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Wednesday
Jul122017

MIVTZAIM REVOLUTION IN OTHER CHASSIDIC CIRCLES

Friday afternoon, in the center of cities like Ramat Gan, Beit Shemesh, Ashdod etc., you will see them at tfillin stands. No, they are not Lubavitcher bachurim, they are bachurim and married men from Poilishe Chassidic groups who do Mivtza Tfillin every week! * In a conversation with Beis Moshiach, Yisroel Chaim Detz, who runs a tfillin stand and is a former Poilishe Chassid, told about the challenges of this new phenomenonthe men who go far away from where they live so they wont be identified, the bachurim who need to hide from their mashgiach, and a personal story about the rain that fell and the Chassid that blossomed.

By Elad Yitzchaki

Every Friday, Avrohom Dovid finishes learning in his Chassidishe yeshiva in Bnei Brak and together with his friends, they close their Gemaras, kiss them, and put them back in the bookcase.

His friends go about their business and start getting ready for Shabbos. The masmidim, who don’t want to leave yeshiva just yet, stay a while longer. Those whose families live locally, in B’nei Brak, go home for a snack and a visit. Others go to the store to buy some nosh and Shabbos reading material.

Avrohom Dovid looks as though he’s going to take care of things for Shabbos but under his arm is his t’fillin bag. He is also preparing for Shabbos, but lately, his way of preparing is somewhat different than it used to be. As a result, his Shabbos also feels different.

Avrohom Dovid crosses some side streets and turns to Rechov Chazon Ish where he meets his friend Yanky from a different Chassidishe yeshiva. They merge into the crowds in the hopes that they won’t draw attention to themselves.

The bus to Ashdod arrives and they quickly board it. No, they don’t live in Ashdod, but they go there to avoid people who might know them. “We don’t look for problems; it’s better if they don’t know about it,” they say. In Ashdod they are somewhat away from the religious area and they join a large t’fillin stand in the heart of the business district.

GROWING PHENOMENON

Avrohom Dovid and his friend are not the only ones, and Ashdod is not the only city. T’fillin stands manned by Poilishe Chassidim who became interested in Chabad have become a growing phenomenon. You can find these stands in Yerushalayim, Beit Shemesh, Ramat Gan, Rishon L’Tziyon, Ashdod, etc.

We are already used to men and bachurim from other religious groups who are interested in Chassidus. We know about the shiurim, farbrengens and special gatherings for b’nei yeshiva and married men from all sectors of the religious world. But the sight of a Chabad t’fillin stand, in the heart of major cities, manned by bachurim and men with long, curled peios who wear Poilishe garb, is striking.

UNDERGROUND MIVTZAIM

Although going on mivtzaim is built into the Fridays of Lubavitcher Chassidim, for those bachurim and men from Poilishe Chassidic groups, it’s quite a challenge. Even those places and communities that accept the learning of Chabad Chassidus find it hard to accept the idea of going on mivtzaim.

This is why most of the bachurim who regularly go on mivtzaim, like Avrohom Dovid and his friend, don’t want to be seen and don’t want their names getting out. Some of them go far from where they live or learn to avoid meeting people they know.

One of the people who runs these stands who is not afraid of exposure is Yisroel Chaim Detz. Every Friday he mans a busy t’fillin stand from morning till late afternoon. Detz began learning Chassidus at age fourteen and attended Tomchei T’mimim and even went on k’vutza.

“For a yeshiva bachur from a Chassidishe yeshiva to go on mivtzaim is something that is far from accepted, not even for someone who learns Chassidus regularly. Learning is one thing, but mivtzaim, going out in public, that is something else entirely.”

Detz’s stand is active from seven in the morning until late afternoon. Men and bachurim from Chassidishe yeshivos take turns manning the stand. “We are a group of about ten who run the stand in shifts,” says Chaim.

The group he refers to is a group of bachurim that have become a tight-knit group. They all learn in Chassidishe yeshivos and meet regularly to learn and farbreng. “Sometimes we farbreng with a mashpia on Thursday nights until morning and a few hours later we are at the t’fillin stand.”

