On Monday—the third day of Iyar on the Jewish calendar—restaurants in American Orthodox enclaves gave out free lunches to honor the anniversary of the death of the ḥasidic rabbi Yeshaya Steiner of Kerestir (1851-1925). Chaya Sara Oppenheim tells his story:
[Steiner’s] father died when he was only three years old, and his mother sent him off to study in Hungary with Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh of Liska at the age of twelve. Steiner had no grand rabbinic pedigree, but while serving as a gabbai, or beadle, to the Liska rebbe, he gained recognition as a miracle worker (most famously for distributing bread rolls from an empty sack). After the Liska rebbe died in 1874, Reb Shayala, [as he is known to his devotees], following the guidance of Rabbi Mordechai Leifer of Nadvirna, married Sara Weinstock and moved to the small town of Bodrogkeresztúr, [known as Kerestir in Yiddish], where tens of thousands of Jews eventually joined him in his court.
The stories that circulate about Reb Shayala emphasize his consideration for others, especially when supplying people with food to eat. On Rosh Hashanah, when services in synagogue are especially long, Reb Shayala could be found cutting slices of cake for the thousands of guests present. Even on his deathbed, Reb Shayala asked for fresh, hot food to be prepared; he wanted to ensure that there would be food to eat when people returned from his funeral, hungry. His blessings resulted in miracles: a woman who endured the Holocaust attributed her survival to a pair of earrings consecrated by Reb Shayala.
Besides a day of free lunch, Oppenheim writes, Steiner also inspired year-round charitable activities—for instance, at a kosher diner in Monsey, New York called Leil Shishi:
For more than a year and half, Leil Shishi—in collaboration with Reb Shayala’s Kitchen, or RSK—has been providing approximately 200 families daily with a catered dinner. “If a family has someone in the hospital, or a new baby, or financially feels it’s a burden, they can get food,” [the owner] told me. . . . [Its founder], Mattis Gilbert, describes RSK as “a resource center to help middle-class people get back on their feet.” . . . The mission of RSK is not simply to provide charity, but to guide families toward self-sufficiency. The resultant breadwinners often return to donate to RSK—the very fund that supported their turnaround.
Read more on Tablet: https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/food/articles/reb-shayala-free-lunch