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Thursday
Aug072014

REACHING OUT TO ISRAELIS IN THE LAND DOWN UNDER

R’ Alon Hazi learned in Rosh HaAyin but when he was drafted he left the path of Torah. He served in Lebanon and experienced miracles. Then he went to Florida where he encountered Chabad. * The Chabad house for Israelis in Sydney which he runs is the source of many fascinating stories which he shares with us.

Sydney is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and is the oldest and biggest in Australia. Sydney lies between the Tasman Sea in the east and mountains in the west. Millions of visitors and tourists visit every year. Israeli tourists look for work there in order to fund the continuation of their trip to other countries.

“The salaries in Sydney are among the highest in the world and for a young Israeli, it’s easy money,” explained the shliach, R’ Alon Hazi. “The fact that tourists remain in Sydney for a long time, with many of them staying to establish themselves, enabled our Chabad house to become a k’hilla with minyanim and shiurim. Along with the regulars there are also many tourists who serve as supporting cast. Last year, one of the congregants, an Australian who is a well-known lawyer, donated our first Torah.”

The Chabad house is located in the Bondi Beach area, a suburb of Sydney, where many immigrants live, mainly those from the former Soviet Union but also a sizable Israeli community. R’ Hazi works on two main fronts, the spiritual and the material, with tourists enjoying and benefiting from both.

“A MORTAR SHELL MISSED ME BY A FEW CENTIMETERS”

R’ Hazi was born far from Australia and far from Chabad. He was born to a Yemenite family in Rosh HaAyin and was educated in religious-Zionist schools. When he finished school at Noam in Kfar Saba, he was drafted to an elite unit in the army. He served his three years in a highly classified Intelligence unit.

“I spent all three years in the army in Lebanon. Until today, I can’t say much about the work we did there, but I can tell you an amazing miracle story. One evening, a mortar shell missed me by a few centimeters and continued its trajectory toward the slope of a mountain. It is a miracle that comes to mind now and then.”

When Alon finished his army service, he decided to leave Eretz Yisroel and see the big world. His first stop was Miami where his aunt had a clothing business.

“Even before the army, I veered off the derech. It was only on foreign soil that I felt I was missing it. I began to feel an emptiness and, by divine providence, near the business where I worked was a Chabad yeshiva run by the shliach, R’ Avrohom Korf. Nearly every day the bachurim looked for a tenth man for the minyan. The first few times they had to call me, but after that I would go on my own.”

After several months of getting to know the yeshiva and the bachurim, he decided to rent an apartment near the yeshiva so he could spend more of his free time there.

“They were a group of young bachurim with great love for the Rebbe. What most attracted me was their Jewish pride. I knew how to learn Gemara and I loved getting back to Gemara shiurim, but what was most appealing to me were the shiurim in Likkutei Torah that R’ Leibel Schapiro gave. The concepts brought in the Alter Rebbe’s maamarim were new to me and amazed me. These were ideas that I had never been exposed to.”

After a few good months of learning in yeshiva, he asked his aunt to let him go and he went in search of a yeshiva to learn in.

“I had a friend in yeshiva, also a baal t’shuva, who continued his learning in the yeshiva for baalei t’shuva in Morristown. When I visited 770 for the first time and met him there, he highly recommended the yeshiva. I had just begun understanding what a Rebbe is and why you don’t make a move without consulting with him. I asked the Rebbe through the Igros Kodesh whether I should continue in Miami or switch to Morristown.

“The answer I opened to, this first time I was writing, was amazing. The Rebbe wrote to someone who had come to 770, that he had come not to stay here, but to return to the yeshiva from which he came in order to give over what he saw here. I returned to Miami and that same day I met with R’ Korf and asked him, without telling him the Rebbe’s answer, what he thought of my learning in Morristown.

