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MSTAG Marks the 13th Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Moshe Weitman zt”l

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Tonight, a special melaveh malkah is being held for the high school students of Machon Sarah TAG High school marking the 13th Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Moshe Weitman zt”l

In the Heavenly realms, even the smallest mitzvah has enormous ramifications. In our world, it seems that very little of what people do actually makes a significant impact.

There are, however, a handful of people who impact a community in remarkably far-reaching ways. Rav Moshe Weitman, zt”l, was such a person. As the leader of Torah Academy for Girls (TAG) for over four decades, his impact upon the community in Far Rockaway and the Five Towns can only be described as transformative.

Rabbi Weitman’s petirah thirteen years ago has created a void, not only in our local community and at the Torah Academy for Girls, but in the world of chinuch as well.

”If you think about it, after forty six years of graduating classes with large class sizes…and those young ladies have started families of their own, the number of people Rav Weitman has influenced directly lies between ten and twenty thousand people,” said a high-school faculty member.

Dr. Moshe Katz, author of Nine Out of Ten and one of the founders of the Torah Academy for Girls, related in an interview, “You do not understand what was happening in this community before Rabbi Weitman arrived. No one ever dreamed of all-girls’ chinuch. This was something left over from Europe or elsewhere, but not here.”

Some fifty nine years ago, Rabbi Moshe Weitman was invited to head a newly launched school for girls. Many in the community were against the project. An all-girls’ school here? The community leaders behind the school were told that they would not succeed. “You will see hair grow on my palm before such a school will succeed,” was a line that was actually expressed to Rabbi Amos Bunim, another founding board member of TAG. “The school belongs in Brooklyn-not here!” was another sentiment that the energetic Rav Moshe Weitman often heard in those early years when trying to build up the school.

Rabbi Yaakov Bender, dean and rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Darchei Torah, once described Rabbi Moshe Weitman’s impact on the community. “The mosad that has had the greatest impact as far as Torah growth in our community is TAG. All the yeshivos that came later owe their presence to Rav Moshe Weitman. He was the trailblazer. He was our leader.”

As a youth, Rav Moshe Weitman attended Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and was taken in under the wing of Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz. Reb Shraga Feivel instilled in him a sense of mission to K’lal Yisrael which remained with him until his last breath.

As Rabbi Weitman’s son, Rabbi Meyer Weitman, mentioned at the levayah, Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz introduced the idea of “capitalism” in chinuch. If one teaches one class full of students, one has an impact upon them, but that is all. If, however, one hires a number of teachers and they teach others, then a much more significant impact can be made. The idea took form in Rabbi Weitman’s mind. To further this goal, he attended the Aish Dos Kollel, a special kollel designed to teach avreichim the fundamentals of chinuch. From there Rav Moshe went to Beis Midrash Elyon and studied under Rav Reuven Grozovsky, zt’l.

Imbued with the feeling of serving the spiritual needs of K’lal Yisrael, Rav Weitman studied the laws and practices of b’ris milah, shechitah, and numerous other skills that he could put to use for K’lal Yisrael. He was a mohel par excellence, and other mohalim marveled at his skill.

His love and care for K’lal Yisrael was sincere and genuine. During the war years, Reb Moshe took time to pack and send packages for the Vaad Hatzolah and for Agudas Yisrael, working closely with Mike Tress of the Agudah. These packages went to destitute refugees and Holocaust survivors.

In the world of chinuch, Rav Weitman worked very closely with Rabbi Joseph Kaminetsky. He started a day school in Montreal and soon developed a reputation as a master pedagogue. In 1952, he married his akeres ha’bayis, Toby Rosengarten. They were together for close to fifty seven years. Rebbitzen Weitman worked by his side, and then remained by his bedside throughout his hospitalization.

Newly married, Rav Weitman moved to Monticello, New York where he served as the rav of the Landfield Avenue shul. A colleague of his, Rav Yochanan Chait, who served as the rav of the Orthodox shul in Liberty, New York, recalled Rav Weitman’s impact on the community:

“Rav Weitman was fantastic. He was a takif in Yiddishkeit and was able to really build a community and lead it to true growth in Yiddishkeit. He fortified so many of those families in their ruchniyus and spirituality. He ensured that the children would receive a true Torahdike chinuch. He fortified Shabbos observance in remarkable ways. He was a shtarkeh, but one that was well-loved. The impact over forty five years ago can still be seen today.”

Indeed, the shul still exists and is active. The shul building extension that stands today was built by Rav Moshe Weitman.

Although his impact in Monticello was significant, Rav Weitman knew that his younger children needed to get the superior chinuch that could only be obtained in a large and strong Jewish community. In 1963, Rav Moshe Weitman accepted the offer of the fledgling Torah Academy for Girls to head it as its dean. Amos Bunim z”l recalled, “We were impressed by his feeling of love for Torah, of his love for children, and of his appreciation for instilling and developing midos tovos in the students.” Dr. Moshe Katz recalls, “For us, it was love at first sight.”

The students felt an unprecedented warmth emanating from Rabbi Weitman and his rebbetzin, who worked with him in the school. Rivi Schiffer, a former student and current secular studies principal at Machon Sara TAG High School, recalled, “It was like one family. Rabbi Weitman was the father figure and his wife was at his side. It was a family business of chinuch, and you and each and every one of the students were adopted by them.”- ”In those early years Rabbi Weitman would personally ensure that each twelfth-grade girl got into the seminary that she wanted,” recalled Mrs. Basi Shenker, a TAG alumna. “Later, he made sure that TAG staff members took over this crucial task.”

