Rabbi Yechezkel Besser, the “spiritual father” of the Polish Jewish revival, has died.
Besser, who died Tuesday, is widely credited with focusing Jewish attention and resources on the remnant of Polish Jewry to have survived the Holocaust.
“Chaskel Besser was the guy that started the Jewish revival in Poland,” said Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland. “And that’s not an exaggeration.”
Besser was born in Katowice, Poland, in 1923 and emigrated to the United States after World War II. At the time of his death, he was the rabbi of Congregation Beni Yisroel Chaim in Manhattan.
During a visit to Vienna in the 1980s, Besser met the philanthropist and cosmetics magnate Ronald Lauder, who was then the U.S. ambassador to Austria. Besser helped nurture Lauder’s interest in Poland, according to Schudrich, who was hired by Besser in 1987.
“He was considered to be the spiritual father of everything that was rekindled and re-emerged here in Poland,” Schudrich said.
A funeral was held Tuesday in New York. Besser was due to be buried in Israel on Wednesday evening at about the same time a memorial service was to be held in his memory at the Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw.