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January 22, 2017 / 24 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘part’

Q & A: A Missed Torah Reading (Part VIII)

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

Question: If a person was ill on Shabbos and unable to go to shul to hear Keri’at haTorah, must he have someone read it to him in shul upon his recovery?

Isaac Greenberg


Answer: Rabbi Weiss (in his Minchas Yitzchok) writes: “Now, indeed, Keri’at haTorah is without doubt a rabbinic requirement considering that it exists due to the enactments of Moses and Ezra (as we find in the Gemara, Bava Kamma 82a, and Rambam, Hilchot Tefillah 12:12). However, it is a congregational requirement. As regards to an individual, though, we might say that the necessity of Keri’at haTorah is not comparable to that of tefillah. So it would seem to me.”

He continues: “I have found in the sefer Leket Ha’kemach Ha’chodosh (90:52) that its author also deliberated about this matter but did not reach a definitive conclusion. We might, however, prove from the Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chayim 135:14 and in his commentary Biur Halacha op cit., s.v. ‘ein meivi’in’) that the reason we do not bring a Sefer Torah to prisoners is because we say that the obligation to hear Keri’at haTorah, according to the letter of the law, is not incumbent on the individual when matters beyond his control prevent him from going to shul.”

The Mishnah Berurah in his Biur Halacha commentary states as follows: “It also seems evident that when someone is absolved from any obligation to go to shul, it follows that is he absolved of any need to organize a minyan to come to him in prison, even if doing so entails little or no effort. Only when there is already a minyan of prisoners are we to bring them a Sefer Torah.”

(A side note: We know that it is common practice nowadays to bring a Sefer Torah to a house of mourners. However, we only do so because in most instances there is a specific Sefer Torah designated for that purpose. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, a minyan specifically assembles in a house of mourners, not only to console them, but to assure that they are able to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish on behalf of the departed soul. Rabbi Yechiel Michel Tukaccinsky [Gesher Ha’Chayyim Vol II. 8:3] maintains that we would not bring a Sefer Torah to a mourner’s home if the minyan consists entirely, or even mostly, of mourners. Such a minyan need not hear Keri’at haTorah.)

Concerning tefillah b’tzibbur, the Mechaber (Orach Chayim 90:9) states: “If due to matters beyond a person’s control he is prevented from joining the congregational prayer, he should align his tefillah with that of the congregation and pray at the very same time they pray.” The Magen Avraham adds: “This leniency only applies if gathering a minyan entails a measure of difficulty; otherwise we always opt for strictness in regards to tefillah b’tzibbur.”

We thus see that when confronted with a choice between the tefillah b’tzibbur and Keri’at haTorah, we should opt for the former.

(To be continued)

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

Q & A: A Missed Torah Reading (Part VII)

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Question: If a person was ill on Shabbos and unable to go to shul to hear Keri’at haTorah, must he have someone read it to him in shul upon his recovery?

Isaac Greenberg


Answer: I received an email from a reader who took exception with our citation of the Mechaber (Q&A, part V, 12-16-16) to the effect that tefillah is a rabbinic, not a biblical, obligation and therefore doesn’t supersede Keriat haTorah. He argued that there is no such statement in the Mechaber’s writings.

Indeed, he is correct; this citation was based on my misreading of the Minchas Yitzchak. The Talmud (Ketubot 19b) teaches that one is not allowed to possess a sefer with mistakes (that is uncorrected), as Job 11:14 states: “ve’al tashken b’ohalecha avlah – let not evil dwell in your tent.” So, it is imperative that I correct my error. The authority who states that tefillah (and Keri’at haTorah) is a rabbinic obligation is Rabbi Meir Arik (Responsa Imrei Yosher, vol II:171-173, published in Krakow in 1925).

