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Thursday
Oct022014

DURING TISHREI THE ATMOSPHERE WAS ELECTRIC

Before Simchas Torah 5745 I had a mild stroke and could no longer arrange this celebration. The doctors ordered me to rest. Some suggested I should travel to the Rebbe, but along with the strong desire to go there were also serious concerns how I would manage with the crowds and the commotion. In the end, my strong desire won out and I went to 770.

By RLevi Hezkia
Shliach in Milan
, Italy
Prepared for publication by Nosson Avraham

The Rebbe encouraging a Niggun Simcha at a farbrengen in the 60’s

MY JOURNEY TO CHABAD

The Rebbe and 770 were and remain for me my entire world. The peak moments were definitely in the month of Tishrei.

From a young age there began to blossom within me a love for the Rebbe. My parents escaped from Russia to Afghanistan after the communists demanded that my father to work on Shabbos. He asked that the assignment he was given be postponed until the following Shabbos and in the interim he joined a convoy that crossed the border. From Afghanistan the extended family made aliya and settled in Yerushalayim. Like the children of many immigrants, I was sent to a dormitory in Yerushalayim, called “Diskin’s.”

Two sincere Lubavitcher bachurim, R’ Yaakov Reinitz and R’ Yaakov Minsky, visited the dormitory and spoke to us about emuna and Torah ideas. I became very friendly with them and was caught up in their passion until R’ Reinitz gaily said to me, “Hezkia, you need to transfer to learn in Chabad.”

I told them I needed my father’s permission. My father had just opened a butcher store and he relied on me, as the second son, to help him in the store and help support the family. But these fellows were determined, and they asked my father to write to the Rebbe in New York and ask him what he suggested. Whatever he would say, my father promised to do.

The Rebbe wrote to my father that if I learned in yeshiva this would increase the parnasa of the home, and my father unhesitatingly allowed me to go to Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim in Lud. Within a short time, my hiskashrus to the Rebbe and Chabad grew so that you would not have been able to tell that I had just discovered this amazing world. I remember that at that time, in the beginning of the 60’s, my father bought a dollar which had been received from the Rebbe for sixty liros. That was a large sum in those days.

In Elul 5725/1964, a group of us bachurim went for a year of K’vutza. The bachurim before us were there for only three months, while we got six months. When Zalman Shazar was at the Rebbe that year, he was asked to give the bachurim an entire year, and he worked on it. We were thus able to be with the Rebbe for a year. We arrived on 19 Elul. When the taxi that brought us from the airport stopped near 770, we were told that the Rebbe was about to come any minute. So we stayed in the taxi and did not dare get out. Within moments the car arrived and the Rebbe got out. He looked at our car and smiled. After taking a few steps in the direction of 770, he turned around to us and smiled broadly. That was the “shalom aleichem” we got from the Rebbe.

Back then, the atmosphere was altogether different. The crowd was much smaller than it was in the 90’s and certainly than today. There was a special feeling of love and comradeship amongst people, even those who had never met before. The fact that you were a Chassid made you family; that is how we felt. Until today, whoever was there at that time remembers everyone, and when we meet, all the memories come flooding back. The bond between Chassidim was deep and more heartfelt. The relationship with the Rebbe was different too. We received long letters, the instructions were detailed, and it was possible to experience the meaning of “Rebbe” more personally.

THE REBBE ASKED ME TO JOIN THE MEAL

When I finished the year of K’vutza and returned home, I asked the Rebbe permission to come back and remain longer. The Rebbe told me to ask the one in charge. I spoke to the mashpia, R’ Moshe Naparstek who got an exemption for me from the army, and I went back to 770 and remained there until 5729.

I attended many holiday meals with the Rebbe that took place upstairs, together with R’ Meir Harlig. I merited special kiruvim.

I often built the Rebbe’s sukka together with R’ Chaim Boruch Halberstam. I helped him a lot and he would take me into the room where the Rebbe ate the holiday meal in the Rebbe Rayatz’s apartment. One time, in 5729, I asked to be able to attend the meal and he agreed. He told me to go in through the kitchen and arranged with me that I would knock at the door and he would open it for me. I knocked and knocked but nobody answered. Suddenly, the door opened and there stood Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka! She motioned to me to enter.

At that meal I peeked at the Rebbe. I saw that they had all washed their hands, but the Rebbe was looking for something. I realized it was the salt. I went in and gave the salt to the Rebbe who nodded his thanks with a big smile.

Then R’ Chaim Boruch came over to me and said that the Rebbe asked that I sit at the table. I was very shy and ran out in agitation. R’ Chaim Boruch went outside and told me again that the Rebbe wanted me to come in. I refused and said I did not want to. He went in and then came back out a few minutes later and said that the Rebbe said that I should want and should come in… So I went in and had the privilege of eating the meal with the Rebbe.

In my first yechidus after Tishrei, I told the Rebbe that I felt that despite everything, I was not making progress in 770 as I had expected I would. The Rebbe dismissed this and said that it was clear to him that I was advancing, but I was right that maybe it was not enough because one is never supposed to stop progressing. I remember how throughout that Tishrei I would sing vigorously. There wasn’t a large crowd and the singing wasn’t that strong.

That first Tishrei I went around with the Chassidic parable about the wagon driver who sold his horse and went to the Rebbe bouncing around in my head. When he was asked – what about parnasa, he said that in the Rebbe’s merit he had what he had and if the Rebbe smiled at him that would also be a profit. I gave up everything to merit another moment with the Rebbe, another glance, another smile, another movement, another sicha or maamer. I was immensely satisfied.

THE MAIN THING IS TO BE WITH THE REBBE!

