By: Steve Riskin  | 

“The Thousand and One Legends of Chaver Chaverchik, Esquire” (Vol. 23, Issue 3)

I walked past the small, untidy Hebrew Book Store on Amsterdam Ave. and 186th St. My assignment was to interview the proprietor, a man who has become. an institution at Yeshiva University. I was determined to penetrate the great legend which has been built around Chaver (or D. N. Lawrence as the gilt letters on the door proclaim), and to discover the true story of his life.

Standing outside, I found myself remembering all I knew and had heard about Chaver Chaverchik. 

Bargain Basement

Chaver, the tall, heavy-set, smiling man, quickly walking from table to table of the Beit Medrash. “Bargains, Chaver, Bargains. The Ran on Sanhedrin — only two dollars. You, have no money? Give me what you have. Even a nickel is all right. I trust you. Here, sign your name in the book. A bargain, Chaver, a bargain.”

Chaver, the friendly neighbor, is often seated in his store, surrounded by a multitude of Yeshiva students. He is playing checkers with one — with a sefer in the balance. Some are kibbitzing, others are fingering sforim and estimating their antiquity.

Chaver, the unpredictable, the undependable. Never in the store when you need him — always running somewhere, always having to see someone. “You'll get your sefer, Chaver. Tomorrow, Chaver, I have to make a delivery. I have to pick up some orders. Don’t worry Chaver. Tomorrow.”

Born in Poland

Chaver, the inexplicable mystery, with a past clouded by a web of fact and fancy. The stories about him are legion, and often contradictory. It is said that he was born with the name of Daniel Leipziger in Makova, Poland, a town near Warsaw. He was an early student at Yeshiva Rabbi Isaac Elchanan, and returned to sell s’forim in 1950. Here he has been ever since, though he sometimes disappears for weeks and months at a time. He never explains his absences, except once when he said he had been in Peru. Chaver, the renowned art connoisseur, critic, dealer and painter. He is said to have lectured at all the New York Art Museums and was even, for a time, a professor of art at Brandeis University. Some people swear that he has a priceless art collection; that he himself has painted many masterpieces.

A Varied Personality

Chaver, cosmopolitan, bohemian and intellectual, par excellence. He is ready to recount the story of his world-wide travels at the drop of a hat. Great names roll familiarly off his tongue. He numbers among his close acquaintances the late Mahatma Ghandi and the present ‘Prime Minister of India, Jawarhal Nehru. Rumors have been heard that he owns a rug factory in Persia, which he visits occasionally, during his tours of the Louvre and the Milano Opera house.

An accomplished linguist, Chaver has been heard to speak fluently in Greek, Polish, Russian, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and some African dialects, to say nothing of English, Hebrew and Yiddish. He has declared himself a confirmed misogynist, decidedly frowns upon American vulgarity and anti-intellectualism.

Disciple of Rav Soloveitchik

Chaver, the Talmid Chacham and faithful disciple of Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik who once astonished everyone by coming to one of the Rav’s Boston lectures with his bright green hat and a pair of binoculars. During the lecture he gazed incessantly at the Rav. through the binoculars.

Just a few years ago, after one of the Rav’s Yahrzeit speeches, Chaver exclaimed: “the Halacha — wonderful. The Agadda — for carpenters.” However he is a faithful attender of all the Rav’s regular Yeshiva shiurim.

These were the legends; now, I hoped to find the true man that hid behind the myth. I entered the store, and immediately asked for an interview. “I’m sorry, Chaver, not now. Rabbi Soloveitchik was just discussing philosophy with me. He’ll soon be back.

“I like to feel like a father to the boys. I just gave a thousand dollar check to Yeshiva. But no interview now, Chaver, not now. Succot, I have to go to Rabbi Chaim Heller. He’s sick and he needs me. Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Aaron Kotler — I am a usual guest at their homes. You see, these people really like to talk to me.”

“Chaver, I’m tired. I’d like to give up the store and go back to painting and lecturing at the Metropolitan. Sure, Chaver, I’ve been all over India with Ghandi, even the South Sea Islands. But I can’t speak now, Chaver. Rabbi Soloveitchik will be in any minute. He likes to discuss philosophy with me, you know. Shalom, Chaver. Have a good year and a good holiday.”

I left the store, quietly closing the door. I was no wiser than when I had come in. Chaver remains as much an enigma as ever.