By COLlive reporter
Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein, a renowned lecturer who inspired Torah seekers around the world and founded a dynamic institute for women in New York, passed away on Monday, 1 Iyar 5782.
He was 64 and recently suffered from an illness.
He was born in Boro Park and was raised in Monsey, NY. He studied in the Yeshiva of Spring Valley, Bais Shraga in Monsey, in the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn.
He considered himself a student of Harav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Rosh Yeshiva of Shaar Hashamayim in Jerusalem, and would consult with Rabbi Harav Feinstein OBM and Harav Dovid Cohen.
After getting married to his wife Estee in 1978, he moved to the Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn and worked as a teacher in Yeshiva Torah V’Yirah in the Bronx and then the Mill Basin Yeshiva Academy on Avenue U.
“When I got married, I went into the plastic bag business half a day and I became a rebbe,” he told Ami Magazine. “My father really pushed me into being a rebbe. He saw I was very good with children, so I told him I’d do it for one year. That was 36 years ago…”
Hearing about his successes, a principal of a Jewish girls’ school asked him to lead a hashkafa class for girls. He initially resisted but eventually accepted.
“I do, baruch Hashem, have five daughters and a wife, and no sons. So I had learned a lot about women anyway,” he later commented.
That class led him to establish Ohr Naava, a center of learning and guidance for young Jewish women. It hosts events and classes and allows for private appointments on personal matters to be booked with a team of professional educators and caring individuals who serve as role models and mentors.
It operates today numerous programs addressing the gamut of Jewish women’s needs, including Ateres Naava Seminary, Tiferes Bnos Yisroel Seminary, Ateres Miriam Seminary, Bnot Chaya Academy, Hakaras Hatov Initiative, Ohr Naava Shidduch Initiative, The Yutta Zicherman Crisis Center for Intervention, and the groundbreaking, therapeutic Ranch at Bethel.
Rabbi Wallerstein soon became an internationally sought-after speaker, traveling the world and inspiring men and women from all walks of life. On a typical day, he spoke at schools, shuls, community centers and mental institutions, with the goal of “lighting up lives – one neshama at a time.”
His Torah classes online were viewed and listened to by thousands drawn to his Torah knowledge, trademark passion, and clarity of delivery.
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, the Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist of Crown Heights, is one of the many who mourned his passing. Rabbi Schonbuch, a psychotherapist and author, lectured for several years at Ohr Naava and hosted Rabbi Wallerstein for a talk at his Torah Psychology Conference on Viktor Frankl and Man’s Search for Meaning.
“He was a tremendous talmid chacham, a fantastic orator, and a person who dedicated his life to improving the self-esteem of countless young people, helping them become closer to Hashem,” he told COLlive.com.
“Rabbi Wallerstein openly spoke about his own addiction,” Rabbi Schonbuch said. “He was hurt as a child and overcame his addiction by helping other people – more than we know. He said addiction is like driving down the same road that has a dead end. The only way out is to build a bigger road – and he did that.”
Rabbi Wallerstein is survived by his wife Estee, their 5 daughters and grandchildren, as well as his mother Charlotte Bunim.
The levaya was held on Monday in New York.
Boruch Dayan Ha’emes.
VIDEO: Torah Perspectives on Addiction by Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein