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Getting Ready for the Rebbe

Y. Honig

The Belzer Rebbe hasn’t been in London in nearly 24 years, but now it’s time to reconnect with a younger generation of chassidim

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

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ROYAL WELCOME For the past decade and a half, the Rebbe has been the backbone of support for the construction of a grand new edifice, pushing the local askanim through reams of red tape, bureaucracy, and unforeseen expenses, even putting cement on the cornerstone that was brought to him in Yerushalayim. How could he not be there for the dedication? (Photos: Menedel Photography)

F or months now, thousands of Belzer chassidim worldwide have been buzzing about Shabbos Parshas Emor while planning travel from around the globe to escort the Rebbe to London at the end of this week. The visit, the Belzer Rebbe’s first to the British capital since 1993, will come on the heels of the Rebbe’s excursion to the Eastern European town of Belz and to the kevarim of the previous rebbes, in preparation for his granddaughter’s wedding right after Shavuos. The nesiah will also coincide with a chanukas habayis of the new Belz center in Stamford Hill on Lag B’omer.

While the logistics of housing thousands of guests in a neighborhood of large families and little extra space is daunting, Belzer askan Reb Aharon Klein — a man blessed with clarity of vision and nerves of steel who shoulders the weight of the London kehillah — says the excitement in the community has made up for any lack of logistics experience, as nearly everyone has come out to offer help in some area of expertise.

“We didn’t have to involve a single external organizer,” emphasizes Reb Aharon. “Our men have given their maximum to make the nesiah a success. The kehillah feels that we are the hosts and we want the guest to return with happy memories.”

Plans for the visit began months ago, when Reb Aharon asked the city council for permission to put up a large marquee and requested a site that would fit the thousands of expected guests. The council member, used to requests for concerts and the like, was perplexed. “Why can’t the rabbi just perform twice?” he wanted to know.

Leave the Food to Me

Reb Shimon Wolf Klein, the Belzer Rebbe’s gabbai, made several trips to London to lay the groundwork for the trip, even preparing the kvittlach in advance, in order to save time once the Rebbe is in town. And in typical fashion for Belz, where a fundamental teaching is the importance of doing for others, he reminded the community, “It’s true that the Ruv is coming to us, but we must remember to let others gain from this visit too.”

But marquees and kvittlach aside, how, in fact, do you house thousands of guests when Stamford Hill suffers from a tremendous housing crisis, with few people lucky enough to have spare rooms? Would it even work?

Well, as the saying goes, when there’s place in the heart, there’s place in the home. A committee was tasked with the job of calling each and every family, locating beds to be offered to the crowds, while the Kadima Hotel — the only local Jewish-owned hotel — has been rented for the week to accommodate the rabbanim and who’s who of the wider Belz community who will be traveling in to participate. Some families have decided to cash in on the crowds, renting out their homes for the week as they double up with family members.

Then there’s the food. For the tishen, for the seudos, for Erev Shabbos and for tzeidah laderech. But when it comes to Belz and food, there’s really no problem at all... because they have “the Chevra,” a group of volunteers whose beginnings trace back to Belz of old, providing food for the multitudes who came in for the Yamim Tovim. The head of the group was called the “rosh hachevra” and the Belzer rebbes were involved in the intricate details of the staff’s work. It was considered a holy organization of chesed; when the previous rebbes used to travel to the famous Leitner Hotel of Marienbad, Czechoslovakia, the Chevra used to travel too.

The Rebbe first visited London in 1974, later as heir to the dynasty left by Rav Aharon. The chassidim now had faith in a shining future for Belz

In recent years, as the Belz kehillah grew, so did the Chevra. Today it’s a sophisticated organization with meticulous management and planning. They cater the major simchahs of the Rebbe, and can feed a thousand people in an hour. Their peak time of year is still Rosh Hashanah, when guests from all over the world converge on the Belz beis medrash in Yerushalayim.

“When news of the Ruv’s planned visit was made public, I got a call from Reb Berel Klein, the rosh hachevra from Yerushalayim,” says Reb Aharon. “He told me, ‘The Ruv is coming and you’ll have lots and lots of guests, but don’t worry, the Chevra will be there too. Leave the food to me.” And true to his word, Reb Berel — who is a grandson of the American owners of Klein’s Ice Cream — is arriving with his staff and stationing himself in a commercial kitchen in Tottenham donated by owner Reb Aryeh Deri (not the Israeli Shas leader with the same name) for the week.

Keep Digging

Reb Aharon Klein says the new Belz educational center, which started out as a cheder lacking even minimal space, really owes its existence to the Rebbe.

“When the Ruv saw the extent of our struggling, how we kept adding more and more portacabins [trailers] until there was almost no garden left, he said to me, ‘Aharon, just dig and dig. As deep you can, as far as you can go, and build as many floors up as you can. Use the space you already have.’ “

Klein looked around at the tiny building that housed the cheder and shul, and he dug. As deep, as far, and as high as he could, with the Rebbe’s words still echoing in his ears.

“There were so many people out there against our expansion,” Klein says. “To them, it seemed that we were taking away their space. Plus, as the building was a grade-2 listed [historic] building. Hackney Council, who would eventually approve the expansion, couldn’t give any consent regarding the listing aspect. For that we had to deal with the British Heritage. Permission was finally granted with many conditions — the new building shouldn’t hide the view of the old one, the color of the bricks had to be the same, the additional floor had to be slanted. It was complicated because we were constructing a building that would be attached to a listed one.”

But now, all those hurdles have been surmounted and Belz Terrace on Clapton, which comprises a shul, cheder and wedding hall, is a newly cleaved diamond in the crown jewels of Belz, London. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 659)

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