Since its inception, RJJ has always been broad in its approach to education. It was one of the first yeshivas established in the US and the first to offer a dual curriculum of Jewish and general studies. As such, it naturally sought to appeal to a variety of students and their families.
The “Mama Yeshiva,” as it was affectionately called by students and supporters, was created by Rabbi Jacob Joseph and Rabbi Samuel Andron in 1900. After Rabbi Joseph’s passing two years later, Rabbi Andron renamed the school for his friend.
Originally from Eastern Europe, noted author and scholar Rabbi Andron escaped to New York City with his family to avoid persecution, including the forced conscription of his five sons into the Czar’s army. He tried earning a living as a Hebrew teacher but was forced to stop because his students’ schedules were extremely limited. He opened an insurance business instead. The Andron boys attended the local public school and their father taught them Torah in their spare time.
To Rabbi Andron’s disappointment, he found America to be a challenging place for Jewish observance. His frustration came to a head one day when his son came home asking to attend the school Christmas party. He promptly took his sons out of school and along with 10 of his clients’ children, started a cheder. They learned in a nearby synagogue, studying Torah from 9:00am – 2:00pm and general studies from 4:00pm – 6:00pm. Rabbi Andron’s business struggled while he poured all his energy into the little school, which soon moved to a building on Orchard Street.
RJJ received its first charter in 1903, and moved to Henry Street in 1907 where its students flourished for the next 70 years. By 1910 RJJ had grown to 500 students and was considered the dominant yeshiva of the Lower East Side. A few years later RJJ built an addition to accommodate its growing population.
The school’s policy was to accept any Jewish student who wanted to attend regardless of aptitude or observance. The student body quickly grew into a lively, diverse group of American and immigrant boys. The Ladies Auxiliary set up a fund to provide low-income students with breakfast and lunch. In the early days, there was no uniform which highlighted the range of students and their different backgrounds. They liked it though, because they felt accepted for who they were.
In the early years, the faculty and board often disagreed about how much the school should focus on the secular studies department, which functioned under a separate principal. With no other schools to set educational standards, the teachers and administrators experimented with curriculum and teaching methods. Interesting results emerged such as dual Yiddish- and Hebrew-speaking tracks in the 1920s as more Zionist-leaning families joined RJJ. But as the school developed, it sought to balance the principles of a modern American education while supporting Jewish traditions rooted in Torah.
Many alumni recall the school encouraging fun and games while putting special emphasis on Judaic studies. As one former student explained, “RJJ was a yeshiva with an award-winning scholastic newspaper, a basketball team, and serious Torah learning. It was a strange combination; imagine the dichotomy.” The school had a large gymnasium for students to play sports, although it was later repurposed as a study hall.
RJJ parents and administrators constantly dreamed of opening a boys high school, but the board resisted the idea for many years. After a couple failed attempts, RJJ opened a high school in 1940 and a rabbinical department in 1951. It was and continues to be the only semicha program to offer training in both brit milah and shechitah.
Rabbi Joseph’s grandson, Senator Lazarus Joseph, was a humanitarian, statesman, and philanthropist who used his influence to help RJJ. During World War II he experienced a deep personal loss when his 22-year-old son, Captain Jacob Joseph, was killed in the 1942 Battle of Guadalcanal. The Captain Jacob Joseph playground, which is still located on the corner of Henry and Rutgers, is dedicated to his memory.
As Jews managed to escape war-torn Europe, numerous rabbis came to teach at RJJ with brilliant scholarly backgrounds, including two teachers who spent time in concentration camps. They served as a grapevine to the old country, bringing horrific stories about Nazi brutality that spread wildly through RJJ’s network long before the local newspapers reported them. Many RJJ families unofficially heard about what had befallen their relatives and friends. Even in 1942, most media agencies downplayed Holocaust reports as no one believed the Nazis would commit such atrocities.
Throughout its decades-long existence, neighborhood trends in New York City continued to impact RJJ’s student population. Between 1961 and 1963, elementary school enrollment dropped from 900 to 780. Young Jewish families stopped moving to the Lower East Side and most students were commuting to school. Students didn’t feel safe in the neighborhood anymore and enrollment continued to drop. By 1972, the elementary school had shrunk to a one room schoolhouse. Something had to change. Finally, after several incidents of anti- semitic attacks on students and vandalism in the Henry Street building, RJJ moved to the Bronx in 1972
Several years later, RJJ moved to a bigger campus in Staten Island. In 1987 it opened a separate division for girls, a beis yaakov-style counterpart to the boys school. The school’s growth soon led RJJ to open other locations around New York and New Jersey.
Throughout its expansion, RJJ never lost its warm and nurturing atmosphere. Its story of struggle and resilience is one that students and alumni are proud to be part of, and will continue to inspire thousands of lives for years to come.
Rabbi Jacob Joseph
Rabbi Jacob Joseph (1840-1902) is best known as the chief rabbi of New York. Born in Kovno, Russia in 1840, he contributed greatly toward the development of Jewish life in America at a time when assimilation and anti-semitism hit particularly hard. As a teenager, his wit and intelligence earned him the nickname Reb Yaakov Charif (sharp) at the Volozhin Yeshiva he attended under Rabbi Yisrael Salanter. After serving as rabbi for several Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, Rabbi Jacob Joseph’s fame spread and he became the maggid (preacher) of Vilna.
