Rabbi Chaim Gurevitch was a beloved figure in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., and far beyond. Formally, he served as director of special events at Colel Chabad, founded in 1788 by the first Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, and Israel’s oldest charity. His work raising much-needed funds to provide food and other basic necessities for Israel’s poor took him to places as far-flung as the Caribbean and the Far East, but wherever he went he formed deep, lifelong connections that transformed the lives of donors as much as those they helped through him. Gurevitch passed away on March 16, after a tragic accident in the midst of carrying out his holy work. He was 62 years old.

Gurevitch was born in 1959 under the harsh conditions of Soviet-era Lvov (Lviv), Ukraine. He grew up in Tashkent, Soviet Uzbekistan, where his family, along with many other Chabad Chassidim, fled to evade persecution by the Soviet authorities. His parents, Reb Shmuel Gershon Nissan and Bella Gurevitch, were active in the Chabad underground during the post-war period. As a teenager, Shmuel had played a role in the “Great Escape,” the secretive Chabad operation that smuggled thousands of Chassidim out of the Soviet Union, working to forge Polish passports under the nose of the KGB. Reb Shmuel Gurevitch was on the last train out before the operation was shut down. At the last minute, he and his accomplices were arrested. After languishing in prison for two months, his father, Reb Refael Dovber, had him freed, pleading with the Soviets to exchange him for his young son. Reb Refael himself was imprisoned for a decade.

Doing everything he could to ensure that his children did not go to Communist schools, Shmuel Gurevitch would keep young Chaim home at great personal risk. Gurevitch’s younger brother, Rabbi Elimelech Goorevitch—today, co-director of Chabad of Laguna Beach, Calif.—remembers those trying days vividly. “The authorities came to take Chaim to school, and my father hid him behind the door.” When they came inside, the boys’ father insisted that Chaim was not home, and young Elimelech sat playing in front of the door so they wouldn’t open it. “It entailed much mesirat nefesh [‘self-sacrifice’],” he says, “but ultimately, all my father’s children remained religious,” despite the prevailing winds and pressure of Soviet life.


The Gurevitch home in Tashkent even contained a secret mikvah, an extraordinarily dangerous thing to have in the Soviet Union. But nothing deterred them from maintaining Jewish life, especially when it came to a mitzvah so crucial to Jewish existence. “I remember Chaim falling into the mikvah once,” recalls Rabbi Elimelech Goorevitch.

Gurevitch hosting a Colel Chabad event at the Kotel in Jerusaelm. (Photo: Colel Chabad)
Gurevitch hosting a Colel Chabad event at the Kotel in Jerusaelm. (Photo: Colel Chabad)

Staying Connected to the Rebbe

Through it all, the family fought hard to maintain a connection with the RebbeRabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. Before Chaim was born, his parents received a blessing from the Rebbe for an easy and healthy birth, passed on through the clandestine Chassidic Jewish underground.

The Gurevitch family left the USSR for Israel in 1966, settling in Kfar Chabad, then a developing Chassidic village near Tel Aviv. Shmuel Gurevitch became the principal of the local cheder. New arrivals themselves, they went out of their way to help their fellow Chassidim from Samarkand and Tashkent acclimate to the very new lifestyle.

“His parents bent over backward to help my family after we came from Russia, especially my father, who wasn’t well,” Rabbi Berke Mishulovin, a childhood friend who immigrated from the former Soviet Union in 1969, tells Chabad.org. “I met him around 10 years ago, after not seeing him for more than 20 years. He cried. It really shows the way he cared for another Jew.”

In 1972, Gurevitch visited the Rebbe in New York for the first time. It was a dream come true for the young teenager, who in Soviet Russia could hardly imagine the possibility. Back in the Soviet Union, the family did not even use “Zaide [‘grandfather’],” the term commonly used by the other Chassidim to refer to the Rebbe. Instead, fearing the Communist security organs had caught on, they would only refer to the Rebbe as “Uncle Chaim” in written correspondence with the outside world.

After Gurevitch's first trip to New York, he longed to come back, ultimately doing so in 1975, studying in yeshivah near the Rebbe until his marriage to Fraidy Rosenblum in 1982.

Gurevitch with an elderly beneficiary of Colel Chabad in Arad, Israel. (Photo: Colel Chabad)
Gurevitch with an elderly beneficiary of Colel Chabad in Arad, Israel. (Photo: Colel Chabad)

‘Embodiment of a True Chassid

After serving as a Chabad emissary in Hartford, Conn., for nearly a decade, with the Rebbe’s blessing, Gurevitch joined Colel Chabad as director of development. While fundraising may have been his job description at Colel Chabad, it does not tell the story of the countless lives he impacted in the decades he filled that role.

