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Chabad Of Tzfas: A Community Like Kfar Chabad And Nachalat Har Chabad ...And Even More

Beis Moshiach correspondent Menachem Ziegelboim visited the Chabad community of Tzfas, where he found a most impressive community. * An interview with the first shluchim to Tzfas and with the directors of its schools. * Part 1 of 2

Three summers ago, a child in Tzfas was run over and badly hurt. He was flown to the Rambam Hospital in Chaifa, where he lay unconscious for two months. The family and community were beside themselves. Every day all the children of the community were assembled to say Tehillim, and davened for his recovery. But there were no sign of improvement.

Some members of the community decided to make a grand Kiddush in the boy’s merit. They went from house to house collecting money. Everybody contributed and everybody came. The Kiddush was a major affair. There was a lot of mashke being poured, and everybody wished the boy a complete recovery from the bottom of their hearts.

On cue, just like in the Baal Shem Tov stories, the boy opened his eyes. The next day he sat up, and within a few days he was back to his normal self.

* * *

That is Tzfas. And as much as I would write and describe it, I would fail to convey what Tzfas is really all about. It is a unique city. A city of Kabbala, mysticism, the old cemetery, the narrow alleyways in the old city, and the clear mountain air.

About 500 Lubavitch families live in Tzfas with 14 shuls. The first to come to Tzfas was the shaliach Leibel Kaplan, a’h, who arrived in the summer of 5733. A few months later, another ten families arrived and together they began the Chabad community of Tzfas, a community “like Kfar Chabad and Nachalat Har Chabad and even more,” as the Rebbe put it.

It would have been easier to establish another community in Yerushalayim or Lud, but Tzfas? It was a city beyond the dark mountains. Cars were old and the roads winding.

“We had no mehadrin food, neither dairy nor meat. We lived in rundown apartments with no heat or hot water. The only religious women were over eighty,” recalls Mrs. Rochel Hendel, an active member of N’shei Chabad of Tzfas. We founded an organization we called NeTZaCH (Nashim Tzeiros Chareidiyos [Young Religious Women]). Of course, there were no religious schools at all.”

The Rebbe warned her husband, Rabbi Shneur Zalman Eliyahu Hendel, before they went to Tzfas, to consult with his wife and children. Today, despite the difficulties, Rabbi Hendel directs the Ohr Menachem school system, where 1,500 children are educated!

Notwithstanding the hardships, with the direction of Rabbi Kaplan the community got started. Even before Rosh HaShana 5734, the kollel was established in the Tzemach Tzedek Shul in the old city. In the summer of 5734, a kindergarten with nine children was founded. Then an elementary school with fifty children opened.

Rabbi Kaplan worked tirelessly and devotedly for his community. Rabbi Avrohom Goldberg, an old-timer of the community and one of the deans of Beis Chana, recalls that Rabbi Kaplan would travel once a week to the center of the country to buy necessary products for the community. He would visit the parents of the young couples and get food from them for their children who lived far away.

Twenty-one years ago the Chabad community in the Knaan neighborhood of Tzfas was established. It consisted of three tall buildings on the edge of the city. Schools and a mikva were built nearby. The main Chabad shul was built ten years ago in the center of the neighborhood. The Ashkenazi shul in the Knaan neighborhood was taken over by the Lubavitchers who had run out of space in the central shul.

Today the Chabad families are scattered throughout the city. A few dozen are in the Me’or Chaim neighborhood, others are in the old city, and still others are where the new immigrants live. They are in Ramat Menachem Begin, Ramat Arazim, and other neighborhoods. Each of these neighborhoods has at least one Chabad shul.

From 5736-5738, another three groups of shluchim arrived, some of whom remained in Tzfas. Each of these families was appointed to head various Chabad projects in the city.

On the day I visited Tzfas, I met with some of the heads of mosdos. I couldn’t meet them all, and even if I wanted to, I couldn’t possibly describe all their work within this one article. I tried as much as possible to provide a glimpse of the inner workings of the community.

Unlike other Chabad communities around the country, the Chabad community of Tzfas is noted for its warm, family-style atmosphere. Despite personal differences, people get along. I also interviewed a few former Tzfas families. They all used the phrase, “We had to move.” Even those who had to move can’t seem to get Tzfas out of their systems.

What makes them miss it so much?

“For one thing, the community is far from the center of the country. So everybody is far from parents and relatives. That’s the reason why we all pull together and why it’s hard to leave.

“Another factor that contributes to the warm atmosphere is that a significant portion of the families are former students of the Chabad yeshiva here (headed by Rabbi Y.Y. Wilschansky), as well as Machon Alte and Machon Chana. These mosdos are a warm haven for those seeking Judaism and Chassidus. These institutions have contributed hundreds of Chabad families to the city.

“These couples are very close with the mashpiim and mashpios of the schools they attended, which is why they want to live near their spiritual parents after they marry. The mashpiim and mashpios invite the young couples for Shabbos just as parents do.”

* * *

Entire articles could be devoted to each one of these mosdos, but the purpose of this article is to provide an overview of their contributions to the Chabad community. I met with Amram Moyal, a Chassid, member of the community and graduate of the yeshiva, who found his way to Yiddishkeit within its walls. He used to be a computer technician for the army, as well as a ballet dancer. Today he is the computer programmer for the Beis Chana campus.

He was born in Kiryat Atta to a non-religious family. He began doing research on nutrition, which eventually led him, believe it or not, to the teachings of Kabbala. In 5741, while in the army, he met a Lubavitcher who directed him to the Chabad House in Bat-Yam. There he met Rabbi Zimroni Tzik and began learning Tanya. “That’s when I realized that Judaism isn’t only about what is permitted or prohibited,” says Amram.

