The Rebbe displayed a special regard for the Kupas Bachurim fund for which he himself held the position of honorary chairman for fifteen years before becoming Rebbe. The Rebbe took care of the bachurim’s needs, food, and clothing, in Europe before the war and in the United States. * We spoke with some people in charge of Kupas Bachurim in recent years who told us about the organization that every year received the Rebbe’s Matanos LaEvyonim.
By Yehuda Davidowitz
BREAD TO EAT: KUPAS BACHURIM IN LUBAVITCH
The Kupas Bachurim fund was founded in Nissan 5662/1902, the month the Rebbe was born. R’ Moshe Rosenblum tells us of how the kuppa (fund) came to be in his Divrei Yemei HaT’mimim:
“After Yom Tov, new bachurim came, and by 9 Iyar there were thirty of them. The members of the Review Board expressed their opinion that sixteen of them were worthy of being accepted without reservation. As for the rest, they said that it was necessary to keep an eye on them for a while, and it is to be hoped that they too would become fit to be accepted, since they showed positive signs and good potential for the future if they were to find shelter in our fellowship.
“The menahel (dean, later to be the Rebbe Rayatz), in his love for good, talented talmidim, convened an assembly of his helpers, the mashgichim, and said to them: If it seems that the remaining bachurim will become suited to be accepted, and the same applies at all times during the registration periods for new talmidim, it is only right to help them with their needs until that time, because in what way are they worse than the rest of the bachurim, our talmidim? If we say they should be included from now on at the communal table of our fellowship, this too is difficult because perhaps they will not be found fit to be accepted. It is unpleasant to send them away afterward and separate them from the previous students once they have become in their eyes like members of the family, and this will heighten their shame. Therefore, I think it is proper to have a special fund to sustain the new bachurim for two months, until the board issues its decision about whether to draw close or to distance. This fund will be given over to a few of the well thought out veteran students to manage, and the money will be given to them from our general fund.
“This good and proper suggestion was very pleasing to them. It was immediately accepted and presented for approval to the Rebbe, the founder [the Rebbe Rashab], and was approved. Ten intelligent bachurim were called and the menahel gave the matter over to them, thoroughly explained the idea to them and set for them proper rules and regulations.”
A similar description of the function of the fund is found in a report that was published by the askanim of the yeshiva in Vilna:
“There is a special fund (Kupas Bachurim) for those who submitted a request to be accepted in the mosad and their request has yet to be approved. They have nowhere to eat. Since a talmid is accepted only after all matters are checked out, and as long as he has not been accepted he cannot benefit from the mosad’s support, the youngsters established this fund and they are the ones who seek out the donors to help these needy ones.”
The donors that were found by those who ran the fund were usually guests who came to Lubavitch. Two bachurim who received prior permission from the mashgiach regularly waited at the yechidus room and when guests would leave they would approach them with the receipt book of the fund, on the top of which was a letter from the Rebbe in which he wrote about the necessity of the fund and the amount he himself donated, and the person would be asked for his donation. The donor would write his name in the receipt book and the amount of his donation. In the Igros Kodesh of the Rebbe Rashab we found his donation to Kupas Bachurim: “The 100 silver rubles received from Petersburg will be allocated in this way … ten to Kupas Bachurim.”
An additional small source of income came from the student mail service. There were fortunate bachurim, whose parents were well to do, who occasionally sent them an allowance. When they appeared in the yeshiva office to take their money, they were asked for one kopek for each letter to be given to Kupas Bachurim.
Another purpose of the fund was to help the talmidim of the chadarim, the youngest boys. R’ Yisroel Jacobson, who eventually became in charge of the fund, said that when he arrived in Lubavitch he received one ruble from the yeshiva and one ruble from Kupas Bachurim and he used this money to buy supper. The monetary support was collected by the older bachurim and was distributed by the mashgiach in charge of the chadarim, R’ Yechezkel Himmelstein (may Hashem avenge his death).
Once, when R’ Yisroel was gabbai of the kuppa, two bachurim came to the yeshiva. R’ Yechezkel did not want to accept them because there was no money available for them. It was only after Kupas Bachurim committed to support them with more than the usual stipend that he agreed to accept them.
The Rebbe Rayatz regarded the fund as one of the most important institutions and even said that sponsorship of the dancing on Acharon shel Pesach should be bought for it. This honor was reserved for very few mosdos in Lubavitch. At the famous Seudas Moshiach in 5666, when the Rebbe Rashab ate with the talmidim and first told them to drink four cups, after Maariv he said they should dance for the benefit of Kupas Bachurim and those in charge danced.
On Pesach night in yeshiva they would sell honors: who would ask the four questions, who would serve as the reader for different portions of the Hagada, open the door for Eliyahu, the Birkas HaMazon, etc. The money was given to Kupas Bachurim.
R’ Zalman Skoblo said that thanks to being in charge of the kuppa, he was close to the Rebbe Rayatz who was then the acting dean of the yeshiva. We can see how highly the Rebbe regarded the kuppa by the fact that on Erev Yom Kippur R’ Zalman was called to give an accounting of the money of the kuppa in the Rebbe’s room. The Rebbe’s concern for the bachurim learning in his yeshiva was what occupied him on Erev Yom Kippur.
The importance the Rebbeim accorded the kuppa is seen in the fact that when the yeshiva was in Otvotzk (from the beginning of 5696), Ramash (later to be the Rebbe) was appointed honorary chairman of Kupas Bachurim (see photocopy). In the Rebbe’s biography at the beginning of HaYom Yom, this is mentioned.
In later years too, and in other yeshivos around the world, there has always been a Kupas Bachurim to help the bachurim.
CLOTHES TO WEAR: KUPAS BACHURIM IN 770
In the early years of the yeshiva in 770, the rosh yeshiva himself, R’ Mordechai Mentlick, was appointed the director of the fund. He took care of it with great devotion until his final day. He looked out for all the bachurim and especially the talmidim on K’vutza (over whom he was responsible together with R’ Dovid Raskin).
Every year, on Purim, he would enter the Rebbe’s room and receive a check from the Rebbe’s personal account for $100, in addition to bills and coins designated as Matanos LaEvyonim for Kupas Bachurim that he ran. R’ Mentlick’s brother-in-law, R’ Moshe Pinchas Katz, was also a member of the fund and in certain years he received money from the Rebbe for this fund (for example, in 1966).
Before every Pesach, R’ Mentlick would make sure all the bachurim had a new wardrobe including a hat, suit, shirts etc. down to the last detail. However, there were two things he wanted the bachurim to buy for themselves – a yarmulke and tzitzis. During the year too, if a bachur asked for help, it was R’ Mentlick who took care of clothing him from head to toe.
Concern for the bachurim did not end with clothing. Any bachur who needed something had R’ Mentlick’s help. His care for every bachur was with total devotion. R’ Yaakov Goldberg, currently a member of the staff in 770, related that he once met R’ Mentlick who noticed the holes in his shoes. He asked R’ Goldberg whether he needed money for new shoes. R’ Goldberg said he had other shoes and he would wear them. A few days later, R’ Mentlick asked him, “Where are the shoes you said you had? Do you need money perhaps?”
In recent years, the activities of the fund expanded greatly. The bachurim Meir Wilschansky followed by Moishy Rosenblatt and Yossi Daniel should be mentioned for getting the fund back on its feet, so to speak. Since then, the kuppa gets transferred to the next menahel, who is a bachur that is committed to this holy project which enables bachurim to spend the year on K’vutza in dignity.
The directors of the fund often help bachurim who have no money. One of the recent directors of the fund told Beis Moshiach that he saw a bachur come to 770 in heavy snow while wearing sandals. His shoes had torn and he did not have money for new ones. They sent the bachur to buy shoes and provided the money.
Menasheh Amitai, the one in charge of the fund, once went to buy shoes with a bachur who had nothing. The bachur needed a lot more than shoes, but the fund didn’t have much in the way of available money, and so it was decided, as a first step, that he would get shoes. When they arrived at the shoe store, Amitai spoke privately with the storeowner and told him about the situation. The storeowner was very moved and he called stores in the area to get them to make donations to this bachur. The bachur ended up with a new wardrobe.
Lately, the directors of the fund have closed a deal with one of the well-known, largest shoe chains in America, and with clothing and optical stores that give a discount to bachurim sent by the fund. This enables even shy bachurim to go to a store and shop in dignity without feeling that the storeowner is giving him a handout.
Many bachurim are embarrassed about receiving donations, which is why the lishkas chashain [lit. chamber of the discreet, the name of a charitable fund during the Second Temple era serving Torah scholars mentioned in the Mishna] was set up. Those in charge seek out those in need, and those bachurim might be surprised to discover the clothing items they need in their closet, and sometimes even money.
Other bachurim might have some money but not enough to buy clothes. The kuppa arranges sales in which clothes are subsidized. This enables most bachurim to shop and buy basic clothing items, shirts, pants, sweaters, etc.
Those in charge take care of even the smallest details, as the Rebbe said they should. There is a laundry gemach which provides bachurim with laundry detergent and coins.
One year, during a cold winter in New York, those in charge noticed that many bachurim did not have winter coats. They approached R’ Moshe Rubashkin, who donated towards the cause and even got others to donate too. Those in charge of the kuppa searched until they found the best prices for quality coats. That year, all the bachurim learning in 770 received a new coat. The well-received initiative grew from year to year. Hats and suits were added to coats. When R’ Rubashkin couldn’t continue being involved, R’ Sholom Ber Drizin took over and expanded the distribution to Eretz Yisroel.
One Friday, a bachur discovered that a clothing store on his mivtzaim route was about to go bankrupt. When Kupas Bachurim heard about this, they moved quickly. With a donation from R’ Drizin, they bought the contents of the store and provided it for the bachurim.