“’The yeshiva there is very good but not for you,’ he said. ‘I would really like the bachurim here to see a baal t’shuva who left everything in order to learn Torah.’ I told him the answer from the Rebbe. Rabbi Korf spoke with the rosh yeshiva and I joined the yeshiva. I was paired up with a chavrusa, a bachur from Crown Heights, who was ahead of me by far in all parts of Torah. When the summer approached, I thought of going to Eretz Yisroel to see my parents whom I hadn’t seen in a long time and to look for a shidduch.”

AMAZING ANSWERS ON THE WAY TO AUSTRALIA

“On my way home, I stopped for a few weeks at 770. My chavrusa met me and suggested I join him and his friends who were going to Australia where they would be shluchim in the yeshiva in Sydney. I laughed him off – ‘I’m already thirty years old, it’s not for me.’ He urged me to go and said I should at least go with them to Monsey to arrange their travel visas and at any time I could change my mind. I said okay and before getting into the car I wrote to the Rebbe for the second time and asked whether I should go on this trip to Australia.

“The answer I opened to was right on target, as though the Rebbe had written the answer to me personally. The Rebbe wrote that the hand of divine providence led you to Australia in order for you to be involved in spreading the wellsprings. I knew I was going to cancel my trip to Eretz Yisroel and would join the group of bachurim flying to Sydney. I got my travel visa and prepared for the trip a few weeks later, a flight that would be leaving after the holidays.”

***

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. A few days before the flight, one of the bachurim lost Alon’s passport and he had to stay in 770 for months, until after Pesach, which he spent with the bachurim in Beis Chayeinu. He describes those months as a time that he learned a lot about how a Chassid is mekushar to the Rebbe. When he finally got a new passport, he had cellulitis in one of his feet and he had to stay in bed. 

“When my foot healed, I was left with a plane ticket to Australia that had expired. I went to the airline and said I wanted to fly. At this point I had written to the Rebbe again and the answer was to R’ Zalman Serebryanski of Australia and the students in the girls’ school. 

“The clerk looked at me and then at my ticket and then asked, ‘Sir, do you know that a half a year has gone by?’ I said I did and waited for a miracle. I did not have money for another ticket, the Rebbe wanted me in Sydney, and I was sure a miracle would occur. It did. They asked me to wait on the side and after half an hour the airline representative told me that nine religious Jews had canceled their flights and so they had room for me and I could even eat nine kosher meals.

“I went to my assigned seat on the plane and was astonished to find a Lubavitcher sitting there, wearing a Yechi yarmulke. He was the only Lubavitcher on the flight. I asked him his name and he said Serebryanski. My jaw dropped. I asked him, ‘How are you related to R’ Zalman Serebryanski?’ He said, ‘I’m his grandson.’ It took me some time to recover from the shock.”

Upon arriving in Sydney, R’ Hazi quickly integrated into the yeshiva. The yeshiva program includes hafatza and since he spoke Hebrew, he coordinated the activities with the Israelis. In the summer, two months after he arrived, the bachurim all went home and he was the only one who stayed in Australia, keeping up the activities he had started.

“We had Shabbos meals with tourists, barbecue evenings with shiurim, put up mezuzos in homes, t’fillin, learning with chavrusos. I began getting acquainted with the Israeli community and they turned to me with all their questions about Judaism. When I saw that the outreach work was growing, we looked for a place that would be a center for the Israelis in Sydney. We saw that most of the Israelis were in Bondi Beach and that’s where we looked. In the meantime, people introduced me to my wife and R’ Feldman who was the mesader kiddushin was also the one who gave me his blessings to open a Chabad house for Israelis.

“Right after we married, we continued looking for a place and finally found one thanks to the help of an Israeli, a businessman in Australia who makes money renovating and renting buildings. The shlichus has grown since then and we’ve had dozens of baalei t’shuva, some of whom have become shluchim themselves.”

A SERIES OF
HASHGACHA PRATIS

R’ Hazi has numerous stories about his work.

“A few years ago, a fellow walked into the Chabad house dressed like a cowboy. When we asked him why he looked like that he said he loved riding horses and he came to Australia to gain experience at riding horses in the local villages.

