Irving M. Bunim was a businessman, philanthropist and a lay leader of Orthodox Jewry, in particular the Young Israel movement in the United States from the 1930s until his death in 1980. As an assistant to Aharon Kotler, he was involved in aspects of Torah dissemination, philanthropy and Holocaust rescue.
Bunim was born in 1901 in Volozhin, Lithuania, then the major Torah centre of Europe and the home of the first Yeshiva, Etz Chaim. Bunim was a Yeshiva student while young. When Bunim was nine years old, his family moved to the United States. There, Bunim attended high school, after which he started working. His brother-in-law hired him to work in his textile factory. When his brother-in-law moved to Palestine, Bunim bought the company.
Together with other American Orthodox leaders, Bunim was active in the Vaad Hatzalah, an organization created by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada to save Yeshiva students and teachers from captivity and probable death in Eastern Europe. Later, the Vaad's scope expanded to include all suffering Jews in Europe and helped them by sending food and other relief supplies, or by giving them refuge in non-European countries of safety. Bunim was committed to following Torah Law and to saving lives. Once, because the Torah gives life-saving activity priority over Sabbath observance, and under express instruction from prominent rabbis, Bunim took a cab ride on Shabbat to raise funds so that the Mir Yeshiva students and teachers could escape to Curaçao.
The hardest aspect of rescue work was negotiating with the Nazis themselves. This series of negotiations was called the Musy Negotiations named after Jean Marie Musy, Himmler's acquaintance and the pro-Nazi former president of Switzerland and his son Benoît Nicolas. The negotiations with Musy were held by Yitzchak and Recha Sternbuch in Switzerland. In these negotiations, the Vaad agreed to pay Nazis ransom to free Jews from Nazi concentration camps. After some dealings the Vaad agreed to pay $5 million for 300,000 Jews or $250,000 each month for 20 months to free 15,000 Jews. These negotiations failed, though some thousand Jews, out of the 300,000 Jews promised to be freed, were saved from a certain death. After the war the Vaad kept working to supply the survivors with food and other relief supplies.
Bunim also supported and was vice-president of Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools founded by Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, the head of Yeshiva and Mesivta Torah Vodaath. He traveled to distant places to raise funds. He also encouraged people to open schools, helped prevent communities from closing schools, and encouraged teachers and principals.
Bunim was also involved with Chinuch Atzmai, Israel’s independent ultra-Orthodox elementary school system, aiding its chairman Stephen Klein, and Rabbi Aharon Kotler, its founder and head, and frequently spoke on behalf of the organization in America and helped raise funds for it. Bunim became devoted to Chinuch Atzmai after seeing a Sephardic child in Israel who did not know the meaning of the Shema Yisrael prayer.
Bunim was a philanthropist who gave loans and helped people in need. His main goal was spreading the word of the Torah to all Jews. He was a popular guest speaker at the functions of many Orthodox Jewish organizations and institutions. He was a raconteur, filled with anecdotes and parables, a skill reflected in his three-volume commentary on Pirkei Avot, Ethics from Sinai.
Among other lasting accomplishments, Bunim was known for his Perek-on-the-Lawn teachings of Pirkei Avos.
He was quoted as saying "“Where we had ammunition, the Arabs didn’t dare to attack," and he hosted pre-1948 fund-raising meetings in support.
To answer how could he host in his own home Rabbi Elchonan Wasserman, leader of Agudath Israel, one day and Zev Jabotinsky the next, he said: “I love truth: one is a true Torah scholar and the other a true Zionist.”
Irving's son, Rabbi Amos Bunim, who on many projects was the right-hand man to his father, passed away Saturday, May 7, 2011.
- "Mr. Irving M. Bunim zt"l, On His 31st Yahrtzeit, Today, 4 Teves". matzav.com. December 30, 2011.
- Bunim, Irving M (2002). Ethics from Sinai: a wide-ranging . ISBN 9781583305232. Retrieved June 11, 2011.
- Dershowitz, Yitzchok (2005). The legacy of Maran Rav Aharon . ISBN 9781583308752. Retrieved June 11, 2011.
- Helmreich, William B (2000). The world of the yeshiva: an . ISBN 9780881256420. Retrieved June 11, 2011.
- "Irving Bunim oral history collection".
- "Irving Bunim Dead at 79". jta.org. December 18, 1980.
- Kranzler, David; Friedson, Joseph. Heroine of Rescue: The Incredible Story of Recha Sternbuch Who Saved Thousands from the Holocaust. Artscroll History Series. Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications Ltd. ISBN 978-0-89906-460-4.
- Chana Rubin Ausubel (December 26, 2012). "Irving Bunim, Torah activist". The Jewish Press.
- Amos Bunim (1964). A Fire in His Soul: Irving M. Bunim, 1901-1980, the Man and His Impact on American Orthodox Jewry. New York: Feldheim Publishers. ISBN 9780873064736. Retrieved June 11, 2011.
- one named Joseph
- "Dr. Joseph J. Bunim, Obituary". July 9, 1964.
- "Irving Bunim: Tefillin". December 10, 2010.
- "The daughter of Irving Bunim, a prominent twentieth-century Orthodox Jewish leader, Chana shares stories of her family's involvement in the Vaad Hatzolah." "The daughter of Irving Bunim ..."
- Rabbi Yair Hoffman (May 15, 2011). "Reb Amos Bunim Zatzal - A Tribute".