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“A General Like That”

An inside look at how the Lubavitcher Rebbe saved Ariel Sharon from boarding a hijacked flight.

Avishai Buxenbaum of Haifa, Israel, worked in the Israeli consulate in New York as a security guard. Every year for the Simchat Torah holiday, he would go to the Rebbe’s synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway together with the people from the consulate.

In 1968, Ariel Sharon arrived in New York and said he wanted to meet with the Rebbe. He was referred to Avishai, the religious member on the staff, to arrange an appointment.

Avishai asked Sharon why he was interested in meeting the Rebbe. Sharon said, “When I sat Shiva [for his son who was accidentally killed while playing with a gun], I was surprised to see a rabbi come to console me. He was followed by another rabbi and another rabbi. When I asked them what brought them to me, they said the Rebbe told them to come.

“I am a commander and when I give orders, I have to check sixty times to make sure the soldiers carried them out, while here the commander sits in New York and gives orders and without a military police they carry them out. I want to meet a general like that.”

Avishai called the Rebbe’s office and arranged an appointment for 1 a.m. Sharon wondered what he would do until that time and Avishai suggested that they go to Manhattan, and at midnight travel together to Brooklyn. Avishai escorted him as Sharon’s bodyguard.

When they arrived at 770, Sharon went in for yechidus alone, while Avishai waited in the study hall upstairs on the hard benches, as he put it. He thought it would take an hour, maximum two hours, but the hours went by and Sharon did not emerge. He couldn’t sit there anymore and he began pacing. Sharon finally came out at dawn. Avishai says that he davened Shacharit, the morning prayer, in 770 and Sharon also put on tefillin.

Avishai exclaimed, “What happened to you? What did you do all night?”

Sharon told him, “I sat there for a while and we discussed matters relating to Israel’s security. I was amazed by the Rebbe’s vast knowledge of military tactics and his detailed knowledge of the geography of Israel. After a few hours I looked at my watch, and the Rebbe asked me, ‘Where are you rushing?’ I told him that I had a meeting at the Pentagon and then I was going to return on the shuttle in the afternoon in order to be able to make a 3:00 flight back home.

“The Rebbe said, ‘Why are you rushing? You are a general; they’ll wait for you. And if you don’t show up tomorrow, they will change the time of the meeting for the next day.’

“Each time I looked at my watch, the Rebbe asked me where I was rushing to and he did not allow me to leave. I just didn’t feel comfortable going so I had no choice, but was forced to remain there in his room.”

On their way back to Manhattan, Avishai said, “Listen Arik, I am exhausted. I didn’t sleep all night. I’m not going to Washington with you today. I’m going to sleep. If you want to go, find another bodyguard. I can’t do it.”

Sharon said, “You know what … I’m tired too. I’ll go to sleep and go to Washington tomorrow.”

Avishai went to sleep and he woke up in the evening to the ringing of the phone. When he answered it, it was someone from the consulate who said that the plane back to Israel that Sharon was supposed to be on  had been hijacked by terrorists and landed in Algeria.

Avishai recalled that the newspapers reported how the terrorists seemed to be searching for a particular someone on the plane, and when they saw he wasn’t there, they released the plane. 

Avishai also told how that night he got a phone call from his contact person in Chabad who told him, “You are a witness that the Rebbe saved Arik Sharon.”

 

 


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