Many initiatives come from the bachurim themselves and the kuppa tries to help to the best of its ability. For example, the kuppa will occasionally subsidize items the bachurim need like monthly passes to the mikva and buying necessary s’farim. Sometimes the subsidies cover the entire cost.
WHEN A DOCTOR IS NEEDED
Many bachurim who became sick suffered in silence. For those who don’t have medical insurance, medical treatment in the United States is very expensive. Bachurim who are counting their pennies prefer to go without treatment even when their conditions grow worse. Whether it’s an appointment with a doctor or dentist or, G-d forbid, a trip to the emergency room, medical attention costs a lot of money that they don’t have.
Those who run the kuppa spoke with doctors in the neighborhood who agreed to give a significant discount to bachurim who come to see them. R’ Yossi Tewel a”h used his connections with Bikkur Cholim of Boro Park and arranged that in exchange for giving blood every other month, Bikkur Cholim would pay the costs of the bachurim’s medications.
Despite the discount, costs are still high. The average Israeli bachur has a very hard time paying $40 for a doctor’s visit. Those who run Kupas Bachurim often provide the entire amount so that a bachur will go to a doctor. Even when a bachur is referred to a specialist, the kuppa pays for the doctor even though this can cost hundreds of dollars.
In many instances, R’ Avraham Lieder, director of Ahavas Chesed, helps with his connections with top doctors who are willing to lower their price for the bachurim. Often, R’ Lieder will get involved in the costs of treatment which can cost thousands of dollars. R’ Velvel Farkash, who is involved with Ahavas Chesed, also takes care of bachurim and goes above and beyond to help them, especially with medical needs. Many bachurim are unaware of how much help he provides other bachurim, even in very private matters. He does so completely voluntarily and with no publicity.
One year, many bachurim came down with the highly contagious mumps. R’ Yisroel Noach Gansbourg, who helped Kupas Bachurim at that time, made sure the yeshiva rented a special apartment for the patients until they recovered. He took care of buying food and bringing it to the apartment and saw to arranging doctor visits. He also had rabbanim and important people visiting them. Special mention goes to R’ Priel Kalimi, who devotedly helped those in the special apartment and ended up catching the disease and having to move in himself.
Those in charge of the kuppa send bachurim who can speak English along with those who can’t on doctor visits. If hospitalization or traveling to a hospital is necessary, the bachurim sometimes spend the night alongside the patient in the hospital or emergency room.
THE REBBE IS STILL IN CHARGE
“How did you manage to get all money you need to run the Kupas Bachurim?” I asked Menasheh Amitai who was in charge of the kuppa for over three years.
“There is no question that the one who runs the Kupas Bachurim is the Rebbe who takes care of the bachurim that learn in his house.
“One year, during the summer, the kuppa was depleted of funds since wealthy people were away in the mountains. I got an urgent request for treatment that could not be postponed. The cost was over a thousand dollars. I was sitting in 770 on the farbrengen dais and wondering how to handle this. Someone unfamiliar came over to me and asked me who is in charge of Kupas Bachurim. He then took out an envelope out of his pocket and gave it to me. It contained $1200.
“On another occasion, someone came over to me and gave me a nice donation. He said he gave it because the kuppa helped him when he was a bachur and he wanted to pay back.
“The doctors help too. We once paid Dr. Spinner for treating a bachur. Two days later, Dr. Spinner came with an envelope with double the cost of the treatment as a donation towards the kuppa. Dr. Plaut has often seen bachurim and refused all payment.”
Despite the Heavenly assistance and the generous donations, the number of bachurim in 770 continues to grow and so do their needs. Those in charge of the kuppa, led by Shneur Harel, request that you donate towards this worthy cause as the Rebbe himself did.
THE REBBE SAID DON’T HESITATE TO GO INTO DEBT
In a letter dated 27 Nissan 5713, the Rebbe writes to the hanhala of Kupas Bachurim of Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim Lubavitch regarding his surprise over their scrimping over the expenses of the kuppa so their outlay would not exceed their income. The Rebbe said he thought this was the only mosad in Lubavitch that conducted itself in this way.
The Rebbe goes on to mention the importance of the trait of bitachon and the need to employ this trait in their work, saying that if there will be an increase in expenditures in a proportionate manner, they will surely find additional sources of income, even suggesting that this is the direct means of achieving that.
Additionally, the Rebbe enclosed $200 as a loan from one of his other funds so that they could begin increasing their spending immediately, and he concludes with blessings for all those who are involved and support it.
EFRAIM WEXLER A”H
For hundreds of bachurim in 770 in the early 2000’s, the name Efraim Wexler is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Kupas Bachurim. An article about the kuppa would be incomplete without mentioning him, as Kupas Bachurim was his life.
With utmost devotion, Efraim took care of the bachurim, with his charisma and knowledge of English to help his fellow T’mimim. He did this until his final day when he was tragically struck by a hit and run driver in Crown Heights and died a month later.