The reader noted as well that this statement flies in the face of the Rambam who in the very beginning of Hilchot Tefillah (1:1) states: “It is a biblical command to pray every day.” The reader, though, is over-simplifying matters. Just a few lines later, the Rambam states that the obligation to pray is based on Exodus 23:25: “Va’avad’tem et Hashem Elokeichem – You shall serve Hashem your G-d,” which according to tradition refers to tefillah – as does Deuteronomy 11:13: “u’l’ovdo b’chol l’vavechem – and to serve Him with all your heart.” Our sages (Ta’anit 2a) explained: “What is a service with all one’s heart? Tefillah.” The Rambam writes that the number of tefillot in the course of the day is not of biblical origin, nor is the text of the prayers. Biblically, there isn’t even a set time for prayer. All these are of rabbinic origin. From a biblical standpoint, a person fulfills his tefillah obligation if he says a very short prayer (tefillah kol d’hu) of his own composition which recognizes the Creator. Such a prayer would not require a minyan, much less attendance at shul.

So neither contemporary tefillah nor Keri’at haTorah is a biblical obligation and, as such, neither obviously supersedes the other. Tefillah is more common (tadir) but Keri’at haTorah is more mekudash. It’s not clear which is more important; the Gemara (Zevachim 90b-91a) leaves this question open.

Rabbi Weiss (in his Minchas Yitzchok) was asked whether an ill person allowed to leave his sickbed for a very short period of time should daven with a minyan or hear Keri’at haTorah. In his answer, he quotes the Mechaber (Orach Chayim 90:9): “One should make every effort to pray in shul with the congregation; however, if he is anus (subject to matters beyond his control) and unable to go to shul, he should fix his prayer [and concentration] to the time the congregation prays…”

The Mechaber is actually quoting (and obviously agreeing with) the Tur whose own words in this matter are as follows: “A person should exert himself utilizing all his physical strength (b’chol kocho).” Thus, it seems that the Mechaber is telling us that insofar as tefillah is concerned, even though one is required to go to great lengths to daven with the tzibbur, it is clear that doing so is not an imperative. It thus seems clear-cut that, given the choices, Keri’at haTorah should take precedence.

(To be continued)

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

Incinerated Coupons Part II

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Rabbi Dayan reviewed the article he had recently written about Dov, who threw Kalman’s collection of manufacturer’s coupons down the incinerator (our Dec. 23 column). In principle, Dov is liable for the damage, which is evaluated as the current actuarial market value of the aggregate coupon collection based on the desirability of the products, the savings relative to the price of the products, the availability of the coupons, expiration dates, etc.

However, Rabbi Dayan pondered a remaining question. The redemption terms of almost all manufacturers’ coupons state: “Coupons are non-assignable and are void if transferred from their original recipient to any other person.” Thus, coupons cannot be sold and have no legal market value!

“Is there value to something that cannot be sold?” Dov had asked.

“Your question involves a fascinating discussion in the achronim,” Rabbi Dayan replied. “Consider the following case: Kalman vowed to offer a burnt-offering [olah] in the Temple and chose an animal for fulfillment of his vow. You stole the animal. Kalman could not have sold the animal to anyone, but now must set aside another animal to fulfill his vow. Must you pay him the value of his animal?”

“Interesting question,” said Dov. “I have no idea.”

“This is called davar hagorem l’mamon – something that has monetary ramifications,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “R. Shimon obligates, whereas the sages exempt. Tosfos [B.K. 71b s.v. v’savar] write in their first explanation that the sages do not obligate since the animal has value only to its owner and not to the rest of the world.”

“Similarly, Nesivos [148:1] writes that one who damages something for which the owner cannot receive money is exempt,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “Based on this, one could argue that you are not liable for Kalman’s coupons, since it is illegal to sell them. However, Shach [C.M. 386:1] rejects this explanation and sides with their other answers of Tosfos, since ultimately damage was caused to this person.”

“Consider also this case,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “Kalman has a passport, for which he paid a $110 renewal fee. If you destroy his passport, must you pay its cost, even though it has no market value to others?”

“I would assume so,” replied Dov.

“The Shoel U’meishiv [1:31] holds you liable,” said Rabbi Dayan, “but the Beis Yitzchak [EH vol. I 73:9] writes that the passport is not considered an item of actual value since it’s worthless to others.”

“What if you destroyed an amulet written for a specific person?” asked Rabbi Dayan.

“I guess it’s all the same question,” replied Dov.

Minchat Pittim [C.M. 340:4] suggests that according to Tosfos’s first answer you would be exempt since it has no sale value to others,” said Rabbi Dayan, “but according the Shach you are liable.”

