Rabbi Dovid Edelman, who served as an emissary of two Lubavitcher Rebbes—educating Jewish children since the summer of 1944, and serving as a rabbinic leader and director of Lubavitch Yeshiva Academy in Springfield, Mass., since 1950—passed away on Jan. 2, just a few days after his 90th birthday.

In an interview last June with Chabad.org, Edelman spoke about his life as an emissary, educator and mentor to thousands of people for more than 70 years.

“It was 11 o’clock on Friday morning in the weeks after Shavuot in 1944, and we had been up all night learning Torah, as yeshivah students normally do on Thursday nights,” recalled Edelman, a native of Baltimore, who was then a student at the Central Lubavitcher Yeshivah in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I got a message that the Rebbe [Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory] wanted to see me. Since I had already immersed in the mikvah after learning, I went right into the Rebbe’s study right above the yeshivah study hall. The Rebbe told me that I was to travel to Bridgeport, Connecticut, and found a Jewish school there.”

It had been just three years since young Dovid Edelman had arrived in Brooklyn from Baltimore, together with his friend Yosef Lieb, with whom he had studied Talmud and played baseball in the afternoons once home from public high school.

“Yosef graduated early and was already a student at Johns Hopkins [University]; he would learn every day with Rabbi Avraham Eliyahu Axelrod, a prominent rabbi in Baltimore and a Lubavitcher Chassid,” recalled Edelman. “He recommended the new yeshivah, which the Rebbe had just founded in Brooklyn upon his arrival in New York in 1940.”

Right after the Shavuot holiday in the spring of 1941, sitting aboard a bus going north, the two could not make up their minds whether to attend the Chafetz Chaim yeshivah in Williamsburg or the new Lubavitcher yeshivah in Crown Heights.

Edelman with award-winning student Chana Wolvovsky
Edelman with award-winning student Chana Wolvovsky

Since they only had car fare for one trip, Dovid’s decision to take the bus to Crown Heights proved to be pivotal. Upon his arrival to 770 Eastern Parkway—or just “770,” as the Rebbe’s residence and study hall came to be known—he was greeted by students Sholom Chaskind and Yisroel Gordon, who told him of the greatness of the Rebbe, whose private residence sat right above the study hall.

Three days later, the young teen caught his first glimpse of the Rebbe. The Rebbe recited a Chassidic discourse—resplendent in his tall, fur Shabbat hat—and Dovid drank in the sight.

Then, just weeks later, on the 28th of Sivan, the Rebbe’s son-in-law and eventual successor arrived from war-torn Europe. “I was among the first to greet him at 770 and welcome him to America,” Edelman would recall. “For the whole day, people streamed in to greet him and welcome him.”

After the future Rebbe said the prayers for thanksgiving at the Torah reading two days later, he held a farbrengen [Chassidic gathering]. For the first four hours, from eight to midnight, he discussed the intricacies of laws of the “four who must thank G‑d” for being saved from danger: One who had been ill, a person released from incarceration, one who returns from a sea voyage, and one who had traversed a desert.

“When midnight came, people thought it would end,” he continued. “But really, that was when he began in earnest, explaining that the incarcerated person is a metaphor for the soul, and the prison is our animalistic side. When the soul harnesses the natural tendencies to live in accordance with G‑d’s will, the person is truly free and must thank G‑d.”

For the next three years, the young student would devote himself to Torah study and prayer, rarely leaving Brooklyn.

Rabbi Dovid and Leah Edelman in 1950, two years after they were married.
Rabbi Dovid and Leah Edelman in 1950, two years after they were married.

Off to Bridgeport …

But in 1944, after leaving the Rebbe’s study with a new mandate to go to Bridgeport, Edelman met up with Rabbi Eliezer Pinchas Weiler, a traveling emissary of the Rebbe, who was instrumental in raising funds for the growing network of Chabad-Lubavitch schools and in starting new satellite branches all across America’s Northeast.

“With a nickel, we were on the subway to Manhattan, and an hour after that, we were on the express bus to Bridgeport.

“As we drove into town, Rabbi Weiler was looking out the window,” said Edelman, whose memory of events remained as lucid as if they happened yesterday. “When we reached the Jewish neighborhood, we got off the bus right outside a Jewish market, which was full of women shopping for Shabbat.

“Rabbi Weiler asked me if I knew how to draw. When I told him I could, he took a part of a fruit carton and instructed me to draw up a sign announcing that we would hold a Mesibos Shabbos—a Shabbat party for children the following day in the nearby Fraternal Hall.”

They spent the afternoon telling parents and children about the program that would take place on Shabbat afternoon.

Thirty children attended the event. After sharing refreshments, Jewish songs, a story and some Torah thoughts, Weiler announced that a new yeshivah would open in town, and the learning would commence on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. Edelman, all of 19 years old, would be the principal and Judaic-studies director.

With time, the yeshivah grew, and older students joined Edelman at its helm. Wishing to return to his own studies, he wrote a letter to the Rebbe requesting permission to leave the institution in the hands of the senior students. The response was not long in coming. The Rebbe replied that when you devote your energies to teaching others, “your heart and mind [benefit] a thousand-fold.”

