Mourning Over the Churban
Some people have a special connection to the Kosel. They daven there, they weep there, they recite tikkun chatzos, and they sob and yearn for the Bais Hamikdosh to be rebuilt. The Churban is woven into the fabric of their lives. Come to the Kosel on Tisha b’Av and you will witness this phenomenon for yourselves. In fact, you can come to the Kosel at midnight on any day of the year and you will see these pious Jews mourning over the Churban with great emotion.
This past week, I spent Shabbos in Bnei Brak once again. The circumstances were unfortunate, as my father-in-law has been hospitalized in Maayanei HaYeshuah, but there was a silver lining as well: I had the good fortune of davening in the Chisda shul on Rechov Dessler. I have written in the past about the mara d’asra of this shul, Rav Yitzchok Shmuel Schwartz. I was also amazed once again by the shul’s dedicated gabbai, Reb Chaim Bernstein, who brought a chair and shtender for the rov before his speech, found an empty seat for every visitor, dispensed aliyos, organized the siddurim on the shelves and put out the food for seudah shlishis, and folded the tablecloths on motzoei Shabbos. When I entered the shul, I sat down in the back of the room, as is my custom, but the gabbai informed me that the seat was taken and escorted me to an available seat in the front of the shul.
But perhaps I can share a couple of brief thoughts with you about Tisha B’Av and the Churban. First, how can we be expected to mourn for the Bais Hamikdosh, which was destroyed thousands of years ago? This question is raised by Rav Refoel Shmulevitz, who explains that we are not specifically mourning the fact that the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed; rather, we are grieving over the fact that it still hasn’t been rebuilt!
Here is one more thought: There is a halacha that requires a person to remove all knives from the table—or to cover them—before bentching. This halacha was enacted after an incident in which a person reached the brocha of Bonei Yerushalayim in bentching and, upon being reminded of the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, seized a knife from the table and stabbed himself to death! At first glance, this halacha is somewhat puzzling; should every Jew be concerned that he might kill himself during bentching simply because of this one isolated incident? The answer, however, is that the purpose of the halacha isn’t to prevent others from mimicking that man’s suicidal actions; it is simply to remind us that there was once a person who felt such powerful grief over the Churban (Ki Karov, Rav M.Z. Greenglass).
Why Did Rav Shternbuch Live in the Shikun Rabbonim?
A recent issue of Divrei Siach, published by Rabbi Yitzchok Goldstoff, relates that the Chazon Ish would change out of his Shabbos clothes on Shabbos Chazon after Havdalah, rather than waiting until after melaveh malka. However, Rav Chaim Kanievsky attested that this was the Chazon Ish’s practice on every motzoei Shabbos. Rav Chaim, on the other hand, waited until after the melaveh malka (which took place shortly after Shabbos) to change out of his Shabbos clothes. Thus, the Chazon Ish’s example might not inform our own conduct.
Rabbi Yitzchok Yaakov Fuchs, in his halachic publication, writes on this subject, “My rebbi, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, taught us in Yeshivas Kol Torah that we should not rush to change out of our Shabbos attire, lest we create the impression that we are running away from Shabbos. Rav Shlomo Zalman also told me,” he adds, “that since the exact age of a child who is permitted to drink the Havdalah wine during the Nine Days isn’t clear, it was his practice to drink the wine himself.”
But let us return to the topic with which I began this column: the phenomenon of people who live with constant awareness of the Churban. This week, I read following: “Rav Tzvi Ephraim Weinberger related that Rav Moshe Sternbuch told him when he lived in the Shikun HaRabbonim that there was a specific reason he had chosen that neighborhood. At that time, the only route to the Old City was via the entrance to the city near the Shikun HaRabbonim. Rav Sternbuch felt that if he lived in that neighborhood, he would be one of the first to greet Moshiach when he arrived in Yerushalayim.