“So what’s the bottom line?” asked Dov. “Am I liable for Kalman’s coupons?”

“The accepted ruling is in accordance with the Shach, against the Nesivos,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “Therefore, you are liable for the coupons. There is also another distinguishing factor to consider. In all the above cases, the item is inherently of value only to one person. However, the coupons are inherently of value to anyone in the world, even though there are legal limitations about transferring them. Thus, everyone could agree that you are liable. We can compare the coupon to a check payable only the payee. While it cannot be sold, it is of great inherent value to the owner, not just of monetary ramifications.”

Rabbi Dayan concluded: “Therefore, you are liable for incinerating Kalman’s coupons. Nonetheless, since they are not saleable, we would not evaluate them based on the general market but rather on Kalman himself: How much cash he would be willing to pay to receive such a collection of coupons if it were legal to do so.”

Rabbi Meir Orlian

The Isaac Covenant Part III: Menorah: Symbol of Exile or Redemption?

Friday, December 30th, 2016
(Originally posted to the author’s blog, Libi BaMizrach}

The thrill of Chanukah is upon us as we once again have the privilege of lighting the Menorah. As the symbol of Chanukah par excellence, it brings to mind both the story of religious revival (the one pure flask which miraculously lasted eight days) and the national/military victory of the Maccabees (who overcame overwhelming odds to push out the Syrian/Greek Tyrants and restore Jewish sovereignty) with which we are all so familiar.

But, of course, the Menorah is not only the symbol of the Hasmonean Chanukah. It is also a central symbol of the Bais Hamikdash in general, even though the Chanukah menorah has eight lamps instead of the original seven. Moreover, it is a symbol all of the Chanukahs in Jewish History [1] . What is fascinating, however, is that it is also the symbol of the Exile.

On a recent trip to Israel with my family, we had a long stopover in Rome. Far from being displeased, I was thrilled to be able to fulfill a lifelong “bucket list” dream – to visit what is perhaps the greatest symbol of the Diaspora (with the possible exception of Auschwitz/Birkenau), the Arch of Titus. This edifice was constructed in honor of the evil Titus upon his completing the defeat of Judea and Jerusalem, after taking over for his father Vespasian. He was particularly monstrous; killing thousands while ransacking and abusing and burning the Bais Hamikdash (Gittin 56a), and returning to Rome with an enslaved Jewish people and the spoils of war.

Famously and prominently depicted on the arch is the Menorah being triumphantly carried off to Rome, along with our other treasures, (where they may or may not still be in the catacombs of the Vatican).[2] A famous symbol, erected in Rome, of the final and crushing end to our national sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael and the beginning of the dreadfully long and painful Exile that we have suffered for over two thousand years.

netanyahu-at-the-arch-of-titus netanyahu-at-the-arch-of-titus

Since that time, we have been under the boot of the Romans and their successors, very much including the Church. As the final Rashi in Parshas Vayishlach takes pains to tell us, Rome is the prime descendant of Eisav, the one who we had to be protected from via the Jacob Covenant.

One of the most inspiring stories I have ever heard was of the time that Rav Yosef Kahaneman zt”l, the Ponovezher Rav, visited Rome on a fund-raising trip.  As described yibodel L’Chaim by Rabbi Berel Wein who knew him well, the Rav arrived in Rome late on a miserable night with his companion Dr. Moshe Rothschild from Israel.  Dr. Rothschild looked forward to a warm hotel room and some hot tea after their journey, but the Rav had something else in mind.  He insisted on immediately being driven to the Arch of Titus; it could not wait for the morning.  Upon arrival, he got out of the car, stood in the freezing cold rain, and stared at the Arch for a while, and then adjusted his Kapota and hat, and shouted:

“Titus! Evil Titus! Take a good look at what has occurred. You dragged my hapless people out of our land two millennia ago and led them into an exile from which they were never to return. You went home to Rome – the most powerful nation on earth – in glory and triumph. But Titus, where are you? What has become of the glory that was Rome? What has become of the infallible empire that was supposed to last forever? The Jewish people however are still here and continue to flourish. Titus, Mir Zenen noch do…Avu Bist Du?  (We are still here! Where are you?”)

Coming from that place, and that story, made for an incredible feeling upon touching down at Ben Gurion airport a few hours later.


