Bunim, Irving M.

views updated


BUNIM, IRVING M. (1901–1980), U.S. lay leader. Born in Volozhin, Lithuania, Bunim arrived in the United States in 1909 and settled with his family on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He attended the Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva on the Lower East Side and DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, and took business courses at Columbia University. In 1919, he established Eden Textiles Company in New York, which became a prosperous business.

Bunim was raised in a home steeped in Jewish values and tradition and dedicated his life to furthering Orthodox Judaism and Jewish education, often acting as an ad hoc ambassador from the Orthodox to the more secular American Jewish community. He was a prominent lay leader in the Orthodox Jewish community and a philanthropist active in the *Va'ad ha-Haẓẓalah (the Orthodox Rescue Committee) to save Jews during the Holocaust. He also wrote Ethics from Sinai, three volumes of commentaries on Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot), and was the subject of a book, Fire in his Soul (1987), written by his son, Amos.

After the Depression, Bunim dedicated himself to Young Israel, the nascent Orthodox synagogue movement, whose roots were in his own Lower East Side neighborhood. There he delivered lectures on religious topics and organized synagogue youth activities. A charismatic, inspiring speaker, he succeeded in lessening assimilation among the youth in his area.

Young Israel was a base for Bunim's World War ii activities. He helped mold Rabbi Aharon *Kotler's and Rabbi *Kalmanowitz's Va'ad ha-Haẓẓalah into an important rescue organization. Already a public speaker of note, Bunim argued effectively for an increase in U.S. immigration quotas and battled indifference to the plight of Europe's Jews. He publicized Nazi atrocities against the wishes of Rabbi Stephen *Wise, the established Jewish community organizations like the Federations of Jewish Philanthropies and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, fundraising indefatigably and facilitating negotiations with the Nazis for the release of the *Kasztner Transport.

After the war, Bunim turned his attention to Jewish education. His support was instrumental in the development of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School, the Beth Yosef Navarodker Yeshiva, the Beth Jacob/Esther Schoenfeld girls' school on the Lower East Side, and the founding of Beth Midrash Govoha, the prestigious Lakewood, New Jersey Yeshiva. He championed the cause of Torah Umesorah in America and Chinuch Atzmai in Israel, both umbrella organizations for networks of religious elementary schools, Yeshiva University, and the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.


S. Bernstein, The Renaissance of the Torah Jew (1985), 212, 244; M. Sherman, Orthodox Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook, (1996), 40–41.

[Jeanette Friedman (2nd ed.)]