Monday, February 23, 2015

Cinematic Chofetz Chaim Corroborated


UPDATE: 2/24/14
I wrote to the University for information regarding this newsreel and here is their reply:

The film is silent 35mm nitrocellulose negative shot by a Fox News cameraman Hans V. Pebal. Mr. Pebal covered Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Austria for Fox News. The footage would have been shipped to Fox News headquarters on 10th Avenue in Manhattan where it was developed and edited. In 1980 the University of South Carolina was given a large part of Fox Newsreels and outtakes by 20th Century Fox. This particular film has attracted attention for many years.

Thank you,
Benjamin Singleton
University of South Carolina
Moving Image Research Collections

Wow. After all these years of debate what the Chofetz Chaim looked like, at 56 seconds into the clip, we now have cinematic evidence. Boruch Mechaye Hameisim!

other picture

picture discussion

Rare Video of the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Hakohen (Radin) at the The First World Congress (Knessia Gedolah) of the World Agudath Israel the first major gathering of all the different sects of Klal Yisroel which took place in Vienna starting from Elul 3, 5683 / August 15, 1923/5684 and which lasted for ten days.

Hat Tip:

from ThePartialView blog comment by anonymous:

0:27 הג"ר אברהם צבי פרלמוטר אב"ד ורשא ונציג אגו"י בסיים
האדמו"ר ר' ישראל פרידמן מצ'ורטקוב 0:47
רשכבה"ג נשיא הדורות החפץ חיים זי"ע 0:57
מלווה בבנו מצד אחד ומצד שני נכדו הגר"א קפלן הי"ד 0:57
האדמו"ר מסוקולוב ר' יצחק זליג מורגנשטרן הי"ד 1:47
הג"ר אשר מיכאל כהן אב"ד באזל 1:57
הג"ר יהודא ליב צירלסון אב"ד קישנב הי"ד 2:05
הג"ר אלנן וסרמן הי"ד 2:22
ר' אשר מנדלסון מראשי אגו"י בפולין ונציג בסיים 2:28
הג"ר פנחס דר. קאהן אב"ד אנסבך 2:56
הג"ר טוביה הורויץ אב"ד סנוק 3:02
מורנו רבי יעקב רוזנהיים נשיא אגו"י 3:16
הג"ר אליהו יונג רב ג'ואיש סנטר ניו יורק 3:55
הג"ר מאיר דר. הילדסהיימר מברלין 3:16
הרב שפיצר נציג אגו"י מהונגריה 3:58
הג"ר יחזקאל סרנא אח"כ ראש ישיבת חברון 4:13
רבי משה בלוי מירושלים 4:28
הג"ר טוביה דר. לוונשטיין אב"ד ציריך 4:34

Update 2/25/15.  Amazing story in Hamodia...

The Orthodox community worldwide has been amazed and elated by the discovery of a rare film clip containing a crystal-clear image of the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, and numerous other Gedolei Yisrael at the First Knessiah Gedolah in Vienna in 1923.
Breathtaking as it is, the film has raised several questions in the community. Could it be authentic? Where was it until now? How did such a treasure get unearthed? Is there more to see?
“It is definitely authentic,” said Rabbi Moshe Kolodny, archivist of the Agudath Israel of America. “We knew that there was a film, and the second half, that shows Rav Yaakov Rosenheim, has been around for a while.”
Less than five minutes in running time, the film captures parts of the Knessiah Gedolah of the Agudas Yisrael. It begins with the arrival of Harav Avraham Tzvi Perlmutter, zt”l, the Rav of Warsaw, and Harav Yisrael Friedman, the Rebbe of Chortkov, zy”a, to the Knessiah.

About a minute from the start of the reel, the Chofetz Chaim, head bowed but unmistakably identifiable, walks briskly through the gates towards the building, flanked by attendants. It is most likely the clearest likeness — and certainly the only live image — that anyone in the last two generations has seen of the hallowed tzaddik.

Later scenes show the interior of the convention and a mixture of Rabbanim, askanim and others who flocked to the scene, in an unusually vibrant image of pre-War Europe.

The story of the film’s discovery centers on the determination of Yosef March, an amateur historian from Williamsburg, and more than 30 years of work by the Moving Image Research Collections (MIRC) staff at the University of South Carolina.

