Rabbi Beryl Epstein, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., who introduced Chassidic life in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., to more than 200,000 visitors since 1982 through walking tours he called “living Judaism,” passed away on Shabbat, April 15, in New York. He was 59 years old.
An affable, soft-spoken Southerner, Epstein organized visits to hospitals and prisons as well. He was also a key figure in “encounter with Chabad” pegisha Shabbaton weekends as a staff member of the Lubavitch Youth Organization in Brooklyn.
Epstein would quip that while he was raised in a loving Jewish home: “At my bar mitzvah, there was more bar than mitzvah.” A visit to Crown Heights in 1977 and a farbrengen with the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—inspired him to move there and study in a yeshivah, he once told CNN. Before long, he felt the need to educate the world at large about the community and its residents.
“It’s one thing to have people speak about Chassidim. It’s another to have Chassidim themselves speak,” he said.
Epstein would host groups of all nationalities and religions. In one 2011 visit, he addressed questions from a group that included curiosity seekers from nearby, and as far away as Texas and South Africa. The tourists told CNN that they asked about everything from the definition of “kosher” to the role of women in Judaism and even what Chassidic Jews do for fun.
“My hope is for people to incorporate a little bit of this community back into their own lives,” said Epstein.
He is survived by his children: Chaya, Yosef and Mendy. He was predeceased by his wife, Dena.
The rabbi is also survived by siblings Mordicai Epstein (Pittsburgh); Eron Epstein (Chattanooga, Tenn.); Rachel Epstein (Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.); and Yocheved Schechter (Baltimore).
The levaya will take place on Sunday, leaving Shomrei Hadas in Boro Park at 1 p.m. and passing by 770 Eastern Parkway at 2 p.m.
A charitable fund has been established to help the family with funeral and medical expenses.