The concept reflects Rabbi Weitman’s entire philosophy of chinuch. Many schools have their students or their parents navigate the seminary process on their own. Not Rabbi Weitman.

Before “self-esteem” became a catchphrase in educational circles, Rav Moshe Weitman knew it, understood it, and breathed it. Rabbi Yosef Gelman, TAG’s first general-studies principal and now the dean of Masores Bais Yaakov in Brooklyn, recalled, “His approach was always to build up the girls and to build up their families.” And build them up he did. His students graduated, married b’nei Torah, and raised beautiful families. Second- and third-generation TAG students have become the norm.

Rav Weitman was particularly proud of his graduates and as a mohel took special pride in performing the b’ris milah on children of TAG graduates. He never requested any compensation for this. He was the mohel for literally many thousands of young boys who would grow up to become fine b’nei Torah.

His favorite sefer to teach was the Ramchal’s Derech Hashem. He would use this as a springboard to instill in his talmidos Torah hashkafos that he had culled from his rebbeim and from his own learning. He had an uncanny ability to make Torah sources relevant to youth and to young ladies in particular. Girls would leave his parashah speeches with a strong hashkafic foundation that would last them for decades to come. Even today, TAG graduates and alumnae vividly recall the details of a particular parashah speech and the way in which he delivered it. He delivered it with a fire.

Another alumna recalled, “In the early years it was Rabbi Weitman who encouraged us to embark upon those early chesed projects. He imbued us all with a love of chesed that we still share to this day.” Currently, TAG High School has one of the most extensive chesed programs in the country, under the leadership of Mrs. Breindy Judowitz, and it is used as a model for other Bais Yaakovs across the country who wish to develop their own chesed programs.

Rav Weitman inspired feelings of yiras Shamayim in his students. He did so, however, while still allowing girls to feel comfortable asking questions, whether in halachah or in hashkafah. One alumna recalled that she felt safe just knowing that the Torah and chinuch world had someone like Rav Moshe Weitman around.

As loving and gentle a mechanech as he was, he was strong in his Torah hashkafos. If, for example, something, challilah, was a breach in tzenius, the Torah’s lofty ideals of modesty, he would take a stand.

Once, at a TAG graduation, when a local politician who had previously taken a stand against yeshiva vouchers came in, Rabbi Weitman let him know of his disapproval. If there was something that appeared in a Jewish publication that Rav Weitman felt was antithetical to the Torah view, he would write in and express his views. Sometimes he took flak for these positions.

Yet, Rav Weitman always stayed away from machlokes. When he had a yahrzeit he would never insist on taking the amud to lead the services. He would say that it was a greater z’chus (merit for the deceased) to avoid arguments.

His reputation for taking young ladies into his school regardless of their family’s ability to pay was legendary. One time a student applied to a rival school and incorrectly suggested that Rabbi Weitman would not accept her because of the family’s poor finances. The director replied, “I am sorry; I may be Rabbi Weitman’s rival, but I know there is no way that that is correct. He personifies the opposite of what you just mentioned. Money has never, ever motivated that man.”

Rav Weitman also took in girls from homes with little background in Yiddishkeit. These girls now lead Torah homes throughout the community and, indeed, across the country. He did this because of his enormous sense of achrayus, responsibility, to serve K’lal Yisrael’s spiritual needs.

Even in recent years, Rav Weitman agreed to take girls into his school who came straight out of public school. How many Bais Yaakovs today still do this? And yet at the same time, he was able to create a model Bais Yaakov.

Rav Weitman’s sense of achrayus extended to his employees, as well. Not once in fifty nine years has TAG ever been late with its payroll. What is most remarkable is that this is not on account of the school being a wealthy school with a wealthy parent body. It may be argued that quite the opposite is the case. This remarkable record is true because of Rav Weitman’s highly developed sense of achrayus. And it continues under the able leadership of his son, Rabbi Meyer Weitman.

Rabbi Boruch Lovett, who worked closely with Rabbi Weitman for many years, remarked, “Rav Weitman was involved in every aspect of the school. Whenever there was a need, it was never beneath Rabbi Weitman’s dignity to take care of a problem. In the early days, if the janitor did not show up, Rabbi Weitman himself shoveled coal into the furnace so that the talmidos would not be cold.”

Rav Weitman, zt’l, was a regular in the Sulitzer beis midrash on Beach 9th Street in Far Rockaway every day. He would give his daf yomi shiur like clockwork, never missing a day until he took ill. This was another example of his finely honed sense of achrayus.

The loss to K’lal Yisrael is a profound one. Rav Moshe Weitman, z’l, had physically altered the Torah landscape of the Far Rockaway-Five Towns community. The facts on the ground are the thousands and thousands of frum families that now live in the area. Most of these families have some connection to TAG, and many have very strong ties. His is a remarkable legacy. Aside from his impact upon the chinuch world, Rav Weitman leaves his rebbitzen, five sons, and one daughter.

Yehi zichro baruch.

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One Response

  1. I taught in TAG and Rabbi Weitman zt”l was a remarkable Dean. Even if he had to discipline a student or chastise a teacher, or deal with a difficult parent he did so with kindness, respect and compassion. This is why TAG was a supportive, happy school and why he was much loved by everyone. From what I understand, his legacy continues to this day.

    Yehi Zichro Baruch

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