Baltimore, MD - October 23, 2017 - On 25 Tishrei, Rabbi Yehuda (Yiddle) Dickstein, z”l, 94, was niftar. He is perhaps, best known, locally—in addition to in his own right--as the father of the venerable former Talmudical Academy pre-school teacher, “Morah Dena” Friedman (now, of Atlanta, Georgia), and retired Baltimore City police officer Ken ‘Heshy’ Dickstein (now of Frederick, Maryland). He is also survived by his children, Gittel Cweiber of Flatbush; Faygie Dasheff of Kensington, Brooklyn; Chaya Lovett of Far Rockaway, NY; Mendel Dickstein of Atlanta, Georgia; and Rivka Lipshutz of Atlanta, Georgia; along with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife, Chava (Evelyn), and his oldest daughter, Rochel Weissman, z’l.
After spending some years teaching and working for shuls in Malden, Massachusetts, and Washington DC, the Dicksteins settled in Baltimore, Maryland, where Rabbi Dickstein was hired by the Rogers Avenue shul. Their children attended the Talmudical Academy and Bais Yaakov.
Rabbi Dickstein subsequently accepted an offer to be the ritual director of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, and they moved to the Stevenson section of town. For about twenty years, he was a bar mitzva teacher and ritual director there.
Rabbi Dickstein was close to Rabbi Boruch Milikowsky, zt”l, whom he knew from the Mir, and he regularly attended Rav Yaakov Weinberg’s difficult Shiur Klali.
After Rabbi Dickstein’s retirement, the family moved to the Park Heights area, and he became the baal koreh for Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation, on Mondays and Thursday. Living next door to Khal Ahavas Yisroel Tzemach Tzedek, he was also an active participant of Rabbi Dovid Heber’s shul.
“Wherever he went and whatever he did in life, he really remained a bochur from the Mirrer Yeshiva,” notes Rabbi Dickstein’s son-in-law, Rabbi Binyomin Friedman, Rav of Congregation Ariel, in Dunwoody, Georgia. “He never really adjusted all that much to America and he never had any worldly interests, other than trying to make a living and learning Torah. If he wasn’t working, he was learning Torah.”
Rabbi Friedman, who together with “Morah Dena”, hosted her parents over the last decade, explains that Rabbi Dickstein had no forms of entertainment or hobbies.
“He used to learn; he was always with a sefer,” says Rabbi Friedman. “He had all the values of a pre-war Mirrer yeshiva bochur. Don’t waste time; be diligent; learn with clarity; all those types of things that were synonymous with that pre-war yeshiva frame of mind. Whatever decisions he made and wherever his life took him, that was who he was.”
Born in Brisk, Poland, in the early 1920s, Rabbi Dickstein (the son of R’ Koppel Zalman Dickstein) attended cheder with Rav Refoel Soloveitchik. Displaying extreme devotion to Torah, his parents saw to it that he continued learning Torah although his siblings went to work at young ages.
By 12, he was learning at the yeshiva in Pruzhin, where he celebrated his bar mitzvah. He next moved on to Baranovitch, led by Rav Elchonon Wasserman Hy”d, and in 1938, when he was only 16, he decided that it was time to move on to the Mirrer Yeshiva.
Although it was unusual for someone so young to attend the Mir, Rabbi Dickstein so badly wanted to part of the famed yeshiva, he convinced two chaveirim to join him. They hitched rides in farmers’ wagons and when they arrived in Mir, presented themselves to Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel, the rosh yeshiva; he gave them a farher and accepted them into the yeshiva.
Rabbi Dickstein told his family that he didn’t feel that the rosh yeshiva was very impressed with his Torah, it was just that since the country was heading for war, the rosh yeshiva felt that the safest place for a bochur was inside the bais medrash. These three bochurim were the last to join the yeshiva.
Rabbi Dickstein came to the Mir in the summer of ‘38. All Yeshivas moved to Lithuania when the war broke out in the fall of ‘39. The bochurim were distributed with a group to Slabodka. In ‘41 they all re- gathered and fled across Siberia, ending in Kobe Japan for about 7 months. Then, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the yeshiva moved, along with other western refugees, to Shanghai.
Rabbi Dickstein remained the youngest bochur in the Mir, and joined the chaburah of Rav Aharon Kreiser, zt”l; they developed a lifelong bond. Rav Kreiser and his chaburah engaged in vigorous debates with Rav Shmuel Berenbaum and his chaburah, and the young Rabbi Dickstein became the designated go-between to deliver challenges and responses across the bais medrash between the two groups.
Towards the end of the war, on the seventh of Av, Rabbi Dickstein was sick in bed in his third-story apartment building, when an allied bomber mistakenly demolished the structure. When Rabbi Dickstein came to, he was still in his bed but in the basement of the building, under heaps of rubble. He was completely unharmed! After that, he was known in the Mir as “Zayin Av,” a day he celebrated with a seudas hodaah, annually.
Emigrating to America, after the war, Rabbi Dickstein taught for the Mir in Brooklyn. It was there that Rav Avrohom Kalmanowitz, zt”l, introduced him to his wife, Chava Beer, a Bais Yaakov of Williamsburg graduate.
Rabbi Friedman shares that one of the biggest lessons he learned from his father-in-law was when he was being interviewed by his eighth-grade granddaughter, for a school project; he was present to facilitate the interview.
Rabbi Friedman recalls, “She asked him, ‘After the Holocaust, did you have any questions with G-d or the Torah?’ He answered, simply, ‘No’. She didn’t know what to do with that, so I probed him, since I knew she needed a report. I asked him, ‘Tatty, didn’t you ever think? You lost everyone [mother, father, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins], and you left at age 17 to go on the trek with the Mirrer, and when the war was over, you realized that you lost every single one of your relatives. With all that, you didn’t have any issues?’ He said, without any hesitation, ‘No’.”
Concludes Rabbi Friedman, “No wonder, when he would drive his six daughters to school, every day, he used to sing his favorite kapital of Tehilim-chapter 16, that ends with: ‘There is pleasantness in Your right hand forever.’ He had no problems with G-d, faith, or belief. His involvement in Talmud Torah showed him the pleasantness of Hashem and helped him understand that the tragedy had meaning.”