“He stayed with us for Shabbos and became a regular guest for half a year. Then he flew back to Eretz Yisroel, went to a Chabad yeshiva for baalei t’shuva, and is a Chabad Chassid today. He lives in Yerushalayim.

“Another time, a man in his thirties walked in looking angry. When I asked him why he was upset, he said that he had recently divorced. His ex-wife had begun doing t’shuva and became a mekureves of Chabad, and had even put their children in the Chabad school which went against his worldview.

“He himself came from a Sephardic family. I told him that if he is angry, he should write to the Rebbe about it and see what the answer is. He wrote whatever was on his mind and we put the letter into a volume of Igros Kodesh. The answer nearly knocked him off his feet. The Rebbe wrote a letter to R’ Yitzchok Almaliach and explained that with young people it is possible to ‘return the hearts of the fathers through the children.’ When he recovered somewhat, he told me that his name is Yitzchok Almaliach. Obviously, after that his entire approach to Chabad and Judaism changed.”

R’ Hazi told about how it is obvious to him that the running and success of the Chabad house is nothing but a series of hashgacha pratis.

“In one of the early years, there was an Israeli, a businessman, who I would visit every day in his office and put t’fillin on with him. He closed on a big deal and then moved his office to a more expensive area. After that, I visited his new office a few times but not like I used to. He was very busy with his work and once, he did not even make the time to put on t’fillin. I’m sorry to say but I decided to drop him.

“For a while, I was feeling down about my connection with him ending, but then time passed and I forgot about it. Four years later, a gentile businessman made me an enticing offer. He knew I had a good relationship with many Israelis, so he offered to rent me an apartment building that he owned, and I would collect rent from the Israelis and every month I would give him the amount we had agreed on. Every additional dollar we earned would go to the Chabad house. The deal seemed very attractive and it would help me a lot with the Chabad house, so I consented.

“After a few months we signed a deal. When I went to give him the money after a month, he told me to give it to his Israeli partner since they had parted ways a few days before and they had divided the property between them. I went to the partner’s office and how surprised I was to see that it was the same Israeli businessman that I had dropped. He was very happy to see me and I helped mediate between him and his partner and their bond became strong once again. I felt that I had been led into this business venture just so that we could be in touch once again.”

Speaking of hashgacha pratis, R’ Hazi sees plenty of it when it comes to money matters:

“Maintaining a Chabad house is a financial undertaking that costs a lot of money every month and there isn’t a month without miracles and wonders. There was a woman who donated a set amount of money each month of a few hundred dollars. Two years ago, after Pesach, I flew to visit my parents in Eretz Yisroel knowing that I was leaving behind a debt of $6000 rent for the Chabad house building. When I returned it was already up to 8000 and I wondered where I would get the money from. I knew that in another month, when the amount reached 10,000, I would receive an eviction notice.

“Before Shabbos I asked the Rebbe for a bracha and hoped for the best. Then there were knocks at the door. That woman donor came in and gave me an envelope. I asked, ‘You always send the money directly to the bank account. Why did you bring me this envelope?’ She did not answer and left the room.

“When I opened the envelope I counted 8000 dollars. Later on I learned that she had received an inheritance and had divided the maaser between several Jewish organizations that she knew. She chose to give this amount to us without my telling her a word about our financial woes.”

A JEW’S GASHMIUS
IS RUCHNIUS

A Chabad house is a place for everything Jewish, material and spiritual.

“I get annoyed with organizations that make their material help conditional on attending shiurim. These are ideas taken from places that are foreign to us, certainly to Chabad Chassidim.” R’ Hazi’s material help is provided in every way. In an online post written by a tourist, he pointed out that at R’ Hazi’s Chabad house everything is provided for free.

“In recent years, we have gone through a number of accidents with Israelis. Because they are far from home, it falls to us to become their family and to take care of the injured or, G-d forbid, the dead. Last year we went through a traumatic experience when two Israelis were in a serious accident outside the city. One of them was killed and the other was critically injured. As soon as we heard about it from visitors to the Chabad house, we went to the hospital where they had been brought to get the body flown home and to be at the bedside of the injured man.

