RABBI ZALMAN ABELSKY A”H: 62 YEARS ON SHLICHUS
August 6, 2014
Shneur Zalman Berger in #937, Obituary

RZalman Abelsky ah served as a soldier, commander and general for 62 years in the Rebbes army, ready to take on any task that would give the Rebbe nachas. * His shlichus began under very difficult conditions with the founding of the Reshet schools. * Although he had reached retirement age, with perestroika in the CIS he packed his bags and together with his wife went on shlichus to Kishinev, Moldova. * He fearlessly led the way in spreading the Besuras HaGeula. * Portrait of a Chassid who recently passed away.

HIS CHILDHOOD YEARS

R’ Zalman Tuvia Abelsky was born in Russia in 1928. His father was R’ Shmaryahu.

In his childhood he was raised in the ways of Chassidus despite communist oppression. His grandfather, R’ Yeshaya Zushe Shubov (known as the Boider Rav, and who served as the rav in Marina Roscha in Moscow) tried to obtain visas for him and his brother so they could go to Eretz Yisroel. R’ Shubov received a great deal of help from R’ Yisroel Jacobson, director of Agudas Chassidei Chabad in the United States, and R’ Shubov wrote to him about his grandsons: “The sons of my son-in-law, Shmarya, Zalman Tuvia and Sholom Dov are extremely gifted boys and here they are going to waste. I ask of you that as you obtained money for me [to help R’ Shubov leave Russia], do the remainder of the mitzva and obtain visas [for the entire family including the grandsons] for this is easy with a bit of money.” Unfortunately, the grandfather was not able to obtain visas and the entire family remained in Russia.

R’ Abelsky was orphaned of his father and lived for a few years with his grandfather, R’ Shubov. In the following years he learned in underground yeshivos. At the end of the war, along with many Chabad Chassidim, he left Soviet Russia and temporarily lived in the DP camp in Poking where he learned in the Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim which was established there. Unlike the other Chassidim who continued from there to free countries, R’ Zalman had a complicated shlichus to do in Romania.

SECRET AND DANGEROUS MISSION TO ROMANIA

The Rebbe Rayatz asked of the ziknei Anash (R’ Nissan Nemanov, R’ Zalman Shimon Dworkin, R’ Plotkin and others) to recommend someone to send on a mission to Romania to help Jews leave the country that was under communist rule. The Chassidim asked a number of bachurim who said they were willing to go, but the Rebbe Rayatz chose R’ Zalman Abelsky. 

“It was a dangerous trip,” R’ Abelsky said a few years ago. “Romania was a satellite of Russia. For me, a Russian refugee whose Russian accent was noticeable and who did not have identification papers, it was very dangerous to go there.”

The Rebbe Rayatz sent him a special letter regarding this shlichus and warned him of the Romanian government: “You ought to be greatly happy with this holy work which includes Ahavas Yisroel and strengthening men of Torah and fear of heaven. May Hashem grant you success and of course, this requires great care and do not rely on the Romanians that they will not scheme to try to extort money etc., and may Hashem help materially and spiritually. Surely you will constantly keep me informed of the situation and your work and your material and spiritual success.”

What did R’ Abelsky do in Romania? Some speak of his spreading Judaism and others speak of a secret mission, but till today the exact shlichus is still unknown. However, after much research I discovered some very surprising information.

It was odd that R’ Zalman Abelsky, who had just left a communist country where he suffered greatly and was persecuted, and especially when some of his relatives were still in Russia, agreed to return to a communist country which was dangerous for him. I discovered that after the Russian authorities figured out that Chassidim had snuck out of the country via Lvov, the Chassidim in Poking decided to smuggle Chassidim from Russia to Romania and from there to continue to western countries where they could observe mitzvos without interference. This is presumably why R’ Abelsky was sent to Romania. He was able to contact smugglers there who would agree to bring over groups of Chassidim from Chernowitz to Romania (Chernowitz is near the Romanian border).

Afterward, R’ Abelsky went to America and in 5711 he made aliya. At this point, the Rebbe informed Aguch what the Rebbe Rayatz’s opinion was of the secret work in Romania which R’ Zalman was involved in: “I know how much our Nasi, the Rebbe, my father-in-law, cherished the dedicated work of the askan Zalman Tuvia when he was in a place of danger.”

THE REBBE AS MOSHIACH BACK IN 5711

Upon arriving in Eretz Yisroel, R’ Zalman began working with new immigrants under the auspices of the Pe’ilim organization. He was also involved in inyanei Moshiach as he related a few years ago in an interview with my friend, R’ Menachem Ziegelboim:

“After the first maamer of the Rebbe arrived in Eretz Yisroel, I immediately understood what the Rebbe’s aspiration was, activities that would bring the Geula. I realized that the Rebbe would bring the Geula for he is Melech HaMoshiach and I began to publicize this back then.

