The Brooklyn neighborhood of Boro Park is all but shutting down on Wednesday to mark the death of Rabbi Yisroel Avrohom Portugal, 95, the last Holocaust-era rebbe to lead a significant Hasidic sect.
Portugal, who served as the rebbe of the Skulen Hasidic group since his father’s death in 1982, was imprisoned in Romania in the late 1950s while aiding Holocaust orphans there. He died Monday at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore.
Some neighborhood yeshivas are closed to mark Portugal’s death, and police reported significant traffic and street closures in advance of the funeral. Social media posts show massive crowds filling the streets in Boro Park. After the funeral, Portugal will be buried at a synagogue in Monsey.
The crowds at the funerals are expected to be particularly large, in part because the need to transport Portugal’s body from Baltimore to Brooklyn meant that the funeral could not be held the same day as his death, which is often the practice in Hasidic communities.
The rebbe of a small Hasidic group, Portugal led no yeshiva, and controlled no large religious institutions. But he was a major figure in the Hasidic community; a lingering tie to pre-Holocaust Europe in an era when the leaders of the major Hasidic sects were born in the U.S. and Israel. Hasidic Jews who follow other rebbes often visited Portugal seeking his blessing.
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SOURCE: Josh Nathan-Kazis