It took Amram time to absorb what he saw and heard. By day he sat in front of the army computer screens and at night he went out. It was only after he broke his leg and had to rest it for three months that he had time to think and resolve to make serious changes.

After Yom Kippur 5741 he went back to the army base with a yarmulka and tzitzis. His friends were in shock. It wasn’t long before he enrolled in the yeshiva in Tzfas and began to lead a full Jewish life.

While he told me his story, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Lepkivker, one of the roshei yeshivos and one of the first shluchim in Tzfas, stopped by. A lively discussion about the yeshiva ensued, to which rav and talmid contributed.

What makes the yeshiva in Tzfas different than other Chabad yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel?

Rabbi Lepkivker: The Rebbe established this community and, therefore, it enjoys success, both within the community and in the yeshiva. As opposed to Kfar Chabad, which the Rebbe Rayatz established, and Nachalat Har Chabad, an adjunct to Kfar Chabad, Tzfas is the Rebbe’s Chabad community.

The success the yeshiva presently enjoys was acquired with a lot of work. The yeshiva opened in Iyar 5737 with a group of 16 boys who weren’t successfully integrating in the yeshiva in Kfar Chabad. In Tzfas they tried to get their lives together. “I am recalling them now, one by one,” said Rabbi Lepkivker,” and I see them today as teachers, mashpiim, madrichim, and even a shochet. The yeshiva set them on their feet.”

Nobody wanted to come and learn at the yeshiva at that time. Tzfas was far away and it was hard to get recruits from the high schools around the country. Then the idea was proposed of having a program for baalei teshuva. The Rebbe gave his bracha and instructed us to include the baalei teshuva into the yeshiva proper, not to relegate them to a separate program. Slowly, boys started to come, and the yeshiva became established.

Amram: When I came to the yeshiva I felt at home. The attitude, the patience, the approach, were all special. Today, becoming frum is accepted, but at that time someone who became religious while in the army was sent to the psychiatrist. His parents fought him.

The roshei yeshiva, Rabbi Wilschansky and Rabbi Lepkivker, and the mashpia Rabbi Orenstein, set the tone by offering lots of warmth and love. There were a number of baalei teshuva my age. They were older, serious boys who had had some experience in life. Each of us had life goals, but we abandoned our careers to come to yeshiva.

There was nothing like Thursday nights, when we would sit and learn late at night and sing Chabad niggunim, forgetting the entire world.

How did the other bachurim get along with the baalei teshuva?

Rabbi Lepkivker: Very well. The baalei teshuva exhibited a seriousness and sincerity towards the 17-year-old bachurim, and in turn, the baalei teshuva received information and depth of learning from the bachurim. It’s interesting to see how after a brief time following their arrival in yeshiva they amass knowledge of Gemara and Chassidus and can join the regular shiurim.”

Amram: What you learn in yeshiva by observation you can’t learn from any book. When you see something, all the explanations just support the point, and the Chassidic conduct itself is alive.

The Chabad yeshiva in Tzfas is the largest Chabad yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel. When I visited the yeshiva during the evening Chassidus session, I saw a packed zal. About 250 boys learn in the yeshiva.

Many of the baal teshuva students end up marrying Machon Alte girls and live in Tzfas. The second and third cycle of expansion of the Chassidic community is definitely thanks to the yeshiva. Today you have the children of the first and second generation of talmidim learning at the yeshiva.

In a conversation I had with other previous talmidim of the yeshiva, many of them said they still love the yeshiva.

Rabbi Lepkivker, what is it about the yeshiva that make people fall in love with it?

“It’s like I said earlier. It’s the Rebbe’s place and that’s why it’s successful. People become connected to the place.”

The yeshiva’s mashpia, Rabbi Moshe Orenstein, joined our conversation at this point and, without knowing what had been said, offered the exact same answer – the Rebbe’s love for the place.

“The yeshiva has many special qualities, but the most important one is the great significance which the Rebbe ascribed to this place.”

Rabbi Orenstein is also one of the first shluchim to the Chabad community in Tzfas and one of its founders. “The Rebbe’s special relationship was not only to the yeshiva but first and foremost to the community. The Rebbe sent Rabbi Kaplan here for the purpose of renewing the Chabad presence in Tzfas.

“Over the years a veritable empire of mosdos was founded ex nihilo, for in the normal course of things, it’s much harder to establish a mosad here than in the center of the country. Nevertheless, over 1,500 students attend these mosdos.”

(To be continued.)



A Dream of Giving
Rabbi Avrohom Goldberg relates: Speaking about the Rebbe establishing the mosdos, I am reminded of a story that illustrates this. Twenty years ago, all the administrators, myself included, had no experience in administration. I went on a fundraising trip for the dormitory of Beis Chana, and one day I entered a jewelry store in Chaifa where I hoped to get a donation. I went into the owner’s office and suggested he contribute towards the building of a girls’ dormitory.

On the spot he wrote a check for $10,000, a huge sum at the time. I had no idea why he was giving such a large amount of money. Then he told me that the night before he had dreamt that he had to donate $10,000 to a mosad. “The first person to come in and ask me for a donation is you, so I’m giving it to you.”

The mosdos are in dozens of buildings today. As the Rebbe predicted: It’s like Kfar Chabad, Nachalat Har Chabad, and even more so...




Aerial view of Tzfas

Amram Moyal

Rabbi Avrohom Goldberg before one of the Beis Chana buildings


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