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Tuesday
Mar172015

JUDAISM BLOSSOMING IN CHAVATZELET HA’SHARON

For the past three years, on this yishuv and others in the neighboring region, the shliach Rabbi Shay Ben Odiz and his wife, Batya Yehudit, have been making the rounds on the shlichus of the Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach, reaching out to the local residents. Among the heavily secured houses, he gathers Jewish souls and brings them closer to their Father in Heaven. He went through his own adventurous life story until he came to the light of Chassidus.

Translated by Michoel Leib Dobry

Chavatzelet HaSharon and the neighboring yishuvim had been established as agricultural villages for growing vegetable crops and for raising chickens, sheep, and cattle. These yishuvim are situated south of Netanya, along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Many believe that the nameChavatzelet HaSharoncomes from the sea daffodils blossoming throughout the region, particularly during the autumn, with their distinctive white petals. This flower is mentioned in the Torah: “I am a rose of Sharon, a rose of the valleys.” (Shir HaShirim 2:1) However, those familiar with the modern history of Eretz Yisroel provide a different explanation. The yishuv is named after Mrs. Lily (Chavatzelet) Freeman, wife of a leading Jewish philanthropist from Canada. The Jewish activist Yehoshua Chankin managed the familys funds for the express purpose of redeeming land from the Arabs and making them available for Jewish use.

The moshav of Chavatzelet HaSharon and the surrounding villages were established in 5693 (1933). Their founders had emigrated to Eretz Yisroel from Europe and had organized the “Nachalat Yehoshua” organization, named after Yehoshua Chankin. They had returned to their homeland instilled with ideological fervor to breathe new life into the desolation of the past. Many years have passed since then and only a few remain from the founding generation. Most of the local residents are sabras who were looking for a quiet middle class life, and they preferred to build their homes here and raise their families far from the hubbub of the major metropolitan centers.

Three years ago, in a case of incredible Divine Providence, Rabbi Shay Ben Odiz and his wife, Batya Yehudit, arrived on the yishuv, equipped with the brachos of the Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach to establish Chabad activities in the region. There were plenty of hard times at the beginning, as the local residents were extremely suspicious for quite a while. While the Ben Odiz family made their home on the largest of the yishuvim in the region - Chavatzelet HaSharon – their activities extend to another five nearby villages: Shoshanat HaAmakim, Tzukei Yam, Givat Shapira, Bat Chein, and Beitan Aharon. This keeps the shluchim very busy with their outreach work on a daily basis.

The shlichus is divided between operating the new synagogue in Bat Chein, including Shabbos and Yom tov prayer services, and organizing farbrengens and other activities – all according to Chabad custom. Many of these programs are also geared for children within the framework of the Tzivos Hashem Club, e.g., Shabbos parties and holiday events.

There are wide-scale activities for adults too – Torah classes, “one-on-one” learning sessions in Chassidus and other Torah subjects, farbrengens, public events, and house visits. “It’s very difficult here to come into a private home unannounced; this isn’t a city. The people here are more introverted and are very protective of their privacy. Every house is surrounded by a wall and many families have guard dogs. To come to a person’s home, there must be some degree of acquaintance with the owner. However, it comes quite naturally that our work in this region is primarily done on a personal level and on a very friendly basis.”

COVERT OPERATIONS ON NAVY FLOTILLA 13

If you assumed that Rabbi Ben Odiz grew up on one of the moshavim in the Sharon region and his life there had lit the path for him - you’re quite mistaken. He was born and raised in the city of Lod, in a building with twelve families – ten of which were Arab. “My parents’ home was considered a typical traditional Israeli household. My father would make ‘Kiddush’ on Friday night and then we would turn on the television.

“In her youth, my mother had been sent by her parents to learn in Beis Rivka in Kfar Chabad and she enjoyed it there very much. We always showed great respect for the Rebbe in our home. There was a picture of the Rebbe hanging in our living room and my parents had bought the mezuzos and my t’fillin from the Chabad House in the center of Lod.”

Later, when he got closer to Chabad, Shay was amazed to discover that he had actually been privileged to visit the Rebbe when he was three years old, and even received a dollar from his holy hand. “My parents had traveled with me to the United States to visit our relatives living there and the family went one day to 770. We each received a bracha and a dollar to give to tz’daka. It’s possible that in the merit of this visit I came to where I am today. However, I first had to go through a serious spiritual beating. By the time I was in high school I had become extremely distant from the path of Torah. I didn’t even keep the most basic traditions I had observed in my parents’ home.”

