In the late 1970s, when Rabbi Lipa Schapiro A”H and his wife Chana A”H, had yechidus with the Rebbe, important things were said. The climax of this yechidus, however, wasn’t reached until they were about to take leave of the Rebbe. Looking straight into the smiling eyes of the devoted mother of six the Rebbe said to Mrs. Schapiro, “Yasher Koach far hodeven azelche fine kinder (thank you for raising such fine children)”. Rabbi Levi Yizchok Schapiro Z”L was one of these children.
In his refined unassuming way, and during his relatively short yet full life, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schapiro - affectionately known by his family and friends as "Levitche" - enriched the minds and kindled the souls of thousands of students and eased the burdens of countless fellow Jews. He was a mechanech par excellence and a doer of good deeds. His kindness found its way beyond the classroom and into the lives of many unfortunate people for whom he always had a reassuring word and a helping hand. Reb Levi Yitzchok, dearly beloved and respected by his students and their parents, succeeded as a mechanech not only because of his innate ability to explain, clarify and bring to life the words of our holy Torah, and then patiently repeat the process if necessary, but also and primarily because he cared. He listened with his ears with his head and his heart. He spoke with his children and encouraged them. He beamed at their accomplishments and cried in their pain. His devotion was total. The children picked this all up and so they learned from him to emulated his ways.
And they loved him with all their hearts. “Let’s ask Rabbi Schapiro what to do.” “He is my absolute favorite” are words that echoed through the nineteen years he taught.
At a Bar Mitzvah celebration of one of his students Reb Levi Yitzchok once said, “what can you say at your own Simcha?” Charismatically, this is how he felt about each and every one of his students - they were his children. And through the years he proudly celebrated their Bar Mitzvahs with them, often helping them prepare their Ma’amar (discourse) and pilpul for the auspicious occasion.
Teaching for Reb Levi Yitzchok was not a job; he made Torah and it’s teaching his full-time “business,” as one who is preoccupied with it twenty-four hours a day. He fulfilled his duties in the classroom honestly and diligently and carried them far beyond the required seven-to-five schedule.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was born on the 24th of Iyar 5709 (1949) in Paris, France. The Schapiro family were among the thousand of Jewish refuges from Russia and other Eastern European countries that had made their way west after the horrors of World War II in hope of eventually reaching the United States. They finally did arrive in the U.S. in 1953, through the efforts of the JOINT, and resettled in Cleveland, Ohio.
The young Levi Yitzchok spend the rest of his childhood years together with his parents, four brothers and sister in this thriving Jewish community of Cleveland where he attended first its local cheder and later, its Hebrew Academy through the primary grades. His fine education there was supplemented and reinforced by the rich chassidishe environment of his home. His father, Reb Lipa Schaprio, a highly respected Torah scholar, permeated the home with words of Torah, both nigle and chassidus; his mother, Chana, refined and selflessly devoted, infused it with the warmth and spirit of these words.
After Bar Mitzvah, Levi Yitzchok, following the advise of our sages to “go out to a place of Torah” went to the Lubavitcher Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, where he completed his high school studies and then to Beis Medrash at Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Newark, NJ. Levi Yitzchok went on to the Semicha program in 770.
As a bochur Levi Yitzchok began collecting all sorts of seforim, and subsequently built up a very sizable collection. In those days the Rebbe edited some Sichos, which were distributed in a likkut (later published as Likkutei Sichos). Levi Yitzchok was meticulous about obtaining a copy of each likkut.
He also collected rare black and white photos of the Rebbe, and audiotapes of the Rebbe’s farbrengens.
He loved Lubavitcher niggunim, Jewish music and chazonus, particularly that of his father Rabbi Lipa Schapiro, who in addition to being a great Torah scholar and a shochet, was a chazan who incidentally davened neilah at the Rebbe’s minyan in 770 for many years.
As a bochur Levi Yitzchok had an apartment on Kingston Ave. in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which sadly caught fire and burnt all his precious belongings. He wrote to the Rebbe about what had happened, and the Rebbe responded, “Nuch a sraifa vert men rych.”
He wasn’t deterred by the tragedy, and from the ashes, he rebuilt his entire collection from scratch - later filling his home wall-to-wall seforim.
Levi Yitzchok enjoyed traveling and had an especially deep love for Eretz Yisroel; he would visit as often as possible over the next two decades.
In 1972, at age 22, while at the Semicha program in 770, he was married to Pessie Rodan from Borough Park. Thereafter, they settled in Crown Heights and Reb Levi Yitzchok embarked on his shlichus in chinuch.
Upon the advice of the Rebbe and in keeping with his natural inclination to teach, he accepted a teaching position in the Lubavitcher Yeshiva Achei Tmimim in the Bronx. Thus began a very successful career in chinuch that lasted for the next 19 years until it abruptly ended the 24th of Sivan 5750 (1990).
