Monday, May 13, 2013

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We Must Learn to Reach Every Jew

from the Beis Medrash by Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier

Uzbekistan 1944

My grandfather, Rabbi Yisroel Noach Belinitzky, was one of many who fled to Samarkand, Uzbekistan to escape the horrors of the holocaust.

At a Lubavitch Youth Organization convention in Crown Heights in 1958, R' Yisroel Leibov obm- chairman of the Lubavitch (Chassidic) Youth Organization in Israel, related:

th (2)When I was in Samarkand with R' Yisroel Noach in 1944, on one occasion he asked me to go to the market place and purchase a few tables. This was part of a large operation he was orchestrating. Since food was scarce, he had arranged small chadorim (Hebrew day schools) in people's homes. Every home received one of these table around which the children sat and learnt. Each child who attended was given a good lunch. Food was a worthy incentive, and many children from non-religious homes came to learn.

This was before shlichus (reaching out to non-affiliated Jews) became commonplace, and I was taken aback by the whole idea. "I don't understand," I said to R' Yisroel Noach. "What is gained by teaching these children Torah? As soon as they leave, they're going back to non-religious homes and eating non-kosher food. Shouldn't we concentrate on the children from religious homes who are certain to have bright futures in the Torah world?"

R' Yisroel Noach answered with a story. The fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, R' Sholom Dov Ber, was traveling on a train and used the time to read an original chassidic manuscript. An older woman sat down next to him and peered over his shoulder, trying to read along. After a few minutes the Rebbe moved to a different seat, but the woman followed him and said, "I'd like to see what you're reading." The Rebbe showed her the manuscript, which was handwritten. "I can't read most of it," the woman explained, "but I can read the one verse that's in print. Hashem melech, hashem malach, hashem yimloch le'olam vaed...Hashem is King, Hashem was King, and Hashem will be Kind forever and ever." When the Rebbe returned home, he told the chassidim what had transpired on the train. "We must cherish any words of Torah or tefillah a Jew utters," he said. 

R' Yisroel Noach concluded, "We don't know where these children will end up, but we do know that when they're with us they're constantly saying words of Torah. We cannot underestimate the value of that learning. It's our job to teach as many Jewish children as we can."

Not too long ago I was on a bus in Israel when an Israeli soldier sat down next to me. After glancing at me several times he asked if I remembered him. I admitted that I didn't, and he reminded me, "We were in Samarkand together. I was one of the non-religious boys who came to the cheder! Today, I'm proud to say I keep a kosher home with my family." In fact, it turned out that many of the children who learned around R' Yisroel Noach's tables grew up to become not only G-d fearing Jews, but even Roshei Yeshiva and community leaders!

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