Harav Binyomin Kamenetsky, one of the pioneers of Torah life in the Five Towns community of Long Island and the eldest son of Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l, was niftar on Erev Shabbos. He was 93 years old.
For over half a century, Rav Kamenetsky worked tirelessly to turn what was a fledgling community into the center of frum life that it is today. He founded two of its major mosdos hachinuch — Yeshivah of South Shore and Torah Academy for Girls (TAG) — and led them for decades. Aside from his role at the helm of the two institutions, Rav Kamenetsky participated in other projects, helping to build shuls, mosdos and other essentials of Jewish life.
“He was like a zeidy to the whole community,” said one Five Towns resident. “He would visit a lot of the shuls in the neighborhood and you could see him shepping nachas from all that he had built.”
Rav Binyomin was born in 1923 in Tytuvenai, Lithuania, where Rav Yaakov served as Rav for some time. He studied in Telshe as a bachur before moving with his family to the United States in 1937 to join his father, who had left to assume a rabbanus some years before. In America, Rav Binyomin attended Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, under its Rosh Yeshivah Hagaon Harav Dovid Leibowitz, zt”l, and later learned in Ner Yisroel, where the Rosh Yeshivah, Hagaon Harav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman, zt”l, was his father’s cousin.
In 1947 he married Tzirel Spiegel, a”h, the daughter of Harav Pinchus Eliyahu Spiegel, zt”l, the Ostrove-Kalushiner Rebbe, who led a beis medrash in the Bronx.
Soon after his marriage, Rav Kamenetsky became a rebbi in Yeshiva Toras Chaim in East New York, which was founded by Harav Isaac Shmidman, zt”l.
One day, he met a child who’d traveled from Cedarhurst, and he realized that there was no Yiddishkeit there. With his father’s encouragement, he moved to the Five Towns, where he set about the task of building the foundations of a Jewish community.
For several years, he served as the Rav of a minyan that would become the Young Israel of Woodmere, one of the largest Young Israel shuls in the country.
In 1956, Rav Kamenetsky left his rabbinical position to focus on the new Yeshiva of South Shore and TAG.
South Shore, which began as an elementary school with a few younger grades, took root and bloomed over the years into a massive network of multiple parallel classes in the elementary, middle school, high school and beis medrash divisions which comprise Yeshiva of South Shore-Toras Chaim. His distinguished father, Rav Yaakov, provided constant guidance to Rav Binyamin in the growth and operation of the yeshivah.
Rav Kamenetsky once related an incident that occurred when Rav Yaakov came to South Shore for a visit.
“He noticed that we had placed a preschool doorway mezuzah at a lower height for the benefit of the young children so they could reach it. He admonished us, saying, ‘First and foremost the children must see the proper way to place a mezuzah. You can place a stool so they can step up to kiss it. Raise them to the mezuzah, don’t lower it to them.’”
The story became a parable for the approach that guided Rav Kamenetsky’s work over decades of nurturing the community’s growth, always striving to encourage students and families to reach higher.
What is remarkable is that the son of the preeminent Litvishe gadol married a Chasidishe girl, the daughter of a Rebbe. Today that NEVER happens. The reason is that back then Yiddishkeit had been all but destroyed and so any frum boy would marry any frum girl, regardless of the disparity of their family's minhagim and outlook. Slabodka, where Rav Yaakov learned was VERY far [both geographically and hashkafically] from "Ostrov Kalushin" where the girls family cam from. Yet, they married and built beautiful families [as did the Kaminetzky's].
Today - we all marry people just like us. Modern marries modern. Flip-out marries flipout. Kippah sruga/tfillah lishlom hamedina/flag wavers marry the same. Yeshivish marries yeshivish. Chasidish marries chasidish and so on and so forth.
Yet - there are so many people whose marriages either fail or are in shambles. It is not only important to find a girl from a similar background. There are other factors as well. How giving and selfless are people willing to be? How committed are people to making their spouse their first priority? How hard are people working on their marriages? How emotionally aware are people? How much are people willing to admit their own faults and deficiencies without blaming their spouse for everything?
A nice chasidishe girl from Boro Park could theoretically be happy with a Modern Orthodox flipout from Teaneck [although I wouldn't recommend they try it lichtchilah] if there is mutual love, understanding and acceptance. Today we are spoiled with such a wide field of potential marriage partners yet there are soooo many singles and so many unhappily marrieds.
Let's make a TIKKUN!!!