After the Shoah, the Photo the Ponovezher Rav Kept in His Pocket

After the Shoah, the Photo the Ponovezher Rav Kept in His Pocket

This incredible story appears in the newly-released bestseller “Sulam Yaakov” by Yedidya and Sivan (Rahav) Meir.

Rav Kahaneman, the Ponovezher Rav, lost his wife and three of his four children in the Shoah. When the Nazis entered Ponovezh in August 1941 they conducted a systematic annihilation of all the Jews in the city. Hundreds of the yeshiva’s students were murdered in a nearby forest as well as the entire staff of the yeshiva.
Rav Kahaneman was saved, and he channeled his tremendous pain into non-stop activity and building. He married a second time, established a family, and became a symbol of rebuilding the world of Torah anew from the ashes.
At the meal celebrating his new marriage, Rav Kahaneman said, “Sometimes people who go through a trauma go crazy, God forbid. They lose their sanity. After what I went through, I should be crazy, somebody who throws rocks in the street. But I chose to be a different kind of crazy, a crazy person who throws rocks, but in an organized way, and constructs a building out of them.”
And Rav Kahaneman did build–orphanages, educational institutions, as well as the Ponovitch Yeshiva, one of the largest yeshivas in the world.
Rav Kahaneman’s students share that when he got older, and Rav Kahaneman would have to climb up the hill to the yeshiva to teach, sometimes he would feel that he had no strength left. He would stop, take a photograph out of his pocket, look at it, and continue climbing. The photograph was of his wife and children who had been murdered. He explained that there are those for whom looking at a photograph like that would crush them, but for him, it gave him the strength to go on.

For a limited time, this book (which, I’m sorry, is not yet available in English) is being sold at a special discount at this link. Enter coupon code 1000 for a special discount and free delivery in Israel to the pickup point closest to your home. 


  1. What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing this.

    The memory of his wife and children were indeed a tangible blessing to him — and through him, a blessing to many others.

    Reading about him on Wikipedia, I see he passed away in 1969. Wikipedia explains he loved the rebirth of Israel and was consulted by David Ben Gurion during its nascent days:

    In contrast to the prevalent Haredi opposition to Zionism, Rabbi Kahaneman showed some signs of support for the State of Israel. He found the religious importance of establishment of State of Israel after the experience of Holocaust. He believed it was the plan of God. He is known for insisting that the flag of Israel be flown outside of the Ponevezh Yeshiva on Israel’s Independence Day (a practice still continued to this day).[6] He also refrained from saying the Tachanun prayer, a daily prayer of penitence, on that day as a sign of celebration.[7][8]

    He was also approached – among a few others – by David Ben-Gurion, Israeli Prime Minister – to help answering the question on definition of Jew for the State of Israel. In his reply Kahaneman wrote: “I see the vision of the return to Zion in our generation as the revelation of the light of divine providence, which strengthens our hand and accompanies us through the evil waters that have risen against us … I see miracles every moment, every hour! I am sure that His Honor [i.e., Ben-Gurion] sees the thing as I do, for who like the ship’s captain standing at the wheel of the ship sees these miracles.”[9]

    Following Israel’s military successes of the Six Day War, he published an article in which he praised the recent successes as “obvious miracles, and even a blind person can sense the palpable miracles… the miracles, wonders, salvations, comforts and battles”[10] and called upon recognition them as such and observing the “wondrous period”.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this!

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