About eight years ago, Mr. March was searching the vast film archive of the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., for original footage of Gedolei Yisrael. He stumbled upon a record of a film of the Knessiah Gedolah, but as per an agreement with the provider, the museum did not have permission to make the actual footage available to the public.

A few calls to the source, the University of South Carolina, yielded him access to the preserved image as well as the notes of the cameraman, Hans von Pebal. The notes, known as a “dope sheet,” give details of some of the figures shown in the film, which von Pebal presumably gleaned from bystanders.

Probably the most arresting lines read: “The famous 90-year-old Rabbi Jisroel Meieir (sic) Hakohen of Radin, also called Chofetz Chaim after his great work.”

Exciting as the discovery was, Mr. March had one problem: the Chofetz Chaim, and several others in the notes, did not appear in the footage the university showed him.

“Once I saw the dope sheet, I realized that they had the other half somewhere, and that they just had to look for it,” said March.

Looking for it was not as simple as it might seem. In 1980, MIRC received over 75,000,000 feet of news footage as a gift from 20th Century Fox. The boxes of fragile and deteriorating film contained reels of news clips ranging from 1919 to 1944.

“We have spent the last 20 to 30 years piecing together negatives,” Benjamin Singleton, MIRC’s production manager, told Hamodia. “It’s old and brittle. Putting all of them together has been like making a giant puzzle.”

MIRC has been painstakingly working to transfer the original films, kept in old boxes and held together with rusty paper clips, to computer memory that will preserve it. They have also been piecing together different parts of the film clips to make the collection into a usable archive for scholars and the public.

However, Mr. March was persistent in his push to encourage MIRC’s team to search for the missing half.

“I couldn’t imagine that we were going to find it. I have been doing this since 1980 and it is very rare that you find more pieces after a long period of time,” said Singleton, who himself seemed touched to have been part of the discovery. “He [March] called a few times every year for a good few years. He just had faith that we would find it.”

Singleton said that a combination of the sheer mass of material and its deteriorating state made the odds of locating the missing piece “astronomical.”

“I wasn’t always so encouraging,” said Mrs. Ruchie March, a writer and translator who carried on much of her husband’s email correspondence with MIRC. “After a little while, I was getting a little frustrated, but he wouldn’t give up.”

Von Pebel worked as Fox’s cameraman covering events in Germany, Austria and other central European countries. He sent hundreds of hours of footage over his career to Fox’s office in New York, where it was edited and selected for news reels.

“It’s clear from the film and his notes that he [von Pebel] had trouble with his camera that day; these were old crank cameras,” Greg Wilsbacher, curator of the Newsfilm Collections for MIRC, told Hamodia. “Sometimes these clips do rise to the surface and when they find their way to a community that appreciates them, it is a cause for celebration. Based on the notes, we now have the whole thing.”

In recent weeks, Mr. March’s persistence bore fruit. MIRC had been alerted by his consistent calls and emails to what they were looking for.

“It was an odd quirk that when we did the digitizing of this story we only had the first half, since the negative was in two parts,” said Wilsbacher.

The clip was found in MIRC’s routine examination of unviewed films. Soon after its discovery, the footage was mailed to Mr. March, who positively identified it as what he knew had been there all along.

“I am delighted you found Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan pictured in the newly found footage,” wrote Mr. Singleton in an email to March. “It took years of sifting thousands of pieces of film to find this footage. Frankly, I did not expect to find more footage. In my experience, this almost never happens. You always believe more footage would be found in this giant haystack.”

Singleton reiterated his feelings to Hamodia, saying that “finding the film fragment showing the Chofetz Chaim after all these years was, in my view, a miracle.”

Hamodia did its best to identify each of the many Gedolei Yisrael portrayed in the film. However, we ask our loyal readers to help us in accurately identifying all of them.

Further update Feb 25...Kikar Shabbos reports that a great grandson of the Chofetz Chaim speculates that the reason this video has aired now is so that the political parties in Eretz Yisroel make peace with each other.

