Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter



The Soul Behind The Soles

Meir Wolfson

He wasn’t a smooth talker and lacked the typical fundraiser’s skill set. But Reb Zalman Ashkenazi, exuded a passion for his cause that donors couldn’t ignore, and built one of the largest chesed empires in this world, raising millions to feed and clothe the poor of Israel in a dignified fashion. Just weeks after the “human turned malach” ascended to the Heavens, we met with family, friends, and donors, to learn what passion fueled the man behind Mesamche Lev.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It’s doubtful many of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who benefited directly from Reb Yoel Yekusiel Zalman Yom Tov Lipa Ashkenazi paid much heed to the signs announcing his petirah on Rosh Chodesh Adar I of this year. If there was ever a person who aspired to maintain anonymity among his beneficiaries, Reb Zalman, as he was known, was that man. And he almost succeeded.

Few who knew him as a newlywed yungerman living in Meah Shearim in 1971 could have imagined Reb Zalman becoming a one-man chesed machine. He was extremely shy — a trait he never outgrew, even when spending his days raising money for the less fortunate.

Reb Zalman’s “career” began unceremoniously one Thursday afternoon forty years ago, when he realized his chavrusa lacked money for bread, milk, and other basic staples. And that night Reb Zalman heard that a widowed neighbor also lacked money for Shabbos necessities. Reb Zalman spent Friday morning collecting for these two families, and before Shabbos, brought them challos, fish, wine — the works. By the next week, says a confidant wryly, it was his unofficial job to supply both families with food. Before long several other families joined the club of Mesamche Lev.

During the Yom Kippur war, Reb Zalman returned to America, but his heart always remained with the poor and needy of Eretz Yisrael. Never allowing Mesamche Lev to become a source of parnassah, he worked as a melamed in a Satmar cheder and spent his nights running from donor to donor “tzi helfen nuch Yidden,” as he put it. He would sometimes pay a substitute to watch his second-grade class during lunch recess so he could meet more donors.

The numbers eventually grew to staggering proportions: 62,000 pairs of shoes, 30,000 pounds of shemurah matzoh, and 4,000 cases of wine before each Pesach; 300,000 pounds of meat and poultry before Yamim Noraim; close to 500 mishloach manos baskets to widows and widowers, accounting for some 3,500 orphans, each containing an envelope with money for Pesach; dozens of weddings for orphaned brides and grooms each year.

 

To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.
CAPTCHA
Message


MM217
 
What’s in a Name?
Shoshana Friedman “What does Writer X have to say this week?”
Atonement — Fake and Real
Yonoson Rosenblum White confessionals and faux rituals
Four Walls Coming Full Circle
Eytan Kobre All the while, there’s been a relationship in the offing...
And Yet We Smile
Yisroel Besser We are the nation that toils to be happy at all costs
Out of This World
Rabbi Henoch Plotnick Dirshu Hashem b’himatzo — we are in Hashem’s company now...
Steven and Jonathan Litton
Rachel Bachrach The co-owners of Litton Sukkah, based in Lawrence, NY
Tali Messing
Moe Mernick Tali Messing, engineering manager at Facebook Tel Aviv
Sick Note
Jacob L. Freedman “Of course, Dr. Freedman. Machul, machul, machul”
Avoiding Health Columns Can Be Good for You
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Only one reliable guide for good health: our Torah
Endnote: Side Notes
Riki Goldstein Most Jewish music industry entertainers have side profes...
Me, Myself, and Why
Faigy Peritzman Where there’s no heart and no love, there’s no point
Can’t Do It Without You
Sarah Chana Radcliffe When you step up to the plate, you build your home team
Eternal Joy
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz The joy of Succos is the fruit of spiritual victory
The Appraiser: Part III
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer Make sure your child knows his strengths
Hidden Special Needs
Rena Shechter You won’t see his special needs, but don’t deny them
Dear Wealthy Friend
Anonymous There’s no need for guilt. I am truly happy for you