THE LADDER IN BEIT EL REACHES THE HEAVENS
September 9, 2015
Nosson Avrohom in #989, Current Events, shleimus ha'Aretz

In Beit El they dream not only of ladders but also about growing and expanding, but in the meantime, the Israeli government is choking the yishuv with the construction freeze. * The Rebbe’s shliach in the yishuv, R’ Dovid Bakush, along with his wife and family, reach out to the local residents as well as to IDF soldiers working in the area.

Judges of the Israeli Supreme Court told the State to immediately destroy two buildings in the yishuv known as Battei Dreinoff. They maintained that the buildings were illegal because they did not have the necessary construction permits. The police broke into the buildings late at night and brutally removed the boys who were holed up there to make the destruction work more difficult.

About thirty young people were arrested and many others were injured as a result of the violence used by the police, who also used a water cannon that caused damage to nearby buildings. The police spared no means and used pepper spray in the room the youth were in. After a day in which the buildings were designated as a closed military area, tractors and bulldozers destroyed the buildings down to their foundations. The destruction was perpetrated by a government which claimed it would promote construction in the settlements.

During that nerve-wracking day of waiting and hoping the destruction would not take place in Beit El, as hundreds of youth stood facing off against hundreds of policemen and soldiers, the Rebbe’s shliach in Beit El, R’ Dovid Bakush, put t’fillin on with the expelling forces.


“It was bizarre. The soldiers put on t’fillin and their eyes filled with tears. Many of them told me that they were doing this shameful work with a broken heart,” he said.

R’ Bakush has been working on the yishuv together with his wife and family for close to twenty years. He is quite familiar with the battle for Eretz Yisroel, some would say too familiar.

A few years after he married, and following the murder of one of his friends, he led a group of settlers in a retaliation attack for which he was jailed for half a year. During his incarceration, he began wondering about religious Zionism and its belief in the State. At the same time, he was exposed to Tanya.

His wife and children contributed toward his move to Chabad. At each stage of his personal growth towards Chabad there was an uptick in the work of Chabad at the yishuv. At first the outreach work was on a small scale, one-on-one, encounters, conversations, while today, there is a Chabad House, a Chabad shul, shiurim and farbrengens with mashpiim and rabbanim, and tremendous work with Israeli soldiers and other security forces. R’ Bakush is both a scholar and a dynamic individual, with a smile which is winning and contagious. Perhaps this is the secret of his success at the yishuv which is entirely religious.

NINE MONTHS IN JAIL

R’ Bakush was born and raised in a traditional family in France. He made aliya at age 18 and settled in Beer Sheva where he and his fellow immigrants were sent to a prep school and ulpan, which after a year of study, was supposed to be followed by studies at Ben Gurion University.

“We had two excellent counselors, really special people, Dan Marzbach (may Hashem avenge his blood) and Tziyon Sissik. The two of them promoted the approach of Torah and derech eretz, and after a year and a half I changed my plans and went to learn in yeshiva in Beit El.

“I learned by R’ Zalman Melamed and my religious personality was formed. I filled in gaps and became a religious Zionist. I spent three years learning and when I was ready to get married I flew to France where a friend of my wife made our shidduch. At that time, my wife was not Chabad but was very close to Chabad due to the influence of the shliach, R’ Daniel Amram. After our wedding in Yerushalayim in 5745, we made aliya and settled in Beit El.

“For ten years we were part of the knitted yarmulke sector. I was very close to the rav of the yishuv and the rosh yeshiva, R’ Melamed, and worked in the yeshiva. Life was good until the Oslo agreement which was followed by horrifying attacks. Good friends of mine were murdered on the altar of peace. The worst was when my best friend, Chaim Mizrachi, was murdered. This aroused tremendous anger on the part of the yishuvim because of the powerlessness of the army and the police. This is what drove us to undertake retaliatory actions.”

R’ Bakush was arrested because of this. The arrest was on 9 Kislev 5754 and he was supposed to be released on 19 Kislev, but in an unprecedented move, the judge decided to keep him in prison until the end of the trial.

“One of my wife’s friends, Mrs. Malka Sultan (may Hashem avenge her blood), was a Lubavitcher and she immediately called and asked for a bracha from the Rebbe. My wife herself had been to the Rebbe and received much encouragement and kiruvim. All this came to the fore for her when I was in dire straits in jail.

“At that time, after 27 Adar, the Rebbe’s answers were mainly with a movement of his head and the answer we received through the secretariat was to check t’fillin and mezuzos.

