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Wednesday
Nov282012

ELOKUS IN ITALIAN

The story of Lessons in Tanya in Italian. * Presented for Yud-Tes Kislev.

R’ Amir HaLevi of Afula relates:

In 5764, when I was twenty years old, I went to Italy to study industrial design at the University of Milan. However, shortly after I landed in Italy, I found out that they would not grant me a student visa, which would make it difficult for me to stay there long term. Nevertheless, I decided to remain in Italy and try my luck. I had a feeling that things would work out for the best. With a backpack and 500 Euros I began the journey that changed my life.

Thanks to friends who hosted me in the Jewish community, I was able to manage for a while until I got a job as a security guard at a shul where they provided me with living quarters. Being close to the shul exposed me to Judaism. I had nobody holding me back as far as friends and family, and I began becoming more familiar with Judaism.

I started attending minyan and shiurim on a regular basis in the Beis HaTalmud community of Milan, run by the shliach R’ Tzemach Mizrachi, where I first became exposed to the Tanya. Since I had a lot of free time, I continued learning Tanya for many hours every day.

I began keeping Torah and mitzvos and getting more involved with Chabad. Today, in hindsight, I feel that that was the real purpose of my trip to Italy.

THE REBBE MADE A SURPRISING REQUEST

After spending a year in Italy, Amir was told that his grandfather, who had raised him like a father, was seriously sick. His family informed him that the doctors did not expect the grandfather to live much longer.

Amir quickly decided to return to Eretz Yisroel to be with him. 

“I would visit him every day and put t’fillin on with him and cheer him up,” said Amir.

Three weeks went by and Amir had to return to Italy to take entrance exams for the coming school year. He was faced with a dilemma. Should he return to Italy and try to get accepted to the university or remain with his beloved grandfather and put t’fillin on with him and give him moral support?

He spoke to R’ Shimon Yardeni, shliach in the area where he lived and asked his opinion. R’ Yardeni said he should ask the Rebbe through the Igros Kodesh.

Amir wrote a letter to the Rebbe in which he presented his two options along with the pros and cons. The letter he opened to was about translating the Tanya into Italian in Milan and publishing it at the earliest opportunity. However, on the left side was a letter about the importance of the mitzva of t’fillin.

“I was very confused,” says Amir, “because the letter on the right seemed to indicate that I should return to Italy while the letter on the left, about t’fillin, referred to something I did with my grandfather. I asked R’ Yardeni again what I should do.

“He asked me whether I knew about or had any connection with the translation of Tanya into Italian. I recalled that a few months earlier, when I began working for a publishing house in Milan, I spoke with one of the Italian employees by the name of Mrs. Esther Levy (today Namdar) who had become close to Chabad. She told me that she began translating Tanya into Italian a few years earlier, using Lessons in Tanya and this was after opening to a letter in the Igros Kodesh from which she understood how to go about it and from where to begin the translation. However, for certain reasons, she stopped translating it.

“After telling this to R’ Yardeni, he told me that he thought my choices were either to travel to Italy and be involved in translating the Tanya into Italian, or to remain with my grandfather and put t’fillin on with him. In any case, university was not for me, and so if the purpose of my trip was to pass the entrance exams, I shouldn’t go.

“After thinking about it a lot, I decided to go back to Italy and work on translating the Tanya and to publish it as a merit for my grandfather.”

After taking leave of his grandfather, Amir returned to Milan, though not before arranging for bachurim to visit his grandfather and put t’fillin on with him every day. Even when he was hospitalized, they went to visit him and put t’fillin on with him and other people.

HASHGACHA PRATIS VIA TELEPHONE

Upon returning to Milan, the first thing Amir did was to contact the woman who had started translating the Tanya. He arranged to meet with her in order to read to her the Rebbe’s letter he had opened to, where it said that printing one book would lead to printing another book.

