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Tuesday
Dec202016

CHANUKA MIRACLE 5755

The third night of Chanuka. Plans to go on mivtzaim to the Sh’chem area. After the incident the night before in which we were stoned, I decided I had had enough of adventures. But I changed my mind on a dime and decided to join them. A decision I would have occasion to regret. * Four young bachurim and a shliach, surrounded by dozens of inflamed Arabs with no natural way to get out.

By Rabbi Yosef Zev Reinitz
Prepared for publication by N. Friedman

It was the winter of 5755 and Chanuka was approaching. I was busy trying to enlist bachurim to join me on shlichus in Kfar Yona. I was learning in the central yeshiva in Kfar Chabad and I often went to help my cousin in Kfar Yona, the shliach, Rabbi Nechemia Schmerling.

Back then, his Chanuka activities were spread out over three central locations. The first was with the people of Kfar Yona. The second was at the jails and the many army bases in the outlying areas. The third was army bases in the Jordan Valley area, because R’ Schmerling was in charge of activities in that area at that time.

Each of these places needed a large team of bachurim to do mivtzaim. But for some reason, at the beginning of Chanuka we were stuck without bachurim. I tried all the Chabad yeshivos and finally was able to get two bachurim who had learned with me the year before at the yeshiva in Kiryat Gat, along with another American bachur: R’ Dan Krichevsky, today a shliach and rav in Ufa, Russia; R’ Mordechai Bistritzky, today rav of the Chabad community in Tzfas; and Yehoshua Sheiner.

CHASING AWAY THE ROCK THROWERS

The security situation wasn’t great. It was after the celebration of Rabin’s imaginary peace, and day after day, peace exploded in the faces of Israeli citizens. Hamas was not an organized entity at the time, but homegrown terror squads prowled throughout Yehuda-Shomron and tried attacking Jews. One of their main modes of operation was to surround Jewish vehicles while acting violently, and strafing passing cars with bullets in an attempt to hit the passengers.

Another way was to surprise Israeli cars by cutting in front and suddenly stopping and when the car stopped, to throw bricks and rocks and then run off. With these methods, the terrorists were able to hurt numerous Jews and even kill them, including Prisoner of Zion and settler leader R’ Mordechai Lapid, who was killed with his son Sholom, may Hashem avenge their blood, in the Chevron area.

On Monday, the first night of Chanuka, we went to visit inmates in Sharon prison and lit the menorah with them. Among them were some prisoners under administrative detention who were arrested for daring to talk against the delusional peace celebration. When we told them that we planned on visiting IDF bases in the Sh’chem-Tubas area, they warned us not to dare go there without a military escort since the area was extremely sensitive and dangerous.

We tried to have a military escort with us each time we went out. The next day we went to bring the joy of the holiday to soldiers stationed in Qalqilya and were suddenly attacked with rocks, thrown at us by dozens of young Arabs who lived in the area. The soldier with us went into shock and ducked down with his weapon and did nothing more.

It was R’ Schmerling who quickly recovered and took action. He always keeps a small Beretta gun with him. He stopped the car, went out with his gun toward the rock throwers and chased them off. His handling of the situation gave us a feeling of confidence and calm. We knew we were traveling with a responsible person who would act if he needed to.

GOING TO SH’CHEM

Wednesday, the third Chanuka light. We were getting ready to go to the Sh’chem area. After the incident the night before, when we were stoned, I decided I had had enough of adventures and I would stay in Kfar Yona.

After all, I consoled myself, bachurim were needed in Kfar Yona too. Furthermore, R’ Schmerling did not find a soldier to escort our group, so I was determined not to go to Sh’chem.

Their leaving was delayed by about half an hour and during this time I changed my mind and decided to join them. This was a decision I would come to regret ten times over. I took another Chitas with me for protection and a volume of Igros Kodesh.

We loaded the van with dozens of trays of doughnuts, menorahs, and other menorah-lighting paraphernalia. We crowded into the front of the vehicle with many bottles of mashke that were scattered on the floor due to lack of space. The vehicle did not belong to R’ Schmerling; it was loaned to him by Tzach for Chanuka outreach.