“It wasn’t easy getting my t’fillin out of the jail, but after a lot of bureaucracy, we managed. The t’fillin were checked once and declared to be fine; the second time the same thing. My wife knew though, that if the Rebbe said to check them, there was a problem.

“After I got new t’fillin, a date for the trial was set. In the meantime, I had come across the series Lessons in Tanya and I began learning. I was amazed by the straight thinking, the likes of which I hadn’t come across before.

“When it was time for the sentencing, after three months behind bars and my wife managing alone with six children, I stood before the judge. The prosecutors wanted me to get two years. The judge, who was usually tough with settlers, miraculously said nine months and after deducting a third from the sentence, I was released on 22 Iyar of that year.

“The night before the sentencing, when we were very nervous, my wife got a phone call from R’ Leibel Groner. He told her that the Rebbe had nodded as a sign of blessing when my name was mentioned. We were very excited. It was 12 Adar when I was supposed to move from the prison in the Russian compound to the prison in Ramle, and Dr. Goldstein had just attacked Arabs at the Meoras HaMachpeila. Public sentiment was extremely negative about settlers. If the trial had been pushed off by two days, it is likely that the judge would not have been lenient, and most probably would have been extra strict.

“After I was released I was left with questions about religious Zionism. I felt that I had too many ideological questions for which I wasn’t receiving satisfying answers. There was a family who had gotten involved with Chabad and through them we got to know the mashpia in Yerushalayim, R’ Zalman Notik.

“He was invited to our house to farbreng for the people of the yishuv and we became close. We referred every question to him and I soon realized that Chassidus is eternal truth, the kind that does not cut corners. Everything is clear, p’nimi, and deep. We became Chassidim.

“When R’ Notik became our mashpia it all happened quickly. Our son who attended a Chassidishe summer camp for children of Yesha came home all fired up and decided he was going to Toras Emes and not the religious government school at the yishuv. He came back a Chassid with a Yechi yarmulke and proclaimed unequivocally that the Rebbe is chai v’kayam. I was a little frightened by this but soon realized that he was right. All my children followed him as well as me and my wife. I eventually dressed the part and within a year we had become Chabad Chassidim.”

When and how did you become shluchim of the Rebbe in Beit El?

“As I mentioned, my son decided he was going to Toras Emes in Yerushalayim. That is when the second intifada began and attacks on the roads increased. We thought about leaving Beit El and moving to Yerushalayim. We wrote to the Rebbe and the answer we opened to said to spread the wellsprings where you are. We asked R’ Notik and he said we should stay at the yishuv. ‘It’s no chochma to leave the yishuv now,’ he maintained, and he suggested that we become the shluchim here.

“The beginning of our outreach activities consisted of a lot of farbrengens and shiurim. We would bring in guest speakers to farbreng and give shiurim in Chassidus. My wife was in charge of the gashmius. On special dates in the calendar, we bring in lecturers and mashpiim for farbrengens with the residents.

“This work not only impacted the residents of the yishuv but on the family as well. My daughters decided to leave the religious Zionist schools they were in. I won’t forget how, for a long time, they would wake up every morning at five o’clock to get to their Chabad schools in Yerushalayim.”

How did your friends on the yishuv react to your transformation?

“At first there were many raised eyebrows. There were friends who enjoyed trying to trip me up with questions. We had to fill in a lot of gaps in our knowledge and so with every question about darkei ha’chassidus I would ask R’ Notik. If there were questions about how to regard the State and Zionism, I would ask R’ Dovid Meir Drukman who also came several times to farbreng at our yishuv.

“What helped me a lot to deal with my friends’ questions was my broad knowledge of Nigleh. In general, our way wasn’t to debate or to win arguments. Whoever really wanted to know – I would sit down with him and explain things. I saw that this is how all the mashpiim did it, when we brought them to farbreng, R’ Notik, R’ Ginsberg, R’ Sasson, and we recently hosted R’ Leibel Groner. If you have the truth you don’t need to raise your voice or argue.   R’ Melamed greatly admires Chabad. When R’ Groner came to the yishuv, I invited him and he attended the farbrengen.

“Today, twenty years later, the people here respond wonderfully to my Chabad affiliation. Many started learning Chassidus. There are certain Torah personalities who are afraid to attend farbrengens because they don’t want their students to get interested, but they themselves learn and teach Tanya and even the Rebbe’s sichos, so there is no opposition.”

A SURPRISE IN CAMP

The local Chabad House operates under the district Chabad House, Matteh Binyamin, which is run by R’ Rafi Solomon from the yishuv Eli.