After completing his high school studies, he decided to learn the art of hairdressing and became an assistant barber in a high-class barbershop in Lod. “As a result of my work, I had a relatively large amount of money in comparison to other boys my age. I bought a motorcycle and later a car, as I tried to enjoy life to the fullest.

“During the year before I was drafted into the army, my friends and I experienced several strange occurrences that caused the rest of my friends to get stronger in their observance of Torah and mitzvos. However, for some reason, these events didn’t seem to move me.”

One Shabbos, while making a hairpin curve riding his motorcycle to Beersheva, he suddenly flipped over on the highway. Miraculously, he sustained relatively light injuries, although he was hospitalized for about two weeks. A week after his discharge from the hospital, he was traveling by car to Ashdod with his friends for a little recreation. “I was driving at about 110 MPH along the bridge at the entrance to Ashdod. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I turned the steering wheel sharply to the right and the car suddenly began to spin out of control, weaving from side to side.

“The fear was that our car would fall off the bridge or smash into another vehicle coming from the opposite direction. My friends sitting in the passenger seats were screaming in terror. During those tense moments I felt someone from behind hitting me on the shoulder and saying, ‘Wake up.’ Incredibly, the car didn’t overturn, and after a few minutes that seemed like an eternity, I managed to regain control of the wheel and we got off the bridge without injury. When I parked the car, as we got out to absorb what had just happened, I asked my friends: Who had been hitting me on the shoulder? They all said that none of them had even touched me. As a result of this miracle that took place on Shabbos, my friends decided to start keeping Shabbos.”

All of them decided, except for Shay, who didn’t seem to think that he needed to come to his senses after such a shocking event…

Not long afterward, he enlisted to serve in the ‘Daburim’ navy combat unit, while his friends accepted far simpler assignments out of their desire to embrace the path of Torah and mitzvos. They began to take part in Torah classes and some of them even went to learn in yeshivos. Shay was the only one who stubbornly maintained a free lifestyle. He rejected all of his friends’ efforts to convince him to explore his Jewish roots.

During his military service, he participated together with his fellow Daburim navy seamen in several covert operations with soldiers of Flotilla 13 off the shores of Eretz Yisroel, many of which remain confidential to this day. While Shay enjoyed his time in the IDF very much, after two years of intensive military service, he was wounded in “Dabur’ operations, and received two months leave to recuperate at home.

“IF YOU EVER BECOME A BAAL T’SHUVA – ONLY WITH CHABAD”

“During this recovery period, my friends again began to pressure me, and I eventually acceded to their requests to join them in their Torah classes. I took a peek - and I saw that it was good. Several of my friends had already become full-time students at a Litvishe-Sephardic yeshiva in Kiryat Sefer, and I also started to visit there. I felt that the Torah was the true life of a Jew. After completing my period of recuperation, I returned to my base – my injuries prevented me from rejoining my unit – and I was classified for non-combat support in Flotilla 13. Now, however, after beginning my kiruv process, I felt that the IDF was no longer a suitable place for me. I found myself in army life, guarding my eyes, my tongue, and a few other things that I had resolved to do when I went to the yeshiva. Life on the base made all this extremely difficult.

“I remember that one of the rabbanim at the yeshiva in Kiryat Sefer explained that the yeshiva is like Noah’s Ark. Anyone who leaves it – falls, and I didn’t want to fall. I had been an ‘absentee’ soldier for quite some time, and when I returned, my commanding officer gave me two options: either I meet with the flotilla chaplain, Rabbi Yoel Shemtov, or I sit in prison. Rabbi Shemtov was well respected by everyone on the base.”

Rabbi Shemtov heard Shay’s case and rendered his decision: “You want yeshiva and not the army? No problem, there’s a yeshiva in Ramat Aviv. Go there and come back here once a week to tell me how it is there.”

“I didn’t know how to react. A yeshiva in Ramat Aviv? It sounded totally improbable to me. Until then, I only knew about yeshivos in B’nei Brak and Kiryat Sefer. While I knew that Rabbi Shemtov was a Chabadnik, I felt myself torn. On the one hand, there was tremendous appreciation for the Rebbe and Chabad in my home, and my mother had even ‘warned’ me recently, ‘Shay, if you ever become a baal t’shuva, only with Chabad.’ However, I only heard words of hatred and denunciation from the rabbanim in the yeshiva against the Rebbe and the path of Chassidus.”

