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Friday
Feb282014

CREATING A MOSHIACH STORM IN THE PHILIPPINES

The shluchim to the Philippines, Yossi and Tiferet Levy, had no idea where it was located on the globe. It was only after they started getting signs that they asked the Rebbe and opened to a clear answer to go on shlichus. And since then, there they are … * In this faraway country they collect neshamos and are preparing this chain of islands for the Geula. There is a lot of work to be done.

On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) devastated parts of Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, killing an estimated 10,000 people and displacing more than 600,000. It is the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record, killing at least 6,201 people in that country alone. The city of Tacloban, built mainly of wooden houses, was almost completely wiped out with hardly any houses remaining. A month later, women and children still carefully picked their way through the debris as they searched for those who were missing.

“The scene was horrific,” says the shliach in the capitol of Manila, R’ Yossi Levy. “Survivors stood on line next to destroyed homes and cars, downed electric cables and uprooted trees. Many people stood and waited for the distribution of rice and water. To understand the enormity of the storm, you would need to understand the significance of winds that blow at 400 kilometers an hour.”

The facts are frightening. In addition to the dead and over half a million without homes, four and a half million people were injured in thirty-six locations. Aside from the destroyed homes and boats, large swaths of arable land were destroyed. Agencies from around the world that provide aid sent food, water, medicine and rolls of canvas to make tents for those who were left without a roof over their heads. Israel provided an IDF field hospital, and Zaka and Magen David Edom also provided aid. 

R’ Levy was the contact man for all these organizations. He worked around the clock to provide the members of the delegations with kosher food and assistance in dealing with the local government bureaucracies. During his five years on shlichus, he has established contacts with various departments in the local government. These contacts have been useful to him when he has needed to help Jews.

“In Manila we see how the world is ready for the hisgalus of the Rebbe MH”M,” says R’ Levy. He told us about fascinating work being done with hundreds of gentiles who call themselves B’nei Noach.

The shliach operates out of a beautiful building in Manila, which contains a shul, a hall for Shabbos and holiday meals and shiurim, and his family’s private quarters. His shlichus work extends the length and breadth of the large country.

“Nearly every day I encounter lost Jewish souls in out of the way places or, conversely, very nearby, who were unaware of their being Jewish.” His Chabad House services are appreciated by Jewish locals, tourists, and businessmen as well as non-Jews.

THE DIFFICULT BEGINNING

How did the Levys end up in the Philippines?

“Before I married, I thought about shlichus in New York or in some other large city. In my K’vutza year and the years that followed, I acquired mekuravim and thought I would continue working with them, but the Rebbe had other ideas. After being married for eight months, my wife Tiferet was asked by her place of employment whether she planned on teaching there the following year. She discussed it with me, and we thought she would continue working while I would help one of the shluchim in Brooklyn.

“Before my wife gave her boss an answer, she wrote to the Rebbe and the answer she opened to was interesting. The Rebbe wrote to a Chassid who was leaving his teaching job for a shlichus position far away. From this we concluded that the Rebbe had a shlichus for us.

“A week after opening to this answer, we were in Florida. Over a period of a few days the Philippines were mentioned several times in different contexts. One of the times, we met an Israeli who stays in the Philippines a lot and he complained about there not being a Chabad House there. We saw this as divine providence and began thinking in that direction.”

At that time, R’ Levy knew nothing at all about the country. “As an Israeli, the only thing I knew was that it is far away and thousands of its citizens work in Israel as aides.”

When they returned to Crown Heights, they wrote to the Rebbe about this idea and the answer was positive.

“At that moment, it was clear to us that this was it. All our friends, mekuravim, parents and neighbors reacted in surprise. ‘Go alone,’ one of the mekuravim told me. ‘I will pay all your expenses.’ But we were determined. We raised enough money and left without really doing research about the country. We felt confident in the Rebbe’s bracha.”

The initial days and weeks in Manila were hard. They moved from hotel to hotel as their kosher food and supplies began to run out.

“We did not find a suitable building to rent. Manila has become a business and manufacturing hub in recent years, and the kind of building we needed wasn’t available. At some point, my wife said, ‘We are here on the Rebbe’s shlichus. Let us ask him for the obstacles to end.’ That’s what we did. I stood in front of the Rebbe’s picture and asked for a bracha. Only minutes went by when a guard entered our room who had heard from someone that we were looking for a building. He had a suggestion for us. We went with him to check it out, and it was as if the building had been designed for us! We signed a contract that very day and opened the first Chabad House in the history of the Republic of the Philippines.

“We searched for Jews everywhere. Whenever we went out to shop or walk, it was for the purpose of finding Jews and telling them of our presence in the city. I remember that one day, we saw a Jew running toward us, breathing heavily. He said he saw us from the window of a taxi as he was on his way to an important business meeting and he prayed that he would meet us when he finished the meeting, which indeed occurred. ‘I have been living here for twelve years and waiting impatiently for a Chabad House to open in Manila,’ he said. Since then, he is one of our staunch mekuravim.”

The Chabad House is open every morning at seven o’clock. Shacharis follows a shiur in Chassidus. Israelis and Jews from other countries, who work there in numerous companies, as well as tourists, are among their visitors.

“We estimate that every year, about 10,000 Israeli tourists and many other Jews from all over the world pass through the Philippines.” R’ Levy explains that in addition to drop-in guests, a community has formed around the Chabad House.

SEARCHING FOR LOST SOULS

The Philippines is a very large country with about a hundred million people. There are quite a few Jews, many of whom do not know they are Jewish.

“I was standing on line in a place that provides postal service and I heard the clerk announce, ‘Yoel Ashkenazi, it’s your turn.’ I immediately ran to the counter to meet him and saw a very old man. ‘Are you Jewish?’ I asked him, and he said yes in astonishment.

“When we left, we got into a conversation. He wanted to know how I had gotten to this country and wondered what I was doing there. He told me he had escaped the Nazis, and in the years following the war he lived in Australia. Later on, he met a Filipina woman and moved to live with her in a village in the Philippines. He said he suffered bitterly from the people in the village and had been foolish to hope that life would be good with her. Of course we spoke about Torah and mitzvos and exchanged information so we could remain in touch.”

***

“The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands in the western Pacific Ocean, out of which only 800 are populated. Some of the islands are under American control. Quite a few Jews live there with whom we’ve made contact. They occasionally come to Manila and visit the Chabad House. 

“There is an incredible phenomenon when it comes to locating these neshamos, in that the ones who are most helpful in finding them are the local gentiles. They often come to the Chabad House with a Jew and leave it to me to ‘deal’ with him. Recently, some of our gentile acquaintances brought an Israeli to the Chabad House who grew up in a traditional family. Unfortunately, he has been living with a local gentile woman for many years.

“There is also a former kibbutznik who lives on a farm outside the city. When we first met him, he did not want to observe anything, even Yom Kippur. Today, he has become a sort of shliach himself and works on being mekarev Jews who come to him.”

In addition to these lost souls, the shliach sometimes finds himself in the role of an expert at locating lost individuals. Stories like these happen several times a year. The following took place two years ago:

“It was a week before Sukkos when I received a phone call from a religious Jew in Yerushalayim who belongs to one of the big Chassidic groups. He very sadly told me that one of his children was missing for days and they think he left for the Philippines.

“The first question I asked him was why they were sure he went to the Philippines, of all places, and not somewhere closer in Europe. He told me they checked his email and saw a confirmation for a ticket he had ordered to the Philippines. What connection did he have with this country? Nobody knew.

“I first called the airport in Manila. I heard that someone with that name had arrived from Israel and had entered the country a few days before. I obtained his picture, which I plastered all over the city with the help of a group of people who assist the Chabad House. His picture was given to the police, hotels, and transportation stations. The family’s fear was that he did not have his medication and could hurt himself or inadvertently get into dangerous situations. We heard from many people who thought they saw him, but they were all mistaken.

