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Thursday
Aug222019

The Forgotten Directive

A Gemach in Every Classroom – By the Students, For the Students

Three days after Purim 5738, Chabad principals were surprised to receive a letter from the Rebbe that addressed the students directly. The Rebbe asked them “to go in the ways of the Jewish children in the time of Mordechai and Esther,” since “our people, Bnei Yisrael, are in a difficult situation and need heavenly mercy.”

The Rebbe asked that they increase Torah study, in quantity and quality, but the biggest surprise was the Rebbe’s request to increase in tzedaka: “The suggestion is for each of you to participate in founding a gemilus chesed fund in class or in your school. If there already exists a fund like this, then expand it, i.e. through additional giving and expanding the number of people who receive from it.”

The Rebbe began developing the idea a few days earlier at the Purim farbrengen, when he suggested “that talmidim and talmidos in every school etc. (or every class) found a gemach fund [which is ‘the highest level’ of tzedaka ‘with none greater than it’]. And for everyone to donate money to this fund from time to time.

“ … in order to implant in the hearts of boys and girls that they be not only ‘generous with their money’ but also ‘generous with their bodily efforts,’ it would be very proper that the gemach fund be run by the boys and girls themselves. That the students in school (or class) choose a director, treasurer, etc. from among themselves.

“This will increase the sense of responsibility and consequently, will also increase an enthusiasm and connection to the gemach by all students in the school etc. since the actual doing of chesed is through their delegates.

“It would be good if the running of the gemach fund and distribution of jobs (director, treasurer, manager of accounts etc.) be changed not infrequently (by the students’ voting) so as to enable every student in school etc., or at least most of them, a chance to not only donate money but to also contribute bodily, especially as our sages in the mishna say, ‘everything is according to the plenitude of one’s deeds.’”

The Rebbe continued to agitate about the new campaign in the next farbrengen which took place on motzoei Shabbos parashas Tzav 5738 and even edited the sicha that was later printed in Likutei Sichos volume 16, pages 623-626.

THE REBBE RAYATZ’S GEMACH

This revolutionary idea that children run a gemach for money is something the Rebbe based on a story about the Rebbe Rayatz that was published in HaTamim. The Rebbe Rayatz said that in his childhood “All of my wealth – that I acquired as reward for mishnayos by heart … I used for gemilus chasadim … and the day before market day and the day after that I had days of work in distributing and receiving sums of money.”

The Rebbe concluded that by telling and publicizing this conduct, it is obviously an instruction for all … and since “the body follows the head,” the conduct of a Nasi (and head) of the Jewish people is also an empowerment.

THE PRINCIPALS SHOULD DECIDE THE DETAILS

In the unedited version of the sicha from Shabbos parashas Tzav, there are additional details to the new instruction. The Rebbe emphasized that he intentionally did not set down rules whether to open one gemach per school or for each class, so they could tailor the idea to the school and the inclinations of the principals and talmidim in each school.

The Rebbe suggested that students hold elections and choose people for jobs in the gemach starting with the boy who would give out loans, a child in charge of collecting membership dues or donations and another child to keep the gemach’s accounts.

So that more children would be involved in running the gemach, the Rebbe suggested that every few months they hold elections and choose other children to run the gemach.

Likewise, the Rebbe stressed that the children needed to consult with their teachers about how to run the gemach. Conversely, since it involved children who had no idea about things like this, the Rebbe asked that the teachers take the initiative to reach out to the children and occasionally ask the children how the gemach was doing.

The Rebbe also suggested that in order to further emphasize the importance of a gemach run by young children, that there should be two separate gemachs: one run by children over bar mitzva age and the other run by the younger children.

