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Wall of Blessings

Shlomi Gil

He might look like any other Kosel schnorrer, but Reb Avrum Lipschitz-Brizel has spent 30 years secretly supporting dozens of indigent Holy City families

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

 Mishpacha image

“If I were a bluffer,” says Reb Avrum, “I would tell you that my brachos really work” (Photos: Eli Cobin)

Night descends on Judaism’s holiest site, as a golden light bathes the stones that have survived two millennia of wars, political upheaval, enemy regimes — and even the weather. Until the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, they serve as a haven for the deepest secrets of Jews, as well as others, who’ve come from all over the world to press their hopes and dreams and requests into the cracks of the Wall.

But there are also living stones, not the ones from the Holy Land’s ancient quarries, but carved out of vibrant Yerushalmi spirit — steadfast and rock solid against the elements, having also lived through wars, regimes… and the weather.

One of these “stones with a human heart,” as the iconic Israeli song about the Kosel goes, is Reb Avrum Lipschitz-Brizel, and anyone who’s visited the Kosel in the evening or late at night anytime over the last 30 years has surely run into him in his low chair at the entrance to the lower plaza. You’ve probably even given him a few coins or more — but what were you thinking? Just another schnorrer? In truth, Reb Avrum doesn’t really care. He’s on a mission, and no amount of bushah over the last three decades has been able to stop him.

Reb Avrum, 81, doesn’t hold much from newspapers or magazines, and doesn’t really understand what the fuss over him is about. “An interview?” he asks, surprised and a bit cynical — why would anyone care about what he thinks or want to see a picture of him? “I’m just somebody who likes to daven at the Kosel. But if it’s so important to you… nu, shoin, let’s hear what you want.”

In Yerushalmi circles, Reb Avrum wears three hats: some know him as the pious collector at the Kosel; others know him as a valiant fighter for the modesty of bnos Yisrael; and the Toldos Aharon chassidim know him as Rebbi Lipschitz, who has taught alef-beis to thousands of children who have attended the Toldos Aharon Talmud Torah over the past half century.

But truth to be told, most people know him as the baal chesed who sits at theKoselPlaza, collecting money from passersby, and then discreetly distributing it to needy families.

Reb Avrum says he used to collect tzedakah all over Jerusalem, but one year on Hoshana Rabbah, he was collecting among the crowd in the Belzer beis medrash when someone said, “Go to the Kosel — that’s where the cash is.”

For Reb Avrum, however, the Kosel is much more than a cash machine. He had his bar mitzvah there in 1948, before the state was founded and the Jordanian Legion drove the Jews out, and he says he used to daven there with his father when the Kosel was just three meters wide.

“The British didn’t let us bring chairs or benches, so we would daven standing. We didn’t have a sefer Torah, either. On Shabbos and Yom Tov we would daven here until Shemoneh Esreh and then go up to the Churvah shul to read from the Torah.”

: He may have retired as a mechanech, but “You don’t retire from the Kosel.”

Reb Avrum reunited with the Kosel on the day it was liberated in 1967. “As soon as we heard that theOldCitywas back in our hands, I went with a friend to the Dung Gate. There were soldiers standing there who didn’t let us in. We tried the Lion’s Gate, and that was also blocked. In the end, we went in through the Zion Gate, keeping very close to the walls and crawling under the barbed wire. We were able to get through and reach the Kosel.

“It was incredible. Such excitement. I met Chaim Herzog there, who was then the military correspondent for Kol Yisrael. He said, live on the air, that IDF soldiers had captured the Kosel, and were being led by Hashem. It was very late, maybe two or three in the morning. I went over to him and told him he had made a very big kiddush Hashem by mentioning that the victory was a miracle from the Ribbono shel Olam. Who knows, maybe because of that he becameIsrael’s president years later.”

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