By COLlive reporter
Rabbi Yisroel Avrohom Portugal, the eldest living Admur was known as the pious Rebbe of Skulen who risked his life to save thousands of Romania’s Jews after the Holocaust, passed away on 25 Adar II 5779.
He was 95.
He was born in Skulen, Romania (present-day Moldova) where his father Rebbe Eliezer Zusia Portugal served as the first Skulener Rebbe and author of Noam Eliezer.
Starting in 1945, the father and son began adopting war orphans when their parents were deported to German concentration camps, Dovid Zaklikowski wrote in a feature article in Ami Magazine.
In February 1959, Romania’s Communist authorities imprisoned both father and son on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel and the United States. News of the arrest made waves in Jewish communities around the world.
One of the people working to save their lives was the Lubavitcher Rebbe who was in touch with Harry Goodman, vice president of the Agudas Israel World Organization and editor of the London Jewish Post, and other activists in the United States, Zaklikowski wrote.
While the Romanians briefly released the Skulener Rebbe, the Lubavitcher Rebbe took issue with the fact that the son wasn’t being included in the requests for his release. Enlisted in the efforts was also Rabbi Binyomin Eliyahu Gorodetsky, the Rebbe’s representative in Europe and North Africa.
“Common sense would indicate that Rabbi Zusia would hardly be willing to depart and leave his son in the present situation,” the Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote to Goodman in July 1959.
“In view of the above, it would be well if you could ascertain what the chances are of obtaining a British visa for both of them together. I would very much appreciate your information on this.”
When efforts failed, Rabbi Eliezer Silver, president of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada and the chief rabbi of Cincinnati, was asked by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to visit Washington, DC, to advocate for the Skulener Rebbe and his family.
Although Rabbi Silver’s previous trips to Washington for that purpose had been fruitless, he decided to do it anyway. He met with an elected official from Cincinnati, who sent a letter to the State Department. The State Department then sent a letter to the Romanian Embassy requesting that the Skulener Rebbe and his son be freed.
The two were released from prison a short while later. It turned out that at the exact same time Rabbi Silver made his trip, the Romanians were awaiting confirmation of a new ambassador to the U.S. “They understood that the confirmation was reliant on the release of the rabbis,” Rabbi Silver recalled.
A few months later, the Skulener Rebbe and his son left the country and settled in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, a few short blocks away from where the Lubavitcher Rebbe resided.
“Many are those who concerned themselves with the problem of the release of Rabbi Portugal: the Foreign Office in London, the State Department in Washington, and the esteemed Rabbi M.M. Schneerson of Lubavitch in New York [by] whose wise guidance this action finally achieved a successful conclusion,” Goodman later wrote.
In Crown Heights, they established a shul and continued their efforts to help Jewish families trapped behind the Iron Curtain. The son, Rabbi Yisroel Avrohom Portugal, became the second Skulener Rebbe and moved to Boro Park. He spent yomim tovim in Williamsburg.
Following his father, he was a habituated composer of Chassidic songs and besides for Shabbos and yomim tovim, would carry a small tape recorder to record any new tune that would come to his mind. Over the years, he composed thousands of songs.
Upon the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, the Skulener Rebbe came to comfort the Rebbe. “You surely know about the connection between Lubavitch and Skulen in the activities in that country (Russia),” the Rebbe told him.
Each year, the Skulener Rebbe would send his representative Rabbi Yerachmiel Zeltzer to speak about the Rebbe’s establishment of the daily learning cycles of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah. “Blessed are all who learn Rambam in every location,” was the blessing he would send.
In 5771, the Skulener Rebbe went back to the former Soviet Union. While visiting Kishinev, Moldova, he met with his childhood friend and the country’s Shliach and Chief Rabbi Zalman Abelsky. The two reminisced about their joint efforts to save Jews in Communist Russia.
He passed away at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland surrounded by his family.
1. The New York City Police Department, in conjunction with Misaskim and various City and State agencies, have gone to great lengths to ensure the safety of all people coming to pay kavod ha’achron to Kvod Kedushas Admor Skulen’er zatzal. Please make sure to follow all safety instructions!
2. Street closures will be as follows: from 52nd Street to 61st Street, and from 12th Avenue to 16th Avenue, starting at 9:30 AM sharp!
3. If you are parked on 54th Street between 13th Avenue and 14th Avenue, or on 14th Avenue from 52nd Street to 60th Street, please move your cars immediately, or they will be towed by the NYPD starting at 9:00 PM tonight!
4. For safety reasons, as per the NYPD, the front of the shul will be a complete frozen zone for the duration of the levaya.
5. The levaya is scheduled to begin at 11:00 AM. As of now, there are only two scheduled maspidim!
6. After the hespeidim, the route of the aron will be, down 54th Street to 14th Avenue, making a right turn on 14th Avenue towards 58th Street.
7. Transportation to Boro Park. Mass transit will be working. Whoever can, please take the D train, get off at the 55th Street station, walk down 55th Street to 14th Avenue. If you are coming by car, please note you will need to find a parking space outside of the frozen zone. If you are coming by private bus, the buses will go on 60th Street, turn onto 15th Avenue, you will be dropped off to walk to the levaya. After that, the buses will be parked alongside the cemetery on 20th Avenue, 21st Avenue, and Bay Parkway.
8. Kevura will take place in Viznitz Bais Hachaim in Monsey.
9. There will be buses from Boro Park to Monsey, after the levaya. The buses will be lined up on New Utrecht Avenue, from 60th Street to 56th Street.
10. All buses heading to Monsey should take Route 59 until Route 306, turn onto Route 306 until Kearsing Parkway, make a right onto Kearsing Parkway. All buses will unload at the corner of Kearsing Parkway and Jill Lane. From there, all people will walk on Jill Lane until Blueberry Hill Road, make a right onto Blueberry Hill Road, where the Monsey levaya will take place.
11. After the Monsey levaya and kevura, all buses will be lined up on the corner of Parker Boulevard and Route 306.
12. Please be advised, the entire Blueberry Hill neighborhood will be on complete lock-down. No vehicles will be allowed entry or exit. If you have a car parked anywhere in the frozen zone, it will be towed by the Ramapo and/or Spring Valley Police Departments.
13. All private vehicles coming to Monsey for the levaya, should park their vehicles at the Rockland Boulder Stadium, located at 1 Palisades Credit Union Park Drive, in Pomona, NY. There will be buses from Rockland Boulder Stadium to the levaya, at 10-minute intervals. After the kevura, buses will be at Parker corner 306 to return people to Rockland Boulder Stadium.
14. Vehicles coming to Monsey should take the Palisades Interstate Parkway to Exit 12, at the end of the ramp make a left onto Concklin Road, continue until Route 45 at the light, make a left onto Route 45, and a right onto Pomona Road, and the stadium will be on the right side.
15. If you are bringing children, please make sure to keep them close, as a large crowd is expected. Please make sure all children know your cell phone number, so you can be called in case they chas v’sholom get separated from you.
16. If you have elderly people at home being cared for by an aide, and/or babies and children being cared for by babysitters, please make sure their shift changes are planned accordingly.
Baruch Dayan Haemes.