A year on
By: Ilan Preskovsky
It’s hard to believe, but as of 11 Tishrei 5782 (17 September 2021), it will have been one year since Rabbi Avraham Tanzer z”l passed away. It has hardly been the easiest, let alone the most normal of years for any of us, individually, but Rabbi Tanzer’s passing has obviously left a major hole in both the Yeshiva College campus and the wider community as well. No doubt, that’s not going to change any time soon but more even than his absence, it will surely be his enormous legacy that will linger on for years to come.
To commemorate Rav Tanzer’s first yahrtzeit, Yeshiva College will be holding a number of events that will pay tribute to the man, while also showcasing his incredible legacy. 11 Tishrei falls on a Friday this year, and though COVID-19 restrictions will make it difficult to plan communal events of the size and scope that would no doubt have occurred on most other years, the shuls on the Yeshiva College campus will come together to honour their late Rosh Yeshiva on Shabbos, the 18th of September. There are also (as of this writing, still unconfirmed) plans to have a virtual, pre-Shabbos tish on the yahrtzeit itself.
The main event, though, will take place that Saturday night with a special havdalah, followed by the renaming of the campus after Rabbi Avraham and Rebbetzin Marcia Tanzer and a special drive-through event where people will come to collect gifts in the Rosh Yeshiva’s memory. The latter could hardly be more appropriate as it was one of Rabbi Tanzer’s great missions in life – and one of his greatest successes – to give the gift of Torah to all Jews, regardless of their financial situation. It was for this reason that the Yeshiva College was founded and spearheaded by the Rosh Yeshiva.
Rabbi Tanzer was not the first Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva College and he won’t be the last, but he is the person that made Yeshiva College and, by extension, the greater Glenhazel Jewish community (and beyond) what it is today, and there is no other person more deserving of having their name forever linked with Yeshiva College than Rabbi and Rebbetzin Tanzer.
As Avrom Krengel perfectly summarises: “It is a fitting tribute to name the campus after the Rabbi and Rebbetzin who built it over the past 60 years [as] the aim and challenge of the school is to keep the memory and values of Rabbi Tanzer alive for future generations.”
On that note, more even than this much warranted kavod, the Rosh Yeshiva’s untouchable legacy will be honoured through several learning and education-based initiatives – though, admittedly, many of these will have already been in place long before the yahrtzeit itself. The Limudei Kodesh department of Yeshiva College have worked together to create a special educational programme to instil and inculcate the Rosh Yeshiva’s values into a new generation who never had the privilege to know Rabbi Tanzer personally.
There will also be a special, communal siyum on Rabbi Tanzer’s birthday, which falls on the second day of Sukkot, on the Yeshiva College campus. The siyum will be for the completion of Masechet (Talmudic tractate) Sukkah – a momentous occasion that not only obviously has clear relevance for the day, but will also be the tractate that those doing the Daf Yomi programme will be completing around that time too.
It won’t just be a siyum for the conclusion of a book in the Babylonian Talmud, but a testimony to the widespread Torah learning in the community that is, in so many ways, the result of Rabbi Tanzer’s efforts. The fact is that along with the Yeshiva College campus, the Yeshiva Gedolah of Johannesburg, Yeshiva Maharsha, Torah Academy, and many other Torah institutions would simply not exist without Rabbi Tanzer.
Krengel puts it best when he says, “No Rabbi in the history of South African Jewry made a greater impact on the community than Rabbi Tanzer. In his 60 years as Rosh Yeshiva he transformed the community and its level and commitment to Yiddishkeit. The Yeshiva College campus became the spiritual and geographical centre of Jewish Johannesburg.”
This sentiment is shared by Clive Spits, chairman of the Yeshiva College shuls, who notes how “Rabbi Avraham Chaim Tanzer, together with Rebbetzin Marcia Tanzer, created so much more than a school, a shul, a home for religious Zionisim. [They created] an ethos of derech eretz, a love of Torah, a love of Klal Yisrael, a love of Eretz Yisrael. They moulded students and parents, they inspired families and generations.”
Perhaps nothing illustrated this better than the Rosh Yeshiva’s commitment to derech eretz, both in the way he treated others and his famous Pirkei Avot shiurim. It’s not for nothing that when people recall Rabbi Tanzer, they don’t simply mention his considerable achievements as a rabbi, but focus heavily on the Rosh Yeshiva as a human being.
Take, for example, Rabbi Alon Friedman’s own recollections of the Rosh Yeshiva and the loss he continues to feel in his own life of someone he considered a direct mentor: “These last few months I have really felt a void in my personal life, I have missed the clarity, sensitivity and warmth that my mentor the Rosh Yeshiva possessed. He had an uncanny ability to understand human behaviour coupled with vast experience. The Rosh Yeshiva was able to deal with any situation with wit and Daas Torah.”
Obviously, no one experiences this loss on a more profoundly personal level than the Tanzer family itself. His daughter, Chaya Masinter, admits (speaking to me on behalf of her family) that “it’s been a tough year! Difficult to comprehend a world without my Dad in it! He’s always in my heart and thoughts!”
And yet, Chaya sees her father in the tremendous legacy he has created, not least in those closest to him: “My brother, Rav Dov, has continued my Dad’s weekly Pirkei Avot shiur which has certainly kept him alive and with us in spirit. He also does a weekly Parsha sheet, using my father’s writings and ideas, which brings my Dad and his thoughts and ideas to life.”
More generally, “My Dad’s memory and legacy carries on through the beautiful projects the Yeshiva College staff and students are doing in my his honour: the learning programmes being run by the Limudei Kodesh Department; the various Pirkei Avot shiurim being given in his memory, the Pirkei Avot books being made and having been made in his memory.”
If that isn’t a mark of a life truly well lived, it’s hard to imagine what is.