This aspect of the Menorah on the Arch of Titus, truly the symbol of the Exile, was a very hot topic on 11 Shevat 5709 (1949), when a committee was formed to determine what the symbol of the new State of Israel ought to be. The well-known symbol chosen was the Menorah flanked by two olive branches, similar to the famous Menorah standing outside the Knesset building.

A sharp protest to this choice was voiced by then Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Halevi Herzog zt”l. He objected on several grounds: (a) The Menorah depicted there has a stepped base, while the Menorah in the Bais HaMikdash stood on a tripod of legs, (b) The menorah on the Arch has dragons and other creatures that may have been idolatrous, and therefore “our government made an unfortunate choice today in choosing the picture of the Menorah on the Arch of Titus which apparently was crafted by foreigners, and not made B’Taharas HaKodesh (in Holy Purity)”. Rav Herzog opined that the solid base that was depicted was surely due to damage that occurred to the Menorah in transport, and the Romans had thus replaced it.Other scholars, notably Daniel Sperber [3], proposed that the menorah had already been altered from its original design before Titus’ arrival. Perhaps, he suggests, the new pedestal was the brainchild of someone eager to introduce a pagan motif into the Temple while at the same time remaining nominally sensitive to Jewish concerns. The most likely culprit in this regard would have been King Herod, who greatly enhanced the beauty of the Bais Hamikdash, while attempting to make it pleasing to the Romans as well. In an interesting article on the subject, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik wrote, “Herod’s relationship with the Temple was a complex one. On the one hand, all contemporary sources, including the rabbis of the Mishnah, agree that he oversaw a stupendous refurbishing of the Temple Mount, elevating its architectural status into an eighth wonder of the ancient world. On the other hand, the contemporaneous historian Josephus recorded the king’s efforts to Romanize the Temple, as well as the outrage this sparked among his subjects:

For the king had erected over the great gate of the Temple a large golden eagle[symbol of Rome], of great value, and had dedicated it to the Temple. Now the law forbids those that propose to live according to it to erect images or representations of any living creature. So these wise men persuaded [their followers] to pull down the golden eagle; alleging that although they should incur any danger which might bring them to their deaths, the virtue of the action now proposed to them would appear much more advantageous to them than the pleasures of life.

Be that as it may, (and there is a great deal more scholarship on the subject) it seems abundantly clear that the Menorah on the Arch of Titus was truly a symbol of the Exile, and it is curious that the Zionist government would take that Menorah as the national symbol.

Chabad Chanukiya

Chabad Chanukiya


The late Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l took this a step further.  It is well-known that the Rebbe insisted, based on the Rambam’s opinion, that the original Menorah – and by extension the Chanukiah – was composed of branches that came out of the stem in straight diagonal lines, notwithstanding all of the ancient depictions of the Menorah, particularly the one on the Arch of Titus, that had curved branches.  Besides rejecting the curved Menorah based on  issues of authenticity, the Rebbe wrote that, in addition…

“the image on the Arch of Titus was specifically created for the purpose of emphasizing the authority and supremacy of Rome over the Jews, so much so that the words Judeo Captiva were placed there.  There were times that they would forcibly bring Jews there to witness their subservience and subjugation, etc”.

Sifting through these thoughts at Chanukah, and in thinking about our time, it seems clear to me that although he disagreed with the Rebbe about the original menorah had diagonal branches,  Rav Herzog agreed that the decision to enshrine the Menorah from the Arch of Titus as the symbol of the nascent State of Israel was ill-advised.  I assume that they both saw our time as the beginning of the Isaac Covenant.    A time when the Jewish people would no longer be defined by the Tituses of the world; a time that we are past merely focusing on survival of the Diaspora, (as demonstrated by the Ponovezher Rav), but are beginning to reverse the damage and move towards the ultimate Geulah.

Chanukah, as generally celebrated in Israel is certainly still far from achieving its true purpose as commemorating the rededication of the pure Light of Torah as our national guide and joy.  For too many, it focuses on only on a military victory  and prowess, hence Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabee Beer, and Maccabiah games.