It should be noted that there already was a Tanya translated into Italian from the year 5727, a translation that was done under the supervision of R’ Gershon Mendel Garelik, Chabad rav of Milan. However, this translation translated the words without any explanation, so that it was still very difficult for someone to understand.

“At the conclusion of our meeting, we decided to publish a translation and to continue together from where she had left off.”

Esther began translating Tanya according to Lessons in Tanya in English, while Amir compared the translation to the Hebrew edition in order to ensure that it would remain faithful to the original.

How did Amir, an Israeli, know Italian so well? Amir said, “I learned Italian very quickly when I was here, partly thanks to my working in the publishing house of R’ Bechor.”

After three months of intensive work, with almost no sleep and tremendous dedication on Esther’s part, they had six chapters of Tanya from Igeres HaT’shuva, translated into Italian. The question then arose, where would they get the money to print it and where would they find someone who understood Tanya and knew Italian, who could check the translation.

“I remembered that when I had first stayed in Milan, I was taken to a Yud-Tes Kislev farbrengen at R’ Shaikowitz’s Chabad house. R’ Gershon Mendel Garelik spoke about the importance of translating the Tanya into Italian once again. He said he was looking for someone to do it and said there was money for it. I got R’ Garelik’s phone number.”

Amir was ambivalent about calling R’ Garelik since he was a newcomer to Judaism. Finally, the Rebbe’s answer gave him the courage to call.

“I introduced myself and said that I was a student, a mekurav of Chabad, and that I had six chapters of Igeres HaT’shuva translated and elucidated. In the same breath, I referred to what he said on Yud-Tes Kislev.

“R’ Garelik was silent for a while and then I heard him laugh. He asked me to call him back in five minutes.

“I called him back and R’ Garelik explained his request and his laughter. He asked me, ‘Do you know what day it is today?’ I said, ‘Sunday.’ He said, ‘Today is the yahrtzait of a member of the Zippel family of Milan. When you told me about your translation, I was in the middle of reading a letter from the Rebbe to the Zippel brothers about the importance of translating Igeres HaT’shuva into Italian.’

“R’ Garelik expressed great interest in our translation. He said that the Tanya translated into Italian was so important to the Rebbe that he sent it as a gift to Shazar and referred to it in one of his letters. R’ Garelik and I agreed to meet soon.”

The meeting took place and they agreed that Amir would continue to work on the translation and not worry about paying for the printing.

Esther worked hard on additional chapters of Tanya in the office she was given by R’ Shlomo Bechor (the boss of the publishing house that Amir worked in). The work went on day and night until it was completed.

An Israeli student, Yair Varon, who was studying in Italy, did the layout and another student, Effi Roner, designed the cover.

WELL-RECEIVED

The translation was published by Kehos and Merkos L’Inyanei Chinuch under the auspices of R’ Garelik. It was given out as a gift on Yud-Tes Kislev 5765 at the main farbrengen and afterward, was sold in stores at a token price. All copies were quickly grabbed up.

In the months to follow, Amir met his wife, also a student who had gone to Italy in a student exchange program and had also gotten involved with Chabad. They met at one of the many Shabbos meals arranged by R’ Tzemach Mizrachi for students in Milan.

They planned on returning to Eretz Yisroel and marrying. In a letter that Amir opened to in the Igros Kodesh, the Rebbe wrote to continue working in his new location on the project he started, despite the distance and difficulties.

They couple returned to Eretz Yisroel and married in Afula. Today, the couple lives in Afula. Amir is finishing his law studies. He is active in the Beis Midrash Ariel for Torah and Chassidus where he established a spiritual enrichment program for women and children.

Over the years, Amir has published some of Shaar Ha’Yichud V’Ha’Emuna translated into Italian, the maamer “V’Kibel HaYehudim,” and a series of brochures for Shabbos in French, English, and Spanish, thanks to friends who help fund it. He also worked on a booklet on the topic of Moshiach and Geula in Italian, which explains it even for those Jews who are not yet religiously observant (and for non-Jews).

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