ד”בס When remembering Rabbi Ze’ev Kraines זצ״ל, an annual personal joke I had with him comes to mind. It would be sometime during the Purim celebrations at Ohr Somayach Sandton, that I would turn to Rabbi Kraines with the most serious expression I could muster and declare: “Rabbi, I don’t believe that you are a real [kiruv] Rabbi!”. “Why not?” would be his reply. “Because none of your children are off the derech!”
An innocent past time but one which speaks volumes of the kind of person Rabbi Kraines was, what he stood for and the success story that was his life.
My first meaningful engagement with Rabbi Ze’ev Kraines זצ״ל was in the year 2000 when I attended a Shabbaton under the auspices of Yeshiva College of South Africa, at which I was a high school student at the time. Rabbi Kraines was invited together with his then Assistant Rabbi, Rabbi Gabi Bookatz to debate another Rabbi on the “Halachic Obligation to enlist in the IDF”. The debate soon turned into a heated attack on Chareidim not joining the army. At one point, I asked Rabbi Kraines how he felt it was fair that Chareidim choose to learn Torah while their Jewish brethren risk their lives fighting for the country. Rabbi Kraines calmly answered that he cannot win an emotional debate but if we set aside our feelings and engage the question from a holistic, logical point of view, we can begin to understand his position on the matter. I begged to differ.
Little did I know that just a few short years later, I would succeed Rabbi Bookatz as the Assistant Rabbi of Ohr Somayach Sandton and would find myself agreeing with Rabbi Kraines on [almost] all matters.
Rabbi Kraines זצ״ל, possessed an extremely sharp and clear mind. He was able to contextualise difficult concepts and bring a “human touch” to halachic matters that affected his congregants or anybody seeking his wise council. I had the tremendous merit in attending Yeshivos in Israel and South Africa and learned under exceptional Talmidei Chachomim but in reflection, although I hardly had any formal learning under Rabbi Kraines, none of my teachers imparted as much wisdom to me as Rabbi Kraines did. He set an example of how to deal with sensitive and personal issues with a grounded, realistic approach all the while never venturing away from the path of Torah as set out by his teachers.
Around the year 2007, Ohr Somayach Sandton, saw a wave of members leaving for greener pastures in the nearby ‘frummer” neighborhood of Glenhazel as well as those biting the immigration bullet. The small, tightly knit, shtieble style shul would undoubtedly suffer greatly from the departure of a large number of core members. Feeling a bit despondent, I approached Rabbi Kraines and asked him if he was not discouraged by the developments. He looked at me with a confused expression and responded “We just carry on what we are doing. Push on doing our thing.” Such was his tremendous trust in Hashem that if we simply carried on doing Hashem’s holy work, things would ultimately work out for the best. I witnessed this approach countless times over the ensuing years.
Rabbi Kraines זצ״ל, was unapologetic about his dedication to Torah and Mitzvos. He would confidently stride into a shul Shabbos meal or function, which were often attended by people without much connection to Judaism, and enthusiastically break into song, attempting to provide an authentic Shabbos atmosphere with Shabbos Zemiros and all. It certainly helped that he was blessed with an incredible singing voice.
Rabbi Kraines זצ״ל together with his special Rebbetzin, Nechama, יב״ל, dedicated his entire life to bringing Jews back to their roots. They traveled around the world with this mission, Charleston South Carolina, Sydney Australia, Mexico and Johannesburg South Africa to name the main cities that had the pleasure of their presence. Their Kiruv career bared many fruit, as they merited in bringing many individuals and families back to Torah. This calling flowed endlessly in Rabbi Kraines’ blood to the awe inspiring extent that when my wife and I visited the Kraines’ in Jerusalem, shortly after their making Aliya, Nechama informed us of their desire to lead a shul in Raanana or Modiin as soon as possible. This comment was even more incredible as it was said while the Rabbi was connected to an oxygen tank, visibly struggling with every breath. His desire was to keep on giving until his last breath.
The Kiruv mission was so close to Rabbi Kraines, that when some members of Ohr Somayach Sandton began attending events under the auspices of an organisation that the Johannesburg Beis Din had taken a firm approach against, Rabbi Kraines stood up at the next Shabbos Kiddush and calmly explained the local Beis Din’s reticence in supporting the organisation in question. He ended off with a personal reflection that “[his] whole family has already been decimated by the hand of intermarriage in America” as such he would join the fight against anything resembling this trend.
As the above story reflects, he was not interested in popularity, instead standing firm in his beliefs was of paramount importance to him, even if it meant disagreement. Torah & Mitzvos was the focus of his life and nothing could waver this dedication. His usual approach was with love, care and a keen analysis of the topic at hand but if a hard line was required, he would never shy away from what was required.
The Kraines’ devotion to Kiruv did not come without mesirus nefesh or sacrifice. Besides, for living at the tip of Africa, thousands of miles away from their families, they would send their children off to learn in Yeshivos and Seminaries in Israel, when the time was right, usually around the young ages of 16 or 17. For Rabbi Kraines, it was not about taking the easy path, it was about taking the path best suited to enrich the Jewish nation, even if it meant tremendous sacrifice.
One aspect of Rabbi Kraines’ life that never ceases to have an impression on me is the fact that no matter how much time I would spend with him and, יב״ל, his Rebbetzin, I never once saw them argue. Not even a slight argument. Whenever, Rebbetzin Kraines would ask something of her husband, it would always be addressed without any delay. I never heard Rabbi Kraines respond “I’ll do it later”. He would always address Nechama with the utmost respect and a pleasant tone, teaching by example of what Shalom Bayis is all about. It was this special relationship that set the pulse of Ohr Somayach Sandton and the warm Kraines home.
Listening to the special Hespedim by Rabbi Kraines’ sons after Chanuka, I was deeply touched by the words of his youngest child, Simshon, that at the funeral, Shimshon repeated over and over in his mind, heartfelt “thank you’s” to his late father. “Thank you for being my father”, “Thank you for your love”, “Thank you for everything you taught me”.
If this is not clear testimony to a life well lived, then I am not sure what is.
יהי זכרו ברוך
Rabbi Yochi Lipschitz