… Not far from our new home was the Zemach Zedek shul*, founded at the end of the 19th century by Chabad Chassidic immigrants from Russia….
Around the time when we moved from Kinsman to Cleveland Heights, the Zemach Zedek shul was looking for a rabbi, as the previous rabbi, Rabbi Davis had moved to Wickliffe. Now that we lived closer, the Zemach Zedek shul selected Zalman for a trial position as its rabbi. He agreed because the Rebbe had encouraged him to become a rabbi and it was clear that the Rebbe’s instructions were all coming together. Zalman was serving as a chazan, a shochet, and now a rabbi.
After applying, Zalman discovered he was actually related to Mr. Menachem Mendel Madorsky, the shul’s original founder, who hailed from Rogatchov. This was Zalman’s father’s birthplace. His paternal grandmother was named Chaya Bluma and so was Mr. Madorsky’s! They were both descendants of Chaya Bluma!
Originally, when Zalman accepted the position of rabbi, the shul had a proper mechitza (partition) between the genders, as required by Jewish law. But in 1959, after the shul’s president passed away, the new president lowered the mechitza significantly. Most of the congregants were elderly men and there was only one elderly woman praying on the lady’s side. Nonetheless, when Zalman first saw the lower mechitza, he was shocked and walked out. He wanted to withdraw his candidacy, but I told him that after the Rebbe’s beautiful blessing to be a rabbi, we couldn’t give up.
Days later, when I traveled to Crown Heights for the N’shei u’Bnos Chabad convention, Zalman called to tell me he had formally resigned from his shul position. As I would have the opportunity for a private audience, yechidus, with the Rebbe, I decided to bring it up.
I explained to the Rebbe the issue about the lowered mechitza, and the Rebbe advised me to speak to the shul’s president on Zalman’s behalf.
I said that we already spoke to him, but he refused to budge. “Then speak to his wife, “the Rebbe said simply. “I don’t think it will help,” I replied.
“Show them pictures of the mechitza in the local Young Israel shul,” the Rebbe suggested. “If he sees that young Americans have a kosher mechitza, maybe he will agree, too.”
The Rebbe also recommended obtaining an official letter from the Council of Orthodox Rabbis in New York to clarify a kosher mechitzah’s proper height. Again, I expressed doubt that it would help.
During my yechidus, Rabbi Leibel Groner, one of the Rebbe’s secretaries, opened the door four times to let me know that my time was up because others were waiting. But the Rebbe was still speaking, so I remained.
Then the Rebbe paused. His head bent down almost atop the table supported by his hand, and it appeared as if he went into a trance. Time stood still. It seemed like an eternity.
Surely nothing has happened to the Rebbe, I thought. I was trembling inside trying to keep calm and hoping Rabbi Groner would open the door again. After what seemed like an inordinately long time, the Rebbe raised his holy head and looked up and the color returned to his face.
“If all that won’t help,” he began, “his father will have to come from the World of Truth and take care of it!”
Almost immediately Rabbi Groner opened the door and asked me to leave the Rebbe’s room. I walked out in a daze not grasping what the Rebbe had meant.
Several months passed. A few weeks before Rosh Hashana, a shul board member came to our home.
“I’m here to offer you the position of leading the High Holiday prayers at our shul. We voted five times with the names of several candidates and your name came up every time. Will you accept the job as our rabbi?”
Zalman promised to think about it on condition that a proper mechitza be installed.
The president called Zalman personally to repeat the invitation and agreed to install a kosher mechitza. It seemed like a miracle.
He explained his sudden change of heart. A few weeks prior, on his father’s yahrzeit, his father came to him in a dream and rebuked him sternly, insisting that he put up a kosher mechitza and hire Zalman as the rabbi. “That’s why we came to you!” the president told him.
I finally understood what the Rebbe’s enigmatic words had meant.
Indeed, Zalman led the prayers, read the Torah, and blew the shofar. He put so much soul into the prayers that everyone agreed it was the most beautiful service they’d experienced. Everyone loved Zalman and the president apologized to him publicly for having caused him such heartache.
Rabbi Kazen, as he was called by our community, created a friendly and warm atmosphere at the shul. He taught many congregants how to pray and made special efforts to involve everyone, especially the children and youth, often encouraging teenage boys to lead the prayers. He would coach them to read the words slowly and correctly with traditional tunes. He also encouraged every boy who was to become bar mitzvah to learn to put on Tefillin and read the Torah and he taught them personally.
