ADAR ALL YEAR ROUND
March 13, 2018
Menachem Ziegelboim in #1110, Adar, Interview, simcha

Both are originally from Bat Yam. Both bring joy to Jews. And both experienced the tragic loss of a child. Despite the difficulty, the two became charged up through their grief and continue to provide joy- inducing programming on a regular basis to thousands of people. During the month of joy, Beis Moshiach sat down with RAmi Maimon, theminister of joyand radio broadcaster of the most popular chareidi program, and the shliach in Kiryat Arba - Chevron, RViktor Atia, themagic shliach,” for a serious conversation about simcha-joy.

In the evening hours, on a Sunday in this month of Adar, I managed to sit down for an hour and a half with RAmi Maimon and RViktor Atia for a serious conversation about simcha, the month of Adar, and their daily work, despite their packed schedules. Among the topics we covered was how to get people to have more simcha, no small challenge.

It was a magical hour of smiling, lots of smiling actually, along with a serious give and take about their challenge to bring joy to people’s lives. To them, simcha is not relegated exclusively to the month of Adar, but to each and every month, all year round.

Due to unforeseen traffic delays, we met a bit later than scheduled in the offices of the Kol Berama religious radio station, at the edge of B’nei Brak. Whoever knows these two, knows that it is impossible to just sit down with them for a talk. On the way to our session, they made a stop in the office of the director of radio Kol Berama, Ariel Dery. Viktor pulled out two or three magic tricks, leaving the boss and few of the workers present with open mouths. Inside of three minutes, all inhibitions vanished. On the spot, the director invited him to participate in an event being held by the radio station.

THE EARLY DAYS

The two know each other for about thirty years, when they both lived in Bat Yam, under the influence of the shliach of the Rebbe there, R’ Zimroni Tzik.

It began when R’ Ami was in the first grade in the Chabad school in Yaffo. After classes, he would participate in the after-school program led by R’ Shemtov Peranta, where he also met R’ Viktor Atia, who served as a counselor.

Under the guidance of R’ Tzik, he went to learn in the Chabad yeshiva k’tana (mesivta) in Kiryat Gat, and he married at a very young age upon receiving the Rebbe’s blessing to do so.

Already at a young age, Ami loved to put a smile on people’s faces. He was always ready with a joke and spot on imitations of famous characters, which would leave people rolling with laughter. “Everybody liked to hang out with me, and they were always asking for another joke,” he tells. “And this gave me a lot of self-confidence.”

R’ Viktor Atia grew up in a traditional home in Bat Yam, where they would make kiddush and then turn on the television. He attended a local elementary school and then went to a city high school in Yaffo. He was excellent in sports, well liked socially, and life was good. Despite that, he began to feel some void in his soul, or as he admits, “Something was missing in my life.”

One day, as he was walking on the street in Bat Yam, a Chabadnik put tefillin on him and then invited him to come for Kabbalas Shabbos being held in the Chabad yeshiva in Bat Yam. When he came, he encountered the serenity and joy that he was searching for, and this is what connected him to the Rebbe. “The main thing that drew me was the farbrengens and niggunim of Chabad. I felt like this was an elevator to higher worlds, to realms that I had never known.”

R’ Viktor began to slowly become more involved in Jewish life and practice. At a certain point, R’ Zimroni told him that every person needs to do something to become more “connected,” and suggested that he work with children to give them some exposure to Yiddishkait. As R’ Viktor recalls, “I am a naturally shy person, but despite that I began to gather children together. I would show up at the Gan Haraftekaot preschool right next to my parents’ home, gather the children and tell them stories of tzaddikim. We would say p’sukim together and they would hear ‘ah bissele’ Yiddishkait.”

