Beis Moshiach Magazine is powered by:



A Request From The Mosad
By Menachem Zigelbaum

Twenty-two years ago, Rabbi Shlomo Giladi was approached by an agent of the Mosad who asked him to deliver a message to the Rebbe...

“It was right after the Camp David Accord in 1978,” Rabbi Shlomo Giladi reminisces. “I was sitting in my office in the Vocational School of Kfar Chabad working on some papers when I was told that I had a visitor. A man I had never seen before walked in and took a seat. He told me that his name was Yair, and presented himself as an employee in the Office of the Prime Minister. He took out some identification as proof.

“I was still wondering who he was and what he was doing there when he removed a file from his briefcase and placed it on my desk. ‘Please read it,’ he said quietly. I opened the file and leafed through it, and was shocked to find that it was filled with biographical information about myself. Every detail of my personal life was included, arranged in correct chronological order: when I had made aliya from Yemen, every address I had ever lived at, when I was drafted, where I had fought during the Six Day War, my military commendations, the Yom Kippur War, my various army duties, and all the jobs I had ever worked at since. A great deal of time and effort had gone into compiling the material. Then it dawned on me that this was not just an ‘employee in the Office of the Prime Minister,’ but a member of the Mosad, which was technically under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister.

“I closed the file and looked up at him expectantly. ‘What do you want from me?’ I asked. The man didn’t say anything for a minute as if composing his words, then asked me a question.

“‘Is it true that you are going to the Lubavitcher Rebbe in two weeks?’

“I told him yes, still guessing at where the conversation was leading.

“‘That is the reason I have come to you,’ my visitor declared. ‘I am here in the name of Prime Minister Menachem Begin. I’m sure you know that a large Jewish community still exists in Yemen with which we have no contact. Over the years, all communication has been cut off. Throughout this time the State of Israel has been trying to reestablish contact, but unsuccessfully. The Yemenite government has blocked all attempts at getting through.

“‘We thought,’ the man continued, ‘that because the Jewish community in Yemen is so isolated and lacking in spiritual leadership, it would be a good idea if a handful of students were allowed to leave Yemen to study Judaism in another country. When they returned home, they could serve as rabbis and teachers. The problem is that Israel has no formal ties to Yemen. We came to the conclusion that for the plan to work, it must initially be proposed by a Jewish spiritual leader from the United States. And the most suitable person for the job is the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I am, therefore, asking you to convey our request to him.’

“I still couldn’t figure out where I came into the picture. ‘But why would the Mosad need me as an intermediary? Surely there are more direct ways of asking the Rebbe...’”

“Chassidim had long whispered about a possible relationship between the Rebbe and the Mosad. No one knew what kind of a connection there might be, but why couldn’t the Mosad just pick up a telephone? Something seemed fishy about the whole thing.

“I explained my thoughts while the man listened patiently. He then revealed to me that the Mosad had already unsuccessfully appealed to the Rebbe several times. In fact, many high-ranking individuals had approached the Rebbe on this issue, among them Mr. Israel Yeshayahu, the Speaker of the Knesset, who like myself was of Yemenite origin. The American Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, had also been unsuccessful. My mysterious visitor left room for doubt whether he was referring to getting the boys out of Yemen or establishing contact with the Rebbe.

“I continued to protest. ‘But what’s this got to do with me? Do you really think I have some kind of special influence over the Rebbe? If the Speaker of the Knesset and the Secretary of State of the United States couldn’t do it, why would you imagine that I could?’

“The man was unfazed by my protestations. ‘We have reason to believe that the Rebbe would agree if it came through you.’ He wouldn’t tell me where they had gotten that idea, but added, ‘Look, you’ll be speaking to the Rebbe anyway. All we’re asking for is five minutes of your time.’

“I kept trying to explain that the whole idea was off base. The Mosad must have mistaken me for someone else. But the man wouldn’t let go. The meeting ended without me giving him a clear commitment. The whole plan seemed rather farfetched.

“But that was only the first visit. Yair returned several times to pick up where he had left off. One time he even came to my house. He never revealed too much information, but kept hinting that there was more than met the eye. In the end I agreed.

“Two weeks later I flew to New York. I was still sort of unconvinced, even on the day before my yechidus. I finally came to the conclusion that I would mention it in a very general way to the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Hodakov, and ask him what to do.”

Why were you so afraid to bring it up during the yechidus? You are, after all, of Yemenite extraction. Wouldn’t it be natural for you to be concerned about your brethren?

“What bothered me was that several other people had already spoken to the Rebbe, and that the Rebbe apparently didn’t want to pursue the matter. I realized that there must be considerations other than those I was aware of. If the Rebbe wasn’t interested, who was I to stick my nose in where it didn’t belong? On the other hand, the subject was very dear to my heart. I wanted to reestablish contact with the Yemenite community. I still had family there, and a personal reason for hoping the plan would work.

