The Chasidic Group of Kopyczynitz

by Abraham Heshel

Grand Rabbi Isaac Meir Heschel, the founder and the first Rebbe of Kopyczynitz, was born in 1862 in the Ukrainian city of Medzibush.  In 1881 he married  the daughter of his mother’s uncle, Grand Rabbi Mordechai Shraga Friedman of Husyatin.  Isaac Meir lived in the regal court of his father-in-law for the next thirteen years, during this time he attracted scores of followers who flocked to him for advice and support.

In 1894 upon the death of his father-in-law, Rabbi Isaac Meir accepted the invitation of the inhabitants of the nearby town of Kopyczynitz to settle in their town and thus become the Kopyczynitzer Rebbe.           Rabbi Isaac Meir soon attracted hundreds of followers from throughout the region, and as far away as Sered, Bukovina. He became renown as not only as a “Wunder Rabbiner” a miracle worker, but also as citadel of kindness and support. Combining the famed regal way of the Friedman dynasty of Ruzhin, with the equally famous “Love of Israel”of his Heschel ancestors of Apta and Zinkov, he soon became one of the most respected Chasidic Masters in Galicia. Perhaps unique among his peers was his remarkable ability to communicate and forge close relationships with non Religious Jews, a trait that would be prevalent with his successors as well.

In 1914 with the Russian invasion of Poland, Rabbi Isaac Meir along with his family and some of his followers fled to Vienna, Austria where he managed to reestablish his court, albeit on a smaller scale. Annually he would return to Galicia and visit his followers in various cities, including a stay in his court in Kopyczynitz. On the first day of Rosh Hashana, September 10th 1934, Rabbi Isaac Meir died in Vienna, and was succeeded by his eldest son Grand Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Like his father before him, Abraham Joshua was venerated by Chasidic and non-religious Jews alike, his home was a center for constant charitable activities, and as he personally attested some years later, he never slept a night with money in his possession, having always distributed every last Groschen to the destitute.

In 1938 following the German Anschluss, he was arrested by the Nazis and later forced to clean the street with a toothbrush, yet he refused to leave his followers. The following year when the vast majority of his followers fled or had been deported, he finally agreed to escape to the United States, where he soon reestablished his court in the Lower East side of New York City.

In 1965 he moved his court to the Borough Park section of Brooklyn. Two years later on July 24th, 1967 Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel died during a visit to Monsey, New York. His eldest son Rabbi Israel Heschel (1911-1994), steadfastly refused to accept the leadership position, instead passing the mantle to a younger brother Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Heschel.

In July of 1968, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai formally assumed the position of Kopyczynitzer Rebbe, continuing the tradition of charity and kindness, he soon became a father figure and mentor to hundreds of Jews. American raised and thus fluent in English, the young Rebbe attracted a large number of new American followers to his flourishing court, including many with a secular background.

On March 29th 1975, to the shock of the entire Chasidic world, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage, leaving thousand of followers and supporters in deep mourning. His followers refused to entertain the possibility of accepting another candidate as their Rebbe, waiting instead for the young orphans to grow up. Many chose to consult his widow, the Rebbetzin, a noted educator in her own right for her advice and her blessings. Shortly after his death the death of her husband, the Rebbetzin founded a free loan fund named Tiferes Moshe Mordechai in his memory. At the same time family members in Israel founded a free loan fund which they named Darkei Moshe.

In 1999, together with the assistance of his Mother and older brothers, the youngest son, Rabbi Avraham Heschel founded Chasdei Moshe-Kopyczynitz an outreach organization dedicated in memory of the late Grand Rabbi. In the fall of 2000, the Brandler Institute of Chasidic Thought, a think tank devoted to bringing a greater understanding of Chasidic culture to the secular society was inaugurated as a division of Chasdei Moshe-Kopyczynitz. A number of lectures and social events have been scheduled for the winter and spring of 2001. The latest developments have delighted the hundreds of followers of the Kopyczynitzer Chasidic group, who are eagerly supporting all efforts that are helping insure the continuity of their group.    

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