R’ Viktor has an interesting story to share in connection with his activities from those days:

“About two-three years ago, I arrived in the Machane Yehuda market in Yerushalayim to buy fish for Shabbos. Two soldiers recognized me from the work that we do with the soldiers in Chevron, and they asked me to do a few magic tricks. I said okay, and took out a long balloon, blew it up and began swallowing it slowly like they do in juggling acts. Meanwhile, a large group of adults and children began to gather around me. Afterward, I bent some spoons and did a few of the other tricks that I usually do in my shows.

“When I finished, two guys approached me, hefty fellows wearing hats and suits. ‘Kevod HaRav, do you remember us?’ I looked them over closely but could not remember. ‘We are the Eida brothers,’ they said. It turns out that the first taste of Judaism that they got was from me at the Gan Haraftekaot. We got into a conversation reminiscing about things that happened thirty years ago. They went on to tell me that their father was not feeling well at the time and I had recommended that they write to the Rebbe, and it was the bracha from the Rebbe that helped him regain his health. ‘From then, our emuna was strengthened and we both became baalei teshuva.’

“Afterward, I thought to myself; you went and gathered together children from the street out of a sense of kabbalas ol, without thinking that there would be any results, and thirty years later, out of the blue, you are shown the fruits of the influence that you had.”

THE DAY LIFE CHANGED

The interview took place at one of the busiest times of the year for them. R’ Ami was busy recording radio programs for hundreds of thousands of listeners, and he also brings joy at weddings and is an emcee at various events. R’ Viktor travels the country, performing before a variety of audiences of all backgrounds and ages. Along with his magic tricks, he tells his life story.

Aside from that, the two have something tragic in common in that they both lost young children. On 20 Av 5766, Chaya Mushka Atia, eight years old, was burned to death, r”l. She was burned all over and suffered smoke inhalation and although the medics who arrived gave her first aid, they could not stabilize her.

R’ Viktor: “At the time, I was consoling a family that lost their son in one of the military campaigns. They told me there was a fire near my house and asked me to come immediately. When I arrived, I got the worst news of all.”

Nine years later, on 1 Adar 5775, one week after his bar mitzva, R’ Ami’s son, Yehuda Shmuel, suddenly passed away.

R’ Ami: “Yehuda Shmuel was born as a normal child. At the age of four, we noticed something strange in his behavior. Sometimes he lost his balance and fell. My wife and I took him for tests in which the doctors discovered that he had an incurable genetic disease in which the body deteriorates. Only six people in the country have this terrible disease. The doctors did not give him much time, but we fought for him. We knew that it was a privilege to raise this neshama. Our entire home revolved around him so he would be comfortable. I would take him to events that I performed at; I wasn’t embarrassed of him. I would go in with the prince on his wagon.

“When he became bar mitzva, we made him a lavish celebration in a hall like any bar mitzva boy and invited hundreds of family and friends. They all blessed him and I was sure that I would begin my next radio program with the announcement that all the brachos came true and Yehuda Shmuel was healthy, an open miracle.

“I remember that before his bar mitzva, I opened a volume of Igros Kodesh and a letter was addressed to someone named ‘Yehuda Shmuel,’ an uncommon name which I don’t recall seeing in other letters. At the end of the letter, the Rebbe wishes ‘refua shleima,’ and writes encouraging words to a sick person. I was very encouraged by this. The next letter was a letter of consolation in which the Rebbe comforts mourners. Of course, I thought the first letter applied to me.

“On his final night, I sat with Yehuda Shmuel and made him laugh and he was so happy. In the morning, he was gone; he did not wake up from his sleep. He left behind his new suit and new tefillin. His mission in the world was over. He rectified whatever needed fixing and brought much joy to our house.”

How do you muster the strength to go on, not to mention bring joy to people?

R’ Viktor: From the pain, you can give people much more. You learn to value whatever you got from G-d; nothing is a given.

R’ Ami: After getting up from Shiva, I started my broadcast with our life story. I told all about my son, the years of suffering, how for years he was nourished only via a tube. I told how we had to provide him with constant supervision, and how we did not give up over the years and always kept looking for a cure, anywhere in the world, in order to save him. This is what Yehuda Shmuel taught us and this is our motto in life, not to give up. Nothing is impossible. If necessary, you turn the world over to achieve your goal.

