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Friday
Aug162019

Seven Facts And Figures About Reb Levik

Presented in honor of 75 years since the Histalkus

1. BAS SHEVA ALTHEUS

Mrs. Bas Sheva Altheus was one of the women who endangered her life to rescue Rabbi Levi Yitzchok when he was in exile.

It was when the Chassid, R’ Hershel Rabinowitz, put in great efforts to save R’ Levik after he found out that R’ Levik’s medical condition had worsened in exile. He began to exert great efforts to get him out of exile. In the end, he managed to obtain his release. It became necessary to transfer the release documents to Chili, where R’ Levi Yitzchok was in exile. For men, the trip was dangerous, and this is why Mrs. Altheus was asked to make the dangerous journey.

At first, she was inclined to refuse, since she was responsible to support her and her sister’s four children. Then, at night, her father, Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Altheus, came to her in a dream and urged her to go, and so she made the arduous, dangerous trip.

Rebbetzin Chana, who was with her husband in Chili, related in her memoirs, “One morning, I went out to get milk and in the distance a young woman was walking. Based on her clothes and appearance she was obviously not a local woman. She held a suitcase. She approached me and said, “You are Chana, right?” At first, I was taken aback by the fact that she had identified me. When she began to speak, I could tell that she was the daughter of Eliyhau Chaim and that she was traveling especially to us.

“To go with her to my home – I could not, for I had to obtain all the food needed for the day ahead and later on it would not be possible to obtain anything. She had just finished a two-day trip under the travel conditions of those days and throughout this time she had not shut her eyes and she had sat in a terrible crush. To stand in the mud and wait for me, after she had dragged her feet from the train station a distance of more than a kilometer, she hadn’t the strength, being exhausted. I therefore sent her with the sheigetz of one of the neighbors to where we lived while I went on my way.

“When I arrived home, after taking care of everything we needed, I did not encounter her. It turned out that the sheigetz had misdirected her far from our house and I had to go out and find her.

2. HIRSHEL RABINOWITZ

R’ Tzvi Hirsh (Hirshel) Rabinowitz from Chernowitz was an outstanding character. He was a clever, daring person with a heart of gold, who put his life in danger in order to save more and more Jews, and he played a key role in preserving Jewish life in Chernowitz.

Toward the end of World War II, when he lived in Alma Ata, he was one of the few askanim who worked to save R’ Levi Yitzchok from his place of exile in Chili to bring him to Alma Ata which was larger and more civilized. R’ Hirshel put tremendous efforts into this.

He did not suffice with saving and bringing R’ Levik to Alma Ata. Every single day, he took care of his needs. The doctors said that R’ Levik had to eat chicken soup every day but where would a chicken be obtained from during these war years? R’ Hirshel exerted himself to obtain a chicken, shecht it, kasher it and cook it and he himself fed R’ Levik during his illness and weakness when he could not eat on his own.

R’ Hirshel also obtained special flour for R’ Levik which was hard to get at that time. He did not suffice with obtaining the flour but baked special challos for him for Shabbos and for weekdays. He would also obtain raisins and make wine for the rav for kiddush and havdala.

Throughout the rav’s illness, R’ Hirshel did not budge from his bedside, day and night, Yom Tov and Shabbos. R’ Hirshel tended to R’ Levi Yitzchok devotedly, taking care of all his needs until that bitter day, Chof Menachem Av, when R’ Levi Yitzchok passed away. He even inherited his wondrous stick that protected him from danger.

After R’ Levik’s passing, R’ Hirshel and his wife left Alma Ata and settled in Chernowitz where he continued his deeds of kindness and strengthening Judaism.

3. R’ YAAKOV YOSEF RASKIN AND HIS SONS

R’ Yaakov Yosef Raskin was also one of the few askanim who worked to rescue R’ Levi Yitzchok from his place in exile and to bring him to Alma Ata. During the war, R’ Raskin and his family had to move far away from the front lines. They moved to Alma Ata where they had to remain at the train station for two weeks without a roof over their heads until they were allowed to enter the city.

“In the winter of 5704, we had the privilege of being one of the planners to remove him from his place of exile at the end of five years of exile,” said R’ Yaakov Yosef. His daughter Tzivya Raskin knew a girl who later became a judge in the court house in Alma Ata and through her they managed to obtain release papers for R’ Levi Yitzchok.

“This lady had many acquaintances in the KGB in Alma Ata. We told her about R’ Levi Yitzchok and how efforts had to be made to bring him to Alma Ata. This entailed many difficulties and implementing it entailed mesirus nefesh. It is to her great credit that she guided us in the process with where to go and with whom to speak, and she especially helped us transfer large sums of bribe money to the right place to blind them.

“The efforts paid off and the Rav and Rebbetzin came to us right after Pesach together with the other askanim. We obtained a decent two-room apartment for them. In the yard there were trees. We also acquired beds, a table, chairs and lamps. Not far from his house we arranged a minyan, especially on Shabbos, and R’ Levi Yitzchok came and davened with us.”

4. MEMOIRS

Many of the unknown chapters in the life of R’ Levi Yitzchok were discovered thanks to the memoirs written by his wife, Rebbetzin Chana. She wrote in detail, skillfully and emotionally describing her family history.

It was a short while after she arrived in the United States when she began to write. She wrote in two notebooks in Yiddish. The first notebook was written between 5708-5709 and it contains mainly the story of the life, imprisonment and passing of her husband. The second notebook, written between 5710-5723, is in a more personal style and contains stories, aphorisms and feelings that she recalled as she wrote.

