I attended a lecture recently on the life of the incredible Klausenberger Rebbe, Yekusiel Yehuda Halbertsam ztz”l. The Rebbe lost his wife and all 11 children in the Holocaust plus his mother, sisters, brother and 150 close relatives. Although he was broken and shattered, he became the leader of the Jews in the DP camps. As unbelievable as it sounds, the Rebbe managed to turn the DP camp of Fohrenwald (in Munich, Germany) into the center of religious life. He created a survivor’s organization called “She’iris Ha’Pletah” (the surviving remnant) which ran Yeshivos in 19 different DP camps! The Rebbe set up a slaughterhouse, built a mikveh, distributed tzizit, tefillin and mezuzot and set up Halachic guidelines for men and women to marry who had no proof of their spouse’s death which enabled them to remarry and start a new family.
I enjoyed this lecture immensely, especially since it was given in Netanya – the very town where the Rebbe built his Chassidus after the war! It’s not every day you learn about a Jewish hero who refused to quit. This unbelievable, holy Yid never stopped serving Hashem with all his might. He remarried, had 7 more children and rebuilt his Chassidus bigger than ever before.
I always knew that the Klausenberger Rebbe settled and built the Kiryat Sanz section of Netanya. What I did not know, however, was that the Rebbe first came to America after WWII (1947) and started rebuilding his Chassidus in Brooklyn. He was quite successful in Williamsburgh although he always dreamed of moving to Israel. In 1958 he established the Kiryat Sanz neighborhood of Netanya and the Rebbe made Aliyah in 1960, with most of his Chassidic followers from Brooklyn. He lived in Israel until his passing in 1994.
His life in Israel was – once again – one of building, growing, inspiring and motivating. He built Yeshivas, Shuls, Mikvehs and the very famous “Laniado Hospital” – which is run 100% according to Halacha. The Rebbe insisted that there be a clause in the contract of all hospital employees forbidding them to strike, which is still in effect to this very day. Not too long ago, a nationwide hospital strike was declared in Israel, and all hospitals shut down… except Laniado! The hospital encompasses two medical centers, a children’s hospital, a geriatric center and a nursing school.
After the lecture was over there was a short time for Q&A and a question came from a woman which absolutely floored me. Although I am certain that she intended the question in a well-meaning way, her five word question stunned me. She asked; “Was the Rebbe a Zionist?”
I certainly knew what the woman meant; Did the Rebbe say “Hallel” on Yom Ha’Atzmaut? Did the Rebbe wave a big Israeli flag? Did the Rebbe serve in the IDF? To all these questions, I am sure the answer is “NO” but – after listening to a one hour lecture of what he did in his life – in my humble opinion, the Klausenberger Rebbe was the biggest Zionist I ever heard of!!
Let’s review for a moment: He was living in Williamsburgh with his new wife and several children. After experiencing the worst 10 years imaginable, his life was finally calm and peaceful. He was returning the Sanz-Klausenberg chassidus to life with new energy and new hope. He, somehow, managed to pick up the broken pieces of his dreams and glue them back together. Yet, the Rebbe was not satisfied. Something was missing and that something was a life in Eretz Yisrael. In the mid 50’s he sent a few of his chassidim to find a suitable location and after several years the perfect place was found; a large plot of land adjacent to the northern tip of Netanya. These chassidim were instructed to look in non-Haredi locations. He was not interested in building his chassidus in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak or Tzefat. Although the Rebbe loved those places very much, he specifically wanted an area that was not known to be a religious. His dream was to bring Torah to a new place and invigorate it with the soul and spirit of chassidus.
In 1960 he moved to Israel with his entire family and most of his chassidim. And then, after turning an empty plot of land into a major center of Jewish life, he moved on to his next project; the building of a hospital. Please read a translation of the words said by the Rebbe (in Yiddish) at the laying of the cornerstone of the hospital:
“I was saved from the gas chambers, saved from Hitler. I spent several years in Nazi death camps. Besides the fact that they murdered my wife and 11 children, my mother, my sisters and my brother – of my whole family, some 150 people, I was the only one who survived – I witnessed their cruelty. I remember as if it were today how they shot me in the arm. I was afraid to go to the Nazi infirmary, though there were doctors there. I knew that if I went in, I’d never come out alive. … Despite my fear of the Nazis, I plucked a leaf from a tree and stuck it to my wound to stanch the bleeding. Then I cut a branch and tied it around the wound to hold it in place. With God’s help, it healed in three days. Then I promised myself that if, with God’s help, I got well and got out of there, away from those resha’im (wicked people), I would build a hospital in Eretz Yisrael where every human being would be cared for with dignity. And the basis of that hospital would be that the doctors and nurses would believe that there is a God in this world and that when they treat a patient, they are fulfilling the greatest mitzvah in the Torah.”
This was HaRav Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam, the Klausenberger Rebbe. He moved to Israel from Brooklyn… brought hundreds of families with him… took empty land in northern Netanya and turned it into a community with thousands of people. He built schools, shuls, mikvehs and a huge hospital with a nursing school – all in Israel. He lived in Israel from 1960 to the day he died in 1994… and someone actually asked: “But is he a Zionist”???
Dearest friends; when someone does all that – or even half of it! – he is a Zionist, like it or not. He (or she) may not eat blue and white cupcakes on Yom Ha’Atzmaut or know how to shoot an M-16 but he is a Zionist through and through! A Zionist is one who dreams about life in Israel and then pursues that dream, for whatever the reason. Maybe it’s to join a sister in Ramat Bet Shemesh or to have his children learn in a Yeshiva in Jerusalem. Maybe it’s to enlist in the IDF or to build a Chassidic dynasty in Netanya. Maybe it’s even to save money on Yeshiva tuitions! In all cases, one who gives up on his/her life in America, France or Australia (among other places…) to come to live, build and work in Israel is a 100% Zionist from top-to-bottom. Furthermore, that person can wear a knitted kippa, a streimel, baseball hat or have 3 earrings (and I’m talkin’ about the guys!!) – they are still Zionists! Finally, they can say they’re not or even spit when you say that “dirty” word but a Jew (observant or not) who leaves a foreign country to raise a family in the Promised Land is a 100% Zionist.
All that is left to say is this: Jew come home, and come home now! Once you are here we will figure out what to call you; A Zionist or a Non-Zionist Zionist!!