Soon after Rabbi Ephraim Rosenblum’s marriage to Miriam Wolosow in 1961, the young couple presented the Rebbe —Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—with a list of several rabbinic posts that the young scholar had been offered around the United States and Canada. The Rebbe advised them to settle in Pittsburgh, Pa., where, in a life of community service spanning the next five decades, they became an integral part of the Steel City’s thriving Jewish community and its educational institutions. Rosenblum passed away on Sep. 21 at the age of 85.

Ephraim Rosenblum was born in 1935 in Montreal to Yaakov Chaim and Rikel Rosenblum. He was in the first graduating class of Montreal’s Chabad day school, the first such institution in Canada. In 1948, his parents sent him off to study at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas in Brooklyn, N.Y., one of the leading Torah institutions in post-war America.

While studying in Brooklyn, the young scholar began to gravitate to the world of Chabad-Lubavitch. Along with some of his schoolmates at Torah Vodaas, Ephraim Rosenblum began attending farbrengen gatherings at 770 Eastern Parkway, the beating heart of Chabad-Lubavitch in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. He was especially drawn to the farbrengens, when Chassidim would gather together until the wee hours, singing heartfelt niggunim (melodies), raising their glasses for a l’chaim, and sharing words of inspiration and Torah teachings. This instilled a deep love and appreciation in the impressionable young man for the Chassidic way of life.

The farbrengens also served to inspire a passion and expertise in Chassidic niggunim, through which the young scholar was able to express his talent and gift for music. His respect for the accuracy of the niggun, as well as his soulful rendition of it, made him a much sought-after resource, and his recordings can be found all over the world.

Later in life, he recalled catching a glimpse of the Sixth Rebbe—Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory—and how out of sheer awe he turned away to avoid seeing the holy countenance of the Rebbe, only seeing his shtreimel, the traditional Chassidic fur hat worn by the Previous Rebbe on special occasions.

In 1951, a year after the passing of the Sixth Rebbe and only a short time after the Rebbe formally accepted the mantle of leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rabbi Rosenblum merited his firstyechidus—or private audience—with the new Rebbe.

A year after that first yechidus, the parents of the 17-year-old felt it was time the boy left yeshivah and enrolled in college. Wishing to continue his full-time Jewish studies, he told his parents that he would consult with the Rebbe. Entering yechidus for a second time, the Rebbe told him, “Until age 20, you should not go.” When Rabbi Rosenblum asked if that meant that he should go to college after that, the Rebbe responded: “By then Moshiach might come and redeem all the Jews, and you’ll be included with them. So why worry what’s going to be when you’re 20 years old?”

Two years went by, when Rabbi Rosenblum was spending Simchat Torah in Crown Heights with his sister Sarah, who had recently married a Chabad Chassid, Rabbi Chaim Osher Kahanov. After the holiday, in an audience the Rebbe inquired about her brother Ephraim: “Have all your guests gone back yet? Has your brother already gone back?” When she informed the Rebbe that her brother was still there, the Rebbe asked, “Why don’t you try keep him here?” She explained that her brother was there all along, still studying at Yeshivah Torah Vodaas. “Why don’t you try to keep him in our yeshivah?” asked the Rebbe.

When his sister told him what the Rebbe had said, Rabbi Rosenblum couldn’t sleep for days. He scheduled the next available appointment with the Rebbe. “I told the Rebbe, ‘My sister told me what the Rebbe said,’ and he asked, ‘Will you do it? I said, ‘Yes.’

“From that point on,” he recalled in an interview with JEM, “I became a Chassid—totally connected to the Rebbe.”

As part of his rabbinic training, in 1954, Rabbi Rosenblum set out on a field trip with three friends, visiting outlying Jewish communities along the East Coast under the aegis of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch—the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement—strengthening communities and individuals while distributing Merkos literature in Hebrew, Yiddish and English.

After a trip to Virginia, not far from Elkton, Md., the driver and passengers dozed off, slamming into the back of a truck. The car was totaled and the students severely injured. The next morning, the Rebbe sent a telegram from Brooklyn wishing the students a speedy recovery. That Shabbat at a farbrengen, the Rebbe noted that four students were in need of healing, blessing them that they should be healthier than before.

Six weeks later, when he was back on his feet after a visit home, the Rebbe’s secretary informed Rabbi Rosenblum that the Rebbe wished to speak with him. “I was stunned,” he recalled. Entering the Rebbe’s office, the Rebbe simply said, “I want to ask how you are.”

‘Bringing Out the Best in Everyone’

Starting out in Pittsburgh as a teacher at Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh in both the boys’ and girls’ divisions, he eventually became principal of the boys’ school. Rabbi Rosenblum also took up a position of rabbi at the Kesser Torah synagogue, where he was a beloved teacher, mentor and friend. Gifted with a talent for the traditional liturgical music, he would often serve as the cantor during services, uplifting the congregation with his heartfelt renditions of the prayers. As a Torah reader, he had a comprehensive mastery of the Tanach and its commentaries.

A soft-spoken humble man, he not only taught, but served as a role model, inspiring others along the same course. First and foremost a Chabad Chassid, Rabbi Rosenblum had a way of connecting with a broad cross-section of the wider community “He had a calming effect when he was around,” says his daughter-in-law, Batya Rosenblum. “He never got into an argument with anyone; in his special, humble way, he would encourage, bringing out the best in everyone.”

“Rabbi Ephraim Rosenblum was a role model of kindness and patience for all those that knew him,” said Rabbi Yisrael Rosenfeld, director of Chabad of Western Pennsylvania. “With his gentle sense of humor and masterful teaching, he brought hundreds of Jews closer to G‑d. His devotion to all that is near and dear to the Rebbe was his life’s mission.”

A soft-spoken humble man, Rabbi Rosenblum not only taught, but served as a role model, inspiring thousands of students along the same course.
A soft-spoken humble man, Rabbi Rosenblum not only taught, but served as a role model, inspiring thousands of students along the same course.

With his sense of humor, coupled with a loving, kind attitude to all, he put people at ease. He knew how to connect with individuals wherever they were and made each one feel special in his or own right. Batya Rosenblum recalls that as a young bride and new daughter-in-law, her father-in-law handed her a key to his home, telling her, “This is your house as it is my house, and I want you to feel comfortable.”

It was this same attitude that kept him going in his later years, already weak and frail. “When he would spend Shabbat with us,” his daughter-in-law reminisced, “I would ask if he needed anything. ‘I need Mashiach,’” was his reply.

He is survived by his wife and six children: Fraidie Gurevitch (Brooklyn, N.Y.); Rivkie Raices (Skokie, Ill.); Rabbi Yossi Rosenblum (Pittsburgh); Chanie Baron (Columbia, Md.); Rabbi Yehoshua Dovid Rosenblum (Caracas, Venezuela); and Rabbi Mendy Rosenblum (Pittsburgh); in addition to grandchildren and great-grandchildren, many of whom serve as Chabad emissaries around the world.

He is also survived by siblings Sarah Miriam Kahanov; Rabbi Velvel (Zev) Rosenblum and Chana Etka Feldman.