FROM THE LITVISHE YESHIVA TO CHABAD IN RAMAT AVIV

Shay eventually decided to check the idea out for himself, and he came to the yeshiva in Ramat Aviv. The first week in the Chabad yeshiva was a painful ordeal for him. “They spoke constantly about the Rebbe. They ate before davening Shacharis, they davened according to Ashkenazic custom long after sunrise, made farbrengens, and drank L’chaim. I remember that the first resolution I made after becoming more religious was not to drink liquor; this seemed to be a part of the secular world. During that first week in the yeshiva, I did everything contrary to the yeshiva timetable. I got up at sunrise and made a separate learning schedule for myself.

“Rabbi Shimon Gadasi hooked me up with a learning partner, Shimon Bar Mucha, who today is my brother-in-law. He reacted calmly to my foolishness. After a week, another new bachur arrived at the yeshiva - Elad Goldman, and the two of us soon became very close friends. Thursday night arrived, and he urged me to join him for a farbrengen at the yeshiva with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Friedman. I refused at first, but I eventually agreed to come. This was a farbrengen that changed my entire viewpoint on Chabad and on the teachings of Chassidus in general.

“I saw sitting before me a great scholar in Nigleh, someone who observed traditional Judaism with the utmost stringency. Yet, he also did this joyfully and with abundant Chassidic vitality. For me, that farbrengen was literally a case of ‘Taste and see that G-d is good.’ I realized that I had found my path in Torah and mitzvos. There’s no need for religious Jews to suffer; it’s possible to fulfill mitzvos with true simcha, and this is something that I had always been missing. While I understood that the Torah is the ultimate truth, I am typically a very happy person, whereas in the Litvishe yeshiva, I found myself suppressing my natural zest for life.

“I began receiving answers to the questions I had and I realized that there is nothing bad or heretical about being inquisitive. During that joyous farbrengen with Rabbi Friedman, I recalled the first Yom Kippur I ever kept according to halacha - at the Litvishe yeshiva. The rosh yeshiva got up to speak and he explained that we have to think that we’re going to die that year or suffer from terrible ailments. ‘The world is like a corridor,’ he said. ‘We came into this world to suffer afflictions until we attain the life of the World to Come.’ The whole yeshiva burst into sobs. Yet, I wasn’t crying and I thought this wasn’t right. At this farbrengen, I realized that I was perfectly fine.”

Shay decided to become a true ‘mekabel,’ and within a short period of time, he was a ‘Tamim’ in every sense of the world with all the external garments. “After a few months, I went to visit my friends in the Litvishe yeshiva. When the rabbanim there saw me dressed in Chabad garb, they recoiled in horror. They isolated me into a side room and proceeded to clobber me with musar that I had r”l joined an idolatrous cult. Their words merely reinforced my decision, and after a lengthy period in the Ramat Aviv yeshiva, I went to learn for two years at Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim in Migdal HaEmek.”

After another two years, he was called upon to be one of the founders of the yeshiva for baalei t’shuva in Tel Aviv’s Neve Tzedek neighborhood, headed by Rabbi Avraham Kali. “We established our residence in Lod’s Shikun Chabad neighborhood, and I would travel each day to Tel Aviv for the yeshiva program. Nevertheless, we always wanted to go out on our own shlichus to get another place in the world ready to greet Moshiach Tzidkeinu. We were longing for this, yet we were worried: We knew what the price would be to establish a new location.”

FROM CHECKING MEZUZOS TO SHLICHUS ON THE YISHUV

Offers came and went, but what strengthened them in their search was the fact that whenever they wrote to the Rebbe about their personal affairs, they were privileged to receive brachos on opening a place for activities. They realized that the Rebbe wants them on shlichus.

“One Friday, I received a phone call from one of my acquaintances, who told me that he has a house in Chavatzelet HaSharon and he wanted us to check the mezuzos. I came to the yishuv together with my wife and we found that we truly loved the place. After we quickly discovered that there was no active shliach on site, we decided to write to the Rebbe and ask for his bracha to go on shlichus there. After we received a clear answer and a bracha, the next step was to look for a house to rent.

“During the following week, we came several times to Chavatzelet HaSharon to check out available houses. We spoke with realtors, went through the entire yishuv and those in the surrounding area, but we couldn’t find a suitable location. There were several vacant houses for rent, but when the owners saw our chareidi appearance, they gave various excuses why their place was no longer available. As a result, house after house slipped through our fingers at the last minute. In the meantime, I had to make the journey each day from our home in Shikun Chabad, Lod to Chavatzelet HaSharon. I would come to the local synagogue and make contact with residents through the mutual friend who had first invited me to the yishuv.

