When he passed away on Jan. 2 at age 90, Rabbi Dovid Edelman left behind his wife, Leah, their eight children, approximately 100 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren, as well as three generations of students. Although family members and friends had no choice but to share him, according to grandson, Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum of Baltimore, almost everyone who met him believed they had a special connection to the rabbi.
As the first grandson to be named after Edelman’s father, and the only one to live in Baltimore, his grand-father’s hometown, Tenenbaum, director of Jewish Uniformed Service Association of Maryland, felt a particularly strong bond with the late rabbi.
Cheyskel Edelman, Rabbi Dovid Edelman’s father, left Poland for the U.S. at age 18 and settled in East Baltimore. At first, he had difficulty finding work since he was Orthodox and unwilling to work on Shabbat. Eventually, the young man, who had trained as a shoemaker in his native country, found a job at a shoe repair shop that closed for the Sabbath.
“The owner liked him and eventually sold the store to him,” explained Tenenbaum.
Cheyskel married his wife, Toba, at Shomrei Mishmeres on Lloyd Street in East Baltimore (now B’nai Israel Congregation and part of the Jewish Museum of Maryland), and the couple had three children including the future Rabbi Dovid Edelman. The shoe repair store, located at 103 N. Exeter St., had an apartment at the back, where the Edelman family lived.
“A few months ago,” said Tenenbaum, 35, who moved to Baltimore with his wife and four children about three years ago, “I visited my grandfather and asked him about his childhood in Baltimore. He spoke about playing near the Shot Tower and said that after his bar mitzvah, he used to read Torah at Anshei Bobruisk Congregation, a shul on North High St., and he was paid 50 cents a week.”
[pullquote]“My grandfather spoke about playing near the Shot Tower, and said that after his bar mitzvah, he used to read Torah at Anshei Bobruisk Congregation, a shul on N. High St. and he was paid fifty cents a week.”
— Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum
After studying at Talmudical Academy of Baltimore and attending Baltimore City College, Edelman moved to Brooklyn N.Y., to study at Central Lubavitcher Yeshiva, headquarters for the Chabad movement and the site of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn’s (known by his followers as the Rebbe) study and residence, and later, his son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn’s office.
After three years at the yeshiva, Edelman received word that Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn wished to speak with him. The rabbi said Edelman should leave Brooklyn and to go to Bridgeport, Conn., to open a Jewish school. Edelman agreed, and in 1944, the 19-year-old founded the new yeshiva. Then in 1948, Edelman married Leah, a native of Georgia, (then part of the Soviet Union), and daughter of Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Zuber, a rabbi in Sweden.
In 1950, shortly before Rabbi Schneersohn’s death, the Edelmans again received word that the rabbi wished to relocate them to Springfield, Mass. to grow the Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy. The Edelmans remained at this post for the next 60 years.
Edelman and his wife did whatever was needed to keep the school afloat. In the late 1970s, the school moved to a nearby suburb called Longmeadow. As the late Schneersohn had hoped, Edelman succeeded in developing the yeshiva from a fledgling day school to a large institution that included a day school, a religious school, a summer camp and a synagogue, and the school enjoyed significant growth despite dwindling numbers of Orthodox Jews in the surrounding area. In 1984, the institution was fully staffed, and Edelman became dean, a position he held until his death, while his son-in-law served as principal.
Even in his later years, Tenenbaum noted that Edelman continued to travel and participate in family functions.
“He always tried to get to all the simchas; he came twice for my son’s bris,” Tenenbaum said. “The first time he came, the baby was jaundiced so it had to be rescheduled. So he came a second time. Up until two years ago, my grandfather used to walk two miles to shul every week. All the grandchildren wanted to walk with zayde because they loved to hear his stories. He never aged. And he was larger than life.”