South Africa lost a Torah giant this past week. Rabbi Avraham Tanzer ZT”Lwas niftar and the news sent shockwaves throughout the whole Jewish community in South Africa and to those who knew this great man throughout the world. I had the pleasure to attend his Shul on the campus of Yeshiva College in the Johannesburg suburb of Glenhazel many times to hear him speak. My brother-in-law Benjy Silberman who lives right across the street from the campus introduced me to Rabbi Tanzer after davening one evening when I was there for a visit and Rabbi Tanzer recalled when I had met him many years ago while still living in Johannesburg. During the eulogies it was said of Rabbi Tanzer that he had an incredible memory and Benjy and I can vouch for that.
The eulogies and burial were livestreamed and I was fortunate to have watched most of it. As Chief Rabbi Goldstein got up to speak, you could easily see on his face how visibly shaken he was to know that he would not see Rabbi Tanzer alive again and he recalled a few stories which hit home to me. He mentioned the concept of Lech Lecha that Rabbi Tanzer left his home to settle in a new place. Together with his wife, he stayed to raise his family and create a community that is the envy of South African Jewry today.
Then Rabbi Goldstein touched upon a very meaningful point when he mentioned that Rabbi Tanzer called upon his good friend and former Telshe roommate Rabbi Azriel Goldfein ZT”L to come to South Africa. Rabbi Goldfein agreed and soon after his arrival Rabbi Goldfein established a boys Yeshiva named Yeshiva Gedolah based on the Yeshiva College campus. His new yeshiva was established for the training of South African rabbis for South Africa . The Yeshiva has trained dozens of South African rabbis, including Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein.
The Minneapolis Connection
I can also prove that Rabbi Tanzer made me feel at home in another way. Because he chose Rabbi Goldfein to join him. When I first met Rabbi Goldfein, we soon discovered we both were born and raised in Minneapolis. I can still remember Rabbi Goldfein referring to me as his “Landsman”. He was Niftar in 2007 on a Shabbos morning at the age of 72 – after complications from heart surgery.
A Short Story Benjy Shared With Me
Benjy told me about the time Rabbi Tanzer helped him with a big problem he was faced with. And with this story it was clear to me that Rabbi Tanzer was sensitive to each of his congregants because he knew where each and everyone of them were holding.
In this case, Benji had just been through the most challenging of experiences. Benjy volunteered to serve as a security guard patrolling the Glenhazel area when one day his patrol car came across a suspicious looking vehicle. Benjy and the others began exiting the patrol car to investigate when suddenly shots rang out from that vehicle and one of Benjy’s partners was shot and killed. Benjy’s door jammed when he attempted to exit for reasons only Hashem knows otherwise Benjy could have also been killed. His partner that was killed was not Jewish and Benji received a call from his family that they wanted Benjy to be at that man’s funeral in church.
So Benji went to ask Rabbi Tanzer if he can go and Rabbi Tanzer said to him that he could not change Halacha and not give him a Heter but he left that decision to Benjy. That’s because Benjy had expressed his respect for his dead partner who came to help the Jewish community and therefore it was only right that he respects the partner’s family wish for Benjy to be there at the funeral. I will not tell you how that story ended but will say that Benjy came away with the greatest respect for Rabbi Tanzer.
Rabbi Tanzer Was Niftar Just After Yom Kippur
Rabbi Tanzer passed away on Tuesday night South African time, or about one day after Yom Kippur ended there. It is interesting that of all the times we say Yizkor, when we say it during Yom Kippur, that is when the majority of Jews throughout the world whether they are religious or not, traditionally come to Shul and say it.
Of course this year was different especially if one lives in an area where a Shul Minyan is not easy to find. It was also the final time that Rabbi Tanzer would have had the opportunity to say Yizkor for his parents and as it turned out his Neshama or Soul was reunited with them the following day.
I never heard a Yom Kippur sermon from Rabbi Tanzer but when I searched for his name on TOI’s search engine the following came up –
From a blog post written by Devorah Kur, April 14, 2020-
Rabbi Avraham Tanzer says, “The Yizkor is meant to be far more than a sentimental religious ritual honouring the dead. It is a religious challenge, a relentless prodding of our religious conscience. Moreover, Yizkor is a commitment. By its recital, we can resolve to change our thoughts and actions; indeed, our entire lives. Only by doing this can we truly gain the Yizkor experience. Only in this way can we truly honour the memory of those we love.”
With those words I want to give my condolences to Rabbi Tanzer’s family-
May Hashem Comfort You Among The Mourners Of Tzion And Yerushalayim.