Born: August 13, 1934 (21 Av 5693)
Died: February 26, 2001 (3 Adar 5761)
Reb Yisroel Sochet was born in 1934 in the Inglewood section of Los Angeles, California. His parents were Reb Yaakov zt”l (known to all as Reb Yankel) and Nechama Sochet a”h. They were first cousins who never met until their wedding day. They were both born in the town of Torczyn in Poland. Nechama later moved to Lutzk, a city not far from Torczyn. Reb Yankel came to America when he escaped Poland to avoid conscription into the army. His mother came when the Stoliner rebbe, Reb Yochanan, sent her here to marry her cousin.
Reb Yisroel was the youngest of three children. His mother would travel with him by bus for 50 minutes each day to get to yeshiva. It was too costly for his mother to travel home and back so she would daven and say Tehillim on the bench outside of the yeshiva or she would bring along a bag of clothing and mend while she waited.
Shortly after Reb Yisroel’s Bar Mitzvah, his father passed away at the approximate age of 58. He left California soon after to study in Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in New York. It was a long, tiring journey by car across the entire continental United States. After his first year in the yeshiva, the Yeshiva’s staff,seeinghis great potential,decided to ask Rabbi Pam zt”l (who was one of the teachers in the yeshiva at that time) to study privately with him. He later transferred to Yeshivas Karlin Stolin were he was very beloved in the eyes of the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Betzalel Tenenbaum zt”l who praised him very highly. At that time he also became close with the Stoliner Rebbe ZT”L who called him fondly “Srulikel”. Later on he went to Yeshivas Netzach Yisroel where Rabbi Yisroel Zev Gustman zt”l, author of the famed Kuntres Shiurim, was the Rosh HaYeshiva. Rav Gustman, recognizing his great potential, took him as a daily chavrusa- he studied with him every day.
Reb Yisroel married Chaya Mirel Friedman and continued to study in kollel for 5 years. He later enterred into the family business and became a diamond merchant. After 14 years of living in Crown Heights he moved his family back to his roots in Los Angeles, California.
The following anecdotes show his amazing piety and his dedication to Judaism :
R’ Yisroel traveled frequently to Africa for business, at times staying there for extended periods of time. He held firm to the ethics of the Torah and to the values he learnt at home even in locales that had no Jewish population, no matter what the financial enticement would be. While in Liberia he would not exit his house after sundown on Friday. He would lock his door and had a guard posted outside. He wouldn’t speak to anyone for fear that they would discuss business, which is forbidden on the Shabbos.
Reb Yisroel worked for many months trying to obtain a mining license. He spent thousands of dollars to try to get an appointment with the local “king,” finally getting an appointment for Friday morning. The meeting was to take place in a town a few hours away. While waiting, he realized that it was getting late and decided to go home without meeting the “king” to avoid any possibility of desecrating the Shabbos. All the mediators were in an uproar because heads could roll for standing up to the “king”. There was no persuading Reb Yisroel; he would not take any chances and he went back home. When the “king” heard this he was furious at first but later was intrigued by Reb Yisroel’s steadfast Jewish devotion. He wanted to meet this unbelievable man who had the nerve to leave after he spent so much money to meet him, all for belief in a God and to avoid desecrating his Shabbos. He set up the meeting when it was convenient for Reb Yisroel and, of course, was very impressed and granted him a license.
Once, a group of diamond merchants who were doing business with Reb Yisroel were discussing him, when one of them commented that he would never compromise on his beliefs. They decided to test him and even made a bet. One of them got up and offered Reb Yisroel all the diamonds that were on the conference table – an unbelievable sum of money – if he would repeat three words in Arabic, which mean “Allah is god and Mohammed is his prophet”. They told him he didn’t have to believe it; he just had to say it. Reb Yisroel without hesitation refused. When he repeated the story years later, he said that the first thing that entered his mind was the story of Reb Amnon, the author of Unusaneh Tokef, and that he was afraid that the non-Jews should even think that they had somewhat enticed him.
In 1969 Reb Yisroel moved back to Los Angeles. He realized that there was need to increase Torah study in LA. Together with the Lakewood yeshiva he founded and launched the Kollel, serving as president for 25 years until his passing. He personally paid for the airfare of the first 12 families who he flew in from Lakewood, New Jersey, a total of 70 people, to Los Angeles. Throughout the years the kollel has been a great source of Torah and Yiddishkeit to the Los Angeles community.
Reb Yisroel Sochet passed away on the 3rd of Adar, 2001 in Los Angeles, Ca. He was interred in Har Hamenuchos Cemetery in Israel.