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Tuesday
Mar172015

ONE MAN SIMCHA CRUSADE

My brief interview with RMenachem Mendel Kumer, resident of Kiryat Chabad of Tzfas, took place after midnight, following a full day in which he went from place to place, cheering people up. * Friday night, between the soup and the main course, he knocks on doors and in his costume he gets people to jump up in simcha. * We asked him for tips on simcha, whether in Adar or any time of the year.

Friday night in Kiryat Chabad in Tzfas. The lady of the house had just finished serving the soup, while the father was busy telling his family and guests a Chassidic story which illustrated the merit of giving. Outside the wind howled and there were snow flurries. Although the temperature had dropped below zero, the atmosphere inside was warm, comfortable, and peaceful.

Then suddenly, there was knocking at the door. One of the children went to open the door and in walked R’ Boruch Menachem Mendel Kumer, in costume, and accompanied by some grandchildren and other children from the community, also in costume. R’ Kumer wished everyone present a cheerful “Chodesh Adar Sameiach” and began dancing. He was joined by members of the family.

The shy smile from the unexpected guest was replaced by a huge smile of simcha. A few minutes later, R’ Kumer and crew will move on to the next house, while in the house he just visited the singing and simcha will continue. The Shabbos table looks different; there is the way it looked before he came and the way it looks after he leaves.

“When Adar comes in we increase in joy” is not just a line in Shulchan Aruch. With R’ Kumer’s visit it becomes an experience.

R’ Kumer is a veteran teacher and has written a series of books about how to teach reading. His books have become a staple for many teachers in Eretz Yisroel and other countries.

You will always find him smiling; it seems that simcha is in his blood. He is happy not only when Adar begins but all year round. Every day he runs children’s rallies in the park, he makes house calls a few times a week to parents who registered their children in Chabad preschools, and once a week, for many years, he has been visiting patients in the hospital. He is often in costume of which he has several: a giraffe, a parrot, a clown, and his favorite – a cow.

R’ Kumer, as you may have realized, doesn’t rest for a moment and yet, when Adar begins, his face glows even more. This is his favorite month. There is more simcha and he wears his favorite costume. He organizes dancing in shul after the davening. He also visits preschools and Friday nights he visits the homes of Anash and surprises them in the middle of their Shabbos meals. On every visit he will dance and get others to dance and end with a miracle story.

In Tzfas he has become a one man sensation whose only desire, it seems, is to rejoice and bring joy to others.

“The first Friday night in Adar, children wait for me at the door. They have been looking forward to this all year. Even before I finish the meal they are standing and waiting so they can join me on my visits to the homes of Anash.”

I was visited by R’ Kumer Friday night and after Shabbos I went to meet with him. I met him in his home in Kiryat Chabad and asked him when this all began, who is it easier to cheer up – adults or children, what is his goal, and what feedback he gets.

The interview took place at midnight because it’s hard to catch him for a conversation during the day – he is busy, each day somewhere else, in the hospital, senior center, shul, preschool. The joy of Purim starts for him on Rosh Chodesh Adar and continues all year.

We sat in his living room. He looked tired but was still smiling. He was wearing his cow costume in our honor.

My first question has to be, aren’t you ever tired? You are already a grandfather to quite a few grandchildren!

The Rebbe says in the sicha of 13 Elul 5751 that “then our mouths will fill with laughter” is not permission but an obligation, so we don’t have the privilege of being too tired to rejoice.

When did this all begin and who came up with the idea?

For many years I’ve been working in Chabad preschools. Fifteen years ago, R’ Daniel Utinsky, the administrator of the preschools, suggested that I come in costume and bring simcha to the children so they feel the joy of Adar. I bought a clown costume and since then, I go around to the preschools. The reactions are great; the children sing and love it. When I finished going to all the schools, R’ Utinsky said in jest that maybe I should show up in shul in costume and bring joy to the adults too.

I took his suggestion seriously and Friday night I went to shul in costume. I joined the Yechi dancing after Lecha Dodi and became a hit. The dancing was livelier and I saw that I had raised the morale and joy level of lots of people. That made me realize how much people nowadays need someone to cheer them up. Since then, I’ve made this my annual practice. When a clown costume was already old hat, I looked for something else and found the cow costume.

