Hurricane Sandy certainly caused a lot of damage a few weeks ago, and left in its wake incredible financial and emotional stress for countless people.
Canarsie, a residential neighborhood in Brooklyn, was home to many religious Jews years ago, and there were tens of shuls spread over a small area. In recent years the frum population has dwindled down to a few. Canarsie residents, especially those in the Paerdegat section, suffered immensely during Hurricane Sandy. Buildings were flooded with four feet of water on the street level of homes, and with six or seven feet of water in basements.
Congregation Bais Avrohom Yitzchock, the shul of Rabbi Josef Portowicz, zt’l, is located on Paerdegat 6th Street, and unfortunately it was flooded along with all the neighboring buildings. The shul had not been “active” since Rabbi Portowicz, zt’l, passed away almost 30 years ago, so, bs’d, there were no sifrei Torah in the shul. However, there were sefarim, tefillin, taleisim, and other holy items that were ruined. And, that’s where the chesed, Kiddush Hashem, and Kaddish come in . . .
A group of 25 boys from the seventh and eighth grades of the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach set out on Tuesday morning, 20 Kislev, December 4, to clean up and repair the damaged shul and basement; to remove all the garbage, and pack away the sheimos for appropriate burial. Dressed in their “cleanup clothes,” and protected by gloves and breathing masks, they entered the shul, and they got busy. Amazingly, after a few hours of everyone working together, the job was done. The remarkable chesed shown by those hardworking young men was truly an astounding kiddush Hashem.
But wait, that’s not all! Ever since the sudden passing of HaRav Portowicz, zt’l, there were no minyanim at Congregation Bais Avrohom Yitzchock. Rebbitzen Gitel Portowicz, a’h, who passed away just six months ago, moved to Flatbush soon after the rav’s death, and the shul was left to remain as it was on that fateful day.
Now, almost 30 years later, a group of fine young HALB boys, after cleaning up and putting things somewhat back in order, gathered in the shul to once again bring the kol Torah and kol tefilah back to that Beis HaMikdash Me’at. They heard divrei chizuk from Rabbi Chaim Portowicz, shlita, and were led in tefilas Minchah by Rabbi Avrumi Portowicz, shlita, two (of the four) children of Rabbi Josef and Rebbitzen Gitel Portowicz, z’l. It was a moving, poignant, and emotional moment when the Kaddish Yasom was said at the end of davening, a kaddish in memory of the rav and rebbitzen, and the first kaddish in Congregation Bais Avrohom Yitzchock in almost 30 years!
A Memorial Book is being published in honor of the 30th yahrzeit of HaRav Yosef HaKohen Portowicz, zt’l, and the first yahrzeit of Rebbitzen Gitel Portowicz, a’h. Over the years that they were marbitz Torah in America they touched and inspired many people, many families. Submission of writings would be welcomed and greatly appreciated by the Portowicz family. If anyone wants to submit a short essay on their interaction or relationship with, or reminiscence of, the rav and/or rebbitzen, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 718-915-1567 for more information.
Rabbi Avrumi Portowicz is the seventh-grade rebbe at the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, and is presently the general-studies principal at Yeshiva Ohavei Torah High School of Riverdale. He has accepted the position of principal at Yeshiva Orchos Chaim, the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim affiliate opening iy’H in the Five Towns for the 5774 (’13—’14) school year.
As we celebrate the holiday of Chanukah, may the rededication of this Mikdash Me’at, through the overwhelming achdus and chesed which we see proliferating among Klal Yisrael, bring about the rededication of the third and final Beis HaMikdash, with the coming of Moshiach tzidkeinu, bimheirah b’yameinu, Amein!