While on Passover break in with his parents in Baltimore, Edelman received a letter that the Rebbe wanted him to travel to Pittsburgh, where he remained for a year before being sent to Buffalo, N.Y., where he would direct the Chabad school there until being replaced by Rabbi I.D. Groner. His next posting—this time with his wife, Leah, whom he had married in 1948—was in Boston, where his in-laws lived.

Celebrating the holiday of Lag BaOmer in 1958 with friends.
Celebrating the holiday of Lag BaOmer in 1958 with friends.

Leah (nee Zuber) was born in Georgia, then part of the Soviet Union. Her father, Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Zuber, had been sent there by the Rebbe to strengthen Torah education and observance among the local Jewish population. Her family had spent the war years in neutral Sweden, where her father served as a community rabbi and proved instrumental in saving many lives.

It was just three weeks before the Rebbe’s passing in the winter of 1950 that the Edelmans were called to their final, permanent post: Springfield, Mass. The yeshivah there had been founded by Rabbi Sholom B. Gordon in 1945, and had been successively directed by Rabbis Zalman I. Posner and Yosef Goldstein.

When Rabbi Edelman arrived, Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy had an enrollment of several dozen students and an annual budget of $40,000. The following fall, he attended a Chassidic gathering with the new Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—together with the treasurer of the school. “At one point, the treasurer asked the Rebbe for a blessing that we should be able to cover the budget,” recalled Edelman. “The Rebbe responded that we should do our work, and he would supply the blessing. With that, we went back home and paid up back pay to our teachers—some of whom we owed 10 weeks of salary.”

For many decades, the rabbi’s duties ranged from bringing the children to school in his station wagon in the morning to making payroll late at night—and everything in between.

A man of many talents: Changing a flat tire in 1948
A man of many talents: Changing a flat tire in 1948

The Edelmans’ youngest daughter, Esther recalled how her parents devoted themselves to the well-being of their school. “There was one day when the rug disappeared from my parents’ bedroom,” she said, “and I thought my mother must have decided she did not like it. A few days later, I saw it in the school office. When the school needed something, there was nothing that they would not do. Anyone with less inspiration and faith would never have lasted through the many lean years.”

Indeed, the yeshivah weathered many storms, including demographic shifts, assimilation and a devastating fire during the Sukkot holiday of 1977.

Following that, the Rebbe blessed them to reopen “in a new building in a new neighborhood.” At that point, the school relocated from Springfield to the suburb of Longmeadow, and another chapter began.

Off to Longmeadow …

The campaign to rebuild was spearheaded by Jeffrey Kimball, gabbai and a very active member of the shul; and the Edelmans’ two eldest sons-in-law, Col. Jacob Goldstein, a chaplain in the U.S. Army, and the late businessman Rabbi Zalman Deitsch.

In 1984, the rabbi was joined by Esther’s husband, Rabbi Noach Kosofsky, who has taken the role of principal, allowing the older rabbi to devote his energies to development as dean—a position he held for the rest of his life, raising the million dollars needed annually to run a school that caters to 100 students from preschool to eighth grade.

In its Longmeadow home, the institution developed into more than just a day school. It has added a Hebrew school and day camp, as well as an active synagogue that offers prayer services, Torah classes for adults and the full gamut of programs normally offered by Chabad centers, including the rabbi’s long-running Talmud class. Five Chabad emissary couples serve the school and the community.

In 1999 it received accreditation from the prestigious New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), and became a “Leader in Me” school in 2011. These marks of recognition have allowed it to broaden enrollment in an area where the Orthodox core of 60 years ago has largely dwindled.

Approaching his 90th birthday, and educating a third (and even fourth) generation of students, the rabbi remained a very visible presence in the academic institution.

According to Rabbi Chaim Kosofsky, who teaches there, “Rabbi Edelman loved every student in the school; it was felt by everyone. He would bend over to hear a 3-year-old say a blessing, so he could answer ‘Amen.’ In his 90th year, he still visited the hospital, went to many shiva houses and met people at work. He had an amazing ability to remember people, their parents, their grandparents—and shared his stories with whomever he met.

“He often stopped into the classrooms to speak to the children about upcoming holidays or the Torah portion of the week—not because the teachers were not teaching, but because he loved teaching Judaism to children.”

When celebrating his 90th birthday last week, students of Lubavitch Yeshiva Academy expressed their gratitude to Rabbi Edelman by demonstrating that they had learned their lessons well. As a birthday present, they performed 90 acts of kindness and mitzvot in his honor, and a book was published with pictures of each student performing the particular mitzvot.

The 2013-14 class of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy in Springfield, Mass., where dean Rabbi Dovid Edelman (third from left, seated) worked the better part of 70 years.
The 2013-14 class of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy in Springfield, Mass., where dean Rabbi Dovid Edelman (third from left, seated) worked the better part of 70 years.

In addition to his wife, Leah, Rabbi Dovid Edelman is survived by their children: Seema Goldstein of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Tzirl Deitsch of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Sterna Sara Tenenbaum of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Rabbi Yisroel Edelman of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; Rabbi Yossi Edelman of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Zlata Mochkin of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Sheina Ezagui of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Esther Kosofsky of Longmeadow, Mass.; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The levaya will begin on Sunday at 9 a.m. in Springfield, and is scheduled to pass by 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, N.Y., at 2:15 p.m.