Update 2/27/15

Update 3/1/15 from VIN

Brooklyn, NY - A Williamsburg man with a passion for rabbinic dynasties and old seforim, manuscripts, footage and photographs is being credited with inspiring archivists to locate the Chofetz Chaim film clip that has taken the Jewish world by storm this week.
Yosef March, (Pronounced Ma’arach) a self-professed history buff and an employee in the offices of Monroe Bus Company, first became interested in the footage of the 1923 Knessia Gedola while trying to locate another significant piece of Jewish history: a video clip of then General Eisenhower with the Klauszenberger Rebbe taken in 1945.
Searching the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website approximately eight to ten years ago for the word ‘rabbi,’ March found mention of the 1923 Knessia Gedola, labeled by the Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive as “World Congress of ‘Agudas Jisroel.’”
The original search result found by March lists a clip that was just under two minutes in length, bearing the description, “Nicely dressed men, delegates from a ‘new organization of Orthodox Jews,’ gather outside the Congress building, chatting, posing, smoking. Names of rabbis and community leaders are listed on card catalogue but difficult to determine correspondence to footage.”
The footage had been purchased by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum from the University of South Carolina Newsfilm Library in April, 1992 but the actual clip was not available for public viewing.
“It came up as ‘copyright, restricted’ and the University of South Carolina held the copyright,” March told VIN News.
March reached out to Benjamin Singleton at the University of South Carolina’s Moving Image Research Collections in an attempt to find out more about the footage. Convinced that there was likely additional footage of the Knessia Gedola, March kept in touch with Singleton, reaching out to him periodically to find out if anything new had surfaced.
A dope sheet, documenting the particulars of the footage shot by cameraman Hans Von Pebal at the Knessia Gedola, turned out to be a treasure trove of information for March. The page confirms that Von Pebal shot 101 meters of footage at the Knessia Gedola, filmed on August 15th between 9 and 11 AM under bright conditions and on August 16th between 10 and 12:30 PM under variable skies. The dope sheet makes mention of the rarity of filming a gathering of this nature.
“EXCLUSIVE for Fox News and obtaint [sic]by dint of much persuasion the venerable orthodox Jews seemingly regarding it as contrary to all custom to allow them to be photographed much less filmed.”
Also listed are several of the people filmed detailed on the dope sheet as “Chief-Rabbi Chaim Schor (Bukarest.Romainia)”, “Rabbi Leo Freschner, Member of Committee of Agudas Jisroel”, “Rabbi Ehrman (Frankfurt) in conversation with Dr. Jacob Rosenheim (Frankfurt) Leader of the new movement”, “Dr. Leo Jung of New York”, “Shelly Guggenheim”, “Chief Rabbi Spitzer, delegate from Czecho-Slovakia”, “Chief Rabbi Lowenstein (Zurich)”, “Delegates from PALESTINE”, and “Dr Kirschbraun of Warsaw, Deputy in Sejm. Polish parliament.” 25 meters of footage shot on August 16th, the second day of the Knessia Gedola, was housed in a second can and is said to contain images of “Chief-Rabbi Perlmutter of Warsaw, Sejm-Deputy” and “The famous 90 year old Rabbi JISROEL MEIR HAKOHEN of Radin, also called CHOFETZ CHAJIM after his great work.”
Despite Von Pebal’s mention of the Chofetz Chaim in his documentation, he was not visible in the Fox News footage, leading March to believe that there had to be additional material from the 1923 Knessia Gedola somewhere in the university’s film vault. March kept in contact with Singleton for years, prodding him to find the additional footage.
“I kept saying to him, ‘Please don’t stop searching. You must have it there,’” recalled March. “I spoke with him many times regarding other Orthodox Jewish clips but I always brought up the question about finding the additional footage with the Chofetz Chaim in it.”
It was six weeks ago that March got the email he had long awaited.
“This extra footage was found in Fox News cans,” read the email from Singleton. “There is a shot of the interior of the Congress building. More rabbis can be seen outside.”
Singleton sent a disc of the new footage to March who was elated to see the Chofetz Chaim in the clip.
March informed Singleton of the historic find, and Singleton acknowledged that it took years of sifting through thousands of film clips to find the missing Knessia Gedola footage and that he never expected to actually find the clip of the Chofetz Chaim.
“I have been with this collection serving the public since 1989,” said Singleton. “I have identified a lot of unusual footage that hasn’t been touched for eighty years, but nothing has been as providential as the finding of the Chofetz Chaim ... Mr. March had a strong feeling that we would find more footage from this news story. It seemed unlikely to me.”
Singleton credited March for his persistence.
“ Mr. March called me often and encouraged me to keep looking,” said Singleton. “The search took years, but Mr. March never gave up hope. I still cannot believe we found this film fragment out of 20,000 feet of other old films. This is a wondrous find.”
New York Times article dated August 16, 1923 reported the event
Fox News was not the only media outlet to cover the Knessia Gedola. A New York Times article dated August 16, 1923 reported that 450 delegates, including 14 American representatives, were present on the first day of the gathering and described the previous day’s sessions.
“Remarkable addresses were made by the venerable Chofese Chaim, 92 years old, greatest authority on Jewish ethics; Chief Rabbi Wilna Oser Grobzenski, Rabbi Leo Jung of New York and Jonas Simon, a delegate from Baltimore.”
Also on the agenda for the first day of the Knessia Gedola, according to the New York Times, was the passage of a resolution “urging the national league to uphold the ideas of pacifism in accordance with President Harding’s endeavors.”
As inquiries have continued to pour into the MIRC regarding the Knessia Gedola clip, staff members have been combing the archives looking for any information regarding the 1923 footage.
A MIRC staff member explained that Fox News had cameramen stationed in most major cities, including Vienna, and would traditionally air two newsreels per week, featuring footage from all over the world. The Knessia Gedola footage, which never aired as a Fox newsreel, was one of approximately 200 stories filmed by Von Pebal and the MIRC estimated that only ten percent of the films submitted to Fox News in Manhattan were ever aired.
Most of the Knessia Gedola footage was transferred to video in the 1990’s but it wasn’t until over ten years later that the remaining film was found. The newer longer clip, which incorporates all of the Knessia Gedola footage, including the Chofetz Chaim, is the one that is currently circulating throughout the Jewish community.
March has been inundated with calls from the media asking him to describe how the Chofetz Chaim footage was brought to light 92 years after being filmed. As an amateur historian, March is grateful to have been able to play a part in bringing Jewish history to life.
“It’s very exciting to finally see footage of this much revered gadol hador and to share it with klal yisroel and, of course, it’s very satisfying that my decade-long efforts have finally borne fruit,” said March. “It is also very gratifying to have been bezras Hashem instrumental in this historic revelation.”

