“A talk with the author of I am Your Servant, Rabbi Akiva Tendler, son of Rabbi Yosef Tendler.”
Your father was one of Rav Aharon Kotler’s first American-born talmidim, when there were only about 25 students in all of the yeshiva. What were some of the memories he shared with you of that special time?
He always felt Rav Aharon zt’l loved him and believed in him. Rav Aharon imbued in him a sense of mission to restore Torah to post-Holocaust Klal Yisrael. My father, although he was involved with so much public service, always made sure to have a sefer with him, living Rav Aharon’s mantra that Torah is the ikar. He kept a large picture of Rav Aharon at home and also opposite the desk in his office. He lived his life with his Rebbe before his eyes!
He loved to share how the Lakewood talmidim lived in poverty that cannot be comprehended by today’s standards. There were talmidim who could barely afford decent shoes or adequate food, but they endured this out of love for the goal of rebuilding Torah.
Much of I Am Your Servant is based on first-person accounts. Where did you get that material?
Some of the material was supplied by family and talmidim. My father was loved by so many and we received hundreds of letters from those who felt he was their ‘personal’ Rebbe. Most of the divrei Torah and mussar are from my father’s own handwritten notes or shmuessim. He left thousands of pages, as he loved to write as he learned. As I looked through them I was taken by the warmth, depth, and practicality of the teachings. They serve as the backbone of this work.
What was it like, growing up as the children of “the menahel”?
We never thought of him as a menahel! He was always home when we woke up and for family dinner and evenings. Shabbos meals were a highlight, when he would sing his favorite songs from his yeshiva days in Lakewood. A magnificent singer, he swept us along with these beautiful melodies. We used to laugh when we heard that talmidim were scared of him. I would think, “How can you be scared of someone who gives you donuts and Shabbos treats?”! He never treated us like anything other than beloved children, and we never realized we were sharing him with the yeshiva students.
If you could describe your father in just one sentence, what would you say?
I cannot possibly describe my father, even within the 460 pages of the book.