“His yearning for the geulah was also the impetus for his decision to settle in Har Nof. ‘Yerushalayim is filled with graves and burial sites,’ he said, ‘and Eliyohu Hanovi is a kohen. The only way for him to enter Yerushalayim is therefore to travel through Har Nof, which is built on solid rock and therefore cannot contain any kevorim.’ As a result, he felt that he would be able to greet Eliyohu Hanovi as soon as he arrived. Similarly, he purchased a kever for the rebbetzin on Har Hazeisim because the niftarim who are buried there will be the first to greet Moshiach.
“Rav Sternbuch once greeted one of the members of his kehillah and asked about his well-being, and the man replied, ‘We are waiting for Moshiach.’ Rav Sternbuch replied, ‘You think you are waiting for Moshiach? You are busy with your car!’”
You see, even in our generation, there are still people, such as the illustrious Rav Moshe Sternbuch, for whom the Churban and the geulah, and the prospect of the arrival of Eliyohu Hanovi and Moshiach, are constantly on their minds.
A Government Without a Majority
Today (Sunday) all of the regular entry permits to the Knesset building were suspended, due to the concern that agitators would enter the building and foment chaos. Knesset members were banned from inviting guests to the building. Protestors have been laying siege to the Knesset building since Friday, in a display of utter madness. The protestors are challenging the very legitimacy of the government; after all, they point out that if the Meretz party hadn’t been wiped out by the high electoral threshold, this would have a been a center-left government, and if Balad hadn’t failed to cross the threshold, the right-wing government would not have a majority. Therefore, they claim that the political right doesn’t truly have a majority among the people, and that they simply managed to achieve a majority in the Knesset due to the distribution of mandates. This leads them to the conclusion that the current government does not have the legitimacy to make sweeping changes. I heard this argument from several speakers during the long Knesset session Sunday, when the opposition claimed to be speaking on behalf of the majority of the people.
The rebuttal to this argument lies in the elections for the Thirteenth Knesset, which were held in June 1992. After 15 years in power, the Likud lost the election to the Labor party, which received 44 mandates while the Likud garnered only 32. Meretz received 12 mandates, Raful received eight, Shas and the NRP each got six mandates, UTJ earned four, Moledet and Kach received three, and the Arab party rounded out the Knesset with two mandates. The electoral threshold had been raised, and the Techiya party, which had received almost two mandates, was left out in the cold, as were the lists headed by Yitzchok Modai, Eliezer Mizrachi, and Rabbi Levinger. Once again, the political right had shot itself in the proverbial foot; Techiya was the party that had pushed for the electoral threshold to be raised, a move that caused the party to be eliminated from the Knesset. In addition, Raful’s Tzomet party won eight mandates, making it the dark horse in the election, after it ran on an anti-corruption platform. A few years later, Tzomet itself was revealed to be the most corrupt party in Israeli politics, with the possible exception of Yisroel Beiteinu.
The distribution of votes in that election was clearly heavily in favor of the right. The right-wing bloc received votes more than the left. Nevertheless, Yitzchok Rabin formed the resultant government, and the right wing did not even consider disputing its legitimacy. And one of that government’s contributions to Israeli history was the Oslo Accords, a development that was much more momentous and had much more far-reaching repercussions than the elimination of the reasonability clause.
A Stabbing in Gilo, Gunfire at Kever Yosef
There is so much to write about that I do not even know where to begin. First of all, this week marked the yahrtzeit of the Arizal. Large crowds of visitors flocked to his kever in Tzefas at the beginning of the week, for an event that is always deeply meaningful. And that reminds me about the large group of visitors who traveled to Kever Yosef in Shechem last Thursday night. About 1500 people traveled to the site, pleased to hear that the visit had been coordinated with the army and that they would be accompanied by soldiers. Even the chief of the police force came to daven (possibly in advance of stepping down from his position). Nevertheless, gunshots were fired at the reinforced buses, and the soldiers were forced to return fire. Boruch Hashem, there wasn’t a single Jewish casualty; one of the gunmen was killed.