Nevertheless, let us celebrate how, בימים ההם בזמן הזה, we see many parallels coming true, in our time, of witnessing where

“You, in Your abounding mercies, stood by them in the time of their distress. You waged their battles, defended their rights, and avenged the wrong done to them. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah. You made a great and holy name for Yourself in Your world, and effected a great deliverance and redemption for Your people Israel to this very day”.

May we learn to appreciate the gift we have of living in such a time, and look forward to the Avraham Covenant, a time when once again,

“Your children will enter the shrine of Your House, clean Your Temple, purify Your Sanctuary, and will kindle lights in Your holy courtyards, and institute new days of Chanukah to give thanks and praise to Your Great Name.”

May the new light over Zion that has begun to shine only increase in its’ strength, so that soon “we will all merit together to appreciate its illumination”

Happy Chanukah
1 Cf. Rav S. R. Hirsch “Chanukah Through The Ages”, Collected Writings Vol II, Feldheim Publishers, NY 1985 pp213-32
2 Cf. Steven Fine “Art History and the Historiography of Judaism in Roman Antiquity, pp.63-86.
3 Sperber, Daniel “Minhagei Yisrael” Vol. 5 , Inyanei Chanukah

Rabbi Lenny Oppenheimer

Q & A: A Missed Torah Reading (Part VI)

Thursday, December 29th, 2016

Question: If a person was ill on Shabbos and unable to go to shul to hear Keri’at haTorah, must he have someone read it to him in shul upon his recovery?

Isaac Greenberg


Answer: Previously, we considered whether Keriat haTorah, which is mekudash, overrides tefillah which is not mekudash but is more tadir.

* * * * *

Rabbi Weiss (Minchas Yitzchak) writes that the Taz (Orach Chayim 681) maintains that the more frequent of the two takes precedence. He also refers us to Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Responsa 9).

It would seem that Keriat haTorah, unlike tefillah, is not an obligation of the individual. That’s why the Mechaber (O.C. 146:2, based on Berachot 8a) permits one whose “occupation” is Torah to turn away before the Sefer Torah is opened for Keriat haTorah and continue studying Torah.

The Rema (O.C. 55:22) writes that people in a town having difficulty getting a minyan may force one another to assemble via fines. That way, the “tamid” (tefillah, which is in lieu of the korbanos) won’t be eliminated.

The Mishnah Berurah (ad loc sk 73) explains: “Since there is a minyan in the town the mitzvah of tefillah b’tzibbur is incumbent upon them.” He writes that in small communities, the people may force students and others engaged in studying Torah to stop and come to shul. Only in larger communities, he writes, is it proper for students to pray in yeshiva.

So great is tefillah b’tzibbur that the Talmud (Berachot 47b) relates the following: R. Eliezer once arrived at shul and saw that there were only nine people present. So he emancipated his Canaanite slave, making him the tenth man. The Gemara immediately wonders how he could have acted in this manner considering that the Torah states “l’olam ba’hem ta’avodu – you shall work with them in perpetuity” (Leviticus 25:46). Isn’t violating a prohibition to fulfill a positive commandment a mitzvah habah ba’aveirah? The Gemara answers that freeing a slave is permitted for the sake of a mitzvah. We thus see that tefillah is so great that it even overrides a biblical prohibition.

Rabbi Weiss notes that this story illustrates how important gathering a minyan for tefillah is. Indeed, the Gemara (Berachot op. cit.) states that the first 10 people in shul receive a reward equal to that of all those who come after them. If so, we can only imagine the reward of one who labors to assemble a minyan. Our sages (Avot 5:18) have actually already told us: “Sin will never befall one who benefits the masses.”

(To be continued)

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

Friends Of Refugees Of Eastern Europe In Chicago (Part II)

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Last week we focused on how F.R.E.E. began the process of educating the refugees it came into contact with. However, the people at F.R.E.E. set about making life more fulfilling for the refugees, in many other ways as well.


