In 1960, the Skulener Rebbe, zt’l, Reb Eliezer Zusya Portugal, and his son, the Rebbe, shlita, Reb Yisroel Avraham, were released from a Communist Romanian prison where they had been held for almost a year. Intense public pressure from the leading gedolim of that era, including the Lubavitcher, Kapishnitzer, Sadigerer, and Boyaner Rebbes, coupled with diplomatic intervention from United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, had allowed them to immigrate to the United States.
Although they had been locked away from the eyes of world Jewry for decades, the Rebbes’ holiness and efforts on behalf of Romanian wartime orphans were well known. Their arrival was met with jubilance and reverential devotion among Jews from all walks of life.
Almost immediately after they settled in Crown Heights, they formed a network of orphanages in Eretz Yisrael to provide material and spiritual sustenance to hundreds of orphaned children and children who came from homes where the parents were either unfit or unable to care for them. Their goal was to help these children grow up, marry, and raise Torah-true generations. The organization was Chesed L’Avraham.
To this day, the Skulener Rebbe, shlita, guides Chesed L’Avraham. Orphanages in Bnei Brak, Miron, and Kadimah are staffed by teachers, house parents, and a full roster of educational professionals. The children receive a charedi chinuch in a loving and nurturing environment. Wherever possible, the birth parents are invited to participate in the child’s upbringing, even if only in a limited way. And every child’s simcha becomes a Chesed L’Avraham family occasion, as milestones like bar mitzvahs and weddings are arranged and sponsored by the organization.
After-school programs in Chadera, Kiryat Ata, Nahariya, Ashkelon, and Ashdod give public-school children the opportunity to thrive in a wholesome Torah atmosphere. Summer camps, national outreach and alumni programs, Shabbatonim, separate educational programming for married men and women, and a vocational training center help young people develop the social and other skills necessary to lead productive lives.
On Monday, January 13, at 8:00 p.m., Alex and Susan Edelman will host a reception for the benefit of Chesed L’Avraham in their home (49 Lawrence Avenue), with the personal participation of the Skulener Rebbe, shlita. This is a rare opportunity for the Five Towns community to meet the Rebbe personally and receive his blessing while helping to support his life’s work. Rabbi Yechiel Kaufman, rav of Congregation Anshei Sfard, will be the keynote speaker, and Aron Wolfson is chairman of the event.
Rabbi Shlomo Rainer, director of Chesed L’Avraham in Eretz Yisrael, relates the following story, illustrating the impact of the organization:
Kadima, a quiet city between Tel Aviv and Natanya, is the location of a Chesed L’Avraham home. It is surrounded by the greenery of a forest that serves as the center for recreational programs and quiet retreats for neighborhood families.
When Chaim came to Kadima, he was a curly-haired eight-year-old with dark, sad eyes. He had grown up in a Torah-observant but impoverished home with no mother and an angry, unable to cope, father. He was never happy. He hit his classmates and raged bitterly when admonished. Chaim’s father and teachers couldn’t control his frequent tantrums.
His father asked Chesed L’Avraham in Kadima to take the boy because he couldn’t handle him anymore. Chaim did not want to go and he cried as he rode the bus to the quiet and peaceful town. The menahel, the eim habayis, and two staff members were waiting to welcome him as he burst through the door, threw himself on the floor and began screaming and sobbing, “No, no. I want to be home with my family. Please, please take me back home.”
Over the next several months, Chaim slept only on the floor. He refused to eat more than a few bites of food. He would not play with the other children. He watched, stone-faced, as the other boys played ball and ran around. At one low point, Chaim found a pair of scissors and cut up all his newly bought clothing.
The breakthrough was not dramatic or sudden. Teachers, guidance counselors, dorm supervisors, and mentors refused to give up. One morning, without fanfare, Chaim ate breakfast with the other boys and asked for doubles. Not long after, he took a walk in the forest nearby with the eim habayis. He laughed out loud with the other boys when the rebbi made a joke.
Chaim began sleeping in his own bed. He played with the other children, went to the park for ball games, enjoyed the night activities planned to fill the long winter nights, and was visibly happier.
Four years have passed. Chaim continued to progress and today is a self-possessed budding yeshiva boy, who recently graduated from Chesed L’Avraham’s elementary school and will be attending a “regular” yeshiva in the coming zman.
At his graduation, all the good people who had put so much into “Chaim’ke” were teary-eyed as he walked up to the podium to receive his diploma. They saw a boy standing tall, smiling proudly. Chaim’s father stood next to him and told the audience, “You, all of you here at Chesed L’Avraham, have made techiyas hameisim for my son! For that I can never thank you enough.” v