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Rabbi Hershel Fogelman, Trailblazing Educator, Builder of Communities

Rabbi Hershel Fogelman, Trailblazing Educator, Builder of Communities

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Rabbi Hershel (Yehudah Tzvi) Fogelman.
Rabbi Hershel (Yehudah Tzvi) Fogelman.

Rabbi Hershel (Yehudah Tzvi) Fogelman, who led the growth of Jewish life in central Massachusetts for more than 70 years, passed away on June 9 at the age of 91.

Fogelman was born in 1921 in the small village of Medenychi, Galicia. His family followed the Chassidic Rebbes of Zidichov and Chortkov. His father, Moshe Yaakov Fogelman, was known as an accomplished Torah scholar, said to be fluent in the entire Talmud.

As was common in that period, Moshe Yaakov came to the United States alone in the mid-1920s, leaving his family temporarily behind. He went to work in New York’s burgeoning garment industry. After he had saved enough funds, he returned to Poland to bring over his young family. They arrived just as the stock market crashed in 1929; the Depression would soon grip the nation.

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Young Hershel was enrolled in the Shlomo Kluger Yeshivah, a Lower East Side day school where Torah subjects were taught alongside secular studies. He later studied in Yeshivah Torah Vodaath. It was during this time that he came in contact with Chabad Chassidim. He would recall how Rabbis Shmuel Levitin, Avrohom Paris and Yisroel Jacobson had a profound effect on him, imparting Chassidic values that would chart the course of his life.

Jacobson was an inspiring teacher who taught by example, and a group of yeshivah students developed around him, eager to learn the ways of Chassidism. Hershel Fogelman was among them. When, in 1940, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, arrived in New York—having narrowly escaped the Nazis—Fogelman was there to greet him.

Shortly thereafter, the Rebbe established the Central Lubavitcher Yeshivah, an institution of Torah learning modeled after those that he had led in various countries in Europe. Fogelman was one of its first students.

In the following months and years, branches of Achei Tmimim, the Lubavitch yeshivah day-school chain, were established in various cities in the United States and Canada.

In the summer of 1942, Fogelman, now a rabbi, spent a summer in Worcester, Mass., where he assisted Rabbi Moshe Yitzchak Hecht, who was then in the process of opening the fledgling Yeshiva Achei Tmimim Academy, which would become Fogelman’s raison d’être.

From his earliest days as an emissary, Rabbi Fogelman was actively involved in spreading Judaism everywhere in the region.
From his earliest days as an emissary, Rabbi Fogelman was actively involved in spreading Judaism everywhere in the region.

He was soon sent at the behest of the sixth Rebbe to Buffalo, N.Y., where he opened another branch of Achei Tmimim. In a letter to community leaders, the Rebbe introduced Fogelman as his personal agent, empowered to establish the school on his behalf. By 1946 enrollment was at 200, and the school was blossoming.

On occasion he would travel back to New York, where he would sometimes be privileged to have a private audience with the Rebbe. He once expressed the feelings of loneliness he endured when he would leave New York. The Rebbe’s face grew serious. He said, “You are not alone. Wherever you act to spread Torah, I am with you.”

Fogelman wrote down those potent words and put the paper into his wallet. Family and friends said he carried it with him for the rest of his life.

In 1946 he received a letter from the Rebbe asking that he return to Worcester to direct the school there. He would serve as its dean until his passing.

At that time, Worcester was a booming industrial town with a substantial Jewish community. While many of the European immigrants were fully committed to Orthodox Judaism (there were eight kosher butcher shops and many synagogues, including two Chabad synagogues), many of their children and grandchildren had drifted away from tradition. Fogelman’s mission was to bring them back.

Within a short time, he extended the school hours of Achei Tmimim so that it became a day school offering both Judaic and secular studies. Until then it had been an afternoon school, supplementing the children’s public-school education.

By 1959, as enrollment continued to grow, a new school building was built in what was then the “new” part of town. The new building also housed a synagogue, where Fogelman’s fiery speeches and Torah classes would inspire generations.

A Home for All Jews

In 1947 he was introduced to Rochele Magnes, from the Brighton Beach section of New York. Her father, Moshe Mordechai Magnes, was a Torah scholar and rabbi who, in addition to his regular pastoral duties, directed an orphanage. Her mother was one of the founders of what became Bais Yaakov, the first girls’ Torah school in America. She kept her home well-stocked with fruit and snacks so that the orphans could drop in and help themselves. At that time, Rochele was a teacher at the Achei Tmimim day school in New Haven, Conn., at the behest of the sixth Rebbe.

The couple married and built their home on the values of Torah and chesed (lovingkindness) they had learned from their parents. Theirs was an open home. Rabbi Yossy Gordon, executive vice president of Chabad on Campus International, who grew up in Worcester, remembers that the Fogelman household was always brimming with guests. “I do not think that the Fogelmans ever had a meal to themselves. And on Shabbat or holidays, the place was packed. They would remove all the furniture from the basement and set tables upon tables.

“You could call Rabbi Fogelman at two in the morning, and you knew that he was there for you,” continued Gordon. “There was no separation between his public and private life. He was there to serve, all of him, all the time.”