Between 1881 and 1924, over 2.5 million Central and Eastern European Jews fled to the United States in response to economic hardship and intense persecution. They moved all over the country, with many settling in the tenement buildings on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. From the very beginning of this influx, New York’s Jewish leadership were unable to cope with the streams of Jewish European immigrants, and 100,000 families lacked inspired rabbinic leadership. Recognizing this void, the leaders of 18 synagogues teamed up to create the Agudath Hakehilloth, or the Association of American Orthodox Hebrew Congregations. The Association implored Rabbi Jacob Joseph to come to America and serve as chief rabbi. With his brilliant Torah scholarship and understanding of modern culture, despite his limited English and lack of formal secular education, Rabbi Joseph seemed a perfect fit for this role. Though he was initially hesitant to leave Vilna, he saw the significance of growing Judaism in America and agreed to take leadership.
When he arrived in Hoboken, he received a red-carpet welcome with 100,000 people cheering his arrival and The New York Times singing his praises as a renowned scholar. Dramin Jones, who headed the delegation, recited the shehechiyanu blessing upon seeing Rabbi Joseph. Rabbi Joseph briefly addressed the crowd, calling for unity and collaboration.
Rabbi Joseph’s first sermon at Beth Medrash Hagadol in New York’s Lower East Side saw a packed and tense house, as his arrival had ruffled the feathers of the secular Jewish press. It took four police officers to escort him through the crowd.
At an early hour yesterday afternoon a crowd began to gather in front of Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Synagogue, on Norfolk street, attracted by the report that the new chief rabbi, Jacob Joseph, would preach there his inaugural sermon. As time went on the crowd grew denser, until by 3 o’clock it had filled not only the space directly in front of the synagogue, but the entire block between Grand and Broome streets. It clamored vociferously for admission, and Capt. Webb and 12 stalwart policemen had their hands full trying to preserve order among the struggling mass of people bent on gaining at least a foothold within the temple.
They paid not the slightest heed to the officers’ remonstrances and positive declarations that no more would be permitted to enter.
His first talk electrified the diverse crowd who came to hear him. It lasted nearly an hour as he spoke in a mix of Hebrew, German, and Polish. He spoke about kindness and understanding. Even his critics reported on this event with deference and admiration. Tens of thousands continued to come hear him speak every Sabbath.
Rabbi Joseph understood the challenge of maintaining Jewish observance in the “goldene medina.” Yet despite this, and despite some who tried to thwart his ideals, Rabbi Joseph’s efforts set the stage for Torah Judaism in America. He served as the rabbi of Beth Medrash Hagadol and established a beth din. He was credited with helping open some 20 synagogues. For kashrut he introduced plumba — irremovable seals — for kosher poultry, and set up a system for qualified shochtim and mashgichim to operate in slaughterhouses. At the time, he worked with 15 butcheries.
In addition to kashrut, Rabbi Joseph did much for Jewish education. He helped open the Etz Chaim Yeshiva in the Lower East Side, the precursor to Yeshiva University’s rabbinical seminary. Toward the end of his life, he helped open the school that became his namesake.
As an author, he published a collection of novella and sermons entitled Le’Beis Yaakov that is still studied today.
During his lifetime, Rabbi Joseph handled millions of dollars. But when he passed away he was penniless, preferring instead to give his funds away to Jewish institutions and to support those in need. His desire to support Jewish life was evident on his first weekend in New York when he voiced disapproval over the practice of requiring tickets to attend Beth Medrash Hagadol. In another incident where he helped two brothers settle a dispute, he refused to take their money and when they insisted, he directed the court to distribute their $200 among the next eight people who asked the court for financial assistance.
The stunning impact he made on American Jewry motivated more than 100,000 to attend his funeral. RJJ’s previous president, Dr. Marvin Schick, used to say that Rabbi Joseph’s work caused “the shteibelization of America.” The effect he had at the turn of the century directly led to the establishment of some of the most iconic Jewish institutions in America today.
Since its founding over a century ago, RJJ has seen only four presidents, prominent lay leaders who were chosen for their dedication to their communities. Most recently, when Dr. Schick passed away in April 2020 his son, attorney Avi Schick, became RJJ’s current president. Dr. Marvin Schick had served as president for 45 years from 1975 to 2020 and was revered by many for his progressive views on education. He shared the philosophy and values of Irving Bunim, lay leader of the Young Israel movement and Chinuch Atzmai, who served as RJJ’s second president for 35 years from 1940 to 1975. Bunim had taken this role after Julius Dukas, RJJ’s first president from 1913 to 1940.
Beyond their dedication to RJJ, each president served as strong community lay leaders in their own right. They were deeply invested with other organizations and synagogues in the Jewish community.
RJJ’s presidents exhibit a generous attitude toward the school, constantly giving and raising money for its families in need.
Julius Dukas (1869-1940) was a businessman and philanthropist. He was born in 1869 to a German-Jewish family. Besides RJJ, Dukas supported the Hebrew Free Loan Society, Park East Synagogue, Union of Jewish Congregations, and others.
Dukas preferred to fundraise in inclement weather. A friend once asked him about this, and Dukas answered that people are impressed by his dedication and end up increasing their donation. During his tenure Dukas persuaded many community members to become RJJ supporters.
A group of RJJ students became known as Dukas’s boys. Dukas would cover their tuition and make sure they had clothing and a place to live. Some ended up in a small dormitory on East 69th Street. Dukas gave them spending money and bought them new suits before the Jewish holidays. Long after he passed away, these former students continued to support RJJ and dedicate their reunions to him. Three of them ended up serving on RJJ’s board of directors.
Irving Bunim (1901-1980) had a deep and long-standing connection to RJJ. Originally from Volozhin, Moshe and Minka Bunim enrolled nine-year-old Irving at RJJ shortly after emigrating to America. Irving’s father worked as a teacher while his mother ran a bakery and took in boarders to supplement the family income. The house was always filled with guests, especially new immigrants from Eastern Europe. From an early age, Irving inherited his father’s passion for Torah study, and his mother’s kindness and business sense. This combination laid the groundwork for him to become RJJ’s next president.
