BUYING THE BUILDING ON HOTHAM STREET
December 26, 2012
Avremele Rainitz in #862, Memoirs

R’ Zalman reports to the Rebbe about the miracles that happened in connection with the purchase of the new yeshiva building. * From the life of R’ Yehoshua Shneur Zalman Serebryanski a”h.

It was after R’ Zalman thought he had explored all possibilities and had nearly reached the point of despair that salvation suddenly occurred. A suitable building was found in the center of the Jewish community. The committee was enthusiastic about it and decided to buy it. The owner agreed that they could pay part of the sum in cash and the rest in installments. When the owner died a short time later, his wife and son donated the rest of what was owed to the yeshiva in the man’s memory.

All this did not happen in one day, of course, but over a period of months, yet R’ Zalman felt that the wheel was starting to turn and the many brachos that the Rebbe had showered them with were beginning to be fulfilled.

This is how R’ Zalman described the chain of events in a long letter that he wrote to the Rebbe on 20 Adar I 5714/1954:

After half a year of searching for a building for the yeshiva, and after the anguish we suffered, and in recent weeks seeing that under these circumstances the holy mosad might collapse, I was despondent and there were days that I could do nothing. I did not even have strength to walk.

In my personal life, Hashem granted me what definitely came from the “concealed world,” and we endured great suffering, may Hashem have mercy. However, this must be accepted with love, and this is what we did. We accepted the suffering with love and we ask Hashem to have mercy on us with the endowment of open good, especially when the Rebbe displayed great kiruv to us in our personal matters.

But regarding the yeshiva, I could not find consolation. I spoke of my sorrow to Anash and my children, and we wondered: Why doesn’t Hashem grant us success in finding a suitable building?

There were two buildings that could be considered because they were suitable in some way. For the first building they wanted 15,000 and for the second building they wanted 13,000, but most members of the committee opposed buying these buildings because of the cost.

Seeing the situation with the yeshiva, that we could wait no longer, I went last Thursday evening to Mr. Neuman and asked him to help us buy the building for 13,000. He promised to meet with me the following week, on Sunday, at three in the afternoon, for me to show him the building.

In the meantime, I found out from the newspapers Sunday morning about the sale of a big building for 20,000. Although I could not even speculate about buying such a building, I still asked R’ Sholom [Gutnick] to arrange a meeting for 3:30 to see it.

I waited for Mr. Neuman. When three o’clock passed and he hadn’t arrived, I was very upset. I said to my son Chaim that I had no more strength to bear this. I would have to write to the Rebbe that if Hashem did not grant me success, I could no longer be involved with the yeshiva.

As I was saying this, Mr. Neuman arrived and we went to see the 13,000 building and nearly decided to buy it. Nevertheless, we decided to also see the large building. As soon as we arrived, upon seeing the large rooms which were more beautiful than anything we had seen, Mr. Neuman was very impressed and he told me we had to buy it. He immediately began talking with the owner.

The end of the matter was reached last night. Nearly all the members of the committee met at Mr. Neuman’s house, and after some discussion we all went to the building as Mr. Neuman had prearranged with the owner. It was 9:30 at night and we were there for over two hours. Thank G-d, we concluded the purchase at 18,000 lira (referring to Australian Dollars – Ed.), but now we have to get permits from the city to have a yeshiva there and a shul, because they told us that if we did not get a permit, it was possible that when they heard that we were doing it on our own, that they would not allow it. So we need great mercy, because a building like this is hard to find, especially in the very center of where Jews live.

May Hashem have mercy on us to grant us success in our buying and arranging for the yeshiva to be located in it, and that from now on we should be able to report to the Rebbe only good, happy news.

***

In the letters that R’ Zalman sent the Rebbe in those days, he noted in amazement how the members of the committee had changed their minds when they saw the new building. For during the previous year they had said that a small building would have to suffice at a cost of up to 10,000 (they had 6000 from the sale of the building in Burwood, another 2000 from commitments of wealthy people, and the members of the committee were willing to undertake responsibility for another small sum) and now they sat down for serious negotiations over a building whose cost was 20,000!

