I enjoy taking you all with me on my travels. I don’t like travelling alone-you are all always very much with me: I narrate what I see to unseen others.
My husband z.l. hated to travel. I don’t know if that’s how he started, but after years of fundraising for the various yeshivos to which he was connected, he developed a deep affection for his own bed. I would tell him about what was happening as it happened. My narrative was completely safe within the confines of my own mind. He didn’t have to necessarily be there. In the course of time I added more people to my repertoire. Eretz Yisrael is so profoundly rich; that there is no place that leaves me silent.
I will never forget my first day here. It was a hamtzin (a dry hot day defined by the desert winds that take the moisture out of your very blood as you stand in the closer-than-ever-sun). I didn’t know that this wasn’t how things were every day. I decided to make the best of it, which meant accepting as what Hashem wants His Land to offer while we are still in galus. My school, Bnei Brak’s Bais Yaakov Seminary, sent a girl to receive me. Esther Hesse was the Chosen One. She was an urbane, Argentinian girl, perfectly dressed. I was ragged and sweating in the intense heat that had melted me to the core as I waited for my bags. I arrived at Batei Avot, the sem’s dorm. I was rather surprised to see a large portrait of an anachronistic Lady complete with pale blue evening gown with a satin sash and tiara. No one else looked like that. The girls wore their hair either short or in one braid, and exuded tznius that went far far beyond their clothes. Ester told me a fascinating story that I will share.
Rav Shlomo Kahaneman was the founder and sponsor of Batei Avos. He had lost everyone and everything in the war; his family, his writing, his students and friends. He was the only surviving communal rabbi in all of Lithuania. When he reached Israel, he was not alone. He took his dream of rebirth with him wherever he went. He was going to build a yeshiva that would be as good as the ones that were in ashes. It would be on the highest hill of Bnei Brak. He fundraised ceaselessly (in fact, when Kloizenberger Rebbe was asked if he thought there was life on the moon, he said he was sure that there wasn’t, because if there was, Rav Kananeman would have been there to collect, and he would have heard about it). He had an architect draw him a picture of what is now the great Ponevizh Yeshiva. My halachah (Jewish law) teacher in seminary was his driver. When he would visit wealthy men in Tel Aviv, many of them would give him a significant donation out of pity for a man they assumed had lost his mind. To them, it was as clear as day that the era of yeshivas was over. The Lady in the Picture was approached for help. This time, he wasn’t raising money for the yeshiva. One of his projects was finding homes to shelter the many war orphans who had nowhere to go, and no one to care about them. “I will be happy to donate”, she said, “but I don’t want my money to go to people who are in the dark ages, with their kippos and peyos and tzitzis” she said. The Rav didn’t miss a beat. “You can rest assured that not one person dressed like that will be in the home that I will build”, he replied. He used the money to build a home for girls, Batei Avos. In the course of time, the orphans grew and they started their own lives, the home became a dorm. When I was there last year I was shocked by how little had changed.
Bnos Avigail got to Bnei Brak at about ten. Although we stayed at Batei Avot, it wasn’t the first stop. We began our tour of Israel’s first modern chareidi city by exploring its roots. We went to the cemetery. It took us all back to a different era. We saw the tombs of the Chazon Ish who re-invented what living in Eretz Yisrael would be for those of us who came in the modern era. He taught the biblical laws of shmittah, (resting the land every seven years) trumah, maaser (agricultural gifts to the koheins and Leviites), to people who were only familiar with these laws from ancient texts. He gave them the tools to know how to observe the laws of Eretz Yisrael. He taught an entire generation how to find what he would have called “the moment of silence that gives you access to your soul”. They discovered in themselves with enough integrity to stop apologizing and to become bnei and bnos Torah.
We passed by the grave of Rav Vozner’s mother. Some of you may have heard of Rav Vozner, who was not only a posek (halachic decisor) but the teacher of many of today’s most imminent poskim. His mother’s story goes back more than a hundred years. She was born in Vienna, and the height of its cultural magnitude. She was blessed with an once-in-a-lifetime voice. The opera companies were after her (and remember this is also the era in which thousands and thousands of Jews were blinded by the dazzle of everything European). They offered her unbelievable contracts. She walked away from it all when one of the rabbanim promised her that if she would do this that she would merit the kind of child that Rav Vozner turned out to be. We passed the gravesite of Rav Dessler whose Michtav M’Eliyahu is one of the most influential books of its kind on Torah hashkafa (outlook). We stayed long moments at Rav Shach’s grave. We didn’t know that the yartzeit of the leader of the yeshiva world was the very next day, which gave the moment far more meaning. The giants of Ponevitzh yeshiva were there, as was the Steipler, Rebitzen Kanievski, tens of the names that resonate with the word Torah were there.
And then we did something that touched us far more deeply.
We unloaded the bus, and headed to Rechov Rashbam, a not particularly impressive looking street. It was and is home to some of the greats of our time. We assembled ourselves across from the fabled Lederman shul, and caught a glimpse of Rav Chaim Kanievski as he left his home. We had to maneuver around the paparazzi to see a living sefer Torah.
This was just Friday! Next letter, I’ll tell you about Shabbos.
In the meantime, enjoy the troop.