She begins her memoir with the words, “I am not a writer nor the daughter of a writer. My desire is only to write a bit of the memories of my husband z’l, from the latter years of his life.” Despite her modesty, these memoirs are a treasure which sheds light on the many chapters of R’ Levi Yitzchok’s life, the Rebbetzin herself, and their great son, the Rebbe MH”M.

Well written and saturated with feeling, she skillfully describes what happened to her and her husband. By reading these memoirs we are exposed to the many travails experienced by these illustrious people, from R’ Levi Yitzchok’s imprisonment in 5699 until his passing in 5704. Throughout all of this, what comes through is their lofty characters, their staunch spirits and mesirus nefesh even under the most inhumane conditions.

The Rebbetzin gave the first notebook to someone close to her (apparently R’ Nissan Gordon) to type it up and edit it. Then she was given the typewritten pages and she edited them by hand.  A copy of these memoirs was given to her sister-in-law, Mrs. Rochel Schneerson [this copy was also seen by several Chassidim in Eretz Yisrael: R’ Shlomo Yosef Zevin (who noted that it was written “with great skill and true exactitude”), R’ Aharon Yaakov Diskin, and R’ Avrohom Chanoch Glitzenstein. Likewise, Dr. Tzvi Harkavi notes in his book Yekaterinaslav that he saw these memoirs.]

Apparently, the Rebbe only saw them after his mother passed away. In the Rebbe’s home, there is a binder containing these memoirs (the typed version), on which Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka wrote (in Russian): “Memoirs – Shvigger, Chana Meirovna Schneerson.”

In 5724, R’ Nissan Gordon published a series of articles about the life of our Rebbe in Di Yiddishe Heim. He included excerpts from the Rebbetzin’s memoirs with additional things that he heard from her orally.

Toldos Levi Yitzchok was published in 5737, and was edited by the writer Rabbi Natfali Tzvi Gottlieb. He also used the memoirs. It should be noted that this book was proofed by the Rebbe before it was printed. The memoirs were first published as Eim B’Yisrael (Mother in Israel) in 5743.

In recent years, the Rebbetzin’s memoirs were re-edited and every week, a new booklet was printed. They were translated into five languages (Yiddish, Hebrew, English, Russian and France).

5. KOLLELIM NAMED FOR R’ LEVI YITZCHOK

Like many things that the Rebbe did to honor the memory of his father, the network of kollelim, Tiferes Zkeinim Levi Yitzchok was established to honor his father’s memory. The Rebbe devoted sichos and detailed answers to this.

The Rebbe not only sought to honor his father’s memory by naming the kollelim for him, but even felt it his obligation and privilege to donate money toward these kollelim. This is what he said at the farbrengen of Chof Av 5740/1980:

“To those who give the name ‘Tiferes Zkeinim’ (only), the participation will be 18 shekels [i.e. dollars] (considering that this is the smallest amount I think every participant should give). To those who add the name ‘Levi Yitzchok,’ that imposes upon me specifically a special obligation (and privilege), therefore, there will be participation from a special fund, of 100 shekels.” The Rebbe added that money should give from the Keren Levi Yitzchok which the Rebbe established in 5724.

6. MATZEIVA

After the passing of R’ Levi Yitzchok, he was buried in the cemetery in Alma Ata. A small gravestone was placed there with not even the name of the illustrious family on it, in fear of the authorities. All it said was: Here lies buried Harav Hagaon R’ Levi Yitzchok b’Harav R’ Boruch Shneur, who passed away on the 20th of the month of Menachem Av 5704…”

More than fifty years later, Rabbi Dovid Nachshon and R’ Avi Taub mobilized to install a new gravestone as well as to build a new ohel over the site.  In the guise of businessmen, they traveled to Kazakhstan and worked to build the new ohel by giving bribes to the local powers that be. As it was being built, they wrote on a paper in Hebrew letters what they wanted the matzeiva to say so that a professional could copy it.

When the work of building the ohel was finished, a tractor came that brought the matzeiva, a large and nice one as befits this tzaddik. After a long night of work, the laborers toiled to lift the huge stone and attach it to the new walls. The new stone has the name “Schneerson” on it, though for 44 years it was dangerous to mention the name “Schneerson” in communist Russia.

“Even after we erected the new matzeiva, we left the old matzeiva as it was because of its importance, and we installed the new one in the wall of the ohel. Today, there are two matzeivos in the newly renovated ohel,” said R’ Dovid Nachshon.

They left a few days later, having taken pictures of the matzeiva and the key to the new ohel. They had the privilege of a yechidus and when the Rebbe received the key, he said, “Fortunate is their lot, much is their reward, great is their merit, for having awakened the Jews of Russia and working with them, and they were involved with the ohalim of Rebbes, tzaddikim and kedoshim, and we should no longer need such things due to that it should be ‘arise and sing those who dwell in the dust.’”

7. Is This Really My Father?

There are two known photos of Harav Hagaon Hamekubal R’ Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, father of the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach. One was taken at the time of his arrest by the KGB, on Nissan 5699 (1939), and the second after the few years he spent in his Kazakhstani exile town of Chili.

The following Ksav Yad Kodesh of just four letters, written on the back of the second photo read:

 אאז”ל? [= אדוני אבי זכרונו לברכה?]

“Is this indeed my master and father of blessed memory?”

This “caption” the Rebbe added to the photo, seems to insinuate that the pain and suffering Reb Levik suffered at the hands of these cursed reshaim of the KGB made his appearance so different that he was barely recognized by his own son!

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