Remembering Rabbi Akiba Greenberg: A True Rebbe of Our Generation

Photo: Baruch Dayan Ha'Emet... Our Rebbe, Our ZAYDI, our teacher and Maggid, Rabbi AKIVA GREENBERG has passed away. He was a Baal Niggun and brought the Kossov niggun back to Kossov; planted it, where it took root and nourished our community for 2 decades.<br /><br />Our hearts are broken.

One of the most remarkable people I met in Brooklyn of 1969 was a man named Rabbi Akiva Greenberg. He was not your typical Hassidic Jew. He came from a non-observant home and became a follower of the Viznitz Rebbe, who taught Akiva how to worship God in the spirit of the Baal Shem Tov.

He went on to teach anthropology at the Touro College in Brooklyn. Akiva had a personality that was incredibly serene. His love and capacity to show his love knew no bounds. When I was 16, Rabbi Shlomo Cunin sent me to study at the Hadar Hatorah yeshiva in Brooklyn. The administration had me attend the Ocean Parkway Yeshiva for the morning studies, while I attended the yeshiva in the afternoons.

All in all, it was a terrible experience. The teachers at the Ocean Parkway High School did not know how to teach; the students had the moral qualities of a barbarian. I thought I was being raised by wolves. The craziness of the Chabad Yeshiva left a nasty impression on me. Little did I realize at the time why 770 seemed so distasteful. On one occasion, I remember meeting a lovely 16 year old girl from An Harbor, Michigan; I was also 16 at the time. Some smug young rabbinical student spoke harshly to me, “Samuel, you’re not to speak to the girls!!” I remember telling him one of the few Yiddish sayings I learned from my Mother; I told him, ” You can drey your own kop!” (translated: You can mind your own business!”

I told the incident to Rabbi Akiba, and he said, “I am so proud you told that arrogant young man off! You show much promise! … Besides, there is nothing wrong for a young man to flirt with a pretty young girl!” He sat and taught me the Mishnah in Kiddushin–and to this day, I never forgot the loving way he taught the Mishnah. With his help and the help of my Aunt Ceil, I managed to escape Brooklyn and returned to Alameda, where I finished my schooling before going to Israel to study for the rabbinate

Akiba had the most beautiful voice and his Shabbat table was packed every week with new guests. One person I once knew, wrote this about Akiba:

  • In 1972 while living in Crown heights as a young man on Eastern Parkway, I had the great fortune of meeting with my teacher and friend, Akiva. We would getup early in the morning, proceed to the Mikva and study Mishna. Later on Akiva would come to my home and bring great joy to my wife Tovah and me leading shabbat dinners. His beautiful voice singing the beautiful songs of his Vishnutz, and Chabad and his kind and happy approach was sweet nectar to the young group of new students that would gather in my home. Really, I could go on and on and write a book about this beautiful teacher. May you lie in complete peace my brother.

Another admirer of Akiba recalls:

  •  . . . [S]uch a reality happened to Reb Akiva, as a young man in search of a yeshivah to learn and a niggun to sing. Leaving the United States, he enrolled in Ponevezer Yeshivah, a misnaged yeshivah in Benei Brak, Israel, in the early 1950s. Quickly attracted to the Vizhnitzer Rebbe who held his court for chasidim in Tel Aviv, every Shabbos afternoon the young Akiva would sneak out of the misnaged yeshivah and walk 3-1/3 hours to Tel Aviv, where he’d spend the rest of Shabbos among the Vizhnitzer chasidim, deep into the night and early morning partaking of delicious foods, listening to stories of the Baal Shem Tov and, of course, singing niggunim. At such times, deep in song and prayer, it seemed to Reb Akiva that he did not belong to this world at all. Reb Akiva found what he was searching for, in a place where lay rich treasures and still fairer hopes. Understandably, each Motzoei Shabbos it was difficult to leave Tel Aviv and bus back to his yeshivah, but Reb Akiva knew he’d be back the following weekend, as it is written, “Man is not taken away before he has heard what he has come to hear and before he has said what he has come to say.” [1]

I will always regard him as a spiritual mentor; he personified the best of Yiddishkeit and Arlichkeit–He was a mentsch in the truest sense of the word. Akiba had over a hundred grandchildren–he definitely loved his wife. He was someone I always stayed in contact with for many years. Even decades later, he still remembered me  when I spoke to him a few years ago.

He will be surely missed by the thousands of people, whose lives he lovingly touched like a good shepherd.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *