Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Shevat 5764 - February 4, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Journey to Far-off Jews in Far-off Lands

by Yitzchok Roth and Eliezer Rauchberger

Part III

The Vaad Lehatzolas Nidchei Yisroel organizes an annual trip of rabbonim and askonim to visit the locations in remote areas in which the Vaad is active. The delegations go to give encouragement to the communities by bringing major Torah figures to speak to them, as well as to make them feel connected to world Jewry. This is a report of the most recent trip, that took place around Chanukah this year.

As we have seen so far, the delegation has visited the remote city of Kubah, where the Jewish community was entirely cut off from the world until the Vaad discovered it. People there thought they were the last Jews in existence. After Kubah, the delegation visited Baku, where the Vaad's shaliach, HaRav Moshe Kashei, has revolutionized the state of Yiddishkeit in the eight years he has been there.

The delegation then visited Tbilisi where they met Rabbi Ariel Levine, who became a talmid chochom from learning with the shlichim of the Vaad and is now one of the successful rabbonim supported by the Vaad. The last stop was Kishinev.



The name Kishinev, now the capital of Moldova, evokes painful memories. `The Kishinev Riots' have become a concept in the Jewish history of our times. Even though "only" about 40 Jews were killed, and compared to the horrors of the Holocaust this appears to be a minor event, as it were, these riots have become etched into the Jewish consciousness as a most traumatic recollection. The riots, which were not an impulsive attack by local hoodlums but rather a premeditated massacre by the government, triggered the emigration of hundreds of thousand of Jews from all over the Russian Czarist realm, mostly to America, which opened its gates to the immigrants. A minority went to Eretz Yisroel and made up what is commonly termed, the First Aliyah.

For many years, Kishinev was a thriving Jewish Chassidic center, especially for Skver Chassidim. The Jewish community started developing there at the end of the eighteenth century. Once it became the capital of Serbia in the year 5518 (1758), the kehilla grew rapidly until it became one of the most important Jewish centers in Eastern Europe. When the Haskoloh movement struck, afflicting every place in Europe, Kishinev remained largely unaffected.

At the end of the nineteenth century, a short time before the riots, the Jewish population in the city numbered 51,000. In the years 5663-5665 (1903-05) there were two pogroms in the city -- in addition to hundreds of pogroms in other cities all over Eastern Europe -- that, as stated earlier, affected every Jew in Eastern Europe and spurred a massive emigration. See the recent series of articles in Yated, parshas Toldos, Vayeitzei and Vayishlach entitled, "From Kishinev Until Bialystok -- and Since."

The last rabbi of the Jews of Kishinev was HaRav Yehuda Leib Tzirelson who, when the Agudas Yisroel was founded, served as its chairman. He founded Torah institutions and a yeshiva gedola there, the remnants of whose building still exist to this day.

When the Nazis invaded Rumania in 1942, when Moldova was still part of it, the first bomb that landed in Kishinev fell near HaRav Tzirelson, who was killed instantly. 53,000 Jews from the city were murdered by the Nazis and thus ended Jewish life in that city.

At the beginning of the '70s, the Jewish population of the city numbered about 70,000, but there was no organized Jewish activity. Only in the year 5750 (1990) did the Vaad LeHatzoloh set up its first yeshiva in Kishinev. HaRav Hershel Liba was the Vaad shaliach who resurrected the spiritual ruins of that city.

Divine Providence accompanied the rebuilding of the community every step of the way. When the first building was rented to the yeshiva, a local resident came to HaRav Liba and told him about the "Jewish pieces of leather" that there were in the attic of that building. When the Jews went up there they were amazed to find individual yerios of sifrei Torah, apparently hidden there by one of the Jews of the city to save them from being desecrated.

Here, in the place where sefer Torah parchments were hidden, the foundations were laid for the establishment of the Kishinev Yeshiva. The parchments were buried next to HaRav Tzirelson's grave, in the city cemetery.

