“An ish chashuv who took responsibility, loved people, and exuded simchas ha’chaim” would partially describe the larger-than-life person that was Rabbi Baruch Gelfand.
Reb Baruch Gelfand was born in New York City in 1933 to his parents Matisyahu (Max) and Ida Gelfand. His father was from Horka, a town near Luban in the Minsk district of White Russia. His mother was American born to parents who came from Machalchak, a small town outside of Vilna. Matisyahu was a tailor who worked long hours in a sweatshop and battled the trials and tribulations of Shabbos observance which were endemic to the times. Reb Baruch would tell how he would accompany his father motzaei Shabbos to make up the lost hours of work from Shabbos.
Reb Baruch grew up in Williamsburg and attended Yeshiva Torah Vodaath through high school. He always spoke with warmth and reverence of his favorite rebbe, Rabbi Kaplan, who had a profound influence on him. He attended Yeshiva University for one semester and was encouraged by Rabbi Gorelick, zt’l, to attend Mirrer Yeshiva for one summer zman with his chavrusa. Mirrer Yeshiva had recently reestablished itself in Flatbush, and embraced these American boys and was excited to incorporate them along with the survivors from Shanghai. It was such a positive experience that, once he arrived, he continued learning there. The young men he met in the Mirrer Yeshiva became his lifelong friends.
His rebbeim included Rav Shmuel Brudny, zt’l, Rav Elya Yurkansky, zt’l, and Rav Mordechai Ginsberg, zt’l. The rosh yeshiva, Rav Avraham Kalmanowitz, zt’l, took a special liking to him. Reb Baruch would often accompany the rosh yeshiva on various missions and projects. Reb Baruch received semichah from the rosh yeshiva. At his wedding, Rav Kalmanowitz actually insisted upon walking Reb Baruch down the aisle with both of his parents on his other side, as he claimed, “I also raised him!”
In 1957, he married Helene Gardenberg of Crown Heights whose parents were Aryeh Leib (Lou) and Miriam Gardenberg. Aryeh Leib was a longtime gabbai at the Young Israel of Eastern Parkway. After his marriage, Reb Baruch took a leadership role and became president of the Young Israel of Eastern Parkway and gave various classes and shiurim. The Gelfands established a home that was always full of guests, including ba’alei teshuvah, older singles, Russian immigrants, and family members who were all welcomed with warmth and joy.
Reb Baruch was a lawyer by profession. He had a reputation of being an honest respected person by his peers and colleagues and was mekadesh Shem Shamayim in the courts. Learning was his passion and he was always “kovei’a itim l’Torah,” learning with chavrusos in the morning and evening. He always maintained close ties to the Mirrer Yeshiva. For many years, as long as he was able to, he would walk several miles to daven there for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. He was always warmly welcomed.
Upon moving to Flatbush, his main shul was Congregation Gvul Yaabetz, under the leadership of Rav Dovid Cohen, shlita, with whom he developed a warm and close relationship that spanned many decades. He also davened at Young Israel of Avenue J hashkamah minyan under the leadership of Rabbi Levine, zt’l, and Rabbi Braun. In more recent years, when walking became challenging, he davened at Congregation Bais Avigdor, Rav Aharon Kahn’s shul. He was always treated royally by the rav and mispallelim. Many have commented to the family what a privilege it was for them to help him in any way they could. They found him to be an inspiration.
Seventeen years ago, Reb Baruch retired from his law practice to devote himself to full-time learning. With his chavrusos and his three daily sedarim, he was never happier!
He passed away on erev Pesach, 40 minutes before yom tov. There was a recurring theme during the shivah about his ahavas ha’brios and simchas ha’chaim that were contagious and inspiring to others. He leaves behind his wife Helene (Chaya Lana) of nearly 63 years and his children, Rivki Warshavchik of Flatbush, Yakov Gelfand of Far Rockaway, Hudi Schnall of Flatbush, Ruthi Ismach of Far Rockaway, and Matisyahu Gelfand of Lakewood, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, bli ayin ha’ra.
He will sorely be missed. Yehi zichro baruch!