Photo Credit: Courtesy: Knopfler Family
Rabbi Shmuel Knopfler

On Shabbat morning 27th of Tishrei 5779 (October 6, 2018) Shmuel Zev Knopfler suddenly passed away in the manner of a Tzadik, while asleep in his bed. Shmuel was fondly known to many as “Sam Kay.” He was a proud Jew, with a unique love for Eretz Yisrael.

He was born to Holocaust survivors in Nové Zámky, Czechoslovakia in 1950, in a time of darkness and despair. His father served as the town rabbi and shochet. For a short while, they resided in Prague. Living in the Soviet Bloc was especially challenging for people that were shomer Shabbat. Children had no choice but to attend school on Shabbat. However, his parents were moser nefesh and made arrangements with teachers so that their children would not have to write on Shabbat. Shmuel recalled a story of a young communist teacher that ridiculed him and his sister for refraining from writing on those days. His teacher told them that Yuri Gagarin had recently returned from space and did not see God, and that keeping Shabbat was therefore ridiculous. Young Shmuel did not relent and remained steadfast in his belief and tradition.

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In 1962, Shmuel’s family got clearance to immigrate to Israel, but while in transit in Vienna there was a sudden change in plans and they made their way to the USA. He attended Yeshivas Be’er Shmuel (Brooklyn), Telshe (Cleveland), Bais Meir (Bnei Brak), and Beth Medrash Govoha (Lakewood). After Beth Medrash Govoha, he joined the Jewish Defense League (JDL) and attended and spoke at many protests on behalf of Russian Jewry. Shmuel could not sleep well at night, knowing that his brethren behind the “Iron Curtain” were suffering.

Shmuel’s passion for Jewish pride and ideology was strengthened with the Jewish Defense League (JDL) under Rabbi Meir Kahane. He traveled around the USA with Rabbi Kahane speaking to various Christian groups on behalf of Israel, even meeting Jimmy Carter in Georgia in 1976 (right before he became President). He helped plant the seeds for pro-Israel advocacy among the Christian American leadership that fostered support for, and eventually helped shape, positive US-Israel policy.

Shmuel ( R ) returning from a long trip to Georgia with Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1976

Many people remember Shmuel as a young man for his creativity and contribution to art in camps Kol Rina, Hadar Hatorah and Adas Yereim. He also designed many album covers and various advertising materials in the 1970s and 1980s. His two most famous drawings that are still used today are the logo for Beth Medrash Govoha and the JDL logo of the fist and the star, the latter of which he drew inspiration from the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The JDL’s logo later became the logo of the Kach party in Israel.

Shmuel and his wife merited to go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for yechidus before getting married. During the Yechidus, he spoke to the Rebbe regarding the Gush Emunim movement, which advocated settling throughout the territories liberated by Israel in the Six Day War. The Rebbe was very supportive of the project and advised that, for the success of this movement, it should better remain apolitical. The Rebbe also spoke of his view that the establishment of the State of Israel is not the beginning of the Redemption based on many Torah sources. The Rebbe’s gabbai kept on coming in to end the meeting, but the Rebbe motioned for the gabbai to leave, and the yechidus lasted for over 30 minutes. Shmuel cherished this yechidus with the rebbe for the rest of his life, and was recently interviewed by Jewish Educational Media a mere two months before his untimely passing.

Shmuel was unabashedly Zionist and made sure everybody knew about it. During his many visits to Israel, he didn’t care for fancy hotels or restaurants. Instead, he focused on Jewish accomplishments and was so proud of what type of country his people built. His trips to Israel always had a spiritual purpose, such as spending Parshat Chayei Sarah in Chevron, visiting military bases in the Sinai, showing support during the Intifada, and multiple trips in solidarity for Gush Katif. He also hosted events in his house to raise awareness for Gush Katif. He spoke often about his rabbinical heroes, including Rav Kook, Rabbi Shlomo Zevin and the Lubavitcher Rebbe; as well as his political heroes, including Menachem Begin and Zev Jabotinsky. The recurring theme was positive people who were lovers of Jews and Zion. In Shmuel’s kitchen, across from his seat, there remains two posters: one of the Six-Day War and the other a rendering of the Beis Hamikdash. This was the essence of his life – Jewish triumph and hope. Every good thing that happened in the Holy Land warmed his heart. Every “Shabbat Shalom” from a secular Jew in Israel was the realization of biblical prophecies. Every “Ani Ma’amin” sung by a soldier was the advent of Moshiach. Material matters didn’t excite him. When a friend sent him a clip of soldiers going into Gaza singing a traditional “shalom aleichem” on a Friday night, he became emotional and tearful. He firmly believed that the geula had started, and he wasn’t scared to share that opinion with anyone.

Shmuel Knopfler ( R ) , Bobby Brown, and Dov Hikind in Tekoa, Israel CIRCA 1983

Shmuel was the president of K’hal Chukei Chaim – Kobersdorf (Boro Park) for over 28 years, and he was loved and respected by all the mispallelim. He was a tremendous talmid chacham with a brilliant memory. He used to attend daf yomi shiur early in the morning, and in recent years he did a second round late at night on the computer. He was a strong advocate for the use of technology to spread torah and wisdom, and he was an early adopter and promoter of dial-a-daf and daf yomi online. He was always holding a book and learning something new. Every conversation included some divrei torah, Israel, and wisdom, and everyone who met him was touched by him.

Shmuel’s house was open to all. It was the type of house that you hear about in a Ba’al Shem Tov story. The shabbat meals were frequented by people that were not welcomed elsewhere. He used to say that “it’s not a big mitzvah to invite a sheine yid,” and he frequently said that we are on this earth for a very short time and that G-d lent him his house to do good things with it. He would lament the large houses with many locks to keep guests out. It bothered him that there were “people out there that didn’t have a hot meal.” He insisted on the idea of “sharing the blanket” with someone that doesn’t have one. His shabbat table was fun and engaging.

Always a good vort, a sharp joke, with doses of politics, philosophy, history, geography – and, of course, lots of Israel. He was such a pleasant person and didn’t have a single enemy or person that had a complaint against him. He was nice to everyone, was extremely optimistic, and never complained. His last words he uttered in this world were, “I’m okay, Baruch Hashem”. His essence was always calm, cool and good-natured.

Shmuel was a true family man, teaching his children and leading by example in his extraordinary knowledge, devotion to Torah, abundant hachnasat orchim, mitzvot, and the innate desire to help family and many others. Despite a packed schedule with both earning a living and learning Torah, he was always there for his wife, children, grandchildren, family and even strangers with a giving hand and an open heart. He adored his family , especially his grandchildren, and provided a wonderful and fulfilling life for all of them.

Shmuel is survived by his wife, Chana, and seven children: Shlomo Knopfler, David (Batsheva) Knopfler, Aron (Malkie) Knopfler, Sima (Ari) Hoffstater, Rivka (Aron) Ungarisher, Sendy Knopfler and Mindy Knopfler; and his sister Pessi (Naftoli) Cukier.

His final resting place is Eretz Hachaim, Beit Shemesh, Israel.

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