“That first trip, while the man was unconscious and on a ventilator, we put t’fillin on him. Later on, his entire family came and they also committed to putting on t’fillin daily. For a long time we had shifts at his bedside and took care of all his needs until he recovered.”

Most of the time, help is extended in finding an apartment or a job for short periods of time, but sometimes there are some bizarre cases:

“One day, I got a request from a family in Eretz Yisroel whose son had gone touring in Sydney. He had not called them in weeks and they were worried about him and wanted to know if we could find him. We used all our connections, including the law enforcement agencies that we are in touch with. The story turned out to be very sad. The fellow had gotten involved with drugs and a few days earlier he had gotten on a plane headed for one of the countries in the Persian Gulf.

“In consultation with the parents, we got the French embassy in Australia involved. Fortunately, the guy was also a French citizen and after a lot of work on their part, they located him in a confused state wandering the markets of that country. They took him to France and later on flew him to Eretz Yisroel. It was miraculous that this story had a good ending.”

The assimilation rate in Australia among Israelis is very high. I asked R’ Hazi how he addresses this problem.

“People know our view on the subject. Unfortunately, it is a real epidemic, although in recent years I’ve noticed a decline in Sydney. We talk about it in our shiurim, at farbrengens, and at Shabbos meals. Lack of awareness is the main problem. People don’t know the difference between a Jew and a goy.

“Every Wednesday we have a barbecue and farbreng. One time an Israeli came in all excited. He knew a non-Jewish girl who agreed to convert. He happily said that this way another person would be added to the Jewish nation. He viewed it as a mitzva. It took me a long time to explain to him that this was no mitzva. My wife, who spoke with the girl, let her know how hard it would be if she became Jewish and she immediately regretted her decision to convert. It’s interesting that it was because of this incident that the guy began taking an interest in Judaism and became a baal t’shuva.

“Every year, I deal with a number of these cases. I explain to them what the Rebbe says, that a Jew and a goy are unnatural together. When they ask why a convert must keep the entire Torah and without that she cannot convert, while we do not negate the Jewishness of an irreligious Jew, I tell them that it’s like an Australian who is born in Australia. If he does something illegal, his citizenship is not revoked, but if a foreigner says that he doesn’t want to keep certain Australian laws, they will tell him to find another country to live in.”

I asked R’ Hazi what is his guiding principle every day on shlichus. His answer:

“Truth, without compromising. People understand that we are welcoming to everyone, but we will never bring the Torah to the people, i.e. compromise the Torah; we bring people to the Torah. If the Rebbe speaks sharply against Zionism, we won’t cut corners. If the Rebbe speaks clearly about publicizing about Moshiach, we do that without p’shetlach. When the Jews were thrown out of Gush Katif, even though we had very many visitors from the kibbutzim who have their Leftist beliefs, at every Shabbos meal we said that the Rebbe says this is something which will bring tragedy upon us. There were some who disagreed at the time, but today they send me messages that the Rebbe was right. They learned it the hard way.

“Even in the simplest things like Chassidic practices, we insist on doing it exactly right. I see time and again that when you stand firmly about Jewish matters, even young people who seem distant admire you and are drawn in, because the nature of light is to illuminate. For a while we had a young man staying here, the son of the council leader in one of the districts in Eretz Yisroel. He was a member of his father’s staff. He came to us as an atheist and left here as an ardent Chassid of the Rebbe. He learned the details of the dinim of each mitzva that we do every day. We recently spoke and he said that his jurisdiction is approving construction for chinuch institutions. 

“Previously, he would get requests from religious and ultra-Orthodox groups and he would dismiss them all, but now, after his visit to the Chabad house, when he gets these requests he approves them as top priority. The askanim don’t understand what happened; only he and I know the reason.

“There are many stories like these. Many people who, in Eretz Yisroel, would never step foot in a shul or religious institution, become part of the k’hilla here and get involved in Judaism.”

