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Holocaust survivor Rabbi Aryeh Rosenberg dies at 98

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Rabbi Aryeh Rosenberg

Rabbi Aryeh Rosenberg, a teacher, Holocaust survivor and a beloved longtime member – even a fixture – of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation (BAYT), died in hospital on Oct. 26. He was 98 years old.

Rabbi Rosenberg’s death is a “tremendous loss to our kehillah (community),” eulogized Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of the BAYT. “Having this walking sefer Torah in our midst was such an honour, such a great asset.”

He was a “heroic man, a man who dedicated his life to klal Yisrael (Jewish unity) and the Torah,” Rabbi Korobkin added.

Rabbi Rosenberg was born into a Hasidic family on March 12, 1921, in the northeastern Hungarian town of Tokaj, where his father managed a match factory. He studied at the Hothasz Yeshiva and with the Viener Rebbe, who conferred smicha (ordination) on him.

The deportation of Hungarian Jews began in the spring of 1944, following the Nazi invasion, and Rabbi Rosenberg was shipped to Schattendorf, a labour camp in Austria.

Then came a death march. “I was told to march, but as I tried, I was just too weak,” Rabbi Rosenberg told the Toronto Sun in a 2015 interview. Those who couldn’t walk were simply shot, but Rabbi Rosenberg managed to survive until he was liberated by the Soviets.

“I lost a lot of friends and family,” he said. “They were exterminating us.” He never saw his parents and four of his siblings again. “I don’t even know where they are buried,” he said.

But he was alive and that, he believed, was “a miracle.”

By the time Soviet troops liberated the region, Rabbi Rosenberg had typhus. “He almost died and had to be carried. He weighed almost nothing,” said his son, Abie Rosenberg.

Back in Hungary, Rabbi Rosenberg took odd jobs until 1949, when he and his recent bride, Irene, a fellow survivor, made their way to the nascent state of Israel, where he worked as a mail carrier. The couple left for Canada in 1954, sponsored by Irene Rosenberg’s uncle in Hamilton, Ont.

For the next three years, Rabbi Rosenberg worked for Joseph Tanenbaum’s Runnymede iron and steel company, until the Hungarian revolution of 1956 began producing Jewish immigrants whose children needed educating.

Eitz Chaim Schools in Toronto needed a teacher who spoke Hungarian and Rabbi Rosenberg was hired as a heder rebbe. “He benefited in that (students) taught him their newfound English, and so they both gained from the relationship,” Rabbi Korobkin said.

Rabbi Rosenberg taught at Eitz Chaim until 1987, when the family moved north from Toronto’s Bathurst Manor neighbourhood to the BAYT community in Thornhill, Ont.

“He immediately became an indispensable fixture at the BAYT, making sure that there were minyanim and learning,” Rabbi Korobkin recalled. “Indeed, this was his chiyus, his sustenance, in his retirement period – always organizing minyanim and learning, when he wasn’t busy taking care of his wife and family.”

Rabbi Rosenberg introduced two projects at BAYT: the annual reading of the section of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah on Deuteronomy on the night of Hoshanah Rabbah, and the synagogue brotherhood’s annual siyum – a meal celebrating the conclusion of the reading of a text.

“Over 100 people every year go through all of Tanakh and Mishnah because of his efforts, and he would be the master of ceremonies every year on the second day of Shavuot to give out a sefer (book) to every person who had participated,” Rabbi Korobkin noted.

Rabbi Rosenberg is survived by his wife of 74 years, Irene; children Zoltan, Abie, Erwin and Raizy; brother Saul; and, as his family put it, “many” grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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