Jerusalem – He was wearing a white shirt and a black kippah, and approached me all excited, asking, “Can you lend me a pen? I have to get something down on paper.” We were by the Skulener Rebbe, shlita, together with thousands of other chassidim taking the opportunity to see a tzaddik who, while his presence is felt in Eretz Yisrael, resides in the United States. Of course, I thought, he surely wants to write a kvittel, as so many others are doing. Maybe he needs to write a note to himself, something he doesn’t want to forget. What does it matter? He asked for a pen and he got it.
I glanced and saw him leaning intently over a piece of paper, pen in hand, drawing feverishly, artistically, brilliantly capturing the holy visage of the Rebbe. It didn’t need words to be explained. This was a boy who learns and lives in a Chesed L’Avraham dormitory, and the chance to see this venerable tzaddik on his brief visit motivated him to use his greatest abilities to capture the moment, by drawing.
I had other things to do, so I left him with his papers and my pen, making the cheshbon that his creativity was worth much more than my used Pilot. But he went searching high and low for me, trying hard to spot me, among the many similarly dressed chassidim, to return the pen.
Admittedly, this is just a very brief side point related to the Rebbe’s recent visit to Eretz Yisrael, yet it teaches something about the excitement that can be generated by pure ruchniyus and the effect this man has had on so many thousands.
The tent of Avraham Avinu. Skulener chassidus is mentioned in Eretz Yisrael in the same breath with Mosdos Chesed L’Avraham. Avraham Avinu’s chesed was hachnasas orchim, but the purpose of bringing in guests was so that they should gain an appreciation of the Shechinah. He taught each guest to recognize the Creator and thank Him for what he had eaten and drunk at the home of his servant, Avraham.
Mosdos Chesed L’Avraham engages in this sort of kiruv—not with strangers, but rather with Avraham’s own descendants. In this, the Skulener Rebbe, shlita, is continuing the work of his father, the Skulener Rebbe, zy’a, who saved, both physically and spiritually, thousands of children in Romania after the war, from Communist rule. There he was imprisoned, but was later released in the wake of international pressure, and he came to the United States. Instead of breathing a sigh of relief after all of his suffering, he got straight to work founding the Chesed L’Avraham mosdos in Eretz Yisrael, setting before him the challenge of building separate dormitories for boys and girls coming from broken homes, to build up their spiritual world and stand them on their own two feet. He also aimed to dot the landscape of Eretz Yisrael with afternoon Talmudei Torah so that children learning in secular schools during the day could gain exposure to Yiddishkeit.
Jews in the United States are quite familiar with the Skulener Rebbe, shlita. In line with the tradition he received from his father, instead of founding a network of mosdos and schools for his chassidus, he builds whole spiritual words in Eretz Yisrael for children, most of whom do not have even the remotest chance of becoming Skulener chassidim, but the vast majority of whom do become yirei Hashem and even b’nei Torah.
On this visit, the Rebbe had come to Eretz Yisrael to celebrate a family simcha, the wedding of his grandson, but within this simcha, the greatest attention went to the simchas haTorah of his many long-distance talmidim and graduates of the mosdos.
Behind the Chesed L’Avraham boys’ dormitory on Ezra Street in Bnei Brak, a huge tent was set up with four entrances. Entering meant entering the yoke of Torah and yiras Shamayim, and leaving meant leaving with ample spiritual baggage and inspiration after having become “a talmid of Avraham Avinu.”
The Rebbe held a tisch on leil Shabbos, leading huge crowds in song until 4 a.m., and on motzaei Shabbos the melaveh malkah was combined with a farshpil before the wedding that lasted until 6 a.m.
Mi’mizrach shemesh ad mevo’o. Who can forget the enthusiastic dance with the Rebbe as they sang “From when the sun shines in the east until it sets, praised is Hashem”? What could symbolize the accomplishments of Chesed L’Avraham more than this shirah? The Rebbe brings Jews from all backgrounds, from East and West, to praise Hashem. This gathering arranged by Chesed L’Avraham brought current and former talmidim from all over, fromAcco in the North and Netivot in the South. Bus after bus brought some 2,000 Chesed L’Avraham talmidim to the Rebbe’s tent in Bnei Brak. Some of the groups were talmidim who learn at afternoon Talmudei Torah, accompanied by their teachers.
Rabbi Shlomo Reiner, an organizer of the gathering, said warm words of welcome to the talmidim. Rabbi Elimelech Tirnauer, the MC and a friend of Chesed L’Avraham, announced that the Rebbe would soon be arriving. The atmosphere turned electric. The Rebbe entered, pacing across the entire tent, going up to the raised stage accompanied on one side by his son-in-law and right-hand man in Eretz Yisrael, Rav Chaim Dov Stern, and on the other side by the head of the Skulener mosdos, Rabbi Chaim Shraga Neihaus. Throughout the procession, boys on either side were waving their flags, announcing “Beruchim haba’im” and holding torches in their left hand.
The Rebbe surveyed the crowd of young boys dancing with joy, yet with restraint and derech eretz. The band played a well-known Skulener niggun, authored by the previous Rebbe while he was in prison for teaching Jewish children Torah. The chairman of the Skulener mosdos spoke passionately, noting that in that week’s parashah, Shelach, Moshe told the meraglim to inquire about Eretz Yisrael, “Hayeish ba eitz im ayin—does the land of Israel have a tree or not?” Which Rashi explains as meaning, does Eretz Yisrael have a tzaddik who can bear the weight of the generation on his shoulders? “We have merited a tzaddik who has built these mosdos over so many decades,” he said. The children nodded in fervent agreement.
Another unforgettable moment was when Rav Yaakov Meir Shechter led the crowd in kabbalas ol malchus Shamayim. The Rebbe gave his berachah to all the children and sifrei Tehillim were given out to them as gifts.
The “bikurim.” The Mishnah states: A man goes to his field and sees the first fig to ripen and wraps a string around it as a sign and says, “These are bikurim…” The Rebbe’s last night before returning to the United States, this night of sheva berachos, was also to be a simcha shel mitzvah for recent graduates of Chesed L’Avraham. Some 200 b’nei Torah arrived at the Bnei Brak grand hall as invited guests. These were the ones who had gone on to learn in yeshivos al taharas ha’kodesh and were members of the Chesed L’Avraham graduate organization.
The Rebbe had instructed the chairman of the mosdos to found an organization for graduates. This is the string wrapped around the first ripened fruits, to be brought to the beis Hashem with joy. The graduates are in contact daily with Rabbi Shemaya Stofel, with whom they can find a listening ear. These talmidim study Torah the entire day and were invited to be with the Rebbe.
Distinguished guests. The Rebbes of Sadigura, Chernobyl, Dushinsky, and Kretchenif-Yerushalayim graced the event, as did Rav Yekutiel Abuchatzeria of Ashdod and, of course, the mechutan, the Bohusher Rebbe. Let’s not forget the rashei yeshiva who came with their talmidim, Rav Eliyahu Malka of Achiezer and Rav Betzalel Edelstein of Ahavas Aharon. Both of them noted that “by the Rebbe it’s never pareve, it’s never halfway. The striving is always to be better, to be more kadosh.”
One of the graduates, Pinchas Erin of Yeshivas Tiferes Moshe of Bnei Brak, addressed the gathering and spoke about his experience at Chesed L’Avraham and his appreciation of the Rebbe. Afterward, he and his friends presented the Rebbe with a paroches decorated with divrei berachah from the talmidim.