Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Adar 5764 - March 4, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








HaRav Sholom Goldstein -- a Torah Pioneer Who Turned His City

by M. Samsonowitz

The renaissance of Torah Jewry in the U.S. from the embers of World War II is a story that has yet to be fully told. Whoever will tell this story will have to spend a lengthy chapter on Rabbi Sholom Goldstein, a premier Torah pioneer who moved to Detroit in 1945 to revitalize the Torah community. Although on this March 3 (10 Adar) it will be 20 years since his passing, his influence still touches the thousands of lives he set on the path to Torah-faithful lives.

Zeal in the Family

Rav Sholom Goldstein was born in 1923 in Romania to R' Yechezkel Shraga Goldstein, a Deizher chossid. A descendant of Rav Yaakov Koppel Chossid, a famed talmid of the Baal Shem Tov, R' Yechezkel Shraga was a fervent chossid who never lost the zeal of the Satmar and Hungarian chassidim among whom he lived in Williamsburg.

R' Yechezkel Goldstein immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Williamsburg when his son was eight. While he labored in a factory, he insisted on sending his only son, Sholom, to the premier U.S. yeshiva in those days -- Torah Vodaas. Discounting the secular studies program, his father wanted the young Sholom to focus only on his Jewish studies in high school. Years later, when R' Yechezkel's brother arrived from Romania, he was astounded to find his brother dressed and living in the same strictly religious way that he had in Romania.

By the time the young Sholom had reached adulthood, his Jewish knowledge was very broad. He was a popular activist of Zeirei Agudas Yisroel, who did kiruv work with children from less religious homes. He served as the head counselor in summer camp and was very good in sports.

Torah Vodaas was pivotal in shaping Sholom's personality and aspirations. Like other students who were transformed by the personality of the great principal, Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz, Sholom developed a close relationship with him. For the rest of his life he considered Rav Shraga Feivel his main mentor, and proudly held aloft the Torah Vodaas imprimatur -- fostering inclusiveness and ahavas Yisroel, exuding joy and enthusiasm in his avodas Hashem, while zealously upholding Judaism and halochoh. This approach, with his natural ebullience, impressive physical strength, short size and red beard, combined to endow him with the image of an inexhaustible fireball of energy.


In 1944 Sholom married Leah Necha Scheiner, the daughter of staunch and uncompromising Torah Jews who lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The new Mrs. Goldstein was committed to her husband's dream to go to an out-of-the-way community that would provide a broad platform for his talents.

After two years in Beis Midrash Elyon, Rav Shraga Feivel's incubator for Torah pioneers, Rabbi Goldstein was sent on his mission to Detroit. For the following 40 years, Rav Goldstein utilized his talents, relentless energy and inspiration, to prod the community to reject a life of Jewish superficiality for one that placed their Yiddishkeit above all.

Incomplete Sketch of the Detroit Jewish Community in Those Days

Yeshivas Beth Yehuda was founded as an afternoon talmud Torah in 1914. In 1944, Rabbi Simcha Wasserman was brought in to turn the Yeshiva into a day school. The same year, Rabbi Freedman was sent by Rav Shraga Feivel to be the first Hebrew teacher of the day school, and Rabbi Sholom Goldstein followed him out a year later. In the first year of the elementary day school -- 1944 -- over 100 children were enrolled.

It is impossible to imagine the hardships which faced Rabbis Freedman and Goldstein when they first set foot in the city.

In those years, even the observant Jewish community longed to be acculturated in America. Jews were proud Americans who didn't want to stick out in any way. Before the day school opened, there was only one Jewish observant family in Detroit whose children wore yarmulkes in shul! Almost none of the local religious women covered their hair. Jewish education was viewed as only necessary if you wanted to be a rabbi.

No one understood the importance of a solid Jewish education for their children. Rabbi Freedman and Rabbi Goldstein would approach observant families and ask why they weren't sending their children to the yeshiva. The answers would include: "I don't have enough money," "I want them to get a good secular education," and other replies that sound unbelievable to us today.

Many religious parents only agreed to send their children to the yeshiva if they would get a scholarship.