His students at Achei Tmimim, where he taught at first, and those at Bais Chana of the Bronx where he later became principal, have fond memories of Rabbi Schapiro. He was “our mashpia,” “our friend.” He was by far “everyone’s favorite.” Many said that “his was the last word on anything” and “when in doubt, we asked Rabbi Schapiro and followed his advice scrupulously.”
After only working there for two years Rabbi Schapiro was honored at a special luncheon that Achei Tmimim arranged in appreciation of his devoted work. He planted many seeds in the Bronx, and to this day these seeds continue to grow and to produce new seeds.
After several productive years at the Yeshiva Achei Tmimim, Reb Levi Yitzchok was recruited by the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education to work with the recently arrived young immigrant boys from Iran. Reb Levi Yitzchok that year proved once again that genuine concern and love for a child could break barriers and spark the Neshama to serve Hashem. He became the “father” to many of his children as he saw them through Bar Mitzvah and beyond, even taking one of them to a yechidus with the Rebbe for the special occasion as a parent would. At this time he also taught at the Lubavitcher Yeshiva on Ocean parkway.
It was in 5740 (1980) that Reb Levi Yitzchok joined Yeshivas Oholei Torah, where he was to remain as a teacher and eventually assistant principal for ten years, and where he endeared himself to its students and parents.
The definition of “Chossid” is one who says little, thinks more, does even more and all of this, through his own efforts. A chossid, too, strives for the essence as he focuses on the deed. Reb Levi Yitzchok was a chossid. During his years at Oholei Torah, he arranged and participated in Melave Malkas for his children, farbreinged with them, tutored, counseled, comforted and intervened on their behalf. A chossid, who did what he did best far and beyond the required duty.
“There shall be no one forsaken,” was Reb Levi Yitzchok’s firm belief. No child was hopelessly beyond help – a philosophy that he pursued with a passion. The dozens of parents whose children Reb Levi Yitzchok helped recoup can attest to his stubborn conviction that every child can be reached and every child can succeed.
As the administration of Oholei Torah began to appreciate his talents more and more, he was entrusted with additional responsibilities.
On one particular Shabbos the Rebbe spoke about the importance of chazaring Mishnayos Be’al Peh. The following Sunday Rabbi Schapiro took on the responsibility to develop the Mishnayos Be’al Peh program, which he worked with a special devotion in honor of the Rebbe’s birthday. The Mishnayos Be’al Peh program gained tremendous momentum and the students began chazaring Mishnayos Be’al Peh in their spare time – most for the very first time. The Rebbe received a detailed report of the student’s accomplishment, which greatly surpassed all previous years. The program continued it’s incredible success, and is still today a significant aspect of Yeshivas Oholi Torah. The program served as a model, which encouraged other Yeshivas and camps around the world to do the same.
Summers saw him spending his free time on the thing he loved the most – chinuch. He worked as a learning director and Gan Israel, NY. Among his other efforts were the Brochos Bee, Sukkah Contest, Learn-A-Thon and other innovative programs. All this in addition to his day-to-day chinuch responsibilities.
Countless testimonies to Reb Levi Yitzchok’s acts of kindness have come to life and these, it seems, are a drop in the reservoir of his good deeds. Reb Levi Yitzchok’s well-known clothing fund, which he established a few years prior to his passing, grew out of his sensitivity to the needs of his children. Keren Label Kahan, as the fund was called, serves the clothing needs of many of the community children and continues to enjoy wide support.
People described Rabbi Schapiro as “an extremely good natured person,” “a man with amazing kindness.” “He would never take interest in gossip or machloikes.” “He was the kind of person that would give the shirt off his back.”
On one occasion, when his teachers’ paychecks were late to arrive, Reb Levi Yitzchok put up his house to advance them their salaries.
An acquaintance once happened to mention to him that he needed a substantial sum of money for his business. Little did he expect the loan, in full, which Reb Levi Yitzchok brought over to him the next day. Reb Levi Yitzchok’s hand at work again.
Surprising, awesome, unexpected, flabbergasting - words which can describe this magic. He practiced the highest form of giving-quietly, unobtrusively. Expecting no recognition, no accolades.
In 1982, through the Rebbe's bracha, Rabbi and Mrs. Schapiro were blessed after ten years of marriage with their four wonderful children who are today exemplary chassidim, following in the footsteps of their illustrious father. Avrumi & Shaindy (Tiefenbrun) and their children Levi, Esty & Yossi - Shluchim Bayside, WI; Nuchie & Chavie (Rosenthal) and their children Levi & Chana - Los Angeles, CA; Zalmy - Crown Heights; and Aidie – Borough Park. Reb Levi Yitzchok created a warm and giving atmosphere in his home, as he did in school and in his community.
The careful guidance and living example which he gave his precious children should B”H help them become true chassidim, and raise their families to Torah, Chupa and Ma’asim Tovim (good deeds), who will continue to give much nachas to him in Gan Eden.
And when Moshiach will come - God willing, speedily now – Reb Levi Yitzchok will once again join all his children and finally meet his grandchildren in celebrating the greatest celebration of all – the final redemption of our people.