At first the cow wasn’t smiling; it was a sad cow. I brought the costume to a dressmaker and she embroidered a big smile on it.

I once saw a line from the Rebbe that on Purim, before going to shul, you need to pass by a few houses first. In previous years, I would go with R’ Ehud Bashari who also works in the Chabad preschools. He lived in Kiryat Chabad before he moved on shlichus to Kfar Biriya, and every Purim we would stop off at people’s houses as we made our way to shul, me in my costume and he with his accordion.

We were welcomed at every home with joy and dance. In recent years, the community has grown tremendously and we can’t pass by all the homes so I start on the Friday nights before Purim and each Friday night I visit many homes.

What is your goal with all this?

The goal is simple, to increase simcha.

In the D’var Malchus of Parshas Truma, the Rebbe says that in Av we decrease simcha, why? Because that is the mode of avoda in that month, while in Adar, if you want to achieve success, you must serve with simcha.

Not that long ago, we had a war in the south with Hamas. What happened was, the accursed Arabs shot 4000 missiles at us; the miracles were incredible by any standard. In other locations in the world, with fewer missiles shot, hundreds and thousands were killed. Hashem is testing us and wants to see us happy.

In the war America fought against Saddam Hussein, the Rebbe spoke about miracles and wonders that ought to bring us simcha, and how we see the miracles yet find it hard to recognize them for what they are. When the Jewish people left Egypt, aside from the Geula itself, they experienced three big miracles: one was, “l’makei Mitzrayim b’v’choreihem,” the second happened on the way to Yam Suf when the pillar of cloud absorbed the Egyptians’ arrows, and the third was the splitting of the sea.

It looks like before the future Geula we too are experiencing these three kinds of miracles: the first, “l’makei Mitzrayim b’v’choreihem,” we saw when Americans fought Saddam Hussein; the second we’ve experienced a number of times when the terrorists shot missiles at us and they fell right and left and hardly caused any damage. Now we are in the third stage, when every day Arab countries crumble around us. In the past they were a real threat but now they are butchering one another. If we would just think about it we would see the miracles and wonders that Hashem does for us.

When the Jewish people crossed the Yam Suf, the children exclaimed, ‘look at the miracles,’ but they couldn’t see them because of the many donkeys they had with them from the booty of Egypt. These donkeys were laden with silver and gold. Now too, people are immersed in materialism and have a hard time seeing the wonders taking place. So we need to rejoice and bring joy to others and mainly thank Hashem and realize that we are a brief step away from the true and complete Geula.

That is my goal, to help people open their eyes and dance toward the Geula.

EVEN THE COW SMILES

Why did you pick a cow costume?

There are many reasons, profound ones and simple ones. I’ll start with the simple ones. First, a cow is a kosher animal. When I went around looking for a costume, they were all scary, non-kosher animals, or fantasy creatures. I have some other costumes, like that of a parrot, which some think is a kosher bird, and a giraffe which we know is kosher. I sometimes use other costumes but the cow is the costume which does the best job.

As I mentioned earlier, after I bought the cow costume, I had a big smile added. A smart person once said to me that a big smile draws the children to you while a tight-lipped smile distances them.

In my years of teaching experience, I know that if you want children to listen, to learn and accept, you first have to connect with them, and the best way to connect with a child is with a smile.

SIMCHA, SIMCHA AND MORE SIMCHA

Where do you get this endless energy from? Is it something you were raised with? Is it genetic?

My father a”h was a very positive, optimistic person. He went through difficult times in his life but did not let them get him down. My family lived in Toronto and my father had to go to work at the age of fifteen, taking on the burden of supporting the household when his father was sick and died young. My father soon became a terrific salesman and was very successful in this field.

When we went on vacation, he would load our car with products he planned on selling and he would sell them to people in the hotel and in vacation spots. He never returned home with those products. I once asked him for the secret to his success and he explained that first he made friends with people, gained their trust and showed them that he cared about them. He had a big heart and so the work of selling came easy to him.

I am in the business of selling simcha and I suppose I’ve inherited his great optimism. But anyone who is a Chabad Chassid and learns the Rebbe’s teachings and the teachings of the earlier Rebbeim and delves into them can easily turn into a happy person, even if by nature he’s not that way.