Update 3/1/15

In 1937, Rabbi M. Yoshor, one of the CC's students, wrote a biography which was subsequently translated by ArtScroll in 1984 and published in two volumes. Today, it is found in one volume, available at  Translated by the late Charles Wengrov.

Chapter 58 discussed the Knessiah Gedolah, which was scheduled to begin in 1914.  Yet due to WWI, it was delayed until 1923.  The CC traveled to Vienna by railroad, but chose to ride in 3rd class.  Many Rebbes were also on that train and greeted followers at the many railroad stops, yet the CC did not want the honor and refused to greet the well-wishers until other Rabbonim (Rav Meir Dan told him that it is worthwhile to lose some Olam Haboh to satisfy the desire of all the Jews who thronged to meet him) convinced him to.

"G'dalya Bublick, editor of New York's Yiddisher Tageblatt reported in the newspaper on the fourth of Tishri (September 14), 1923:

"In the present day, there is no personage so revered and hallowed as the Chafetz Chaim...He himself is short in height - an old feeble man. His voice is low, yet youthfully fresh.  Over his face a tranquil, good smile is always playing.  There is a good-natured laughter in his eyes.  It seems evident that in all his life the aged tsaddik never flew into a rage.  Every word of his, every gesture, breathes boundless goodness and immeasurable humility.  There is not the slightest sign of envy in him.  He is the very embodiment of peace.
"No! The Chafetz Chaim never wanted to be a leader, and he has no wish to be one now.  He has only pleaded all his life: Dear Jews - be good, settled, pious, honest Jews.  He is distant from all the politics of all the parties; but when the tsaddik was told that his attendance would strengthen the Jewish religion [it's observance], he got up and came...
"He speaks so softly that the delegates in the first rows can barely catch his words.  Nevertheless, no one makes a move, even in the furthest corners of the hall.  The audience cannot hear him, but from the distance the people drink in with their eyes the gestures of the Chafetz Chaim.  They don't have to hear the words,  In their souls they hear what he wants of them, and they merge and blend with him in their emotions...