“We thought he may have gone to even more distant parts of the country, but each time we wrote to the Rebbe, it seemed he was in the area. So we operated based on this. Erev Sukkos, a brother and therapist of this kid came to us from Eretz Yisroel. The two became an integral part of the Chabad House activities. 

“Sukkos night we had a farbrengen that lasted until midnight, in the course of which a discussion began about who would get the Levi aliya the next morning. Aside from me, there were another five Leviim including the brother of the missing boy. It’s not every day that you have five Leviim in the Philippines!

“Then, on the spur of the moment, I announced that the missing brother would be the one to get the second aliya and that we had to commit to something good so he would be found. It was an inspiring, elevated atmosphere and everyone made good hachlatos. The next day, a few minutes before Shacharis, a policeman walked in with the news – the boy was found and we should go to the police station to identify him. It was him. It was sad to meet a Jew with a Chassidic appearance in these circumstances. He looked very hungry, his money and clothes had been robbed, and all this time in the Philippines he had asked for handouts.

“We released him from the police station and brought him to the Chabad House where he ate and washed up. And he got the second aliya.

“Since then, the boy’s father calls every Erev Yom Tov to wish me a Chag Sameiach and he sometimes sends a donation. Last year, his father was visiting in the US where he met some bachurim who were on mivtzaim. He gave one of them a donation and said he owed a debt of gratitude to the shluchim in the Philippines and told his story. The bachur who received the money smiled and said, ‘I am a baal t’shuva of the Chabad House in the Philippines!’”

Occasionally, R’ Levy is asked to address an exclusive business club, whose members include many top business leaders.

“The story about how I got there is astonishing. During the ‘Cast Lead’ operation I was shopping and next to me I saw a western individual with a Jewish nose. I asked him directly, ‘Are you Jewish?’ He said no, but added that his maternal grandmother is Jewish. Of course, I explained to him that this made him a Jew. Later on, we researched his family history in depth and found that indeed he is a Jew. He was born in Germany and lived in Manila because of business. He ended up becoming one of our steady mekuravim. Among his many positions, he was appointed to the board of this exclusive club, and now and then he asks me to come and address the members.”

SAVED AT THE LAST MOMENT

If one of us were to happen to drop into the Chabad House on a Sunday, we would think we were hallucinating. Dozens of gentiles – intellectuals and distinguished individuals in various professions – sit and listen to R’ Levy’s weekly class. It is a growing group which calls itself B’nei Noach. They are like soldiers who obey anything the Chabad House tells them.

“It came from them. They saw a Jew with a hat and jacket, and they asked me, ‘Who are you? What are you doing in this country?’ When they heard what I had to say, they wanted to learn. We have helped them understand their rightful place in G-d’s world.”

Among these gentiles are men from the military and the police force who work in prisons and government offices. R’ Levy is invited by them to official events where he speaks about the Rebbe and about the obligation of every human being to observe the Seven Noachide Laws.

“Before holidays, when there is a lot of work to be done at the Chabad House, some of them take time off from their regular jobs and devote themselves to helping us out. It’s a wondrous thing that has no real explanation aside from the fact that the world is marching toward the Geula.”

R’ Levy sometimes makes use of his connections to help Jews.

“Three years ago, I received a report from the embassy about an Israeli in some far-off jail with no one visiting him. This man was very rich, but fell into gambling and lost all his money. Back then, I was in financially bad shape. As soon as I hung up with the ambassador, I wrote a letter to the Rebbe in which I said that if the Rebbe wanted me to visit him, where was the money to do so? That was on a Thursday. 

“On Motzaei Shabbos, I was contacted by a large kashrus agency in Eretz Yisroel that wanted me to be a mashgiach for a certain product in some factory. When I heard where the factory was located, I nearly fainted. It was the same city where the man was imprisoned. Naturally, the trips to this city were paid for by the kashrus agency.

“The driver, who took me to the factory, was part of the B’nei Noach group. On the way, he told me that his cousin was the deputy manager of the prison, which made my getting into the prison easy. I saw the open manifestation of G-d’s providence in this story. 

