September 6, 2017
Beis Moshiach in #1084, Tomchei T'mimim, Tribute

R’ Lipa Klein – General Secretary of Yeshivas Ohr Simcha: My mechanech: R’ Yisroel Neveler (Levin)

The communist regime and escape from the Nazis dictated the complicated reality of daily life. There was nothing that could be expected to function normally, as it does nowadays.

In my childhood, I learned by various melamdim, and due to the fear of the communists, every little I learned was by a different melamed. This was in addition to learning with my father, R’ Shmuel Menachem Klein. During the only period that I learned in a yeshiva, I learned by the Chassid, the mashpia, R’ Yisroel Levin. He was known by all the Chassidim as R’ Yisroel Neveler for the town of Nevel where he came from. I learned Gemara from him, and heard many Chassidishe stories. This period is engraved in me forever.

It was 5706/1946, shortly after the end of World War II and before the great exodus of Chassidim from Russia. I was only 11 years old when my father brought me to the secret yeshiva of R’ Yisroel Neveler. This yeshiva was part of the Yeshivos Tomchei T’mimim network that was founded at the time, in Tashkent and Samarkand.

The yeshiva was hosted in a house rented from a local non-Jew. Under difficult conditions we, twenty or so students, sat and learned Gemara and Halacha, and on Fridays we learned the parsha. R’ Yisroel taught us all this while constantly spicing the material with Chassidishe stories that gave us a special Chassidishe chayus. Unlike today, we had few s’farim and two or three talmidim learned out of one volume.

We learned the tractate Bava Kama with him; Gemara, Rashi and a little bit of Tosafos. R’ Yisroel, with his wisdom and patience, would explain things again and again until he was confident that all the students understood.

Who were my classmates? I will enumerate some of them: Nachman Sudak, Avrohom Shemtov, Berel Mochkin, Shmarya Pruss, Berel Futerfas, Zushe Gross, Elozor Garelik, Yosef Kugel, Chaim Ratovsky, Avrohom Ratovsky, Yosef Greenberg.

R’ Yisroel, despite being a mashpia and big scholar, who was listened to with great respect by Anash, taught young children for years. Once, one of the students expressed his surprise over this and R’ Yisroel responded with a story that is etched in my soul till today.

It happened that a fundraiser went to a rich man to ask for a donation. The rich man told him to go to his secretary who would give him the money. The fundraiser asked the rich man to mark down on a paper how much he was giving, but the rich man said, “If I knew how to read and write, I would not have achieved what I have today.”

The rich man went on to say, “I was orphaned at a young age and having no choice, went looking for work. After endless hunting, a gabbai in a shul had pity on me and agreed to take me on as his personal assistant. He began explaining to me what I needed to do. Among other things, he told me to mark down the amounts of donations that people gave to the shul.

“I told him that I don’t know how to read and write, so I couldn’t do that. The disappointed gabbai sent me away. Having no choice, I went to the market and found work. I eventually opened my own business and that is how I became a rich man.”

That was the mashal and R’ Yisroel Neveler explained to us, who swallowed every word he said, what the nimshal is:

“I arrived in Tashkent together with R’ Shlomo Chaim Kesselman and together we began teaching young children. I did well with the children and thus, I am a teacher till today. He did not do as well with them so he became a mashpia to Anash.”

One of the first images etched in my mind of R’ Yisroel Neveler is of a shiur on the parsha that took place Erev Shabbos Parshas Pinchas, the summer of 1946, shortly before he left Tashkent on the way to leave Russia. R’ Yisroel read the Rashi (28:2), “Mashal to a princess who died,” and suddenly burst into tears. He cried for a long time and it wasn’t possible to calm him.

Why did he cry? Probably because most of his children died or were killed, each for a different reason. One of his daughters disappeared and was never found and some thought she was kidnapped. When R’ Yisroel read about the princess who died, he recalled his daughter and sobbed.

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