It was a snowy day in Baltimore and school was canceled. My brother Shua was sitting and learning in the Agudah of Baltimore when his rebbi, Rabbi Juravel came over with pride and gave him a dollar! Shua felt like a million dollars that his rebbi had noticed him using his time wisely and rewarded him as well. Shua went home and put the dollar in an envelope, sealed it and wrote that he had received this dollar from Rabbi Juravel on this date for his learning when school was canceled.
For decades this envelope sat in his drawer. I had seen it numerous times and wondered what was such a big deal about this dollar? I believe we all knew as children that Rabbi Juravel wasn’t just a regular rebbi. He was someone from bygone times, so razor focused on what was important in life. A dollar from him was worthy to be kept forever!
I was never a formal talmid of Rabbi Juravel but growing up in Baltimore in the 90’s he had a tremendous influence on many of us. We all knew about his consistency, his desire for emes and the fact that we had amongst us a tremendous talmid chacham. I would come back bein hazemanim and Rabbi Juravel would always have a fresh question, or haara to share on anything that I was learning. We always felt that he was a step above. He was so focused on the ratzon Hashem.
Growing up in Torah Institute, he was always creating innovative ways for us to learn. The Chemdas program influenced 1000’s of talmidim over the years in fluency of mishnayos. I remember vividly him teaching us melicha through salting the steaks which was a highlight in the fifth grade. This was all to attract and attach us to Hashem’s mitzvos.
Before Pesach, Rabbi Juravel wanted to teach the boys about family minhagim and gave out a questionnaire for the boys to fill out. My brother who was in his class brought this home and my father excitedly filled it out. Years later my other brother used this as a springboard to write a kunteres for our family of its minhagim, all from a handout to a fifth grader!
This 8-page questionnaire is available by clicking on the image below (and also on chinuch.org). In the opening he writes: To the parents of my talmidim. Yiddishkeit has survived the galus intact because of our ability to transmit the mesorah of our fathers to our children. To help you do this, I am sending you a list of minhagim having to do with Pesach, most of them in regards to the seder. Having your son aware of these minhagim, with your help, will kindle his interest in keeping the minhagei Yisroel and especially those of his family. None of these are halacha. Whatever you do is correct. When your son grows and is ready to make his own seder, these papers will iy”H help him keep the family mesorah alive.
Although he was so chashuv and always learning, we saw him so practical and caring at the same time. A talmid related to me that he was a kid who needed some extra TLC. Rabbi Juravel took him out to a pizza shop just to talk. The boy related that he was shocked that his rebbi sat across from him eating onion rings! If that is what was needed to make his talmid feel comfortable, that is what he did.
I remember clearly coming into the Hattery, the store which he owned, and Rabbi Juravel was sitting by the counter learning. He would always share a chiddush. He was earning parnasha and we needed clothes but that was the extent of the store. The main focus was limud haTorah.
A few years ago I spoke on a teleconference to the talmidim of Torah Institute who were the same ages as my talmidim in Yeshiva K’tana of Waterbury. I said over a mashal about tefillah b’tzibbur that I had heard. The mashal involved someone inappropriately faking a passport, to bring out the point of when you are amongst a group you become part of the group. A few months later I was in the Agudah on a visit to my parents. Rabbi Juravel called me over and said “Moshe Dov, I really liked your speech but that mashal with the passport, we don’t tell children anything that they might come to think you could trick the government”! I was blown away firstly that he listened to the speech with all the boys and secondly that he craved the emes. If there was something that could be taken the wrong way, it shouldn’t be said.
My life has been inspired by Rabbi Juravel and I am sure thousands if not more could say that same.
Rabbi Heber could be reached via email firstname.lastname@example.org