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Wednesday
Jan312018

THE REBBE’S MAN IN PACE

Who was the 12-year old who went to Kfar Chabad and had a meteoric climb in European politics? What was the Rebbes answer that led him to a prominent mission on the international front? * Meet Tzvi Hirsch, Georgy Logvynsky, a Jewish member of the Ukrainian Parliament. He did not forget his counselor whom he met before his bar mitzva in camp in Kiev. * He spoke with Beis Moshiach and told us about his warm connection to the Rebbe and the shluchim. He himself feels like a shliach!

By Oholiav Abutbul

Returning 18 Sifrei Torah | Speaking to the Jewish community. On the right is Rabbi Moshe Asman.The tall building which crests the hill near the European Parliament in the center of Brussels, is painted a gross toffee color.  Aside from the members of Parliament and their assistants, whose place of work is the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, many guests and gawkers come for a peek at the building so they can see their political representatives in action. The 14 floors have corridors arranged in rows of metal cubicles belonging to various delegations.

Arranging a time for an interview wasn’t easy. As he strides through the lobby of the building, many members of Parliament and directors of large organizations try to grab a moment’s conversation with him. If not for the covey of assistants who surround him, it is doubtful that he would be able to handle the sheer volume of requests.  Between meetings and discussions, between speeches and legislative proposals, we managed to sit down for a warm conversation with him which was interrupted more than once by urgent requests.

“I apologize for keeping you waiting. I was busy proposing a new law that will help the Jews of Ukraine.”

The name Tzvi Hirsch, Georgiy Logvynsky, may not be familiar to most readers, but millions of residents in Ukraine and throughout Europe, know him well. His quiet demeanor does not give away his life story, with its groundbreaking twists at every stage, starting with his childhood until the place he is in now. His drive, permeated with a spirit of shlichus, has brought him to make history, twice.

First: for the first time, the Ukrainian Parliament has had a member of its parliament hold the position of vice president of PACE. Logvynsky is the first to inaugurate the position. Second: for the first time in Jewish history, a religiously observant Jew is appointed to the high position of representative of any sovereign nation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the parliamentary arm of the Council of Europe, a 47-nation international organization dedicated to upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The Council of Europe is an older and wider circle of nations than the 28-member European Union.

It’s surprising, no?

Logvynsky laughs. “All my life, I was accustomed to working hard in order to achieve things, but this is definitely a different feeling altogether; it’s another level of power. The Rebbe sent me to help the Jews of the Ukraine and this is the power to succeed and move forward.”

We went back to his childhood:

“It was the summer of 5750, about four years after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster (in April 1986). In the course of a test conducted at the reactor, the reactor exploded, releasing radioactive material. The reactor was located 25 kilometers from the city. The world first learned about the calamity when they recorded unusual levels of radioactivity in the atmosphere. To this day, it is difficult to measure the scope of the disaster and the ramifications on the environment and people.

“At the time, Ukraine was still a part of the Soviet Union. As a Jewish child in the capital city of Kiev, we did not have many options where to go. The numerous organizations that flood the country today, were not operating then. So, for example, the Joint and the Jewish Agency were not names we knew of back then, not to mention the Israeli embassy which did not exist.

“But one thing was clear and known to all, that there is Chabad. Shluchim of the Rebbe had special Jewish programs and I was drawn to them. After a period of participating in their program, my friends and I were offered to be taken to Eretz Yisroel and attend school in Kfar Chabad.

“It wasn’t hard to decide. That is how I went to Eretz Yisroel as a boy.  That entire period of living and learning in Kfar Chabad, I remember as a very powerful experience. I have many good memories of those days.

“After concluding the program as part of the ‘Children of Chernobyl’ group, I continued at Ohr Simcha in Kfar Chabad for another few years.

“One of the experiences that I had, that stands out in my mind, was my bar mitzva celebration. A young bachur who was particularly dynamic, won me over and we’ve been together ever since.” He refers to none other than R’ Moshe Asman, who is now a shliach and chief rabbi of the Ukraine.

“Back then, a bottle of Coke was a distant dream, but to my great surprise, R’ Asman brought two bottles of Coke to my bar mitzva celebration. That was the biggest bar mitzva gift I could have wanted at the time.

“Before my bar mitzva, of course I had no money or the means with which to buy tefillin for myself. I had no idea where I would get them from. One day, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Neimark of Kfar Chabad, who was a melamed there, heard that there is a boy who is about to become bar mitzva and has no tefillin. He invited me to his home and told me he wanted to give me tefillin as a gift.

“‘But I have two conditions,’ he said. And to underscore his seriousness, he presented a contract for me to sign.

