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Tuesday
Feb102015

THE SHLICHUS STORY OF THE SHLICHUS STORYTELLER CONTINUES

The mekuravim in Moshes store, in the new kollel, in the Chabad preschool and the Tachkemoni school, reminisce about the shliach who worked in their city for thirty years. * Rabbi Yaakov Shmuelevitzs popular column returns one more time to mark the day of his passing.

Its been a long time since we had new stories from my father ah, but not because the stories were used up. Oh no. This past year demonstrated that the story has only begun. I suppose that in the heavenly yeshiva they wanted to enjoy the sweet shlichus stories of the Rebbes shliach in Beit Shaan so they invited the storyteller upstairs.

I decided to collect some stories and try to conjure up that magical atmosphere which was created in my father’s column. My first stop was the store belonging to Moshe Amor, a close friend of the Chabad house and of my father.

Moshe remembers the beginning, thirty years ago, “when the rav just arrived in the city,” as he put it. As a neighbor, Moshe always knew he’d find a listening ear with the rabbi, on happy occasions and on less happy ones. My father’s passing hit Moshe hard.

“Not a week goes by without my missing Rav Yaakov,” he says. 

He will never forget the funeral. It was a combination of deep sorrow as well as a powerful demonstration of emuna and Geula the likes of which Beit Shaan never saw before.

Last year, Moshe decided to strengthen his connection with the Chabad house and to more deeply delve into Chassidic teachings. He learns Chassidus with me every week, which “gives him light for the entire week.”

NO BACKING DOWN 

It wasn’t for naught that Moshe intensified his learning of Chassidus this year. I remember the day the doctor said we should call the family together. Those were the final hours in which my father fought for every breath. At that awful time, my heart cried out an absolute commitment that the Rebbe’s presence in Beit Shaan would not only not lessen due to my father’s passing; it would get even bigger.

To us in the family it was clear that a shliach of the Rebbe does not die of illness. If such a thing occurred, then apparently there was a heavenly accusation about the outreach in Beit Shaan and when there is a heavenly accusation, our Rebbeim taught us the secret: double the work!

Already at the funeral and immediately afterward, during the Shiva, we all made good hachlatos. On the Shloshim we opened to a letter from the Rebbe in the Igros Kodesh in which he urges one of the Chassidim to ascertain that the gravestone of his father who is buried in one of the old cemeteries is not neglected and sunken in.

After making sure that my father’s gravestone was as it should be, we realized there was something deeper here, that the shlichus of my father should not be neglected or become submerged, G-d forbid. And so, upon the request of the family and the long time shliach in the city, R’ Shmuel Reinitz, we moved from Tel Aviv to Beit Shaan.

THE WORK CONTINUES TO GROW

Beit Shaan. A warm, embracing city, welcomed us with love. It was moving and appreciated. Whoever saw me said, “We see R’ Yaakov walking in the street.” It is my privilege.

At the funeral, people heard announcements about massive expansion of the activities in response to the event, “and the living shall take it to heart,” but they (and maybe we too) did not believe how big it would get. The inspiration which gripped the entire family and the community was immediately translated into founding new shiurim, inaugurating the mikva, starting a Chabad preschool, a kollel Chassidus, and doubling the number of people in all areas of our activities. Beit Shaan did not believe that from this tragedy the Chabad house would grow.

By the Shloshim already, R’ Yosef Yitzchok Lassry, the rav of the city, could not conceal his surprise. He said, more power to you! You turn every occurrence into a source of growth.

R’ Amir Bennisti, who learns in kollel and has a child in the Chabad preschool, said: After your father’s passing I figured Beit Shaan will no longer be what it once was. After all the, the rav, your father, was the “engine” behind everything that went on here. We were so apprehensive that my family and I were thinking of leaving Beit Shaan. What actually happened though was Beit Shaan changed, but not in the way I imagined it would. Even before we recovered from the tragedy, the Chabad house announced the opening of a Chabad preschool. Before we got used to that idea, we were informed about the new kollel Chassidus.

These two mosdos personally affected and changed us drastically. My daughter enjoys every minute of preschool and absorbs a quality Jewish chinuch. She is blossoming. I have become more exposed to the wonderful wellsprings of p’nimius ha’Torah in the new kollel. Needless to say, we dropped our thoughts of leaving a long time ago.