“When I was brought into the cell, the man was shocked to see me. I put t’fillin on with him and gave him a kosher meal. We sat down to talk in Ivrit. ‘You saved my life,’ he said and explained, ‘Every Sunday a priest comes to visit the Christian prisoners. He makes sure they have food and drink and cheers them up. Meanwhile, nobody visited me. Last week I broke down and told G-d that if He did not send me a sign that He was interested in me, I would kill myself.’

“He told me that he had already taken action toward that end and he was going to carry out his plan the next day. Then I showed up … I encouraged him and told him to take care of himself. Later, through my connections, I was able to get him transferred to a prison closer to Manila and I visited him every week. In this prison there was a gentile warden who was a mekurav of the Chabad House. He looked after him and made sure he had everything he needed.

“Sadly, the warden told me one day that the man had died in his cell. We undertook the burial and he was buried in the Jewish section of a cemetery in Manila. The warden keeps me informed whenever a Jew is jailed and I go and visit him.

“Since these gentiles know their true role they have helped us save Jews from assimilation. A couple from England told me that their son met a Filipina and planned to marry her. They asked me to convert her. I asked to meet the couple. I suggested to the young man that he start learning about Judaism at the Chabad House and she should attend classes on Sunday. I hoped that something good would happen in the interim. After a while, they decided to break up, each one realizing that a Jew and a gentile are not suited to one another.”

MIRACLES IN MANILA

The Chabad House in the Philippines does not make a move without asking for the Rebbe’s bracha. R’ Levy teaches this to his mekuravim. R’ Levy says miracles take place every day at the Chabad House.

“In the past, people came to the Philippines from all over the world to traffic in body parts. Some sold their kidneys and some bought them. This generated a lot of money. An Israeli, who was heavily in debt, came here to sell a kidney of his, without his family knowing about it.

“When I visited Jewish patients in the hospital, I met him and my heart went out to him. One day, I got a phone call from him that I should come quickly because he was close to death. I rushed over and saw him connected to many machines. The operation had gone awry and his health was rapidly deteriorating. His body was rejecting the medication and the doctors were at a loss. 

“I quickly wrote to the Rebbe and the answer was, ‘Check t’fillin and mezuzos.’ I didn’t waste a moment but called the family in Eretz Yisroel. After telling them who I am, I asked them to immediately check the mezuzos and his t’fillin. When I went to see him the following day, I was shocked to find him sitting in the lobby sipping a cup of coffee. Two days later he was on a flight back to Eretz Yisroel.”

R’ Levy has more fascinating stories:

“There is a businessman in Manila, an Israeli who is a religious Zionist, whose two single daughters were getting older. When he heard about the possibility of writing to the Rebbe, he wrote about his daughters. Only two weeks later, while he was still in Manila, the older daughter told him she was engaged. Another two weeks went by and the second daughter was engaged and both are married by now.”

The Rebbe’s constant involvement in their shlichus is not limited only to answers in the Igros Kodesh when there is a need for blessing or special intercession, but it can be seen in every detail, as R’ Levy tells:

“The Chabad House is able to operate on such a broad scale, in no small part thanks to the locals who cook and clean for us. There was a week when we were unable to arrange workers and did not know how to manage without them. Every Erev Shabbos, an older man would come to the Chabad House, a graduate of the vocational school in Kfar Chabad. He helped us cook. When he saw, that Friday, that there were no assistants, he asked how I thought I would manage. I told him that the Chabad House is the Rebbe’s house, and so I did not worry. It would all work out.

“He wanted me to be more practical about it, but I remained staunch in my belief, even though it did not seem realistic. As we spoke, a local gentile woman walked in and asked if this was the Chabad House. When I said that it was, she said she had just arrived by plane from the village where she lived in order to learn about Judaism. In exchange, she wanted to provide household help. I looked at my friend and he stood there open-mouthed. It was like something out of a Baal Shem Tov story. This gentile woman remained with us for half a year. She was unwilling to eat a crumb and she refused to accept money for her work. She slept with relatives in the city and every morning she came to work until evening.”

