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Thursday
Feb182016

SOLDIER AND LAMPLIGHTER

R’ Yisroel Yitzchok Zalmanov was the secretary of the Vaad of Kfar Chabad, he served in the navy, he was a shochet and one of the first settlers in Kfar Chabad, and one of the first activists in Tzeirei Chabad in Eretz Yisroel. Every night he walked the streets of the Kfar and lit the streetlights, demonstrating to all who saw him the aphorism, “A Chassid is a lamplighter.” * Presented to mark his passing on 10 Adar I.

One of the Chassidim once asked the Rebbe Rashab: What is a Chassid?

The Rebbe replied: A Chassid is a lamplighter – the man who walks in the streets and lights the streetlights [in the olden days, streetlights were lit with kerosene. In order to light them at night, someone had the job of going around with a long stick with fire on the end with which he would light the street lights].

That is a Chassid. He walks with a long stick with fire on the tip but he knows that the fire is not his. His job is to use this fire in order to light the lamps.

The Chassid, R’ Yisroel Yitzchok Zalmanov was born in 1921 in Kursk where his father, R’ Shmuel, was the shochet of the Chassidic community. He was named for his maternal grandfather, the Chassid, R’ Yisroel Yitzchok Swersky.

He was born at that terrible time following the communist revolution whose leaders were determined to stamp out religion from the Soviet Union. Religious schools were made illegal and children were sent to public school.

Despite the illegality in teaching Torah to children, his father made sure that his children had a proper chinuch by having a G-d fearing teacher learn with them in the afternoon.

While he was still young, R’ Yisroel Yitzchok took an active part in a mitzva that was done with mesirus nefesh. It was when R’ Eliezer Karasik was able to convince a relative of his to circumcise his son and R’ Yisroel Yitzchok’s father went to perform the bris. Due to the danger, there were very few people present and Yisroel Yitzchok, who was seven, was given the honor of kvatter. He received the baby from Devorah, the daughter of R’ Karasik, who was the same age as he.

In 1936, his father was given a visa and he took his family to Eretz Yisroel, to Tel Aviv, where a few T’mimim lived. These were graduates of the yeshiva in Lubavitch who had arrived in Eretz Yisroel. As soon as he arrived, he sent his son to learn in Yerushalayim since there were no other yeshivos Tomchei T’mimim in Eretz Yisroel at the time. The trip from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim in those days was not as simple and comfortable as it is today. It took several hours and the cost was commensurate. R’ Yisroel Yitzchok went home only for the holidays.

When a yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim opened in Tel Aviv in 1938, R’ Yisroel Yitzchok was one of the first students. R’ Itchke Gansburg and R’ Zalman Lebenharz were good friends of his.

After completing his studies in Tomchei T’mimim, he married Yocheved, the daughter of R’ Chaim Meir Garelik who had just come from Russia. It was at this time that the Rebbe Rayatz founded Kfar Chabad and R’ Yisroel Yitzchok and his new wife became one of the first to settle there. They were given a parcel of land like the rest of the early settlers.

For a number of years he served in the navy, being a model of a Chassid even in the navy, which is considered the most difficult branch of the military for a religious man. He was a role model for many other Chassidic soldiers who served in those days in various units.

In Nissan 5716/1956, his father, the shochet of Tel Aviv, passed away. In his will he asked that one of his sons take over this position. The family members wrote to the Rebbe about this and the Rebbe instructed that R’ Yechiel Michel, who until then had been a shochet in Ramat Gan, should take over his father’s position in Tel Aviv, and one of the other brothers would take his place – with priority to be given to the one who finished learning sh’chita quickly. This fell to R’ Yisroel Yitzchok.

“It is proper that you continue learning sh’chita since this is in your father’s will. But at the same time, for now, you should not leave farming (even if this will make the amount of time it takes to study sh’chita longer) until you know for sure that you are succeeding in your studies. Also – calmly – you should seek out the right person to whom to transfer the plot of farmland in Kfar Chabad, of course in agreement with the vaad of the Kfar,” instructed the Rebbe when informed that he had started learning sh’chita.

