As Purim approaches, thousands of Israeli children and families grapple with poverty
Like most of the global workforce, I was not pleased when my alarm clock loudly announced the arrival of yet another Monday morning. Images of paperwork, incessant telephone calls and various other tasks associated with office life sprang to mind as I got ready for another week at work. And yet, as so often happens in life, what we humans here on earth are certain of is quite different from what God has in store for us.
So it was, that very same Monday afternoon, that a surprise e-mail from New York informed me I would not be spending the entire week at the office after all. The Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) was on its annual mission to Israel and would be spending Shabbos in Kiryat Sanz, Netanya. A visit to the Rebbe’s tisch on Friday night and a tour of the Laniado Hospital the following morning had been organized for them, and I had been invited to come along.
The story is told that the Klausenberger Rebbe zt”l (father of today’s Sanzer Rebbe), a Holocaust survivor and founder of Kiryat Sanz, once caught a German bullet in his arm during the war. Searching for some way to stop the bleeding, he came upon a tree and ripped off some leaves, using these as a bandage. When the bleeding finally stopped, the Rebbe vowed that if he survived the Holocaust he would express his gratitude to the Almighty by building a hospital where Jews could receive proper medical treatment. It was there, in the midst of the darkness and hopelessness of the second world war, that Laniado Hospital was born. It was this miracle that I wanted to see with my own eyes.
Not having much to do the day after my arrival, I started to read the material that had been handed out about Kiryat Sanz and its institutions. As I was processing the information contained in these leaflets, it became clear to me that I was in the midst of a miracle town. The institutions that existed catered for everyone at every stage of life. There were yeshivos and high schools, chadorim, purpose-built apartment blocks with special prices for young couples, an orphanage, a hospital and a senior citizens home. From all over Israel Jews, regardless of their religious backgrounds, could come here and have all their needs taken care of. I was mesmerized and immediately set out to visit one of these mosdos.
As with most institutions in Kiryat Sanz, the orphanage has its own story. It was already after the war years when the Klausenberger Rebbe opened his front door one morning to find some children standing on his doorstep, bearing a note. The children’s mother was unable to take care of them any longer and in the note implored the Rebbe to look after them for her. Seeing the children, the Rebbe recognised a need and immediately ordered that construction of a certain building that was taking place be changed from its original plan and turned instead into an orphanage.
His concern for orphans was already evident in the Displaced Persons (DP) camps. One erev Yom Kippur, shortly after liberation, there was a knock on the Rebbe’s door. The principal of the girls’ high school the Rebbe had set up in the DP camp alerted him to the fact that the girls were very upset as they had no living parent to bless them before Yom Kippur. There wasn’t much time left and the Rebbe still had to prepare himself for this holy day. Nonetheless, in typical fashion, he took no heed of his own requirements and told the principal to have the girls form a line outside his window.
He blessed every single child. I entered the orphanage and spoke to the eim habayit. I found out that the orphanage not only accepted girls from religious backgrounds in Kiryat Sanz, but from all over the country and from all kinds of backgrounds. There were no distinctions made. A Jew was a Jew, and every Jewish child deserved to be brought up in a loving and caring environment. That was what the Rebbe had wanted, and this was the message of unity he had dedicated himself to delivering to Jews everywhere.
There were between 150 and 200 children there, and Sanz took care of them throughout, from the time they joined until the moment when they stood under the chuppa. Even once they were married, Sanz continued to be there for them, as for all young couples, providing free loans with which to buy an apartment and start their new lives together. I started to realize that this was a city built upon love and kindness for all Jews. Witnessing this selflessness, the verse “Who is like Your people Yisrael, one nation on earth” came to mind. Who indeed, I thought.
Friday night arrived and we davened Kabbalas Shabbos with the present Rebbe in the Sanz Yeshiva. Although I had already davened with the Rebbe on a previous occasion, it had not been here in Kiryat Sanz, his home. This experience was something else.