THE RAIN THAT GREW A CHASSID

Yisroel Chaim himself was born thanks to a bracha from the Rebbe. His father, a Lelover Chassid, went to the Rebbe and asked for a bracha for children. A year later, Yisroel Chaim was born.

Yisroel Chaim became interested in Chassidus when he came across a sicha of the Rebbe. “It was a wintry day and it was pouring outside. I passed by the Chabad shul in Beis Yisroel and went inside to get out of the rain. On one of the tables was a volume of Likkutei Sichos and I looked through it. A Poilish Chassidishe man was sitting there and he saw me looking through the volume and asked me whether I wanted to learn from it. I said I wasn’t familiar with it but since I was there, why not?

“This was before Purim. We sat together and learned a sicha about Purim. The rain had stopped already but we continued to learn. I was amazed by what I learned and asked him whether we could learn more. We arranged a chavrusa and began to meet regularly to learn Chassidus. We still learn together.”

They began learning Tanya, Likkutei Torah and maamarei Chassidus. Yisroel Chaim was drawn to Chassidus; he loved it. After a few years he felt ready to make the switch and told his parents he wanted to learn in Tomchei T’mimim.

“It took time but when I told my parents that I was switching to Chabad, they supported and blessed me. I did it gradually. Officially, I was learning in a Chassidishe yeshiva, but I was actually spending most of the day learning in Toras Emes. Then I made the formal switch. I learned in Toras Emes, in Tzfas, and then in 770.”

EXCITEMENT AND TREPIDATION

How does your t’fillin stand differ from the t’fillin stands of born and bred Lubavitcher bachurim?

Outwardly, there is no difference. We have an active stand for t’fillin and Shabbos candles, brochures in several languages, material on the Sheva Mitzvos B’nei Noach, and all the Chabad material that can be given out on mivtzaim. The difference is in the people. We do it with much more feeling. It’s not something these bachurim are used to. It’s something new for those from our background and we do it enthusiastically and seriously. You can see the gleam in their eyes when they talk to a passerby and the excitement and joy with every person who puts on t’fillin. We also constantly remember that what we are doing is to bring the Geula and each time t’fillin is put on, it hastens the coming of Moshiach.

And maybe we spend more time with the people who put on t’fillin. You often see bachurim busy talking with someone, explaining some aspect of Judaism or trying to get him to go beyond putting on t’fillin. Maybe it comes from the fact that they themselves are in a process of personal evolution and discovery, and when a person discovers something wonderful, he has the natural desire to share it.

Every week we write a report with the number of people who put on t’fillin, and send it to the Rebbe. Don’t forget that unlike bachurim in Chabad yeshivos for whom mivtzaim are, more or less, part of life, by us the bachurim are “putting their lives on the line” to come. They must hide and they know that if they are caught, they’ll pay the price, so their coming to the stand and all their work is with excitement and trepidation of holiness.

LUBAVITCHERS IN THE MAKING

How do people on the street react to the look of bachurim with curled peios? Does the average Israeli notice the difference in the hats?

You can’t not notice. Whoever pays even a little attention and remembers what the bachurim he met at the stand in Tel Aviv, Givatayim, Yerucham or Kiryat Shmoneh looked like, immediately sees the difference in the clothing, the long suit coats, the peios and the hats. There are varied reactions, most of them positive. There are some who don’t connect us with the stands and think we are covering until the Lubavitchers show up. There are those who are surprised, and those who figure out that we are on our own journey towards Chabad or “Lubavitchers in the making” and encourage us.

There are also the critics who say, isn’t it enough that Chabad does this, now you started?! But the truth is that most people are positive and encouraging.

Does your outward appearance make the work harder or does it help?

I don’t know whether it’s because of our appearance, because of our devotion or because of the Rebbe’s bracha, but our stands are usually very busy. A while ago, there was a big demonstration by the extreme Left in the area of our t’fillin stand, with several thousand people. The bachurim, who saw the media and the camera crews, did not want to stay there. I stood there on my own at the t’fillin stand in the center of town with thousands of Leftists around me. I decided I was going to set aside my preconceived notions and approach them as I approach anyone, and some of them came to put on t’fillin in the middle of the demonstration.