“Whoever examines this first maamer sees that the Rebbe speaks about our shlichus being to bring down the Sh’china from the seven heavens down below as it was with the seven tzaddikim until Moshe Rabbeinu. The Rebbe went on to say that we are in the time of Ikvisa d’Meshicha and the end of galus. Is it possible to interpret this some other way?!

“Obviously, it wasn’t accepted so readily. Some accepted it and some did not. However, every week I wrote letters to the Rebbe in which I detailed everything I did in hafatza and I wrote that where possible I publicize that the Rebbe is Moshiach. Naturally, I did not just talk about this anywhere, but where I saw that it would be accepted, and I provided detailed explanations so that the matter would be accepted in one’s rational intelligence. Of course there were those who opposed talk like this, but over the years it began to penetrate more and more. 

“On 11 Nissan 5712 I arranged a farbrengen in Kfar Chabad in honor of the Rebbe’s birthday. At that time this day was still not celebrated. Before that I wrote to the Rebbe and he gave his consent and asked that matza be given out at the farbrengen. At that farbrengen I organized a telegram of blessings for the Rebbe which the Chassidim of Kfar Chabad signed and where we wrote explicitly that the Rebbe ‘will speedily redeem us in our days.’ Although there were Chassidim who did not accept this and made a whole brouhaha out of it, the Rebbe’s answer came swiftly, ‘whoever blesses is blessed in turn.’”

While working for Pe’ilim, he interacted with bachurim from Litvishe yeshivas. One time, the conversation got around to the identity of Moshiach:

“In 5711, I worked for Pe’ilim-Yad L’Achim for a while. Before each activity, the bachurim met in the shul of the old age home on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv where we received instructions. Until the meeting began we would schmooze. Since some of us were Lubavitcher bachurim and some were from Litvishe yeshivos, the conversations were always interesting.

“One time, one of the older bachurim said he heard that we call the Rebbe ‘Moshiach’ and asked what I had to say about this. I said, ‘I’m surprised at you. Why do you need to know what we, Chabad Chassidim, say and what our opinion is? A ben Torah like you ought to know what it says in the Torah.’ When he heard this, he was very taken aback and he asked me what I meant. For three quarters of an hour I gave clear explanations based on the Prophets, the Rishonim and various halachic works. He and his friends asked questions and I answered to the best of my ability. At the end of the conversation, he said to me that he had to ask the ziknei Chabad if they approved of what I said; if they did, he said, he would become a Chabadnik.

“Since I knew what the ziknei ha’chassidim would say, and that they would never acknowledge this, I tried to dissuade him and said, ‘I am talking to you about what the Prophets say and what the Tanaim, Amoraim, Rishonim and geonei olam say, and you respond by telling me about the ziknei Chabad? They are fine and good, but they are not prophets, nor Tanaim and Amoraim. I am talking about the Gemara, and you talk about ziknei Anash?’”

THE FOUNDERS OF THE RESHET

R’ Zalman’s work for Pe’ilim was just the beginning. At that time there was another young Lubavitcher who worked for Pe’ilim, R’ Zushe Wilyamowsky. The Rebbe was not pleased about R’ Zushe working outside the umbrella of a Chabad organization and he told him to start a network of Chabad schools called Reshet Oholei Yosef Yitzchok. 

That was at the beginning of Tammuz 5711. In the following weeks, R’ Zushe worked on two fronts: first, starting afternoon educational programs for immigrants and second, obtaining permits to start schools. 

As time passed, they spoke about starting schools for the 5713 school year. In the meantime, R’ Zushe worked on the afternoon programs. He took two assistants for this work who were especially effective workers, R’ Zalman Abelsky and R’ Yona Eidelkopf.

For various reasons, R’ Zalman left his work at the Reshet and R’ Zushe informed the Rebbe. Within a short time, the Rebbe responded with displeasure over R’ Zalman having left and he wrote to R’ Zalman directly about this.

R’ Zalman returned to work. Together with R’ Zushe and R’ Yona they worked in various ways to prepare for this network of Chabad schools. Before the new school year, R’ Zalman had the job of registering children for the school in Kfar Saba. Aside from the great amount of work involved in registration, he took on another important, complicated job, that of spreading Chassidus among the talmidim of Yeshivas Chafetz Chaim which was in Kfar Saba at the time and led by R’ Aharon Leib Shteinman.

When he reported to the Rebbe about his activities, he received an especially encouraging letter in which the Rebbe thanked him for writing about the registration and told him to be strong in his trust in Hashem that things would work out and then the obstacles would disappear. The Rebbe also said he was very pleased that R’ Zalman did not suffice with the work he did in his job but added to it, which the Rebbe said was a sign of a loyal servant. The addition the Rebbe mentioned referred to his work with Litvishe yeshiva bachurim in Kfar Saba.