GEMACH OF CHILDREN FROM KIBBUTZ EIN HA’NETZIV

In the following months, the Rebbe continued to rouse the children to start gemachs. In a letter that he sent on 15 Iyar 5738, the Rebbe wrote to the children of the Fash family who lived at Kibbutz Ein Ha’Netziv:

“I hope that you know of my request to students all over that they organize a gemach fund of their own, along with a special increase in Torah study in addition to the regular studies. May you also succeed in this in the best possible way.”

The letter was sent to Mrs. Fash with the addition of a letter from the secretariat which said, “Enclosed is a letter from the Rebbe to the children. If more explanation is needed, surely you will find the right way to explain it to them.”

Also, in the special letter that R’ Chadakov sent to directors of branches of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and Tzeirei Agudas Chabad, he urged them about “the activities, in accordance with the recent hisorerus, founding a gemach fund by the campers as well as arranging tzedaka funds in every bunk.”

IMPLEMENTING THE ORDER IN THE SCHOOLS

Forty years passed and probably many forgot this special instruction, while those born afterward had no idea it ever existed.

I asked my friend Nosson Avrohom to raise the topic with the group of educators of which he is a member. Some hadn’t heard about the idea and even those who heard about it thought it was only a gemach for pens/pencils. One of the teachers wrote that in his class he tried to start a writing implements gemach and now, after seeing the Rebbe’s instruction, he said he would try to start a gemach in his class in accordance with the Rebbe’s guidelines.

R’ Hershel Lustig, former principal of Oholei Torah in Crown Heights, remembers those years in which students were involved in putting this directive into practice but, unfortunately, it was forgotten over the years.

In a conversation with R’ Naftali Roth, a veteran educator and director of the Merkaz Chinuchi Chassidusi, he definitely remembered the hora’ah and even how it was implemented at the time, in the school that he ran in Ganim:

“After we received the Rebbe’s hora’ah, we spoke to the children about it and then held elections among the students to choose children for the gemach jobs.

“In accordance with the Rebbe’s guidance that principals make the decisions about how the gemach is run, we sat down to iron it out and arrived at a number of important conclusions:

1-Children who want to take a loan from the gemach have to present a general permission slip from their parents to allow them to borrow money. Otherwise, unpleasant situations could arise in which children borrow money and do not return it and the parents will have a justified complaint – why did you give them a loan?

2-A gemach must have a clear set of rules: is money lent to children for any purpose or only for school-related purposes? For example, for our school, we decided that the gemach is not for loans to buy sweets, only to buy school supplies that a child is missing or for bus fare and even money for trips, but all within the framework of school necessities. It also must be clear in the rules how to respond in a case of a child who took a loan but did not repay it.

3-The children are responsible for the gemach but the fund itself must be the responsibility of one of the teachers and kept in a safe place like the teachers’ room; otherwise, money might disappear very quickly.”

R’ Yosef Avrohom Pizem, principal of the Tzivos Hashem elementary school in Krayot, remembers that time when he was learning in Tomchei Tmimim in Lud:

“After hearing the Rebbe’s instruction, the hanhala assembled the students and Rabbi Chaim Ashkenazi encouraged the students, with his special Chassidic enthusiasm, to carry out the new instruction. I was appointed the ‘comptroller’ of the gemach. Bachurim raised money for the gemach and it serviced the talmidim.

“Since the time that I myself entered the field of chinuch, I have tried to raise the issue. By the very nature of the matter, since there needs to be a teacher in charge, it depends more on the teacher. There are teachers who are more devoted to this and those who are less so.

“In our school, it started as a gemach for money but most of the years it was hard to run monetary loans and we switched to a gemach for writing supplies, notebooks, etc. That is not quite like the gemach of the Rebbe Rayatz that the Rebbe mentioned in his sicha but the principle remains, that the talmidim are involved in gemilus chasadim which is so important.”

THE REBBE RAISES THE ISSUE AGAIN

At the Yud-Beis Tammuz farbrengen of 5741, in the second sicha (Sichos Kodesh 5741, volume 1, page 142 and on) the Rebbe once again spoke about establishing gemachs for children.

