The Rabbi of 84th Street: The Extraordinary Life of Haskel Besser

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9780060511012: The Rabbi of 84th Street: The Extraordinary Life of Haskel Besser

A Hasidic rabbi on Manhattan's Upper West Side, Rabbi Haskel Besser is a powerful and unique presence: a deeply religious man who is at home in the secular world. With an easy smile, Rabbi Besser spreads joy wherever he goes, enriching the lives of his many friends and congregants with his profound understanding of both Orthodox Judaism and human nature. Journalist Warren Kozak befriended Rabbi Besserin 1988 and writes with warmth and admiration about the rabbi's extraordinary life.

Growing up in a Poland rich with Hasidic culture and the music, art, and literature of a vibrant Europe, Haskel Besser and his family lived a charmed life. With the first hints of the growing wave of anti-Semitism that would destroy their world, the rabbi and his family miraculously escaped to Palestine. This engrossing narrative takes the reader through some of the most significant historical moments of the past eighty years as they were experienced by the rabbi and by his friends and family.

The Rabbi of 84th Street is also the story of Judaismin the twentieth century; of the importance of centuries-old traditions to the twenty-first century; and of the triumph of faith, kindness, and spirit. Readers will be inspired and uplifted by the rabbi's life and wisdom, which have made him such an important spiritual leader. This singular biography opens a rare window into the normally closed world of Hasidic Jews and introduces readers to an exceptional individual whose teachings and guidance have touched so many the world over.

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About the Author:

Warren Kozak is a journalist who has written for top network news anchors over the past twenty-five years. Winner of the prestigious Benton Fellowship at the University of Chicago in 1993, he has appeared on PBS and NPR as well as in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and other newspapers and magazines. Warren Kozak was born and raised in Wisconsin.

From Publishers Weekly:

Although Besser is the rabbi of an unobtrusive shtibel (small synagogue) on Manhattan's Upper West Side, it may be more accurate to define him as a hero who has admirers and devotees all over the world. In this down-to-earth and endearing biography, we first meet Besser, the son of a successful Hasidic businessman in Katowice, Poland, in his deeply religious yet modern European home that was a center of activity and a magnet for notables and guests. When he was 16, however, the boisterous life he had known soured as the Nazis came to power and he and his family fled to Palestine to escape the escalating anti-Semitism. Childhood influences, especially his father's close relationship with the Radomsker rebbe, a Hasidic spiritual leader, and his mother's affinity for theater stayed with him and inspired a lifelong love for Hasidism and Torah as well as for classical music and culture. (This has proved a source of solace to him and amazement to others; he can identify any classical piece on the radio in seconds.) But it is not just the rabbi's vast spiritual and secular knowledge that has won him the respect of presidents, business leaders and even assimilated Jewish children; it is a tangible loyalty and commitment to his fellow human beings. At 81, his energy has not waned; he still gives a daily Talmud class at 6:30 a.m. and embarks on international humanitarian trips. Kozak's inspiring and poignant biography of this legendary man is a wonderful concoction of fascinating details and enlightening stories.
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