In 1980, Russia was still under a tyrannical Soviet rule. In spite of all the persecution, a religious awakening began among the Jews of the Soviet Union. A special envoy of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson arrived in the Soviet Union. He was surprised by the extreme devotion of the younger generation, which, despite the persecutions, had ignited the ember of Judaism, and at the end of his visit he told Dr. Yitzhak Kogan, one of the Chabad underground activists, that he would report back to the Rebbe what he had witnessed and ask him to especially bless Rabbi Yitzhak Kogan.
He was surprised to hear Rabbi Yitzhak ask that, instead of this, Rabbi Menachem Mendel should bless Yosef Mendelevich, a Prisoner of Zion who had been in prison already for ten years. Yosef had been arrested in the Leningrad Airport together with his friends for attempting to hijack a Soviet plan and flee to Israel.
“He has currently been on a hunger strike for 55 days, demanding to give him back the Humash and Siddur they confiscated from him,” said Yitzhak Kogan – “his physical condition is very bad. The Rebbe must pray for his immediate release from the prison.”
And in fact the Rebbe’s prayer was answered, and within a few months Yosef was flown straight from the prison to Israel. On a stopover in Vienna they brought the redeemed prisoner to the Israel Embassy in Austria.
“What is your first request,” the ambassador asked him.
“I need a set of Tefillin to lay before sunset.”
The Ambassador looked at his embassy staff members – Which of them would still have Tefillin?
Suddenly there stepped forward Rabbi Israel Singer, the then Director of the World Jewish Congress.
“Very interesting,” said Singer. “After hearing about the release of Mendelevich I was supposed to fly out to welcome him.”
Before that, I contacted Rabbi Menacehm Mendel and asked him, what I should take for the freed Yosef?”
“Take him Tefillin,” said the Rebbe.
“And here are the Tefillin I have brought you on the orders of the Rebbe.” And so, for the first time in his life, Yosef put on the Tefillin.
After he arrived in Israel, the Tefillin disappeared. Yosef was heartbroken.
Avraham Yitzchak Rahamim Mendelevich – one of Yosef’s sons, a student at the Carmiel Hesder Yeshiva, had been called up to serve in the IDF a year and eight months previously in an Armored Corps battalion.. The commanders thought that he was ideal officer material, and pressed him to continue to serve. But Avraham Yitzchak – (named after Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook) refused.
“I am going back to the yeshiva.”
On the day he was due to be released from the IDF, Operation Protective Edge began, and he was sent from the Golan Heights to fight in Gaza. His battalion was stationed on the outskirts of the Zaitoun neighborhood, not far from the settlement of Netzarim.
Avraham Yitzhak very much regretted that he would not be able this year to go to the grave of his grandfather, Moshe Mendelevich, an Aliya activist in Riga in the 1970’s, on his Yahrzeit, 16 Tammuz, the eve of the Three Weeks.
He did not know that, precisely on that day, the Tefillin which Rabbi Menachem Mendel ha ordered to be given to his father Yosef, were found.
It turned out that the Tefillin were with a nephew, Ronen Lisitzin.
The moment Yosef Mendelevich received the Tefillin back, he began to think how to get them to Avraham Yitzhak and give him special protection. However, it turned out that it was not possible to send the Tefillin to the battle area. But, as it is known, Hashem turns good intentions into deeds, and Yosef hoped that, thanks to all these things, the Tefillin would begin to perform their mission.
Contact with Avrhaam Yitzchak was very difficult. With the entry into the battle zone the phones were taken from the combatants. In brief sallies to the rear for equipping the tank with ammunition and for repairs, Avraham Yitzchak would contact his parents on the unit commander’s phone. Every such conversation was a gift from Heaven and caused great excitement in the family. His mother asked her son to observe all the safety regulations and his father asked him to read Psalms from the Book of Tehilim every day.
In the neighborhood where Battalion No. 7 was located, fierce battles were taking place. The terrorists were using anti-tank missiles as well as snipers and attacks from the tunnels. All of Am Israel prayed for the success of the soldiers and their safe return.
It happened on Rosh Hodesh Av…
There was a powerful flash of light in the tank, followed by the sound of a huge explosion. The tank filled with smoke. Over the intercom they announced “Tank No. 3 has been destroyed.” Avraham Yitzhak relates that his ears were deafened by the explosion. He didn’t know whether he had been wounded and what had happened to his companions. A minute later he heard the commander shouting: “Are you all alive?” They were all alive. At that moment they received the order to return fire and they scored a direct hit on the one who had fired the missile.
And this is how Avraham described the miracle that had occurred. “There was a ceasefire, and we retreated to a safe position to rest. The commander gave us permission to leave the tank. We had spent 48 hours inside it, it was very hot, we were exhausted. But I decided to remain in the tank. I had promised Father that I would read Tehilim every day and I had to read the Tehilim of Monday, Psalm 30… ” 1. A Psalm; a Song at the Dedication of the House; of David. 2. I will extol Thee, O Lord, for Thou hast raised me up, And hast not suffered mine enemies to rejoice over me.” And because I didn’t go out, my fellow crew members also remained with me inside the tank,
Even though we were hidden inside an olive grove, the Hamas lookouts spotted us. They shot at us apparently with a Sagger guided anti-tank missile. In fact, there was no chance of escaping from this missile. But the Hamasnik and the missile struck exactly the rear of the tank. So, at first, they thought that we had been hit.”
When the tank crew emerged from the tank, Avraham looked at the place in the tank turret where he was supposed to have stood during the rest period. All the equipment was burnt. The missile has passed one meter from the place.
At the thanksgiving meal which took place in his parents’ home in Jerusalem, Avraham Yitzhak told about the miracle that had happened to him thanks to the Guardian of Israel, and thanks to the Tehilim of King David. Then his father, Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich, stood up and told everyone about the Tefillin which the Rebbe had sent him 33 years previously, and which had turned up exactly during the current fighting.