My final question was about how the Chabad house carries out the Rebbe’s horaos about the Besuras Ha’Geula. R’ Hazi said:

“We are upfront about the Rebbe being Moshiach. The reactions can be divided into two. For the irreligious young person, every mitzva is something he knows little about and Moshiach is the same thing. For someone with a religious or traditional background, he might say he believes in Rabbi Ovadia Yosef or some other tzaddik and I explain that it’s no contradiction. There is a Nasi Ha’dor and there are the ‘leaders of thousands.’ They usually understand this quickly enough. Chassidic courts and rabbis are only in Eretz Yisroel; outside Eretz Yisroel the only one who looks out for them is the Rebbe through the thousands of Chabad houses.

“We explain that this is the work of the Rebbe, to take care not only of his own flock but every Jew. We see this with the first redeemer, Moshe Rabbeinu, who was moser nefesh to save a Jew from the Egyptian who wanted to kill him and how he was concerned for a lamb that ran off, and this is why he became a leader. So too, I explain, Moshiach’s role is to refine the entire world and he is the one who establishes centers of Torah and t’filla everywhere in the world including the most distant places, in order to purify that location and elevate the entire world.”

LOOKING FOR MORE SHLUCHIM

In his eleven years on shlichus, R’ Alon Hazi and his wife have been mekarev numerous Jews to Torah and mitzvos, but if you ask him, he feels that his work with Israelis in Sydney is only getting started.

“We are looking for another couple to come and work with us. Also, there are other enclaves in other neighborhoods with large concentrations of Israelis. We would be happy to have other couples come here on shlichus to work with them. My big dream is to start a yeshiva for baalei t’shuva. We opened a yeshiva that lasted only a short time, because I was busy with the Chabad house. And it’s a pity, because there are many young people who are starting out but they have no one to see them through so that the process becomes more p’nimius’dik.”

 

MESSAGES FROM THE REBBE

R’ Alon Hazi relates:

“On Purim of three years ago, we had an incredible miracle. A former Israeli, an older woman, was hosting her eleven year old granddaughter who came to visit her from Eretz Yisroel. The girl ‘dragged’ her grandmother to the Chabad house for the Megilla reading and the Purim meal. The woman is very wealthy. She opened a chain of very successful businesses in Sydney.

“A few minutes after the Megilla reading was over and the Purim meal began, the grandmother got up to take her granddaughter and turned to leave. She first thanked me and my wife for hosting them. Having had something to drink, I allowed myself to ask her why she was leaving so early. I expected to hear some polite excuse; I absolutely did not expect to hear the astonishing story which she told me.

“She said she was in touch with the Chabad house in the city and had attended the dinner which they had just had. Toward the end of the evening, the shliach held a public auction of a dollar that he got from the Rebbe. He had spoken glowingly about the significance of owning such a dollar, including its potency as a segula for parnasa. The woman had recently experienced a sharp downturn in her revenues and she decided to buy the dollar as a segula for parnasa.

“She was persistent and managed to win and received the dollar in a beautiful frame, which also had a nice picture of the Rebbe. She hung it that night in her living room. A few days passed and one morning, her granddaughter said that she thought her grandmother had made a mistake in changing the way she ran her business and if she continued doing what she used to do, she would be successful again.

“Her grandmother was shocked. ‘Where do you know about business from?’ she asked the little girl. She was flabbergasted because her granddaughter’s knowledge was not typical of an eleven year old girl at all. 

“‘From the man whose picture you hung on the wall,’ said the girl. ‘He told me in a dream.’

“The woman told me this story and her level of emotion seemed really intense. ‘I would be happy to stay with you until the end of the meal but I am rushing to the office. I have to carry out the Rebbe’s advice and get back to where I was previously.’

“Later on, I found out from the shliach she is in touch with, that she carried out all the changes that the Rebbe had conveyed through her granddaughter and her businesses were back on an even keel once again.”

 

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