Sunday, June 24, 2018

Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Goldzweig - One of Kind

Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Goldzweig, (Matzav)
Every year before Pesach there is a public Shiur in Chicago dealing with questions about what is and isn’t Kosher for Pesach. One of my most memorable moments occurred with a woman whose husband was on heart medication. She asked whether her husband could take those meds on Pesach. The response was, ‘Well, that depends.’ ‘Do you want him to die?’

Such was the humor of a great man by the name of Chaim Tzvi Goldzwieg who passed away yesterday. Rabbi Goldzweig was one of a kind.  He was the ‘go to’ guy for any question about Kashrus.

He was Mr. OU. The chief Mashgiach for that Kashrus organization for many decades. His knowledge of the Kashrus industry was unmatched.

He logged millions of miles  traveling to all corners of the earth to check on food plants that were used by companies with an OU Hechsher. His knowledge was encyclopedic. As was his memory of what each ingredient consisted of. Or how it was processed. Or the code on the container of a product that would tell him exactly where it came from.

In Chicago, his home for most of his life – the name ‘Goldzweig’ is legend. Anyone who wanted a trustworthy Hechsher  had to have his name on the certification. That was a guarantee that no matter what slice of Judaism one came from, the Kashrus was trusted. His name is still on the sign at Tel Aviv Bakery saying under the supervision of Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Goldzweig. Long after he left town.

He made himself available to anyone who needed him. Many years ago, the Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC) had a somewhat shaky reputation for its own Kashrus supervision. Some people trusted it, and some didn’t. When Rabbi Ben Shandalov took over those responsibilities for the CRC, he did not waste a minute. He asked Rabbi Goldzweig to become involved. Once the community became aware of his involvement, the CRC became trusted by everyone. Today, CRC supervision is among the most trusted Hechsherim in America. His legacy being continued by their current Kashrus administrator Rabbi Sholom Fishbane.

His greatness as the unchallenged expert in Kashus was matched by his honesty and integrity. He did not know the meaning of the word compromise when it came to Kashrus. He knew what he was doing and everyone knew it. No one dared pull the wool over his eyes. They knew he could not be fooled.

Superceding all of that was his great humility. And his accessibility to all – even private individuals asking a personal Kashrus question. You  would call him… and he’s answer you - no matter who you were. I don’t know too many  people that were busier than Rabbi Goldzweig in his prime - during his long tenure at the OU.

Adding to his personablity was his sense of humor. That was legendary too, as noted in the above mentioned anecdote.

He treated everyone as an equal. You never felt uncomfortable around him. He never saw himself as the great man he was. He’d talk to you as though you were just one of his friends. And despite his illustrious Chasidic heritage, he never thought if himself that way. He just called himself the Mashgiach for the OU - even though he was their top Mashgiach for many decades.

When it came to Kashrus - he WAS the OU. He defined what Hashgacha should be. He also knew a fraud when he saw it, often telling people here in Chicago that when they are in New York they should be careful about which restaurants to trust. Many had private Hashgachos that were untrustworthy. He told people never to rely on it no matter how ‘Frum’ the the Rav HaMachshir sounded or looked. And to trust  only nationally recognized Hechsherim.

My contact with Rabbi Goldzweig was minimal. But he treated me like an old friend any time I had an interaction with him. He never looked down at anyone no matter what their Hashkafa. The Bal Koreh in his Shtiebel was Ira Slotnik, a Modern Orthodox close friend of mine who was meticulous in his Krias HaTorah. When Ira relocated to New York Rabbi Goldzweig never forgot about him. When his children  got married, Rabbi Goldzweig made sure to be there despite his extremely busy schedule traveling all over the world. He had tremendous sense of Hakoras HaTov and would never have missed them.

Despite his Chasidic ‘look’ and illustrious Chasidic heritage (being the younger son of  Rabbi Moshe Goldzweig of Tzefas, Israel) he was as down to earth as anyone could imagine. I will never forget the time I went to Great America with my family and found him there together with his children. He came up to me and said, ‘You know, the popcorn is Kosher here.’ I told him that I had heard that he has said that, but then he said ‘Yes, but I just checked it again and saw that the ingredients used are Kosher.

I will also never forget the picture he had hanging on a wall in his house. You  could see it as you were going downstairs to his Shteebel (which I occasionally davened at). It was Rabbi Goldzweig and his family dressed in gear of the old west. It was one of those ‘fun’ pictures you could take at amusement parks like Great America. He thought it worthy of hanging up on his wall for anyone to see.

A few years ago, Rabbi Goldzweig  moved out of Chicago to a warmer climate for health reasons. He was sorely missed by those of us that knew him. But now his physical presence on earth is no more. This morning when I heard of his passing, I was deeply saddened. Although I can’t know this for sure, my gut feeling is there is no one like him today. Very few people who are as great as this man was are as humble, accessible, and normal as he was. He treated everyone as a friend, no matter how distant they were from him personally, no matter what their Hashkafa. No matter what kind of Kipa they wore. No matter what station they had in the community.  No one exuded these traits more than he did.

Even as I reminisce about my personal experiences with him, I know that I haven’t even scratched the surface of who this man was.  But I wanted to pay him a personal tribute and express my sorrow at his passing. Which I’m sure is echoed by all who were ever touched by him. I miss him now more than ever. Baruch Dayan HaEmes.