Who is it easier to cheer up, adults or children?

The difference is simple. Adults are very happy the first time, their enthusiasm is enormous, but after a time or two they get used to it and seek something new. A child can be enthused and excited about the same thing every day. He doesn’t need change; on the contrary, he likes the old and familiar. I see this when I teach the letters. You review and review it and they don’t get sick of it. When a child knows a letter, he is happy to review over and over.

REJOICING IN ADVANCE

Why did you decide to devote your life to simcha?

The Rebbe explains that simcha has the power to hasten the Geula. The word “hisgalus” is also from the root “tagel.” Simcha brings everything down in a revealed way. Through simcha, you can feel the Geula while still in galus. The Rebbe explains that during Sukkos there is the pouring of both wine and water, thus joining water which is above reason with wine which represents reason. That is the essence of simcha. When everything is saturated with joy you become a different person; you open your eyes and see a different, better world.

In your experience, how does one become happy?

There are many ways. I think the best advice is from the Tzemach Tzedek who says that to be happy you just … need to be happy. Even with worries and problems, you divert your mind from them and actively behave in a happy way. Even if it’s superficial, it will eventually be internalized.

I think we need to contemplate that everything that happens to us, whether personally or on the national level, is just a test and we need to withstand the test.

I once heard from my mashpia, R’ Shlomo Zalman Levkivker, that as Chassidim we need to think about the meaning of the concept “Rebbe” and his role in the world. As a result, we become utterly battul and one who is always battul to the Rebbe who always encourages simcha, must be happy.

 

TWO STORIES OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE

R’ Kumer says that one of the main things that he focuses on and which gives him joy is the Rebbe saying to open our eyes. When you look around you and see the miracles and wonders taking place every day, you become a happy Chassid who brings joy to others.

R’ Kumer has many miracle stories that he experienced and witnessed. We asked him to share two special ones with us.

The first story:

A few days ago, I went to visit a family that had registered their daughter in the Chabad preschool. When I walked in, the parents’ faces looked familiar to me but I could not figure out from where. We sat down to discuss Judaism and chinuch in the spirit of Chabad, and the couple opened up about various problems they have. I immediately suggested that they write to the Rebbe and ask for his advice and bracha. When the woman heard “Igros Kodesh,” she brought in her baby and told me a story that happened to them thanks to their writing to the Rebbe.

She related that in the summer she went to the klezmer festival with her husband and they encountered a Chabad mitzva tank. Her husband was out of a job at the time and they went into the tank to write to the Rebbe. The bracha they sought was two-fold: a job for her husband and the woman wanted a son after having a number of daughters. The Rebbe’s answer was clear regarding the topics they wrote about.

Two months later, her husband found a job in his field and one year later they had their first son. At the bris they told the miracle of his birth and attributed it to the Rebbe.

When she finished her story, I realized where I know them from. In the summer of that year, I had joined the Mobile Mitzva Tanks that operated at the klezmer festival in the old city of Tzfas and I was the one who wrote to the Rebbe with them. I reminded them of this and they remembered. We were all excited by the hashgacha pratis.

The second story:

In 5748, the Rebbe announced Shnas HaBinyan (the Year of Construction). Whoever committed to expanding his house was promised $100 from the Rebbe’s office.

One day, I decided to make a big deal about this in Tzfas. I walked around and when I saw that someone was renovating or expanding, or someone showed me building plans, I wrote his name to the Rebbe. The $100 checks came a few weeks later and I gave them out. I had nearly twenty $100 checks that I got and gave out.

Some time later, a woman came to me with a complaint. She said the Rebbe’s check had been sent back by the bank and she did not get the money. I told her that if she said the sky had fallen, I would more readily believe that. I asked her to show me the check. I saw that the check was torn and was taped right over the account number and this is why the check had been returned. The bank wrote that it did not know from which account to take the money.

I asked her why the check was torn. She said the check had been in her pocket for many days and got torn and the bank had taped it. I usually go out of my way to help out but this time, for some reason, I said I couldn’t help her. I was in the Chabad preschool office at the time and after she left, the secretary, who knew her, said to me, “Rabbi Kumer, don’t you know that this woman didn’t do any renovations or expansions? She didn’t tell you the truth. She said she did renovations because she wanted the $100.”

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