Rabbi Issohor Dov Gurewitch, who presided over the education of thousands of girls, died at the age of 93. He was the director of the Chabad-Lubavitch girls' school in Yerres, France.

Born in Zlobin, Russia, Gurewitch learned in the Chabad-Lubavitch underground school system and later took up a position in the system's branch in Berditchev, Ukraine. At the age of 23, Gurewitch, fellow teacher Rabbi Moshe Rubinson, and their students were arrested during a Chasidic gathering.

Although authorities transferred the students to an orphanage where they later escaped, Gurewitch and Rubinson endured harsh treatment during their year-long imprisonment.

"When it came time for Passover," Gurewitch once related, "we did not touch any of the bread, soup or water."

He explained that they sought to fully observe the Passover prohibition against leavened products; guards brought them water in soup bowls, and they could see crumbs of bread floating on the surface. The two subsisted on sugar cubes that they accumulated over a two week period.

"We heard that sugar gives you energy," Gurewitch recalled.

The guards figured out what was going on when they saw the returned food, uneaten. As observing Passover was forbidden, they brought the pair in for questioning. One of the camp's staff watched over Gurewitch the entire night so that he would be exhausted for the interrogation.

The next morning, Gurewitch again refused to eat his portion of food. The guard, a Jew, asked the rabbi why he wouldn't eat. Gurewitch replied that it was Passover.

Gurewitch's captor became furious and started beating him with a rubber rod.

"You are here in prison, and you are still keeping up with your nonsense," the guard fumed.

"I could understand the guard's anger," said Gurewitch. "They brought to jail the most physically and mentally strong people, who admitted to crimes that they never committed. And here a young lad did not give into their torture."

At one point during the ordeal, two guards held Gurewitch to the floor and tried to force a spoon of soup into his mouth. The young rabbi spit the soup into one of the guard's faces.

"It's not like I contemplated if the leaven, in this instance, would have been permitted to eat under the circumstances," explained Gurewtich. "I just could not physically eat it."

His hope in prison was to have a normal meal and be able to sit and learn Torah, and teach it to others.

After his release, he married Chana Posner in 1946. The young couple moved to the western Ukraine city of Lvov with the hope of escaping to Poland. For four months, they waited for the necessary papers. Finally, with his wife's papers in hand and the assurance that he would receive his on the way, Gurewitch began the journey. But he was again arrested, while his wife completed the trek.

Chana Gurewitch wrote to the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, expressing her desire to reunite with her husband back in Russia. The Rebbe replied that "it is better for him to come to you, than for you to go there."

For two years, the couple remained apart. Gurewitch eventually made it to Paris, where his bride was living with her sister. They stayed in Paris, where Gurewitch quickly got involved in Jewish education in the city, and was offered the position of director of the Beth Rivkah Lubavitch girls' school.

Never Wasted a Moment

Rabbi Issohor Dov Gurewitch, director of the Chabad-Lubavitch girls’ school in Yerres, France, would learn Torah at every opportunity.
Rabbi Issohor Dov Gurewitch, director of the Chabad-Lubavitch girls’ school in Yerres, France, would learn Torah at every opportunity.
Gurewitch was seen by students and staff as not just the director of the institution, but also as a fatherly figure who cared for their physical and spiritual needs. His home was always open for students seeking encouraging words or advice. For many, he arranged funding for their weddings.

"When it came to assisting others with his personal money," said son Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Gurevitch, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Migdal Ha'emek, Israel. "He would go out of his way just to see that others were happy."

As the school grew – today, hundreds of students enroll at Beth Rivkah – Gurewitch expanded the administrative staff. But although he delegated most of his work to others in later years, he continued to teach high school students about that week's Torah portion. His last class was a few days before his passing.

Those who knew him emphasized that he never wasted a moment of his time. He could always be seen with a book of Torah scholarship on the way to meetings and walking on the road. He woke up early each morning to learn Chasidic philosophy before praying with the community. At night, as his family slept, he immersed himself in study of the Talmud, which he completed many times.

Most of all, he displayed a care for students who otherwise might not have fit into the education system. Under the direction of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory – whom he visited in Brooklyn, N.Y., to discuss the physical and spiritual needs of his charges – he reached out to the more disruptive students to give them leadership positions in the school.

Gurewitch also learned from the Rebbe that the best way to deal with a child was with an open heart, a piece of wisdom he passed on to the Beth Rivkah faculty. He fought hard to mitigate conflicts between teachers and employees so that an atmosphere of peace pervaded on campus. In one of Gurewitch's private audiences with the Rebbe, the Rebbe personally thanked him for that effort.

"Father always told us to never speak ill of anyone," said his son. "He always stopped us when we would speak about others in a negative way. However, when he heard good news about another person, it uplifted him."

Preceded in death by his wife Chanah, Rabbi Issohor Dov Gurewitch leaves behind 12 children: Rabbi Shmuel Gurewitz, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Lyon, France; Ester Raskin, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Safed, Israel; Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Gurevitch, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Migdal Ha'emek, Israel; Rabbi Menachem Mendel Gurevitch, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Brunoy, France; Reizel Lieberman, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Kfar Chabad, Israel; Mina Shpringer of Kfar Chabad; Edla Biderman, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Vienna, Austria; Sarah Pinson, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Brunoy; Rabbi Chalom Gurewitz, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Lyon; Pessah Gurewitz of Brunoy; Rabbi Schneor Zalman Gurevitch, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Frankfurt, Germany; and Bassi Abrahams of Brunoy.