R’ ZALMAN, FOUNDER AND PRINCIPAL

With the start of the 5713 school year, four schools in the Reshet were opened. R’ Zalman was appointed the principal of the school in Kfar Saba. He experienced many difficulties in those early years, but with the strength of the Rebbe’s brachos he overcame the hardships and expanded the school.

The following school year, he became the principal in the Chabad School at the transit camp Zarnoga near Rechovot. Two years ago he told me about that period:

“After a year in which principals were replaced and severe problems plagued the school, I arrived to run it even though the school was on the verge of closing. It officially had 100 pupils, but not even half showed up to learn; of the students who came, some were of preschool age. I had to bring in new students of the right ages.

“Another problem was a building. When I arrived there was one shed with two rooms. How could there be five classes? The solution was to learn in shifts. Some of the classes learned in the morning and some in the afternoon.”

R’ Abelsky, who also served as a member of the hanhala of the Reshet, found it difficult to describe the range of problems that existed at the time:

“It was hard. They all viewed Chabad as a foreign entity. I say ‘all’ for it started from the top, with the Education Ministry, and went all the way down to the local authorities. True, in the Education Ministry, they proclaimed that they were working on our behalf, but in actuality they constantly made us problems. R’ Dovid Chanzin, menahel of the Reshet, worked on this, lobbying and advocating for the schools. We the principals had to deal with the local authorities; we had to blaze the trail alone, with the Rebbe’s encouragement and guidance. I received many letters from the Rebbe with instructions, and it helped.”

After a few years in Zarnoga, he moved to Kiryat Gat where he founded a new school and ran it for decades. 

ON SHLICHUS TO MOLDOVA

5749. The communist regime in the Soviet Union began to ease up on religious matters as well as economic and foreign policy matters, which became known as perestroika. The Ezras Achim organization that worked secretly for many years to help Soviet Jews decided to send permanent shluchim to those countries. The first to go was R’ Zalman Abelsky.

After he was asked to go on shlichus to Kishinev, Moldova, he asked the Rebbe and received his consent and blessings.

Many people found it incredible that a Chassid over sixty would go with his wife to a communist country where the conditions were so difficult and complicated and there was no organized Jewish life. He later responded to this:

“I think that by virtue of a Chassid’s hiskashrus to the Rebbe, every Jew, whoever he might be, needs to say every day: as long as my neshama is within me, I thank you for the privilege of being a Chassid and mekushar and doing what the Rebbe wants. This ought to be the goal of a Chassid, to do what the Rebbe wants; everything else is less important. Boruch Hashem, after all these years, we have succeeded in developing a wide range of activities. Today, any young man can come and live here with almost no material or spiritual difficulties, even with young children. This took a lot of work.”

R’ Zalman and his wife Leah went to Moldova and settled in the capital, Kishinev, even though nobody knew what the future held for the Soviet Union. Three years later communism collapsed and a democratic government replaced it which completely permitted religion. 

In the years to come, he was appointed the chief rabbi of Moldova and member of the vaad of rabbanim of the CIS. He was also appointed the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Moldova.

He developed beautiful institutions and a publishing arm for the purpose of bringing the light of Torah and Chassidus to the entire country of Moldova. R’ Abelsky had many connections with government representatives. He was hosted often by public figures and government officials for the benefit of Jews and Judaism in Moldova.

BESURAS HA’GEULA

R’ Abelsky is one of the shluchim who proudly publicized the Besuras Ha’Geula among the Jews in his place of shlichus:

“In the newspaper we publish in our community, we began expanding the topic of Geula. Also, in the various places where I occasionally speak, schools and the shul, I talk about preparing for the Geula. Our slogan is ‘End the Galus and Live the Geula’ which has a nice ring to it in Russian.

“I spoke at the Chanukas Ha’bayis for the new school building. Present were Chassidim as well as non-Jewish government representatives, and I spoke about making preparations for the hisgalus of Moshiach. As always, when you speak out of faith, it is accepted, and words that come from the heart enter the heart.

“In our schools, in yeshiva, in the girls’ school and the shul, I teach about Moshiach in depth so that it is well understood by the students. There are two places in Torah that I focus on, one is the Rambam in his introduction to his commentary on Mishnayos where he explains at length that in every generation there is one special person and he explains who the leader of the generation is, the Moshiach. Then he gives signs of the identity of this person that he spreads Torah throughout the world and spreads the oneness of G-d throughout the world.

“Sometimes I get into conversations, with Lubavitchers too, and I ask them how they know the Rebbe is Moshiach. Not too many of them have given me a clear answer, rational and Torah based. However, when you learn the topic in the Rambam there you get a clear solid answer and it’s a non-Chabad source.