Last week was also marred by a terror attack in the neighborhood of Gilo in Yerushalayim, which is a large neighborhood. A 25-year-old Jewish man named Ohr Sayer was stabbed in Gilo. He was transported to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in serious and unstable condition. After his injuries were assessed by the doctors, he was sent directly into surgery. After the surgery, the hospital reported that the patient was still in serious condition and was sedated and intubated in the intensive care unit. The police and Shabak launched a manhunt for the perpetrators, accompanied by a helicopter, and ultimately captured three suspects, all of them residents of Beis Lechem between the ages of 17 and 19.
As part of the campaign of incitement against everything holy, following the acts of vandalism at shuls in Beer Sheva and Raanana, there was another deplorable incident, when a tefillin stand in Nes Tziona was attacked by a man throwing eggs. Rachamim David, the head of the religious council in the city, announced that the council would purchase and set up another three tefillin stands in various locations throughout the city. “Nes Tziona was and will remain a united city, and any attempt to cause division and incitement will not succeed,” he announced. I find that to be a commendable response.
There is much more to be discussed—the anti-government protests, the debate within the government about whether to give in to the protestors, Netanyahu’s pacemaker, the pilots’ protest, the reasonability law, and the right-wing protest on Sunday night—those things are dealt with in a separate article. Incidentally, Netanyahu has been invited to pay an official visit to Turkey. Due to his pacemaker implantation, I am not certain if he will make the trip.
Remembering Rav Ovadiah
For the religious community, the defining feature of this week is the fast of Tisha B’Av. On the Israeli street, however, it will be remembered as the week of the vote over the reasonability law. For the media, public figures, and the Knesset, that is the most significant story of the week. This week, the Knesset is scheduled to begin its summer recess, which will continue until Sukkos. But there is one more bill that the Knesset is scheduled to handle before it takes a break for the summer.
In my view, it is very symbolic that the 25th Knesset will be concluding its term by approving a law calling for a commemoration of Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s life. The Knesset Education Committee, headed by Yosef Taib, who is also the author of this bill, worked rapidly on Sunday to conclude its discussions and to prepare the bill for its first reading.
The Knesset’s summer session this season was rife with controversy and bad feelings. We witnessed waves of ugly incitement against the chareidi community, against the right wing, and against the periphery of the country. There were times when I found myself stunned and deeply pained by the displays of unbridled hatred. The religious parties made a concerted effort to stem the tide of hatred, to fight back against slander when it seemed appropriate and to remain silent and restrained when that seemed to be the correct reaction. This week, it was reported that the funding promised to kollel yungeleit in the coalition agreements will finally be released, after the government came under pressure from the chareidi parties. Of course, the enemies of the chareidi parties were quick to point out with undisguised animosity that this sum of 100 million shekels would be allocated not to the elderly, the poor, or the sick, but rather to the kollel yungeleit, as if to imply that the funding was somehow coming at the expense of more deserving populations. Well, why didn’t they say the same thing about the 53 billion shekels earmarked for Mahmoud Abbas’s pet causes by the previous government? Wasn’t that government deserving of the same criticism?
That is why I find it so appropriate that this Knesset is ending its term with a dvar mitzvah, a new bill whose aim is to spread kedushah and Jewish knowledge: a law that would require ongoing commemoration of the life of Rav Ovadiah Yosef. I attended the fascinating discussion of the bill last week, which focused primarily on the formation of a public committee to implement the law. That committee is the subject of a significant portion of the bill, but my excitement was sparked by some of its later clauses, including the following: “On this day [Rav Ovadiah’s yahrtzeit] schools will dedicate time to learning about his actions and his vision.” I began imagining children in schools throughout Israel reciting Shema Yisroel, and I remembered how Rav Ovadiah would weep with sorrow that Jewish children in Israel were not even familiar with the posuk. The bill also calls for the Knesset to hold an annual discussion in his memory, but I found that part of the law less interesting. And I have a feeling that Rav Ovadiah would share my sentiment.
