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An International Figure

Rabbi Gershon Jacobson, of blessed memory, was a prominent Jewish journalist in the United States. He was known especially as the publisher of the popular Yiddish newspaper, the Algemeiner Journal. For years he also served as a correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot. The following story took place in 1968, less than a year after the Six-Day War.

Rabbi Jacobson came up with a bold idea: to visit Egypt, and cover the aftermath of the war from a Jewish perspective. As an American citizen, he would not have trouble getting a visa to enter Egypt. Once there, he would witness first hand how the Egyptians were contending with their crushing losses in the war.

Rabbi Jacobson approached the Egyptian consulate in New York and requested a visa. Several days later, he received a panicked phone call from Isser Harel, then head of the Mossad. "Jacobson, your idea is crazy. You are placing your life in danger! The Egyptians are seeking any way they can to avenge the great humiliation they suffered in the war. As soon as they find out that a strange Jew has crossed their borders, there is no doubt that they will kidnap you and worse. Going to Egypt now is not a brave act; it is an act of grave foolishness. Don't do it!"

The next call came from the editor of Yediot Achronot, who also did his best to dissuade Rabbi Jacobson from taking the trip. Rabbi Jacobson's answer to both was that he would present his plan to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and act according to his instructions.

The Rebbe's response was that Rabbi Jacobson could take the trip, but only if he followed these three pieces of advice: To stay at the most expensive hotel in the city; to call as many foreign ambassadors as possible and arrange interviews with them; and to buy a large quantity of postcards and send them to friends in countries around the world. In addition, the Rebbe asked that before leaving he should come in one more time, in order to pick up several items that the Rebbe wished to send to Egypt.

When Rabbi Jacobson got on the plane to Egypt, he felt very emotional but not fearful. He had full confidence in the "ammunition" he had received from the Rebbe: the three pieces of advice, as well as the items the Rebbe had sent with him--a pair of tefillin and a knife for shechitah, ritual slaughter.

Naturally, as soon as Rabbi Jacobson landed in Egypt he put the Rebbe's advice into effect. He booked a room in the most expensive hotel in Cairo. To the amazement of the hotel's telephone operator, he put calls through to a long list of ambassadors, asking to set up interviews. He also bought a large number of postcards and mailed them to friends of his in Australia, South America, the United States, Europe and the Soviet Union.

He had an interesting encounter with the ambassador from Canada. The ambassador was so amazed that someone was interested in interviewing him that he arrived that very day at the hotel where Rabbi Jacobson was staying. For two weeks, he did not leave his side, and accompanied him as his personal driver wherever he went in Egypt.

The shechitah knife was delivered, as per the Rebbe's instructions, to the local shochet, Jewish ritual slaughterer, who provided kosher meat to the Jews of Egypt. When he saw the knife, the shochet burst into tears. He explained that his shechitah knife had recently become damaged, and he was unable to replace it since the Egyptians did not allow Jews to buy knives or weapons.

Rabbi Jacobson then delivered the pair of tefillin to the rabbi of the community. There, also, he experienced the Rebbe's unusual foresight. On last inspection, the rabbi's tefillin were found to be unfit for use. The community sofer, scribe, the only one in town who knew how to repair the damage, was unable to do so since he had been arrested by the Egyptians, along with several other Jews, on false charges of aiding Israel.

After a successful visit, Rabbi Jacobson left Egypt and traveled to Israel via a third country. The day after his arrival, the front page article of Yediot Achronot read, "Gershon Jacobson returns from a visit to Egypt." The picture showed Rabbi Jacobson riding a camel, with the pyramids in the background.

A day after the article appeared, a key official at the Mossad called Rabbi Jacobson to express his amazement: "Gershon, you're a genius. An absolute genius!"

"What happened?" asked Rabbi Jacobson, not understanding the praises that were being heaped upon his head.

"Listen," the Mossad official told him. "The Egyptian authorities were following you from the moment you got off the plane. They were planning on arresting you on trumped up charges. What stopped them was your connections with nearly all the foreign ambassadors in Egypt. The postcards that you sent to countries around the world likewise gave the impression that you were an internationally recognized figure. They were afraid that if they would harm an internationally famous person like you, they would experience negative repercussions, and therefore they chose to leave you alone. They continued to follow you and trace your footsteps, but did nothing beyond that.

"Tell me," pressed the Mossad official. "How did you come up with such a brilliant plan, to create the impression that you were an internationally famous figure?"

"I am not the brilliant one," admitted Rabbi Jacobson. "I only followed the instructions I received from the Lubavitcher Rebbe."

 

 


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