These days it is fairly uncommon to come across anyone over 50-years-old that doesn’t have a smartphone. Technology has infiltrated every aspect of our lives so completely that it is difficult to remember life without it. However, Yisroel Avrohom Portugal, a 95-year-old highly revered rabbi and Holocaust survivor, certainly could. Otherwise known as Skulener Rebbe Zatzal, the rabbi passed away on Monday at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore while surrounded by family. An estimated 100,000 Hasidic Jews gathered in the streets of Brooklyn to pay their respects at his funeral, according to The Sun.
It was an uncommon sight in Brooklyn as hundreds of mourners came dressed in all black traditional Jewish garments to pay tribute to the man who endured tremendous suffering because of his background and faith. Because Portugal died in Baltimore and his body had to be transported to Brooklyn, it was not possible for the funeral to take place on the same day as his death, as is Jewish custom. Nevertheless, the enormous crowds in attendance were proof of the difference this man made not only in the Jewish community but beyond.
100,000 men women and children paid last respects at the funeral of a saintly Rabbi in Brooklyn today. The Skulener Rebbe, Rabbi Eliezer Portugal was 95, was the oldest living Chasidic Rebbe to survive the Nazi death camps. pic.twitter.com/MbXUQvpxXy
— Avraham Berkowitz (@GlobalRabbi) April 2, 2019
In fact, the crowds were so vast that the New York Police Department struggled to maintain order. Two officers were injured in the chaos, with one being run over by the hearse and getting a broken ankle. The other officer was hit in the head by a drone that reportedly ran out of gas and crashed to the ground.
These bizarre accidents were not the only aspect of this funeral that made it atypical. Prior to his death, Portugal requested that smartphones not be used during his memorial service. He even banned smartphone owners from touching his coffin because he detested technology so much. Mourners were pictured using old-fashioned flip phones to communicate instead.
Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein spoke highly of the late rabbi and his prominent position within the community.
“As a community we mourn the petira of the Skulener Rebbe zatzal, one of the last surviving remnants of the pre-Holocaust generation – a leader that was deeply respected by all. Rabbi Portugal was a truly inspiring and special individual that we should all aspire to be like.”
Portugal chose to live his life as simply and selflessly as possible. He was known for denying himself life’s simply luxuries such as a bed to sleep on and limited himself to only one meal a day. In the time of Nazi rule, his family was jailed for helping young Jewish children. They were able to escape to the United States in 1960.