Via Jerusalem, Boston came to Pittsburgh this month, arriving in the form of Rabbi Mayer Alter Horowitz, one of three brothers popularly given the title “Bostoner Rebbe.”
Son of the previous Bostoner Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Horowitz, Mayer Alter Horowitz now lives in the Har Nof section of Jersualem, where he presides over a Chasidic community that traces its spiritual lineage to the Brookline neighborhood of Boston. His four-day visit to Pittsburgh included events throughout the Jewish community and a series of private audiences with community members who signed up for the chance to seek one-on-one spiritual guidance.
The visit was coordinated by Rabbi Betzalel Gersten, chief of the rebbe’s secretariat.
“He calls me ‘Secretariat,’ because I’m like a workhorse,” quipped Gersten, who handles multiple affairs for the rebbe, including travel arrangements, dissemination of writings and lectures and managing the rebbe’s online presence.
The notion of a rebbe and his Chasidim living in the same community is something of yesteryear, explained Gersten. Nowadays, “a rebbe can have Chasidim or followers, and they can have a relationship and live anywhere in the world.”
Intent on meeting new people and having never visited the American central East, Gersten “put feelers out” months ago about Horowitz’s visit to Pittsburgh.
Gersten stressed that the rebbe “wasn’t there to fund raise.” He added, “[We’re] not looking to push our way; the rebbe is just looking to meet with people.”
“Rabbi Wasserman, Rabbi Yolkut, and Rabbi Silver were all very positive,” he emphasized, referring to Rabbis Daniel Wasserman of Shaare Torah Congregation, Daniel Yolkut of Congregation Poale Zedeck and Shimon Silver of Young Israel of Pittsburgh.
Once here, Horowitz and Gersten were given the grand tour of Jewish Pittsburgh.
“We went to Hillel, the Kollel, the JCC, the shuls,” said Gersten. “We were booked solid.”
During private meetings, the rebbe met with people from “all walks of life, from all different spectrums,” stated Gersten. “A lot of times, people are looking for a [connection] to a Torah personality outside their community. People feel they can confide in him, ask him for advice, ask him for brachah. It’s something his father did and something he feels there’s a need for.
“[The rebbe] wants to avail himself,” added Gersten. “He feels it’s a legacy of his father’s that he’s trying to continue.”
Horowitz’s father was noted for his work in Jewish outreach through the New England Chassidic Center. However, with little track record in Pittsburgh, there was some uncertainty about the current rebbe’s arrival.
“I don’t think anybody was quite sure how he was going to act,” stated Rabbi Levi Langer, dean of the Kollel Jewish Learning Center.
In the end, Horowitz received glowing reviews.
Langer met privately with Horowitz over breakfast and described him as “a very down-to-earth person. He speaks in English, he doesn’t make himself out to be super holy.”
Phillip Milch housed Horowitz and spoke fondly of the rabbi.
“It was an honor and a treat for us and our kids that are home to host someone like this,” said Milch. “[Horowitz] is a very special person. [He] spends his whole day focused on other people and their needs. … People come to him for strength, [blessing], and he spends a good part of his life doing that.”
Aron Pfeffer offered his home to Horowitz to host a post-Shabbat gathering known as a melaveh malke. The intimate gathering welcomed roughly 35 guests; over food, the rebbe told stories and led the group in song.
“It was nice, unlike anything I had ever been to,” said Pfeffer. “He’s engaging with the people and interacting with them. He’s there with all of the people in the room. They’re not just spectators.
“He has a very good reputation for loving Jews,” added Pfeffer.
Milch observed a similar quality. With Horowitz at his home, Milch noted the diversity and multitude of the rebbe’s guests.
“His love for every Jew was eminent,” said Milch. “[He] met with people of all walks of life.”
Even people who were “far from the Chasidic world” traveled to meet with Horowitz, said Langer. “He felt he had an ability to strengthen people.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.