“Then we learn the sicha of Beis Rabbeinu Sh’B’Bavel. If you know the material well, you can speak to anyone, even rabbanim and professors and you will come out on top because you are based on both Torah and logic. I recommend that this be done in every school.

“This is also accepted by the local Jews, not just on faith but logically. The Rebbe asks that we learn inyanei Moshiach and Geula and do it all in a way that is receptive to the intellect; we need to explain the arguments and reasoning.”

***

Much more can be written about R’ Zalman’s work in Moldova. 

R’ Abelsky continued his work and shlichus as if he were a youngster without any physical limitations and despite his advanced age. Over the years, his children stood by his side and helped expand the work.

Recently, his health deteriorated and on 29 Sivan he passed away at the age of 86. The funeral took place in Kfar Chabad and Yerushalayim. He is survived by his wife Leah, sons R’ Yossi (Natzrat Ilit), R’ Zushe and R’ Shmerel, and daughters Mrs. Bluma Nachshon (Natzrat Ilit), Mrs. Rochel Maidanchik (Kfar Chabad) and Mrs. Chanie Zalmanov (Migdal HaEmek). He was predeceased by his son R’ Moshe a”h, who was a beloved bus driver for Oholei Torah for many years. R’ Moshe passed away in 2011 at the age of 49. 

Thanks to my friend Menachem Ziegelboim who helped me with this article.

 

SHABBOS IN KISHINEV

By Meir Bruk

It is impossible to write about R’ Zalman in the past tense.

In the course of my business I travel a lot in Eastern Europe. I go to all kinds of countries and places. There is only one place that I don’t miss, it makes no difference whether it’s on my way there or back. I always try to visit R’ Zalman Abelsky in Kishinev.

On every such visit I made sure to be blessed by him. His brachos always came true. They say that the Rebbe gave him the power to bless and told him to bless people and the Rebbe would bless them. For me, this actually came to pass. I experienced it firsthand.

One of the amazing things about Kishinev is spending Shabbos with the Abelskys. It starts immediately after the davening Friday night when the people go over to say good Shabbos to the rav and wait to see who will have the privilege of being hosted by him.

The rav invites about twenty people and the lucky ones escort him home. The rav, with the face of an angel, welcomes each one with a big smile.

Among the invitees, I see friends from the community, guests, tourists and some Israeli students who are studying medicine in Kishinev.

The rav separates the men and the women and seats them at two separate tables with a mechitza between them. He says, “If we want there to be holiness this evening, then we must separate.” 

To me, that was R’ Abelsky. A man of truth. And his truth penetrates, pierces without compromise, without calculations. Nobody gets upset or indicates that they are uncomfortable. They all know that he is a tzaddik and they all follow without complaint.

After Kiddush he distributes wine from the Rebbe. This is a regular ceremony and whoever is late misses out on the wine. Even those who are not coming from the shul try to come on time, so as not to miss out on the wine.

Then the rav begins to speak and the words are flowing and compelling, with everything connected immediately to the Rebbe, to Moshiach, to the eternality of the Rebbe.

There are no allowances with him. Even his wealthy donors know that if they do the smallest foolish thing, they will get it over the head from him and it’s not worth it. He proudly bears the truth and says it unabashedly.

It is incredible to see all the mekuravim in the shul permeated with Moshiach as instilled by R’ Zalman.

I met people in shul who do not know a word in Hebrew and yet who can repeat the entire Basi L’Gani by heart. I asked them how they learned it without knowing Hebrew. They said, “R’ Zalman told us we have to learn this maamer by heart so we wrote it with R’ Zalman in Cyrillic and that is how we were able to review it over and over until we knew it by heart.”

 

THE REBBE’S AMBASSADOR TO ROMANIA

During Sukkos 5731/1970, a meeting of UN representatives took place in New York. During Yom Tov, the Rebbe said that when the nations of the world gather, Jews also need to gather and increase Torah and mitzvos in order to influence the representatives of the nations so they don’t make decisions that adversely affect the Jewish people.

On Simchas Torah, during the fourth hakafa, the Rebbe made a Chassidic UN. The Rebbe appointed a representative from every country to be the balabus over that country according to Torah. R’ Abelsky was picked by the Rebbe to represent Romania in the UN. This was because of his secret shlichus there with the Rebbe Rayatz’s blessings.

Another kiruv that R’ Abelsky had from the Rebbe took place during Shevat 5747. As the Rebbe gave out dollars for tz’daka, the Rebbe said to him, “Bless Jews and I will bless them.” The Rebbe thus gave him the power to bless Jews. After that, R’ Abelsky said the priestly blessing (he is a Kohen) to many Jews as the Rebbe told him to do.

 

 

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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