Inside The Chassidish
And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
A prayer mission was organized to travel to Europe and pray at the eternal resting places of tzaddikim for the health of Rabbi Mordechai Hager, Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Monsey. Though the Vizhnitzer Rebbe has returned to his routine of tefillos, tisch, and learning, he is weak and is assisted in all of his activities. His intellect is as keen as ever. Eyesight failing, he leads part of every Shabbos davening from memory. As in the past, he continues to receive all who petition him for blessings, consultations, and help. The prayer mission was led by three of the eight sons of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe: Rabbi Menachem Mendel, Kiamesha Lake Vizhnitzer Rav; Rabbi Dovid, London Vizhnitzer Rav; and Rabbi Eliezer, Yerushalayim Vizhnitzer Rav.
Together with scores of chassidim, they left New York on Sunday, October 26, and arrived in Poland on Monday. From the airport, the group proceeded to Cracow, where they davened Minchah in the famed shul of the Rema, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, zt’l (1520–1572), author of the Ashkenazic additions to the Shulchan Aruch. Although the shul has been rebuilt many times through the years, the doors of the aron ha’kodesh are the originals carved in 1558. A ner tamid inscribed (in Hebrew) “An eternal flame for the soul of Rema, of blessed memory” is on the left side of the aron, while at its right is the place where Rabbi Moshe Isserles davened. That seat at the eastern wall is reserved in his honor.
From there, the group came to the cemetery of Cracow, where many gedolim are interred. Heartfelt prayers were said there. The next stop was the ohel (mausoleum) in the city of Sanz where Rabbi Chaim Halberstam, zt’l (1789–1876), revered author of Divrei Chaim, rests. Maariv was at the hachnasas orchim (hospitality) facility in Sanz. Buses then transported the group to Rimanov, to pray at the gravesites of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Rimanov, zt’l (1745–1815) and of Rabbi Tzvi Hersh of Rimanov, zt’l (1778–1846). Supper was in the hachnasas orchim facility in Dinov, where they lodged for that night and held Shacharis the following morning.
Stepping out of the hachnasas orchim quarters, earnest prayers were recited in the ohel of Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Shapiro, zt’l (1783–1841), Rav of Munkacs and Dinov and author of Bnei Yissoschor. Back on the coach bus, the group arrived in Lanzut, where they stood alongside the burial place of Rabbi Naftali Zvi Horowitz, zt’l (1784–1836), Ropshitzer Rebbe and author of Zera Kodesh. Hearts poured out emotions and tears streamed down faces as the group recited Tehillim.
The bus stopped next in Lizjensk, the burial place of the “Rebbe Reb Elimelech” Weissblum, zt’l (1717–1787), Lizjensker Rebbe and beloved author of Noam Elimelech. En route, the Vizhnitz Kiamesha Lake Rav spoke inspirationally. In response, when the group alighted at the kever of the Noam Elimelech, deep emotions were exposed; for more than three hours, no one stepped away, as the entire Sefer Tehillim was recited.
After Minchah, the group crossed the border into Ukraine and lodged in the hachnasas orchim building in Belz. After Shacharis on Wednesday morning, everyone went straight to the burial places of the Belzer Rebbes of old: Rabbi Shalom Rokeach, zt’l (1779–1855), first Belzer Rebbe, known as the Sar Shalom; Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach, zt’l (1825–1894), second Belzer Rebbe; and Rabbi Yissochor Dov Rokeach, zt’l (1854–1926), third Belzer Rebbe.
The group’s itinerary next brought them to Zidichov, where Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Eichenstein, zt’l (1763–1831), Zidichover Rebbe and author of Ateres Zvi, and Rabbi Yitzchok Isaac Eichenstein, zt’l (1805–1873), Zidichover Rebbe and author of Lekutei Maharya, are buried. From there, the next destination was Nadvorna, to beseech Heaven at the graves of tzaddikim laid to rest there.
Kosov, the burial place of ancestors of the Hager family, was reached Wednesday evening. An ocean of tears flowed at the ohel of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager, zt’l (d. 1825), Kosover Rebbe and author of Ahavas Shalom, and his son, Rabbi Chaim Hager, zt’l (1755–1854), Kosover Rebbe and author of Toras Chaim. That night was spent in a hotel in Kitov where a prearranged kosher supper was served.
Thursday morning’s Shacharis took place in Kitov, after a visit to the grave of Rabbi Moshe of Kitov, zt’l (d. 1738). From there, the bus stopped next at Vizhnitz. Intense prayers brimmed over at the grave of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager, zt’l (1830–1884), Vizhnitzer Rebbe and author of Tzemach Tzaddik. Many cried out loud. That day, 29 Tishrei, was the 130th yahrzeit of the Tzemach Tzaddik. Uppermost in everyone’s mind was the health of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe back in Monsey, 92 years old, kein yirbu.
