By Shlomo Aron
The name Lizensk creates overwhelming feelings that flood the hearts and minds of every Jew from generation to generation. Traveling to Lizensk to daven for yeshuos at the holy resting place of the Rebbe Reb Elimelech, zt’l, is not a new trend. The holy Tiferes Shlomo of Radosmk, zt’l, was the first to organize trips to Lizensk. The Tiferes Shlomo was a Kohen and was not able to enter the cemetery, so he built a special room where he was able to daven near the holy tzaddik’s tziyun. The Tiferes Shlomo said that on the day of the Rebbe Reb Elimelech’s yahrtzeit, “He is standing and extending both hands, blessing every Jew who comes there to be mispallel.”
During World War II, while the Nazis were destroying villages across Poland, they came to Lizensk. After flattening the city, they turned to the old Jewish cemetery. There they found a number of Jews davening at Reb Elimelech’s tziyun quietly begging Hashem for mercy. The soldiers demolished the ohel which had been built over the gravesite and then in pure anger forced those Jews to open the grave itself, believing the Jews hid treasures inside. Suddenly they froze when they saw the tzaddik, after 150 years, with his beard still wet from the mikveh as if he was just niftar. They ran in sheer fright and left the grave open. These Jews who were forced to open the grave were now able to cover the tzaddik with the utmost respect and honor.
After the war, the cemeteries and kivrei tzaddikim in Poland were left in ruins. One visionary, R’ Mendel Reichberg, zt’l, couldn’t help but recall his past. “I lived through six years of the war, and then, like most survivors, I ran as far from that part of the world as I could. We left Jewish Poland all alone, this country which had been full of Jews for so many years. We also left that which was most precious to us, the holy mekomos hakedoshim.”
Almost 35 years later, R’ Mendel launched his first trip back to Poland for the yahrtzeit of the Rebbe R’ Elimelech of Lizensk. “We were a small group of only eight people. We didn’t even have a single minyan!” It wasn’t easy, he explains. “Our method of transportation was two old cars with our luggage strapped to the roof. We worried that we would be stopped because anti-Semitism was very strong in Poland, and everywhere we went people stared at us suspiciously and shouted epithets at us. They were worried that Jews were returning to Poland. We were constantly followed by agents of the Communist government, as if we were a group of common criminals. Still, we completed our trip successfully, having no idea at the time that we were paving the way for hundreds of thousands of others who have since made the trip. The weeping that I witnessed in the ohel that first time is something that I will never forget.”
For 40 years, R’ Mendel traveled to Poland with groups, using his profits to rebuild the cemeteries and kivrei tzaddikim around Poland. He rebuilt Lizensk Riminov, Lancut, Dombrov, Rzeszow, Robshitz, Shieniawa, Dinov, Lublin, along with many others, and his final masterpiece was the ohel and fence in Koznitz.
R’ Mendel fought an uphill battle in Poland, never accepting “no” for an answer. He struggled in Polish courts to gain permission to rebuild these holy sites. He feared these sacred cemeteries would be transformed into Polish towns or farms and be lost forever. Many rebbes, rabbanim, and gedolim have commented on R’ Mendel’s remarkable work and the hakaras hatov these tzaddikim must have for him.
Before he passed away, R’ Mendel said, “I merited in helping the Jews of today rebuild that connection to der alter heim. Today, the mekomos hakedoshim have become an integral part of our lives. I am busy all year long rescuing kivrei tzaddikim, with my own money. My mind is always there, worrying about what needs to be rebuilt and repaired, both for the tzaddikim who are buried there and for the Jews who come there to daven.”
R’ Mendel’s grandson recalls, “My grandfather’s righteous deeds taught me the great heights human beings can achieve. He searched on his own, with his bare hands and his eyes, and his efforts bore fruit. He unearthed mekomos hakedoshim that had been lying unattended for many years. These righteous deeds taught me the meaning of faith and trust in Hashem, the meaning of tzedakah and gemilus chassadim, the true meaning of love and sacrifice for others.”
Today, R’ Mendel’s children continue the legacy that their father started over 40 years ago with the largest organized trips to Lizensk on 21 of Adar. Many people recount that extra special feeling they experienced when traveling with the Reichbergs, the special siyata dishmaya that Hashem sent them. They felt a part of the renewal, a part of rebuilding history for many generations to come.
You can join the Reichbergs this year to Lizensk by calling 718-436-1002 and you too can receive this special siyata dishmaya that Hashem sends when traveling with Reichberg Tours. v