Jan 26, 2012
By Amanda Mayo
Born December 12, 1916 in Poland, Rabbi Halberstam was the youngest of 12 siblings. At the outset of World War II, the family consisted of about 152 members living in Poland, but by the war’s end, only three or four of these family members had survived. Halberstam’s father died before the war, and his mother was a victim of Auschwitz.
Halberstam’s son-in-law, Nassau County Legislator Howard J. Kopel, said the reason he survived the war was because he happened to be located in the east of Poland when the country was invaded in 1939. The eastern side was invaded by Russia, so Halberstam was never killed by the German Nazis. Instead, Kopel said, he spent the war years in labor camps and otherwise wandering in parts of the old Soviet Union, including Kazakhstan, where he married his wife, Bina, during the war.
“We were very lucky we were able to hear all these interesting stories about life in Europe before World War II,” Kopel said. “He told us about the first time when they brought electricity to his house, things like that, but we were also able to hear stories about life in the Soviet Union during the war, which was very harsh.”
After their marriage, Halberstam and his wife came to the United States where he worked in the garment industry as a pattern maker. Kopel said he retired on the early side, in his ‘60s, to become a scholar of the Talmud and the Torah.
“He was tall and proud-looking, but he was a quiet man who never showed off,” Kopel said. “People who knew him knew how erudite he was in his studies.”
Kopel spoke about how the Rabbi lived with him and his wife, Rabbi Halberstam’s daughter, Esther, for about 12 years. “My children got to learn a lot. For quite awhile in the house we had four generations, so my grandchildren were in the house and he was always there,” Kopel said.
Rabbi Halberstam never led a congregation, although he could have. “He was a very simple, modest man and never felt himself called to do that,” Kopel said. “He wanted the knowledge just for the sake of the knowledge. People who were Rabbis would call him for advice and scholarly information. He knew large portions of the Talmud externally without even looking at the book.”
Halberstam is survived by his three children, Esther (Howard) Kopel, Michael Halberstam and Chaim Halberstam; dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was buried in Israel.
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