The Chabad outreach at Beit El greatly expanded when a Nusach Chabad minyan began. One of the wealthier members of the yishuv, R’ Meir Dreinoff, yes, the same contractor who built the buildings which were destroyed, was kind enough to give R’ Bakush a room in the local school. Every Shabbos and Yom Tov, t’fillos are held there with the nusach and spirit of Chabad.

“As is customary in Lubavitch communities, I repeat a sicha in the middle of the davening. Before Shacharis we learn a maamer Chassidus. The davening is Nusach Ari and we sing Chabad niggunim. Baruch Hashem the minyan is growing.”

R’ Bakush tells of some encounters he had with graduates of the yeshiva in Beit El or with those who were born and grew up in the yishuv and got involved with Chabad Chassidus.

“There was a bachur who learned in the Yeshivat B’nei Akiva on the yishuv who was very interested in Chabad and came to our house a number of times to write to the Rebbe through the Igros Kodesh. Then some time passed when I did not meet him and I wondered what he was up to.

“Two weeks ago, I went to a ‘day of hiskashrus in all things’ at Moshav Zafaria and a young man came over to me wearing a Yechi yarmulke and with a Moshiach flag in his lapel. He asked whether I recognized him. At first I didn’t, but when I figured it out I was thrilled. He now lives in Beitar Ilit.

“I’ll tell you another story that happened in the not too distant past. I brought R’ Nechemia Schmerling to the yishuv to farbreng. He farbrenged in the Yeshivat B’nei Akiva. One of the bachurim attacked him with questions and complaints but he responded gently. Afterward, he said to me, ‘You will see that this bachur will become a Chabadnik.’ I didn’t believe him because the guy was so antagonistic. But two weeks ago, when I visited my son at the Oro shel Moshiach camp, a bachur who looked like a Tamim came over to me and reminded me that he was that bachur at the farbrengen. I was in shock to see that he was learning in Tzfas and was a counselor in this camp! This bachur was not only the fruit of my labor; he was also exposed to the work of R’ Solomon. I remember how much he wanted to go to a Chabad yeshiva and his parents were opposed, and then, there he was, a Tamim.”

WRITING TO THE REBBE

“One of the important activities during the year is the ‘cavalcade of light’ which takes place every Chanuka in collaboration with R’ Solomon and Anash of Rechovot led by R’ Levin and R’ Shachar, which concludes with a major farbrengen in our home.”

A major goal for the Chabad House is to connect local residents to the Rebbe through the Igros Kodesh. According to R’ Bakush, a significant number of people have already written to the Rebbe and there have been many miracles.

“If we would collect the miracles that occurred in Beit El through the Rebbe’s Igros Kodesh, we could write a thick book. In the early days, in order to promote the idea of writing to the Rebbe, I told them my personal story and the reaction of R’ Eliyahu (see sidebar), but today people come on their own to write to the Rebbe. Many of them want to retain their privacy. One story that I have permission to repeat is one where the person himself told his story to the members of our minyan at a Yud-Tes Kislev farbrengen.

“He had two sons who were eligible for marriage. He came to us to ask a bracha for his older son. I didn’t know what he wrote. At his request, I began to read the Rebbe’s answer. At the end, the Rebbe wrote, ‘I double my blessings for the shidduch.’ Hearing this, the man was excited and he said he had asked for a bracha for one of his children but the Rebbe gave a bracha for both sons. And that’s precisely what happened. A few months later both boys became engaged.”

T’FILLIN IN THE EYE OF THE STORM

Another significant part of R’ Bakush’s work is with Israeli soldiers and security forces.

“I got a lot of flak from the youth of the yishuv for the outreach I did with the soldiers recently when they came to destroy the Battei Dreinoff. People asked me how I could help wicked people do mitzvos. I remember that for several years, people from the yeshiva joined me on Mivtza Shofar with the soldiers, but after the expulsion from Gush Katif, they stopped coming along. They said they were punishing the soldiers. Obviously, this is not the Rebbe’s approach and I went on Mivtza Shofar alone and worked harder.

“The answer I give is that the soldiers aren’t wicked. They do wicked things but they are innocents who are given orders, and the only way to bring them back is to be mekarev them to Torah. At Beit Dreinoff, soldiers put on t’fillin and cried. They were eighteen-year-olds in uniform who don’t dare refuse orders. Most of them would not want to do this assignment but their commanders force them to.”

R’ Bakush’s daughters have done Mivtza Neshek at a nearby base for a number of years.