After graduating in 1915, Bunim became part of the alumni association but his involvement was minimal until the 1930s when RJJ was hit by the Great Depression. As parents pulled their children out of school, RJJ started failing financially. At his friend’s suggestion, Julius Dukas approached Irving Bunim for financial support. Bunim had a thriving textile factory, and as his business grew, so did his philanthropic ventures. Although he was deeply involved with the Young Israel movement, Bunim quickly agreed to help.
First he tapped his large social network of fellow alumni and friends to fill the financial gaps. Then he turned his attention to the education side and helped Dukas expand RJJ into a serious high school and beis medrash. The boys studied chumash, Talmud, halacha, and lashon hakodesh. Bunim gave lectures once a week on medrash and aggadah.
Bunim published two books, one on Pirkei Avot and another about Jewish life in America, which incorporated elements of his weekly Sunday talks at RJJ. He became known throughout the US as a prolific speaker because he would travel the country to open Young Israel synagogues in different cities. As one former president of Young Israel’s National Council recalled, “[Bunim] was a terrific speaker, a great humorist, a great wit. He would fascinate audiences. He used to regale them with stories that brought peals of laughter, and moments later, brought tears to their eyes.”
In addition to his work in supporting Jewish education and Orthodox Judaism, Bunim got involved in the Holocaust rescue effort, working with Vaad Hatzalah to help 1,000 Jews escape and sending food to survivors.
Bunim’s generous nature constantly shone through in his leadership. Shortly before Purim one year, a student tentatively approached Bunim. When the president asked what was wrong, he said they were struggling to come up with the funds for their Purim celebration. Bunim promptly handed over a ten-dollar bill, the amount the boys needed.
No student was turned away from RJJ if the parents didn’t have enough funds to cover tuition. Many of the yeshiva’s early students were from Eastern European immigrant families. As an immigrant himself, Bunim knew firsthand what it was to be new and struggling in a foreign place. Once when he heard that an immigrant widow and her children were having money issues, Bunim started buying groceries for them on a regular basis. He also took care of the yeshiva’s teachers, treating everyone at RJJ as part of his extended family.
Some acts of kindness remain unknown for years. After his funeral, it came out that Dr. Schick kept files on families that couldn’t afford tuition. In one instance there was a single mother who sent her two children to RJJ, and Dr. Schick instructed the staff not to ask her for tuition. When she was able to she would bring in a payment. Later when the woman considered sending her kids to the local public high school, she ultimately decided to enroll them in a yeshiva. This was solely due to the care and compassion that RJJ had shown her.
It wasn’t just this woman that Dr. Schick helped — she was one of many parents who turned to Dr. Schick for advice and support. Perhaps he understood because his own mother had struggled as a widow.
Dr. Marvin Schick (1934-2020) was born in New York at the height of the Great Depression. At age three he lost his father, the rabbi of the West Side of Manhattan’s 34th Street. Within a few weeks, the family lost their home, the children were separated, and they contracted multiple illnesses. Eventually the children recovered and were reunited. Their mother, Renee Schick, opened a kosher bakery in Boro Park. The family lived above the shop and Marvin would help her there sometimes.
Five years after the death of his father, young Marvin attended RJJ with his twin brother Arthur. The rambunctious nine-year-olds were placed in first grade for Hebrew subjects. Though the age gap was challenging, their progress was evident and laid the groundwork for Schick’s magnificent leadership. RJJ’s Rabbi Nachman Mandel nurtured him there as his rebbi.
After graduating, Marvin Schick lost touch with RJJ for a little while as he became close to Rav Aharon Kotler, who founded the Beth Medrash Govoha yeshiva in Lakewood. Through their connection he became involved with Chinuch Atzmai and the Avi Chai Foundation. It was the start of Dr. Schick’s involvement in countless charitable and educational initiatives.
For many years, Dr. Schick taught constitutional law and political science at Hunter College, Lehman College, and the New School for Social Research. He published a Johns Hopkins University Press Volume called Learned Hand’s Court, an in-depth study of Judge Learned Hand’s impact on one of the most important federal appellate courts in the US. Dr. Schick went on to establish the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA), an organization supporting the rights of religious Jews in the workplace.
In the early 70s, Irving Bunim approached Dr. Schick. RJJ was failing financially and losing students. Dr. Schick was surprised to hear that the school was experiencing such dire financial troubles, but he quickly agreed to help. He took on a substantial fundraising role and established a regular census for day school students. In 1976 he spearheaded RJJ’s move to Staten Island, which drew many new families.
When he became president Dr. Schick continued the ideology of Irving Bunim who had previously served as president for 35 years. He displayed exceptional leadership that is reflected at RJJ today. After receiving a donation for RJJ, large or small, he always wrote a thank you note. Sometimes he sent out notes before the donations came in.
Dr. Schick paid tribute to the school’s namesake by republishing Rabbi Jacob Joseph’s Le’Beis Yaakov, which included more of the rabbi’s writings. This was likely helped by the fact that Dr. Schick was a noted author and columnist in his own right. He published many essays on Jewish life in America and maintained a blog. He also joined the effort to restore Rabbi Joseph’s gravesite in Israel.
Dr. Schick passed away in April 2020.
Avi Schick is a partner at Troutman Sanders LLC. He represents a wide range of clients including government officials, real estate agencies, businesses, public companies, schools, and nonprofits.
He previously worked his way up into the highest spheres of the New York state government, navigating complex legal processes involving civil and criminal litigation, investigation, and appeals at the state and federal level.
Schick’s efforts are not strictly legal and he serves as a community advocate in other capacities. After the passing of his grandmother, Avi and his wife Michal started Bobbie’s Place in her honor, a free clothing store that provides thousands of items to children in need. When he got into Columbia Law School, his grandmother reminded him to do good with his law degree. Showing him her eviction notice from half a century earlier, she added, “Remember, this was also done by a lawyer.” Her words made a big impression and since then, Schick has accomplished much for the Jewish community.
