In the memory of Reb Zev Wolfson, z"l
Reb Zev Wolfson, the largest philantropist of the Torah world, died at the age of 84. The sad news of Reb Zev Wolfson's z"l passing have reached us today from New York. Reb Zev Wolfson was an unusual person with a tremendous heart, who loved his people selflessly, who dedicated himself to the rebirth and strengthening of Judaism in Israel and all over the world.
This modest man avoided being mentioned in newspapers, disliked being photographed, and therefore even the biographical data available about him contradict each other... According to the information of toldot.ru, Zev Wolfson was born in a poor family of Polish immigrants who found themselves in Central Asia. Upon his arrival in America at the age of 17, R. Zev Wolfson went into business right away, starting with zero. As Rav Avraham Grinboim, head of the Wolfson Foundation, tells us, R. Zev had to sell lightbulbs on the market during that first period. And there, on the street market, in the midst of abject poverty, he said in his heart that those bulbs will yet bring light to the Jewish people. And so it was. Success came very quickly and he became phenomenally wealthy, but he invested all of his riches into strengthening Judaism and helping the Jews in Israel.
He himself lived very modestly, flew Economy Class, ate modestly, but R. Zev Wolfson - and later his sons - donated and are continuing to donate hundreds of millions of dollars yearly (this is no exaggeration!) to many yeshivos, Jewish communities, and most importantly - Kiruv organizations all over the world.
Almost every religious organization and larger yeshiva in Israel has received help from him in some measure. But one cause was especially close to Wolfson's heart - the return of lost Jews to Tradition, the return of non-religious Jews to the observance of Torah and mitzvos. It can be said without exaggeration that R. Zev Wolfson has become a symbol to all wealthy Jews all over the world - a symbol of generosity and charity, a symbol of the kind of baal tzedakah a wealthy Jew should be. It is told that he used more than 50% of his assets for charity and supporting Torah.
R. Zev Wolfson was a sharp, unique person. Many wondrous stories were told about him, some of them ironic, especially about his striving for the grandiose... but those few of us who have merited his personal acquaintance can bear witness to the fact that every minute of his life was filled but with his selfless love of Jews that went beyond all boundaries. I remember my first phone conversation with him. I offered him to support Russian-speaking Torah teachers so that they could teach in many cities in Israel. Then he suddenly asked how many teachers there are now and how many there are in Israel altogether. I replied that there are about five hundred Russian-speaking Torah teachers at most. He asked: "Can you make that five thousand within a year?" I said, "Reb Zev, that`s not realistic, let`s start with three hundred, five hundred, to make it ten times that many within a year is unrealistic...!?" He hung up, and I remained, confused. But his help came quickly. That's how Toldos Yeshurun began. And the thousands of our students now are testimony to the fulfillment of his seemingly "unrealistic" goals. He made the unrealistic real!
Especially we, the Russian-speaking Jews, remember him with special warmth and gratitude. After all, nearly all Russian-speaking Jewish programs, schools, yeshivos, seminars were generously supported by him.
R. Zev Wolfson was furthermore known as one of the leaders of the Jewish lobby in the US. In his magnificent villa on the shore of Hudson river and on his luxurious yacht he received the congressmen and senators looking for his support. (He said that he didn't need the yacht - it just served to raise funds to help Jews). Probably nobody knows how many pro-Israel decisions made by the US administration were realized thanks to him, how many Jewish schools all over the world were opened, how much help dispensed to the Israeli army. All this was driven by one goal - to express his love for the Jewish people, for every Jew, to the fullest capacity.
Throughout his life, despite terrible hardships - exile to Kazakhstan, the move to America, his prolonged and grave illness - Zev Wolfson always remained a devout Jew and kept the commandments and Jewish tradition to the fullest, and raised his children with the highest standards of Jewish law. This selflessness and faithfulness to the Torah was absorbed by the hundreds of thousands of students of the organizations he supported, as well.
It can be said without exaggeration that the contemporary Baal Teshuvah world - and not only the Russian-speaking, but throughout the Diaspora, and, most of all, in Israel itself - exists to a large degree in the merit of Zev Wolfson and his family.
He passed on his selfless love for Torah and his boundless generosity in the support of Jewish programs to his sons Avraham, Moshe, Aharon, and Daniel, and for the last few years, when, due to his health problems, he was unable to head the business activities, they took upon themselves this lofty task of being the symbols of Jewish charity among the wealthiest Jews of the world.
We, the Toldos Yeshurun organization, as well, have merited from the beginning to be partners with the Wolfson family and the Foundation headed by them in bringing back former Soviet Jews to Judaism. Several years ago, the Wolfson family undertook the partial support of our website toldot.ru in the memory of Malka Shvinger, daughter of Rav Yitzchok Zilber, after her untimely passing. It is due to this sincere and magnanimous support that our website has been able to carry the light of Judaism and the joy of returning to the fold of our people to hundreds of thousands of Jews.
There is probably no other Jew in our day who has done as much for the Jewish people as Reb Zev Wolfson. He felt that first of all, one has to try to return to the Jewish people those who have lost their connection to the Jewish people. This is just what Rav Yitzchok Zilber, the founder of Toldos Yeshurun, thought - that it is the job of our generation to help those Jews who strayed far from Yiddishkeit, to return.
We would like to express our condolences to Reb Zev's wife, Nechama, to his sons and all his loved ones. All of us together - the Rabbis and teachers of Toldos Yeshurun, the program leaders and employees, hundreds of our teachers in many cities in Israel, thousands of students, hundreds of thousands of the website's regular users, are beseeching the Creator on this mournful day that the soul of Zev Wolfson should ascend to the uppermost heights of Gan Eden, may the memory of the tzaddik be for a blessing!
Toldos Yeshurun organization invites our students and teachers to participate in the study of the Babylonian Talmud for the elevation of Reb Zev Wolfson's soul. Call 054-5400801 for choosing a tractate to learn. The Great Talmudic study celebration will take place on his Yahrzeit, 1st August 2013, at Binyanei Ha'uma. Between the participants there will be thousands of Russian-speaking religious families who had returned to Judaism due to Reb Zev's efforts.