WHERE WOULD WE BE TODAY IF NOT FOR RAV WOLPO?
April 24, 2018
Menachem Ziegelboim in #1115, Kiryat Gat, Life on Shlichus

As activists and educators kick into high gear their drive to register more and more children for a Chabad chinuch al taharas ha’kodesh for the upcoming school year, Beis Moshiach gathered a representative group of Anash who nostalgically told of Rabbi Sholom Dovber Wolpo’s house calls to their parents. During these visits, he registered them in Chabad schools in Kiryat Gat. Thanks to him, these children have since established many dozens of beautiful Lubavitcher families. * On this occasion, the participants celebrated their spiritual father’s birthday. Part 2 of 2.

At the reception for the American ambassador to Israel who visited the yeshiva. (Photos by Shneur Maman)SAVING THE FAMILY

It was like the clock turned back 30 years as the participants swapped names, addresses, and various code words that only they understood.

We were joined by Rav Nissim Almaliach, rav of the airport authority, and his brother, Shlomo. Both of them cleared time from their busy schedules in order to tell us how they came to Chabad. Rav Nissim is bound contractually to his place of work and cannot be interviewed, but his brother told the family story with great emotion. Those present, including myself, were swept up and carried back in time.

The Almaliachs came from a difficult background. Both parents were deaf-mutes. Some of the family left religion because of bad friends and the children grew up in a difficult environment.

Rav Wolpo visited the family. After several visits in which the daughter Shoshi translated between him and her parents in sign language, the parents agreed to put their children into Chabad schools. These visits changed the lives of all seven children.

In answer to the question, how did Rav Wolpo manage to forge such strong connections with people, R’ Shlomo said, “He came without any intermediaries and that’s how he won everyone over. He showered love on everyone, and spoke sweetly with a smile, and they reciprocated his love.”

R’ Shlomo attended Chabad schools from the beginning of elementary school. “The truth is, I was a disruptive child … and the one who managed to control me was Rav Wolpo,” he said candidly.

When he began relating the following incident, the Kiryat Gat locals began to smile. They all remembered it well. “When they built the yeshiva there was a tractor there, and I was very curious about it. I asked the driver my seemingly innocent questions about how it was operated. When he went home at the end of the day, I knew how to turn on the engine and I began driving it in the streets. It was a big miracle that it did not end badly,” he concludes.

“Rav Wolpo was busy with registration for the yeshiva, the day camps, the schools, but behind the scenes he ran everything. He had the ability to run several projects simultaneously, while being involved in the resolution of the small details.

“I once did a play in camp,” said R’ Almaliach. “I wrote a script and showed it to him. He read it and said the ending was tragic (the mother in the play was sick and died) and suggested that the mother recover because Moshiach came. To me, that was greatness; to pay attention to the smallest details.”

Those present remembered the big parades of those years in Kiryat Gat in which thousands of children marched en masse down Rechov Malchei Yisroel as Rav Wolpo oversaw it all. All of Kiryat Gat was shut down during those hours.

They also remembered his car which would drive around and announce candle-lighting time. He was also one of the pioneers who bought a siren which he turned on to remind people to light candles. “Today, nearly every city has one, but in those days, it was a tremendous novelty.”

R’ Almaliach: “There’s no question that Rav Wolpo was a pioneer, in the positive sense, of course. He is gifted with unusual courage. I think that if he used this courage in the business world, he would be rich.”

When I asked whether Rav Wolpo really adopted his family, he said, “Definitely. He was a big help to our family over the years. There were also years of financial distress and he was a big support to us.”

After a paused during which the brothers sat in silent thought, they finally recommended that I speak with their older sister. “She knows much more than us how much Rav Wolpo did for our family,” they said.

Their sister, Mrs. Shoshi Ben-Shitrit, is a familiar personality in Kiryat Gat. She teaches kallos and in amazing Divine Providence, her office at the religious council is the office where her grandfather, the gaon, Rav Mordechai Almaliach, who served as the Sephardic rabbi of Kiryat Gat, sat.

“Rav Wolpo came to my parents’ house a few times. As a young girl, I helped him communicate with them as they were deaf-mutes. Because of his visits, I switched schools to learn in Chabad.

“I would go to the Wolpo house on Erev Shabbos to see what a Shabbos table looks like (our Shabbos table now reminds me every week of the Wolpo Shabbos table). All the credit for my Chabad family life goes to him. When I went to ninth grade, he put me and my sister, Yehudis, in Beis Rivka. Then I put my brothers Shlomi and Nissim in yeshiva. Rav Wolpo was there for me all the years. For example, when it was time for shidduchim, he made inquiries for me. Even many years after I married, he was there for us in times of need. 26 years ago, when my daughter Moriya was facing heart surgery, he stayed at our sides until she recovered. I felt like his and his wife’s daughter.”

When I asked what makes Rav Wolpo special, she said, “His refinement, fear of Heaven and good character … He’s a living model of a genuine Chassid of the Rebbe, a role model of Ahavas Yisroel, someone to be copied and emulated!

“The feeling that he gave was so genuine and empowering. I remember once, when my children attended the 19 Kislev farbrengen, Rav Wolpo said to Rav Dremer, the Ashkenazi rav, “You see them,” as he pointed at them, “they are the great-grandchildren of Rav Mordechai Almaliach!” The children came home so excited. He had highlighted their special ancestry; he exalted and respected it, and that gave us so much.

“I never felt like a stranger with him. If I needed something, he was like my spiritual father. If I told my parents that I was going to ask Rav Wolpo something, they always said, ‘Rav Wolpo is holy of holies!’ We always had the Rebbe and his shliach, Rav Wolpo.”

RAV WOLPO’S SPIRITUAL CHILDREN

Toward the end of our meeting, R’ Almaliach told about a farbrengen with Rav Wolpo that was very special for him. It was a farbrengen with the talmidim of the yeshiva. “I remember that he said how necessary it is to implant in the students the desire to grow in Torah and become scholars.

“After all his communal work and his massive administrative tasks, we always knew that Torah study is his essence, which you can see today in his monumental project Rambam HaShaleim.

R’ Eliyahu Kriaf chose to conclude his comments with the following: “I often speak about the verse ‘These are the progeny’ – everyone needs to know that he is someone’s progeny. We are the progeny of Rav Wolpo and his family. We came from an irreligious home, and thanks to his visits, my parents and entire family are Chassidim. My sisters are shluchos, one in Krayot and one in Rishon L’Tziyon, and I am a mashpia in the yeshiva in Krayot.

“Rav Wolpo can say about our family and many other families, ‘See the shoots that I have raised.’ We, our children, grandchildren … are all his.”

“STONES” BUILD HOMES

I called Rav Wolpo, who lives in Beitar Ilit now, and asked whether he remembers that period of time when he went from house to house, office to office, and “made souls” for G-d, His Torah and Chassidus.

He remembers those events of thirty-forty years ago well. Rav Wolpo first wanted to stress his wife’s role. While he went around making house calls, she was alone at home taking care of little children, raising them to Chassidus and yiras Shamayim. “I felt this was the fulfillment of what the Rebbe said in yechidus before we married, ‘When you spread light around, Hashem will also make it light for you.’

“The main thing is to know that when you go on the Rebbe’s shlichus, you must believe that even a small action has the ability to create real change in a Jew and affect generations to come.”

Rav Wolpo added, “Fifty years ago, when I was a Tamim in yeshiva in Kfar Chabad, I went every week to give a Tanya shiur at the Noam Academy in Pardes Chana. There was a sweet talmid there by the name of Elisha Avni. Then I went to the Rebbe and got married and forgot about the shiur and the talmidim.

“Thirty years later, I was teaching in Beis Rivka. At the beginning of the year I read the names of the students in the class. I noticed an unusual last name, Avni. Memories of my time at Noam Academy came back to me and I asked the girl what her father’s name is. She said, ‘Elisha,’ and added, ‘We are shluchim in Yishuv Mevo Choron.’ I was so moved to see the results of those Tanya classes.

“Another 20 years went by and my grandson, Chaim Dovid Wilhelm of Bangkok, who is learning in Kiryat Gat now, came to our house for Shabbos. I asked what he was learning and who his mashpia is. He said, ‘Rav Avni.’ His father, R’ Elisha passed away, and he took over the shlichus in Mevo Choron. I was sad to hear about the passing of his father, but Boruch Hashem, the shlichus continues.

