To gaze into eyes that saw the Chofetz Chaim zt’l… To clasp the hand that shook the hand of HaRav Elchonon Wasserman hy”d… This was our zchus. HaRav Yaakov Zakheim zt’l Mara d'asra of Bais Hamedrash Hagadol of East Flatbush was a young bochur of thirteen when he left the security of his parent’s home. He was born in Volkovisk, a small Lithuanian shtetl. In his youth, the effects of secular Zionism were raging across eastern Europe. The Rav of the town, Harav Yitzchok Kosovsky zt"l, saw promise in this bright, talented and serious young boy and he urged his parents to send their ben yochid to the yeshiva in nearby Bialystok. There he formed a very close relationship with Rav Aryeh Shapiro, (the father of Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro), the rav of that town. Before long, young Yankele "Volkovisker” was traveling yet further from his home as he joined the famed Baranovich Yeshiva and forged a bond with Rav Elchonon Wasserman that would forever guide his life.

Foregoing the privileged life of a ben yachid from a wealthy family, Rav Yaakov chose the life of a yeshiva bachur. Meager food rations at the yeshiva were punctuated by an occasional “es Teg”, when, as a guest of one of the locals, he might receive a decent meal. All this was insignificant as he absorbed the kedusha of the yeshiva, learning day and night with his chavrusa, Harav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, the future Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Be’er Yaakov.

It was not long before Rav Elchonon recognized the unusual talents of this young talmid. Exceptionally studious, he transcribed the shiurim and the Shabbos schmuzen of the Rosh Yeshiva. These notebooks, containing the original shiurim in Harav Zakheim’s magnificent handwriting are cherished by his family until today. He also showed promise as an outstanding baal koreh. Rav Elchonon encouraged him to cultivate this gift, teaching him specific dikdukei halacha in the kriyah. When Rav Elchonon’s Rebbetzin was ill at the end of her life, it was Rav Yaakov who was asked to lein Megillas Esther at her sickbed. Ultimately, he became an expert in leining and a tremendous baal dikduk with virtually every word and pasuk of tanach at his fingertips.

‘It was not long before Rav Elchonon recognized the unusual talents of this young talmid.’

Endearing himself to the great tzadik, the Mashgiach of the yeshiva, Rav Yisroel Yaakov Lubchansky zt”l, he became a ben bayis in his home, absorbing his legendary ahavas yisroel, and forevermore emulating his ne'emus. It was the fiery images of Rav Elchonon and Rav Yisroel Yaakov that he would carry with him throughout his life.

When the winds of war blew ominously, and the Polish draft loomed over his head, a farming visa to Eretz Yisroel was arranged. At twenty years of age, Rav Yaakov set sail for Eretz Yisroel, never to see his parents again, who would later perish at the hands of the Nazis y”ms together with a young sister.

Upon arriving at the port in Eretz Yisroel, he was overjoyed to meet an uncle who had settled in Haifa many years earlier. He was soon disheartened to discover that his uncle had drifted away from the mesorah of their fathers. Despite the fact that he was young, very alone, and in need of financial support. Rav Yaakov quickly recognized that a Zionist farm was simply not the place for him. Although this was his only means of sustenance, and the pre-condition of his visa, he left the kibbutz without any hesitation and returned to the life of the yeshiva. At first, he headed to Bnei Brak to the home of the famed Chazon Ish, whose mother was connected to his mishpacha. Despite a gracious welcome and a warm invitation to remain with them, Rav Yaakov saw their dire poverty, and decided to move on so as not to burden them further. Yerushalayim, Ir Hakodesh was now his destination.

Arriving in Yerushalayim, he stood alone and worn, not knowing where to turn. He was approached by a kindhearted elderly woman offering a warm meal and a bed. With this gesture, Rav Yaakov once again found his makom in a yeshiva, for, incredibly, she was the almona of Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Hakohen Kook zt”l. Rav Yaakov not only learned in Yeshivas Merkaz Harav, under Harav Yaakov Moshe Charlap zt"l; he went on to recieve smicha from the Torah giants of Yerushalyim at that time. Among them were Harav Isser Zalman Meltzer, HaRav Tzvi Pesach Frank, and Harav Elya Rom zt"l. During that period he was introduced to his lifelong zivug, Sarah Sochaczewski, daughter of the venerable chosid, Harav Azriel Sochaczewski zt”l. Shortly thereafter, when Rav Azriel moved his mishpacha to the United States, the young couple also settled in New York. There he learned under Harav Moshe and his son Harav Yosef Dov Soloveichik zt"l. Newly married, he took his first position in rabbonus and for nearly seventy years, he would serve as a Rav. With the Rebbetzin at his side in every way, for close to seven decades their home and hearts were open to all. An isha chashuva in her own right, Rebbetzin Zakheim, tichyeh, was a constant pillar of strength to the Rav with unswerving devotion, fortitude and insight.

Harav Zakheim was an especially warm person. Ehrlechkeit, warmth and deep ahavas yisroel radiated from his smile, endearing him to his kehilla and all those around him. A gifted orator and beloved rebbe at Yeshivas Chaim Berlin for many years, he touched countless lives. Harav Hillel David Shlita, a noted posek, credits Rav Zakheim for giving him a love of Torah. Above all, Harav Zakheim was respected and recognized by the Gedolei hador as a Talmid chacham of note. Among them were Harav Moshe Feinstein, Harav Mendel Zaks, and Harav Avigdor Miller z”tl. Limud Hatorah was indeed his life. Everyone: mispallelim, talmidim and children, young and old, saw him as their link to a vanished world. A link to a world where yiras shemayim and limud hatorah were intrinsic, a natural extension of a person. The image of Rav Elchonon was always before him. That legacy was eternally alive. Rav Simcha Wasserman zt"l, a close yedid, considered Rav Zakheim's children the einiklach of Rav Elchonon.

Although in his nineties, the mussar shmuzen of Rav Yisroel Yaakov Lubchansky were recalled with precise clarity as though he heard them yesterday. Gemarah, mishnayos and chuf daled sifrei Tanach were shogur b’fiv until his last day. At the end of his life, although too weak to speak, when a pasuk was said at his bedside, he would complete it. While children and grandchildren learned in his hospital room, suddenly he awoke to correct any error in Tanach or Torah sheba’al peh. Headphones playing a tape of Rav Mechel Zilber’s Daf Hayomi were the most therapeutic piece of equipment in his care. As Pesach approached and his strength waned, he left this world with the words of Shir Hashirim that defined his life.

In a great kavod acharon, his levaya in New York was attended by nearly a thousand people. Among the maspidim was Harav Yisroel Reisman shlita. The levaya continued in Eretz Yisroel attended by many rabbonim and admorim, with hespedim from Harav Mechel Zilber, and Harav Don Segal shlita.

Yihe Zichro Boruch.

He is survived by his Rebbetzen Sarah Zakheim, children, Reb Moshe, Mrs. Rachelle Klein , Mrs. Devora Hamada, Reb Shlomo, grandchidren, and great-grandchildren following in his footsteps, b’derech yisroel saba.

 

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