Rabbi Avraham Yitzchok Sassonkin, a senior and respected longtime Shliach in Israel, passed away on Wednesday, 6 Kislev, 5783.
He was 84 and bravely battled a terrible illness.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchok Sassonkin was born in Leningrad on the second day of Teves to his parents, Rabbi Moshe and Ita Sassonkin. As a child, his father was suddenly taken away by the secret police on the charge of teaching Judaism and he was not seen again.
With the outbreak of World War II, the Sassonkin family fled to Samarkand, where he grew up with his grandfather, Rabbi Nachum Shmaryahu Sassonkin, At the end of the war, the Sassonkin family left Russia and arrived in Czechoslovakia.
In order to escape to freedom, the family traveled with a group of refugees to Poland, and were to escape over the Polish border.
While traveling with a group of refugees, they were forced to wait and hide from soldiers who were searching the area. While hiding near the Russian-Polish border, one of the group of refugees began to raise her voice due to the strain of waiting. The leader of the group, worried that her voice would be heard and their hiding place discovered, started shooting in the air in order to warn the group to continue sitting quietly.
In a tragic mistake, one of the bullets flew in the direction of Mrs. Ita Sassonkin, and a day later, on 15 Av 1945, she passed away due to her wounds.
R’ Avraham Yitzchok was left orphaned, and was adopted by his grandparents, Rabbi Nachum Shmaryahu and Malka Sassonkin, and they raised him as a son.
In the year 1950, he immigrated to the Holy Land and entered to study at the Achei Temimim Yeshiva in Rishon LeZion, and later, at the Tomchei Temimim Yeshiva in Lod.
On Erev Pesach in 1961, he traveled to the Rebbe for the first time together with his classmate, Rabbi Avraham Donin. When their travel Visa expired, the two received permission from the Rebbe to stay for an additional period of time, and at the end of it, the Rebbe ordered them to return to Israel in order not to risk the visits of other Bochurim, so the authorities in Israel should not worry that bochurim did not keep their word on returning.
On their way back, they traveled by boat, and the Rebbe tasked each of the three to stop over in another country and spread Chassidus there. Rabbi Sassonkin was told to stop in England.
Upon his return to Israel, he returned as a student to the yeshiva in Lod.
When he became interested in Shidduchim, the Rebbe was involved in the process, and before giving his blessing to the Shidduch, the Rebbe said about him, “This is a bochur with many good qualities.”
His marriage to Sara Rivka, daughter of Rabbi Sholom Posner, the famed Shliach to Pittsburgh, PA took place in the month of Tammuz, 5722 (1962). Although by that time the Rebbe had stopped being masader kiddushin and they had not even asked him to do so, the Rebbe told Rabbi Posner that he would be mesader kiddushin by the wedding. They were one of the last couples to merit this special privilege.
Out of consideration for the bride’s family from Pittsburgh, the chuppah was held in the afternoon and was followed by a short meal for close family at a nearby home in Crown Heights. Afterwards, the entourage ascended onto busses headed for Pittsburgh where the celebration continued.
Shortly after their marriage, the couple moved to Israel as Shluchim where they initially settled in Kiryat Gat until moving on to the settlement of Avital in Northern Israel. There, they were hired to work at the Oholei Yosef Yitzchak school that had been established there.
As Shluchim, their activities took them far beyond the walls of the school and extended to other areas of Jewish life throughout northern Israel. Theirs were some of the first Chabad initiatives to be launched in the region and the Rebbe responded to their reports with much encouragement and guidance.
A community of Chabad families soon formed in the area and Rabbi Yitzchak Yadgar was appointed as their Rov and Rabbi Sassonkin as their Mashpia.
With the outbreak of the Six Day War, he was drafted into the Armored Corps of the IDF and was stationed by the Suez Canal.
Through his work as a technician for the Bezeq telecommunications company, he arranged live hookups to the Rebbe’s farbrengens in New York, an arrangement that would normally cost an exorbitant amount of money.
With the flood of Russian immigrants to Israel in the 80’s and 90’s, Rabbi Sassonkin was hired to act as the mashpia for the Russian baalei teshuva at the Yeshiva in Migdal Haemek.
In 5753 (1994), Nochum Sassonkin, Rabbi Sassonkin’s son, was shot by an Islamic terrorist gunman who had mistaken their car for the one transporting the Lubavitcher Rebbe back home from the hospital. The bullet lodged inside his head but, miraculously, Nochum survived the incident and experienced a full and lasting recovery.
Just a few years ago, Rabbi Sassonkin’s son Menachem Mendel, Shliach to Akron, OH passed away after an extensive battle with cancer.
He is survived by his wife, Mrs. Sarah Rivkah Sassonkin and children, Rabbi Moshe Sassonkin – Metula, Israel, Rabbi Chaim Dov Ber Sassonkin – Long Island, NY, Rabbi Nachum Sassonkin – Crown Heights, Rabbi Yechezkel Sassonkin – Arad, Israel, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Sassonkin – Long Island, NY, Chana Kalmenson – Crown Heights, Ita Goldshmid – Valley Stream, NY, and Malka Goldshmid – Philadelphia, PA.
Baruch Dayan Ha’emes.