The building made a good impression on all the members of the committee. It was spacious and had a huge yard behind it, much like a ranch, with forty fruit trees and chicken coops. The owner was a Jew in his seventies by the name of David Lieber. In his youth he had emigrated from Europe, had done well in business, and was very wealthy. He owned a number of theaters. His wife was good natured and kept basic mitzvos like kashrus of foods and separating milk and meat.

When he met with the members of the committee, his wife was present. Mr. Lieber told the committee that a few days earlier a delegation of members of a Christian community had visited him. They wanted to buy the building and have a cloister there. They offered 25,000 for the building and he nearly agreed, but then his wife intervened and said she refused to have a Christian building on their land. Now, when the members of the vaad wanted to buy the building for the yeshiva, his wife was happy and he agreed to lower the price to 20,000. R’ Dovid Feiglin conducted the negotiations and managed to get the price lowered to 18,000.

Since the vaad had 6000 available and another 2000 in commitments, they suggested to Mr. Lieber that when they signed the contract they would give him 8000, and would pay the rest in installments, 1000 a year. Mr. Lieber, who was not religiously observant, asked how much interest they were willing to pay. R’ Zalman explained that according to the Torah, it was forbidden to pay or accept interest. Mr. Lieber finally agreed to forgo the interest.

At this point, R’ Zalman saw they were about to sign a contract and he quickly sent a telegram to the Rebbe with the good news. But when he went to Mr. Lieber’s house to sign the contract, he discovered that it would not be happening so fast. Mr. Lieber was very particular about every clause in the contract. The contract he had prepared contained thirty pages with every detail about the sale. He wanted to be sure they would pay all the money, down to the last penny, and he put dozens of conditions and exceptions into the contract, in which only after they finished paying would the hanhala of the yeshiva receive absolute ownership of the building. Until then, according to the contract, the hanhala could make no changes to the building.

All this took close to a month. R’ Zalman reported to the Rebbe about the delays, and in a letter that he sent on 26 Adar I he wrote:

About the building, I sent a telegram about the completion of the purchase and that we need much mercy to obtain a permit from the city to have a yeshiva there. When we went yet again, yesterday, to complete the purchase, the owner began weighing us down with conditions. We were there for two hours, and the matter remained hanging.

Now, the main protagonist in this is R’ Dovid Feiglin. Previously, the opinion of the Feiglin family was that we should buy a building commensurate with the money we had, but when they saw this building they changed their minds and all agreed to buy it, not considering the great expense, and that according to their assessment it is not worth that much. They estimated it at 15,000, but since it is suitable for the yeshiva both because of its size and quality and because of its location, they all agreed to buy it. Now, the delay is due to the weighty conditions of the seller.

As for applying for a permit, the entire Feiglin family is of the opinion not to ask for it now, and we will see later. They are residents of this country, and therefore we relied on them in this matter. Regardless, we need great success in completing the purchase so that we can, with Hashem’s help, buy it immediately on easy terms and so that we don’t have concealments and difficulties from the police. Just as Hashem helped us by providing us with this building, so too it is vital that Hashem help us buy it and in all the rest of the details, for we do not know what else we can do.

We visited with Mr. Gutwirth and he gave us regards, as well as twenty shekel (i.e. dollars) for the farbrengen, from the Rebbe. We have yet to suggest any specific involvement in the yeshiva on his part and we only spoke in general terms with him. When we buy the building, G-d willing, and approach the issue of setting up a working committee, we will consider then what to propose to him. And may Hashem have mercy and help us with good counsel and with much success.

We are willing to devote ourselves to the yeshiva and all matters of the Rebbe with all our beings; it is only vital that Hashem grant us success, for otherwise, G-d forbid, we cannot hope to sustain and certainly not develop the mosad.

Yehoshua Shneur Zalman ben Nechama

***

After sending off the letter with the report, R’ Zalman received the Rebbe’s response to his first letter and the telegram. It contained the Rebbe’s blessing to buy the building and a check from one of the Rebbe Rayatz’s funds.

R’ Zalman gave the check for 100 AUD to the Feiglin family as a sign of appreciation for their efforts on behalf of the yeshiva.