A CHABAD PRESCHOOL

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, a few months ago R’ Levy was extremely busy following the devastating typhoon that hit the Philippines. He slept very little as he worked hard to provide logistical assistance for the delegations from Eretz Yisroel that brought rescue relief and also worked with the local government authorities.

“I am glad that thanks to that, we publicized the name of the Rebbe MH”M,” says R’ Levy. He refers to an interview on the well-known TV program of Nissim Mishal. Mishal asked the shliach whether he should leave a dedicated line open so he could report about the hisgalus of the Rebbe and was told he should.

“The physical aid we provided the gentiles was a Kiddush Hashem. They saw that the ones who mobilized the most to come to their aid were Jews, and this generated a lot of positive feeling across the country. As they worked, the rescue teams as well as the Zaka volunteers received kosher food, and we gave them full access to all of the resources of the Chabad House. Through the connections we made and our people everywhere, we were able to provide help that even the embassy could not provide due to its limitations. I personally traveled to destroyed cities and villages and provided aid.”

As for chinuch for his children when a Chabad school is not available for hundreds of kilometers:

“My wife runs a preschool which is attended by children of the many Israelis who live in Manila. Since there are maids who do all the housework, my wife is free to work in chinuch. It’s not easy, but we see heavenly assistance and our children are an inseparable part of our shlichus.”

R’ Levy has many stories on this topic, but he wanted to share one particularly moving story that recently happened:

“There is an older bachelor who used to live in Gush Katif. The expulsion caused him such great psychological distress to the point that he decided to leave the country and settle in a village near Manila, as far away as possible. Whenever I go to milk cows in the area, I visit him. His anger and bitterness were so great that he never agreed to put on t’fillin.

“When my son turned three, I took him with me to visit this man. My son told him that the present he wanted for his birthday was for him to put on t’fillin. He couldn’t refuse my son. Sometimes, the sweetness and innocence of children breaks barriers.”

In Manila, Jews live with Moshiach. Are there any Jews who are bothered by the publicity of the identity of Moshiach?

“It bothers them that the Rebbe is still not visible,” says R’ Levy. He said that he has met people who are bothered by Yechi, but that gives him the opportunity to explain. “When I first started on shlichus here, the nisayon was great. Every Shabbos, I would say Yechi on my own. When I would talk about the Rebbe and Moshiach, they did not all understand. But the reality is that if we do not live Moshiach, then how are we different than other organizations that work to be mekarev Jews?

“I remember a tourist who used to be religious, who lived for a while with a gentile woman. When I proclaimed Yechi, he jumped up and began asking questions. After answering him, I gently explained why, in his case, his opposition was sourced in klipa. Our Chabad House lives Yechi. We even have people at the Chabad House who are well versed in the concept of ‘chai v’kayam’ and about ‘the foundation stone’ and can explain the Rebbe’s sicha on Beis Rabbeinu Sh’B’Bavel.

“A few months ago, we had a Jew here who used to live in Canada and was very close with Chabad in his city. The shliach there hides his involvement with Moshiach. When this man heard Yechi from us, it bothered him and he complained about it. One of the people who frequent the Chabad House, an expert on the sichos of 5751-5752, explained to him why the Nasi Ha’dor must be someone alive in a physical body. At first he argued, but then he realized the absurdity in what he was doing. ‘He already sees the light while we insist on seeing darkness,’ he said with an embarrassed smile.”

In the past two years, R’ Levy has brought another two shluchim to the Philippines who opened Chabad Houses in other cities in the country: R’ Yisroel Kaplan who works in Cebu, and R’ Shmuel Lozon who works in Clark. Every few months containers come from Eretz Yisroel with food and supplies that are divided among the three Chabad Houses. R’ Sholom Dickstein comes occasionally from nearby Australia to shecht chickens. And if that wasn’t enough, R’ Levy has started construction on a building that is a model of 770.

 

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