The Chief Rabbi Whose Legacy Lives On - Rabbi Avraham Shapira
His twinkling eyes were always understanding and full of humor, except when the Land of Israel or the Jewish identity of the state were endangered. Then the diminutive Talmudic genius, the undisputed leader of religious Zionism for decades - along with his close friend the late Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu - became an fearless and indomitable lion.
Despite the fact that every Zionist MK, general and decision maker found the way to his modest home, a stone's throw from the yeshiva, it was open and filled with ordinary people who came for advice, blessings, encouragement, to ask him to officiate at weddings and circumcisions, from dawn to dark.
He would go by the yeshiva kitchen in the morning to say a good word to the staff and to make sure his "children" were going to be well fed so they could learn Torah properly.
At over ninety, after fasting all day, he led the Neilah service and the rafters shook from his cries to the Almighty. This he did barefoot, because he would bless the congregation as a Kohen during the service, and after his students accompanied him home singing "This is how the High Priest looked when he left the Holy of Holies" would wait almost another hour to break his fast as did the medieval Tosafist Rabbenu Tam.
He respected Israel's government and loved the IDF as living symbols of Jewish resurgence, but fought the disengagement bitterly -prophetically prescient in his warnings of its aftermath.
Rabbi Avraham Elkana Kahane Shapira, head of the flagship Merkaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem after Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook's passing and head of the Supreme Rabbinic Court, passed away Erev Sukkot five years ago.
Almost everyone who knew him, can tell personal stories of how he touched their lives. And so the Merkaz HaRav Beit Medrash was packed as religious leaders memorialized him - first among them his eldest son, well- known scholar Rabbi Yaakov Shapira who heads the yeshiva today , at the forefront of the religious Zionist Torah world.
"It is not as if five years have already passed", he said, "because we feel his presence constantly, try to follow in his path, as Joshua did when Moses died. It is our hope that many more students will strengthen the glory of Torah in his memory."
Members of the audience recalled the glorious days of the Chief Rabbinate under Rav Avrum and hoped that Merkaz HaRav yeshiva would take an active role in renewing that spirit. Rabbi Yaakov Shapira is being urged to consider the position as elections take place this year.
Venerable sage and former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, founder of the Shas party, accompanied by Minister Eli Yishai, attended and spoke affectionately and humorously of his fellow member of the Supreme Rabbinic Council. He told of the book Rav Avrum (as his students loved to call him) borrowed and returned it in tatters six months later - which Rabbi Ovadia jokingly compared to the Purim story's Esther's six months in oil and perfumes before seeing the king - and how Rav Avrum, laughing, claimed it "died a work-related death" which in Jewish law, absolves the borrower of a farm animal from replacing it.
MK Zevulun Orlev (HaBayit HaYehudi) had a close relationship with Rav Avrum and spoke of the sage advice he received from the Chief Rabbi who saw the Chief Rabbinate as a step in the direction of Israel's redemption. He recalled how when the MK told him that he doesn't wear a black hat and sport a beard because his wife doesn't approve, Rav Avrum told him that his wife comes first.
Rabbi Zalman Melammed, founder and dean of the Beit El yeshiva, whose initiatives were guided by Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, praised Rav Avrum's leadership, vast knowledge and unassuming modesty.
He succeeded in recreating the awe students of the yeshiva had felt as the High Holy Days approached, while today's students listened raptly to his every word.