In his first two decades in Detroit, Rav Goldstein taught the boys' classes in the yeshiva. The title of "teacher" does not fully describe the role that Rabbi Goldstein played in the lives of his students and the Jewish community. It was an all- inclusive role that included being a father, friend, advisor, psychologist, communal activist, medical consultant and shadchan all in one.

Many of the boys Rabbi Goldstein taught were not from religious homes. Some of them had come to the yeshiva after he had begun a conversation with them on the street. What made them stay and commit themselves to become religious Jews was the warmth and love he exuded.

It wasn't simple to educate students in those days. The Chumash and Talmud studies had to be accompanied by a variety of Olom Hazeh-style side-props, such as cake and ice cream parties, trips to New York, holiday parties, and Shabbos invitations. Rav Goldstein would frequently tell Jewish boys loitering in the street on Shabbos, "Come inside for cold pop (Midwestern for soda)." The boys would come in for a free drink and would get at the same time a few words on the importance of Shabbos.

To most of the students, Torah study at first seemed as relevant as Sanskrit. When they began to lose interest in class, Rabbi Goldstein would take a bat and ball, and go play a game with them. After the boys saw "he was one of them," they were more willing to go back in and learn.

Rabbi Goldstein's oldest daughter recalls how when she was a young girl Rav Goldstein would sit at his table with the principal, Rabbi Elias, and they would decide what they should accomplish with each of the yeshiva's students. He typically was up until 2-3 in the morning dealing with yeshiva affairs or the students, and on occasion, also communal affairs.

A sense of mission accompanied Rabbi Goldstein 24 hours a day. He was on duty for the Eibishter.

Running the Bais Yaakov

Rabbi Goldstein became the principal of the Bais Yaakov in the 1960s.

When the Yeshiva left the Dexter neighborhood for Detroit's Northwest, Rabbi Goldstein finally realized his goal of separating the Bais Yaakov from the Yeshiva.

For several years he had pushed for separate seating at graduations and weddings. It was his policy not to go to students' weddings if there was mixed seating, a policy which often drew an irate response from uncomprehending parents.

Rabbi Goldstein's zeal more than once brought him to the verge of being thrown out by the Board, but his devotion and talents made him too valuable to the city to dispense with. Slowly, as the students graduated and adopted a more religious lifestyle than their parents, all the approaches about which Rabbi Goldstein had to exert himself so much became the accepted standards of the community. Many of his opponents from the early years grew up to become close friends and supporters.

During the early years of the Detroit Bais Yaakov, a typical girl aspired to marry a professional and wouldn't consider a boy who was "just" learning. Rabbi Goldstein spearheaded the idea of a yearly Bais Yaakov convention so his students would be able to see how other frum girls lived, how they aspired to marry learning boys, and were proud of being frum. The first convention was held in 1959.

Before conventions, he would take the girls into a room and tell them, "Give Detroit a good name. When you come into a house, don't act like a guest, but be polite, and help out. Show them that a Detroit girl is one who does chesed." He would emphasize to his students how they were the future generation and they had a responsibility to the Jewish nation.

To his Bais Yaakov students, Rav Goldstein brought the same mix of fun, Jewish hashkofoh, and learning that he had brought to the boys. He took the students tobogganing. Once a year the school experienced a madcap Color War. Plays were enacted through the year, and a teacher taught Israeli dancing. On Purim, Rav Goldstein dressed up in the spirit of the times. He made Yiddishkeit fun for his students.

Rabbi Goldstein was able to highlight his students' best qualities. Girls who weren't scholastic were made to feel special for the qualities they had. Everyone basked in his appreciation and esteem, which emanated from his conviction that every person was a tzelem Elokim.

Rabbi Goldstein didn't emphasize a high scholastic standard in the school. It was far more important to him that his students have an appreciation for Torah and imbibe a Torah hashkofoh. It was easy for him to do so because Detroiters in general were not materialistic, and they were graced with Midwestern good manners and middos.

