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Tuesday
May162017

FROM COMPETITIVE SPORTS TO CHALLENGING SHLICHUS

Avivas life trajectory fluctuated between a national championship and a physical breakdown, between light and darkness. Today she works to strengthen the separation between the Jewish people and the nations of the world. Her shlichus is in a place of impurity and idols, where she and her family are bringing a spirit of life and purity. * The story of Aviva Yizhar who is on shlichus in Varanasi, India.

By Molly Kupchik

COLLAPSE

Aviva, mother of four, a shlucha, and a baalas teshuva, used to be an athlete. “Hashem got me out of the mud and showed me what is true,” she begins.

Aviva studied education and earned a degree in physical education. At the same time, she was involved in competitive sports as a means of selfactualization and self-defense, training that would help her in her teshuva process.

The turning point began as she approached the age of 30. When she achieved first place in the Israeli version of martial arts, known as amanut lechima, there was nobody left to challenge her. So she turned to a new sport, the triathlon (a threestage competition that includes swimming, cycling and running), an extremely demanding competition.

Aviva achieved fourth place, but after the competition was over, she collapsed. She had a 42 C (107 F) fever for five days. She, whose body was her entire life, who had trained every day, discovered that her body had betrayed her. She wondered, what now?

 SPIRITUAL GROWTH

Her brother became a baal teshuva and her parents followed. Her mother took her to a rabbi who recommended that she commit to some mitzva. She chose to recite the “she’hakol” whenever she drank.

When she recovered and went back to coaching children, they asked her what she mumbled before she drank. She taught them how to thank Hashem. “I guess the Rebbe saw me doing mivtzaim and connected me to Chabad,” she says smilingly.

At that visit to the rabbi, he advised her to buy a Chovos HaLevavos (the classic Duties of the Hearts), which she read during her illness. She did not understand much aside from the fact that, “my whole life ‘they played me,’ nobody told me anything of substance about the Creator, that all of existence is He.”

“I would read and cry,” she said, describing the experience, until she got up to the Shaar HaBitachon (Gate of Trust), and then she decided to test it, during this recovery period when she had no income. She relied on Hashem and a few days later she received a large sum of money as compensation for a previous car accident, an amount enough for all her financial responsibilities!

Then she began to speak to Hashem. “If You really run the world, give me a sign,” and He did, and she was “flying.”

Now and then, that rabbi would give her another mitzva to do. When she recovered, she faced a conflict with her coaching and Shabbos. The rabbi said, “Keep one Shabbos,” and one led to another. On the third Shabbos she went to shul and felt how Hashem had opened her eyes and differentiated light from darkness, between the light of shul and the darkness that prevailed in the places she used to hang out. When she davened, every word was intense, and Aviva wondered, “Who is the genius who invented such loaded words?”

As she faced challenges from the yetzer hara, she used the training that she developed in self-defense classes. Aviva explains that facing a challenger, taking blows without being fazed, developed inner resources that helped her succeed in her fight with the animal soul during her teshuva process.

 WHAT A WEDDING!

Someone suggested that she visit Ascent for Shabbos. The guest speaker that Shabbos was Rabbi Yitzchak Arad. Savoring a taste of Chassidus, she wanted more and was referred to Machon Alte. She spent a few days there and was invited to the wedding of Ofra Badosa, a writer for Beis Moshiach/Ateres Chaya.

“At a wedding that is not run according to the guidelines of k’dusha (holiness), each person is trying to make himself happy and is busy impressing others. But here I saw true joy, where clothing was not the main thing, and I decided I wanted to get married.”

Aviva decided to drop everything. “Everyone thought I was crazy, aside from my parents who were happy.” In extraordinary divine providence, she was able to sell her expensive sports bicycle within a few hours and she went to study full-time at Machon Alte, “heaven on earth,” as she puts it. She spent a year there and from the start, the Rebbe told her to spread the wellsprings.

Aviva immediately began doing so. On off-Shabbasos, at her parents, she would arrange Melaveh Malka meals and would connect the participants to the Rebbe through writing to the Igros Kodesh.

She married Shmuel Yizhar in a Chassidishe wedding. He had become a baal teshuva after spending twenty years in India.

PARSHAS PARA

About three months after their wedding, they went to India for a brief shlichus opportunity that was more than enough for her, but after the birth of their daughter, months of convincing and reading in the Seifer Ha’shlichus that a Jew travels overseas even for one Jew, she was convinced.

They arrived in Varanasi and looked for a place to live, without success. Then Aviva noticed a cow and decided in desperation to follow it with her baby in a carrier.

The cow stopped for some grass near a small motel in a green area, a rarity in this hot, sooty, muddy place. The new shluchim rented the thirteen room building and hired the proprietor to help out, because in one moment, he was left without employment.

The baby in the carriage was bitten up and the food was dive bombed by moths and mosquitoes … Welcome to India!