“His first condition was that I commit to putting the tefillin on every day. The second condition was that when my finances allowed, I would buy tefillin for someone else who could not afford it.

“R’ Neimark took a large contract out of the drawer with the conditions written out clearly. I was quite surprised to discover the names of dozens of other boys and men who had signed to this contract over the years.

“I signed my first contract at the age of 13,” he concluded with a smile.

But the story did not end there.

“Later on, when I became a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, I saw another Jewish member of Parliament, Cohen, who was warm to Judaism but did not own tefillin. I remembered what had been done for me and went to buy myself new tefillin. The tefillin I got from R’ Neimark I passed onto Cohen, with a commitment and contract, of course … That is how I closed a deal that began over 25 years earlier.”

How does a young bachur, a Jew, become the vice president of PACE?

Logvynsky was finishing school and wondering what to do next. The uncertainty for a young boy without parents put him at a crossroads that would impact the rest of his life: should he continue the typical Israeli “route” or go back to his country of origin and work there to help his countrymen.

“The first thing I had to do was clear; to write to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and ask his advice as to what I should do for the rest of my life.”

The answer he received through the Igros Kodesh was to go to Ukraine.  Logvynsky did not hesitate but returned to his birthplace and immediately started working on behalf of the Jews of the community and residents in general.

His meteoric success came sooner than he thought it would. After running for a few different positions, he was appointed as a member of Parliament. He served actively on various committees until he was recently appointed to a historic position as vice president of PACE.

In what ways specifically do you provide assistance to the Jews of Ukraine?

“Obviously, if we start counting the ways, this interview won’t end … But I will tell you one thing that happened recently. There is a Jew in Kiev who got entangled with criminals, and it reached the point where his life was in danger. I won’t get into his story but will say that he sat in jail with the most dangerous people in our country. For him, as a Jew, it was literally life-threatening.

“I got involved and exerted great pressure on the court to release him, and to serve time somewhere else. During his trial, I agreed to take responsibility for him. For the first time in the history of the Ukrainian court system (and perhaps in the world, I did not check), they allowed him to complete his jail time in our shul. I took responsibility for him and the judges agreed to this.

“This man, who was in the lowest of places, got up every morning to learn Torah, to keep mitzvos, and to adapt to a Jewish lifestyle.  It wasn’t only spiritual rescue but literally, physical rescue. This is one example of ways I am able to help.”

***

In recent years, Logvynsky was also appointed as head of the Ukraine-Israel parliamentary Friendship Association. “In this position alone, I am in charge of more than the Prime Minister of Israel,” he laughs. “At the Friendship Association we have 130 members of parliament, and that’s more than the 120 members of the Israeli Knesset.”

“When PM Netanyahu recently visited with the PM of Ukraine, Mr. Volodymyr Groysman, his opening remarks were about me. My work on behalf of Eretz Yisroel is part of my job and I consider it a shlichus.

“I was able to raise awareness about the biblical connection of Eretz Yisroel to the Jews. Not long ago, I returned with a delegation of members of Parliament from a visit to Eretz Yisroel. This was the first time that an official delegation went to a place designated by the UN as ‘occupied territory.’”

***

To conclude, we asked him to go back to his relationship with his “madrich,” R’ Moshe Asman.

“R’ Asman is a major part of my life story. I met him when I was 12, and since then, we have remained in constant contact. Both when I was in Eretz Yisroel and especially after I returned here and he was appointed chief rabbi, we work closely together.

“A year ago, after much effort and investigation, we returned 18 old Sifrei Torah that had been in the possession of gentiles and put them in an aron kodesh in a shul. By the way, among this treasure is an old Megillas Esther in the Alter Rebbe’s script. It’s a rare treasure which we were able to retrieve.

“We also have created a revolution with the establishment of the Jewish village of Anatevka. The village was built because the Ukrainian government is in a financial crisis and cannot provide help for the war refugees in the area, including the elderly and children who need assistance. I helped R’ Asman a lot in enabling him to provide assistance for the Jewish refugees who remained bereft of everything. Within two months, R’ Asman and his staff put up homes, a shul, a school for boys and a school for girls, and a community center. The buildings are all made out of wood in a unique style that is meant to look like an old shtetl. They plan on building an orphanage for children who lost their parents in the war, and an old age home.”

Where do you feel the Rebbe’s bracha in your life?

“We as Jews believe and know what ‘hashgacha pratis’ is. I know that the Rebbe knew what my purpose in life is and he directed me there. I am happy that my purpose and involvement is in helping Jews. My success and progress came from the Rebbe’s direction and bracha and this is a great z’chus.”

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