I won’t forget the farbrengens of the mashpiim and the elder Chassidim, especially of those who came from behind the Iron Curtain. Their hiskashrus to the Rebbe was so powerful that they got everyone else caught up in it and they added another element to the already electric atmosphere. I remember R’ Moshe Vishedsky bringing a Chassidic explanation of his own to the story of Yaakov’s ladder in Parshas VaYeitzei. “What did the stones quarrel about?” He asked. “After all, they are stones and not comfortable pillows; sleeping on stones is painful!” Then he said: “We are stones, it hurts the Rebbe to be with us, but that already is a matter between the Rebbe and Hashem. We need to fight and push so that the Rebbe will be able to keep an eye on us and we in turn can view his conduct.”

I also remember a farbrengen of R’ Zalman Jaffe of Manchester; he was an Englishman with all the mannerisms, but a big Chassid. He said that the first time he was at the Rebbe and saw all the pushing, he was very annoyed by it. What sort of upbringing was this? Why did they behave this way? But then he realized that a Chassid cannot remain behind when it comes to anything having to do with the Rebbe. A Chassid needs to push forward, to be first and foremost in everything connected to the Rebbe.

What can I tell you? This inspired me very much. The very fact that I remember it till today affirms its importance to me. Nor will I forget the Maftirs that the Rebbe was called up for; there was the feeling that you were literally hearing the prophet convey the prophecies.

In 5725 a bachur came from Milan, R’ Sholom Almaliach, who was also a shochet. I helped him in a number of matters. He told me that there is a large Persian community in Milan and that I had a lot of potential to be able to work with them.

From when I became exposed to the Rebbe and Chassidus I longed to go on shlichus. I prayed that I would have the privilege of being included in the legion of shluchim. There is a saying that Mincha with the Rebbe is also yechidus; so every time I davened Mincha, I prayed silently that I merit going on shlichus.

R’ Haddad, who was already working in Milan, asked about me in yechidus and was given a positive answer, but the Rebbe made it conditional on my being married.

A shidduch suggestion came up with a girl from Beis Rivka in France. We arranged to meet before Elul, but first we had to write to the Rebbe and receive his blessing. I waited a day, two days, but there was no reply, so I stayed in 770.

In Elul, R’ Haddad met me again and said that in Milan there was no one proficient in mila and I should study it before I went to Milan. I stayed in 770 for Tishrei and then had yechidus. I wrote to the Rebbe that I wanted permission to first travel to London to study mila and then to go to France where I had a shidduch suggestion.

The Rebbe told me to go directly to the shidduch and only then to study mila. This was a clear answer and I knew that the Rebbe was giving me his consent to the shidduch as well as to the study of mila. R’ Chadakov suggested that I remain in 770 until after Shabbos Parshas Chayei Sarah, which is a “Shabbos of shidduchim” as he put it.

I spent three weeks in Paris, enough time for us to decide to build a home together. After we wrote to the Rebbe and received his blessing, I went to London to study mila and from there to Eretz Yisroel where our wedding took place.

For forty years I have performed brissin all over Europe.

BACK AGAIN FOR TISHREI

In Chabad, I was taught that simcha poretz geder. I always stuck close to the Chassidim for whom simcha was an outstanding characteristic. Not surprisingly then, when I arrived in Italy on shlichus, one of the first things I did was arrange Simchas Beis HaShoeiva.

When I was still a boy, R’ Yaakov Reinitz would take me to the big simcha in Yerushalayim. I didn’t think there was any reason for Italy not to have something similar. For many years I did not go to the Rebbe for Tishrei; instead, I worked to bring 770 to Milan. We experienced great success. Hundreds of people danced and rejoiced for hours.

Before Simchas Torah 5745 I had a mild stroke and could no longer arrange this celebration. The doctors ordered me to rest. Some said I should travel to the Rebbe but along with the strong desire to go, there were also serious concerns about how I would manage in the crowds and with the commotion in 770, especially on Simchas Torah, and I was so weak. In the end, my strong desire won out and I went to 770.

As soon as I walked in I met my dear friend, R’ Dovid Nachshon. When he saw me and heard my situation, he suggested that I go into a hole under the bima so no one would push me, and that is what I did. Near me stood R’ Groner’s son and R’ Itkin’s son.

At a certain point, during the first hakafa, I heard the bachurim yelling toward me, “Jump!”

“I can’t,” I called back and explained to them, in the midst of the hullabaloo, about my condition.

“So give us your hands and we’ll pick you up,” they offered.

“Why are you insisting that I go up?” I asked and they said it was the Rebbe’s request.

I immediately placed my hands on their shoulders and with great difficulty I managed to get up. Then I saw the Rebbe presenting the Torah to me for me to kiss it. I nearly swallowed my tongue in excitement. This scene repeated itself during the seventh hakafa. I felt that the Rebbe was “compensating me” for all the years that I could not attend the hakafos because of the work I was doing in Milan.

WORTH THE BUMPS
AND BRUISES

During Tishrei there were many miracles and wonders in 770. You have to understand that the shul was much smaller than it is today. Hundreds of Chassidim stood on the pyramid and not one of them stood on it with both legs due to the tremendous crush. I remember that on Rosh HaShana 5726, an entire pyramid collapsed and everybody standing on it fell like a deck of cards. It was a terrifying sight. I was sure there were casualties, but incredibly everyone was fine and they went up again, each one back to his place.

The atmosphere was electric. Nobody paid attention to comfort. Among the bachurim there was a joke that made the rounds that in Tishrei you did not take care of injuries so as not to miss out on anything. It was only at the end of the elevated days of Tishrei that everyone examined himself and discovered how many bumps and bruises he had, but who cared?

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