Prior to the war, the present yeshiva building was one of the 10 shuls in the city, when most of them were destroyed. The yeshiva bought it and moved in, without knowing anything about its history. Then, one of the local Jews went to HaRav Liba and told him the amazing story of the building.

When the Nazis entered the city, in their savage brutality they gathered together a large number of Jews and told them they would allow them to recite one last prayer before being executed. The Jews went into one of the shuls in the city to daven their last minchah. When they finished, they went out to the courtyard of the building and were shot dead by the Nazi murderers. That shul and its courtyard are now the site of the Yeshiva of Kishinev! In the very place where the blood of the Kishinev Jews was spilt, the sound of Torah is once again heard.

Unlike other places, the Vaad in Kishinev insists that both the yeshiva students and the girls of Bais Yaakov live in the dormitories of their respective institutes. As HaRav Liba puts it, "If these students were to go home after their studies, all the effects of our teaching would be lost, since most families eat treif foods, and there is no mitzvah observance whatsoever."

By the time the yeshiva celebrated its 10th year, more than 80 chareidi bnei Torah had graduated from there and had gone on to build outstanding Torah homes in America, Canada and Israel. Such an impressive figure should certainly spur them on to continue their phenomenal operation.

A few years ago, the Bais Yaakov school was in danger of closing. It simply ran out of money. Then, in a program that leaders of the various institutes organized for some visitors from overseas, a video was shown about the school. The end of the video showed the wedding of one of the Bais Yaakov graduates. After the screening, HaRav Liba commented that this was the last wedding of the school graduates since the school was about to close.

One of the visitors was so distressed by this showing that he decided on the spot to donate money for a magnificent, luxurious building so that the school could continue to exist. Thus Judaism kept on flourishing in this state.

Members of the delegation attended the bris milah of five yeshiva students aged 8-14, with the major donors of the Vaad officiating as sandeks. It was an inspiring experience to watch a mature boy give himself a "mazel tov" on his own bris, and join in the powerful singing of "Shema Yisroel" with those in attendance. "Happy is the people for whom this is so!"

On Shabbos during the Torah reading, in accordance with the local custom, Jewish names were given to the newly circumcised boys, through those who were given the honor to be sandek.

The principals of the institutions, led by the rosh yeshiva HaRav Shmuel Koren and his household, prepared the Shabbos meals in Kishinev, sparing no effort to make the Shabbos into an event that would be forever etched in the memories of the participants. It was a Shabbos of spiritual uplift, combined with the constant worry about the minute details of the Shabbos foods which, when you are talking of an Eastern European state like Moldova, is no trifling matter.

The joint seuda for the members of the delegation, in which HaRav Eliyahu Sternbuch from Antwerp participated, together with the yeshiva students and the Bais Yaakov girls, was a truly elevating experience for all the parties concerned. The harmonious voice of Rabbi Nechemiah Brodt led the enthusiastic audience in a glorious rendition of the Shabbos zemiros. Without a doubt, this Shabbos constituted an exciting finale to the tour.

Members of the delegation have returned to their respective countries, but nevertheless, in Eastern Europe, Jewish operations are continuing full force. The Vaad Lehatzolas Nidchei Yisroel continues to encourage and fund them. All its activists around the world are doing work that is entirely voluntary. Rabbi Neustadt has sold his business so that he can devote himself fully to the Vaad. So has his right-hand man, Rabbi Zeev Rothschild.

The Jewish children, lost Jewish souls in the former Communist region, are imploring for help. They are crying to each and every Jew to open his heart and give them the chance to know their own Jewishness.

Yated Hashavua, 24 Kislev, December 19, 2003, page 46

`Tachlis' -- An Overflowing Heart and an Open Hand

by Yitzchok Roth and Eliezer Rauchberger

Most of the members of the Vaad LeHatzoloh delegation are businessmen. However, whether they are in real estate, imports or business management (there is even a principal of a Talmud Torah), they are, first and foremost, warm Jews, yeshiva graduates, who in essence have remained bnei Torah.

