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They Called Him Rebbe

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They Called Him Rebbe

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They Called Him Rebbe
The present volume, which contains more than one hundred vivid stories about Rabbi Boruch Milikowsky’s relationship with his students, entertains as it inspires. With tears and laughter, you will accompany Rebbe through the tragedies and triumphs of his life as he reaches out to his students with humor, wisdom and compassion, helping each one to achieve his full potential as a Jew and a human being.

They Called Him Rebbe also contains new primary source material about the Holocaust and the Mir Yeshiva’s years in Shanghai.

Rabbi Boruch Milikowsky was born in Vishnevo, Belarus in 1913. Over a twenty-year period, he learned in Radin, Baranovitz and at the Mir Yeshiva. Together with the Mir Yeshiva, Rabbi Milikowsky fled to Shanghai during World War II. The Nazis murdered most of his family.

After the war, Rabbi Milikowsky became a Torah educator and mashgiach at the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore. There, over the course of forty years, he employed his unique, God-given talents to help hundreds of boys to remain Jewishly strong and inspiring many to go on to careers in the rabbinate and in Jewish education. He passed away in 1990 and is survived by four children and many grandchildren who live in both the United States and Israel.

About the Author:

Raphael Blumberg, who grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, studied under Rabbi Boruch Milikowsky in Tenth Grade at the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore. He earned degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and at the University of Pennsylvania, and spent four years learning in Israeli yeshivas. He is the translator of more than twenty-five books and hundreds of articles on mostly Torah-related topics. He and his wife Mona and family have lived in Kiryat Arba, Israel since 1984.

Praise for They Called him Rebbe:

“They Called Him Rebbe demonstrates how a synthesis of wisdom and love created a force that spanned space and time to bring the flavor of prewar Lithuania into today’s American classroom. But only a true Talmid Chacham, as was Rabbi Boruch Milikowsky, z”l, will know how to utilize the “chochmas lev” (Exodus 35:35) effectively. A must read for every educator.”
–Rabbi Nathan Kamenetsky, author of Making of a Godol

“This is the true story of a European Rabbi trained in Mir and Radin who won the hearts and minds of his American students, inspiring them to become leaders of a post-Holocaust generation born out of tragedy. It is must reading for any parent or educator who wants to understand teenage boys and how to motivate them to be better Jews and menschen.”
–Rabbi Yaakov Spivak, Rav and Rosh Yeshiva, Kollel Ayshel Avraham

A welcome new contribution to the genre of frum biography is scheduled to appear in Baltimore bookstores in time for the High Holidays. Written about a Baltimorean, by a Baltimorean, Raphael Blumberg’s They Called Him Rebbe: The Life and Good Works of Rabbi Boruch Milikowsky (Urim Publications) brings to life a personality who had a profound influence on many hundreds of students during his 40-year career at Talmudical Academy. And, after reading about his kindness and wisdom in dealing with teenage boys and, of course, his brilliance in Torah and in teaching Torah, one can only say, “I wish I had known him in person.” But isn’t that the point of a good biography? Print may be second best, but Mr. Blumberg does an outstanding job of introducing us to Rabbi Milikowsky through this inspiring yet credible portrait.

Like other figures who built Baltimore’s institutions of learning, Rabbi Milikowsky was a direct link to the great pre-War European yeshivos. He was a “Litvak,” born in 1913 as the oldest child of a prosperous business family. Although the family was strictly religious and the children were raised to love Jewish practice, it was not a family of rabbis and scholars. When Boruch finished the traditional cheder in town, it was his own decision – influenced by his talmid chacham great-grandfather – to attend a yeshiva. He studied at the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshiva in Radin from age 12 to 21, taking off half a year at age 17 to experience Rav Elchonon Wasserman’s yeshiva in Baranovitz. In 1934, Rabbi Milikowsky moved on to the elite Mir Yeshiva, where he was accepted despite his young age.

From this point, Rabbi Milikowsky became part of the miraculous story of the Mir, and the author of the book describes the fascinating historical details, including the escape to Shanghai and the life of the yeshiva students there. Rabbi Milikowsky distinguished himself in Shanghai not only as a talmid chacham but also as a baal chesed. At the end of the War, he traveled to the United States with the Yeshiva and continued learning in the Mir in New York. Altogether, he learned in yeshiva for 22 years!

Rabbi Milikowsky began teaching at T.A. in 1947. Many of us in 21st century Baltimore don’t know that T.A. sponsored many Torah scholars who were Holocaust survivors, bringing them to America and giving them teaching jobs in the elementary school or the newly-established high school. The language of instruction in limudei kodesh was Yiddish at that time, so English was not a problem. What was a problem was handling American children and controlling the classroom. Some of the men were too scarred from their experiences to teach or relate to the boys, and soon dropped out. (One T.A. boy recalls his class going through seven or eight rebbeim in one year.) Adding to the teaching challenge was the fact that the student population of T.A. was composed of two very different groups, requiring different approaches: boys who were highly motivated and accomplished in learning and boys from nonobservant families whose parents only wanted them to maintain their Jewish identity.

Rabbi Milikowsky made it. Despite his accented English, he managed to “get through” to the sometimes brash American teenagers in his charge. As one boy remembers, “We were not an easy bunch. Of course he was a European, and he didn’t know the ways of the Americans yet, and we tried to pull the wool over his eyes. Yet gradually, gradually, he got us to learn! He learned how to control us! I remember. We saw that he was very kind. Sometimes he had to shout, but he was very good.”

After teaching the eighth and ninth grades, Rabbi Milikowsky moved up to the tenth grade, where he remained for the rest of his career. Gradually, Rabbi Samson, the Rosh Yeshiva, realized that his warm rapport with the students also made him suitable for the job of mashgiach for the dormitory boys. In fact, he was already doing aspects of the job informally. (Interestingly, T.A.’s first dorm mashgiach was the then-unmarried Rabbi Hirsch Diskind.)

So, Rabbi Milikowsky became the mashgiach, and it was soon clear that this was his essence, that everything he was and had experienced until then – including his innate qualities of insight and understanding, his tragic personal losses in the Holocaust, and his contact with the great mashgichim of Europe – had prepared him for this task. “More than anything else, it was his role as mashgiach that earned Rabbi Milikowsky the title ‘Rebbe.’”
-Elaine Berkowitz
Where, What, When

Additional Information

Format Hardcover
Ships Free? Eligible for Free Shipping
List Price $24.99
Publisher Urim Publications

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