More on Media Hypocrisy
In a recent column, I presented a couple of examples of the widespread hypocrisy displayed by the Israeli left. This week, I encountered another example: Channel 12 recently reported on another episode of protestors blocking highways (which is an outrage in its own right) and added that a number of civilians were trying to move the roadblocks to allow the traffic to continue flowing. Some of them could even be heard shouting that there was a person who was sick and needed to get to the hospital. When the footage of demonstrators blocking the highway appeared on the screen, it was accompanied by a caption that read, “Protestors on Route 4 have blocked a portion of the road near the center of the country.” When the civilians were shown attempting to restore the traffic, there was a dramatic change in tone in the caption: “Other citizens took the law into their own hands and decided to open the roadblock on their own.” This is more than just biased reporting and an effort to alter the public perception; it is one of the greatest shows of hypocrisy I have ever seen. The protestors were merely “blocking a portion of the road,” which sounds like a fairly trivial act, while the citizens aggrieved by their actions are accused of “taking the law into their own hands.” What an imbalanced take on the situation!
On a similar note, when Shlomo Karai spoke in the Knesset, Yair Lapid shouted at him, “You don’t have a single drop of the blood of a good Jew left inside you. You are nothing but venom. You are a block of pure venom within the Jewish people.” I couldn’t help but remember how Yair Lapid once wrote an article that was filled with vitriol and disdain about Chananel Dayan, the soldier who refused to shake the hand of IDF Chief of Staff Dan Chalutz on Independence Day many years ago, since Chalutz had signed the order for the Disengagement to be carried out. I also remembered how Lapid had viciously insulted Netanyahu during a speech at the Knesset podium, even going so far as to paint a verbal picture of Netanyahu being thrust into a dank prison cell. And I remembered many more of his speeches, all of which were the very embodiment of pure wickedness. Once again, the pot was calling the kettle black!
Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro once told us, “When a bochur leaves the yeshiva for bein hazemanim, he shouldn’t view himself as going away on vacation; rather, it is a trip for the purpose of preparing himself to begin learning again in the following zman…. During bein hazemanim, when we go out into the streets and the great wilderness of the world, we must be especially cautious.” He often quoted the great mashgiach Rav Elya Lopian, who quoted the posuk that states, “The entire congregation of Bnei Yisroel came out from before Moshe.” Rav Elya pointed out that it seems superfluous for the posuk to state that they emerged “from before Moshe,” since it is clear from the Torah’s account that they had been standing in Moshe’s presence. Rav Elya explained that the Torah teaches us here that the people bore visible indications that they had been in Moshe Rabbeinu’s presence. “In a similar fashion,” Rav Moshe Shmuel exhorted his talmidim, “bnei yeshiva must bear visible signs that they have come from a yeshiva!”
No Tolerance for Chillul Shabbos at Recreation Venues
Bein hazemanim, especially in the summer, comes with its fair share of pleasure trips and outings, which raises the question about patronizing Jewish-owned establishments that are open on Shabbos. It is a major issue in this country.
A certain tzaddik with whom I am acquainted, a man for whom kavod Shomayim is the top priority in his life, asked me to bring his musings to the public’s attention. He finds it disappointing that the entire chareidi community rallied to participate in the boycott of Angel’s Bakery, while some members of the community ignore the chillul Shabbos at recreational facilities. “Let me give you a moshol,” he wrote. “There was a king who had a loyal and beloved officer in his cabinet, and both the king and the officer were targeted by the king’s enemies for derision. One day, when the king’s enemies showed terrible contempt to this officer, the king’s supporters decided to engage in a vociferous protest against them; after all, an affront to the officer was tantamount to an affront to the king himself. Naturally, the king was very pleased by the fact that they were defending his honor. However, a short time later, the same supporters of the king decided to enjoy a vacation on the property of one of the king’s enemies. The king was bewildered and troubled by their actions. If they saw fit to speak up for the honor of his officer, why weren’t they coming to the defense of his honor as well?