Even when they are immersed in the business world, these Jews still remain deeply attached to the Torah, to their rabbis, to their kevi'us ittim in Torah learning, to the secure foundations of their hashkofoh which they have absorbed internally and which uplift them. They are outstanding people and, the more you get to know them the more you feel their inner, Torah-Klal Yisroel personality pulsating inside.

Most of them have close ties to the Vaad, although for some members of the delegation it is their first time visiting the operations in Eastern Europe. All of them took a `break' from their respective businesses because they wanted to witness the Jewish revolution firsthand. There is nothing better than seeing it with your own eyes.

It was not easy to drop everything, leave in the middle of the working week and go off for a whole week. But they were all fully conscious of the goal, to give chizuk and get chizuk. "We came to give strength--and came back stronger," is their unanimous response, and it is no trite statement.

Indeed, the excitement, even of those who have already seen it all more than once, is palpable. It is difficult to remain passive when you see these sweet Jewish children who perhaps until recently did not even know they were Jewish children at all. It is impossible to stay unmoved at the sight of girls dressed in the familiar Jewish tzonua attire, who already know what Chanukah is and why candles are lit.

Each time, you are stirred and thrilled all over again to see a living Jewish world resurrected. As much as you read about all the Jewish operations and hear about them, seeing them with your own eyes has an effect on your soul.

These noble Jews are fully aware that the Vaad operations are built on money. Maintaining the Jewish institutions, meeting the needs of the kehilla, the shlichim and their families is a huge expense, and runs into colossal figures. There is no government aid, nor any other external aid whatsoever. The Vaad LeHatzoloh has built the whole enterprise almost single-handedly.

And money, in these remote places, is synonymous with Judaism. More money equals another Jewish child who can be drawn to Torah. It is that -- clear and simple. But when you see the astounding work that the shlichim do, and how they have succeeded in creating `something out of nothing' in this isolated Jewish world, it is understood that all preconceived notions about the value of money pale in the face of overriding needs.

The procedure is that, following each visit, members of the delegation gather around the table to discuss the contributions. It is a moving, exciting and uplifting get- together of Jews opening their hearts and their purses. For the most part, it is a gravely serious event, for everyone knows that every extra dollar that they give equals more Judaism. Most of them had, most likely, intended to give a donation to the Vaad anyway, but it is doubtful if any one of them had planned on pledging that much.

Most of the participants are not wealthy by modern world standards. They are affluent men, who make their parnossoh by the sweat of their own hands, but their hearts are big. They give far more than they had intended, because the visions of what they have seen give them no peace.

The Mashgiach of Lakewood opens the appeal with a fiery speech. He is giving a discount to no one. He knocks them on the head and demands that each one of them contribute above and beyond their means.

"I know," says HaRav Salomon, "that the same grating question is revolving around all of your heads: Why do I need to give so much money to these places, to save another Jewish child or two, when for exactly the same amount, I could support dozens of children learning Torah in yeshivos and Talmud Torahs in other places?

"I will answer your question, even though you did not dare to ask it publicly. Imagine a father who has many children and one of them is a special needs child. Naturally, the father realizes that he has to shower a lot of money on that child, to help his progress -- much more than he allots for his other children.

"Now, what if that same father insists that his money has to be equally distributed among all of his children, and each has to be given an equal portion? Can you imagine anything more heartless? The father knows perfectly well that any hope of helping this son progress, of lifting him to freedom, of granting him an equal opportunity for social adjustment, must depend on the funds he dedicates to this child. Giving this child, choliloh, the same amount as the other children is simply cruelty.

"HaKodosh Boruch Hu also has children with special needs; they are the Jewish neshomos who live in these areas. And these children need more money, more care and more attention than other children do. They are the children of our Father in Heaven, as are all Jewish children throughout the world, but these are the special needs children. Anyone who says he is giving these children the same amount as he gives children in other places is nothing but heartless!

"I know," continues the Mashgiach of Lakewood continues with a sigh, "that there are those who counterattack: `How can you leave the talmidim in your holy yeshiva for more than a week, and go off to such remote places?'