In 1946, he received a letter from the Rebbe asking that he return to Worcester to direct the school there. He would serve as its dean until his passing.
In 1946, he received a letter from the Rebbe asking that he return to Worcester to direct the school there. He would serve as its dean until his passing.

Gordon’s older sister, Rishe Deitsch, echoed this sentiment. “Rabbi and Rebbetzin Fogelman are well known for their dedication to the Rebbes’ educational work, for their school, for the Chabad Houses in central Massachusetts and more. But far less known are their quiet acts of kindness and compassion for many in Worcester who were in painful situations, such as widows, orphans, divorcees and Holocaust survivors. Rabbi and Rebbetzin Fogelman went out of their way to provide for them and to help them—arranging jobs for many. Few knew about it because that would detract from their goal to help at all costs, while preserving the person’s dignity.”

At Fogelman’s funeral, a woman wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the yeshivah logo told one of the assembled, “I came from a very poor family. Of course, we were in the yeshivah for very little tuition. I was at a communal event as a child, and there were these beautiful thick sweatshirts. I was fingering them wistfully. Rabbi Fogelman came over, saw what was going on, whipped out a few dollars and gave me the sweatshirt. I kept it for the rest of my life.”

Gordon recalled how Fogelman would be at the bakery before dawn buying fresh rolls to give to the teenage boys who came to services each morning. “He made sure that we had what to eat, and that it was fresh. He lived generously for others. He could be spending his last two dollars on you, and you would have no idea.”

Despite the crushing responsibility of covering a very large budget annually for decades, Fogelman never turned down a student due to an inability to pay. Sometimes, most of the enrolled students were paying reduced fees—or no fees at all. Fogelman would often seek out impoverished families and encourage them to send their children to the yeshivah, assuring them that tuition would not be an issue, willingly taking on the additional fundraising burden so that another Jewish child would receive a Jewish education.

Never one to contend with convention, Fogelman was known to knock on the doors of politicians and laymen, not stopping until he achieved his goal, whether it was a donation to the school or help for a family in distress. He worked his way through Jewish federations, Jewish Family Services, and a host of organizations to accomplish what needed to be done, while forging lifelong friendships and alliances.

His son Rabbi Levi, now co-director of the Chabad center in Natick, Mass., said, “We grew up in the ‘family business,’ seeing how careful, sensitive and dedicated my parents were to everyone they came in contact with. Everyone in the city knew and respected our father, because they recognized his sincerity.”

Fogelman once brought the mayor of Worcester, Israel Katz (1974–75), to visit the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, and present him with a ceremonial key to the city. The Rebbe encouraged Katz to use his position to spread awareness about the seven Noahide Laws.

Fogelman's communal involvement went far beyond Worcester; he was actively involved in spreading Judaism everywhere, especially in Boston’s more affluent suburbs. In Framingham, Mass., he founded a Sunday school that grew to have hundreds of children coming each week to learn about Judaism. This formed the seed for the very successful Chabad center there. In 1987, the same thing happened in Natick. Then came Westborough, Wellesley, Sudbury and Milford, each served by a Chabad center.

Torah Scholar and Friend

Levi Fogelman remembers his father as “a Torah scholar who enjoyed discussions with fellow scholars.” He had a personal relationship with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik of Boston, who appreciated the younger rabbi’s passion for Torah. He encouraged laypeople to learn and teach as well, and would frequently ask congregants and guests to prepare Torah thoughts to share with the community.

Fogelman taught Torah daily, and each day of the week had its designated subject. Participants would be exposed to a wide range of topics, covering Talmud, Jewish law and Chassidism. He transcribed many of his Torah thoughts and personal memories in Hebrew in his book, Tein Lechochom.

Many of Fogelman’s students kept in touch long after leaving Worcester. Rabbi Shmuel Levine, head of school at the Hillel Day School of Boca Raton, Fla., called him “one of the great inspirations in my life.” At Achei Tmimim’s 65th-anniversary celebration, Levine posed the question: “How many people today still know the home phone number of their school principal and call freely when they have a question?”

"Everyone in the city knew and respected our father, because they recognized his sincerity.”
"Everyone in the city knew and respected our father, because they recognized his sincerity.”

In spite of the challenges of running a day school in a community that has declined significantly since the 1980s, coupled with personal tragedies—the Fogelmans lost their eldest son, Chaim Yosef, in 2001—the rabbi retained his optimism and unflagging faith, said Gordon. “I called him during the shivah for his son. He ended up comforting me more than I comforted him.”

In addition to his wife, the rabbi is survived by their children: Bassie Levin (Worcester, Mass.); Rabbi Menachem Mendel Fogelman (Worcester, Mass.); Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Fogelman (Natick, Mass.); Rabbi Shmuel Binyomin (Mushi) Fogelman (Los Angeles, Calif.): Sheva Liberow (Worcester, Mass.); Rabbi Mordechai (Mutty) Fogelman (Brooklyn, N.Y.); and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his sisters, Shaindel Fogelman and Leah Engel; and his eldest son, Rabbi Chaim Yosef Fogelman of New York.



Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org. He lives with his family in Montreal, QC.
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