Grand Rabbi Dies in Brooklyn
NEW YORK (AP) _ Grand Rabbi Solomon Halberstam, who led the Bobov sect of Orthodox Hasidic Jews out of Europe after World War II and oversaw its rebirth, gaining tens of thousands of followers, died Wednesday. He was 92.
Thousands of mourners had already started gathering after Halberstam was taken to a hospital late Tuesday with internal bleeding.
He had been ill on and off for six months, said follower Bemyamin Jolkovsky.
Mourners packed a two-block area outside the sect’s synagogue. Crowd estimates by police and community leaders ranged from 10,000 to 20,000.
Bearded men in black and women _ their heads covered and wearing long-sleeved shirts and long skirts despite the humid weather _ cried openly.
``He was a father to everyone,″ said follower Ann Folger. ``He put together all the families after the war. He brought them up like his own children. He was a very, very special man.″
The Bobov sect had its roots in the town of Bobova in what is now southern Poland and was all but wiped out during the war.
Halberstam, a descendant of one of the first Hasidic leaders in Europe, survived the purge of Jews by the Nazis, along with his son, Naftali. However, the rest of his family was killed, including his father, his youngest brother and three brothers-in-law.
In the early 1960s, he moved with just a handful of followers from Europe to New York.
``He took the ashes of World War II and turned them into the seeds of a new community,″ Jolkovsky said. ``He created a fertile ground for a Jewish community. He was a father to all the orphans after the war.″
The Bobovs are among about 60 Hasidic sects. The largest and most well-known are the Satmars, who originated in Hungary, and the Lubavitchers, from Russia.
In 1998, the Bobov and Satmar sects had a marital merger of sorts when Halberstam’s grandson married the granddaughter of Moses Teitelbaum, the Satmar grand rebbe, or rabbi.
Community officials estimate there are about 10,000 Bobovers in New York City and thousands more elsewhere around the world.
Halberstam, who remarried after the war, is survived by his son from his first marriage, as well as another son and four daughters. His eldest son, Naftali, will succeed him as head of the Bobov sect in Brooklyn, community leaders said.