***

When forging ahead, the power of Chassidus and hiskashrus works wonders. The residents of Beit Shaan did not imagine that after such a great blow there would be such growth. They all know the clichés about growing from a tragedy, nice sentiments which usually remain as fond wishes, while here in Beit Shaan it has become the reality.


Here, I must mention my friends from K’vutza, my father’s friends from K’vutza, and many others of Anash in Eretz Yisroel whom I approached in the first months after I learned how much money was needed to continue the shlichus. They opened their hearts and their pockets and enabled the continuation of the work of the Chabad house with peace of mind.

YAAKOV’S DREAM

At the same time that the work goes on and is growing, the residents refuse to be consoled. People say, “We can’t believe he’s not here.”

Yoram, who joined the Chassidus kollel two months ago, said the reason he joined is because of a dream in which my father pointed out to him the entrance to the Chabad house.

I meet people in their 30’s who remember their first steps to Judaism as children when my father ran Mesibos Shabbos or his weekly visit to their school. It’s unbelievable how he reached so many hearts.

Key figures in the chareidi world of Beit Shaan tell me quietly that they credit the beginning of their t’shuva process to Abba. For example, a kollel fellow that I met as he walked one evening from shul on his way home told me, “When I began taking an interest, nobody was here (i.e. from the t’shuva organizations we have today). Your father was the only one. I would sit with him in his office for hours and ask him questions and he would answer me patiently.”

I listen to this and think, “When will my deeds reach those of my father?” My father sat with him in the office without anyone knowing about it, with enormous patience, and learned with him. Because he was the Rebbe’s shliach.

Oren Navon, a teacher in the local high school, said, “I was a close friend of R’ Yaakov. Especially in later years, we would spend a lot of time together, for example, when we rode bikes together for our health. He was a one of a kind fellow and still was so down to earth. If there is something I miss terribly, it’s his incredible ability to listen. He wasn’t the kind of guy who nods his head and says, ‘yeah, yeah.’ He was someone who really heard what you had to say and more, what you didn’t say. He understood between the lines and always knew how to give good advice or say a good word. This past year I have been regularly attending the shiurim in the kollel of R’ Sholom Ber which provides me with oxygen for the entire week. As a teacher, I am happy to encounter him in the high school too when he comes to speak to the students about the Rebbe and about Chassidus.”

CONTINUING EDUCATION

Boruch Hashem, I have also been able to replace my father in the two schools where he served as rav. I visit them every week and deliver a portion of Jewish Chassidic content. There too, the staff is in shock and moved at the sight of the living continuation of Rav Yaakov.

We have begun our plans for a boys’ preschool for next year; registration is underway. This is following the success of the Chabad girls’ preschool that I mentioned that we opened shortly after the Shloshim.

On one of my recent visits to the Tachkemoni School, the principal, Yaakov Yefet, told me, “The school misses Rav Yaakov. He never forgot us and he visited here regularly, even in his final days when he felt so unwell. I personally saw him on one of his last visits when he felt horrible and I asked him to go home. Of course that was out of the question as far as he was concerned. He was a man of mesirus nefesh. We had a gift which no other school in the country had; that a man like this served as our rav. We are moved that his son is taking over, as you provide the children with Judaism and Chassidic warmth.” 

MOVING ONWARD

To mark the first yahrtzait and the start of the second year, we set ourselves new goals with the main objective being starting mosdos chinuch and working with the youth to be mekarev them to the light of the Rebbe MH”M. Thanks to the positive response of Anash to the fundraising campaign, we hope to be able to expand the budget of the Chabad house for a number of months so we can progress steadily with our plans.

Along with me and R’ Shmuel Reinitz and his family, two of my brothers-in-law, R’ Sholom Blau and R’ Menachem Lang and their families, will be joining the shlichus. Each of them bring their youthful energies to the work. Also, my mother, Chana Shmuelevitz, who constantly pushes for new projects and chooses to continue a life of shlichus with simcha and anticipation for the Geula, is a driving force in all our activities.

May we merit to continue and light up the city. May we soon see the fulfillment of the promise, “arise and sing those who dwell in the earth” with my father among them. L’chaim!

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