Leftist activists wearing t’fillin drew the attention of the reporters, and the t’fillin stand became a big part of the coverage of the demonstration.

Here’s another story that happened recently. A couple walked by and I asked the fellow if he wants to put on t’fillin. He answered in Hebrew with an American accent, “Not only won’t I put them on, I’m about to go and eat a cheeseburger.”

I ignored his provocative answer and said with a smile, “Bon appetit, and don’t forget to say a bracha.”

A few minutes later they came back. He said to me, “I made a mistake. I apologize. Because of your response I want to put on t’fillin, but on condition that you explain it to me, because I never did this before.”

I explained to him in brief about the Jewish people, about t’fillin, about his role as part of the Jewish people to make a dwelling here for G-d. I also spoke about the role of women in lighting Shabbos candles. The fellow put on t’fillin and asked where he could do so regularly. I referred him to a permanent stand and the woman committed to lighting Shabbos candles regularly.”

What are the reactions of the bachurim after a day of running the t’fillin stand?

They talk about it a lot, though of course, not with the bachurim in yeshiva, but among themselves and in groups that they belong to, like Maayanei Yisroel, and they talk about the strength and inspiration it gives them, not only in doing mitzvos and avodas Hashem, but in their learning too. This is, of course, in addition to the excitement and joy in doing the Rebbe’s ratzon by participating in mivtzaim and the contribution toward hastening the Geula.

CHABAD HOUSE IN MEA SHEARIM

Yisroel Chaim also runs a broad range of activities in the area of Beis Yisroel in Yerushalayim. He is the gabbai in the Chabad shul there, the same shul where he first saw a sicha of the Rebbe and where he took his first steps in learning Chassidus.

“We do a lot here. Nearly every day there is a shiur in Chassidus for Chassidishe bachurim who learn in the area. The Mirrer Yeshiva is here and many Chassidishe bachurim from abroad learn here. Aside from that, there are dozens of apartments where bachurim live. I visit the apartments and put up fliers about shiurim. There is a big demand.

R’ Yisroel Sholom Schneebalg of Kfar Chabad comes every week to give a shiur in Chassidus. There are also farbrengens. Nearly every week we have rabbanim who come to farbreng, like Rabbi Binyamin Zilberstrom, Rabbi Noam Harpaz, and Rabbi Yinon Roth.

On Shabbos too, bachurim come to the shul because we daven later. Sometimes, they come before the davening and are amazed by the learning of Chassidus here, before the davening, or they stay afterward for the farbrengen. One can say that the study of Chassidus has become an unstoppable force.

What draws bachurim from the Mir to Chassidus?

Today, whoever has a bit of yiras Shamayim, and is interested in avodas Hashem, sees that you cannot live without Chassidus. Everyone knows it. People are constantly looking for a way in avodas Hashem, in learning, in davening, and they find it in Chassidus. Today there is no opposition and you don’t need to convince anyone. You just need to say a good word to someone, to encourage and be welcoming, and people come.

I see people today, respected young scholars and people of stature in other Chassidic groups, who a few years ago nobody would ever dream would be drawn to the study of Chassidus, and now they sit and learn. Some started with Tanya and said they would only learn Tanya, only Likkutei Torah, but then they couldn’t stop. You would not identify them on the street as Lubavitchers, but they are knowledgeable in Likkutei Sichos, maamarim, and some of them go on mivtzaim.

You mentioned earlier about the opposition from yeshivos and the establishment in Chassidic enclaves to going on mivtzaim. Do you expect this opposition to weaken or get stronger?

I think it will weaken. This is for the simple reason that it can’t be otherwise. They opposed the learning of Chassidus at first too, then they said just Tanya and Likkutei Torah, then they began to accept farbrengens. Ultimately, going on mivtzaim will sweep the frum world and it will be unstoppable.

But of course we believe that we won’t need to wait for this process to occur naturally and gradually, for the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach will come and all will see that pi Hashem dibber.

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