Reb Shmuel Kelmer
Reb Shmuel Kelmer's amazing story takes us from the pillars of Lithuanian study of the students of the Gaon of Vilna through to the first seeds of the return to Holy Land, where he sojourned in his later years and was buried on the Mount of Olives. We are fortunate to know of he and his family's life and times due to letters he wrote to his family and son Reb Arye Leib Frumkin.
Reb Shmuel was born in Sukind, Lithuania in 1797, to a learned family, his father - Reb Yankele Neushtatter's family linking to the "Hachaham Zvi" and Rabbi Mordecai Zvi Yaffe ("Ba'al Halevushim), and his mother - Rachel (daughter of Rabbi David from Raissin) family to Rabbi Yisroel Salanter. However his father and grandfather, although learned suppported their families as businessmen.
Reb Shmuel's father - Reb Yakov from Neushtatt (Reb Yankele Neushtatter), managed the business affairs of Reb Yitzchak Izak from Chaitowitz, and had three children, two son's Eliyahu and Shmuel, and a daughter Pessa (who married Reb Shmuel Chavadner). Eliyahu became well known as Reb Eliyahu Ragoler, one of the great Lithuanian sages of that generation, and his story is told in the book Reb Arye Leib Frumkin dedicated to his life - "Toldot Eliyahu".
Eliyahu and Shmuel were taught by their father, and developed a close bond which remained though they lived far from each other, evidence of this brought out through their letters to each other which still survive, held in the archives of the Hebrew University, some of them having been published in Professor Immanuel Etkes book "Lita BeYerushalayim". At the age of sixteen Shmuel was betrothed to Zlota the daughter of Rabbi Arye Leib Braude from Kelm (The Braude family heritage of great Rabbis linking to that of the Maharal from Prague). During their ten years of marriage, Zlota bore three daughters and Reb Shmuel was sustained by his father-in-law, devoting his time to study. On Zlota's death her family persuaded Reb Shmuel to betroth her younger sister Fruma (aged nine at that time), and to continue learning for a further six years. Fruma then became the family mainstay running a store, while Reb Shmuel contributed to the household through his earnings as a teacher (melamed).Fruma bore four more daughters and then a son Arye Leib in 1845.
In 1858, at the age of 60 Reb Shmuel Kelmer embarks on a trip to the Holy Land alone, expecting his wife and younger children to join him. Fruma not being of the best of health decides that she cannot leave and travel to the difficult conditions of the holyland. Reb Shmuel stays three years, teaching and supporting himself by sending books back to sell, and an enterprising but unsuccessful attempt to export lulavim to Lithunia. His detailed letters to his family have survived and form the basis of Professor Immanuel Etkes "Lita BeYerushalayim" a study (in hebrew) of the life of the Lithunian community of "Prushim" in Jerusalem at that time.
Reb Shmuel returned to his family to betroth his younger children, including Arye Leib and decides to return to spend his last days in Jerusalem, despite his family pleas that he should enjoy his old age in the comfort of home. Reb Shmuel died in Jerusalem, just before Rosh Hashana 1867.
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