Friday, September 15, 2006

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Reb Yaakov, Katyusha's, and the Holy Cedar of Safed

Reb Yaakov moved to Safed 36 years ago, living in the old city with his family and a married son and family who live nearby.

He stayed in Safed during the Yom Kippur War (1973) together with the holy Klausenberger Rebbe, zt"l. After Yom Kippur, they stepped out of the holy and ancient Tzanz-Klausenberg synagogue of Safed and saw much of the population of Safed had fled, and much of the remainder was fleeing (being Safed was close to the war front of the Golan Heights). The holy Rebbe turned to the people standing there and said, "Why are they fleeing? Safed is an Ir Miklat (a city of refuge from the bible)." Relying on the words of his holy rebbe, Reb Yaakov and his wife stayed.

Briefly before the recent war, there was an argument in Reb Yaakov's neighborhood. A huge ancient cedar tree, perhaps over 150 feet high, annoyed some new people rennovating a home for use. It blocked their view, they demanded it be removed. Several protested, this ancient resident of Safed has as much right to be here as you! The cedar stayed.

During the recent Israel-Hizbollah war, hundreds of katyusha rockets fell on Safed (Reb Yaakov says about 500 hit Safed and the surrounding areas). Continuing to rely on the words of his holy rebbe (no longer in this physical world), he and his family and his son and family stayed. As in the past, most of the residents evacuated. In fact, of hundreds of synagogues in the old city of Safed, only 3 continued to operate and maintained a minyan (a prayer quorum) during the war, the old Chabad Tzemach Tzedek synagogue, the old Tzanz synagogue, and the more recent Breslov synagogue of the Breslov chassidic leader Rabbi Koneig, shlita. All 3 maintained full prayer services 3 times a day with a very small dedicated group of men.

Though hundreds of katyusha rockets hit the holy city of Safed as well as Meron and the surrounding hills, no resident of Safed or Meron was killed (the unfortunate exception was a guest from Nahariya killed in Meron together with her granddaughter). Indeed, there were many clear miracles, and here is one...

Reb Yaakov's daughter-in-law called and said, "we have no bread in the house, the children are hungry, I'm going to send out the older to the bakery for bread." (Two grocery stores and one bakery continued to operate during the war.) Reb Yaakov told his daughter-in-law, "No, you can't send out the children, if G-d forbid the sirens go off, they won't know what to do and will panic. We'll send our daughter out for you (Reb Yaakov being a bit beyond the age to run through the streets.)". He instructed his daughter, if the sirens sound, fall to the ground and throw your hands over your head until the all-clear.

Reb Yaakov's daughter set out, risking her life to bring food to her nieces and nephews. She brisky set off for the bakery, arrived and purchased several loaves of bread. She turned and quickly headed to her brother and sister-in-law's home. 2 minutes away, the sirens went off and whistling was heard. The whistling of an incoming rocket! Terrified, she threw herself to ground next to the courtyard with the cedar tree, literally 5 meters away. Seconds later, she heard an incredibly loud BOOM and was bounced off the ground! She lay there trembling for a time, finally taking stock of herself and looking around.

What she saw astounded her. The cedar tree (as I wrote about previously) had grabbed the katyusha rocket, pulled it in, and dumped it into an unoccupied courtyard next to her. The walls of the courtyard absorbed the explosion and the shrapnel, she was unharmed.

Still on the ground, she called her father on the cell phone screaming, "Ta, a rocket just hit the cedar, I'm lying literally next to it, across the street is the school dormitory that's still occupied! Baruch Hashem, I'm ok, the tree directed the rocket into an empty courtyard!" Trying to hold a straight head, Reb Yaakov directed his daughter, "Nu, are you sure you're ok? Then get up and get going, we don't know when more will fall? What happened to the bread." She looked around for a moment before realizing, "Umm, I don't know, wait, I'm still holding it!" and on she ran to her brother's.

Truly, as the rebbe said, an Ir Miklat, a city of refuge. Safed, the holy city in the moutains, city of mystics and artists.

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