In 1963, Rabbi Goldstein accomplished one of his dreams. Previously, some individual girls had gone to New York or Gateshead for a year of Seminary studies. But to break the trend that every girl continued on to college, Rabbi Goldstein encouraged his students to spend a year in Israel. That year a first delegation of five girls went to study in the Bais Yaakov Seminary (BJJ) in Jerusalem -- Shaindy (Isbee) Rubinstein, Sara Gail (Cohen) Rakowsky, Miriam (Posner) Weil, Bluma Shoenig (Davis), and Leah Bressler (Price). Out of the ten girls from the U.S. studying in the Israeli Seminary, five were from Detroit! The girls had to sit in classes with Israelis because there was no program for chutznikim.

The following year ten girls came from Detroit. It was after seeing the continuing interest of the Detroit Bais Yaakov girls to come study in Jerusalem that BJJ decided to open its American program.

Within two decades, most of the Bais Yaakov Detroit graduates were going to spend a year in Eretz Yisroel. It became rare to find a girl who went to college straight from high school. Almost invariably, seminary graduates wanted to marry bnei Torah. A spiritual revolution had unwittingly taken place.

Since many of his students came from irreligious or not-so- religious homes, Rabbi Goldstein often had to mediate between girls who wanted to be more religious and their parents. It was a role which he filled hundreds of times. Girls were coming to his office or his home at all hours of the day and night to speak to him. Girls brought their chassonim to meet him. He made the shidduchim for many of them.

"Rabbi Goldstein was like the religious father I never had," one student said about him, "and his family was the religious family I never grew up in. I always felt a part of the Goldstein family and always will."

Many girls walked a mile or more to his house on Shabbos and yom tov just because they had nothing to do in their own homes or their own families didn't keep Shabbos. Many were regular visitors at his Shabbos table. And if you imagine he was so welcoming because he had nothing to do at home, then you obviously don't know that Rabbi Goldstein had 13 kids of his own and was involved in numerous community affairs.

Rabbi Goldstein never shirked from making tough decisions, including those where serious consequences were at stake. One girl who was engaged was beginning to have regrets. When Rabbi Goldstein saw her unhappiness, he called her aside to speak with her. He became involved in the situation and finally told the girl, "I'm giving you until tomorrow at 12 to break the engagement. If you won't, then I will."

It was due to the single-minded devotion of Rabbi Goldstein and his colleagues in the yeshiva that Detroit was one of the most religious of out-of-town communities, and had a very high percentage of students who went on to study in yeshivos, seminaries and kollelim. The yeshiva had an overwhelming influence on the general religious Jewish community.

The community gradually inched its way to meticulous observance. Many families had TVs, but when their daughters married boys who were studying in kolel, they often became inspired to throw out their TVs and generally upgrade their religious observance. The painstaking work of decades resulted in an entire community changing its face.

Community Life

There were few areas in the community where Rabbi Goldstein's involvement couldn't be discerned. He came up with the first $500 towards buying the 10 Mile Road mikveh.

Rabbi Goldstein was also a mohel who had circumcised his own sons. In the last 15 years of his life, he used his skills to perform brisim on the Russian immigrants who reached Detroit. He never took money to do a bris, and would even go out of town to perform the mitzvah.

He was at the forefront of efforts to provide cholov Yisroel for the community. He introduced the idea of forming a Kashrus Council to oversee kashrus in town.

Death of his Daughter

Rabbi Goldstein's nobility and sterling yiras Shomayim was striking when his 21-year old daughter suddenly passed away on erev Shabbos after an emergency operation, leaving behind her husband and a baby. Rabbi Goldstein was shaken, but he came home and ran his Shabbos tish with typical simchah and zemiros. There was no crying because Shabbos was Shabbos.

His father-in-law who lived with him couldn't hold back his tears in the middle of the seuda. Rabbi Goldstein gently asked him not to cry, because on Shabbos there is no mourning. But as soon as Shabbos was over, Rabbi Goldstein burst into tears. His restraint over Shabbos was all the more incredible because he was a man of deep emotion.

After the shiva, Rabbi Goldstein told his son-in-law, "Until now you were my son-in-law. But now you are my son."