Growing up in a home that engaged in many passionate discussions about Judaism and education, Avi’s father constantly stressed the importance of using one’s unique skills and talents to help others, inspiring his son to champion Orthodox Judasim through legal channels. Schick attended RJJ and the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn before earning his law degree at Columbia University, so he knows firsthand the value of a Jewish education.
Many of Schick’s outcomes support the interests of the Jewish community. In 2018, he won a case for Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood to receive a $10.6 million state grant for economic development. More recently in November 2020, Schick won a case for Agudath Israel during the COVID-19 pandemic for the right to continue holding synagogue services and gatherings.
His passionate stance on the First Amendment comes through in his writing. His articles are published in many prominent publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Legal Affairs, and Slate.
Schick serves as the current president of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School. He also works as the director of the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum. He has five children and lives in [neighborhood] with his wife Michal.
Rabbi Hillel Weiss
Rabbi Dr. Hillel Weiss ran RJJ’s high school from 1939-1954. He became a transformative force for the school with Irving Bunim. Together they often “butted heads” with the board and other powerful people who wanted the school to lean more modern (Bunim and Weiss usually won).
Rabbi Weiss was a refugee from Vienna. He had studied at the Pressburgh Yeshiva in Hungary. During World War I he served in the Austrian army and later earned his PhD in Austria. As World War II loomed, he was arrested three times by the SS because of his ties to anti-Nazi Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg. The SS ordered Rabbi Weiss to remain in Austria but he and his family escaped through Czechoslovakia and Belgium. When he finally made it to US soil, he asked, “Am I really in the US? Can I now talk without fear?”
Julius Dukas was looking for a Judaics principle in 1939 when he met and hired Rabbi Weiss. Rabbi Weiss immediately raised the quality of the Judaics department by recruiting more qualified teachers, mostly Torah scholars who fled Eastern Europe during World War II. Paired with a strong secular department, graduates of RJJ were well placed to pursue Torah scholarship or secular careers.
Rabbi Weiss’s style influenced RJJ into the litvish mussar style of learning. Under the leadership of Irving Bunim and Rabbi Weiss, many RJJ students went on to study at Rabbi Aharon Kotler’s Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, as well as the Brooklyn-based Torah Vodaath and Telz Yeshiva in Wickliffe, Ohio.
At his funeral, RJJ alumni talked about their rosh yeshiva’s kindness and generosity. A former student recounted how Rabbi Weiss would buy a new suit for him every year before Passover. On another occasion, a group of RJJ students had gotten into trouble for going somewhere they shouldn’t have been, but Rabbi Weiss saw to it that none of them were expelled.
Under Rabbi Weiss’s leadership, the student body blossomed into a diverse micro-community. He accepted anyone who desired a Jewish education. There were children from working class families, especially refugees, and students with Sephardic and Chabad backgrounds. After World War II, students from higher-income families began attending RJJ.
Rabbi Weiss’s unique approach to education enabled him to form long-lasting connections with the students, who remember him fondly. He passed away in 1954.
Rabbi Yehuda Leib Kagan
In the early 40s, Rabbi Kagan was appointed principal of the high school while Rabbi Weiss ran the elementary.
He wrote a sefer called Halichos Yehuda.
Rabbi Mendel Kravitz
Rabbi Mendel Krawiec (pronounced Kravitz) became the rosh yeshiva in 1947 at Rav Kotler’s recommendation. He established RJJ’s beis medrash with the support of Irving Bunim. He did it despite pushback from the school board, whose members did not want RJJ to offer rabbinic ordination.
Rabbi Krawiec was one of Rav Kotler’s students and had studied in Kletsk. When he was [age], Rav Kotler suggested a match between Rabbi Krawiec and his future wife, Rebbetzin Rashel. Incredibly, the marriage saved her life. During World War II, Rabbi Krawiec went to Shanghai with the Mir Yeshiva and his young wife, leaving both their families behind. They had two children in Shanghai, Malka and Aaron.
After the war, when they heard the painful news that their families and communities were destroyed, the couple immigrated to the United States through San Francisco and traveled by train to New York. They settled in Seagate on the western side of Coney Island. The family became involved in kiruv work and enjoyed organizing fun Shabbos groups with their children and friends.
Rabbi Krawiec commuted daily to RJJ where he gave two shiurim and prepared students to earn semicha. It was challenging as many of the boys were not used to such rigorous Torah study. But under the mentorship of Rabbi Krawiec, many of them went on to become community leaders, rabbis, and teachers.
Later the Krawiecs moved to Israel. But their time in Israel was cut short when Rabbi Krawiec became sick. The couple decided to return to the US, settling in Boro Park where they lived until Rabbi Krawiec’s passing in 1992.
Rabbi Zeidel Epstein
Rabbi Zeidel Epstein (1908-2008) was known for his heartfelt mussar talks. He exuded respect for each boy and it came through in the way he spoke to them. They felt his regard and responded warmly to it.
A former student at RJJ, Rabbi Aaron Lopiansky, said that the reason he and his peers took to their rebbi’s mussar talks so well was because he embodied humility and truth. Rabbi Epstein didn’t mince words; he spoke to the point and more importantly, tailored his talks to his audience. He engaged with each student at his level of observance, background, and age. His advice was filled with practical wisdom, tailored to the person he was talking to. He encouraged one student to learn in kollel, another to become a rabbi, and a third to go into business. He loved them all equally.
