Regarding Rav Chaim Drukman zt”l, who passed away on the last night of Chanukah, there is one moment I will never forget. It was ten years ago at the funeral of Rav Avraham Zuckerman, who was head of Yeshivat Kfar Haroeh. Rav Drukman, who studied at the yeshiva as a boy, eulogized Rav Zuckerman with great emotion and suddenly spoke words through his tears that, in my eyes, are a key to understanding who he was: “We thought we would be the last generation in the world to put on tefillin! We thought no one would ever again say ‘Shema Yisrael’!” he declared to the massive crowd, among them thousands wearing knitted kippot who were not familiar with the former state of affairs to which he referred, when he thought he might be the last of his kind.
But such was the reality in which Rav Drukman grew up in eastern Europe. At that time, the feeling was that everyone was being swept away and abandoning Judaism and that there was only one direction: out – that the world of Torah and mitzvot was disappearing, and that the religious public had become tiny and negligible. The grammar school he attended was under communist control, which meant he had to be present on Shabbat. When he refused to write in his notebook on Shabbat, his teacher forced him to do so. He even had to go to school on Yom Kippur! During the war, his family was on the run, escaping death at the hands of the Nazis several times. In 1944, at the age of twelve, he arrived in Israel as a refugee, without his parents who came later. At the age of 15, he was forced to interrupt his studies in order to work as a delivery boy. Several years passed before he returned to the yeshiva. It should be noted that his eventual wife, Dr. Sarah Drukman, was the only female religious student who studied medicine at the Hebrew University in those years.
When he began leading as a madrich in Bnei Akiva, the Religious Zionist youth group, one of his proteges saw him walking down a street in Givatayim with a lulav and etrog during Sukkot. The boy was startled and impressed, as it was unusual in those days to see a young religious man proudly walking through the streets in this way. Yet Rav Drukman and others from that generation established an empire of hundreds of educational institutions, youth movements, organizations, and communities. The direction of large numbers of young people shifted. “We succeeded,” Rav Drukman concluded in the above eulogy. “There is a next generation. Actually, there have now been two or even three generations that say ‘Shema Yisrael’ and put on tefillin.”
This was the achievement of someone who was an indomitable driving force, especially in the area of education, and profoundly influenced a multitude of followers – someone whose daily agenda was full until the age of 90. Tens of thousands of his students followed him to his final resting place, a testimony that he truly was not the last of his kind.
In his memory.
Sivan Rahav-Meir is a media personality and lecturer. She lives in Jerusalem with her husband, Yedidya, and their five children, and serves as World Mizrachi’s Scholar-in-Residence.