Rabbi Yosef Kalish led the American branch of what was once among the largest Chassidic courts in Poland, the Amshinov Chassidic dynasty. He passed away on April 5 after contracting COVID-19.

Amshinov was founded in the mid-19th century by Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Kalish, the son of Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorka (Warka, Poland) and a student of the legendary Rebbe of Kotzk, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern. The name Amshinov is derived from Yiddish for Mszczonów, Poland.

Rabbi Yaakov Dovid passed away in 1878, leaving his son Rabbi Menachem as his successor at just 18 years old. Upon his passing in 1917, his son, Rabbi Yosef, succeeded him in the town of Amshinov; another son, Rabbi Shimon Sholom, became the Rebbe of Amshinov in the Polish town of Otwock (Otvotsk in Yiddish).

In 1928, Rabbi Yosef was one of the esteemed rabbinic guests at the wedding of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

In the summer of 1935, the sixth Rebbe—Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory—settled in Otwock, a small resort town outside of Warsaw, upon the advice of his doctors. Many of his followers and his yeshivah moved with him.

The Previous Rebbe and the Amshinover Rebbe were contemporaries; they held one another in high regard. When the father of Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Raichik was deliberating whether to send his young son off to yeshivah, he sought the advice of his Rebbe, Rabbi Shimon Sholom. The Rebbe advised him to send his son to study at the Lubavitch yeshivah in Otwock, promising to keep an eye on the boy. Raichik would go on to become a famed Chabad Chassid, the first Chabad emissary to the West Coast.

When World War II broke out, the students of the Otwock yeshivah fled to Vilna (Vilnius, Lithuania)—with the blessing and encouragement of the sixth Rebbe —over two borders, crawling through muddy forests and crossing freezing rivers in a harrowing escape. They were joined in Vilna by Rabbi Shimon Sholom, developing a close relationship with him.

As the students prepared to flee Poland, Rabbi Schneersohn advised them that in the event communications between them weren’t possible, they should consult with the Amshinover Rebbe and heed his instructions.

In 1940, when the Soviets annexed Lithuania, their situation worsened, with food and basic commodities becoming scant. The students became aware that the Japanese vice consul Chiune Sugihara was issuing temporary travel visas to Japan for almost any Jew that asked. He would go on to save some 6,000 Jews. The students were granted 60-day transit visas to Japan, with their final destination marked as Curaçao, which allowed people in without a visa.

After a long and difficult journey, they arrived in Japan, where they stayed in the same apartment building as the Amshinover Rebbe. He had brought his own Torah scroll with him and would join the Chabad students in prayer. On Chassidic holidays, he would participate in their festive gatherings.

The U.S. State Department canceled the student visas, thus terminating the group’s plans of seeking refuge there, and their Japanese transit visas had expired. The Japanese authorities expelled them to Shanghai, an international city to which no visa was required.

At one point during their time in Shanghai, the Germans began to pressure the Japanese to exterminate the Jews under their control. Unwilling to set up extermination camps, it was proposed to place all the Jews on ships and abandon them at sea, leaving them to perish.

The Jewish community of Shanghai asked the Amshinover Rebbe to intervene. He approached a high-ranking Japanese military official, who brusquely asked the Rebbe why the Germans had such an intense hatred for the Jews. Without even pausing, the Rebbe answered, “They hate us because we are Orientals. They believe that all Orientals, including the Japanese are inferior to them.”

With that, the plan was abandoned.

The Amshinover Rebbe arrived in the United States in 1946 together with his nephew, Rabbi Yitzchak, who would succeed him after his passing in 1954. When he passed away in 1993, his son, Rabbi Yosef Kalish, took the helm of the court.

Kalish was known as a tremendous Torah scholar. He published Zera Yitzchak, a collection of his father’s teaching on Torah and the Jewish holidays.

He is survived by two sons and three daughters, as well as their children.

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