The first camp we went to was Camp Dotan, a camp that, sad to say, belongs to terrorists now after it was given to them as part of the evacuation of Gush Katif and northern Shomron in 5765. We worked primarily with soldiers from the religious NaChaL unit.

ANYTHING FOR CHABAD

I remember two things from that camp. The first is that when we went to the main kitchen, one of the soldiers called to me and enthusiastically dragged me to a corner of the kitchen where there was a big picture of this soldier receiving a dollar from the Rebbe. Next to it was another picture of the soldier with R’ Moshe Edery of Kfar Chabad. He excitedly related that he had learned in the vocational school in Kfar Chabad and asked that we give his warm regards to R’ Moshe. It was moving to see how much the Rebbe meant to him and how, while in an army camp, he hung up a large picture of the Rebbe.

The second memory has to do with the commander of the camp, an officer of the rank of Colonel. As soon as we entered his office he said, “You should know that my door is always open to Chabad Chassidim. I will help you wherever I am. Last Pesach I was on vacation in Thailand and I felt your devotion to every Jew with real mesirus nefesh. This is only a small way that I can repay you.”

We continued to farbreng with him about Chanuka and the Rebbe, the Yehuda HaMaccabi of our generation. At the end of the meeting he asked where we were going next. R’ Schmerling told him, “We are going from here straight to Sh’chem.”

“Do you have an escort?” the commander asked nervously. R’ Schmerling looked at him with a smile and pointed upward.

“What are you talking about? Who will be protecting you?” The commander was upset. “Do you know what goes on in that area? Even the IDF tries not to go there, and when it has to go, it is only with an armed convoy.”

R’ Schmerling tried to reassure him. “G-d is the best escort,” he said.

Unlike R’ Schmerling, I was very nervous. I went out to find a soldier who perhaps might need to go to the Sh’chem area who would volunteer to escort us, but in vain. I went all over the camp and checked whether anyone was going in the direction or the area of Kfar Tapuach. The reaction of the soldiers just intensified my fear. The shocked responses of the soldiers were heard everywhere. “What, are you crazy? How are you going there?!”

My fear level was going through the roof, but R’ Schmerling was full of trust in Hashem and said we were going on the Rebbe’s shlichus to bring joy to soldiers and shluchei mitzva are not harmed.

Perhaps he remembered the story of the shluchim on Purim 5736 who were ambushed by rioting Arabs and were miraculously saved. A few hours later, during a farbrengen, the Rebbe told this story and depicted the chain of events in detail. Who traveled in the car (“some shluchim, a driver and a military person”); where the incident occurred and why Arabs were there (“Arab local residents who did not want new supplies or Jewish soldiers to reach Sh’chem”); what the military person thought and how the shluchim convinced him (“the shluchim told him: we have this mission, to encourage Jews and bring them Purim joy”); and to conclude, the Rebbe told the lesson to be learned from what happened: “This is what the Megilla is about, that when a Jew stands firmly for his Judaism and does not think twice, but on the contrary does what he needs to do, he succeeds without being hurt or causing harm, not only to Jews but to goyim too.”

FATEFUL TURN

As we got closer to Sh’chem the tension increased. Our vehicle was plastered with Chanuka signs and had a big menorah on the roof which gave away the Jewish identity of the passengers, and it was with this that we planned on traveling through the murderous stronghold of our enemies.

During the trip, R’ Schmerling took his hands off the wheel momentarily and loaded his gun. He put the loaded gun on his knees and continued driving. This doubled and tripled our tension.

From the distance we saw the entrance to Sh’chem. The entrance is divided into four paths, two in each direction. The dividing line that separates between them is like a slanted ramp so that the exit from the city is higher than the entrance by about two meters.

The closer we got to the entrance, the slower traffic became. Many cars crawled along at that hour and the hostile looks from the other cars did nothing to make us feel calmer. R’ Schmerling too could not remain indifferent in the face of the dangerous situation.