“But I couldn’t go into too much detail with Rabbi Hodakov. I merely told him that I had been approached by the Mosad to deliver a message to the Rebbe. He listened carefully, and his answer was very interesting: ‘I’m sure they know how to contact the Rebbe without you. Why did they choose you to act as liaison?’ I told Rabbi Hodakov that I had asked them the same thing, but had never received a satisfactory answer.

“In the end, he didn’t tell me yes or no. A few minutes before the yechidus I decided that I would mention it briefly at the very end of my Pa’N. At the very worst, the Rebbe would respond as Rabbi Hodakov had, and tell me that surely the Mosad knew of a more direct way to contact him...

“The yechidus took place on a Sunday. My conversation with Rabbi Hodakov had taken place on Motzaei Shabbos.

“That Shabbos there had been a farbrengen, during which the Rebbe had spoken out very strongly against the Camp David Accord. The whole situation was very ironic. I could picture the people in the Prime Minister’s Office patting themselves on the back for attaining ‘peace,’ thinking that the Rebbe was their big supporter. And here the Rebbe had not only rejected the Camp David Accord outright, but had criticized it in the sharpest terms possible... Because of these political overtones, I was almost completely convinced that the Rebbe would turn them down.

“I went into the yechidus room holding two pieces of paper. The first Pa’N contained all my personal concerns. The second, which I presented to the Rebbe only after he had finished discussing the contents of the first, referred to the situation in Yemen.

“This was the first time I had ever broached a communal matter with the Rebbe. And it was very strange: As soon as the Rebbe read the note his manner changed completely. He sat back in his chair as if getting more comfortable and gave me an encouraging smile.

“‘The person you spoke with  is he reliable?’ the Rebbe asked. ‘Can you trust him?’

“I told the Rebbe that the man was a senior agent in the Mosad, the head of the department that dealt with the various Jewish communities in Arab countries.

“From the Rebbe’s reaction I could see that he knew whom I was referring to, and that he was indeed reliable. The Rebbe continued:

“‘Are you able to contact them from here, without using the telephone or writing a letter?’

“I didn’t know what the Rebbe meant. Without the phone or a letter, the only way I had of contacting them would be if they contacted me first. I waited for the Rebbe to continue, as it was obvious that he wanted to verify a few more facts.

“I was right. The Rebbe wanted to know two things: First, would the Israeli government allow the Yemenite boys to study in an American yeshiva before going to Eretz Yisroel? And second, would they be willing to exempt them from serving in the Israeli Defense Force? My hunch had been right all along: the situation was a lot more complicated than Yair had let on.

“I told the Rebbe that as far as I knew, the Mosad didn’t care if the bachurim ever went to Eretz Yisroel after studying in the United States. The Rebbe looked pleased by the news. But I was surprised by the next thing he said: ‘They’ve already contacted me about it.’

“The Rebbe then mentioned Knesset Speaker Yeshayahu and Secretary of State Kissinger. ‘There was nothing to talk about when they approached me, so I turned them down,’ he explained. ‘At the time, the climate in the Arab world was not conducive to such matters. Now, however, the situation has changed and become more open. At least there is a chance of success.” I understood that the Rebbe was referring to the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, which had presumably taken the edge off the Arabs’ hostility. In the current climate, it was not unfeasible to approach the Yemenite government with the request.

“‘It is obvious,’ the Rebbe continued, ‘that I will do whatever I can to help. You know that I operate in all kinds of remote places, not just big communities, even if there are only two or three Jews living there. How much more so when a community of many thousands of Jews is at stake! Without a doubt, I will do whatever I can.’

“I told the Rebbe that I understood that the Mosad wanted him to appeal directly to the Imam, the chief religious figure in Yemen. The Rebbe responded in approximately these words: ‘I will do whatever I am able. My honor isn’t important.’

“The Rebbe knew that the Israelis’ main interest wasn’t necessarily spiritual. But if there was even the slightest chance of spiritual benefit, he would do whatever was necessary.

“The Rebbe reiterated his willingness to become involved. ‘Even if I need the American President’s help, I will find a way to get it,’ he said. At the end of the yechidus the Rebbe asked me to keep him posted. ‘The next time they contact you I want to know all the details. But remember,’ he cautioned, ‘do not use the telephone or commit anything to writing.’ The Rebbe was sure that I would find some other method of communication. He then asked me several more questions about the Mosad agent who had contacted me and his relationship with the Prime Minister.

“At that time, the Speaker of the Knesset, Mr. Yisrael Yeshayahu, was in the hospital in Holon. I was surprised when the Rebbe suddenly changed the subject and asked if I had visited him before coming to New York. As an average citizen, the thought hadn’t even occurred to me, but the Rebbe insisted that I go and convey his personal greetings. Now it was the Rebbe’s turn to be surprised. ‘But you knew that he was sick and in the hospital. How could you not have gone to visit him?’