He created deep and lasting friendships among all who attended. We took great pride in keeping our shul neat and clean ensuring it was beautiful not only spiritually but also physically. We paid for repainting walls, setting up bookcases with a Judaic library, and keeping the wood benches clean and adding padded cushions to make them more comfortable, and renovating the Torah ark.
Excepted from The Queen of Cleveland, a biography of Shula Kazen, z’l, which is being prepared for publication, and will be available for purchase very soon, G-d willing.
*Zemach Zedek shul of Cleveland: founded in 1895 by Menachem Mendel Madorsky soon after his arrival from Russia. In 1957, Menachem Mendel’s sons, Jake and Dr. Louis Madorsky, purchased a group of storefronts on Lee Rd in Cleveland Heights, where the synagogue has remained to this day. In the 1970’s with the unprecedented release of thousands of Russian Jewish families, many relocated to Cleveland. Zemach Zedek quickly became their first synagogue and Rabbi and Rebbetzin Kazen became their spiritual parents and teachers. Coming from Russia themselves after WWII, and settling in Cleveland in 1953, the couple spoke a fluent Russian, and were now eager to help their brethren physically and spiritually to acclimate to their new homes.
To Menachem Mendel Madorsky, a devout Lubavitch chasid with a long flowing beard, the Tzemach Tzedek shul was his treasured legacy. He passed away in 1947, leaving it in the capable hands of his sons, Jake Madorsky and his brothers. After Jake’s passing, Dr. Louis Madorsky, fondly known in the family as “Doc”, continued the family tradition and became president of the shul. His brother, Dr. Sam became the treasurer. With the passing of Sam, Howard Madorsky, (son of another brother, Joe) of the next generation, assumed the duties, which he shares with his cousin Jay Madorsky.
On a side note, Jay is the brother of Mike Madorsky who lives next door to the shul and is so proud to see the continued growth and the many young people drawn to the Tzemach Tzedek shul which his great grandfather started! (Mike and Jay are the sons of Alan a’h, who was the oldest son of Jake who was the oldest son of Menachem Mendel a’h). Today the Tzemach Tzedek shul continues under the leadership of Howard, Eric, and Judie and Dave Perelman, (Judie is Sam’s daughter). We would like to wish Mike and Elizabeth hearty Mazal Tov on the engagement of their lovely daughter Natasha to Eric Schwartz. May it be an everlasting edifice on the foundation of Torah and mitzvot! Mazal tov!!
Rabbi Zalman Kazen: passing: Sunday, Tammuz 8, 2011 at the age of 92. He led Congregation Tzemach Tzedek on Lee Rd in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, for over 50 years and together with his unstoppable wife, Rebbetzin Shula Kazen helped sustain and expand Jewish life in Cleveland, Ohio, and beyond. They helped welcome Russian Jewish immigrants to the city. They opened the Cleveland Kosher Foodbank, which continues to provide food security for elderly Russians and others in the Greater Cleveland area, capably directed today by their daughter, Mrs. Devonia Alevsky of University Heights, Ohio.
Rebbetzin Shula Kazen: passing: Sunday, 17th Adar, 2019 at the age of 96. Revered for her fiery personality and rock-solid faith she nourished, guided and inspired thousands during decades of communal leadership in Cleveland, Ohio. Born 11th of Menachem Av, 1922, in Gomel, Russia (today Belarus), she was the eldest of seven children born to the chasid and mohel, Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Hy’d, and Maryasha (Garelick) Shagalov, during communism. Her parents raised their children with a strong belief in G-d and Divine Providence in spite of the harsh circumstances they had to endure. “They can take everything from us,” their mother invoked, “but they can’t take our spirit!” With a song on her lips and zero compromise when it came to Jewish observance, she managed against all odds to raise her children as proud Jews and Chassidim. Shula married Zalman in a forest with only a quorum of ten men present under a clandestine chuppah and with a repast of cake and mashke. They had three daughters in Russia, before managing to escape after WWII to freedom. Settling in Cleveland, Ohio, they remained staunch and proud bearers of Jewish pride and observance, raising their family and SO many others with our sacred traditions. Today around the world, many consider Rabbi and Rebbetzin Kazen their spiritual parents and grandparents!