Hirsch Katz (1945-2008)
This past Friday afternoon May 16, 2008 Hirsch Katz, rabbi, businessman, entrepreneur, collector and very good friend died. It’s taken a while for the news to sink in, for it will be hard to imagine a world without Hirsch, who has been a constant in my life all these years.
My earliest recollections of Hirsch are at Cong. Beis Yitzchak, better known as the Drake Ave. shul; he was six and I was four years old. He knew how to daven and I didn’t. He taught me how to daven, and his instruction then was a sure sign of what Hirsch’s true character was. Although I couldn’t read Hebrew, Hirsch advised me that what was really important wasn’t what wassaid but the feeling experienced by being in shul.
Hirsch was a very unique and special person. He didn’t fit the mold of the typical yeshiva student, and although he demonstrated charifus in learning and was a budding masmid he had other passions and devoted much of his time in developing those interests as well. Restoration of antique automobiles was one of those passions which accompanied him throughout his life. Those of us who recall our student years in the beis medrash remember Hirsch’s incredible sense of humor and his uncanny talent of impersonating dominant political figures, with a brilliant and poignant twist of political satire. I believe that had he not been a ben torah he might have made a career in entertainment.
After receiving semicha from his rebbe, Rav Aharon Soloveitchik, Hirsch relocated to New York where he was destined to make his mark. While I remained in Chicago pursuing graduate studies, Hirsch broke into the commercial real estate market with gusto and bravura. With his honesty, hard work, tenacity and intelligence he became a wealthy man in a few short years. But he was a very spiritual person, struggling to fuse the two worlds he lived in. We spent many nights in cafes trying to work through those issues; the process becoming more important than the results.
His concerns were shared by me and each of us pursued different methods of resolving our issues. My approach led me to live a significant part of my life in Israel, while Hirsch preferred the frenetic, electrifying commercial hub, New York City, where he continued to make his mark in the commercial market, but at the same time pursue his passion in restoring and collecting antique automobiles.
While we lived in two different worlds, different communities, experiencing life differently our lives periodically intersected. Those moments weren’t frivolous but always pregnant with heady conversation punctuated by the desire to find true and lasting meaning to life. His ended much too soon. He had much to give and much more to experience. Those of us who knew him well will sorely miss him and the vacuum created by Hirsch’s demise will never be filled. Tehi Nishmato Tzerura Betzror Hachayim. May his soul be bound up in the bond of life.