Part II

Many of the Russian immigrant men and boys were anxious to undergo circumcision. It was amazing to witness this after so many years of the religious suppression that existed under Communist rule. At first, F.R.E.E. undertook the responsibility to arrange circumcisions. Over a period of forty years, hundreds of men and boys underwent kosher circumcisions. At first, Rabbi Avrohom Chesney of F.R.E.E. arranged and supervised them. Later, Rabbi Naftali Hershcowitz, under the supervision of Rabbi Shmuel Notik, took over. The doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago (a Jewish Federation institution), together with the noted mohel, Rev. Noah Wolff, performed the circumcisions. Chicago was unique in that its federation funded the Brit Milah program, while in other cities F.R.E.E. had to pay for it on its own. As more immigrants arrived, other mohelim and religious doctors joined the team, among them Rabbi Mordechai Turkeltaub and Rabbi Moshe Kushner. The observant doctors and mohelim worked efficiently, on a few patients each time. Dr. Philip Zeret, head of surgery at Mt. Sinai, and Dr. Chaim Hecht arranged the logistics.

Dr. and Mrs. Hecht were very involved with welcoming the Russian teenagers in general and introducing them to the warmth of their Shabbat table. They also opened their home to Rabbi Betzalel Shiff, his wife Mira, and their son Yossi, who came from Israel to work for the organization. Dr. Hecht was instrumental in bringing Rabbi Shmuel and Shterna Notik to Chicago to take over the directorship when the organization began expanding.

At one point, we notified the Lubavitcher Rebbe that many Russian refugees had to wait for their circumcisions to take place. On Erev Yom Kippur before Mincha, Rabbi Hadokov called us with an answer. He said that he had received instructions from the Rebbe to tell us not to let the immigrants wait. Thus, several times we arranged to use the hospital for an entire day, enabling as many as twenty or more circumcisions to be performed.

Mottel Kanelsky, himself an immigrant from a Lubavitcher family, was instructed by the Rebbe to arrange circumcisions as quickly as possible. Who would have thought that after just a few years F.R.E.E. would be given the responsibility for carrying out thousands of circumcisions of men and boys of every age?

When Russia began allowing Jews to leave, the American Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund made an agreement with the U.S. government that the latter would grant financial help for resettlement. In each city the Jewish Federation provided Russian-speaking social workers to aid the incoming immigrants. They also provided money and direction.

At first, the Jewish Federation of Chicago suggested that F.R.E.E. was duplicating its work and that we should close shop. Martha Binn, our representative to the Federation, succeeded in convincing it that we were not competing with their services, but rather complimenting them. Her confident demeanor and professional approach gave weight to her request that the Federation recognize and acknowledge the work of the religious organizations and give them their support.

Martha also did fundraising for our cause. She made call after call, not getting discouraged by nasty comments like: “What? It’s you again?” I would often consult with Martha; I would call her “my lawyer.” She would point out issues and analyze possibilities from a different vantage point. She was dedicated to our cause, passing up lucrative job offers to stay with the organization.

Once we asked Rabbi Oscar Fasman, president of the Hebrew Theological College of Chicago (aka Skokie Yeshiva), to accompany us to a meeting with the Federation to lend prestige to our organization. He told the members of the Federation committee that our work deserves its support. The impact of his words bore fruit and funding was increased. When F.R.E.E. opened a school on the premises of the Machziki Hadas Synagogue, it prompted the Federation to open a proper school as well.

Rabbi Shmuel Notik

Rabbi Shmuel Notik

Eventually, the Federation began receiving good reports from the immigrants themselves, after which they started working together with F.R.E.E. to the benefit of all. This was the beginning of a warmer rapport between the Federation and the Orthodox community, and a new era of cooperation between the general Jewish community and the religious community which continues to this day.

One Shabbat, as I was reading an article in the weekly Jewish journal, the Sentinel, written by Boris Smolar, the head of the JTA, I found myself reading my own words! Smolar was commending the Federation for all it was were doing for the Russian immigrants, such as arranging circumcisions, funding day camp and English lessons, providing vocational guidance services, etc. Half the article was copied from a grant proposal I had written to the Federation requesting funding for these programs. Mr. Smolar didn’t realize that a nursing mother was running these activities!

Many of the refugees were broken and nervous, since they had to leave everything behind and begin life anew. Many of them were highly educated in their fields, but found it hard to get jobs in America. Many who wanted to learn English turned to us. The local city colleges provided us with a program to teach English as a second language (ESL). Not only were the classes free of charge – students even received a stipend. Our offices were filled with people eager to learn. In addition to learning English, the students would hear short talks on Jewish topics, upcoming Jewish holidays and the like.