Rabbi Epstein had studied in the prominent Grodno yeshiva led by Rabbi Shimon Shkop. Shortly before World War II, Rabbi Epstein escaped to America. When he arrived in New York City, he worked hard to learn English so he could better connect to his students. His efforts paid off and Rabbi Epstein instilled in them a strong desire to pursue Torah knowledge and improve their middot through mussar.
Ever the peacemaker, Rabbi Epstein always avoided controversy. He used to say that he was a maggid shiur as opposed to a rosh yeshiva. He could teach any grade at RJJ and moved classes as needed. The students revered their unassuming teacher with his gray suits and simple ties. They felt he understood them and their needs.
Tragically, Rabbi Epstein’s oldest child passed away in 1999. Another RJJ teacher delivered the news to him at RJJ. When Rabbi Epstein left the room, he saw another teacher whose child had just gotten engaged. Though grieving for his son, he warmly wished the teacher mazel tov.
Rabbi Epstein was very careful with his words and did not speak about people. He didn’t even tell his wife about RJJ politics. He once jokingly told his students to write as many “grammen” (jingles) about him as they wanted, as long as they kept yeshiva politics out of it.
When he was offered a higher-paying position at the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn, Rabbi Epstein turned it down, citing a phrase from Kohelet that one should not leave a place of personal success. Even when the head of school increased the salary and offered additional benefits, Rabbi Epstein preferred to remain at RJJ.
Then in 1978, at age 70 Rabbi Epstein moved to Israel, leaving his family in the US. He served as the mashgiach of Yeshiva Torah Or and proceeded to learn Hebrew so he could connect with his students more, just as he did in America.
He lived well into his nineties, most of it in good health, which he attributed to his ongoing study of mussar. His published works include two mussar sefarim, Ma’amarei Shlomo and Hei’aros, and a commentary on Shas entitled Afikei Chayil.
Rabbi Shaya Shimionowit
Rabbi Shaya Shimionowitz (1908-1998) was born in Rubizevich, Poland. He studied under the Steipler Gaon in Bialystock and at the Slutzk yeshiva under Rav Aharon Kotler. Rav Mendel Zaks, son-in-law of the Chofetz Chaim, was his chavrusa for over three years. During World War II, he fled Europe with the Mir Yeshiva to Japan and Shanghai as part of an elite kollel group.
After the war ended, Rabbi Shimionowitz became RJJ’s rosh yeshiva where he served for 25 years. He also became the rosh kollel of Kollel Kerem Shlomo in Williamsburg.
Rabbi Shimioniwitz published a three-part sefer called Amudei Shayish. He passed away in Lakewood, NJ at age 90.
Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Warshavchik
Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Warshavchik (date-1988) was known for his warmth and charisma.
People were often struck by the dignified manner of this Torah scholar. His students described him as princely. They felt he was a link to the European scholars of the previous generation, many of whom were killed in the Holocaust including Rabbi Warshavchik’s esteemed rav, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman.
For thirty years Rabbi Warshavchik formed lifelong connections with his students. Many became rosh yeshivas themselves, while others went on to be supporters of Torah learning. Regardless of their career choices, he was proud of them all.
Rabbi Warshavchik came from Eastern Europe. His father was a Gerrer chassid but sent his son to Litvish yeshivas in Kamenitz and Mir. During World War II he escaped Europe with his yeshiva, first to Japan and then Shanghai, China where he lived for five years. In 1946 Rabbi Warshavchick traveled to America with his wife Nechama on a boat designed for animal transport. They arrived in San Francisco and traveled across the country to New York. The day after he got to New York, Rabbi Warshavchik heard that RJJ was looking for a rosh yeshiva. He approached Rabbi Hillel Weiss to interview for the position. Rabbi Weiss made a bracha upon seeing Rabbi Warshavchik and immediately appointed him as RJJ’s new rosh yeshiva.
In the 1940s it was challenging for students to become proud Talmudic scholars. The boys couldn’t see their American identity as something that could fit with their Jewishness. Rabbi Warshavchik boldly got to work and his students responded to his dedication.
Former student Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb of the Orthodox Union said, “[Rabbi Warshavchik] was so warm, so kind. He understood that he would need to inject us with self-esteem to make us successful in learning, and he did.”
American nicknames annoyed the rosh yeshiva, and when his students called each other Rocky and Duke they could tell he wasn’t impressed. Rabbi Weinreb had attended RJJ in the 40s and 50s. Everyone called him Heshy. Rabbi Warshavchik called him over one day and asked, “Heshy? What are you going to do with such a name when you’re a big rabbi?” Young Heshy laughed. Today Rabbi Weinreb still goes by that moniker.
Rabbi Warshavchik understood that one had to live with the times too. In one instance the rosh yeshiva was one of the first poskim to apply halachic rulings to modern American life, such as what bracha to make on rice krispies and a banana split, a popular treat among 1940s kids.
His students felt his care in every interaction. Dr. Schick put it this way: “Fifty years after I was in his shiur, I continue to feel the warmth of Rabbi Warshavchik, an elegant man who was a devoted and excellent teacher who like other Talmudic scholars that were refugees served as a spiritual link between the great pre-Holocaust yeshivas and the yeshivas that were taking root on American soil.”
For the last ten years of his life, Rabbi Warshavchik lived in Israel where he served as the rosh yeshiva of Knesset Chizkiya’s Kfar Chassidim. Dr. Robert Aumann’s son came to visit the yeshiva when he heard Rabbi Warshavchik had settled there, asking to meet and study with “rebbi shel Abba.”
Rabbi Warshavchik passed away in 1988.
Rabbi Isaac Tendler
Rabbi Isaac Tendler (1901-1980) started his tenure at RJJ by accident when his eighth grade son’s teacher called in sick one day. Rabbi Tendler got a call asking if he could substitute. After that Rabbi Tendler remained at RJJ for the next 43 years.