“The following Shabbos, my granddaughter, Chani Wilhelm of Bangkok, came to us. She is a madricha in a seminary in Tzfas. I asked her, ‘Do you have good friends in seminary?’ She said, ‘Yes, I have a good friend by the name of Avni from Mevo Choron.’

“That is the power of one action in the shlichus of the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach.”

WHEN RAV WOLPO SAVED THE DAY

Mrs. Einav Magidish, of the Dadon family of Kiryat Gat, has this moving story from her childhood:

My parents became baalei t’shuva when I was a little girl. My father went to the Rebbe and was supposed to return on Friday, but he did not arrive. My mother was nervous and tried to get some information but was unsuccessful. This was before cell phones, and apparently there was a delay and my father landed shortly before Shabbos. This meant he had to remain in the airport all Shabbos. He called and reported the situation and the house fell into gloom.

In the middle of the Shabbos meal, the door suddenly opened and in walked my father. Without saying a word, he opened my mother’s pocketbook, took out money, and went out to pay the taxi driver. We were shocked and did not know what to say.

Then he went to his room and began to cry and did not come out all Shabbos. It seems that he experienced some heavy confusion and when what he did registered, he became very depressed. My mother tried to talk to him, to comfort him, but that didn’t help. Other people were sent to him, including rabbis, and nothing helped.

After Shabbos, my mother called Rav Wolpo and told him what happened. A short while later, he arrived with some other people, singing and dancing and holding mashke. He was the only one able to get my father out of his room. He got my father to join the dancing. My father was still sad and crying, but at least he left his room.

Then Rav Wolpo, with his usual passion, said to my father that it’s a mitzva for him to be happy and all was forgiven. If he remained sad, that would be the opposite of G-d’s will. He spoke passionately, determinedly, and with great charisma, and I, as a little girl, stood off to the side and thanked him with all my heart.

A few minutes later, my father smiled for the first time, and when Rav Wolpo left the house, my father returned to life.

SOULS THAT I MADE

From the moving childhood memories of Mrs. Aliza, whose maiden name is Ben-Zaken:

I was a student in second grade when the teacher, Devorah Amitai (Ezagui), came to visit our house on behalf of Rav Wolpo. My mother said she has a daughter (Zahava) who was finishing the eighth grade in Chazon Yechezkel. The teacher asked my mother, ‘Why not switch her to Beis Rivka in Kfar Chabad?” She was the pioneer of our family who was the first to go there.

Rav Wolpo came to my parents and insisted that my two younger sisters, Osnat and Irit, switch from Chazon Yechezkel to learn in Chabad, and that’s what happened. Rav Wolpo strengthened them a lot. They came home happy because he was able to make them feel important and that there is no one like them. He knew how to reach down to their level and relate like a father to his daughters.

In general, he was my mentor at critical junctures in my life. For example, when I finished my third year of seminary, I went to Kiryat Gat and was supposed to start working as a teacher. I found a teaching job in a religious-public school. I consulted with Rav Wolpo and he guided me in what to do and how to operate in the classroom. Afterward I reported to the Rebbe and asked for his bracha. I got a phone call that day from the Rebbe’s secretary with the answer: I will mention it at the tziyun.

At first, I didn’t know what this answer meant, until I saw in one of Rav Wolpo’s books, that it’s not an ordinary bracha; it’s actually a powerful bracha! The Rebbe fasts on that day, goes to the Ohel, and reads your letter along with many other letters before the gravesite of the Rebbe Rayatz. It entails much effort on the Rebbe’s part to clear time for a Jewish neshama who wrote to him.

I remember that when I got the teaching job, I was bewildered. It was before the Yomim Tovim and I wanted, very much, to go to the Rebbe for Tishrei and even to stay there. I spoke to Rav Wolpo who knew precisely how I felt. He said, “Don’t leave your job, but you do need to travel to the Rebbe!” I went to the Rebbe and there, with Rav Wolpo’s encouragement, a shidduch was suggested for me. I waited until the bachur came to Eretz Yisroel and two and a half weeks later, we were engaged.