With the help of another government incentive, we organized a summer school for older teenagers who were interested in learning the Hebrew language. Chava Cooperman, daughter of Rabbi Yitzchak Zilber and daughter-in-law of Rav Yehuda Cooperman (the founder of Michlala Jewish College for Women), taught these young people to read and write Hebrew. These programs and government grants always became available just at the right times. I really felt that Divine Guidance was helping us every step of the way.

As the refugee population grew, we realized that we could reach more people through a Russian-language newspaper. Chuck Novak helped put together the first few issues of “Gazzette Sholom” which is still being published forty years later. Each issue is eagerly awaited by Russian-speaking Jews around the U.S. The newspaper benefited greatly when the Russian-born Lubavitch couple, Rabbi Betzalel and Mira Schiff, joined our organization. Betzalel became editor of the newspaper, organized concerts and Yom Tov celebrations, started a Russian-language radio program, and helped fundraise. He was like a father to the Russian Jews, and he and his wife dedicated themselves day and night to bring awareness of what it means to be Jewish to people who had grown up under the influence of communist propaganda. Although Betzalel was young, he was well-respected. After a few years, he and his wife returned to Israel, where he continued to work with Russian Jews.

We organized and ran a day camp for the immigrant children, in collaboration with Chabad Gan Yisroel. Most campers paid very little or went for free. Nowadays, when my son meets up with Russian Jews who grew up in Chicago, my son will say, “I bet you went to my mother’s camp.” They often did. One year, I managed to raise a substantial amount of money (I used to sit in my backyard with my baby and fundraise by phone), so I decided to send some Russian kids to overnight camp in Parksville, New York.  We sent them by car, a fifteen-hour drive. It didn’t quite work out. The boys complained to their parents that they were homesick, so I had to fly them all back to Chicago early. That was the end of that experiment.

To be continued…

Reitza Kosofsky

Friends of Refugees Of Eastern Europe In Chicago (Part I)

Monday, December 19th, 2016

Presented here is a short history of the beginning of the F.R.E.E. organization in Chicago. F.R.E.E. is affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch network, and deals with the resettlement of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

This account was written by Reitza Kosofsky, the initiator and main activist of F.R.E.E. in Chicago, who found herself becoming deeply involved in the historic challenge facing the Jews of the free world at that time: reclaiming the Jewishness of those Jews exiting Russia. Covered is the period from 1973 until 1981, at which time Rabbi Shmuel Notik arrived and took over the directorship.


Mrs. Reitza Kosofsky

Mrs. Reitza Kosofsky

For much of the past century, freedom was a distant dream for Jews living in the Soviet Union and its satellites. In the early ‘70s, the Iron Curtain lifted, and a significant number of families were given permission to leave.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, spoke publicly about the influx of Soviet Jewish refugees, and the importance of helping them with their spiritual and material needs. The Rebbe’s words were heard in Chicago, and the women of N’shei Chabad under the leadership of Rebbitzen Chaya Sarah Hecht, the head shlucha, made a welcoming gathering for five families who had just arrived from Minsk. The American women presented the Russian women with silver candlesticks and encouraged them to light them for Shabbat. Rabbi Tzvi Shusterman delivered a talk in Yiddish, as that was the only common language shared by most of the participants.

After that gathering, Rebbitzen Hecht contacted the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Chaim Mordecai Aizik Hadokov, and asked how to proceed. Should N’shei Chabad or another already existing organization work with the Russian Jews? The Rebbe’s answer was clear: a new organization should be created to service the needs of the new immigrants.

At the time, I was a stay-at-home mother of a growing family. I had a nursing infant, and had just married off our eldest daughter to a Russian-born Lubavitcher. I was inspired by the Rebbe’s call to action. Because I spoke Yiddish, it was only natural for me to become involved with the Russian Jews who were settling in Chicago.

On our next trip to Crown Heights, I went to see the newly opened synagogue and center for Russian immigrants. The name F.R.E.E., which stands for “Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe,” was chosen by the Rebbe. I met with the founders of the center, brothers Meir and Hershel Okunov, who gave me permission to use the same name for our work in Chicago. Meir, who would be celebrating his wedding two weeks later, joined my family for the 15-hour drive from New York to Chicago in order to help us get started. He told me how to introduce the basics of Jewish life to Jews who had grown up in an atheistic environment.