He said he would help him find a shidduch and would dance at his wedding. His son-in-law moved in with the family for a period after the shiva. Rabbi Goldstein was very welcoming to his son-in-law's new wife, and treated their children as if they were his grandchildren. After Rabbi Goldstein's passing, they named a son after him.


Twenty years serving as principal hadn't diminished Rabbi Goldstein's energy in the least. He continued to care for his students with the same devotion and enthusiasm that he had demonstrated 40 years before.

In 1983, he didn't feel well, and the doctors diagnosed the problem as a hernia. When they opened him to operate, they discovered it wasn't a hernia but an aggressive form of a tumor.

That night his youngest daughter was supposed to have her engagement shower. Family members who were shocked at the discovery of the serious disease, wanted to stay with Rabbi Goldstein in the hospital instead of going to the shower. But he told them, "Go to your sister's shower and make her happy. This is her special time." He even had the presence of mind that day to write a poem to accompany his wife's gift to her.

Over the following year, Rabbi Goldstein received many chemotherapy treatments in both Detroit and Buffalo. The disease progressed rapidly, and he grew steadily weaker. He suffered periods of excruciating pain.

As long as he could, he continued functioning as principal in the Bais Yaakov.

A visitor once asked him, "Hello, Rabbi Goldstein, how are you feeling?"

He replied, "Boruch Hashem."

And then he added with great enthusiasm, "I've succeeded! I've been on the telephone for a couple of hours. I've spoken to the various menahelim and finally achieved it -- all the girls in the senior class have been accepted to Seminary!"

One daughter who was heartbroken at his suffering, asked, "Tatty, why do you have to suffer so much? You, who are such a tzaddik?"

He replied, "Because, Mamaleh, suffering refines a person."

When Rabbi Goldstein was bedridden, a heartbroken student came to visit him. She was aware of his many achievements in the city and with his students, and was upset to see him so ill. When she asked what she could do for him, Rabbi Goldstein replied that she should promote shemiras haloshon. The student undertook a project to promote shemiras haloshon in public that year. Seeing the positive outcome, she continued her program which eventually developed into the Mishmeres Hasholem organization which has brought many thousands to keep these laws. The organization continues its work le'ilui nishmas Rabbi Goldstein.

Mrs. Biber, an affluent member of the community, came to visit him in the hospital when he was very ill. She asked him if there was anything he wanted.

"Yes," he told her. "I have two Bais Yaakov girls whose parents don't have money to send them to Eretz Yisroel and it's essential for their development."

"How much will it cost?" she asked him.

"Five thousand dollars," he replied.

"You have it."

When Mrs. Biber left, Rabbi Goldstein's daughter couldn't help but ask her father, "It's not enough that she came to visit you, but you even asked her such a favor?"

Rabbi Goldstein replied simply, "What do you mean? I'm doing her a favor. We just made a major business venture."

On the day he was to travel out-of-town for an emergency operation -- one of his students came to introduce her chosson. Only when they left did the hectic packing begin.

His Passing

Although Rabbi Goldstein's disease had rapidly progressed, the family didn't give up hope. Everyone undertook to gain zechuyos in a different way for him. He travelled to Buffalo for a final operation which was not successful.

He was extremely weak and could barely talk, but he whispered to his family members, "I wholeheartedly forgive everyone. I don't want anyone to suffer because of me."

He asked those around him to forgive him if he had slighted them.

He slipped into a coma on Shabbos. His disconsolate family, mindful of the example he had set at his daughter's death, would not allow themselves any signs of mourning or sorrow. Although before and after Shabbos they didn't stop reciting heart-rending Tehillim, on Shabbos they sang zemiros.

He passed away on Sunday night, 10 Adar I 5744 (February 12, 1984).

A large turnout appeared at Rav Goldstein's levaya as it progressed, and went to Detroit, New York and Yerushalayim. Generations of students and Detroiters arrived to pay their last respects. He was buried on Har Hazeisim.

He was accompanied to heaven with a great melamed zchus: A town which had metamorphosed into a great Torah center due to his and his colleagues' tireless efforts.


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