Leżajsk, Poland – For generations Jews have flocked to southeastern Poland to daven at the tzion of Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk on his yahrtzeit, but this year’s commemoration on the 21st day of Adar will include an extra element of joy as a direct descendant of Reb Elimelech celebrates his recent purchase of the site where an entire dynasty of Lizhensker rebbes once learned.
Brooklyn Rabbi, Rabbi Daniel Rokeach, the great grandson of the last Lizhensker Rebbe, traces his lineage all the way back to Reb Elimelech, also known as the Noam Elimelech.
In his lifetime Reb Elimelech was known as a spiritual giant, whose genuine love for his fellow Jew was beyond compare. Since his death, thousands have braved the frigid Polish winters to pray at his grave, with many pointing to their pilgrimage as the source of miracles and salvations that have come their way.
Over the past twenty years, seudos held on the Noam Elimelech’s yahrtzeit have been held in the lower level of a building across from the tzion that was renovated some 20 years ago by a developer, according to Rabbi Rokeach.
In his quest to continue the Lizhensk dynasty, Rabbi Rokeach tried to purchase that building for use as a visitor’s center that could accommodate guests, and after looking at the building’s floor plans, he realized that the front side of the building had once housed Reb Elimelech’s bais medrash.
“No one really knew that that place was the holy Reb Elimelech’s shul out of all the buildings in Lizhensk,” Rabbi Rokeach told VIN News. “No one knew. Not the people who came. Not the people who organized things every year. I knew because my family came to visit after the war but I didn’t talk to anyone about it.”
For years the owner of the building told Rabbi Rokeach that he had no interest in selling the property but a recent charge of heart gave Rabbi Rokeach the opening he had sought.
It took several months for the purchase to be completed but when it came time to sign the final paperwork it seemed clear to Rabbi Rokeach that the sale was divinely ordained.
“A couple of weeks ago the owner let us know that he was ready to sign,” said Rabbi Rokeach. “When he told me the day he wanted to do it I started shivering. It was the 24th day of Shevat, the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Elchonon Weisblum, the last ben achar ben of Reb Elimelech.”
Instead of sending a surrogate to complete the paperwork, Rabbi Rokeach flew to Lizhensk himself where he observed the yahrtzeit of the last Rebbe of Lizhensk in addition to signing all of the necessary documents.
Rabbi Rokeach estimated the cost of the 60,000 square foot four story building at approximately $1 million. The expected renovations will include a banquet area, a bais medrash and the conversion of 12 large apartments into approximately 40 to 50 guest rooms. Rabbi Rokeach put the total cost of the completed project at $2.5 million.
With the yahrtzeit of the Noam Elimelech less than two weeks away, Rabbi Rokeach is planning a special event to celebrate the acquisition of the historic property.
He plans to fly to Poland with approximately 200 others to spend Shabbos in the nearby town of Rzeszow before departing to Lizhensk where events will continue with a large scale melava malka.
Sunday, the day of the yahrtzeit, Rabbi Rokeach and his group will gather with the thousands who flock to Lizhensk each year for the yahrtzeit, where they will complete a new Sefer Torah and will enjoy a festive meal and joyous dancing.
Being able to return the Noam Elimelech’s bais medrash to the Lizhensk dynasty is extremely significant to Rabbi Rokeach.
“This closes the circle,” said Rabbi Rokeach. “This building was the place of yeshuos and miracles more than any other place which is why people come here all the time. Frum people, not frum people, Ashkenazim, Sefardim, they all come and people always tell me about the miracles they had in Lizhensk.
Everyone is looking to connect to their roots and Reb Elimelech was the Rebbe of all rebbes. All the Chasidic courts, they all connect to Lizhensk and that is why year after year, they keep coming back.”