by Sandy Eller
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, a well known, vibrant and beloved Brooklyn rabbi, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep last night at the age of 66.
Rabbi Tannenbaum was the rov of Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights and the director of the Igud Harabanim. A long time columnist for the Jewish Press and the 5 Towns Jewish Times, his most recently published column, a eulogy for Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, ran just six days ago.
“He was a tremendous, tremendous person,” Rabbi Tannenbaum’s son, Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Tannenbaum told VIN News. “As the rov of a shul, the entire congregation loved him.”
Rabbi Tannenbaum was born in a DP camp in Windsheim, Germany in 1949 to Hungarian parents, the next in a long line of prominent rabbonim. He studied in Yeshiva Chasam Sofer, Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, Yeshivat HaTefutzot and Yeshiva University. Rabbi Tannenbaum served as a shamash to Rabbi Aryeh Levine in Jerusalem for a short time and his was the first semicha conferred in Jerusalem after its reunification in 1967.
Rabbi Tannenbaum earned a reputation as an excellent speaker with an incredible breadth of knowledge.
“He knew Europe like the back of his hand,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Tannenbaum. “When he spoke of generations gone by it was as if he knew them all. He knew the stories. He was a walking encyclopedia on pre-war Hungary.”
His unique ability to relate to a wide array of people was just one element that made Rabbi Tannenbaum so successful.
“He had an unbelievable connection to the biggest rabbonim and askanim and knew how to converse in their languages,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Tannenbaum. “He could speak to Chasidishe rebbes and government officials. He knew how to connect and he accomplished tremendously with that ability.”
Rabbi Tannenbaum was affiliated with many local organizations and was known to spend his days and nights helping others.
“He was a well known address because of his newspaper articles,” observed Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Tannenbaum. “He would assist people on a personal level. He was asked very often to make levayas for people who didn’t have a rabbi figure of their own and he knew how to connect with them on the spot. Those levayas were so meaningful.”
Two days ago, Rabbi Tannenbaum submitted his final article to the 5 Towns Jewish Times on the grand Satmar wedding being held tonight in Williamsburg.
“His Machberes column was anticipated weekly by readers,” noted Larry Gordon, editor of the 5 Towns Jewish Times. “He provided keen insight into the scrupulous fashion in which old world tradition is adhered to in today’s Chasidic communities around the world. His voice, wisdom and insight will be sorely missed.”
Rabbi Tannenbaum’s familiarity with the Chasidic world, both past and present, earned him the admiration of many.
“He was a scholar who understood how Jewish history impacts current events and was able to reference his vast knowledge of Jewish history and rabbinic and Chasidic conduct in various circumstances and was able to apply it to how events unfold in contemporary times,” said Ezra Friedlander, CEO of The Friedlander Group, a long time friend of Rabbi Tannenbaum’s. “He had the ability to convey complex chapters of history and also apply it layman’s terms something that is important so that it can be preserved for future generations.”
Friedlander recalled hearing from Rabbi Tannenbaum shortly after the birth of his eldest son.
“Both he and his wife called and said they had a very unique, antique tray for a pidyon haben with special engravings,” said Friedlander. “He referenced all the sources and it was so inspiring to place our son on the tray for his pidyon haben.”
Rabbi Yaakov Klass, a member of the Igud Harabonim and Torah editor of the Jewish Press who collaborated with Rabbi Tannenbaum on a weekly Daf Yomi column, remembered him as an energetic and selfless individual.
“He was someone who always worried about others, and even though he faced a lot of adversity of his own, he would make nothing of it,” said Rabbi Klass. “I remember working with him to secure a get for one woman who was having a very difficult time and probably countless others as well. Some people accomplish in many years, while others have to accomplish in a shorter time.”
Rabbi Tannenbaum was one of the speakers at last night’s Igud Harabonim’s monthly Rosh Chodesh seudah.
“He spoke dynamically about a number of issues,” said Rabbi Klass. “The issue of singles was brought up by Rabbi Shmaryahu Shulman and he magnified it, speaking about how important it is to take care of all the singles and help them find their shidduchim. He was the life of the Igud Harabonim, there was no question about it. He did everything.”
Chaskel Bennett, a member of Agudath Israel Board of Trustees, recalled his interactions with Rabbi Tannenbaum.
“As a young activist, Rabbi Tannenbaum often sought me out and offered chizuk and words of encouragement,” remarked Bennet. “He seemed genuinely happy that younger people were willing to assume achrayus on behalf of the community and encouraged me to continue my activities. Invariably, in a public setting where I presented and he was in the audience, he would be one of first to compliment me afterwards. He used his passion and love for the Jewish people to promote our community in his various columns. That positive kiddush Hashem will be sorely missed and needs to carried forward.”
The timing of Rabbi Tannenbaum’s passing cannot be ignored, observed Bennett.
“Without fail, I like many others I’m sure, received his timely emails promoting the monthly Rosh Chodesh gathering of the Igud Harabonim. You knew Rosh Chodesh was approaching because of Rabbi Tannenbaum’s emails. It is deeply emotional and bittersweet to me, that the man who was mechabed the coming of Rosh Chodesh will forever have his yahrtzeit on Rosh Chodesh.”
Untold numbers of friends and family members are reeling from the shock of Rabbi Tannenbaum’s sudden passing.
“Many, many people have expressed to me that they lost a father today,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Tannenbaum.
“They don’t make them like Gershon Tannenbaum anymore,” said Assemblyman Dov Hikind who knew Rabbi Tannenbaum for three decades. “He had such kindness and such compassion and such a love of Eretz Yisroel and klal yisroel.
This is a man that if you met him and spoke to him, you couldn’t imagine him raising his voice. He was so soft spoken that it just wasn’t possible. He had such sweetness, integrity and honesty and when I think of someone like him not being here the world is diminished. I will miss him very, very much.”
Community Activist Mark Meyer Appel shared a warm relationship with Rabbi Tannenbaum for 40 years.
“He was the first rabbi in the USA and the world to open up his shul, his heart and his soul to protect our children when no one else would. “He was heart and soul. He would find people jobs, roam the streets to help kids, go to Maimonides at 3 AM to see patients and do whatever he had to do.”
“His name personified the word chesed,” said Appel. “Tannenbaum means chesed.”
The levaya for Rabbi Tannenbaum will take place today at noon at Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights, 4502 9th Avenue. He leaves behind his wife, Rebbetzin Sarah Tannenbaum, his children Rabbi Chaim Tannenbaum, Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Tannenbaum, Mrs. Bracha Holtzer and Mrs. Malky Haimoff.