Thursday, September 07, 2023

Rabbi Hillel Belsky, ZL

Rabbi Hillel and Dr. Judy Belsky 
It is with a tremendous sense of sadness and loss that I report the Petirah (passing) earlier today of my Mechutan, Rabbi Hillel Belsky, my son’s father-in-law.  

Rabbi Belsky was an Odom Gadol – a great man who never wore his greatness on his sleeve. He was a man of great humility - an Anav in the truest sense of the word – whose purpose in life was to be a servant of God and to impart Torah and Hashkafa to his hundreds if not thousands of students over his many decades in Chinuch. 

I met R’ Hillel long before he became my Mechutan. It was back in the mid 80s when he interviewed for the position as principal of Hanna Sacks Girls High School (later to become Hanna Sacks Beis Yaakov). I was on the board of directors at the time and part of the committee that interviewed him. I recall his regal demeanor and his honesty at that meeting.

Knowing that his background was Charedi we asked him what his views were about attending college. He said that he did not attend, but that his wife, Judy, had a doctorate in psychology. His goal as a principal was to develop the character of every student under his guidance and to help them grow in their Judaism.  

He got the job and served the school for many years until 1999 when he made Aliyah - settling in Ramat Bet Semesh where two of his daughters lived. One of whom is my daughter-in-law, Dini.  

He then embarked on an ambitious project and opened Ateres Bnos Yerushalyim  a seminary in Jerusalem for young women. There he continued his mission to educate young women and help them grow in their Judaism. What was unique about that school is that it was not exclusionary. Rabbi Belsky believed that every Jew had a right to be Jewishly educated. No one one should be left out. 

That was his philosophy during his tenure at Hanna Sacks, too. I recall the Agmus Nefesh – the torture of his soul felt when a group of elitist parents in the school decided to open a competing school for the ‘better’ girls.  He fought that tooth and nail. He did not want to lose that influence in his school. He believed that every high school student could learn from each other. All of my daughters attended Hanna Sacks during his tenure and appreciated his dedication to those goals. 

It was during his tenure at Hanna Sacks that my son met his future wife, Dini, Rabbi Belsky’s daughter. My wife had met her previously and was so impressed that she had the courage to suggest to Rabbi Belsky that our son and his daughter would make a great Shiduch. Long story short they have now been happily married for 30 years, have seven wonderful children, and three grandchildren. 

As fate would have my connection with Rabbi Belsky preceded my meeting him. His Chavrusa at Yeshivas Chaim Berlin was Rabbi Simcha Lyons, my former roommate in HTC.

Rabbi Belsky’s father, R’ Meir founded the Yeshiva of the South in Memphis. Hillel was, however, enrolled in Chaim Berlin, located in New York. The Rosh HaYeshiva at the time was one of my heroes, Rav Yitzchok Hutner - who had mentored his father. Rav Hutner and R’ Meir Belsky became very close. I recall listening to R’Meir with with great interest to the little known stories about the great Rosh Yeshiva.

R’ Hillel  became very close to one of his Rebbeim there, Rav Aharon Shechter, (who eventually become the long time Rosh HaYeshiva of Chaim Berlin and member of Agudah’s Moetzes Gedlolei HaTorah). Ironically R’ Schechter just passed away, too. A little over a week ago.

Rabbi Belsky’s uncle was also one of my heroes - Torah VoDaats Rosh HaYeshiva (and unitl his death head of the Agudah’s Moetzes), Rav Avrohom Pam. I consider myself fortunate to have had Rav Pam be Mesader Kiddushin at my son’s wedding in Chicago; Rav Shechter read the Kesubah, and Rav Ahron make the first two Sheva Brachos under the Chupah. 

Rabbi Belsky did not have an easy life. Shortly before he moved to Chicago, he lost his only son, Yosef, suddenly in an auto accident. Not long after he relocated to Chicago, he lost a daughter to cystic fibrosis. A debilitating illness. 

I cannot begin to imagine what experiencing either of those tragedies must have been like for Rabbi Belsky and his family.  His wife, Dr. Judy Belsky wrote a well received book about her grief and how she managed to live through it entitled ‘Thread of Blue’. 

About a year ago he was diagnosed with kidney failure – requiring dialysis. But through it all, he never lost his faith in God, Never questioning Him. Never saying ‘Why me?!’

He was a beloved figure to his family, his wife, his children and his many grandchildren. As well as the many students he inspired over his lifetime of dedication to Chinuch. His daughter, my daughter-in-law Dini will be continuing in his footsteps and perpetuate his legacy as the new head of her father’s seminary, Ateres. 

Baruch Dayan Emes - May his memory be for a blessing.

Bila HaMoves LaNetzach - U’Mocha Dimah Me’Al Kol Pomim