"But gentlemen, these accusations don't bother me at all. I don't regret, not even for an instant, becoming the president of this holy enterprise, no matter what burden it entails. For these precious Jewish children are the children of HaKodosh Boruch Hu, and they need a caressing hand, a warm word, and a great deal of money. Because they are also HaKodosh Boruch Hu's special children, the special needs children, for whom we must dedicate far more than what we give other children!"

After these warm words, no one can remain indifferent. Each in turn announces the sum he is contributing for the local operation.

Let's take, for example, the appeal that was held at the end of the day's visit to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Rabbi Boruch Hertz, an affluent businessman and one of the mainstays of the Vaad, directs the appeal. He has personally `adopted' the Jewish operation in Georgia, and previously donated the school building which is named Tiferet Zvi, after his late father. Now he donates $100,000 to pay for a new and larger building, to meet the growing needs of the school. After that impressive donation, he calls on others to contribute as generously as possible. And the donations pour in, as Rabbis Neustadt and Rothschild note them down.

Then another long-standing friend of the Vaad, Rabbi Ephraim Hansfeld, gets up and reminds everyone of the operations in Azerbaijan and charges the participants to contribute to this cause too. Rabbi Boruch Hertz immediately responds to the appeal, and even though he had not planned to do so, he immediately pledges another $18,000 for the Azerbaijan agenda. Again, another round of pledges is conducted for this community too.

Money is streaming in from all sides, but Rabbi Neustadt never looks satisfied, not for an instant. He knows full well that even after this impressive appeal, the budget for the operations will require far greater sums. Furthermore, as the additional money comes in, the operations will grow but the needs will also grow correspondingly. That is the virtuous cycle of Hatzoloh operations.

Nevertheless, Rabbi Neustadt cannot conceal his pride in his Vaad friends, Jews who are inspired with a great inner strength and a powerful desire to give.

Yated Hashavua, 24 Kislev, December 19,2003, page 48

Nagorno-Karabakh -- and the Jewish Issue

by Yitzchok Roth and Eliezer Rauchberger

The name Nagorno-Karabakh perhaps jogs in the reader a rather hazy memory from the not too distant past. In a certain period the name appeared in the news columns, though not the front ones, following a war that was fought over this territory. Until a little over 10 years ago Azerbaijan ruled over this autonomous region. However, following the war against neighboring Armenia, which was actually started by Azerbaijan, Armenia conquered this area.

Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijan refugees escaped in the thick of the battles between the conquered zone and Azerbaijan, and settled in refugee camps. There they have remained until this very day, abandoned to their fate, subsisting in appalling, subhuman conditions, prey to the brutal cold in the winters and to the blazing heat in the summer months.

Azerbaijan's leaders find the Nagorno-Karabakh refugee problem most vexing. The million refugees, who amount to one seventh of the total population of the country, impose a heavy financial strain, with which the heads of state claim they are unable to contend. They have applied for aid from the international community.

The US originally placed sanctions on Azerbaijan for initiating the war, causing international aid to be withheld from the refugees for quite a few years. However, in recent years, as a result of political activism by Jewish groups in Washington, this ban was lifted, permitting humanitarian organizations to grant aid to these poor, wretched people.

What has all this got to do with the Vaad LeHatzoloh trip? Well, as we all know, everything that happens in the world is connected, in one way or another, to the Jewish people. Even that long-forgotten war has today become a major impetus for the burgeoning of the Vaad operation in Azerbaijan.

Rabbi Moshe Kashei, Vaad LeHatzoloh shaliach in Azerbaijan, realized, shortly after his arrival in the state, that he would be able to work with greater freedom and a great deal of help from the government if he could get the Vaad LeHatzoloh to join the efforts to aid the Nagorno- Karabakh refugees.

Consequently, the Vaad was declared an international humanitarian organization to aid all kinds of people in need. This enabled the Vaad to operate freely in Azerbaijan and with government support.