“Several months had passed since we had started looking for a home. The situation was a bit complicated. Our house in Shikun Chabad was already packed up in crates, my wife and children were staying with my mother-in-law in Beitar Illit, and I was still traveling each day to Chavatzelet. The only thing still left hanging in our house was the Rebbe’s picture. I remember standing in front of the picture and asking the Rebbe to put an end to this saga. I even got up the chutzpah to ask for a clear sign that this is the place for my shlichus.

“That same day, as I entered the synagogue in Chavatzelet HaSharon between Mincha and Maariv, I saw a religious young man substituting for the regular rabbi and speaking before the congregants. I had a conversation with him, during which he expressed his doubts about our coming to the yishuv as the Rebbe’s shluchim. Nevertheless, I listened as he spoke to everyone about how he had learned an amazing sicha from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose birthday was that evening. When I heard these words, I saw this as the sign I had been looking for.

“I went up to him again and we spoke about the Rebbe. This time, unlike our first conversation, he responded most warmly and agreed to help. He connected me with his friend, who had a house on the yishuv and was looking for a tenant. We came to see the house and I was very enthusiastic about it. However, my excitement soon evaporated when he told us that he already had a renter. In any case, I left him my phone number and prayed that everything would work out. A few hours later, at around midnight, I got a call from the owner. He surprisingly informed me that his prospective tenant had backed out of the deal at the last minute and he would be happy to rent the house to us instead.

“The following day, my wife and I came to Chavatzelet HaSharon to sign the rental contract. We have been living in this house now for nearly three years. The ‘Regional Chabad House of Chavatzelet HaSharon’ opened its gates that same day, thereby ending a difficult period of uncertainty.”

A NEW SYNAGOGUE – ACCORDING TO CHABAD CUSTOMS

“There was no lack of early adversity. For the first few Shabbasos, I had to bring bachurim to my house to complete the minyan. The biggest difficulty was on a social level: My children couldn’t go out and play with the other children, as they were naturally part of our shlichus. Even my wife didn’t have an easy time, as the entire burden of maintaining the household was squarely on her shoulders. Nevertheless, we were quite happy that we had the privilege of serving in the king’s army.”

One of the main levels of outreach activities revolved around the synagogue.

“A few months after we went out on shlichus, the construction of the new synagogue in Moshav Bat Chein was completed. The yishuv leaders had built it for local residents who preferred to have their Yom tov and High Holiday services there and not be forced to walk to Chavatzelet HaSharon, about twenty minutes away by foot. One council member, who worked for the defense community, knew Chabad from his travels around the world and through his friends, the Rebbe’s shluchim in another city. As a result of this connection, we were given administrative control over the synagogue.”

According to the conditions set by Rabbi Ben Odiz, he would run the synagogue according to Chabad customs. These conditions were met and the synagogue opened its gates to the yishuv community. “Not only were the siddurim and prayer services according to Chabad custom, the whole atmosphere was that of a typical Chabad shul. After Shabbos davening we make a Chassidic farbrengen. People donate food and drink, and this has become a weekly Shabbos ritual.

There’s a bachur who comes every Shabbos to Bat Chein from Chavatzelet due to the special atmosphere in our shul, despite the fact that his yishuv has its own synagogue.

DANCING UNTIL TWO IN THE MORNING

During the past two years, two Torah scrolls were donated to the shul. “The first Sefer Torah was personally dedicated by the head of the local council during the very first days after we began our activities in the synagogue.

“There’s an amazing story behind the second Torah scroll. It was donated by one of the yishuv’s most prominent families, owners of a well-known bakery chain in Netanya. The head of the family, a very reputable and affluent Jew, had passed away suddenly. His three children, who were regular participants in synagogue activities, established a Wednesday evening Torah class in their home.

“When Chai Elul approached, I suggested that they print a Tanya in their house, and they happily agreed. They made this into a grand public affair, inviting dozens of friends and acquaintances from the surrounding moshavim to participate in the Tanya printing. This became an opportunity to widen the circle of supporters throughout the region. One of those present at this event was a resident of nearby Givat Shapira, and he also wanted to make a Tanya printing in his home. This was arranged for the very next day with many guests attending this event as well.

