Chaim had a joke for everybody, and whether in the presence of pauper or president the mischievous twinkle in his eye was ever present. Back in the early 1990s Chaim accompanied me to Avery Fischer Hall, where I was singing at the Cardozo Law School Graduation. We were backstage, lining up with the administration and faculty for the processional, and then-president of Yeshiva University Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm recognized Chaim and approached to extend his greetings. After an exchange of pleasantries there was a moment of silence. Chaim looked down and noticed the enormous medallion Rabbi Lamm was wearing as part of his commencement ceremony regalia. Breaking the silence, Chaim picked up the medallion and asked, “Rabbi, is this chocolate?” Rabbi Lamm roared with laughter.
Chaim and Barbara’s home was the epitome of hachnasas orchim. Their dining room table, the size of which rivaled that of a football field, was always filled with guests. There was a constant influx of boys from their sons’ yeshiva who were treated by Chaim and Barbara as their own. Looking around the room at Chaim’s levayah, I could see many of these boys, now grown and settled with families of their own.
Multitudes were in attendance to pay their final respects to Chaim. The expanded sanctuary of the Young Israel of Hillcrest was packed to standing room only. Particularly striking was the look in everyone’s eyes. More than just sadness, it conveyed the question, “What are we going to do without Chaim?” To that I have no answer. There is no answer.
A motorcade as far as the eye could see accompanied Chaim’s aron to Kennedy Airport, where he departed upon his final journey for kevurah in Israel. A well-wisher approached Chaim’s son Yitzy. “Now,” the gentleman said, “it’s up to you to continue your father’s legacy.” After a momentary pause, Yitzy replied with a big, tearful smile, “Hey, hey, let’s be realistic with our expectations here – those are very big shoes to fill.”
Yitzy is right. Chaim Kaminetzky was an extraordinary gift from Hashem, and there is simply no replacement. I can scarcely think of a blessing in my life that does not, in some way, have Chaim Kaminetzky’s fingerprints on it. If I were to try to recount what Chaim had done for me and for my family, I could fill pages and pages and not even scratch the surface. But that is only me; there are countless others with their own stories about Chaim, most of which we likely will never hear about.
Chaim’s dear friend and mentor, Rabbi Shulem Rubin, said the following under Chaim and Barbara’s chuppah: “Toras Chaim is ahavas chesed.” I believe that says it all. With Chaim in our lives, there was always a feeling that we were secure and cared for, and now without him we are left with a gaping hole in our hearts.
If I know Chaim, he is standing before the Kisei HaKavod at this very moment, advocating for us and for all of Klal Yisrael. It was an enormous privilege for me to have been considered one of his very dear friends. My life, and the lives of so many others, are unfathomably better for having known him.