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31 Hours and a Lifetime of Shabbos

Aryeh Ehrlich

The Kretchnifer Rebbe of Rechovot has spent the last five decades living his legacy of acceptance in this mixed secular-religious city, teaching the way of peace

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

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W hile Knesset factions are currently fighting over various pieces of legislation regarding the closure — or limited sanctioned opening — of businesses, shopping, and entertainment establishments on Shabbos, the Kretchnifer Rebbe of Rechovot has his own way of dealing with Shabbos desecration in this mixed religious-secular Israeli city.

Beneath the Rebbe’s window, vehicles honk; when the Rebbe walks home from shul, cars whiz by. The Rebbe grimaces in anguish for the lost spiritual opportunities of these unaffiliated Yidden, but he’s the last person who would ever yell “Shabbes.” In the political realm, the chassidus, which is represented on the city council, could petition for the streets of the Kiryat Kretchnif neighborhood to be closed, but the Rebbe doesn’t support coercion.

“Our job is to influence in a calm way, to cause their hearts to open,” the Rebbe has told his chassidim. The Kretchnifer Rebbe, who demands of his own people that they speak exclusively Yiddish and don’t touch Smartphones, has another way when it comes to Klal Yisrael. Every Jew is welcome; everyone is beloved.

Shuki Kromer, chairman of the left-wing Meretz party in Rechovot and director of the city’s culture center, is one of those who comes to the Rebbe despite his distance from a life of Torah. “There isn’t a Yom Tov when he won’t come to the Rebbe for a brachah,” one of the chassidim relates. “When he had a problem in his personal life, he came to the Rebbe for an eitzah. He says that here, despite the difference in lifestyle and values, he’s not judged, but rather embraced. In recent years, under the influence of the Rebbe, he has begun to fast on Yom Kippur. And in council votes, he even sides with the chareidi interests.”

If Shuki Kromer could feel the holiness of the Rebbe’s inner sanctum, I certainly wanted to also. And so I set out to spend Shabbos with the Rebbe — all 31 hours of it.

By 12:30 on Friday, the Rebbe has already brought in Shabbos, a policy the Rebbe began about ten years ago. In accordance with the customs of his forebears, the holy rebbes of Nadvorna and Premishlan, the Kretchnifer Rebbe takes the amud for all the tefillos, including leining.

Kiryat Kretchnif’s chassidic center is the busiest religious institution in Rechovot. While the Rebbe is exacting in his own avodah and demanding of his chassidim, he’s extremely welcoming, tolerant, and compassionate to every Jew that crosses his threshold

Between davening, the large Friday night tish, and the more intimate Shabbos day tish in his home, it’s a marathon that lasts through Shabbos and way beyond. I was spellbound, watching how the Rebbe sings and how the chassidim sing after him, how every person there — no matter his level in learning — is engaged in the Rebbe’s Torah, how the Rebbe’s eyes suddenly fill with tears. The Yeshuos Moshe of Vizhnitz zy”a once told the Rebbe: “Kretchnifer Rebbe, ihr hot noch a dei’ah in Himmel — your opinion counts in Heaven.”

But more than anything else, what continued to echo in my ear long after leaving the Rebbe’s house was his own self-effacement. “What am I and who am I?” he says. “I don’t even reach the ankles of some of the avreichim here.” Basically, that left me no choice but to fulfill the recommendation the Rebbe gave me on that unforgettable visit: “Let us do teshuvah together…”

“Learn How to Bless Them”

It was a sudden, shocking demise.

The holy Rebbe, Rav Dovid Moshe of Kretchnif, was just 44 years old when he was suddenly taken from This World on 15 Tammuz, 1969. The Rebbe’s home in Rechovot was known as a locus of ahavas Yisrael and remarkable miracles. “A factory of yeshuos,” people would call the house of this sage who was saved from the crematoria of Auschwitz, came to Eretz Yisrael, and in 1949 reestablished a microcosm of the nearly obliterated chassidus in this secular city that was founded as an agricultural moshav — and was the Biblical legacy of Yitzchak Avinu.

The current Rebbe, Rav Menachem Eliezer Zev Rosenbaum, was just 20 years old when his father passed away, leaving 14 young orphans, only two of whom — the Rebbe and his twin brother Rav Yisrael Nissan, today the Rebbe of Kretchnif-Kiryat Gat — were married. Nearly half a century later, the Rebbe relates that not a day goes by that he doesn’t think of his father. He lives his image, breathes his memory.

“So many decades after his passing, we’re still hearing unknown stories about my father’s holy leadership,” the Rebbe tells me. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 667)

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