known meeting between the two, there seemed to be a certain closeness and ease at the meeting, almost as if they had been long-time acquaintances. A “casual” listener to the recording of the discussion can see how the Novominsker Rebbe was “comfortable” there despite the crowd there and this being his first visit to the Rebbe.

On Gimmel Tammuz 5754, the Novominsker Rebbe came to 770 to be present at the Rebbe’s levaya. This, despite the unfortunate machlokes that was still very much raging in the frum world and the pressure he was feeling not to attend. The same was true at the time of his nichum aveilim visit six years prior.

One must remember that he was very much a part of the Litvishe community in America. He sat on the American “Moetezes Gedolei Torah” with many Litvishe Roshei Yeshiva. He was under immense pressure not to attend. Nevertheless, the Novominsker Rebbe ignored the pressure and came to the Rebbe’s levaya.

Are there any other stories you can share about the Novominsker Rebbe and his connection to Lubavitch?

I’ll share one story I fondly remember from a visit to Los Angeles. After a tiring visit to many local mosdos and schools, the Novominsker Rebbe asked me if we would be heading to the airport to fly back to New york. I gently reminded him about his planned visit to Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad, where the rosh yeshiva Harav Ezra Schochet and talmidim were anxiously awaiting his arrival.

When remembering his obligation to the yeshiva, he asked for a few minutes to prepare his shiur there. He asked which language he needs to speak there, and when he heard that Yiddish was the choice there, he was overjoyed. The 45-minute shiur was one of true delight for him, the staff, and the talmidim.

Rabbi Brennan, as one who has been involved in Novominsk for decades, where do you see the Chassidus heading now?

The Novominsker Rebbe was survived by two daughters and twin sons. His sons, Rav Yehoshua Heschel and Rav Alter Yisroel Yisroel Shimon, who were both appointed rebbes as their father requested, are both great talmidei chachomim and worthy successors of their illustrious father.

יהי זכרו ברוך

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Addendum: A Short History of Novominsk

By Hershel Rosenbluh for Anash.org

Chassidus Novominsk is a pretty recent development in the history of Chassidus. The first Rebbe, Reb Yaakov Perlow, born in 1843/5603, was a grandson of the Rebbe Shlomo Chaim of Koidenov, and a grandson of the Stoliner Rebbe Reb Asher, son of Reb Aharon HaGadol of Karlin (the last name Perlow came from his mother’s side). From his father’s side, he was descended from Reb Mordchai of Neshchiz who was a talmid of Reb Michel Zlotchover. His derech in avodas Hashem was that of the Koidenov and Karlin chassidim, with loud, fiery davening.

After the passing of Reb Shlomo Chaim of Koidenov, many of his zeide’s chassidim wanted him to assume the mantle of leadership, but the majority chose his older uncle, Reb Boruch Mordechai. Reb Yaakov became a Rebbe in the town of Strashelle, where the Alter Rebbe’s talmid Reb Aron of Strashelle lived from after the Alter Rebbe’s histalkus until his passing on Shemini Atzeres 5589/1828. Reb Aron’s chassidim who lived there saw in Reb Yaakov a similar derech, and were happy to have him in their town. Recently, a ksav found in Strashelle, written very much in the style of Chabad and thought to be of Reb Aron, was actually confirmed to be that of Reb Yaakov of Strashelle and Novominsk.

In the 5630s/1870s, after 15 years of not having a son, he moved to Novominsk, Poland, after being promised by his uncle Reb Yitzchok of Neshchiz that he would have sons if he moved out of Russia. Three sons were born to Reb Yaakov, including Reb Yehuda Aryeh, who later lived in New York. When the chassidim in Poland saw his style of avodas Hashem, which was so similar to the ways of the Koidenover-Stoliner Chassidim, they were nicknamed the Poylishe Karliner, as opposed to the Karliner-Stoliner Chassidim who were in Russia and Lithuania. Reb Yaakov of Novominsk passed away there in Adar of 5662/1902.

His son Reb Alter Yisroel Shimon was one of the leading Rebbes in Poland. He was the rosh yeshiva in the large yeshiva that his father had founded in 5656/1896 in Novominsk. When his father passed away he succeeded him. His seder was to say Torah for sometimes as long as three hours, filled with much kaballah and chassidus. His davening followed the style of his zeides of Koidenov and Stolin.

During WWI he moved to Warsaw, where thousands flocked to see and hear him. He became a close friend to the Frierdiker Rebbe and is mentioned among the gedolei Yisroel who attended the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s wedding in Kislev of 5689/1928. He was a leading member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Yisroel in Poland. Many stories of mofsim and ruach haKodesh are told about him.

In the sefer “Tiferes Ish,” one finds Reb Alter Yisroel Shimon’s minhogim and sees many similarities to minhogei Chabad, including that he would daven nusach Ari and that in his shul the shliach tzibbur does not wear a tallis at mincha or maariv, even on Shabbos and Yomtov.

The Tiferes Ish passed away at the age of approximately 57 on 6 Teves, 5693/1932. He was succeeded in Warsaw by his young son, Reb Yosef, who was only 17 at the time. Reb Yosef suffered terribly during WW2 and passed away after liberation from disease, r”l.

His son Reb Nochum Mordechai Perlow moved to New York in 1927 – while his father was still alive – and settled first in the Lower East Side and then in Brownsville. He was the son in law of the Sokolover Rebbe, who passed away in 5699/1939 and is buried in Warsaw. In 5710/1950, Reb Nochum Mordechai moved from Brownsville to Crown Heights and spent some two decades there. In America, he was an active member of the Agudath Yisroel, as well as other Torah institutions.

Discussion
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  1. Numerous bochurim who learned in his Boro Park yeshiva, eventually made their final stop in Lubavitcher Yeshivos.

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