Reb Osher Zilbershtein זצ״ל, Chief Rabbi of Los Angeles
Born 1888, Died 14 Shevat, 5733 (1973) in Los Angeles, California
When was the last time you saw the foundation of your house? Chances are, you haven’t, yet you are secure in the knowledge that it’s there. D o you know who made it? Most probably not and it doesn’t matter to you or affect you.
When looking around at the beautiful landscape of Torah Mosdos in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area, one cannot be overtaken at the plethora of choices, styles and flavors. Every mossad and shul servicing the unique needs of its members.
Yet, who was that great visionary who saw and proclaimed loud and clear that Los Angeles would one day be a great bastion of Torah? To the less historically inclined, this name won’t ring a bell. But ask a real old-timer and they will express this name with awe, Rav Osher Zilbershtein, זצ״ל.
Rav Osher Zilbershtein was brought to Los Angeles by The Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights from his position as Rav of Winnipeg, Canada in 1935. In those tumultuous times, there were a great many shuls boasting great membership from sea to shining sea. New York had its handful of yeshivos, Los Angeles hadn none. The Ravwas undeterred. With great mesiras nefesh and fortitude, he founded the first day school and yeshiva in our city. His mantra was, “if oranges can grow here, Torah can too,” and how correct he was. His prescient words have taken a generation or two to bear fruit, yet today it is plain as day to see.
Rav Zilberstein was born to the Rov and Rebetzin of the town of Mezritch in the Ukraine. His Father was the ninth generation Rav of the town as well as a great yachsin, scion to Rav Aharon Hagadol of Karlin as well as many other Torah greats. Upon the untimely passing of his father, Rav Osher succeeded him at the tender age of sixteen! Such was his greatness in Torah and leadership.
Rav Zilbershtein faithfully led the town as its Rav even after the communist regime came to power. He led his flock, maintaining the Torah infrastructure of his beloved city and beyond even in the times of great persecution. He was ultimately placed in front of a firing squad for his crimes of teaching Torah.
Miraculously, he was somehow saved from the jaws of death and subsequently he assumed the rabbinate of Winnipeg, Canada, where he served with distinction. His success in Winnipeg led to his selection as the Rav of the famed Breed Street Shul – Los Angeles’s largest Orthodox shul.
At the helm of the Breed Street Shul he took the initiative to expand the city’s horizons.
Many shuls had Talmud Torahs. These afternoon classes were supposed to teach some basics of yiddishkeit to public school children who really wanted to be outside playing instead of learning – quite a deplorable situation. When challenging baalei batim to form a day school and send their children there, he faced the retort of, “I don’t want my child to be a rabbi.” Nonetheless, the Los Angeles Jewish Academy went on to produce many generations of religious Jews.
He was not satisfied with just an elementary school. The Rav envisioned and founded the first yeshiva on the west coast as well, aptly named Yeshivas Hamaariv. Led for many years by the renowned Gaon Rav Uri Meir Tzirlin, זצ״ל.
The Rav was endowed with a great level of Siayata Dishmaya. accompanying all of his affairs and was beloved by all Gedolei Hatorah. In the Agudas Harabonim as well as in the Mizrachi, he served in the front row of rabbinic leadership. In the annals of the Hapardes, a Torah Literary Journal of the times, the Rov’s name is listed with the Torah legends Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Eliezer Silver.
He was a great promoter of unity among the various frum organizations and movements. It was his presence in Eretz Yisroel that brought together the leadership of the Aguda and Mizrachi around the table of the chief rabbi Rav Herzog — the venerable Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Lazer Yudel Finkel, זצ״ל along with Rav Reuven Katz Rosh Yeshiva of Lomza, Rav S.Y. Zevin, Dr. Zerach Warhaftig, R’ Yitzchok Meir Levine and other notable organization leaders and government ministers.
The Rav once walked into his study and immediately walked out inexplicably. It was only a moment too soon, as the entire ceiling came crashing down immediately. It was as clear to see the Heavens watching his every step.
A prerequisite to be a shochet is that one be a yirei shomayim merabim (very pious). The Rav was once made aware that his shochet was, unfortunately, not up to par. Without hesitation he was fired, in spite being the only local shochet. You should not be surprised to read, that sitting on the stoop in front of the Rav’s home upon his arrival was a shochet looking for work, with a stellar letter of recommendation.
Rav Zilbershtein was a great leader and worked in tandem with the other rabbonim. The brain trust of Los Angeles was for many years the Rav with his beloved colleague Rav Elozor Adler, Zviller Rebbe and his prime disciple Rav Yonah Ganzweig. He was guided in all that he did by the desire for the fulfillment of the Ratzon Hashem (will of G-d). Torah, kashrus and leadership, he gave it his all, but was most concerned that the job get done, regardless of what it was or who did it.
The Rav served as the Chief Orthodox Rabbi of Los Angeles until his petirah on 14 Shevat 5733 (1973). From his heavenly abode he certainly takes pride in watching the seedlings of Torah he planted grow and flourish. His zechus should protect us and may we merit to continue his great life’s work by remembering, “If oranges can grow in Los Angeles, Torah can too” and will Be’ezras Hashem.
The Rav is buried locally in the Home of Peace Cemetery, Breed Street Shul Section.