Rabbi Tendler was born in Lithuania and moved to America in the 1920s. He was part of the first graduating class at Yeshiva University.
Rabbi Tendler was an incredible teacher. His love for Talmud shone through in his lessons as he made it come to life for his students. He also had a sharp sense of humor. Former RJJ student Rabbi Marvin Hier relayed the following anecdote about his teacher:
Rabbi Tendler once went on a hilarious rant against the increasingly popular bar mitzvah teaching aid, the tape recorder. “Boys,” he said, “You know why I am against this? I will tell you. Recently I went to a fancy bar mitzvah of a rich man’s son. So they call the boy up to the Torah, he goes up, kisses it with his tallis, and recites the blessing, ‘Barchu es Hashem hamevorach.’ As is the custom, the congregation then responds, ‘Baruch Hashem hamevorach l’olam va’ed.’ Suddenly, the bar mitzvah boy shouts back at the congregation, ‘Be quiet! I know the blessings!’ You see what happens when a tape recorder becomes a teacher,” concluded Rav Tendler.
In another instance, a young Marvin Hier impersonated Rav Kotler so well that Rabbi Tendler asked him to record a tape to show his father-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. As he spoke into the recorder, young Marvin included sources that had nothing to do with the topic he had chosen. Afterward, Rabbi Tendler said that when he played it for his father-in-law, Rabbi Feinstein smiled and quoted the well-known verse, “The voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the hands belong to Esav.”
When Rabbi Tendler worked somewhere, he stayed for a long time. He served on the executive council for Orthodox Union for 26 years. He taught a popular gemara shiur at Congregation Bchurel Chemed for 50 years and led the Kaminitzer Synagogue in the Lower East Side for 50 years as well.
The Kaminitzer Synagogue was named for Rabbi Tendler’s hometown in Lithuania and many of its members came from Kamenitz. A man named Joseph Applebaum was an affluent member of the synagogue. Through his connection to Rabbi Tendler, Applebaum became a generous philanthropist for RJJ and other Jewish chessed organizations.
Rabbi Tendler passed away in 1980 at age 79. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein gave the eulogy for his esteemed son-in-law.
Robert John “Yisrael” Aumann
Nobel laureate Dr. Robert John “Yisrael” Aumann (1930-present) is among RJJ’s distinguished alumni. The Israeli-American co-winner of the 2005 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics was born to Orthodox Jewish parents in Frankfurt, Germany. Aumann’s father, Segmund, was a decorated World War I veteran and his mother, Miriam, had earned a BA in London, which was somewhat unusual for women in the early 20th century. Segmund Aumann operated a successful textile business and the family lived comfortably until Hitler gained power.
In 1938, frightened for their lives, Aumann’s parents obtained visas and escaped Nazi Germany with eight-year-old Robert and his brother Peter just before the infamous Kristallnacht attack. They settled in New York and the Aumann boys attended RJJ in the Lower East Side. The Aumann’s parents had lost their fortune and were forced to start over in America. Although money was tight, they worked hard to ensure their boys received a quality education with Torah values.
It was Aumann’s math teacher at RJJ, Joey Ganzler, who initially sparked his interest in the field of math and science.
“There was a marvelous teacher of mathematics by the name of Joseph Gansler,” he said in an interview. “The classes were very small; the high school had just started operating. He used to gather the students around his desk. What really turned me on was geometry, theorems, and proofs. So all the credit belongs to Joey Gansler.”
RJJ’s Rabbi Warshavchik forged a strong bond with young Robert by nurturing and encouraging him in his Jewish studies. Looking back, Aumann expressed gratitude for the incredible Torah education he received at RJJ:
On the Jewish side, the high school teacher who influenced me most was Rabbi Shmuel Warshavchik. He had spent the years of the Second World War with the Mir Yeshiva in China, having escaped from the Nazis; after the war he made his way to the United States. He had a tremendous influence on me. He attracted me to the beauty of Talmudic study and the beauty of religious observance… Warshavchik’s enthusiasm and intensity – the fire in his eyes – lit a fire in me also.
After graduating high school, Aumann attended City College of New York for a B.S. in Mathematics. He earned both a Master’s and PhD at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
After Israel declared independence in 1948 Aumann’s brother made aliyah, inspiring Aumann to do the same after completing his PhD. In the early 1950s when he was still living in Brooklyn Aumann met his wife Esther, an Israeli artist who was visiting New York. The couple married in 1955 and moved to Israel where Aumann taught mathematics at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Because Aumann has two secular names and one Hebrew name, he often has issues with paperwork. Once while filling out a form at Tel Aviv University where he was teaching, he stopped to call his wife. “Esther,” he said, “what’s my name in Tel Aviv?” On another occasion, a clerk gave the couple a hard time when they went to update their passports and he saw “Robert Aumann” and “Yisrael Aumann” alternately listed as the father of their children. “Who is this man — are there different fathers here?” he grumbled. “I can’t accept this.”
Fridays in Israel are famous for being hectic and busy as families prepare for Shabbat. In response to Aumann’s weekly seminar entitled “Rationality on Fridays,” his wife would often say that she could understand rationality on any day except Friday.
Robert and Esther had five children. Their son, Shlomo, was killed in action while serving in the Israeli Army during the 1982 Lebanon War. In 1998 Aumann’s wife passed away from ovarian cancer. Seven years later — a week before receiving his Nobel Prize — Aumann married Esther’s widowed sister Batya. Through his first marriage, he has __ grandchildren and __ great-grandchildren. The family is very close-knit and gets together often for family reunions and ski trips.
