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Remembering the Rebbe and the Mechutan

Aryeh Ehrlich

First they were friends. Then one became the Sadigura Rebbe and the other a savvy businessman and politician. They also became neighbors, and mechutanim. A year after the Rebbe’s passing, two sons and successors of MK Avraham (“Munia”) Schapira — the chareidi community’s most colorful diplomat — are still reeling from the loss of their spiritual mentor, as they reveal the secret of a most unusual relationship.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

They were neighbors, best friends, and mechutanim. One was a chassidic rebbe and the other, a chareidi business magnate who became the star of the Knesset. But MK Avraham Yosef (“Munia”) Schapira rarely made a move without consulting his friend and mentor, the Sadigura Rebbe ztz”l. Although both these neighbors, who refused to leave Tel Aviv, are no longer alive, two Schapira sons — inheritors of their father’s legacy and his vast empire — revealed some little-known aspects of this unique relationship, and of the Rebbe himself.

Rav Pinchas Schapira is the Rebbe’s son-in-law and rav of the Sadigura beis medrash in Tel Aviv, and his brother Rav Elimelech Shraga is a central figure of the Sadigura kehillah in Eretz Yisrael. It’s nearly midnight in the north Tel Aviv home of Rav Pinchas, as these two brothers are gathered around a rich oak writing table, incredulous that it’s been a year since their rebbe, Rav Avraham Yaakov Friedman of Sadigura, is gone. The family has just completed a modest yahrtzeit seudah led by the current Rebbe (and Rav Pinchas’s brother-in-law), Rav Tzvi Yisrael Moshe Friedman shlita, rav of the Sadigura kehillah inLondon.

It’s an unusual interview. Rav Pinchas and Rav Elimelech, sons and successors of the chareidi community’s most colorful and savvy diplomat, begin by eulogizing their rebbe, but it’s also a eulogy of their own father — and the unique relationship the political maverick had with his neighbor and mechutan, the Rebbe.

The Sadigura Rebbe himself was no stranger to politics, considered the most vocal of the elder Torah sages on the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah when it came to issues related to Eretz Yisrael. He was close to right-wing circles, supported and visited settlements, and actively opposed the Oslo Accords and the disengagement fromGaza. When missiles were raining down in Tel Aviv during the Gulf War, the Rebbe refused to budge. He declared that he would never agree to allow a non-Jew to dictate that he must leave Tel Aviv.

The day of his passing, right-wing MK Yaakov Katz (“Ketzeleh”) said of this chassidic rebbe with whom he was in personal close contact, “He was one of the great leaders of the Torah world who led everyone, not only his followers. He loved all Jews, he loved Eretz Yisrael, he loved Torah, and he knew how to combine all three. We all need to tear a very big kri’ah on his passing.”

According to Rav Elimelech, “The Rebbe loved every part of Eretz Yisrael and every Jew in Eretz Yisrael. He would never listen to a bad word spoken about Jews who are far removed from Jewish tradition, unless they were enemies of Yiddishkeit, whom he referred to as misyavnim, Hellenists.” In fact, Rav Elimelech believes that the Rebbe’s affliction with Parkinson’s was directly connected to the events of the Oslo Accords in 1995. “It ate him up, shattered him inside and out,” Rav Elimelech relates. “And ten years later, while the disengagement was being carried out and Gush Katif destroyed, the Rebbe tripped and broke his hip, as if sharing the pain of the expulsion.”


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