We started out small, but as the trickle of immigrants grew to become a tidal wave, F.R.E.E. also grew and expanded. That first year we made a Chanukah party in the home of Victor and Rita Katz. By the following Chanukah, we had to rent a hall! We organized communal Pesach sedarim led by Chabad yeshiva students. Most of these young men had grown up religious in the Soviet Union, learning Torah and keeping mitzvot despite the danger of being arrested. Now, they turned their selfless devotion for Yiddishkeit towards running sedarim for others, giving up their opportunity to spend the Passover holidays in New York with the Rebbe.free-121616-hebrew-school-class

It was the second year of my involvement with the Russian Jews, in 5734 (1974), a few weeks before Pesach. I was sitting in my car on Devon Avenue, and my kids had gone into the kosher candy store. I was contemplating and worrying about the communal Pesach seder. The year before, about 175 immigrants had participated and now I had 300 newly arrived Russian Jews eager to experience their first seder in freedom. How would I manage it? At that point, a former neighbor passed by, stopped and asked me how I was.

I could have sufficed with the usual “Fine, Baruch Hashem” but instead I blurted out, “I’m running a seder for 300 Russian Jews, and I have no funds for it. How can we make a seder without food?!”

The man hesitated for a minute, and then exclaimed, “I will help you!” It turned out that he, Tzvi Kurs, was the president of the Chicago Maos Chitim Committee. Every year the committee would distribute 1,500 boxes of matzah, wine, chicken, gefilte fish, and other seder items and necessities for Pesach to families in need. From that year on, the Maos Chitim Committee provided for the communal sedarim. Working together with the committee, we set up a system by which families would be interviewed by volunteers from their own community to determine the extent of their Pesach needs.

There was a flood of immigration when the U.S.S.R. began letting Jews out, and the friendship and help for the Russian Jews who came to our city began to fall on my shoulders. When I had originally taken on this project, I thought that only a few families would be arriving in Chicago; however, they came in droves!

In the beginning, I handled all the F.R.E.E. work from my kitchen. I would hold my baby in one hand and the frying pan in the other, balancing a telephone on my shoulder, helping people from my kitchen “office.” One day, I got a call from Joseph Zaretsky, an officer of Congregation Bais Medresh HaGadol Keser Mariv. He offered us the use of the vacant classrooms in the Hebrew school at the back of the synagogue free of charge. With the new place, we were able to begin the formation of a working organization.

We continuously saw how the Almighty blessed our efforts. Someone taught me how to apply for the first $5000 grant that I got. In addition, CETA, a government program that was created to train the unemployed really helped. Through it, we were able to take on eighteen trainee office workers. Through this program, we were able to employ people who otherwise may have had difficulty in finding suitable work.

Former students of the Hebrew School

Former students of the Hebrew School

Marvin Schreiber was an expert in preparing grant proposals. His hard work paid off, and we received grants. We then were able to have a secretary, run a domestic job service, and hire a driver to transport Russian immigrant children to the Jewish day schools. We arranged for people who spoke Russian to tutor the children, especially in the Hebrew language and Jewish/religious subjects.

A friend who was a public school teacher, Abe Wolburg, told us that the Jewish Federation social workers were enrolling the Jewish immigrant children in the neighboring public schools. We asked Rabbi Hodakov how necessary it was to enroll the children in Jewish schools. The answer: as important as saving lives.

We immediately let the Russian Jewish community know that we would provide a day school education for their children. It was really hard to get the Russian kids into the existing Jewish schools because they would accept only a few new kids at a time. So we opened our own school in our office with thirty children! We had two talented teachers, one for Jewish studies and one for secular, both with the same name, Miriam Rabinowitz. The school lasted for twenty years. Those children who didn’t come to this school were persuaded to enroll in the Jewish Community Center Sunday School, so at least they would receive some level of Jewish education.

Reitza Kosofsky

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/features/features-on-jewish-world/friends-of-refugees-of-eastern-europe-in-chicago-part-i/2016/12/19/

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