Yehuda Simes, a”h
by Baruch Lederman, WITS BM 1980
Did you ever know anyone who never spoke lashon hara? If you knew Yehuda Simes, you can honestly answer yes to that question. This powerful question and answer was put forth by Ricky Kramer, who went to high school with Yehuda (WITS HS 1981-1985). Those of us who knew Reb Yehuda a”h, understand and appreciate this perspective.
Indeed, so many of the people I interviewed in preparation for this article said the same thing – Yehuda was aidel, well mannered, quiet, never bothered anybody, was a serious student, a baal midos, etc. My point is that when so many people say the same thing, it is not a fluke. It is not that they happened to see Yehuda on a good day. It means he had consistancy, that’s the way he was through and through.
He also had a great sense of commitment. Ricky Kramer and Rabbbi Yaakov Trop (high school classmate of Yehuda) both recounted he following incident: It was Yehuda’s job to make breakfast every day, which would include scrambled eggs. WITS had electric oven/stoves back then. One day, a snow storm knocked out the power. Yehuda made the morning eggs on the Bunsen burner in the science lab. He was very conscientious and wanted to make sure the bochurim had their breakfast.
I first met Yehuda when he was in 8th grade. I traveled to Minnesota on a WITS recruitment trip. I was a bachur in WITS Bais Midrash at the time, so I was a customer as well as a salesman. Even back then, Yehuda had a mature grasp of life issues. He was very pure, introspective and special, but he was also a regular kid. He was a big sports fan. I remember even in his final years, suffering from paralysis, he was very excited when the Vikings made the playoffs.
I felt an immediate connection to Yehuda, which lasted several decades. His family was very similar to mine, in that we each were the only boy with several wonderful sisters, and I felt our two sets of parents had similar personalities. I quietly thought of Yehuda as the younger brother I never had. I spent Pesach at their home and had so much fun. His parents were tzaddikim and true pioneers of Torah in Minneapolis/St. Paul. They were involved in founding and running the local shul, mikvah, and chevra kadisha.
As my WITS Bais Midrash chaver Rabbi Pincus Hecht put it, “Yehuda very soon became a star talmid and brought honor to his family and the yeshiva” Another of our chaverim Rabbi Rashi Simon summed it up, “Yehuda was the shpitz of Minnesota, and he had no small role in helping establish the nascent WITS high school. Suffice to say he raised the bar in the second year of the yeshiva from where it had been in year one. And the rest is history.”
Rabbi Moshe Dov Harris recalled a conversation he and Yehuda had when Yehuda was a senior, deciding where to go for bais midrash the following year. There were a lot of issues involved, which they discussed fully as they strolled along WITS beachfront property. Rabbi Harris noted that Yehuda had the ability to listen – truly listen. He then considered and processed all the information in a mature methodical manner.
Rebbetzin Shaindel Simes shared a letter Yehuda had written to his parents about that same conversation; “I think I started telling you in my last letter about Rabbi Harris. I just want to tell you what happened with our long talk (while walking along the beach) which is part of the reason I like him so much. I think the difference is his feelings & opinions. He asked me lots of questions…. Instead of hushing me & convincing me… he heard me out fully. Then at the end of all the questions,he sort of summarized all my feelings covering all of the bases and he was 100% in everything – it was beautiful! …. I didn’t feel like I was letting him down. …”
Indeed, Yehuda helped establish WITS. At the same time WITS helped establish Yehuda. I remember Yehuda telling me shortly after joining WITS that he loved Rabbi Raphael Wachsman’s 9th grade Gemora shiur. He loved how analytical it was. He told me that Rabbi Wachsman showed them how to pick a Gemora apart and put it back together. During that first year, Rabbi Moshe Dov Harris remarked to me that of all the high school students, Yehuda Simes had the greatest tefisa of the derech. His Rebbetzin Shaindel said that Yehuda spoke about WITS all the time throughout the decades of their marriage.
His chavrusa in Chofetz Chaim Jerulasem, Rabbi Shimon Max recalled; “I always remember how when I wasn’t sure what the word K’shot meant, he said matter of factly, that it meant truth, without a tinge of pride on his part, his Torah was always 100% lishma. When I visited him a few years ago, in the summer of 2013, I very much enjoyed the visit and was so inspired to see him happy and strong, and you could feel that he was the father and husband in the house even though his Aishes Chayil was feeding him, his honor was not diminished one iota (A great tribute to his rebbitzen and family as well).”
Yehuda continued on to Chofetz Chaim Queens, where he rose through the ranks eventually becoming a blatt shiur bahelfer. Rabbi Akiva Males recalls; “Yehuda, z”l, was my Bahelfer during my 2nd or 3rd year in the Rosh HaYeshiva’s Blatt Shiur. He had such a knack for being able to help me and my Chavrusah (and many others) decipher what the RH”Y, zt”l, was saying. This enabled us to understand — and not to give up on following — the Rosh Hayeshiva’s Shiurim and Shmuessin. Were it not for Yehuda, I would’ve understood so much less than I did in Shiur that year. Yehuda was the most easy going, pleasant, and modest person one could imagine. He was just a gem of a human being, who gave his all to sharing his knowledge with others.”
When my son Dovid was around 13 years old, there was a gap of about a day between his end of summer camp bus, and his flight back to San Diego. I asked Yehuda for a very great favor, if he could pick up my son from the bus, watch him during the day and then take him to the JFK. I felt it was a lot to ask but I was desparate. When Dovid got back home he was all happy about his time in Queens. Yehuda took him to a Met game! Much much more than I had ever asked for. Yehuda said that I had taken him to a Twins game when he was around Dovid’s (then) age and he wanted to do the same for my son. Indeed, those who knew Rabbi Simes in Ottawa and in Yeshiva Tiferes Moshe Queens, saw this first hand.
They saw a great man who took all that he received, learned and absorbed; and gave it over freely and selflessly. He did it with kindness and generosity. He did it with warmth. He did it with love.
(Rabbi Baruch Lederman serves as Rabbi of Congregation Kehillas Torah, San Diego, CA)