Gedalya Grinzaid, a 25-year old rabbinical student from Ukraine, was killed Sunday after being struck by a city sanitation truck in Brooklyn N.Y. He was said to be a diligent student and gentle teacher who dedicated his short life to Torah study and sharing Judaism with others.
Grinzaid was born in the twilight years of the Communist Soviet Union to Avraham and Malka Grinzaid in Vinnitza, a small city in western Ukraine. He was an only child.
At the time of his birth the Grinzaids were proud and involved Jews, although not fully observant. His father has served as the longstanding president of the century-old Nikrasova Synagogue for three decades, and the family was said to be positively influenced by their son.
“He was a very special child, with a sincere, gentle soul,” recalls Rabbi Shaul Horowitz,Chabad shliach to Vinnitza. “As a student in the local Yad Vaezer and then Ohr Avner Ohr Menachem schools, he absorbed Torah like a sponge, always eager to learn more. Even as a young boy, he insisted on eating onlykosher and influenced his parents to keep a kosher home.”
With time, Grinzaid went on to study in Kiev and Zhitomir in Ukraine, and later at yeshivahs in New Square, N.Y., and Kfar Chabad, Israel.
“Even then, he stood out as someone truly special with a gentle and kind soul,” says Rabbi Mendel Lichtenstein, Judaic-studies principal at Ohr Avner Chabad Jewish Day School Ohr Menachem. “It is not often that a Ukrainian-born boy attains such advanced proficiency in Torah studies. He was comfortable in Hebrew, Yiddish and Aramaic. He taught at a school in Zhitomir for children from Chabad families in neighboring towns. He was devoted to his students, and the children loved him.”
‘Held in the Highest Regard’
Beyond the classroom, Gedalya participated in the Merkos Shlichus “Roving Rabbis” program, in which Chabad rabbinic interns visit small, isolated Jewish communities. He traveled from town to town in western Ukraine, sharing his passion for Judaism and love for Torah.
In his 20s, as a student in Ohr Somayach in Monsey, N.Y., Gedalya continued to study Torah and teach others.
“Gedalya had incredible love for people, a love for the Torah and a love forG‑d,” recalls Rabbi Avrohom Braun, director of admissions and education at Ohr Somayach. “Every person who came to yeshivah—from a beginner to the most advanced student—would soon be learning with Gedalya, either privately or in a group. He was truly beloved by everyone.”
Observing Grinzaid’s humble interactions and lucid teachings, Braun determined that he would make an ideal Chabad shaliach and decided that the best place for him to continue his studies would be at Tiferes Bachurim, a division of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, N.J.
“When he came to Morristown in 2011, he was literally accompanied by an entourage of will-wishers,” says Nissen Goldman, a South African student at Tiferes and Grinzaid’s first roommate there. “They told us that we were getting a special person, and that we should treasure him. It was clear that they held him in the highest regard.”
Soon enough, Grinzaid, who was known for learning aloud in a sweet singsong, would develop a similar relationship with the students in Morristown as well.
“Although we shared the same room, I really never got to know Gedalya,” recalls Goldman. “He would be up early in the morning to begin studying and would continue learning for many hours. I would only see him again late in the evening—hours after the official study sessions had ended for the day. The only time he was not learning was when he was eating or sleeping.”
“For many students he was a pillar of support,” says Rabbi Boruch Hecht, admissions director at Tiferes. “He would seek out the new students and others who were having a hard time transitioning into yeshivah life and set up study sessions, helping them acclimate.”
Studying for Rabbinic Ordination
In September, Grinzaid began studying for his rabbinic ordination in Morristown’s prestigious rabbinical training program under the tutelage of Rabbi Chaim Schapiro. He was “refined, humble, and had a great devotion to Torah study,” says Rabbi Schapiro. “He was the first one to show up and never wasted a moment of learning.”
One of the few times Grinzaid would leave the study hall was on Fridays, when he would visit elderly Russian-speaking Jewish people in assisted-living homes. Fellow student Benjy Licht says Grinzaid developed a special rapport with the seniors. “From the way the people talked about him, you could tell that they loved his visits—he would make them lebedik [lively].”
On Sunday morning, after spending Shabbat near the Lubavitch World Headquarters in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., Grinzaid was crossing a street at the corner when he was struck by the sanitation truck. He passed away on the spot from head injuries.
Rabbi Horowitz says arrangements are underway to transport the body back to Ukraine, where he will be buried later this week in either Vinnitza or Mezhibuzh.
As news spread of his passing, Rabbis Braun and Hecht say they have been receiving call after calls from former students.
“One person called from as far as Nebraska,” says Rabbi Braun. “He has been living in a very non-Jewish environment, but had been touched by Gedalya during the time they were together in yeshivah. He told me ‘if Gedalya is not here anymore, I need to get out of here.’ He has since decided to move back to a Jewish community. Gedalya had that kind of effect on people.”
By Menachem Posner – Chabad.org