It was a thrilling day for RJJ faculty and students when their fellow alumnus was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2005. Aumann received the prize with Thomas Schelling for their work on game theory, specifically in the area of conflict and cooperation. He was the first to formally analyze repeated games, which examines the choices people make when playing the same game over and over. Aumann defined correlated equilibrium in game theory, which is less rigid than the Nash equilibrium. Aumann also introduced the agreement theorem which negates the concept of “agree to disagree” when both parties understand each other’s beliefs. He worked with Lloyd Shapley, another Nobel Prize winner, on the Aumann-Shapley value, a solution concept connected to cooperative game theory.
Aumann studied Talmud with the same methodical approach that he applied to math. Using complex reasoning Aumann and a colleague solved the “division problem” about what would happen to a property in Biblical Israel after the landholder, usually male, passed away. He explored how the rabbis applied the concepts of risk aversion, economics, adaptation, competition, and game theory.
Currently, Aumann is the Mathematics Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a founding member of the Center for the Study of Rationality at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Aumann published more than 90 scientific articles and books.
Ari Goldman (1949-present) is a journalism professor at Columbia University. His articles have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Salon, The Jewish Week, and The Forward.
Goldman was born in Hartford, Connecticut. His parents and grandparents were avid readers of Hartford’s local and Jewish newspapers. He said it was his early childhood impressions that initially drew him to journalism. [Images of these newspapers: The Hartford Courant, The Hartford Times, and the Connecticut Jewish Ledger.]
When Goldman was six, his parents divorced and he moved to New York with his mother. It was a hard transition. At age 12 he started attending RJJ, commuting from Queens to the Lower East Side by subway. During his hour-long ride, Goldman would pass the time reading discarded newspapers.
Although he sometimes struggled at school, his writing was always strong. The recognition and praise his teachers often bestowed encouraged the fledgling writer to cultivate his talent even more.
After high school, Goldman attended Yeshiva University. Through his work on the school paper, he became the campus stringer for The New York Times, submitting stories about YU and other relevant topics. In 1971 he started working at The New York Times, first as a copy boy and then as a clerk. After completing his Master’s in journalism at Columbia University, he returned to The Times as a full-fledged reporter. For the most part, Goldman covered religion topics but he also wrote about New York transportation, education, and politics. In 1985 he took a year off to attend Harvard Divinity School, an experience that so transformed the way he saw religion that he wrote a book about it, entitled The Search for God at Harvard.
After two decades of writing over 1,000 articles at The Times, Goldman left to teach journalism at Columbia University. Through his comprehensive curriculum, Covering Religion, students travel to Israel, Jordan, Ireland, Italy, Russia, and India. These tours provide very unique and poignant experiences that are impossible to convey in a traditional university lecture hall. Many “Goldman grads” go on to work at prominent newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and Miami Herald.
In 2016, Goldman helped launch a journalist program for high schoolers called the School of the New York Times. He teaches one of the most popular courses, “Writing the Big City: Covering New York.” He takes his students on walks where they cultivate a full sensory experience that enriches their writing.
It was challenging to balance his career with his Judaism, but Goldman persevered. “I’m lucky. I’ve found a way to live both dreams – journalism and Judaism,” he told his student Manya Brachear Pashman. “You have to live your life. You have to live your dreams. You have to live to your full potential, and to me, that means living in both of these worlds.”
[Include that he wrote about RJJ, knows how to affirm others, writes with depth and sensitivity, fully invested but professional]. His dedication and contributions to journalism earned him the Religion News Association’s 2020 William A. Reed Lifetime Achievement Award.
Goldman was a Fulbright professor in Israel, a Skirball Fellow at Oxford University, and scholar-in-residence at Stern College. He published four books, including The Search for God at Harvard, Living a Year of Kaddish, Being Jewish, and The Late Starters Orchestra. Regarding The Search for God at Harvard, people ask Goldman if he found God. He usually answers, “No, I’m still looking. But I know He is out there.” To which his wife adds, “Or Her!”
Goldman and his wife Shira live in New York City. They have three children.
Louis Henkin (1917-2010) was a renowned human rights lawyer. He was born Eliezer Henkin in Smolyany, Russia (currently Belarus). His father was a brilliant rabbi and Talmudic scholar. Henkin’s mother passed away from dysentery when he was only two years old (she had been part of the effort to stop an outbreak). Henkin and his six older siblings were raised by their stepmother.
In 1923 the family moved to America following anti-semitic attacks on Russian Jewry. They lived on the Lower East Side where young Lazar and his brothers attended RJJ. It was there that he learned English and earned the nickname Louie. His knowledge of English enabled him to help his father write letters to other rabbis in the US.
In the 1930s Henkin graduated Yeshiva College with a degree in mathematics. He applied to Harvard Law School as an afterthought when he saw his roommate fill out an application. He got accepted and attended with a loan from his sister. With his law degree, Henkin got a job clerking for Judge Learned Hand at the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
When the United States entered World War II, Henkin put his career on hold to serve in the army for four years. He earned a Silver Star after helping negotiate the surrender and capture of 78 German soldiers by speaking to them in his native tongue, Yiddish.
After the war, Henkin began working for Justice Felix Frankfurter, who was Jewish but not observant. In the mid-20th century it was rare for bosses to accommodate their employees’ religious needs. More often than not, employees were left to figure out to what extent they could practice their faith. The law profession was no different. For Henkin, Shabbat observance became a little complicated. In order to attend Justice Frankfurter’s weekly Saturday meeting, Henkin used to sleep on Frankfurter’s office couch every Friday night and refrain from taking notes the next day. He wasn’t sure if Frankfurter ever realized he did this.
After several years of working for the State Department, precursor to NATO, and another few years of helping the UN with international law, Henkin accepted a teaching post at Columbia Law School. He loved teaching and changed the way students learned about international law, foreign affairs, and human rights. With powerful statements like, “Every man and woman between birth and death counts, and has a claim to an irreducible core of integrity and dignity,” it’s little wonder that Henkin made huge strides in the area of human rights.