The singing that accompanied Lecha Dodi rose like a giant roar, and felt as though it resonated throughout Netanya. My own voice caught in my throat and I was unable to join in. That Friday night davening was pure neshama. Amid beautiful surroundings, we stood and sang joyously to our Creator from the depths of our hearts. The same feeling of unity I had experienced last time I had davened with the Rebbe, some moths ago, washed over me once again. Chazal tell us that now that we no longer have the Beis Hamikdash, the Shechina dwells in the shuls and batei midrashim of the Jewish people. I was convinced of its presence that night in Sanz.
The following morning, after davening and a kiddush, I joined the members of the RCC on a guided tour of the hospital. We entered that part of the building which had originally been no more than a single stone house, the original Laniado hospital. Over time and with the steadfast perseverance of the Rebbe, the hospital had expanded enormously and now boasted new up-to-date wards for almost every area of medicine, all run in strict accordance to halacha.
I was amazed once again at the unbelievable achievements of just one man. Here was a hospital whose idea was conceived in the Nazi hell, brought to life in a new, fledgling country, run according to halacha and built on the basis of respect and lovingkindness toward every human being that came through its doors. When we were told that the hospital relied on donations alone, I was speechless.
The Klausenberger Rebbe, zt”l, had not wanted to refer to the hospital as a beit cholim – Hebrew for hospital. Rather, he preferred to refer to it as a mercaz refui, a center of healing, because this was a place where people were healed, not a place that merely housed the sick.
Moreover, the hospital has never – never – gone on strike. Regardless of outside pressures, they were in the business of healing and helping people get better, and that did not stop for anyone or anything. This was the truest embodiment of the Rebbe’s philosophy. Only a great man could have established this kind of institution. Only a Torah leader could have kept it going according to halacha against all odds. Only our leaders, our true leaders, are able to accomplish such feats.
Sixty years after the liberation of Auschwitz, the media all over the world have been full of programs, reports, stories and tributes to the survivors of the Holocaust. Yet how does one pay tribute – a true tribute – to those who perished? How do we remember our grandparents, their families and communities? What should we do to commemorate them, to say “Your life made a difference to me”? Should we plant a tree? Should we gather our youth into our shuls and have them listen to a survivor’s testimony? Perhaps we ourselves should gather in our shuls and study or pray in remembrance of their souls?
Or should we stop for a minute and take a look at someone like the Klausenberger Rebbe? What was his tribute to his wife and eleven children who perished? How did he commemorate the six million who were massacred on the altar of hatred? How did a Torah-true Jew react upon emerging from the unimaginable?
He didn’t lose himself in hopelessness. He didn’t look only to himself. He looked up and around and wanted to know “What can I do for you?” His was a mission of selflessness for his people.
He built a hospital so that Jewish people could receive medical treatment when necessary and not have to rip leaves off trees in order to bandage their wounds. He set up an orphanage so that Jewish children would not have to go knocking on strange doors looking for a home. He built a senior citizens home so that the elderly could live out their days in comfort, surrounded by their loved ones, and not be sent to gas chambers. He set up yeshivos and schools, encouraging Jews to remain true to the Torah. He rebuilt Sanz from nothing to glory. He beseeched Jews to love one another, to do away with the hate and the bigotry that plagues us.
Above all, he brought glory to the Name of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, such that people exclaimed, “This is a Torah Jew.”
So when we sit down with our children and tell them about the tragedies that have befallen our people and say “Never forget,” let us at the same time tell them that there is always rebirth. Let us inspire them, and ourselves, that we can make a difference. Like the Klausenberger Rebbe of blessed memory, let us show the world how to truly commemorate sixty years after liberation.
What I saw that Shabbos was that Sanz isn’t simply a chassidus. It is the result of one man’s triumph over the very worst kind of adversity. It is a message of Torah and belief in Hashem, unity among Jews, kindness and respect. Kiryat Sanz is a city built on the very foundations of chesed, brought about by the vision of one man true to his Creator. It is a city with the single-minded purpose of helping Jews everywhere, medically, financially, educationally and emotionally, established against all odds. It is an inspiration to all who witness it as we did that Shabbos.
It truly is a city of miracles.
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