TO TURN PAIN INTO JOY

R’ Ami has a popular radio program called Chidoron, every day between 2 and 4:00 in the afternoon. Recent surveys show that his program is the most listened to among religious listeners. His program includes quizzes, riddles and humorous bits, and puts a smile on tens of thousands of faces every day.

R’ Ami’s name is well-known and yet, he is still very approachable. He answers phones and uses his abilities to help people in distress.

R’ Viktor: “I know people who were hanging between life and death, and R’ Ami saved them with his wide-ranging contacts. In general, he helps people in an extraordinary fashion.

“There was someone in Bat Yam who had a tumor in his head and needed an expensive operation that cost hundreds of thousands of shekels. His father was in a panic. Then R’ Ami came into the picture. On his show he said in his characteristic high-speed patter, ‘If they brought me to the world just for this, to save this young man, dayeini.’ Within a few hours, the entire amount was raised.”

R’ Ami nods. “I forgot about that,” he laughed his contagious laugh. Then he immediately grew serious. “There are people who see certain obstacles in their lives and panic. With me, it’s different. I don’t see the problem. I see Hashem running the world and what is lacking is just prayer.”

It’s not as easy as you make it out to be …

“Right, but this ability comes from learning Chassidus and hiskashrus to the Rebbe. That’s the formula.

“Look, there are nice moments in life, for example, the latest survey that showed that my program is, once again, in first place. That definitely makes me happy. Furthermore, every night I go out to bring joy to people and this is also a big gift from Hashem and the Rebbe. At the same time, we all go through hardships including in my own family. You never know where the hardships will drag you.

“Raising Yehuda Shmuel was an enormous undertaking and after his passing, there was a void in our lives. Everything was easier but boring.”

And yet, you need to compose yourself, gather your strength, and go out and make people happy. Where do you get the strength for this?

R’ Ami: There is a halacha that says that a vessel that is busy discharging does not absorb; whoever is engaged in having a positive influence on others is not subject to outside influences. Similarly, somebody who goes out to cheer up other Jews, cannot be sad. I circulate among many depressed people in hospitals, or people with other hardships, and I see really severe cases, and I learn from that the need to have the proper perspective on life.

Isn’t the “sad clown” a real phenomenon?

R’ Ami (cracks up laughing): That is only in the stories; we are living real life here.

Look, that does not mean that there are no sad moments, of painful recollections. I also have things in life that at times don’t work out, so what then? You cry a bit, wipe away the tears and move on.

R’ Viktor: I would like to expand on what R’ Ami just said, for a moment. When a person is bored, he can become depressed from the thoughts that flood his mind, but when life is full, there is no time to be sad. A person, and especially a Chassid, has to fill himself up with the study of Chassidus or be in a place where he is giving to others, so that you have no time to be sad. I also have times when there are downturns and difficulties, and sometimes there are sacrifices that have to be made and we don’t always succeed in understanding the reason for it. However, the job of a Jew, and a Chassid in particular, is to be a lamplighter who gives off light, who is giving to and influencing others.

R’ Ami: It is our privilege to be Chassidim of the Rebbe, and for a Chassid everything operates differently. Take last night as an example; despite all my workload as the producer of a radio program, and especially in these days leading up to Purim, I served as the emcee at the dinner for the Beit Chabad in Bat Yam. Afterward, I went to record parts of the program that would play on Purim. This included live music and comedians, but everything goes through the pipeline of the Rebbe’s instructions.

How so?

R’ Ami: Last year, on my Purim program, I said during the broadcast, “You are happy right now, but what about those who can’t rejoice? Take a Megilla and go read for other people who are not able to celebrate.” Many who are not Lubavitchers responded to the challenge and went to read the Megilla in places where the joy does not normally reach, and they even sent me pictures from those places. That is purely the Rebbe’s Purim campaign. There was never such a thing before, where the Rebbe is inside the homes of so many who identify with the Lithuanian stream of Judaism. In my programs I bring in ideas from the sichos of the Rebbe, Chabad niggunim, topics of Chassidus, farbrengens on auspicious days in Chabad, and it is all to give nachas to the Rebbe.