The Vaad took several refugee camps under its wing, numbering about 15,000 people, and began distributing food and clothing to them as humanitarian aid. And that is how the Vaad LeHatzoloh gained official recognition in Azerbaijan, and the enormous sympathy of the government authorities.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the Vaad LeHatzoloh delegation which arrived in Azerbaijan was designated, `the guests of the President.' A magnificent bus, used to transport guests of top-ranking government officials--was placed at the delegation's disposal. Two police cars accompanied the bus as it made its way through the capital city of Baku, one traveling ahead with flashing lights and paving the way by stopping all traffic and ignoring the traffic lights, and the other trailing behind the bus.

As far as all the necessary entry and exit permits were concerned, everything was arranged without delays or hitches, as befitted the guests of the President.

Furthermore, when the delegation flew from the capital city of Baku to the little town of Kubah in a special helicopter placed at their disposal, the helicopter landed in barren, isolated terrain, to highlight for the travelers the Vaad's crucial role in aiding the refugees.

There, on a plateau between the mountains, far from any living habitation, one of the hundreds of refugee camps is located. In makeshift structures made of wood and metal live several dozen families, men, women and children, who have been rooted to this place for more than a decade, in dreadful conditions. The little children often die due to exposure to the treacherous cold and the appalling malnourishment.

However, if it were not for the Vaad's aid in dispatching vital foodstuffs and warm clothing, it is doubtful if any of the refugees would have survived.

Thus, the Azerbaijan war against Armenia has been transformed into a springboard of major importance in terms of Vaad LeHatzoloh operations for Jews in Azerbaijan.

Yated Hashavuo, 24 Kislev, December 19, 2003, page 44

Planning and Implementation -- Rabbi Zeev Rothschild

by Yitzchok Roth and Eliezer Rauchberger

Organizing a journey like that of the Vaad LeHatzoloh delegation is no simple matter. The delegation, which was composed of more than 40 members, was supposed to travel through six states in a mere seven days. The time available is limited and has to be utilized to the maximum. The organization has to be exacting to the last detail, since the circumstances of the trip make it most difficult to improvise.

There has to be organized transportation in every site, overnight accommodations, food in some of the locations and during traveling time, entry and exit permits, and another thousand-and-one different and often peculiar details. Only highly disciplined and efficient planning can ensure the success of a mission such as this one.

The central figure in the logistics and planning is Rabbi Zeev Rothschild, the right hand-man of Vaad chairman Rabbi Mordechai Neustadt. He too, like Rabbi Neustadt, abandoned all his private businesses to devote himself completely to his volunteer work for the Vaad LeHatzoloh. He is the man behind the scenes, on whom the success of the journey depends.

Only when you see, on a daily basis, the problems that come up, and the different needs of the members of the delegation, do you begin to grasp what lies behind the organization of this journey.

With his characteristic modesty, Rabbi Rothschild joined the trip as just another delegate; but actually he inspects and oversees everything to ensure that things run smoothly. No problem or obstacle ever rattles his peace of mind. For him, there is always a solution.

For instance, imagine you arrive in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, only to discover that the hotel where your delegation was supposed to stay for three nights had mistakenly only booked them for two? And nothing can be done about it, because other hotel guests have already booked that third night.

Certainly, you would start looking for another hotel.

But what if you then found that none of the decent hotels in the area had any vacancies, and you needed a hotel with no less than ten vacant rooms?

Are any members of the delegation aware of how serious the problem is? And does Rabbi Rothschild look irritated or worried. Not in the slightest. A little patience, and he is sure that everything will be sorted out. Eventually, they will find a hotel, and members of the delegation will have a place to put their weary heads down on that third night.

That's the way it is with every detail of the trip: Rabbi Rothschild is always there to make sure everything runs smoothly and on an even keel.

The crates of food brought by the delegation are arranged and marked for each specific location, and for each specific journey. For longer journeys of more than a few hours, Rabbi Rothschild makes sure there is plenty of food and drink for his travelers.

Everything is done in the same quiet, calm and unassuming manner. But when anyone attempts to thank him for all his efforts, he looks astounded as if he has no idea what it has to do with him.

Fortunate indeed is the Vaad to have a person like Rabbi Rothschild as a member!


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