Brooklyn, NY – More than a housand turned out in Williamsburg this morning at the Kapisher Beis Medrash on Bedford Avenue to pay their final respects to Rabbi Aron Gad Katz, the Kapisher Rov as they called him, who passed away Wednesday night at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital at the age of 68.
Rabbi Katz was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, where his father Rabbi Usher Shmiel Katz served as the rabbi. The family moved to Canada before ultimately settling in New York, where the senior Rabbi Katz was a Talmud, and shared a close relationship with the Satmar Grand Rabbi, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum. He succeeded his father in law Rabbi Yaakov Lebovitz as the Kapisher Rav after his passing in 1980.
Renowned for his warmth, humility and his exceptional capacity to care for others, Rabbi Katz spent over 20 years teaching in Rabbi Avraham Leitner’s yeshiva in Williamsburg.
Students would often flock to Rabbi Katz’s home on Friday night to spend time in his presence, but after learning that the boys’ preference to spend their free time on Shabbos with him and not with Rabbi Leitner was considered by some as an affront, he put an end to the practice out of deference to the rosh yeshiva.
Rabbi Katz and his wife Shifra had seven daughters and four sons. Sister in law Naomi Ehrenreich said that all eleven were raised in a home that was always open to those who sought Rabbi Katz’s advice and blessings but still emphasized the importance of close familial relationships.
While he would often spend hours speaking with visitors who came to seek his counsel, Mrs. Ehrenreich said that he was an exceptional husband and father who had unusually close relationships with his children.
“Everyone was raised with a smile, a kind word and the understanding that all were welcomed into their home and treated with tremendous respect,” Mrs. Ehrenreich told VIN News. “The children were raised to accept everyone and not make anyone feel like they were different in any way.”
Mrs. Ehrenreich, who lives in Florida, last visited the Katz home this past spring. As she was leaving, she was told to come back inside because Rabbi Katz wanted to speak with her before she went home.
“He wanted to offer his blessings to me and told me he wanted to be able to repay the visit by coming to see me in Florida,” recalled Mrs. Ehrenreich.
Rabbi Katz, one of seven children, had been plagued by medical problems since his thirties and was predeceased by three of his brothers.
Despite his physical hardships, Rabbi Katz would spend hours deeply involved in his learning, preferring to immerse himself in the wellsprings of Torah while actively avoiding all politics and controversy.
Moshe Steiner, who davened at the Kapisher synagogue, remembered one incident where a large gathering was being arranged in Williamsburg, with organizers hoping that all of the area’s prominent rabbis would be in attendance.
Given his long-standing tradition of eschewing anything that could potentially involve any type of disagreement, Rabbi Katz decided not to attend the event, a decision that had numerous people contacting him and asking him to reconsider.
“They kept telling him that they needed him to come and he finally agreed to go and as he was leaving, he fell and broke his hand,” said Steiner. “He later said that it was a punishment for going because he never went to anything that even hinted at conflict.”
Prayers were never rushed at the Kapisher synagogue, with Rabbi Katz uttering every word with a full heart.
“Each one was very slow and he was always praying for other people,” said Steiner. “This was the way he lived.”
Purim and the days preceding Rosh Hashana were particularly busy, with crowds coming to for the honor of having even a brief audience with Rabbi Katz, who was considered by many to be a true holy man.
“They would stand in line outside waiting for him,” said Steiner. “People would double park and have their cars ticketed but they didn’t care, they just wanted to get his blessings.”
Steiner recalled staying in contact with Rabbi Katz after his son had been hospitalized, calling him after surgery to let him know things were proceeding. While Rabbi Katz did not answer his phone, he called back within minutes to hear how things had gone. A few days later, Steiner said he accidentally called Rabbi Katz’s number without even realizing what he had done.
“He picked up his phone and heard my son in bed, crying in pain,” said Steiner. “Rabbi Katz began praying for him and 45 minutes later, when I realized what had happened, he was still praying. He was always praying for others; for himself, he didn’t need anything.”
When he was physically able, Rabbi Katz would often collect money for those who approached him with financial difficulties. In keeping with his humble personality and his preference to never call attention to himself, Rabbi Katz’s fundraising missions were done discreetly, with few people even aware of his personal efforts on behalf of those in need.
Sharing in the happiness and pain of others was second nature to Rabbi Katz and Mrs. Ehrenreich recalled the last wedding he attended, which took place this past summer in Monsey.
“It was a nephew’s wedding and he was dancing with the choson,” said Mrs. Ehrenreich. “He needed two people to hold him up and yet he was still dancing with such enthusiasm and pure joy.”
Rabbi Katz’s final months were fraught with suffering as his condition deteriorated and he was hospitalized on Saturday. His loss is being keenly felt by all those who knew him, said Mrs. Ehrenreich.
“Everyone is going to miss him terribly,” said Mrs. Ehrenreich. “Everybody connected to him in Williamsburg, everywhere. People were always invited to come and talk with him, with all his heart and he really was with everyone, with all his heart.”