The Jewish Daily Forward on September 23, 1923, a Mr. Moskuff wrote:

"The rabbi of Sokolov, in the middle of his address, suddenly becomes silent.  His hand remains outstretched in its gesture, as if frozen.  The audience, the presidium, the journalists, the visitors in the galleries rise up all at once,  Distinguished rabbis too, devout and pious Jews all get up from their places.  A restrained, soundless agitation begins - a hubbub of reverence and awe.  The strident outcries of several ushers are heard:   Make room! Make way there! And a passageway is cleared.  People press in on one another, with bated breath, with a tremor in their hearts.  They step back. Two rows of people form in the middle of the conference hall: two rows of rabbinic delegates in elegant morning coats, with long white beards; and between these two lengths of rabbis, several rabbis come leading - no not leading they come carrying on their hands a small feeble old man, an aged bent-over human being with a short white beard, in a plain shabby long coat, with a cheap scarf around his neck...

When you see this short ninety year old sage for the first time, it makes a singular impression on you.  You feel a quiver of awe and love in your heart - a tremendous reverence and respect, beyond any limit.  When you take a closer look, you see the face of an angel, a ministering servant of God.  The Shechina, the Divine Presence, rests on that face, and you have to shut your eyes against the radiance streaming from those two small gray intelligent eyes.  When he stands on the dais, speaking, two rabbis support him under the arms.  The entire assembly stands as it listens to him.  His voice is weak, but clear.  He summons the Jewish people to unity, to harmonious peace, to goodness, to religious observance, to love and good deeds.  His short bent-over figure quivers as he talks.  The small white beard glistens from afar, like fresh-fallen snow.  Through his eyes the entire world shines with wisdom and goodness..

"So, I imagine, Hillel the Elder must have looked - the Sage in the Talmud:
"Leaving the hall, he goes between the two columns of rabbis, He walks swiftly, with alacrity, his hoary head bowed very low...
"And when he is lifted up and placed in the automobile, the entire street is darkened with people.  They press in on one another, to get a glimpse of the Chafetz Chaim.  Non-Jews take off their hats out of great respect.  Jews climb up on the car, on the wheels, on the motor.  Everyone wants to see the Chafetz Chaim, touch the hem of his poor plain kapoteh (morning coat).  Those who get very close push their trembling hands into the auto, and the Chafetz Chaim holds out his hand to give them welcome.  With his wan delicate fingers he touches the thick, coarsened trembling hands: Shalom!  There is complete pandemonium...the police are helpless.  They cannot make order.  They themselves push forward and look in wonder and awe at this singular aged short man with the velour hat on his hoary head...

"The viennese German-language newspapers too have written many marveling, awe-filled articles about the Chafetz Chaim...


  1. OK. Now that I saw the gedolim of yesteryear now what? It really doesn't mean much without the audio track. I don't think watching them move about makes us better people in any way.

    I wonder what all the Borsalino obsessed bochrim would say to the rather obvious total apathy to hat shape, style and even cleanliness exhibited by the vast majority of clergy and laity depicted here. Also the tolerance of those spiritually superior to us to wardrobe(and presumably ideological) diversity.

    Imagine someone showing up to the 2016 Agudah Convention wearing a flat-top straw boater! He'd probably be bounced by security as a suspected ISIS terrorist. He'd definitely condemn all his daughters to eternal spinsterhood.

    1. I disagree. One should SEE his rebbeim, no mention is made of hearing them.

      To me, this film is a goldmine. I feel like I struck gold.

  2. really? Other than the Chofetz Chaim how are any of these gedolim your Rebbeim? Do you know even one vort from The Tchorkover Rebbe or Morenu Dr. Yaakov Rozenheim?

    1. In the last ten years of the Chortkovers life, he was a magnetic personality in Vienna, and most of Eastern-Central Europe. Many non-observant jews would consult the rebbe, and held him in high esteem. He was similar to the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZY"A, in the sense that he was universally admired. At the Knessia Gedola, was one of the few times that he spoke in public.

  3. Thanks for linking mi yodea. The second pic looks nothing like the first both the features and the headgear are completely different. One seems bogus.

  4. Kudos to R' Yosef March and Hamodia for pursuing this and sharing the story with everyone.

  5. there's a "new and improved" version of the clip making the rounds with a soundtrack and on-screen captions of which gadol (not all are equally famous or instantly recognizable) your looking at at a given moment. maybe you can lay your virtual hands on it and update your post?

    Reb Elchonon Hy"d is really just a "blip" and unless you pause it at the right nanosecond you're going to miss him.


    both versions of the video at the link above


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