While arranging the final details in the contract, the committee also worked on obtaining permits from the city which would enable them to change the legal status of the building from a private farm to a public building. They received the permit at the end of Adar II and R’ Zalman quickly reported about this to the Rebbe.

***

Since the committee did not want to incur great expenses, R’ Zalman decided to carry out his plans for the yeshiva in stages. In the first phase, he planned on having an afternoon Talmud Torah. This would be a program for Jewish children attending public school, whose parents wanted them to gain general Jewish knowledge. Once the students became used to attending Talmud Torah and the parents would like it, it would be possible to move on to the second phase, a full-time program.

R’ Zalman also planned on having another program for the evening in which talmidim from the yeshiva would learn with older bachurim or men from the community in an evening Kollel. R’ Zalman knew a scholarly young man who had learned in the yeshiva in Lublin and was willing to come once or twice a week to the Kollel and give shiurim. R’ Zalman hoped to enlist other men from Anash to give shiurim in Nigleh and Chassidus.

The biggest challenge was organizing the afternoon Talmud Torah. R’ Zalman believed that within a short time he would have 150 students who would need several talented teachers, and these did not exist. The only one he could ask to learn with young boys was the talmid Yaakov Eliezer Herzog, one of the older bachurim in the yeshiva, who gave shiurim in Gemara to younger boys in the yeshiva. He would be able to teach children for two hours a day.

R’ Zalman himself could not teach, both because he still did not know English well enough and because as menahel of the yeshiva he had to travel occasionally and might have to go on fund-raising trips.

Having no other options, R’ Zalman thought he would have to ask his son Aharon and his friend Shmuel Gurewitz to leave their learning for two hours every day and teach the younger boys. In his letter to the Rebbe he described this option as a “painful consideration,” and he wrote, “I say ‘painful’ because simple logic dictates that they themselves should still be learning, and I hoped they could travel to the Rebbe. Also, according to my understanding, they are not so suited to this for they don’t have the requisite patience and there are other deficiencies. Therefore, I present the situation as it is and ask for the Rebbe’s instruction in this matter. If the Rebbe decides that they should be involved in the yeshiva, then I ask and plead for mercy for them that Hashem increase their physical strength and give them spiritual strength so they can accomplish in a proper fashion and bring about the necessary benefit, and also that Hashem provide what they lack in their own chinuch and may they still merit to go to the Rebbe.

***

R’ Zalman then went on to bring up a sensitive point that could create tensions between the members of the committee. Amongst the members were some who belonged to the Mizrachi party. R’ Dovid Feiglin, for example, who was an active member of the committee and a major player when it came to buying the building, was chairman of the Mizrachi party in Australia. Although, in his personal life, R’ Dovid zealously observed Torah and mitzvos, he was also very devoted to the party.

Now that the yeshiva had bought a building in the center of Jewish life in Melbourne, R’ Zalman feared that R’ Dovid, as well as other members of the committee, would want to allow the children of the Mizrachi party to meet in the yeshiva building. Perhaps they would even ask to allow them to hold the Yavneh youth activities in the building. If these talmidim would attend activities run by Lubavitchers that would not be a problem; on the contrary. But R’ Zalman was afraid that they would want to have other activities there, under their own auspices, and would sing their songs there, etc. This was out of the question. So R’ Zalman asked the Rebbe for a bracha that he be able to walk between the raindrops by standing strong on the principles of the yeshiva while not insulting them. He did not want them to become his opponents!

R’ Zalman concluded his long letter with a request that he repeated several times in his letters, that the Rebbe send a Chassid of stature, who knew English, who could lead the Chabad mosdos of Australia forward, at least for a year. As he put it, if until then, during the yeshiva’s stay in Shepparton and Burwood, they had excuses for all the deficiencies (like being located at a distance etc.), now that they were in the center of the community and in a big, beautiful building, they could not justify not being up to par.

“The goal is to increase the number of students and to expand proper chinuch, especially inner (i.e. Chabad Chassidic) chinuch. It is obvious that we, who don’t know the language and are not familiar with the children’s sensibilities and games, even if we were good educators, would not be able to properly work with the children here.”

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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