R’ Viktor: Back to your original question. One of the things that helps me be happy in all situations is conscious gratitude for everything I have, because the cup is always at least half full. I remember one time when I slipped and took a blow to my ribs; I felt such excruciating pains that I could barely breathe. The next morning I woke up and there was no pain. I suddenly felt how much gratitude I need to have for that. I see people suffering, and then I look at myself and say, “Boruch Hashem that I am healthy and whole.” Everything is inside our heads, and where we direct ourselves is where we find ourselves.

The tragedy with Chaya Mushka helped me a lot in reaching people in a deep way. I tell myself that I am successful in reaching people’s hearts from a place of pain that for myself I did not wish to experience. If I hadn’t experienced it, I would not be able to touch people’s hearts the way I do. I remember that when people came to console us, I didn’t want to talk to a psychiatrist or psychologist; just with someone who went through something similar. But I didn’t find anyone. I would cry at night from the pain. Then I realized that this is a source of strength that I had to pay forward and since then, I share it with other people.

There is a lot of pain but there are also positive things. I always present the cup half-full to others, the fact that I have other children, thank G-d, and the fact that I had the privilege of having Chaya Mushka. I thank G-d for my ability to give, to do, and the fact that I came to Chabad, etc. These are things that are acquisitions for life. If I wasn’t within a framework of Jewish faith, it might be otherwise. It happens that people approach me after lectures, those who had tragedies in their families, people for whom it’s hard to believe in the eternal life of the soul, and I see enormous pain in their eyes. To them, it’s all over. To a Jew who believes there is a transition from this material world, it provides a certain serenity.

I often tell my story to young people in colleges around the country. You see intelligent guys whose ambition is a well-paying profession, a nice house and a car. I ask them, and then what? After you get everything you want, won’t you want something else? When I see them feeling the pain from my story, I ask them, why does it hurt you when I didn’t physically hurt you? That tells us that there is something beyond the body, i.e., the soul. Identify with it; it’s worthwhile investing in the soul.

TO REACH PEOPLE IN A POWERFUL WAY

R’ Ami and R’ Viktor continue the conversation about their work, telling stories and sharing experiences. “We have brought joy to people,” says R’ Viktor, “and we make a living from it, which is not a given.”

R’ Ami: You provide good things to people and get it back.

R’ Viktor: Last Erev Shabbos I reviewed an idea from a sicha at the Midrasha in Kiryat Arba. Afterward, a fellow came over to talk to me. He introduced himself and said that his father had a nice connection with the Rebbe. His grandfather was also in touch with the Rebbe. He said he esteemed his grandfather who would listen to him and always talk to him. Since he died, he has no inner peace.

I gave him some advice and at the end, he asked whether he could give me a hug. I said, sure. I saw it was like a heavy rock had rolled off of him. He looked at peace. You could see how my emotional identification with him helped him unload his pain.

R’ Viktor has many stories about the power of influence:

“A few weeks ago, I performed at a certain religious school in Yerushalayim. I told them my story and did some magic tricks. During the break, one of the teachers came over and said to me, ‘I heard you four years ago when you performed for students at a college in Tel Aviv. Your story with your daughter touched me so much that I decided to do teshuva. Now I am a mechaneches at this school.’

“As R’ Ami said, we give, but we also get back from our audiences. I feel that I get more than they do … People are happy, people are touched and get fueled up. It’s a gift from G-d.”

NO MAGIC IN LIFE

More than the two said for the record, it was more interesting to hear what the two of them said to one another. Both of them have met innumerable people and all types. They shared experiences with one another that they had in the course of their simcha-work.

