Rabbi Ephraim Rabinowitz Z”L

September 21, 2023

A Man among Men

Tribute to Rabbi Ephraim Rabinowitz z”l upon his shloshim

By his children

Facilitated by Elisheva Braun

“You could ask Rabbi Rabinowitz anything. Secretly, he knew kol haTorah kulah.”

Whowas Rabbi Ephraim Rabinowitz?

A great masmid who learned all day—and deep into the night.

A sweet man who never failed to notice, greet, and encourage everyone who crossed his path.

A busy ba’al chessed who raised money for hundreds of families.

An unforgettable tzadik whose sweetness and greatness touched many. 

For the love of Torah

Totty learned full-time in BMG, rushing there each day with the excitement of a young man.

To us children, it was obvious that he learned full time; we thought what he did was common.

“Your father is not just sitting and learning,” a yungerman close to the family said. “He’s like a frishe bachur learning with energy and excitement.”

As kids, we believed that bein hasedarim was 15 minutes long. Totty would come home to eat and then make fundraising phone calls for the many tzedakah campaigns he was involved in. Then he would go right back to the beis medrash, where he was mechazek anyone who needed it before second seder started. Our father was always asking others what they were learning and contributing to their sugya. His table was always covered in sefarim, which all reappeared as quickly as they were cleared away. Totty was never done learning; it’s what he schmoozed about, what he thought about. His head was always wrapped up in learning.

Totty had a massive collection of sefarim. When, after the levayah, people leafed through the volumes, they were shocked to see that each one was well-used. They were all worn, bookmarked, and annotated.

Sitting in the dust of their feet

Our parents lived in Eretz Yisrael during their first four years of marriage. During that time, our father visited every gadol he could, as often as he was able. In America, he continued seeking out connections with gedolim and bringing us children to see them. (Our Chol Hamoed trips were visits to gedolim.)

When Totty read books about gedolim, he didn’t discount the lofty madreigos as unattainable.

He longed to speak with gedolim, to learn from them, and to become like them. In turn, many gedolim and great talmidei chachamim felt strongly bonded to him. 

Wherever there was a need

Our father was constantly collecting for anyei Eretz Yisrael, hachnasas kallah, and local nitzrachim. When families struggled to make Yom Tov or a simchah, Totty somehow knew what they lacked and found a way to give it to them. The creativity with which our father gave tzedakah while preserving the dignity of the recipient was truly incredible.

Once, the Sterns* were making a wedding.

Our father knew they couldn’t afford it, and he offered to help many times. Moshe Stern insisted that he was fine. A few weeks before the wedding, Totty opened Moshe’s jacket and put an envelope in the pocket when he wasn’t looking.

“We were swiping our credit card, knowing it would take a miracle to pay the bills,” Moshe’s wife said at the shivah. “My husband would never have accepted the tzedakah if it hadn’t been forced on him, but we would not have managed without it.”

A few years later, the Sterns married off another child. “Rabbi Rabinowitz had taken care of us once, but he hadn’t checked us off his mental list as a job that was completed. Once again, he gave us the funds we needed.” The woman who related this story was excited to tell the family about our father’s great act of chessed. She thought her family were the only recipients of these quiet but earthshattering undertakings. Little did she know how many tens of similar stories we’ve heard since the petirah.

Totty was a man who filled a need as soon as he saw one.

Rabbi Yechezkel Ginsburg shared that it was our father who pushed him to found the Tzur Foundation, a hachnasas kallah fund that facilitates, on average, 10 weddings a week. When the shul gabbai would hang a sign that certain sefarim were needed, Totty would donate them right away. Later, he looked for sponsors.

His tradition was to always dedicate the sefarim l’iluy nishmas someone. A few weeks ago, our father donated set of Zohar. He was asked, “Whom would you like to dedicate these to?” but he didn’t respond. The Zohar is now l’iluy nishmaso.

No one was forgotten

Whenever a certain little neighbor saw our father, he would wave wildly and shout, “Rabbi Rabinowitz, hi! Hello, Rabbi Rabinowitz!”

Totty would give him shalom aleichem, sometimes stopping to schmooze with him.

The boy’s mother once told him, “Rabbi Rabinowitz is a man. You can’t scream to him like that.”

“What do you mean? He’s my friend,” said the boy.

And he was.

With a heart the size of Klal Yisrael and the patience of an angel, Totty thought about everyone.

A cousin who was undergoing cancer treatment had a surgery scheduled in CHOP for 5 a.m. 

At 4 a.m. there was a knock on the door. With a sefer, a warm Danish, and a smile, Totty was there to show he cared.

Another relative had to hitch to mesivta every day. One morning, our father showed up on his doorstep. He was in the neighborhood for a bris, and he was there to drive the boy to yeshivah.

 “I’ll never forget his hachnasas orchim,” a neighbor remembers. “Whenever I came by to visit his daughter, Rabbi Rabinowitz would set out the seltzer, nosh, and chips.”

A handshake and few words from Rabbi Rabinowitz were enough to encourage people for years. A bachur remembered that when he was seven years old, our father approached him while he was learning in shul. “I can see you’re a chashuve bachur,” he said, and gave the boy two dollars. Nine years later, the bachur still feels the warmth of the encounter.   

The many guests who often spent Shabbasim and Yamim Tovim at our house were treated with the utmost respect. We miss them now and wonder who will take care of them now that Totty is gone.

For Totty, there was no such thing as missing a simchah. A friend commented, “Rabbi Rabinowitz made me feel that I was doing him a favor by inviting him! He always seemed thrilled to be at my simchos.”

To be like Him

Our father was loved by so many; he was always being mechazek people. He had another side that not many people knew. Totty was a total eved Hashem; Hashem’s ratzon was his only reality.

For each mitzvah, he assumed another role, another set of actions. He didn’t just go through the seasons; he vibrantly lived each Yom Tov. He was medakdek in every halachah—it was all so real to him.

During Elul, our father shook with awe. He carried himself differently, spoke differently. There was an aura of seriousness and a gravity that didn’t leave him all month.

The sukkah was kodesh kadashim. Throughout Sukkos, when he went into the sukkah to learn or even to sleep, Totty would bring along cake so he could make the brachah of leishev b’sukkah. Our mother always filled the freezer with cake and cookies before Yom Tov for this reason.

At weddings, he did headstands to be misame’ach the chassan and kallah.

When he said Shema, the whole house trembled with the passion in his voice. In shul, his amen yehei Shemei rabbah loudlyreverberated.

Remembering those who passed

While Totty was so busy helping people, he didn’t forget about the niftarim.

At every yahrtzeit—whether it was a great-grandparent, uncle, aunt, or even a gadol, he was always doing things l’iluy nishmas the niftar. He would reach out to the cousins, one person at a time, to arrange a siyum for every relative’s yahrtzeit. He would call to give out mishnayos, then follow up on each cousin’s progress two days before the yahrtzeit.

Ourgreat-grandfather was niftar 15 years ago; Totty didn’t miss a single siyum in all those years.

This week is the shloshim for the man who never forgot a yahrtzeit.

As he ascends to the Kisei Hakavod, Totty leaves behind thousands who likewise will never forget him.

The family requests that readers do a mitzvah in R’ Ephraim’s memory. Even something small, like making a bracha or learning a perek mishnayos l’iluy nishmaso, can have a big impact.

*name changed


Totty was never done learning; it’s what he schmoozed about, what he thought about. His head was always wrapped up in learning

A cousin who was undergoing cancer treatment had a surgery scheduled in CHOP for 5 a.m. 

At 4 a.m. there was a knock on the door. With a sefer, a warm Danish, and a smile, Totty was there to show he cared