All present then assembled in the home of the Tzemach Tzaddik. Up until just a few years ago, the building was being used as a factory. The building was purchased by a group of Vizhnitzer chassidim and renovated. The purchasing group was led by Avrohom Mendel Adler, organizer of the trip. The renovations returned the building to its original design, as it was during the lifetime and residence of the Tzemach Tzaddik.
A l’chayim tisch was held in the room used by the Tzemach Tzaddik as his seforim shtibble (study), where he received petitioners and their kvitlech. Old Vizhnitzer melodies were sung, imbued with intense prayer for the current Rebbe’s health. Later that day, Thursday, the group prayed at the grave of Rabbi Dovid Hager, zt’l (1797–1848), Zabeltover Rebbe and author of Tzemach Dovid. Then onto Sadugeura, where prayers were conducted in the beis midrash of Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, zt’l (1796–1850), Rizhener Rebbe, as well as at his graveside.
The evening was spent in Mezubesh. Shacharis that Friday morning, Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, was led by the Yerushalayim Vizhnitzer Rav. After the seudas rosh chodesh, before noon, the group alighted at the kever of Rabbi Yisroel Ba’al Shem Tov, zt’l (1698–1760), founder of the Chassidic movement. Following a lengthy prayer session, preparations were made for Shabbos.
As Shabbos approached, a large crowd gathered in the beis midrash of the Ba’al Shem Tov. Many additional chassidim joined the group on Friday, coming mostly from Israel and Europe. Minchah was led by Berl Gross of Monsey, and the Yerushalayim Vizhnitzer Rav conducted Kabbalas Shabbos. “Lecha Dodi” was sung with its special yom tov niggun, and after davening, singing and dancing predominated. The Shabbos seudos were served in the Mezubesh hachnasas orchim building, with the active participation of the sons of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe. After a two-hour Torah learning session, the tisch (called “Botte” by Vizhnitzer chassidim) was led by the Kiamesha Lake Vizhnitzer Rav, followed by heightened singing and dancing.
Shabbos Shacharis was held in the hachnasas orchim facility, tefillos shared by the sons and grandsons of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe. After Maariv, the group went to Berditchev, to the kever of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Dravrimdiker, zt’l (1740–1810), revered Berditchever Rebbe, author of Kedushas Levi and of the well-known motzaei Shabbos tefillah “G-t fun Avrohom.” There, together, with tremendous emotion, they sang that tefillah.
Thus the prayer mission for the healing of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe was concluded.
Congresswoman Meng Helps Preserve Jewish Cemeteries
The Vizhnitzer group trip underscores the value of cemeteries around the world wherein our ancestors and great rabbis repose. Many cemeteries have been lost to history by deliberate destruction as well as by local communities expanding and obliterating cemeteries, especially Jewish ones. The intentional devastation by Arab vandals in Jerusalem that is taking place right now on Har HaZeisim (Mount of Olives) is but one example of many.
In addition to much work by chassidishe groups around the world rebuilding and resurrecting graves of chassidish rebbes, the accomplishments of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, established by Congress in 1985, must be noted. Lesley Weiss of Washington, DC was appointed to the commission by the president in April 2011 and was designated to chair the commission in January 2013.
Legislation sponsored by Congresswoman Grace Meng of Queens to make the desecration of cemeteries, including Jewish cemeteries around the world, a violation of religious freedom was passed in May 2014. The Protect Cemeteries Act (H.R. 4028) was introduced by Congresswoman Meng to amend the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, to include the vandalization of cemeteries as one of many infringements of the right to freedom of religion.
The legislation, which was suggested by some of Meng’s constituents in the Jewish community in Queens, would have a significant impact on Jews in the U.S. and around the world since many have ancestors buried in their families’ homelands. In many cases, there are few or no relatives left in those distant communities to protect and preserve the graves. Laws to protect the graveyards there are important.
Congresswoman Meng introduced the Protect Cemeteries Act and it was approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, of which she is a member. Congresswoman Meng said that this legislation would be a new and important tool in our fight against the desecration of cemeteries because it would “combat religiously motivated vandalism of cemeteries and also prevent developers from building over cemeteries, a new and emerging threat in places where there are no Jewish communities left to protect burial grounds.”
The legislation was enacted when the president signed it on August 8, 2014. Considering that only about 23% of bills that made it past committee in 2011–2013 were enacted, Congresswoman Meng must be applauded for her perseverance and accomplishment on our behalf.
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.