His honesty and integrity were evident in everything he did. Former president of Columbia University Lee Bollinger commented:
Lou’s scholarship and teaching transcend the walls of the Law School and the University – and even the lives of his students and colleagues. He has played a key role in shaping international human rights law and in helping other countries incorporate human rights standards into their constitutions and laws. He has literally created lawyers and activists, working daily to preserve elemental human decency on a local, national, and global scale.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg had studied under Henkin and considered him not just a colleague but a personal friend and mentor. When examining a difficult human rights case, she often consulted Henkin’s writings. About Henkin she said, “On human rights under our living Constitution and evolving international law, no scholar has worked more devotedly or done more to enlighten judges than Lou Henkin. He has been rightly called a constitutional scholar of Solomonic stature, a writer of elegance, grace, lucidity.”
Henkin co-founded two human rights institutes at Columbia University, one for its general studies department and the other for its law school.
Henkin wrote and co-authored many articles and books, including How Nations Behave, Foreign Affairs and the US Constitution, and The Age of Rights. He served as the president of the American Society of International Law and of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy.
He lived in Manhattan with his wife Alice until his passing in 2010. They had three sons and five grandchildren.
Today, the modern incarnation of RJJ continues to uphold its original philosophy of providing education to a wide range of Jewish families. This inclusive attitude has prevailed as its family of schools vary from “black hat” beis medrash-style Orthodox yeshivas and Beis Yaakovs to Modern Orthodox coed schools and more.
RJJ is unique in that this spectrum rarely exists in educational institutions.
The school has been in operation for over 120 years and serves more than 1,200 students from nursery through 12th grade.
When COVID-19 hit, each of our schools adopted its own technology solution to continue providing education. Two of the schools launched brand-new summer programs because while in-person classes were canceled, summer camps were permitted to move forward. One high school used a campground in Pennsylvania for a five-week summer program. Elementary schools offered a day camp with a strong educational component for six weeks, since day camp permitted and regular school was not.
The 5 Schools
Yeshiva Merkaz HaTorah
Yeshiva Merkaz HaTorah in Staten Island opened in 1976 when RJJ moved to Staten Island from the Lower East Side. Enrollment was falling and the school felt it was imperative to meet the families where they were — literally. A girls division was launched in 1987 after parents pushed for an equally stellar education for their daughters. To date it remains the only Jewish school in Staten Island with separate campuses for boys and girls. Rabbi Mayer Friedman is the principal of the boys school; Mrs. Esther Akerman runs the preschool and girls school.
With a small student body of 300 students, Yeshiva Merkaz HaTorah focuses on creating a warm and dynamic atmosphere. Students are immersed in a Torah environment where they can thrive. The school administrators and staff are committed to the academic and social success of every student, in accordance with their individual abilities and needs.
Jewish Foundation School
Jewish Foundation School (JFS) of Staten Island is a Modern Orthodox co-ed school with 400 students from preschool through eighth grade, led by Rabbi Richard Ehrlich.
Over 60 years ago, a group of parents got together to establish a yeshiva for the Jewish Community of Staten Island where boys and girls would receive a high quality Jewish education combined with excellence in general studies. The result of this effort was the Jewish Foundation School of Staten Island.
JFS first came under RJJ’s attention when Dr. Marvin Schick heard that the school was about to close. Motivated by the thought of Jewish children losing out on their Jewish education, Dr. Schick convinced the RJJ school board to take JFS under its financial protection.
Today, JFS is home to a large campus consisting of 40 classrooms, a lunch room, resource rooms, library, computer labs, basketball courts, a playground, a large gym, beit knesset, and science lab. Their facilities are only an outward reflection of their educational accomplishments in Judaic and general studies.
The JFS student body represents families across Staten Island, Brooklyn, and New Jersey and are served by a faculty and staff of more than 80 professionals. Their graduates go on to excel at yeshiva high schools and colleges in the United States and Israel.
Staten Island Hebrew Academy
Staten Island Hebrew Academy (SIHA) is a coed school that serves [number] students in grades K-8. Most students belong to unaffiliated Jewish families, including members of the Russian-Jewish community. Students bring their knowledge of Judaism back to their families, helping them discover their Jewish roots and connecting them with the broader Jewish community.
SIHA instills students with pride in being Jewish. As many of their students did not previously receive any systematic Jewish education, SIHA’s wide-ranging instruction in Jewish history, culture and tradition, Torah, and Hebrew language nurtures the students’ love and pride in their Jewish heritage.
Yeshiva Shaarei Tzion
Yeshiva Shaarei Tzion is a school for grades K-8 in Edison, NJ. It opened in 1990 with 14 Kindergarten students and two dedicated teachers. The next year, enrollment quadrupled and they were able to purchase the building that housed the school.
Since then YST has grown to three divisions with 500 students. It is the only Jewish school in Highland Park/Edison to offer separate campuses for boys and girls.
In 2017, YST joined the RJJ family of schools to ensure financial stability. The school continues to operate autonomously with the same faculty and staff and operates under a Vaad of Rabbonim.
YST has worked to provide a warm, nurturing environment in which all students have the opportunity to fulfill their academic, spiritual, and personal potential. The school offers an excellent dual curriculum, instilling in each student a love of Torah, a strong sense of community, and passion for Israel.
Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva
Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva high school and beit medrash in Edison, NJ is an all-boys high school and rabbinical college program. After high school, students typically go on to earn a Talmudic degree at the RJJ rabbinical school. With 70 high school students and 60 rabbinical students, the small class sizes create a warm close-knit atmosphere that helps students achieve academic success. RJJ publishes the annual Journal of Halacha.