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We grace our walls with images of gedolim, men who inspired and taught the masses. Rav Shmuel Shmelka Taubenfeld was a different kind of gadol: He lived in relative isolation, far from the public eye, and his only pursuit was Torah. But the people he touched will forever carry his memory.
They wear kippot serugot under their shtreimels, gartels over jeans or army fatigues. They are chassidim of the Pashkaner Rebbe, a sixth-generation descendant of Rav Yisrael of Ruzhin and husband of Rebbetzin Tziporah — daughter of the Imrei Chaim of Vizhnitz. While Gilo isn’t exactly Bnei Brak, Rav Yisrael Friedman, who’s straddled many worlds in his 91 years, believes he’s been able to bridge major gaps in Klal Yisrael.
When people ask a heimish guy like Refoel Franklin what he’s doing on a farm in upstate New York, he doesn’t even get the question. “Why would anyone want to live in the city, when you can be out here in G-d’s country?” he asks in wonder. But it’s not like he’s living in isolation (although he did once spend a year living alone in a log cabin in the Montana hills): His slaughterhouse and dairy farm produce the only chicken and milk products some rebbes will eat.
Rabbi Eliyahu Essas was being chased by the KGB. So were the westerners who supported him undercover. Thirty years later, a reunion between the refusenik leader of the Russian baal teshuvah movement and the unsung heroes who supported him, brings back memories of fear, panic, oppression and intrigue in that dark decade before the collapse of the USSR.