“Of course, that was the first thing I did when I returned to Israel. Mr. Yeshayahu was being treated in the Wolfson Hospital in Holon. When I told him that the Lubavitcher Rebbe had sent me to see him, and had even chastised me for not visiting him before, he laughed. ‘The Lubavitcher Rebbe has nothing else to do?’ he asked. On that occasion I mentioned the idea of getting some students out of Yemen to study in yeshiva. A few months later, on my second visit, I added more details, and told him that the Rebbe had given his approval to the plan. He was very surprised, for as far as he knew, the Rebbe had not been interested...

“The entire yechidus lasted all of ten minutes. Rabbi Leibel Groner, the Rebbe’s secretary, had been ringing the bell for me to leave almost the entire time, but the Rebbe paid no attention.

“Personally, I was very happy by the Rebbe’s positive answer, and it was exactly what the Mosad had wanted to hear. Till today I’m not entirely sure why they chose me, or why they thought that I, of all people, could change the Rebbe’s mind. But by Divine providence, I was in the right place at the right time.

“When I got back to Eretz Yisroel I called Yair to inform him that I had an answer for him. He hurried over to my house and I repeated the entire exchange with the Rebbe. He was surprised but happy by the Rebbe’s answer, and promised to pass the information on.

“A few days later he returned and told me that he had discussed it with the Prime Minster, Menachem Begin, and that Mr. Begin thanked me very much. He even gave me the Prime Minister’s home phone number should I need to contact him at any time.

“Without getting into details, I can tell you that the Mosad was very appreciative of the Rebbe’s involvement. They ended up consulting with the Rebbe quite often, even though their goals weren’t exactly the same...

“When I mentioned to Yair that the Rebbe had cautioned me against using the telephone or writing letters, he gave me a mysterious smile. The only thing he said was, ‘The Rebbe is a very wise man.’ He then asked if I was willing to make several more trips to the Rebbe, but being that I had a steady job, I gave him the name of a Yemenite friend living in the United States who I knew would be willing to act as liaison.”

What was the Rebbe talking about? How was it possible to keep him updated without using the telephone or writing letters?

(Smiling): “Let’s just say that they have their ways... The friend I recommended became the middleman between the Mosad and the Rebbe.

“I really don’t know what went on behind the scenes. Whatever negotiations there were continued for a good two or three years. Then I heard that a group of five Yemenites had been allowed to travel to the United States to study Judaism, so they could later return to Yemen and serve as religious leaders. It wasn’t widely covered by the media, only a few lines in the newspaper. But I was relieved when I saw that the endeavor had been successful.

“When those five students left, it was the first contact between the Jewish world and the Jews of Yemen in decades. And thank G-d, the lines of communication have grown and continued ever since.”

Weren’t you curious about what was going on? After all, an opportunity like that doesn’t fall into a person’s lap every day.

“I was afraid that it would take up all my time. I had a job and responsibilities. That’s why I recommended someone else. But I was always indirectly involved, as my friend in the United States used to call me for advice.”

What level diplomats were involved in communicating with the Rebbe?

“The highest levels in the Israeli Consulate. The Yemenite government was approached through the Yemenite Consulate. I can’t tell you more, but the Rebbe did send a direct appeal to the chief Imam of Yemen.”

Do you know how the five lucky students were chosen?

“No, I don’t. They were apparently picked by a representative of the Imam, or some other Muslim ‘qadi’ in contact with the Jewish community. There were no rabbis at all in Yemen. That was the problem. They needed a new generation of Jewish leadership.

“What can I tell you? All I know is that much can be learned from this incident. What touched me was the Rebbe’s utter devotion to every single Jew around the world. ‘My honor isn’t important,’ he told me! The Rebbe was perfectly willing to risk being turned down, of being snubbed by the Yemenites. The only thing that mattered was the opportunity to help a fellow Jew.

“But the most interesting thing to me was the fact that the day before, the Rebbe had lashed out so strongly against the whole idea of ‘peace talks’ with the Arabs. However, once the agreements were made, the Rebbe knew how to utilize them to benefit Jews! We simple Jews can only see things one-dimensionally. But the Rebbe is a nasi, and looks at things quite differently...”


 “You know I operate in all kinds of remote places, not just in big communities,” said the Rebbe, “even if there are only two or three Jews living there...”


Rabbi Shlomo Giladi









The Speaker of the Knesset, Mr. Yisrael Yeshayahu, and the American Secretary of State, Mr. Henry Kissinger, had already asked the Rebbe and been turned down. Now it was his turn...





The Rebbe knew that their main interest wasn’t necessarily spiritual. But if there was even the slightest chance of spiritual benefit, he would do whatever was necessary.






“I operate in all kinds of remote places,” the Rebbe said, “not just big communities, even if there are only two or three Jews living there. How much more so when a community of many thousands of Jews is at stake!”




Home | Contents | Archives | Contact Us | Subscriptions | Submissions | Classified | Advertise

©Copyright. No content may be reprinted without permission.