Sunday, January 09, 2011

Remembering R' Kamyan a"h

Those of us from old Williamsburgh , Torah Vodaath of South Third St., Bais Medrash Elyon probably would remember Kamyan. To most he was a vagabond, a survivor of the Camps that found his way to Torah Vodaath, a person who lost his mind - nebach, who always needed a shower and whose last meal was always on his beard.

Not to me.

When my family moved from Williamsburgh to the new neighborhood, they thought it would be a great idea for me to spend many Shabbosim at the home of Rav Yitzchak Karp zt"l and Rav Alexander Linchner zt"l. They shared a Brownstone right around the corner from the Mesifta. Of course we davened in the yeshiva on South Third St.

Rabbi Linchner sat in the absolute rear-est chair in the bais medrash and Rav Karp a few rows before him. So when I came for Shabbos, sometimes I would sit next to Rav Linchner and sometimes next to Rav Karp. By kriat haTorah, I would stand in close proximity to the bimah, watching with fascination the process that would go into deciding who would get an aliyah.

If my memory serves me right, R' Shmuel Dishon was gabbai for at least part of the years of my visits to Williamsburgh, beginning when I was about 8 years old, up until my bar-mitzvah.

I was 8 or 9 years of age when this distinguished looking visiting rav was given shishi. Years later, I learned his name was Rabbi Chaim Kreiswirth, who eventually became the Chief Rabbi of Belgium and a nephew of Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky ztvk"l, the Rosh Hayeshiva.

And the reason I even remember the incident, was because one hour before Mincha, he was going to address the bais medrash with his brilliance in Torah, "unsurpassed by anyone in America" with his ability to recite any blatt in the entire gemora with his photographic memory (Shas - or the entire Talmud Bavli) by the page number and within a few words of getting it right by the line.

The Rosh Yeshiva would almost always get the third aliyah, shlishi, and the sixth aliyah, shishi, for the most part, was reserved for visiting dignitaries.

Of course I went with my hosts to the highly anticipated drasha from this visiting "rare" talmud chochom, "one in the world"!

I used to stare at R' Kamyan when I visited, he would walk around the bais medrash mumbling to himself, totally disheveled, once I even remember he had no shoes. He would scour the trash cans for food, look underneath the tables for any signs of left over food, although the bais medrash was cleaned immaculately before Shabbos. Tears always welled up in my eyes, especially once I was told that RSFM ztvk"l, had obtained a student visa for him from Poland - after he literally saw his entire family shot to death in front of him as he was left for dead. Somehow he survived and lived in the YTV dormitory until he passed.

I was told he rarely had any lucid moments, but on that very rare occasion that he was lucid, he cited and recited Torah from all over Shas flawlessly.

So when the "distinguished" talmud chochom took the shtender from the omud to give his drasha, the bais medrash was - standing room only - you could hear a pin drop!

Now I was about 8 years old so please cut me some slack on the tiniest of details, but some 20 minutes into the drasha, Kamyan strolls into the bais medrash. He was mumbling to himself and looked like he was crying, but he was absolutely not disturbing anyone. This "distinguished" visitor looked over at him. Now Kamyan was never seen in public without a black hat and dark suit and a flowing beard, so it was not like some Puerto Rican walked in or something. Rabbi Kreiswirth seemed very agitated by this "intruder", but he continued as Kamyan walked the aisles.

Kamyan stops; he shouts "DAF YUD DALED AMUD ALEPH"! AGAIN AND AGAIN!

There was a commotion, people running over to Kamyan, trying to silence him as he keeps repeating himself! Now, I'm at the bimah, and this "distingushed" rav is now angry and shouts repeatedly "VER IS DER MISHUGENER?"

By now, Kamyan is silenced and escorted out of the bais medrash, and some minutes later Rabbi Kreiswirth continues until Mincha.

After we arrived home for Havdalah, the two rabbonim were explaining to their rebbetzins, my Shabbos hosts, the incident that had transpired at the yeshiva as I stood bewildered in the corner of the small kitchen.

R' Kamyan was right, Rabbi Kreiswirth was wrong when he had quoted a blatt by its page number in mesechta Zvachim.