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To Live Long Life

Rabbi Yerachmiel Chadash and his wife stood in front of their Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneerson, the sixth Rebbe of Lubavitch, pale and trembling. They were worried about the welfare of their only son, Elchanan Betzalel.

Since their marriage, the Chadashes lived in the city of Petrozavodsk in northern Russia, not far from Leningrad (now Petersburg). They had been sent there by Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneerson, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe and the father of Rabbi Joseph I., in order to infuse Jewish life into the city. Over the course of the years they had borne a number of children, some of whom died at a young age of various illnesses.

They were left with four daughters and a son--Elchanan Betzalel--who now had taken ill. "Rebbe," cried his father in a choked voice, "the doctors say they have no cure for our Elchanan's illness. Please, Rebbe, bless us that he be cured miraculously."

The Rebbe looked at the overwrought parents with mercy and responded with a blessing: "Add the name 'Alter' to his name, and with G-d's help he will recover and live long and healthy years." (The name Alter in Yiddish means 'old,' and is often traditionally added to a sick person's name to assure them of long life.)

The parents left the Rebbe's room filled with faith. Indeed, as per the Rebbe's blessing, their son recuperated completely, leaving no trace of his illness.

The years passed. When World War II broke out, Betzalel, as he was known, was a single young man, and he was drafted into the Red Army. At that point his family lost all trace of him. Even after the war ended they did not know of his whereabouts.

Fear for Betzalel's welfare constantly dogged the Chadash family. They heard no news for the next 13 years, until 1953. In that year, Stalin died, and with his death many political prisoners were released. Betzalel was among them.

During the years that he was missing, particularly during the war years, Betzalel's life was saved numerous times. Shortly after he was drafted into the Russian Army, he was captured by German troops. For four years they held him captive, without ever learning that he was a Jew.

Betzalel knew that the moment they would find out of his Jewishness, they would murder him in cold blood. It was only through a miracle that they never realized this fact. The Germans used to make all the captives shower together, and only by the mercy of G-d did no one ever notice or reveal that he was circumcised.

On several occasions, someone noticed that Betzalel was Jewish and he felt the noose tightening around his neck. Each time, though, he was suddenly transferred to a different camp, and his life was thus spared.

After the war ended, Betzalel remained in Berlin together with several hundred thousand prisoners of war. The American troops who liberated them included a number of Jewish soldiers. They took an interest in the Jewish captives, and so Betzalel received special attention. The American Jewish soldiers took care of all his needs, and he was fed and clothed in royal style.

The Jewish soldiers recommended that he move to Israel and join the many new settlers who immigrated to the land following the war. Betzalel, however, knew that his family awaited him in Russia, and sought to return home. He joined a DP camp made up of refugees from Russia, waiting for a visa to reenter the country.

Things were going smoothly for him in the DP camp, until deep one night he was awakened and summoned to the commandant of the camp. The Russian officer asked him to relate his experiences as a German prisoner of war. Betzalel told him everything that he had undergone, but the officer was incredulous. "How can it be that they let a Jew like you live?"

"G-d protected me," answered Betzalel.

The officer did not like this answer. "You are a spy," he concluded, to Betzalel's shock.

The next morning, Betzalel was loaded onto a crowded cattle car, without any information as to his destination. After many long days of travel, during which a number of the passengers died due to the unbearable conditions, the train stopped in a Siberian prison camp.

Betzalel and with his fellow prisoners were forced to perform hard labor, felling trees and then uprooting the trunks. The work was far beyond the endurance of most prisoners, and many died. However, Betzalel was able to withstand the conditions for eight years, until Stalin's death, when he was informed of his release.

After the fact, the Chadash family found out that in 1946, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneerson had once again predicted that Betzalel would live. One of Betzalel's sisters escaped Russia by sneaking through the border. At her first opportunity she contacted the Rebbe and asked for a blessing for her brother. The Rebbe's answer was that Betzalel was alive and well, and that the family would soon learn the good news.

The Rebbe's blessings were all fufilled in their entirety. Alter Elchanan Betzalel returned to his family and merited to live a long life. He passed away at the ripe old age of 83.

 

 


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