More Former Students Share Tributes to Rabbi Wohlgemuth, z”l
Faye (Isserow) Landes '77: I share the wonderful memories of Rabbi Wohlgemuth that other alumni have recounted -- B.H., the Aramaic word lists (he was right, at the end I am grateful for them!), the Shabbos afternoon class -- but I also have a memory that I have not seen in anyone else's account.
In the second half of our senior year, we had the option of taking seminars in a variety of topics. Several of my classmates and I chose to take a course in German literature with Rabbi Wohlgemuth. We galloped though a wide array of classics -- Goethe's Faust, Schiller and many others. Rabbi Wohlgemuth led us through sophisticated literary interpretations, while also sharing his knowledge of the history of German Jewry. The seminar stands out in my mind as one of the best secular studies classes I had at Maimonides, as well as a display of Rabbi Wohlgemuth's deep and ranging intellect.
Mark Blechner '67: The passing of Rabbi Wohlgemuth, z”l, has left a void in my life. Yet his teachings live with me at the minimum the three times a day when I open my siddur to face the Ribono Shel Olam and have the zechut to engage Him face to face, keveyachol.
This gentle rabbi, rebbe, teacher, mentor, and friend not only taught us the Torah, he lived the Torah and showed us that Torah was part of our body and soul in our every day lives. He would make sure we understood that there were do’s and don’ts but the sincerity of commitment that he espoused and the love and warmth he nurtured us with when we found conflict and difficulty, showed that a Torah lifestyle is a family affair, a community affair, a teacher-student affair that can be mastered with precision and imbued with love.
I was fortunate to encounter the sweet rabbi when I was four years old and he was the rabbi of the Young Israel of Greater Boston, where my father, z”l, was president. I sat on the stage with my father and Rabbi Wohlgemuth looked after me as if he was my grandfather. This was something that came to be very important for families whose elders had perished in the Holocaust and who were looking for a rebound and attached themselves to a man of the faith who took personal interest in a family and their young children’s upbringing, while parents worried about toiling to rebuild their lives financially. You gave hope to our parents as you took each of us students under your wing as a teacher, as a rebbe, and as a “parent.” You cherished us as you did your students whom you never saw again in Germany. You made a point to make sure children would never know tza’ar again.
As a member of the Class of 1967, we were most fortunate to have maximized Rabbi Wohlgemuth as our teacher -- not only him directly but by extension his dear wife Berta, a"h as well. She was my kindergarten teacher. He was my limudei kodesh teacher in fourth and sixth grade and for all of high school in various subjects. He opened my eyes to tefillah from the young years in the shul and then later in elementary school gatherings. He taught me the stories and intricacies of parshat hashvua. He exposed me to Gemarrah and Tosefot. He brought the Talmud to life by connecting what we learned in class to daily observances. He taught us the meaning, method and medium of prayer. He did so with great love as a parent would. His desire never to have a student fail no how an answer could be incorrect endeared him to each student, especially with his jokes and warm smile.
He literally felt sad when he felt that we did not wear tzitzit. To this day, whenever I recite Hallel, I remember the two words I incorrectly translated on a BH test some 43 years of Hallel recitation ago.
I remember him taking us home from Roxbury to Brookline in his two-door Nash Rambler. I remember him taking us to his barber on Blue Hill Avenue to make sure we understood the importance of not having our side burns cut off by the unknowledgeable barber in Brookline in the late '50s.
I remember visiting you in your apartment in Har Nof and how proud you were of your stakehold in the holy city and how it overlooked from your mirpesset the setting sun each day. I remember how we were driving one day along the chof in Netanya and saw you riding a bicycle near your brother’s home in Kiryat Zanz.
I remember the love he showed for our kehilla as we grew into a second generation shul in Brookline. I remember his soft spoken yet direct Maimonides appeal speeches both at the Young Israel of Brookline on Shavuot and in Maimonides on Kol Nidrei night. I remember how he gave up his Shabbat afternoon “shlooff” to teach extracurricular Torah to a group of students from a mixture of four grades who walked, rain or snow or heat, to spend an extra hour hearing pearls of Torah wisdom from a gentleman deep in his commitment and sweet in his time leading us onward on our journey of the love of being a Jew.
I loved hearing first-hand on the various Kristallnacht commemorations his recounting of his terrible ordeal and test of faith he faced growing up in Germany as he retold his travails yet determination to accept and carry on with his God directed mission in life.
I will always remember that you wrote and studied with me for my Bar Mitzvah drashah on the subject of who ordained to recitation of each tefilla and why they so. I remember how you spoke to lovingly of a second generation of torah children in the world after the recent churban when you spoke at our eldest son’s bar mitzvah in Yerushalyim at the Hyatt Hotel.