He came to our vort, the wedding, and Sheva Brachos. And he continued to give us personal attention after the wedding, as though my husband and I were his only children. He knew what the issues were and how to help. When we moved to Kiryat Gat, he continued to take an interest in us. After our third son was born, he asked where the Shalom Zachor would be and he came, sat, and farbrenged. All throughout he made us feel dignified. This was his simple genius, to come to each one …

At a certain point, I wrote to the Rebbe and the answer was that I should work in chinuch al taharas ha’kodesh. I did not understand the answer; I was working in a religious-public school with the Rebbe’s bracha! I asked Rav Wolpo about this. He said, you don’t argue with a letter from the Rebbe! Apparently, the Rebbe wants you to switch to a school that is completely separate. It’s not enough that you seat the boys and girls in the class separately. You need to look for a place that is not co-ed.

I spent time looking for a job, but didn’t find one. One day, the school that I taught in, Rambam, stopped being co-ed and began being called a religious-public Talmud Torah. It was a miracle! That’s how I was able to carry out the Rebbe’s instruction. Rav Wolpo instilled in me the message that there is no playing around with the Rebbe’s letters.

My mother was a cook in the yeshiva. Rav Wolpo would always tell her, “Your girls will marry good chassanim,” and she would return home glowing.

***

Aliza’s sister, Irit Elzam, also remembers Rav Wolpo’s influence on the family:

Rav Wolpo went to my brother-in-law, Meir Malka, and said in surprise, “How come your sisters-in-law are still not in Chabad?” Not much convincing was necessary and we agreed to go and check out the school.

Rav Wolpo arranged for us such a welcome that there was no doubt that we were staying. He came into class and pointing at me he said, “You, Ben-Zaken, what a great light came to our school! You are the daughter of Avrohom Ben-Zaken.” What a special feeling. He said the same thing to my sister, Osnat.

He also helped my sisters find shidduchim. My sister Aliza was 21 and doing an internship as a teacher. He suggested that she meet “a unique Chassidishe bachur,” and said that she should jump at the opportunity to meet with him. It was Motti Gabbai, now her husband. For my other sister Osnat, he suggested Mendy Elharrar, now her husband.

Rav Wolpo was devoted to the students of the school. When a teacher was absent, he often substituted for her. I always looked forward to those lessons because every time there was something special about them, a story or a d’var Torah, etc. If we said a d’var Torah, he would give us special praise.

He also saw me to the chuppa, and my husband keeps in touch with him through shiurim.

I’d like to end with the following story. We married in 5764 and we did not yet have a child in 5767. Every year, at the Purim meal, Rav Wolpo would have a joyous farbrengen in his house. One year, my husband went to this farbrengen. Rav Wolpo said to him, “You need a special bracha for children? Make a somersault on the floor…”

He made a somersault and then Rav Wolpo took three Lubavitchers who were there, made a beis din, and paskened that he would have a child soon. The following year, on 11 Adar (which is also Rav Wolpo’s birthday) our oldest daughter was born.

The following year, my husband went again on Purim and asked for a bracha for more children. Rav Wolpo blessed him: You should have a son! The following year we had twin girls. When my husband said to him, “You promised us a ben, a son,” he said, “Right, ben is an acronym for beis n’keivos (two girls).”

We don’t have enough space here to interview all those families whose house calls by Rav Wolpo changed their lives. The Kishon family, whose son Michoel is a shliach in Yishuv Nofit, and his sister Shoshi, who also has a Chassidic home. The Yadgar family of Beer Sheva, where Mrs. Simcha was brought to Judaism and Chassidus by a house call. There is also Mrs. Dunis Malka who is the principal of the Chabad School in Netivot, Mrs. Sima Bitton who is on shlichus in Florida, and Mrs. Nirit Eliyahu, another educator who oversees a number of school principals in schools in the south of the country.

And of course, there are the pioneers, the first to go to Beis Rivka, thanks to home visitations, Malka Ozen and her friend, Aviv Azarzar (Dahan) who have beautiful Chassidishe families and were themselves mentors to many students who followed them.

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