The Los Angeles community celebrated Israel’s 65th birthday recently with an early morning Walk for Israel, followed by a Celebrate Israel 65 Festival at Rancho Park.
For attendees at the Young Israel of Century City Shabbaton with scholars-in-residence Rabbi Shlomo and Vicky Riskin, the celebration began the day before the formal festivities. Throughout the Shabbaton, Rabbi and Rebbetzin Riskin shared many inspirational stories about their family’s move many years ago from Manhattan’s Upper West Side to the West Bank city of Efrat. They also detailed how Efrat expanded from one developed hill to its current size of seven developed hills, and from 100 residents to 12,000.
Vicky Riskin recalled that her husband had tried for more than two years to secure a rabbinic position in Israel, but without a beard was not successful. Invited to establish a community in Efrat, he took upon the challenge. Rabbi Riskin said that it was the “three steps back” taken by the Lubavitcher Rebbe that gave him the confidence and motivation to pursue the establishment of Efrat.
He had gone to the Rebbe for a berachah before leaving for Efrat for a cornerstone-laying ceremony. The Rebbe said to him, “Hashem yatzliach es derachecha.” While still speaking, the Rebbe unexpectedly took three steps back to Rabbi Riskin and repeated the same words. When Rabbi Riskin arrived in Israel and heard that the Israeli cabinet had voted to suspend West Bank development, he then understood why the Rebbe had retreated three steps. These developments gave him great determination to not accept the cabinet’s decision as final.
Rabbi Riskin recalled his meeting with then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin later that week. He pled his case to Begin by highlighting the special double berachah he had received from the Rebbe. An impressed Begin reached for a source in Theodore Herzl’s writing, whereby Herzl envisioned an aliyah led by rabbis from around the world. It was Herzl’s hope that the rabbis would lead their congregations to settle in Israel. According to Rabbi Riskin, Begin told him that his “building of Efrat is a realization of that vision.” Rabbi Riskin said that Begin then directed the cornerstone-laying ceremony to proceed – on the condition that there be no publicity. More than 3,000 people attended the ceremony anyway.
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