“All the female soldiers know my daughter Achva and it’s a great honor to be her father. When I went on Mivtza Shofar this past year, they asked me who I am. At the checkpoint there was a commander who wanted to check me out and when he heard that I am the father of the girl who comes every Friday to give out Shabbos candles to the soldiers, the gate was opened wide. The code words for me to get into the base are ‘the father of Achva of the Shabbos candles.’

“One Friday, a new officer came to the base and he was responsible for entry to the base. When my daughter showed up he did not recognize her and did not let her in. She is gifted with Chassidishe stubbornness and she said, ‘I have all the time in the world. I will wait here at the entrance until you let me in.’ In the meantime, he took her ID to have it checked. He glanced at it and saw the pictures of her nieces and nephews, the children of my daughter who lives in R’ Gluckowsky’s neighborhood in Rechovot. ‘One minute,’ he said. ‘I know this kid.’ She smiled and said that it wasn’t likely. It was her nephew and how would he know her nephew? ‘I’m telling you that I know this face,’ he insisted. ‘He comes a lot to my parents’ house. Where does he live?’ She said, Rechovot. ‘Which street?’ She told him. ‘Which building?’ She told him. The officer was taken aback. ‘Your nephew is my neighbor! Thanks to your cute nephew you have permission to go in.’”

DREAMS OF EXPANSION

The work with women is also highly regarded and is constantly growing. The one in charge is Mrs. Naomi Bakush.

“My wife can farbreng and pull people in. She has connected many families to the Rebbe thanks to her speaking abilities and her tremendous enthusiasm for everything associated with Chassidus. Lately, she has been running a project, in addition to the shiurim and farbrengens, in which she hosts a family or two from the yishuv each week for Shabbos.”

Needless to say, the Bakush family is focused on the Rebbe as Moshiach. This is apparent in everything they do.

“We work gradually. Since Beit El is a religious yishuv, you cannot just drop things on people without explaining the Torah sources. It is all in the sources. Then we show people how all the Rebbe’s prophecies came true.”

When we ask R’ Bakush about plans for expansion, he went back to the subject we started with. He said that even if he dreams of building and expansion, the reality today does not allow it.

“The freeze that the government imposed is oppressive and there is a strong feeling of being choked. Not only are new houses not being built in Beit El but they are destroying buildings. A year ago they destroyed buildings at Givat Ulpana and now they destroyed the buildings at Battei Dreinoff. The prime minister promised to build three hundred houses in the yishuv and still hasn’t done it. Now he is reneging on that promise.”

In order to show what the freeze means, R’ Bakush, who works in the local school, said that this year the number of first grade classes are fewer. The reason is that young couples are having a harder time buying houses in the yishuv and consequently, there are fewer children on the yishuv.

When I allow R’ Bakush to dream, he smiles and shares his dream of a neighborhood being built which will contain only Chabad Chassidim, “But that will happen, I guess, with the geula shleima.” Until then, the Bakush family continues to light up the area with the light of Chassidus and the light of Geula.

THE REBBE’S CHILD
R’ Bakush tells of one of the miracles which happened in his family shortly after he decided to remain at the yishuv:
We wrote to the Rebbe, asking for a bracha and guidance for our shlichus, but opened to an answer which said mazal tov on the birth of a son.  The answer was surprising since the last birth my wife had was a C-section and the doctors, supported by a p’sak of Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, insisted that my wife could not give birth again.  
Nevertheless, whenever we wrote to the Rebbe, no matter the subject, the Rebbe said mazal tov on the birth of a son.  When we felt the Rebbe was trying to tell us something, we spoke to our mashpia, R’ Notik, who said we should consult with R’ Eliyahu.
We arranged an appointment and told him our situation, what he had paskened, and what the Rebbe wrote time after time.  R’ Eliyahu asked whether these answers were from before or after Gimmel Tammuz.  I was nervous about his reaction but was pleasantly surprised when we said they were in the Igros Kodesh.  He took this seriously and then told us to consult with two top doctors.  As soon as we left the room, we rushed to meet with those doctors who examined the medical file and ended up giving their consent.
Some time passed, months with no good news on the horizon, but R’ Notik encouraged us that the Rebbe’s brachos are eternal.  One night I dreamed of the Rebbe.  It was the first time I dreamed of the Rebbe.  I was standing in a crowd and the Rebbe was passing by.  I turned to the Rebbe and asked for a bracha for a child.  The Rebbe smiled broadly, put his hand on my shoulder and brought me up to the stage and had me sit near the elder Chassidim.
I woke up excited and in the grip of a storm of emotions I woke my wife and said, “We will have a son!” Indeed it happened.  Nine months later our son was born, Yisroel Zushe Levi.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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