By COLlive reporter
Rabbi Yitzchok Zalman Posner, a central figure in the first wave of baalei teshuva in America as a Chabad Shliach, passed away on Wednesday, 23 Nissan 5774.
He was 87 and passed away in Rancho Mirage, CA.
One of the last remaining Shluchim the Frierdiker Rebbe sent in the United States, he left an everlasting impact on Nashville, Tennessee, where he served as the rabbi of Congregation Sherith Israel for 53 years.
“It was one of the farthest outposts from Chabad headquarters in Crown Heights,” the Jerusalem Post wrote about the Shlichus he began in 1949 at the instruction of the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe. He was one of the first students of the central Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch that opened in New York in 1941.
Rabbi Posner was 22 years old at the time and he knew almost nothing about the city known as “Music City USA.” Because his shul was located next to the Grand Ole Opry country music concert hall, farmers would mistakenly wander in on Friday nights, eating peanuts and waiting for the show to start.
Jews were so few in the area, that when the board of Sherith Israel interviewed him, one elder took Posner aside and warned, “Don’t take the job. The shul is a holding company for the cemetery. We have a mortgage we can’t pay.”
Posner, whose father was the legendary Pittsburgh Shliach Rabbi Sholom Posner OBM, was nevertheless able to connect with composers, singers, doctors, and Vanderbilt University students and professors, hungry for a Judaism that nourished them.
After taking the position in Nashville, he married Mrs. Risya (Didi) Posner, daughter of one of the leading figures of the Chabad movement in the U.S., Rabbi Shlomo Aron Kazarnovsky, and the granddaughter of a renowned Chassidic personality, Rabbi Asher Grossman of Nikolayev.
Together, they dedicated their lives to reaching out to Jews and connecting them with their heritage. In 1954, they founded the Akiva Day School, which has graduated hundreds of dedicated and proud alumni – living all over the United States, and serving Jewish communities around the globe.
His influence has far surpassed the southern state. As a noted scholar, author and orator, his works and talks have inspired Jewish men and women around the country and even the world. He was the featured speaker at the annual “Encounter with Chabad” weekends in Brooklyn.
Using a contemporary language for mystical thought, his translations of Chabad Chassidus classics make them available to the wider public. Among his work was translating two sections of the Tanya, Chabad’s central text, into English, as well as other Chassidic discourses.
His most known book was “Think Jewish”, an instant classic since its publication in 1978, which offered “A contemporary view of Judaism, a Jewish view of today’s world.” It was reprinted in 2002 with its essays remaining as relevant and eloquent as when they first appeared.
He contributed over the years to publications such as Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Ideas, OU’s Jewish Action journal and others and addressed students, congregations and conventions worldwide.
Rabbi Posner is survived by his children: Mrs. Shifra Deren of Stamford, CT; Menachem Mendel Posner of Atlanta, GA; Mrs. Sussi Denebeim of Palm Springs, CA; Mrs. Mimi Liberov of Porto Alegre, Brazil; and Rabbi Shimon Posner of Rancho Mirage, CA; grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
He is also survived by his siblings, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Posner of Crown Heights, Mrs. Rivka Sasonkin of Avital, Israel; Mrs. Bassie Garelik of Milan, Italy; and Rabbi Zushe Posner of Lod, Israel.
The Levaya will take place Friday, 25 Nissan at 9:30 am, leaving Shomrei Hadas Chapels in Boro Park at 10:00 am, and passing by 770 at 10:45 am, before arriving at the Beis Hachayim – Old Montefiore Cemetery in Queens.
Shiva will be at 1378 Union Street, Crown Heights.
Condolences can be sent to [email protected].
Baruch dayan haemes.