The Five Towns community is abuzz with preparations for Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich’s visit this coming Shabbos. The former Prisoner of Zion has a packed schedule with speaking engagements at three shuls and as the guest at a private reception. He also will be featured at a motzaei Shabbos book-signing event.
Rabbi Mendelevich will join Kabbalas Shabbos davening at the Stahler residence, erev Shabbos, starting at 7:40 p.m. at 17 Beechwood Drive in Sutton Park. Men and women are invited. Shabbos morning, Rabbi Mendelevich will daven with the Shaaray Tefila congregation at 25 Central Avenue and will deliver the main derashah at 11 a.m. Shabbos afternoon, Rabbi Mendelevich will be at Congregation Beth Sholom at 390 Broadway and will be the guest speaker at seudah shlishis at 7:30 p.m.
The community will have an opportunity to personally meet the famed Prisoner of Zion motzaei Shabbos at Central Perk Café, 105 Cedarhurst Avenue, where Rabbi Mendelevich will autograph copies of his recently published Unbroken Spirit: A Heroic Story of Faith, Courage, and Survival (Gefen Publishing), the newly released English translation of his memoir in which the internationally renowned former Prisoner for Zion tells a compelling story of struggle and victory against the Soviet regime in his battle to keep Torah in the Gulag of prisons and labor camps in Communist Russia and emigrate to Israel.
Rabbi Mendelevich will also take to the airwaves on WABC Radio’s Religion on the Line with Rabbi Potasnick, Sunday morning at 9:15 a.m. before joining with City officials in opening the Celebrate Israel Parade up Fifth Avenue.
In 1970, at age 22, already a veteran of the Jewish underground, Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich made news around the world with a daring attempt to escape the Soviet Union with a group of Jews on a small civilian aircraft.
Before the group could board the plane, the KGB arrested them all, resulting in the infamous Leningrad Trial which riveted international attention. The defendants exhibited great bravery in court, and the international uproar moderated two of the death sentences.
Rabbi Mendelevich will share the incredible story of how he survived 11 years of the Gulag, resisting all attempts to squash his body and soul, and how he deepened his bitachon, emunah, and yearning for Eretz Yisrael.
Rabbi Mendelevich’s courageous sacrifices paved the way for over a million Jews to leave Soviet Russia.
“We are launching the “Od Avinu Chai Jewish Identity and Leadership Initiative” with Rav Mendelevich to invigorate the young generation of American Jews,” says activist Gavriel Gozland. “Rabbi Mendelevich’s spiritual resilience is a powerful lesson for all Jews. Whether in full-time yeshivos, day schools, or on college campuses, young Jews today face tough questions of identity and purpose. We must transmit spiritual strength to the younger generation, and there is no better ambassador and teacher than Rav Mendelevich,” says Gozland.
For those who remember the Soviet Jewry movement days, Shlomo Carlebach’s Am Yisrael Chai song was the anthem, and today, for Yosef Mendelevich, it carries even more meaning. His determination to keep mitzvos cost him dearly. The prison authorities forbade him from wearing his homemade kippah and deprived him of his already rare visiting privileges with his father. Nevertheless, he wouldn’t budge. Rabbi Mendelevich never saw his father again since the day he was incarcerated at age 22. It also conjures up the memory of when Mendelevich’s prisonmate, Natan Sharansky, was moved to a cell across from his, and Mendelevich would sing Hebrew messages to him. He recalls singing Shabbat Shalom to his friend, who then answered ‘Avi meit’ having been informed of his father’s death earlier that day. Adds Mendelevich, “The Soviets tried to crush us, but today more than ever, we say ‘Od Avinu Chai, our Father is still alive and the Jewish nation thrives.’ My story is not about Soviet Jewry; it’s about emunah, unwavering faith, and the incredible strength of the Jewish neshamah.”
Rabbi Mendelevich will address students in several yeshivas and day schools throughout New Jersey, Manhattan, and the Five Towns during his upcoming five-day trip to New York. “Educating young Jews about the beauty and majesty of Judaism is at the core of my being,” concludes Mendelevich.
Adds Glenn Richter, former national coordinator of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, “Yosef Mendelevich is a genuine Jewish hero. Hearing him speak and reading his book is a huge inspiration to overcoming life’s obstacles, deepening Jewish identity, and loving the Land of Israel.” v