We will miss you Rabbi Wohlgemuth. But we will keep you alive every morning when we put on tzitzit, when we open our siddur, when we make a bracha, when we engage in business, when we treat a patient with a smile, when we keep honest to our faith, when we teach our children, when we go to sleep at night and remember to thank God for the days accomplishments and not take a day in our life for granted. Yehi zichro baruch.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin '82: It’s hard to believe he as really gone, but I know how alive he is by how vivid I feel him in my heart and see him in my mind. He graced our childhood with his dignified goatee, speaking Latin, perhaps, pulling you into his loving arm, smiling, living, making a joke. And with his brilliant Torah and the genius with which he transmitted it. I use that term, genius, carefully: It refers to such intelligence that it is transformational, life-changing.
Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s classes in G’marrah and Be’urei Hat’fillah were life-changing -- and life-creating. I not only remember the halachic, philosophical and aggadic teachings he left us with, but I have used them over the past decades nearly every day. Certainly in my own t’filla, I can’t get through Yishtabach without thinking of why it is in the reflexive; I can’t think of the first b’racha of the Amidah without thinking of whether we really have the merits of our forefathers or not, or geshem vs. gashem, or a million other parts of the t’filla where understanding and kavana were built on Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s teachings. I have taught Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s explanations of t’filot over and over again -- in small personal settings, in classes in shul, and in short vortlech between mincha and ma’ariv. His Torah on davening has shaped who I am as a rabbi, and made my favorite classes ones where I can teach about the meaning of the prayers. I use the “Ber” Siddur all the time, and when I lost the one we used in class, it was almost a Yom Tov for me when I rediscovered it in the bookstore. Truth is, as a kid, I don’t think I ever appreciated it, and as the years have gone by, I see its brilliance, and Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s brilliance, more and more.
Or remember the stories he taught us? In seventh grade, in 1976, when we had a double hour of Talmud, he took out an hour --or 52 minutes, to be exact -- to read us stories from the midrashim and aggadot of our tradition. I still remember the story of the poor rav who had to return the golden table-foot so as not to be missing it when he got to heaven. I know that Rabbi Wohlgemuth, and his dear wife, Berta, a”h, are in shamayim sitting at the most beautiful table, with all its golden legs -- if not a few extra. Rabbi Wohlgemuth taught us that Torah had a heart, a sense of humor, that it loved us and wanted it to love it. Classes always started with a joke, or the kindest, most loving humorous rebuke, or a long apology that BH was limited to only 42 minutes a week, so he had no time to joke around or kibbitz -- which he still went on to do! Never mind, in whatever time was allotted, Rabbi Wohlgemuth fitted in the teachings which so many of us live by every day of our lives.
It is customary to ask mechilla of those who have departed, and while I think I did well in Rabbi Wahlgemuth’s classes -- OK, as part of my awful competitive past, let me boast that I got a 100 on a final of his -- I did mess up big once. I don’t think I ever understood Rabbi Walgemuth’s brilliant “spoonerisms,” and so as a mock final exam to pass the class he pointed to a bag of a snack food and asked: What is this? Of course my hand had to shoot up, and I responded -- oy! -- potato chips, instead, of course, of CHOTATO PIPS! Oh, so that’s what he was doing all year… In any case, he let me pass, and I want to apologize for being too dense to get a chunk of his humor, the humor of a man who fled Germany in his early 20s and who never looked back.
May our beloved teacher and mentor’s memory be a b’racha for all of us and our children, a b’racha as great as the b’rachot and t’fillot he spent his life imparting to us.
Janet (Bernstein) Eisenberg '86: As I sit back and reflect on Rabbi Wohlgemuth, z”l, so many of the memories described on the website mirror my own. He lovingly welcomed me as a new student at Maimonides; he and his wife, z”l, emerged daily from their "bubble car;" he always believed in the abilities of his students and proudly granted them "meah" on their tests; his manner and words conveyed his reverence for the rebbeim of the Gemara and the topic at hand.
While I always appreciated the opportunity to lay my head down on my desk as I listened to another of his stories (5:38 p.m. is late for a seventh grader!), it is only now as I hear those same stories recounted in shiurim and by my children that I understand how intrinsic they were to my education.
Among the legacies left by Rabbi Wohlgemuth are that we carry within ourselves the means to enrich and perfect our tefillos and possess the ability to inspire future generations. May we each internalize our teacher's timeless lessons.