“The day after this printing, one of the sons called me with a story to tell. In a voice filled with emotion, he described how on the night after the printing, he dreamt that he saw his father standing at the side of a mountain, as a majestic looking figure lifted him upward and caused him great joy. The son felt that his father was expressing his happiness over the Tanya printing they had made the previous evening in his memory. Time passed, and another terrible occurrence befell the family, when they learned that their widowed mother had contracted a terminal illness. I suggested that they write a letter to the Rebbe, and the answer dealt with the writing of a Sefer Torah. They decided right then and there to donate a Torah scroll.

“Within a few weeks, the Sefer Torah had been purchased, and we organized a full-scale public dedication ceremony. Just a few days after the ceremony, the mother, who had been hanging between life and death, miraculously recovered from the illness and returned to a normal and happy life.”

Rabbi Ben Odiz then enthusiastically described Simchas Torah on the yishuv: “On Simchas Torah, we customarily make Hakafos and a festive meal fit for a king. We invite all the residents of Bat Chein and from other nearby yishuvim. Last year, about eighty people participated, and the dancing continued until two in the morning. In terms of our yishuv, this is nothing less than a revolution!”

AN ATMOSPHERE OF GEULA AND BEING PREPARED FOR MOSHIACH

There are also numerous activities with the young people living on the yishuvim. Until recently, the yishuv operated a youth club for bringing Jewish messages to local children. “Not long ago, I met one of the children who had been a regular participant in these activities. This child came from an elitist left-wing household. He learned the meaning of Modeh Ani and he knew how to recite the Twelve P’sukim as if he had been raised in a Lubavitcher home.

“Each holiday season, we do activities with the children in cooperation with the local commercial center. We bring Chanukah oil workshops, Purim costume workshops, and bake matzos before Pesach. Many children take part. We also do a series of activities with the local dormitory for children in crisis. Each year, we help bar-mitzvah boys to prepare their Torah reading and teach them about t’fillin and other relevant mitzvos with visual aid presentations. We enjoy remarkable support, even from the yishuv’s army prep school.”

When conducting outreach activities on moshavim, it’s naturally much more difficult to collect money. How do you manage?

“This is by no means an easy matter to cope with, especially for someone like myself who has a hard time asking for money. Yet, a day doesn’t pass where we don’t see miracles. We make a great effort and we feel the spiritual light filling the vessels. There’s no lack of examples. I was recently traveling to one of the Anash communities to raise funds for our programs. While I had managed by the end of the day to collect a respectable amount of money, it still wasn’t enough to cover our most pressing expenses. At one of the last houses I visited, the baal ha’bayis told me that he didn’t have any cash on hand. Nevertheless, he asked that I leave our bank account number for him to make a direct deposit.

“I gave him the information, although I was certain that he was simply being polite, as happens quite often. Imagine how surprised I was the following morning when I checked my bank account and discovered a very sizable contribution had been deposited there.”

How have Chavatzelet HaSharon and the surrounding region prepared to greet Moshiach?

“The subject of Moshiach is a main topic at farbrengens and Torah classes. We even proclaim ‘Yechi Adoneinu’ at the end of every minyan. People understand that this means nothing less than that the Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach lives with us in every sense of the word. In addition, we hung a giant Moshiach flag on the rooftop of our house, situated along the area’s main highway. Thus, everyone realizes that ‘Moshiach’ exists in Chavatzelet HaSharon. While this is merely an external symbol, it definitely gives the impression that Redemption is on the agenda.

“Many local residents come to us to write to the Rebbe via Igros Kodesh. This has already become such a widespread custom here that they come to us to write a letter, even without our suggesting the idea. There’s a young man who is closely connected with us; he comes to the synagogue and has a regular learning partner in Chassidus. However, his wife constantly made things difficult for him, and she didn’t want to hear anything about Yiddishkait or Torah and mitzvos. One day, I got a phone call from him. He told me that he and his wife were planning to move to a much larger and more expensive house located near the yishuv’s synagogue.

“He proceeded to explain that his wife had sent him to me to write a letter to the Rebbe via ‘Igros Kodesh’ in request of a bracha. When he came over to our house and I expressed my amazement, he said that his wife has relatives who are Chabad Chassidim, and she heard from them about the custom of writing to the Rebbe. After they moved to their new house, his wife also started participating in our activities. It didn’t take long before she felt that we weren’t so frightening after all. As a result, she and her husband have joined our core of local supporters.”

There are regular Chassidus classes not just in Chavatzelet, but also at the moshavim and kibbutzim in the area. According to Rabbi Ben Odiz, this testifies to the true spiritual revolution affecting the entire region.

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