“They can ambush us here,” he murmured quietly. “In an instant they can close in on us from all directions and do what they want with us.” We shuddered.

R’ Schmerling held his gun and tried to navigate between the cars. Suddenly, he grasped the gun in his mouth with his right hand on the stick shift, his left hand on the wheel, and in a moment’s decision he rode up the ramp that separated between the two directions.

The vehicle had a hard time going up and finally landed on the opposite lane where traffic moved more quickly, but in the opposite direction … R’ Schmerling drove quickly and navigated his car against traffic with hysterical honking and zigzagging which caused many cars to stop in fright.

Our hearts pounded. I held my extra Chitas close to my heart and pleaded with the Rebbe to watch over us. Dan Krichevsky began reading the Igros Kodesh.

INTO THE LION’S DEN

After a few nightmarish minutes we were at Yosef HaTzaddik’ S grave. There was an IDF presence there and R’ Schmerling decided to visit the soldiers.

Hearts returned to their normal beat in this island of normalcy in a jungle of murderers. Color returned to our faces and a few cups of water calmed us completely. We were sure that now we would make it back to Kfar Yona but after a few minutes in which we interacted with the soldiers, R’ Schmerling announced, “Guys, soldiers are waiting for us at Hamam El-Maliach.”

Hamam El-Maliach is an area of the Jordan Valley where a huge training base for paratroopers is located. The road there passes through Sh’chem and crosses Tubas and Farah, and there, at the beginning of the Valley, is the base.

We got through Sh’chem with big miracles and reached the rundown highway in Tubas. “Watch the sides to see if they try throwing blocks at us,” ordered R’ Schmerling as we entered deep into Tubas.

“How will that help?” I wondered. The moment they threw blocks—by the time we informed R’ Schmerling, until he would stop the car and warn the Arabs with his gun—it would be too late.

The highway in the underdeveloped city of Tubas passed between private yards, so that at any moment they could have surprised us from the roof of one of the houses, but we drove through peacefully.

We continued to Nachal Tirtza and there at Farah, we took the road towards the military detention compound. We considered stopping but in the end we decided that since at the compound, those serving are reserve soldiers who get to return home on Chanuka, we would first visit the full duty soldiers who would not experience the warmth of the holiday if we did not visit them.

We arrived at Hamam El-Maliach and visited the soldiers and brought them the joy of the holiday. Then we went to the reservists.

EXPOSED TO TERROR

The sun was setting. I went up on the roof of the vehicle and turned on the fourth light of the menorah. We had to hurry. We had a few more events that night; a big event planned at Base 21 near Kfar Yona, a central menorah lighting and rally at the mall, and a chanukas ha’bayis ceremony for the new shul built at the yishuv.

R’ Schmerling drove faster and we passed through Farah and hurried toward Sh’chem. I had no mental energy for the tension I would experience if I sat near the window looking out for shooting or rocks, so I lay down on the floor among the bottles of mashke.

I lay there for fifteen minutes. When I got up, I noticed that the road was wet and slippery and it was drizzling. We passed Tubas and were driving on the highway that connects Tubas and Sh’chem. This highway is a downhill winding road, with one side a cliff and the other a rocky mountain face, so that driving this stretch is very dangerous.

We moved forward and the illusory stillness gave us a sense of calm and the tension dissipated somewhat. Suddenly, with no prior warning, the car in front of us stopped at the end of the downhill slant. Its goal was obvious – to attack us. The heart stops as the fear spreads and paralysis sets in. Would we also be “sacrifices for peace?”

R’ Schmerling tried to stop the vehicle but the descent was too steep and the highway was wet, which did not allow for a sudden stop. To add to our terror, while trying to brake, the steering wheel locked.

We were flying downhill with the wheel locked and the brakes not working. On the right was an abyss and on the left, a mountain, and R’ Schmerling had completely lost control of the vehicle. The fear was paralyzing. My life passed by like a movie. There was nowhere to run. In another moment we would be crushed or fall into the hands of cursed murderers who were waiting for us.

