Retired Caskey Educator Rabbi Israel Axelrod Dies at 89

Rabbi Israel Axelrod
Rabbi Israel Axelrod (Courtesy of Malka Wieder)

Malka Wieder described her father, Holocaust survivor Rabbi Israel Axelrod, as a man who believed all Jewish people were beyond precious, whether they were Orthodox, Reform or anything in between.

On Dec. 28, the former principal and dean of Morris and Rose Caskey Torah Academy died in Monsey, New York. He was 89.

Axelrod was born in 1930 in Munkács, Czechoslovakia, which today is known as Mukachevo, Ukraine. In 1944, the Nazis invaded and occupied Munkács. Within three months, the Jewish population was rounded up and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, according to

Wieder said the entire family except for her father was gassed upon arrival. At the camp, Axelrod led work details that included cleaning up the Warsaw Ghetto. As the war neared its end, Axelrod was forced into a death march. Eventually, he escaped and was found by soldiers from the United States.

Once liberated, Axelrod found himself in a displaced persons camp. From there, he planned on traveling to Israel to live with his grandfather. But his grandfather encouraged him to go to the U.S. instead. There he had an uncle who was a rabbi in East New York.

Axelrod arrived in New York City on Dec. 25, 1947 — the start of what history would name The Great Blizzard of 1947. About 25 inches of snow fell within two days, according to Time.

“My father used to say that it was snowing so badly, that nobody could come greet him,” Wieder said. ”He asked directions of, I guess whomever, and he showed up at his uncle’s house on his own. He was very proud of that — that he could fend for himself.”

A few days later, Axelrod set out to study at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. Wieder said the school told her father that his education was lacking, and he wasn’t on the same level as the other students.

“They suggested, because my father was an orphan, that my father should go out to work. And my father told them that he did not survive the war to go to work. He wanted to learn Torah and become a rabbi,” Wieder said. “And he did.”

Axelrod earned a bachelor’s and a master’s from Yeshiva University. He taught at several schools and became principal of Caskey Torah Academy in the early 1970s. He was promoted to dean and retired in the mid-2000s, serving as dean emeritus until his death.
Rabbi Aaron Gold of Lower Merion, a teacher who worked under Axelrod at Caskey for many years, said Axelrod made it his mission to inspire others to embrace Jewish culture and heritage.

“He was very warm, friendly. He always had a joke. He was very good with children. He knew how to talk to them, so kids would gravitate to him,” Gold said. “He was very, very devoted to school. There was no question about that.”

For a time, Axelrod served as rabbi of Congregation Raim Ahuvim, an Austro-Hungarian chevra in Philadelphia. One of its members is Rabbi Aryeh Botwinick, who took over the rabbinic functions for Axelrod when he retired.

“He’s a survivor, a true survivor. And he had a remarkable personality. He didn’t have any complaints,” Botwinick said. “Whatever happened, happened. And he sought to make the best of life under whatever hand he had been dealt. He exemplified, in a manner that was extremely impressive, what a man of faith was like.”; 215-832-0751


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