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The Kibbutz He Left Behind

Aharon Granot

The kibbutz Rabbi Yosef Chaim Hassan left behind had become an entirely different community, thanks to the genuine revolution he fomented, one person at a time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

shiur

“It was enough to make you cry. Many of these youths were putting on tefillin in secret so their parents or teachers wouldn’t see them” —Rabbi Yosef Chaim Hassan z”l

When Rabbi Yosef Chaim Hassan first moved to Kibbutz Gesher Haziv, between Nahariya and the Lebanese border, he was told the kibbutz had no synagogue and would never have one.

This once staunchly secular kibbutz wouldn’t have had him as a resident either, had they known who he really was, but when he arrived eight years ago for an interview with the kibbutz’s absorption committee, he wore a T-shirt and cap. 

When he lost his life in a drowning accident last week off the coast near his home, the kibbutz he left behind had become an entirely different community, thanks to the genuine revolution he fomented, one person at a time. 

Rabbi Hassan was named after the Ben Ish Chai. Tragedy seems to run in the family. His father, Rabbi Avraham, was murdered in 1998 in an armed robbery in Mexico City while collecting funds for a yeshivah. 

As a yungerman, Rabbi Yosef Chaim, or “Yossi” as the kibbutzniks knew him, learned in the Mir kollel, and developed a strong passion for kiruv. He joined forces with Rabbi Shlomo Raanan, director of Ayelet Hashachar, an organization whose modus operandi is to plant a religious and committed shaliach in Israel’s smaller kibbutzim and yishuvim and slowly encourage the development of a religious infrastructure.

Kibbutz Gesher Haziv was ripe for this. Like many kibbutzim in Israel that were no longer economically viable, Gesher Haziv began privatizing, a process that included selling land to new homeowners, and renting apartments to newcomers. 

Yossi and his wife knew that if they applied for residency in their chareidi garb, they would be thrown out headfirst. So they “dressed down” and were accepted. 

Then they went about the task of kiruv, but they started slowly. In a feature story Mishpacha ran on Yossi Hassan almost eight years ago, he explained his strategy. “On Erev Shabbos, we would distribute homemade challahs and cakes. We focused on influential families with whom we could find some common ground.” 

Eventually Yossi was able to organize a minyan for some interested kibbutz members, with the help of a handful of bochurim and yungeleit who would come up for Shabbos. 

After a while, the kibbutz got used to their presence, and the Hassans grew accustomed to the eclectic mix of secular youth, some with long hair, earrings and nose rings, who would show up at their Shabbos table. They ate, drank, and asked Yossi a lot of questions about Judaism. 

“It was enough to make you cry,” Yossi said. “Many of these youths were putting on tefillin in secret so their parents or teachers wouldn’t see them. These were kids who were keeping milk and meat separate and coming up here, or to other Shabbos tables, without telling anyone. They are real baalei teshuvah. And they have a remarkable innocence.” 

The members of Yossi’s “underground” gravitated to his table, knowing they would receive the ongoing encouragement and support that they needed. 

Many a Melaveh Malkah would end only at daybreak on Sunday, when the last of them would leave the Hassan home. 

That was how all of Yossi Hassan’s Shabbosos looked. He worked — in avodas kodesh — nonstop and utilized every minute.

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