DANGEROUS ACCIDENT

At this point, the miracles began. I am still amazed, years later, by how openly we saw the hand of G-d at every turn.

The vehicle was coursing down the curving road. We had no control over the situation, but Hashem’s great and compassionate hand held the car close to the asphalt.

Inexplicably, with a locked wheel, the vehicle followed the curve of the highway and after a long moment which seemed like eternity, we collided forcefully with a car coming from the opposite direction. The contents of the vehicle flew out and we flew with great force into the side walls of the vehicle. I felt whole but I closed my eyes, refusing to see what happened to the others.

It took us a minute to recover and we discovered that miraculously, aside from a few bloodless scratches on our hands, we emerged whole in body from this devastating accident.

We got out. The entire front section of the car and the radiator were completely crushed. The water and oil spilled out and made a puddle on the wet highway. The contents of the car were strewn on the highway. And boruch Hashem, we were fine.

Although we had been saved in the accident, we also had to get out of there. After all, we were stuck in the terror den. There we were, between Tubas and Sh’chem, two nests of bloodthirsty terrorists, stuck without a vehicle, and no cellphone or any other way of communicating, on a highway where not even IDF vehicles passed.

The car that lay ambush to us below had already fled the scene when he saw how things were turning out. But the rest of the vehicles traveling on the highway stopped and we gradually found ourselves surrounded by dozens of Arabs looking at us with hate in their eyes.

R’ Schmerling tried to explain to the driver that we hit that we were not at fault since there was a car that stopped in front of us. But it looked as though this wasn’t what interested him at that time. He screamed at us and everyone around him joined him. I returned to our vehicle and took out the bullets from the glove compartment. I shoved them into R’ Schmerling’s hands, thinking that they meant the difference between life and … for us.

R’ Schmerling tried to calm things down and at the same time he told me, “Go up, to provide security for us.” I did not ask with what; I did not ask how. In any case, it was better to be up above than surrounded by dozens of hostile Arabs. I took Dan Krichevsky with me and we went up. From up above I saw how more and more Arabs were joining the crowd. At any moment, a lynch could ensue.

Four young bachurim and one shliach surrounded by dozens of Arabs with no way to get out. I held my hand behind me, thinking that maybe the Arabs would be afraid I was holding a gun. Dan began screaming and threatening them that the army and rescue crews were on their way, which had no basis in reality.

SAVED BY A MIRACLE

There was no reason to wait for anyone to come and rescue us since no Jew passed by that way. To carjack a vehicle and escape was also not an option with so many parked cars on the side of the highway blocking all possible exits. Thoughts and images went through our minds of how in a few minutes we would lose our lives. Until someone heard we were stuck here, hours could go by and the people surrounding us did not look like the type of people who would call for help for Jews.

The words from Hallel that we davened that morning took on new meaning. “God has chastised me, but He has not delivered me to death.” We were willing to suffer all the chastisements but please, not death here on the road.

The minutes passed slowly. The baleful looks intensified and more people gathered. Fifteen minutes passed with the uncertainty of what would become of us and when exactly chaos would ensue. Fifteen minutes of fear, of terror, of a soul accounting of everything I had accomplished or not accomplished in my life. Death was never so close.

I looked down the length of the highway and saw a truck ascending toward Sh’chem. I did not attribute any significance to it. I only wondered whether its driver would also join the inflamed crowd. The truck continued ascending toward us and suddenly I noticed that it wasn’t a truck at all but an army transport, an armored vehicle with a sort of bus attached behind it in which many Israeli soldiers sat.

MIRACULOUS RESCUE

Soldiers here? In the middle of this highway? How did they know to come? I screamed at R’ Schmerling, “Soldiers are coming!” I couldn’t understand it. Someone had heard about our accident?

The transport stopped and the soldiers inside were amazed to see us. “What are you doing here?” they asked. We told them our story in brief. It turned out that once a week there is a shift change of soldiers at the military detention compound in Farah, and this is one of the only times that the army uses this road. By miraculous providence and Hashem’s kindness, that personnel change took place precisely when we were stuck there.