Barbara C. Radinsky '61: Rabbi Wohlgemuth was an educator, par excellence. He treated each of his students as precious jewels and passed on so much Torah learning. I remember as if it were yesterday how he had us "act out" the story of Yosef and the caravans, how he would entertain us with jokes and tricks, how " the temperature in the classroom had to be cool enough for learning and cool enough to keep us awake." He had an amazing ability to keep us interested and engaged in the learning process and was the "rebbi' par excellence. He taught us derech eretz, not by preaching, but by teaching and by exemplifying the essence of menschleckeit.
Mrs. Wohlegemuth was my kindergarten teacher whom I also fondly remember as I sat in her class in the old building on Columbia Street. They both are shining examples of the differences that individuals make in this world!
Arnold Bramson: My dear brother's (Sheldon Bramson) heartwarming remembrance of Rabbi Wohlgemuth, z”l, helped remind me of some other family connections to Rabbi Wohlgemuth. My family was blessed with three generations receiving spiritual guidance and friendship from the rabbi. When he first came to Boston, he davened at the Roxbury Young Israel where he gave many well-received shiurim for the shul attendees including my father, Louis Bramson z”l.
Rabbi Wohlgemuth was my eighth grade rebbe at Maimonides, which also was the year of my bar mitzvah. Being the first bar mitzvah at Maimonides, I was privileged to have the Rav, zt"l, write a Bar Mitzvah drosho for me. The Rav asked Rabbi Wohlgemuth to monitor my grasping the material and presenting it properly. Rabbi Wohlgemuth accepted this task, which involved countless precious hours of his time, with great joy and enthusiasm. To make sure that I didn't simply memorize the drosho, which was written in Hebrew, without understanding what I was saying, the Rav and Rabbi Wohlgemuth had me write and deliver an English counterpart of the drosho as well as recite the Hebrew version. What better way was there to make sure that I understood the material?
Even after finishing Maimonides, Rabbi Wohlgemuth kept in touch with former students. I recall being invited to his home and receiving an exceedingly warm welcome from the Rabbi and Mrs. Wohlgemuth, z”l. I also had the pleasure of attending regular adult shiurim from Rabbi Wohlgemuth at the Young Israel of Brookline.
I am also proud to say that our three children attended Maimonides and were privileged to have Rabbi Wohlgemuth as their rebbe. They also participated in many extra curricular activities run by Rabbi Wohlgemuth, including the Shabbos afternoon program
Shmuel Brazil: I left Maimonides in the ninth grade to attend Chaim Berlin. Even so, the impression of Rav Wohlgemuth as my rebbi has never left me. My excitement for davening until today has its origins in the beurei tefillah shiurim that he gave so eloquently. I could tell even then, that his shiur on tefilllah was just not a shiur, lecture, or a discourse. He epitomized what Dovid Hamelech said on himself: va'ani tefillah, my whole essence is tefillah. When he explained peshatim in the davening, it was given over with kol atzmosai tomarnah, where every fiber of his being was speaking and explaining. He enabled everyone to fullfill what the Baal Shemtov said on the passuk Boh el hataiva Hashem told Noach to enter the taiva -- ark -- so too every word that a person davens he must enter into it that it should become part of him and not just lip service. It was in this class that I acquired a true appreciation of what tefillah is, its meaning, and how one can connect to Hashem through it.
His aidel character and refined middos was exemplarary. I remember vividly how he would put his hand on the shoulders of a student not only to make he feel wanted but also to check out if he was wearing tzitzis. He was gentle with his admonishment. He understood that a rebbi's mission is not merely to give a shiur but rather to instill a love for Torah and Yiddishkeit in all of his talmidim. He naturally had the special knack and warmth that made him successfully accomplish that goal. Those warm memories and lessons have become an integral part of my life as a rebbi of talmidim over four decades. His memory will always be cherished by me. Tehai zichro baruch.
Jacob Aronson: In 1943 I attended Rabbi Avigdor Miller's yeshiva in Chelsea, MA. Rabbi Wohlgemuth was my Talmud teacher. Rabbi Wohlgemuth was the best teacher that I ever had. Soon after Rabbi Miller went to New York to become an official at a yeshiva, I went to Maimonides. Rabbi Wohlgemuth came to Maimonides about the same time as I did. When my children attended Maimonides, they were most fortunate to have Rabbi Wohlgemuth as a teacher. At parent-teacher says, Rabbi Wohlgemuth used to say, "Hello, Yankel, how is your father?" When my father died, Rabbi and Mrs. Wohlgemuth came to the shiva. I am so happy and proud to have known such a warm and rare person -- a real mentsch...