“The nimshal is as follows,” he continued. “In recent months, we have all effected a great kiddush Hashem by refraining from purchasing the products of Angel’s Bakery. Many people gave up the products that they regularly enjoy, for the sake of defending the honor of the rosh yeshiva, Rav Gershon Edelstein. But in light of that, we should certainly refrain from patronizing places of leisure or vacation sites that are open on Shabbos, Rachmana litzlan, or that host prohibited activities. Any person who avoids these places and does not patronize them will certainly fulfill the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem. Let us remember that Rabbeinu Yonah writes in Shaarei Teshuvah, ‘A person must focus his thoughts at all times on honoring Hashem and sanctifying His Name in all of his words…. He will thus attain, through the thoughts of his heart and the words of his lips, extraordinary merits that reach the Heavens, for this is one of the main purposes of man’s creation.’”
Kashrus Forgers Ask for a Day in Court
I recently wrote about the lack of enforcement of the laws against forging kashrus certifications and the lackadaisical attitude demonstrated by the authorities to this issue. However, the problem is even greater than I described. According to the law, a person who receives a fine from a kashrus inspector is permitted to ask for the case to be heard by a court. In that case, the fine will be canceled until guilt is affirmed by a judge, and due to the backlog of cases facing the courts, these situations will never actually be referred to a judge. The counterfeiters have discovered that this is an easy way to keep their schemes going: These scoundrels simply forge hechsherim or sell treif meat in an establishment that is billed as kosher, and then, when they are caught and fined, they ask for the case to be brought to court. They are fully aware of the fact that they will never actually be judged, the statute of limitations will pass, and they will never have to face the legal consequences for their crimes.
Here is an excerpt of a report from the state comptroller: “In December 2006, the director of the kashrus unit informed the deputy state prosecutor for criminal matters that due to the workload and the order of priorities of the prosecution in Yerushalayim, a limited number of indictments were served for crimes of kashrus fraud, and no indictments at all were served in cases submitted to prosecutors outside Yerushalayim…. In response to his request in March 2007, a meeting was held with the state prosecutor, and it was decided that any cases of kashrus fraud will be handled by private lawyers supervised by the prosecution.”
This idea may have had merits, but it has clearly failed to achieve its desired effect. The comptroller reports, “Out of the 638 recipients of fines who asked to be tried in court, only five were actually brought to court, and 168 fines were canceled due to the passage of the statute of limitations. After the passage of a year and a half after this decision was made, and until the conclusion of this review, there has been no progress in transferring cases of kashrus fraud to external lawyers for the purpose of filing indictments. In the absence of any such indictments, there is a clear path for criminals to avoid being brought to justice for their deeds.”
This paints a bleak picture of a situation that is still dismal today.
A Grandfather’s Legacy
My grandfather, Rav Binyomin Zev Yaakovson, passed away half a century ago, on 22 Sivan 5733/1973, and was never properly eulogized. At the end of his life, he served as the rov of the Pagi neighborhood and was a close friend of the famed veteran residents of that neighborhood, including prominent askonim and gedolei Yisroel. He was one of the leading figures in the Agudas Yisroel movement, the right-hand man of Moreinu Yaakov Rosenheim, the secretary of Keren HaTorah, and a senior member of the Vaad Hatzolah. These activities were the source of his close ties with numerous gedolei Yisroel, including the roshei yeshivos of that generation; in the context of his work for the klal, he often visited their homes and arranged for them to receive the funds their institutions required.
One member of the family once came to Yeshivas Mir and asked Rav Nochum Partzovitz to test him for admission to the yeshiva. Rav Nochum accepted him without an entrance exam. “When I learned in Kaminetz,” he explained, “your grandfather, Rav Yaakovson once came to visit the yeshiva. He entered the bais medrash, and I watched as this regal visitor walked over to Rav Boruch Ber and prostrated himself on the floor before him. The bochurim were astounded; it was a deeply moving display of kavod haTorah. That image remains forever etched into our memories.”
My grandfather related to the gedolei Yisroel with profound respect and absolute self-effacement. He eventually found his way to Copenhagen, where he became rov of the Machzikei Hadas community. Before the war reached Denmark, he traveled along with his community to Sweden, where they were spared from the Nazi invasion and where he went on to open the Lidingo school along with Rav Shlomo Wolbe, taking in 83 girls who had survived the concentration camps. The surviving girls who did not come to Lidingo, of whom there were hundreds, were generally lost to Klal Yisroel; this school helped ensure the spiritual futures of its students. My grandfather eventually led his students to Eretz Yisroel and helped them marry bnei Torah, taking the place of the parents of every one of those orphaned kallos.
I have often wondered if I should write about him. Who is familiar with my grandfather’s accomplishments today? Who still remembers him, and who would find these stories believable?
But then I read about the recently deceased Morah Direnfeld, whom I considered like an aunt. My mother was one of the girls in Lidingo, and every one of her classmates was presented to us as a cherished “doda.”
In a tribute to Morah Direnfeld in the Hebrew Yated Neeman, the following passage appeared: “She survived the war but was reduced to nothing but skin and bones. In Hashem’s great kindness, she found her way to Sweden under the framework of an international agreement. While she was hospitalized, Rav Binyomin Zev Yaakovson miraculously found her, and she became one of the first students in the Lidingo seminary in Sweden, where the girls were physically and emotionally rehabilitated and essentially brought back to life. Credit must also be given to the great mashgiach Rav Shlomo Wolbe and his wife [whom I knew as ‘Doda Rivka’] whose magnificent images left a powerful impression on her and restored her joy and desire for life and Yiddishkeit. She always related that Hashem had sent her a group of wonderful friends in Lidingo who accompanied her through the rest of her life as if they were her actual sisters.”
Morah Direnfeld, who may have been the last surviving student of Lidingo, built a beautiful family as a member of the Belzer chassidus and taught thousands of girls. And my grandfather was instrumental in setting her on that path.
Perhaps I should have written about him, after all.
The Mayor’s Regret
Rabbi Yisroel Tauman is an accomplished educator with a long record of successes to his credit. In his popular course on education (“Chanoch—Chinuch with Results”) he mentioned the practice of corporal punishment, which was once practiced even in revered institutions such as Talmud Torah Eitz Chaim, but that the gedolei Yisroel today agree unanimously is not an acceptable method of chinuch.
In the course of this discussion, he told a story concerning Tzvi Tzilker, the famous mayor of Ashdod who passed away two years ago. Tzilker served as the mayor of Ashdod for many years and was often hostile to the religious community and its values. He once visited a Talmud Torah together with Rav Dov Tzvi Karelenstein, one of the leaders and architects of the chareidi community in the city. Tzilker was a tough mayor, and Rav Karelenstein used to fearlessly protest against his actions, yet the mayor related to the illustrious rov with respect. During his visit, Tzilker was impressed with the style of chinuch in the school and commented to Rav Karelenstein, “If this had been the style of chinuch in Eitz Chaim, perhaps I would have been a ben Torah today.”
Rabbi Tauman added that he discovered that Tzilker was a classmate of Rav Tauman in Eitz Chaim, the famed cheder in Yerushalayim.
Rabbi Tauman also revealed that Tzilker began returning to Yiddishkeit during his final years. On a related note, Rav Karelenstein’s grandson, Rav Aryeh Karelenstein, informed me that Tzilker even attended a daf yomi shiur delivered by Rav Moshe Elmaliach during those years. He added that Tzilker once related that his grandfather, Rav Dov Tzvi, was “the only person I knew who could not be bought with money.”
One of the yungeleit who was attending the shiur nodded knowingly as Rabbi Tauman spoke. The instructor noticed his reaction and sensed that there was some meaning behind it, and he asked the yungerman to explain himself. “Tzvi Tzilker was my grandfather,” he replied.
Rav Aryeh Karelenstein informed me that during his grandfather’s final illness, this grandson of the mayor, who is a distinguished yungerman in Ramot, asked for permission to visit the ailing Rav Karelenstein. “I want to meet the man whom my grandfather described as a tzaddik who is guided only by absolute truth,” he said.