“He didn’t raise money,” says Rabbi Sholom Duchman, director of Colel Chabad, “he brought neshamos [‘souls’]. He was the embodiment of a true Chassid—always joyful and optimistic in his service of G‑d and devotion to the Rebbe. He wasn’t just a part of Colel Chabad; he was integral to its DNA, a piece of the very heart of Colel Chabad.”

One of the many communities the rabbi touched is Singapore. Home to a historic Jewish community dating back to the 19th century, it may be far-off for many Americans but not for Gurevitch. He began visiting Singapore about three decades ago before Chabad had a permanent presence on the island nation.

“He was very appreciated by the leadership,” says Rabbi Mordechai Abergel, Chabad emissary and chief rabbi of the city-state, “and he also forged very strong friendships with many of our members over the years and took a very keen interest in what was going on here. He was just a wonderful human being, a real mensch. To many of our members, he meant everything.”

Gurevitch’s kindness and warm smile were felt at home as well. Famous in the Crown Heights community for his hospitality, he and Fraidy hosted countless guests in their Brooklyn home over the years, always with humor, a genuine smile and a kind word.

Introducing donors to Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, then the chief rabbi of Israel. (Photo: Colel Chabad)
Introducing donors to Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, then the chief rabbi of Israel. (Photo: Colel Chabad)

Adrian Waisburg, 47, of Rye, N.Y., has known Gurevitch for three years. “He was a kind man with a very big heart,” he says. Waisburg got to know Gurevitch over the weekend of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries (Kinus Hashluchim), when he and his brother joined some friends who had come in from their native Argentina, together with Gurevitch’s son Mendy, a Chabad emissary in Buenos Aires. They enjoyed Shabbat dinner at the Gurevitch home so much that they came back the following year. And then the next.

“This year, due to the pandemic, the in-person experience wasn’t possible,” explains Waisburg, “so my brother and I sent the rabbi a gift, as we would each year.”

Gurevitch enriched the lifes of all who knew him. (Photo: Colel Chabad)
Gurevitch enriched the lifes of all who knew him. (Photo: Colel Chabad)

Waisburg was happily surprised when Gurevitch called him, thanked him for the gift and made a proposal: “How about you study Torah with me once a week?” he suggested. “We’ll start small: just 15 minutes a week.” Gurevitch mailed Waisburg a Chumash, and they began to learn. “It started with 15 minutes and very quickly increased to 35 to 40 minutes. No matter where he was—on the road, traveling—he never missed a session. Once he called me from his car, on the way to the airport.”

The study partnership only began three months ago. “We just finished learning about Purim; the rabbi then sent me a Haggadah and matzah,and we began learning about Passover.” They last spoke this past Thursday. “We studied the steps of the Passover Sederand were going to continue next Thursday.”

Attending the circumcision of a grandson in Delaware early this week, the rabbi stopped in Deal, N.J., on his way home to Brooklyn, to deliver shmurah matzah to acquaintances there. As he was making his rounds, he was struck by a car, succumbing to his wounds two days later. He passed on doing what he lived for, helping his fellow Jews.

In addition to his wife, the rabbi is survived by their children: Rabbi Levi Gurevitch (Southlake, Texas); Esty Zaklikovsky (Bellaire, Texas); Rabbi Mendy Gurevitch (Buenos Aires); Rikki Altein (Broomall, Pa.); Rabbi Berel Gurevitch (Eugene, Ore.); Mushky Brook (Minneapolis); Chanale Vogel (Wilmington, Del.); Shmuly Gurevitch (Brooklyn, N.Y.); and Nochum Gurevitch (Brooklyn, N.Y.); as well as many grandchildren.

He is also survived by his mother, Mrs. Bella Gurevitch and his siblings: Rabbi Elimelech Goorevitch (Laguna Beach, Calif.); Mrs. Tzivia Friedman (Kfar Chabad, Israel); Yossel Gurevitch (Brooklyn, N.Y.); Menachem Gurevitch (Brooklyn, N.Y.); and Mrs. Chana Marazov (Kfar Chabad, Israel).

Rabbi Gurevitch was struck by a car while delivering shmura matzo after attending the circumcision of a grandchild, above.
Rabbi Gurevitch was struck by a car while delivering shmura matzo after attending the circumcision of a grandchild, above.