The Rebbe spoke at length about the lesson in the field of chinuch that we can derive from the chinuch approach of the baal ha’Geula himself, as expressed in the aforementioned story: that when he acquired a sum of money in exchange for mishnayos that he learned by heart, he himself realized that gemilus chesed ought to be done with this money, and he did so out of his own good will.  To the extent that – as seen in the continuation of the story – through his involvement in gemilus chesed he put himself in danger and was moser nefesh for the benefit of another so that he was put in jail.

THE REBBE SUPPORTS A GEMACH FOR CHILDREN

One of the children who was inspired to start a gemach following the Rebbe’s sicha in 5742 was R’ Dovid Mondshein, then a child in Toras Emes.

He called the gemach fund “Keren Dovid” for his grandfather R’ Dovid Bravman a’h. He wrote about this to the Rebbe and how surprised his family was when a letter arrived from the Rebbe to the young director of the gemach:

Administration of Gemach “Keren Dovid” Yerushalayim …

Peace and Blessing!

I hereby ratify receipt of the letter, and offer thanks. And it is a timely thing – in the days of Chanuka whose inyan is an ongoing increase in light, and to extend this into all the days of the year. The p’n in the letter will be read in an auspicious time at the tziyun hakadosh.

With blessings for luminous and joyous days of Chanuka.

At the bottom of the letter, the Rebbe added in his own handwriting, “enclosed hereby is my participation.”

A 100 shekel bill was included with the letter and the children who ran the gemach decided to hold a raffle among the donors to the gemach. Each raffle ticket cost 10 shekels and the gemach fund increased by hundreds of shekalim thanks to the Rebbe’s participation.

The grandfather of the director of the gemach, R’ Yaakov Yosef Raskin, who took pleasure in his grandson’s “koch” in the Rebbe’s horaos, asked to buy five tickets and he sent the following letter:

B”H

Yud Shevat 5742

Kfar Chabad

To my dear grandson, ha’tamim Dovid,

Peace and Blessing!

I am sending hereby the amount of 50 shekel, participation in the raffle for the 100 shekel that you were privileged to receive from Beis Chayeinu, Kevod Kedushas Rabeinu shlita. I am sending my wishes that you succeed in your holy shlichus in that you are arranging a gemilas chesed (gemach) fund, named after your grandfather, Harav Hatamim R’ Dovid Bravman a’h.  And Hashem yisborach should grant you success in the study of Torah and fulfillment of mitzvos, with true Chassidic hiskashrus to Beis Chayeinu shlita.

The gemach, that first opened primarily for writing implements and very small sums of money was able to lend larger sums, but most of the loans were for money for bus fare, buying a sandwich and the like.

A GEMACH TO HASTEN THE GEULA

One of the most well-known gemachs in the yeshiva world in recent years is the “Gemach to Hasten the Geula.” It was founded about 25 years ago by R’ Reuven Boroshansky, then a student in the eighth grade in Beer Sheva, with 90 shekels.

Over the years, the gemach grew, thanks to bachurim who donated to the gemach at a dinner held annually under the slogan, “Help Us Help You.” This gemach, with no outside donors, continued to grow exclusively thanks to the donations of the students themselves.

Since the money for the gemach was donated by bachurim, when R’ Broshansky moved up to beis medrash, he decided to leave the gemach in the yeshiva ketana (mesivta) and he opened a new gemach. Many bachurim fondly remember the gemach which helped them travel to the Rebbe and pay for the ticket during the year.

Today, there are gemachs in a number of yeshivos, with the biggest gemach of all in Tomchei Tmimim – 770 where it has grown tremendously, thanks to big donations from the Chassidic philanthropist, R’ Sholom Ber Drizin.

***

Schools should be alerted to this directive of the Rebbe and every school should have a gemach that is run according to the Rebbe’s directives including elections among the children, to hasten the true and complete Geula.

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