We had not finished thanking Hashem for the big miracle that happened for us, when another transport coming downhill from Tubas pulled up with only a few soldiers and an officer. It was simply an open miracle clothed in nature.

We told the officer the story and he couldn’t believe it. He told us what we already knew, that the first car’s stopping was probably done by terrorists. It’s one of the ways that they attack Jews, to lay a trap for them on dangerous stretches of road, especially when it was raining. He also told us that many Jews had been attacked in this way.

R’ Schmerling wasted no time and asked that we board the empty transport with the soldiers and go in the direction of Morasha Junction and from there we’d go to Kfar Yona. “I’ll stay here with the soldiers to guard the vehicle.”

We got our stuff together and got into the soldiers’ vehicle. The road was dark and you couldn’t see anything but we finally felt safe. We got down at Morasha Junction and from there we hitchhiked toward Kfar Yona. Tzach heard about the accident from the army and they sent another group of bachurim to Base 21 so we just had to attend the chanukas ha’bayis ceremony at the shul.

EVEN GENTILES UNDERSTAND

A contractor’s vehicle stopped at the junction. “I don’t have seats. Do you want to get in the back?” We crowded in along with the contractor’s equipment. We did not forget that we are shluchim of the Rebbe and we told him about the Rebbe and our Chanuka message that we need to be illuminating candles.

The contractor was very moved and told us that on a vacation with friends in London a gentile approached them at a tourist site. He had heard them speaking in Hebrew and he invited them to his house. He hosted them for several days even though he had never met them before.

He told them that he was giving them this honor because they belong to the Chosen and Holy Nation – the Jewish people. “Every moment you are with me,” said the gentile host, “I experience great delight, especially when hearing you speak in the language of the Bible.”

“At that time,” said the contractor, “it did not mean anything to me. The main thing to me was having free room and board. But now, after you’ve explained to me what a Jew is and my role in the world, I ask myself: If a gentile in London understands the significance of a Jew, why don’t I?”

We saw how the contractor’s G-dly soul had woken up.

When we arrived at Kfar Yona, we went immediately to the mall where the big event was taking place. But when it was over we didn’t know whether to continue to R’ Schmerling’s house. His wife would probably be frightened and ask why we came without him. And we wouldn’t know what to answer her.

Finally, we heard that the car was being towed by a military vehicle to the nearby camp. R’ Schmerling was taken by the soldiers to Kfar Tapuach and from there he took a taxi to Kfar Yona.

He did not make it to the chanukas ha’bayis but we were there. It was getting late and people were concerned why the rabbi had not come. We told them we had an accident and the rabbi would be coming any minute but more time passed and he still hadn’t arrived.

One of the people there had a cellphone, a novelty in those days, and every few minutes he tried calling and asking whether the rabbi had returned yet.

It got really late and we had to take charge. I got up and began speaking. I had never addressed a crowd before and didn’t know what to say at a chanukas ha’bayis, but Hashem helped, and He put the words into my mouth.

The enthusiasm and excitement of the crowd over the new shul moved me and I spoke from my heart:

“You are like Chanuka candles. The mitzva to light the Chanuka candles begins when it starts getting dark. When the outside light begins to wane, we light the menorah. I grew up in Yerushalayim in a staunchly religious neighborhood, but never in my life have I seen such simcha like this over the holiness of a shul.

“Here, in Kfar Yona, a place that people might think does not excel in Torah and mitzvos, is where it is most moving to see the simcha and enthusiasm over the dedication of a new shul.”

I felt that the Rebbe was putting the words into my mouth. Till today, twenty years later, when I say the words “for Your miracles and Your wonders and Your salvations,” I recall my personal Chanuka miracle.

Reader Comments (1)

הצטרפו לאלפים שכבר נהנים מחוויה רוחנית מיוחדת בזמן הדלקת נרות חנוכה. עכשיו להורדה בחינם לכל סוגי המכשירים ו/או להדפסה לשימוש עצמי.
כנסו ישירות לכתובת:
http://ramhal.net/?p=4632
חג חנוכה שמח!!!
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