“Just this week, I performed for inmates; simcha is not their strong point,” said R’ Viktor to his friend. “You had to see their eyes light up!”

Recently, R’ Viktor performed at an orphanage in Moscow and in a school in Budapest. Wherever he goes, he tells stories from life on shlichus in Kiryat Arba and Chevron and does his tricks (“I don’t like the word ‘magic.’”).

“Wherever I go, I start with that. Sleight of hand tears down walls and makes people smile. It always paves the way straight to their hearts. Performing magic tricks has helped me a lot in raising funds for the replica of 770 that I built in Kiryat Arba l’ilui nishmas my daughter.”

The two of them spoke about the sacrifices their wives make. Sometimes, they spend many days alone, taking care of daily tasks and the kids on their own. “It’s no simple thing to be out of the house every night,” said R’ Ami.

R’ Viktor: This work requires a lot of sacrifice on the part of the wife who takes care of the children and the Chabad House. To me, it’s above and beyond.

R’ Ami (laughing): Behind every successful man is a (provincial slang word for a do-it-all, know-it-all) woman.

Were there instances in which you showed up to a performance and had to switch gears at the last minute?

R’ Viktor: “Yesterday I performed somewhere and had to suddenly squeeze an hour and a half’s performance into half an hour. I often have to adjust myself to the audience. For example, I can tell the story of Chaya Mushka, how her dress caught on fire, but she refused to take it off even though they screamed at her to do so, because that would not have been modest. There are places I will perform in the summer, and there might be people who show up dressed immodestly. I won’t tell this story, so as not to offend them. Sensitivity is needed,” says the master of sensitivity and pleasantness. “When you go somewhere, you have to prepare so you know what to say and mainly, what not to say.

“There are also situations in which I tell about the tragedy and people burst into tears and leave in the middle of the talk. I remember that one time, a group of women left the talk in the middle. It turned out that one of them had gone through something similar and her friends, who went through it with her, could not bear to hear my story. It’s not simple …”

R’ Ami: Wherever I go, performances, weddings, or lectures, there is a different crowd: Chassidim, Litvishe, older people, young people. I look at them and think about what can get through to them. Yesterday, for example, I did a stand-up performance for handicapped soldiers whose state of mind is usually not that great. I began talking to them about the Rebbe’s meeting with soldiers like them and how the Rebbe referred to them not as handicapped but as metzuynei Tzahal. I then continued with jokes and a pantomime until they could express their joy.

What does “marbin b’simcha” mean to you?

R’ Ami: Making people rejoice is our profession, our lives, and it’s our entire Torah on one foot: to always be happy.

R’ Viktor: The word “Adar” can be read as “Alef – Dar,” with the “alef” for Alufo shel Olam, meaning, the Master of the World dwells with us. You learn Chassidus, you are a Jew, son of Hashem, and you are not cut off and alone in the world. Knowing and meditating on this helps a lot when going through the tough times in life. Everyone experiences difficulties, but Hashem is with you every step of the way.

To me, whether it’s Adar or not, it’s always a time to bring joy to people. I personally always try to be b’simcha and to radiate positive energy. What it is about Adar is that you have to produce a lot more, because the requests for appearances are far more than usual. Throughout the week, I travel from place to place, and at times am doing two or three appearances in a day. On Shabbos I am also busy with my regular work as a shliach in Kiryat Arba. I often also get requests to appear on Motzaei Shabbos. It is definitely not an easy schedule.

I would like to emphasize one point. My goal is not just to get people to laugh. People are searching for meaning, and in my view the joy has to have substance and purpose, substance that is connected to the neshama and to Torah, with a message for life. Alongside the tricks, I try to give people a perspective on life. I know that every person goes through stuff in his own inner world, but at the same time it is worth being reminded that every individual also has a lot to be happy and grateful about.

R’ Ami: My motto is that life does not need to become any easier; you just have to choose how to deal with that fact and where you will go with it. This is the key to a life of gratitude, a life of thanksgiving and happiness.

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