On Monday, the bitter news was announced of the passing of the esteemed philanthropist, Reb Zev Wolfson, one of the foremost patrons of the Torah and Teshuva worlds, to whose merit is credited many thousands of Torah homes and baalei teshuva families who acknowledged their Creator. His funeral took place on Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. U.S. time from Yeshivas She'ar Yashuv in Queens, New York.
Reb Zev Wolfson was born in Vilna 84 years ago to his father, Rav Avraham. Before the Holocaust, he immigrated to the U.S. with his mother and brothers, studying at first in yeshiva and then working to help support the family. From the beginning, he formed a close attachment to HaRav Aharon Kotler, the spiritual figure who directed his path. Indeed, whenever he mentioned the Rosh Yeshiva, his eyes would fill with tears.
He began his financial career dealing with blue lamps, declaring that "whatever I put my hand to is in order to help Jewry." He simplistically and heartily believed that Hashem had chosen him to help establish Torah institutions after the terrible destruction of European yeshivos.
He turned his hand to real estate and construction, erecting skyscrapers, an area where he was very successful. Hashem's blessing accompanied him wherever he went.
With the establishment of Chinuch Atzmai in Eretz Yisroel, he became HaRav Aharon Kotler's right hand man, financing many of its educational institutions.
He was one of the chief supporters and activists in establishing Chinuch Atzmai on a firm footing, and was first and foremost in every worthy project for the sake of Jewish children.
During the period of the mass emigration from Morocco and Yemen, he toiled to set up new institutions for these children. In a later period, he was the pioneer in founding dozens of mesivtos for thousands of children who are today the cream of the Oriental communities of the Torah world.
His financial support erected dozens of institutions for boys and for girls, seminaries for girls and Torah institutions of higher learning, among them: Neveh Yerushalayim, Seminar Beer Yaakov, Seminar Ohr Chadash, Yeshiva Ketana and Mesivta Ohr Chadash and the Migdal Ohr institutions in Migdal Ha'emek.
Imbued with a driving sense of holy mission, he was the pioneer in every subject connected to Klal Yisroel throughout the world. With the raising of the Iron Curtain, he was again one of the first initiators of Torah activity in Russia, while substantially supporting many of the Shuvu institutions for Russian children in Eretz Yisroel.
His many branched activities spread far and wide. Wherever there existed activity in spreading the word of Hashem, whether in the U.S. or France, Brazil of East European countries, or anywhere for that matter, he was a driving force in maintaining Torah institutions and generating activity for Kiruv. With the flourishing of the Teshuva movement in the 1960's, he was again the father and patron who most generously supported the various institutions involved in Kiruv, continually pleading that they increase their scope. Whenever he visited Eretz Yisroel, he would gather the heads of the many Kiruv organizations and ask them how they could reach more people and achieve more in the field to spread the word of Hashem. He generously supported Arachim, Tzohar, Tiferes Tverya and many other organizations.
Throughout his life, he related to his wealth as a deposit entrusted to him by Hashem for the sake of Jewry, and as such, was always seeking ways to put that money to good use and increase the army of Hashem for Torah.
In the last few decades, he established the Wolfson Fund in Jerusalem. Its office concentrated all of his many activities for the sake of Torah and chessed, under the directorship of Rabbi Eliezer Rosner and Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum, who served as his long arm in the continued establishment and upkeep of institutions for Torah, Teshuva and chessed in Israel. Indeed, they accomplished a great deal in recent years.
Dozens of community kollelim, for example, were created in this last decade, which operate throughout the cities and settlements of Eretz Yisroel, whereby the members reach out to the residents, bringing the word of Hashem to the public at large, their homes becoming focal points for the population.
He has been deeply involved in the manifold activities of Lev L'Achim since its inception. When roshei yeshiva first called upon their students to go forth to immigrant families in development towns to register children for Torah schools, it was Reb Zev who made possible the spiritual rescue of many thousands of these children.
A public call issued many years ago, which was signed by HaRav Eliezer Mann Shach, HaRav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach, HaRav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, and yblcha"t HaRav Shteinman, urged avreichim to go forth and study with the non-yeshiva public in development areas, was again encouraged and facilitated through the help of Reb Wolfson to its sizable scope of today.
The director-general of Lev L'Achim, Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin, noted that the deceased used to demand more and more from the organization. "I am providing the resources; you keep up the work and increase it as best you can," Reb Zev used to say, and Rav Eliezer adds, "He possessed a gigantic heart for Klal Yisroel."
Of the many organizations which he established are: Nefesh Yehudi, headed by HaRav Eliyahu Ilani, a network of kollelim within universities in Israel and abroad, a very successful Kiruv venture.
Yaazoru — organized activities for the children of baalei teshuva geared around tutorial help for catching up in Torah studies.
Among other things he supported the program of Yad Eliezer, headed by Reb Dov Wiesel, that maintains educational extracurricular activities and provides personal tutors for thousands of children.
Ayelet Hashachar, headed by HaRav Shlomo Raanan, operates within settlements and kibbutzim, promoting Kiruv and establishing many shuls where none existed before.
Tikvat Acheinu, led by HaRav Avraham Meislish, with similar communal activities along Torah lines.
Shelabim and Dor Hemshech, organized by HaRav Ilan Kosman, working with children and youth. And others.
Before all the yomim tovim, he sent millions of dollars for distribution among needy/bnei Torah families.
For tens of years, he supported dozens of kollelim, but most impressive were those headed by HaRav Moshe Shapira and HaRav Asher Weiss for elite Torah scholars who also do Kiruv work.
The heads of the organization in Israel tell how he used to call up before Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, pleading, "Please tell me how I can help increase the spread of Hashem's word in the world."
When the Education Ministry curtailed the funding for school transportation to schools in peripheral areas, he organized bussing students to Torah schools which he had helped establish decades before, with an initial donation of one million dollars. He also generated additional funding from other donors.
His sons: Rav Avraham, Rav Moshe, Rav Aharon, Rav Daniel, continue his legacy in spreading the word of Hashem throughout the world by upholding institutions of Torah, chessed and Kiruv.
Part of his eternal reward was already evident in his lifetime, as he saw all of his offspring -- sons, daughters, sons- and daughters-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all continuing his legacy, studying Torah and supporting it, carrying on his mighty work. Similarly, thousands of baalei teshuva and their families are living a blessed Torah life and do credit to their Creator, thanks to Reb Zev and his worldwide efforts.