HASHEM HELPS MAKE SHABBOS

Aviva tells about their first Shabbos on shlichus:

We bought gas burners and found someone to make chapati for us, the Indian bread. I began looking through rice and suddenly, in walked an Israeli, a retiree from the army who heard about the new Chabad House and wanted to help. He cut up vegetables and began frying, but when it came time to light the Shabbos candles, I said to him, “That’s it, you need to stop. Just add water and put it on the Shabbos hotplate. Hashem will take care of it!”

My husband danced with him, “Lecha Dodi,” and I was moved – here we were, for one Jew!

At the meal, seven people knocked on the gate and joined our daughter Shterna’s first birthday celebration. Each guest made a good hachlata. When I served the rice and vegetables, the guest who fried it was amazed that despite the short time that elapsed since Shabbos began, the vegetables were well cooked. He saw how Hashem runs the world. Nature is completely nullified in these places where you come to make big changes. The man was moved by the raw vegetables that were miraculously cooked and he decided to keep the Ten Commandments. I realized what “shlichus for even one Jew” means.

 ON THE BANKS OF THE INDIAN “NILE”

Varanasi is the most sacred city to Indians and is considered the spiritual capital of India. Indians make pilgrimages there and go to die there. It is also a musical center and many Jews, who go there to study, see the Yizhar couple on the street and remember their roots.

“The sitra achra is strong there and whoever is not strongly bound with holiness is swept away. Yet, there are also moments of inspiration and tourists have asked me, ‘Do you have a mikva? We need to purify ourselves.’”

The city is noisy and chaotic and full of the music of idol worshipers. Although the Yizhar home is located in a relatively exclusive and quieter area, there are still times that the music pounds the ears nonstop, even 48 consecutive hours! The children wake up in a fright and cry because of the noise and even at the young age of two, they know to ask for Chassidishe music to drown out the sound. Aviva says, “Tourists can escape the noise by going to another part of the city, but we can’t.”

Another disturbing factor are the monkeys. When the monkeys feel like it, they enter the houses and wreak havoc while doing tricks in the windows.

“We were in the middle of Shma one evening when a monkey suddenly came into the living room, took a bunch of bananas from the basket and left.” Nails were knocked into the fence around the house in the hopes that this will discourage unwanted visitors.

Only on Purim does Aviva prepare real Indian food aside from the chapati that is baked throughout the season.

“When basic ingredients are missing, you create them,” she says, and she explained how it is the void that gets people to return to the source. She illustrates this with an anecdote about a young man from a religiousnational background who learned a maamer Chassidus with her husband before 11 Nissan. After an hour and a half, he grasped his head and said, “All my life I thought I know and suddenly, I’ve discovered that I don’t understand a thing.” The man spent many hours in the Chabad House learning Chassidus.

Tourists are overwhelmed by the intensity of the city – “We can’t believe you’re here! We salute you!” is a constant refrain they hear. To which they respond, “If you would stop coming, we would not have to be here.” Boruch Hashem, the number of Jewish tourists has been declining over the years. They have been there for eight tourist seasons, for the purpose of sanctifying the place, “make here into Eretz Yisroel,” and their presence has had a purifying effect.

CHALLENGES

Being on shlichus is not always fun, for example those Shabbasos when there is no minyan, “But we did not come for ourselves; we came to show Jews the way, even for one! And the Rebbe goes hand in hand with us.”

One of the neighboring shluchim comes now and then to shecht chickens. Sometimes, goats are available for rent and the children pet them and the parents milk them.

To reach the nearest major city, they need to travel thirty hours each way! Once, on a trip to the mikva, they had to jump from the train with their twin stroller and packages because it was delayed and they did not want to chance getting stuck on the road for Pesach. Then ended up staying in the city (it was at the end of the season when it’s hot and there are hardly any tourists). They wondered why they were delayed when they were trying to do a mitzva, but then, to their surprise, a Jew appeared who did not even know that it was Pesach night. He joined them for the seder and when they parted ways he said he wanted to learn Torah. Aviva gave him her first Chitas. He leafed through the HaYom Yom and marveled, “Diamonds!”

“And then we understood why Hashem had us return to this nightmare place, even for one Jew …”

The need and the Rebbe’s request that a mikva be built was on their minds (the Rebbe wrote, “I am pained that there is no mikva in your city,” and they should begin and the money will come).

There was a year when they came on shlichus and did not find anything suitable to live in, so they took a cubicle near an idol worship temple, where they hosted thirty people on Shabbos.

Tourists marveled, “You are in such a forsaken place, it’s quite a sacrifice!” There is nowhere to go out to, and in their cubicle the children had no place to run around, with an aron kodesh, a refrigerator, and table. When they davened, the people sat on the beds.

“It was really a position of bittul,” says Aviva. “We wrote to the Rebbe and understood that we had to get to work to create the reality. We found a place and arranged to close on it at a lawyer, but the owner backed out.

“We found a different place and negotiated all the renovations. Three weeks went by and the owner decided he wasn’t interested. We were at our wits’ end. The Rebbe encouraged us and promised, ‘going out from straits to expansiveness, soon,’ and we got the strength for another week and then another.

