The Modzitzer and Me
Intro: Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, former head of the Orthodox Union and a popular speaker and writer, was a young rabbi living in Brooklyn when war broke out in in 1967. Here, he describes his encounter with Rav Shmuel Eliyahu Taub soon after the war.
My memories of the 20th day of Iyar,. 5727, fall into two distinct categories. The first is based upon my own personal experiences during that fateful week, while I was living in the safety of Brooklyn, New York. The second is based upon our experiences during a visit that my wife, Chavi, and I paid to Israel several months later during the holiday of Sukkos.
We were living in Brooklyn during the Six-Day War. Along with the rest of the Jewish people we felt the anxieties that preceded the war itself. We followed the news, and viewed and heard the speeches of the leaders of the Arab world threatening the destruction of the State of Israel and the annihilation of the inhabitants of our holy land. Those speeches were no less horrifying than the films we had seen of Adolf Hitler at his most vile moments. Whereas Jews who heard Hitler in the 1930s may have doubted that he would carry through upon his threats, by 1967 we had tragically learned to take such threats very seriously.
The instant we heard the news of the outbreak of actual war, I was filled with fear and panic. The television carried footage of workmen the digging of thousands of graves in the parks and open fields of the major cities in of Israel. The most optimistic prediction was of a long and protracted battle with numerous military and civilian casualties. I had dozens of family members and personal friends living in Israel at the time, and I was haunted by unspeakably dark images of their fate. I slept little and hardly ate during those scary days.
Then suddenly the news came in, first of the destruction of the Egyptian Air Force, then of all the military successes, and finally the dramatic voices announcing the recapture of the Old City of Jerusalem, the fact that the Har HaBayit was in our hands, and the unbelievable pictures of Israeli soldiers praying and weeping at the Kosel. With that news and those images came feelings of relief, of exhilaration, and finally the conviction that all of this was literally a miracle, a fulfillment of divine Divine prophecies.
During those moments, on the very day of that first Yom Yerushalayim, Chavi and I made a firm commitment to visit Israel at the first possible opportunity, and to see the reunited city with our own eyes. Chavi had close family living in Israel. The then Modzitzer Rebbe, Rav Shmuel Eliyahu Taub zt”l, was her uncle. It was only natural that we would stay nearby his “court”, which was then located in Tel Aviv. We made plans to spend the Yamim Noraim with him and his family and followers, and to spend Succos in Yerushalayim, which we did, leaving our one-year-old daughter with our parents.
The Rebbe had a profound reaction to the events of the Six-Day War, and this reaction was reflected in the Torah messages he shared and in the niggunim he composed. He too viewed the events as acts of Heavenly intervention, but also mourned the loss of life, particularly the lives of soldiers whom he had personally encouraged to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces. His nigunim that year reflected both celebration, particularly in the melody for Simcha L’Artzechu, as well as grief and sorrow, as in his melody for Chamol al maasecha.
With his encouragement we traveled to Yerushalayim for Sukkos, staying with an old Modzitzer Chasid, Reb Chaim Barmatz, z”l. Reb Chaim was the proprietor of Malon Eretz Yisrael, a small “hotel” adjacent to what is now the Leonardo Plaza. From the balcony of that hotel one could then easily view the entire panorama of the Old City.
Reb Chaim was delighted with the opportunity to host grandchildren of his Rebbe, Chavi’s grandfather, the second Modzitzer Rebbe, Rav Shaul Yedidya Elazar Taub zt”l. He enthralled us with his story of how his Rebbe had encouraged him, long before the Holocaust, to leave Poland and emigrate to the Holy Land. But then he launched into a description of his story about his experiences during the Six-Day War and the re-conquest of the Holy City. That story was more than enthralling — it was astonishing, bone chilling, and remainsed an inspiration to us until this very day.
He told us about his dream on the very first night of the thankfully brief war. In that dream he was visited by no one other than the Rebbe R’av Shaul himself. And in that dream he addressed his revered Rebbe and complained to him. “How could you have encouraged me to come to this land just to be killed here by Arabs instead of Germans? What will be with my children and grandchildren who are now in danger of being butchered, and some of whom are fighting in the Israeli army?”
In the dream, the Rebbe answered him them, with a reassuring smile and in a soft and characteristically melodious voice. “You need not fear, Reb Chaim,” the Rebbe said, “you will be safe, your children will return from the battlefield unharmed, your family and all Yiddishe kinder will celebrate the very next yom tov, and all future Yamim Tovim in Yerushalayim.”
These were the very words that Reb Chaim used to report his dream to us. I say that with confidence, because I wrote the words down verbatim in a small notebook that I treasure to this very day.
But Reb Chaim did not stop with his account of this dream. He was a chasid, an ardent chasid, and if he had his Rebbe’s guarantee that he would not be harmed he knew that he could act upon the guarantee. And so, Reb Chaim went on to describe and to physically act out his response for us. On the day the Israeli army launched its counterattack and its eventual reentry into the Old City, Reb Chaim walked out upon the balcony of his modest hotel. The artillery fire aimed at the Jewish population by the Jordanian army did not faze him. He waved to the Israeli jets flying overhead and directed them as to the location of the enemy artillery stations. In his inimitable Yiddish he told us, “I showed them exactly where to shoot their rockets. I warned them about the sources of antiaircraft batteries. I pointed them to the center of the city, and showed them exactly where to aim, and how to avoid harming those sites which are Jewish holy places.”
I have not yet seen a history book containing accounts of the military victory that which give credit to Reb Chaim’s role in the recapture of the Old City of Yerushalayim. But I have no doubt in the veracity of his story; nor do I doubt that it is the zechus of Reb Chaim, and the zechusim of countless other committed Jews who trusted in the Ribbono Shel Olam, each in his or her own way, that which contributed to the achievement that which we are now all privileged to celebrate.
Reb Chaim has long ago joined his Rebbe in Gan Eden, where he is surely regaling his holy audience with the story of his eye witness account of the very first Yom Yerushalayim.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.
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