Kiruv on the Night of Tisha B’Av
I will conclude this column with a story about Rav Uri Zohar that relates to Tisha B’Av, which I heard from Reb Betzalel, who serves as a jack of all trades for Lev L’Achim. Reb Betzalel is involved in every aspect of the organization’s work: signing up children for religious schools, smoothing out shalom bayis difficulties, helping bochurim secure admission to yeshivos, preventing bochurim from leaving yeshivos, kashering kitchens, and taking care of anything else that needs to be done. He recently told me a fascinating story about a unique “siyum” that Rav Uri attended—a siyum on 100 meters of electrical wire.
“You know that Rav Uri always used to tell us that we should advise families to take on one small aspect of religious observance,” he explained. “This was a piece of advice that he had personally received from Rav Yitzchok Shlomo Zilberman. He always used to ask his audiences, ‘Do you know what I committed to do?’ Sometimes they would guess that he had committed to wearing a yarmulke, but he told them that he hadn’t been willing to do so under any circumstance. Others would speculate that he had committed to wear tefillin, and he would reply, ‘Tefillin every day? Who could do such a thing?’ Then he would reveal what he had actually chosen: lighting Shabbos candles.
“Rav Uri used to advise families to install Shabbos timers in their homes. This would be a small step: Instead of turning on electric lights on Shabbos, they could simply install timers. We had an entire team of volunteers who would visit private homes on erev Shabbos and ask people to allow them to install Shabbos clocks. We made our rounds in Beit Shemesh, Maaleh Adumim, Givat Zeev and Yerushalayim. We went from community to community and from home to home. Now, every timer needed some electrical wire, and I bought a huge role of a hundred meters of wire, which I expected to last for years. However, the demand was very high, boruch Hashem, and we ran out of wire very quickly. That entire roll of one hundred meters of wire had gone into the timers that we installed in the homes of Jews making their way back to Yiddishkeit. In honor of this achievement, we held a siyum, and Rav Uri was deeply moved and delivered a special drosha.”
This was merely an introduction to the main story. Reb Betzalel continued, “Tisha B’Av is the first day of bein hazemanim, which we find to be a very difficult time of year. On the one hand, it is a time when we have an enormous workload. With only three weeks left until Elul and with the school year about to begin, there are always children whom we have recruited for religious schools but who haven’t yet finalized their decisions, and we always receive requests for help from families who wish to send their children to religious schools, or those who are debating whether to remove their children from those institutions. On the other hand, it is also a vacation time, and some of our regular recruiters are not available, and rabbonim and askanim are also on vacation. One year, when I told Rav Uri that I was afraid that we wouldn’t be able to keep up with our workload, he replied, ‘I am at your disposal.’ That was his nature. He was always available and willing to help us with anything that was needed.
“I thanked him for his willingness to help and said, ‘Then we’ll meet immediately after Tisha B’Av.’
“‘Why should we wait?’ he replied. ‘Let’s go begin making our rounds on the night of Tisha B’Av.’ I pointed out that it was a fast day and a time of aveilus, but Rav Uri dismissed that concern. ‘Kiruv is a mitzvah that is not only permissible on Tisha B’Av but actually obligatory,’ he insisted.
“At first, I was sure that he was joking, but it turned out that he was completely serious. After Kinnos, we drove to the home of a family who lived in the secular area of Kiryat Moshe. I will never forget the sight. Rav Uri knocked on the door, and they were astounded to see him. Rav Uri Zohar was standing on their doorstep in his slippers, with me and another volunteer behind him. People were always surprised to see him, but on Tisha B’Av it was even more shocking. Of course, they ushered him respectfully into their home and offered him a seat, but Rav Uri insisted on sitting on the floor, and they sat down beside him. He began speaking to them about religious schools and insisting that they would be very happy if their children were educated there. Ever since that night, we began visiting different areas every year on the night of Tisha B’Av.”
“What happened to the boy from Kiryat Moshe?” I asked.
Betzalel laughed. “He is a kollel yungerman today. He also knows a lot about electricity, and when the Shabbos timer team needs an additional hand, he is always ready to volunteer.”