“The mashpia at first thought we should look for another place of shlichus, but the Rebbe said that every trip and move would stop us from our holy work and that we had to be happy with the fact that the Rebbe Rayatz chose us as his shluchim. We decided to be happy on shlichus, no matter what, even if we would spend Purim and Pesach in that cubicle.”

A few days later, R’ Yizhar went to take back their belongings from the last house whose owner changed his mind about renting. The owner explained that he wanted altogether different renovations. “We made an agreement and Hashem gave us a floor and not just a cement surface as we had wanted… We also had a Pesach kitchen upstairs and a sink for washing netilas yadayim, and the owner paid for it all! We moved before Purim, and on 27 Adar the cornerstone was laid for the mikva, l’ilui nishmas Mira Scharf, Hy”d.”

Three years of delays and obstacles passed, including contractors and laborers who took money and fled. Finally, the shliach with the help of one of the tourists finished building the mikva on their own.

RAIN RAIN

Aviva sees how the ruchnius has an effect on the gashmius. She once had a medical problem and on a fundraising trip to Australia she held a farbrengen and her problem was solved.

Aviva emphasizes that “chinuch is the basis for all of existence.” Her children attend schools in Eretz Yisroel for two months after Pesach and she plans on bringing bachurim to teach her sons.

Their Chabad House provides food services, Chassidus classes, farbrengens, and Shabbos/ Yom Tov meals. Aviva brought candlesticks from Crown Heights whose design the Rebbe chose for the N’shei Chabad, and female tourists commit to lighting candles.

GO OUT OF YOUR SELF

The numerical equivalent of the word “shliach,” plus 10 for the ten soul powers, is the numerical equivalent of Moshiach. Aviva is infused with a Geula awareness.

“The Rebbe wants us to go out of our selves. We need to get out of our comfort zone,” she emphasizes, “to think about what we can do to influence others and to bring about kabbalas p’nei Moshiach Tzidkeinu. There is no ‘I.’ Go out of your self, out of your routine and comfort zone, even if you have to give up your desires. This is what the Rebbe wants us to accomplish.

“Our shlichus is all about Moshiach. Our reason for being there is to greet Moshiach and to fulfill the purpose of creation, i.e., the Geula.”

For example, the theme of their Purim party one year was that they are all welcoming Moshiach and that is what is written on the sign at the entrance. The shluchim made hats on which they inlaid a picture of the Rebbe and everyone chose a hat, crown or accessory, and understood good and well who it is we are preparing to greet.

Yes Rebbe, Jews in Varanasi are ready for you to come!

SOUL STORIES

There are Jews in Varanasi who live as Indians and who are immersed in impurity. When they see the Lubavitchers who remind them of their roots, they are furious.

Aviva tells of one such person who was very bound up in klipa who would come for Shabbos meals, “he was completely enveloped in darkness,” uncommunicative, closed in, sad … He slowly opened up and began learning maamarim with the shliach. This led to davening, to use the mikva, and finally, he left and returned to Eretz Yisroel.

***

Itai was drawn to the shluchim and stayed for about a month. He loved niggunim and read Chassidishe stories to the children and learned every day with R’ Yizhar. He left after Pesach with the commitment to only eat kosher food. They later heard that he had gone to a yeshiva. They hosted him for Tishrei in Crown Heights. He told them that during his last week with them, he learned the kosher signs in the parsha and what was permissible to eat.

On the train trip he was very enticed to eat Indian food when suddenly, as though straight out of the parsha, a grasshopper jumped on him. He considered this a sign from heaven that he must eat kosher and he recalled what the shluchim said, that the Rebbe says that kashrus is the foundation of a Jew, and this is what helps a Jew be connected to G-dliness. This line stayed with him.

***

When they first opened the Chabad House, a retiree couple knocked at their door. They came every evening for a meal and shiurim. The woman was Reform who said she was called up to the Torah at her “temple,” and she said they did not eat with Indians. They cooked their own food.

Aviva dared to ask about koshering the utensils they use, and the woman said she had never heard of that. The next day, she came with all her kitchen equipment and the shluchim kashered the pots.

Then they had to immerse them. Without a mikva, they had to use the Ganges River where bodies and ashes from bodies are placed. The Indians worship this river.

The husband was not willing to immerse the utensils in such a filthy body of water but was finally convinced. “It was moving to see how a Jewish woman whose soul was awakened was totally excited and happy,” describes Aviva, who herself experienced her first encounter with the river at that time.

The woman was busy looking for a spot deep enough to immerse the utensils, when Aviva was horrified to see a skull floating past.

After the utensils were washed thoroughly, the woman hugged Aviva and tearfully thanked her.

To a girl who was confused about the future, the Rebbe wrote in the Igros Kodesh to study Torah. Aviva gave her a Tanya and wrote a dedication, “May you build a home on the foundations of Torah and Chassidus.” She told the girl to go to Machon Alte to study or at least to look for a Tanya class.

Half a year later, Aviva met her at a friend’s wedding. The girl was dressed modestly and was wearing a wig. The girl said that at first she laughed when she read the dedication, but she looked for a Tanya class and brought the Tanya with her. The learning empowered her and she went to Machon Alte and eventually built a Chassidic home.

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