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Wednesday
Jan062016

The First Shlichus: Conquering North Africa

A few days after the passing of the Frierdiker Rebbe, the Rebbe’s first Shluchim were sent to Morocco, to fulfill a request of the Frierdiker Rebbe * The Shlichus was sponsored in part by the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) * This week we begin a series exploring this unique Shlichus, as seen from the JDC Archives * Part One

Shortly before the passing of the Frierdiker Rebbe, he expressed that he would want Chabad Chassidim to travel to Morocco, to educate the children and adults, and bring them the light of Torah. The job was delegated to Rabbi Binyomin Gorodetsky, who served as the Frierdiker Rebbes (and thenthe Rebbes) personal emissary to Europe, Israel and North Africa.

The Frierdiker Rebbe passed away on Yud Shvat 5710, and the first letter written by the Rebbe after the conclusion of the ‘Shiva’ was to Rabbi Michoel Lipsker, writing that one of the matters that the Frierdiker Rebbe discussed with the Rebbe in the days before his passing was regarding the education of children in Africa, and since there is no doubt that the Frierdiker Rebbe’s work must continue – the Rebbe asks him to take the job, and “there is no doubt in my [mind] that you will accept it with great happiness.” After Rabbi Lipsker agreed, the Rebbe encouraged him to get his papers in order and arrange any official permission he needs, and in the month of Iyar 5710 Rabbi Lipsker moved to Morocco.

In subsequent letters to Rabbi Lipsker the Rebbe notifies him that one of his jobs will be to conduct discussions with the local JDC office in Morocco which will subsidize the work (at a later stage), who will then send the requests to the JDC office in Paris, where Rabbi Gorodetsky will take care of it. However – the Rebbe added – since the JDC will only pay after they see actual activities, the first payments will be sent from New York.

In that period of time, the JDC was already supporting Jewish schools in Morocco, and Rabbi Gorodetsky began the difficult task of harnessing the JDC support for the Chabad Mosdos in North Africa. But it was not an easy task, and the first years of Shlichus were fraught with problems with the local JDC office in Morocco. This will be described in the new series which we begin this week, exploring this unique Shlichus.

Since much was written on the subject of this Shlichus, we will only focus on the Shlichus as it is seen through the eyes of the JDC Archives (which were digitized and uploaded online, thanks to a grant from Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE).

*

On December 30, 1949 Mr. Moses Beckelman (Paris JDC office) writes to Mr. Herbert Katzki (Casablanca  JDC office) regarding a meeting with Rabbi Gorodetsky on the Morocco matter, where he described the purpose of the Shlichus:

I am sure you will be delighted to hear that your and our old friend Rabbi Gorodetzki is planning shortly to visit your bailiwick. His stated purpose is to fulfill the obligation which rests upon his organization to bring its educational facilities and procedures to the Jewish children of Morocco who are not now receiving a religious and Jewish education. He is, of course, expecting that JDC should meet the costs of this program.

I explained to Rabbi Gorodetzki that

We were not in a position to undertake any new commitments and

We already had arrangements with local organizations in Morocco to whom such funds (as we could allocate to education and religious teaching purpose) were being distributed.

Rabbi Gorodetzki did not seem impressed…

A few months later, in July of 1950, Rabbi Gorodetsky travelled to Morocco and met with Mr. William Bein, the director of the JDC in Morocco. The following is an excerpt from a report by Mr. Bein sent to Mr. Judah Shapiro (JDC Paris) on July 17:

I have just had a visit from Rabbi Gorodetzki, who arrived here a few days ago and returned to Paris on Sunday.

He told me that he had visited several small villages, the Ozar Hatorah and the chadarim here… He also told me in the same informal manner that he had arranged for Summer courses in Meknes for 200 students.

As far as I could gather during my short conversation with the Rabbi, whom I have known for so many years, they intend to find out whether the Lubowitzer Group could be helpful in alleviating the misery here and, particularly, in which way they could help to teach Hinuch.

I told Rabbi Gorodetzki that, in my opinion, it is detrimental to the cause if too many organizations come into Morocco. The fewer organizations, the better. He told me that Mr. Shalom had asked them to cooperate with Ozar Hatorah in certain matters and asked my opinion. I told him that the only way I wished them to cooperate was to provide a man with definite pedagogical knowledge and at least some knowledge of French, who could be in charge of the educational part of the Ozar Hatorah activities in Casablanca. He was of the opinion that many more such people were needed here.

Frankly speaking, I had the feeling that Rabbi Gorodetzky was merely sounding out the ground as to what they could do here…

*

As the Shlichus started taking shape, Rabbi Gorodetsky continued visiting Morocco and creating the foundation for the future Shluchim who were to come and “conquer” Morocco.

The Rebbe was very appreciative of the JDC support to the Chabad organizations, and on Chanukah 5711, he sent a warm letter to Dr. Joseph Schwartz:

Dear Dr. Schwartz:

Our representative, the director of our European office in Paris, Rabbi Benjamin Gorodetzky, has informed me of his visit with you last week, and of your warm interest in our work, as well as of your promise to continue to cooperate with us within the limits of your ability. For this I want to thank you very much.

I also wish to extend to you my felicitations upon your appointment to the UJA post. I am sure that you will approach your new responsibilities with your usual earnest attitude and understanding of the needs of orthodox Judaism. I am further confident that in view of your long time association with the JDC, you will maintain your interest in that organization and your influence will be felt there. Thus I hope that you will also continue to take an interest in our work and will extend to us your invaluable cooperation.

Wishing you much success in your public work as well as in your personal affairs, materially and spiritually, and with Chanukah greetings,

Cordially yours,

Rabbi Mendel Schneerson

*

Dr. Schwartz immediately responded with a letter (dated December 11, 1950) thanking the Rebbe, and confirming his commitment to help out the Chabad activities in Europe and Morocco:

Dear Rabbi Schneerson:

I acknowledge with thanks receipt of your letter of December 7th. It was, of course, a pleasure, as always, to see Rabbi Benjamin Gorodetzky and to discuss with him some of the problems in Europe and North Africa. I can assure you that there is every intention on our part to cooperate with your organization in the future as in the past…

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