After completing the study of sh’chita, and informing the Rebbe that he had been given certification for the sh’chita of chickens, the Rebbe told him to continue and complete the study of sh’chita so he would have a full skill set, even if he did not see any work in shechting animals in the near future. Thus, R’ Yisroel Yitzchok continued his father’s work in the field of sh’chita. His father was one of the bachurim who received the okay from the Rebbe Rashab himself to study sh’chita, and the Rebbe Rayatz once asked to personally check his knife.

ON BEHALF OF
KFAR CHABAD

For many years, R’ Yisroel Yitzchok served the residents of Kfar Chabad in many ways. He was the secretary of the vaad and a member of its religious council. In these roles he helped tremendously in getting budgets for the work of spreading the wellsprings which he so loved, he oversaw the eiruv and mikvaos, and all the other halachic matters needed in the Kfar.

A Chassid is a lamplighter and R’ Yisroel Yitzchok did this literally. In those days, there were people whose job it was to clean the kerosene lamps and light them every night. These lamps dimly lit the roads of the Kfar. You could see R’ Yisroel Yitzchok going every night with a stick in his hand lighting the kerosene lamps. What today is simple and automatic had to be done individually and personally back then.

TZEIREI AGUDAS CHABAD

R’ Yisroel Yitzchok was not the kind of person who stood out or demanded things of people. As a Chassid, he demanded mainly of himself. Whatever he did, he did with simplicity, without standing out or honor-seeking.

When the Rebbe started Tzeirei Agudas Chabad (Tzach), R’ Yisroel Yitzchok was one of the first activists. During certain years, the offices of Tzach operated out of his home. R’ Yisroel Yitzchok himself traveled on missions whenever he was asked, traveling to moshavim to farbreng on special days in the calendar. He also got involved in simpler jobs such as packing mishloach manos.

However, the project that was his specialty was hosting families. In those days, many guests came to Kfar Chabad, people who wanted to see what authentic Chassidic life looked like. R’ Yisroel Yitzchok was in charge of the hosting project and he arranged special cards which were sent ahead of time in which each family filled out how many guests they could have for that Shabbos. By organizing it, he made it possible for many more guests to come and this resulted in many baalei teshuva who are Chassidim today.

One wintry Friday, it was pouring and there were hardly any people in the street when a large car stopped near the Zalmanov home. A group of girls from a kibbutz who came for Shabbos were warmly welcomed. The fact that they had not announced that they were coming was quickly forgotten. R’ Yisroel Yitzchok brought them to his own home since there was no other place to send them. He had already filled all the spaces on his list of cards and there was no more room. Having no choice, he brought the wet, shivering guests to his own home.

His wife ran to the closet to get warm clothing and the girls warmed up under blankets. One of the Zalmanov girls davened out loud and the girls repeated after her.

At shul, the news spread and when R’ Yisroel Yitzchok returned home and discovered that the women had managed to put together all kinds of extras for the Shabbos meal, he was surprised to discover that half the Kfar had come to add to his Shabbos meals. One brought extra fish, another brought a pot of soup and a third brought chicken. In the end, they had a royal feast and the guests said they would never forget it.

In 5722 he won the raffle of a trip to the Rebbe and was the representative of the Chassidim in Eretz Yisroel for Tishrei of that year.

At the Tzach gathering which was held every year on Sukkos, he was asked to speak. He did not speak long and just mentioned that there was no reason to get distracted by side things; we just need to work and increase the light.

At a farbrengen that followed, the Rebbe told the speakers to say l’chaim and said it was possible to speak in a way of a small amount that contains a lot. It is possible that this was referring to R’ Yisroel Yitzchok’s brief speech.

***

R’ Yisroel Yitzchok lived a Chassidishe life. Every Shabbos he farbrenged until almost Mincha. With his rich Yiddish he recounted stories and sayings he had heard from the great Chassidim and sang heartfelt Chassidishe niggunim which drew the hearts of all who heard them.

He passed away on Shabbos, Parshas Tetzaveh, 10 Adar I, 5741/1981.

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