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Firm in His Faith

“You will not lack any money,” the Lubavitcher Rebbe assured Rabbi Berke Schiff.

This happened in October 1973, two years after Rabbi Schiff had succeeded in leaving the Soviet Union for Israel. Rabbi Schiff arrived in Israel with a firm commitment to Jewish activism. As a Lubavitch Chassid, he wanted to continue the same activities he had carried out in the Soviet Union--there, in secrecy, and in Israel, publicly.

He mingled among the new immigrants from Russia, trying to persuade them to register their children in Torah day schools. He was successful in compiling a list of students who were interested, but not in actually placing them in yeshivos. The principals pushed him off with various excuses, claiming that their schools were not equipped to meet the needs of Russian immigrants.

Crestfallen, Rabbi Schiff traveled to New York for a meeting with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, hoping to hear words of solace and encouragement. The Rebbe, though, responded in an unexpectedly adamant tone. “Establish your own institution in Kfar Chabad."

Rabbi Schiff was taken aback. “I should establish my own institution? But establishing a school involves tremendous financial costs!”

"You will not lack any money," the Rebbe said, waving his hand in dismissal.

After such a promise from the Rebbe, Rabbi Schiff could no longer refuse. He returned to Israel, and with the help of a colleague, Rabbi Simcha Gorodetzky, he persuaded residents of Kfar Chabad to help him with this project that the Rebbe had placed upon him.

During the first stage, he opened up classes, and the residents of Kfar Chabad helped him arrange meals and lodging for all the students. However, he quickly realized that he would have to build his own dining room and dormitory. He rented several portable units, set them up at the site of his school, and used them as a dining room and bedrooms.

The problem was that the classrooms were far from the dining room and bedrooms, which made it difficult to set up a normal daily schedule for the students. Rabbi Schiff found out that a girls' high school would soon be vacated, since it was moving to a new, expanded building. He strongly hoped that the old building would be granted to his school.

However, a group of parents from Kfar Chabad staked first claim on the vacated building, which they intended to use for a new elementary school. "With all due respect," they told Rabbi Schiff, "we think that the children of Kfar Chabad take precedence over the children of immigrants that you are bringing in from all over Israel. Our first responsibility is for our own children."

Rabbi Schiff felt very hurt at the brush-off. "Maybe I'm not the right person for this job," he thought to himself. "If I am not successful in acquiring a proper building for the students, maybe I should give the job over to someone else more capable?"

Rabbi Simcha Gorodetzky, who had taken upon himself a prominent role in raising funds for the yeshivah, strongly discouraged Rabbi Schiff from taking this step. The well-known Chassid, Rabbi Mendel Futerfas, with whom Rabbi Schiff used to consult, also tried to prevent him from finding himself a replacement. They both felt that since the Rebbe had entrusted him with this job, he had to carry it out. "Write to the Rebbe," they advised, "and see what he tells you."

As his friends advised him, Rabbi Schiff sat down and wrote to the Rebbe his tale of woe. He described his many efforts to sustain the yeshivah and the various obstacles he had encountered. He filled five full pages, and concluded, "I request the Rebbe's permission to be released from this duty. I will try to find places for all the students in other institutions," he promised.

This time, Rabbi Schiff received his answer in a very unusual way. A few nights later, Rabbi Schiff had a strange dream. He saw himself in the Rebbe's synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway, together with thousands of Chassidim, waiting for the Rebbe to enter for prayer. The Rebbe came in and began to stride towards his place, when Rabbi Schiff suddenly found himself face-to-face with the Rebbe.

The Rebbe's gaze bore into him, and Rabbi Schiff felt himself gripped with a sense of deep shame. “What happened to me? How did I become so weak in my faith? I am not lacking in money. The Rebbe's promise has proven itself. I have no lack of students; the numbers grow from day to day. So what is my problem? What happened to the self-sacrifice I used to have, that kept me going through all my struggles in Soviet Russia?

“As soon as the Rebbe takes his eyes off me,” he thought in his dream-state, “I will fly right back to Israel, and resume my duties with renewed energy.”

However, the Rebbe did not remove his gaze. The Rebbe took Rabbi Schiff by the hand and walked together with him towards the Rebbe's prayer place. At a certain point, the Rebbe released his hand, and Rabbi Schiff awoke.

For several long moments after he awoke, he could still feel warmth in the place where the Rebbe had touched him. The vivid dream served as a perfectly clear answer to his letter. This is it, he thought. No more vacillations. I am going back into active mode, and with G-d's help, I will put up the necessary buildings for my school; beautiful, new, well-equipped buildings.

Today, in the area behind the building that Rabbi Schiff tried and failed to acquire, sit four large, beautiful buildings, bearing the name "Mosdos Ohr Simchah"--named in memory of Rabbi Simchah Gorodetzky--in which hundreds of students are educated. All this in memory of a wondrous dream, that gave Rabbi Schiff the drive and courage to go on.

 

 


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