January 10, 2017 Saved From Death By A Mikvah In Lebanon In honor of the late Rabbi Levi Bistritzky, whose Yohrtzeit 8.08.2012
Story based on an article in Maariv from 1982
Article material By Shneur Zalman Berger / Beis Moshiach Magazine with beards attached It was 1982.
In Lebanon, Israel, tired of terror attacks from the North, had invaded and was fighting to clean out the PLO who taken control and held the country hostage. Tanks boomed; While planes zoomed. One after another, each terrorist base fell, the planes and tanks destroying each one. In the midst of the flying bullets, shrapnel and mortars, appeared bearded men, Lubavitchers- Driving around the Arab city of Bhamdoun deep inside Lebanon. What were these men dressed in suits and hats with strings hanging off their shirts doing in such a God forsaken place on such a day? In case you are wondering, they were there trying to figure out how to renovate a woman's mikva (a ritual pool) deep in the heart of Lebanon. After a long, complicated operation, their work was done. This mikva in Lebanon, has a story.
As is known, Chassidim tell a story within a story. The best story being, one with the most stories within it- where you see that truly, everything in this world is connected. In this case, this particular mikva, in the end of Lebanon, far from anything Jewish- Left behind it a trail of mitzva's, passing on its blessing to many people far far away. As we Jews call it: A Chut Shel Chessed, meaning A string of kindness, passing along its wonderful power of blessing from one person to the next... BEARDED MEN LOOKING FOR ICE
This was how Maariv titled this article originally. Thirty years have passed since the morning when hundreds of thousands of readers opened their Maariv, the Tisha B’Av issue 5742/1982. They were amazed to read that in the heart of Lebanon, in the midst of a fierce war, during Operation: "Peace in the Galilee" (Shalom Be Galil), Lubavitcher Chassidim had built a mikva for the local Jews. In 1982, this is what Maariv Reporter Naftali Krauss, a Lubavitcher Chassid, wrote: "A small truck with three bearded Jews drove around eastern Beirut last week. They were looking for ice! As many blocks of ice that would melt into 800 liters of water. The bearded men looking for ice in the capitol of Lebanon were Lubavitchers from Tzfas led by R’ Levi Bistritzky. They needed ice in order to fix the mikva in Bhamdoun, as per the request of a handful of Jews who live there." Naftali went on to describe the pitiful situation of the local Jews who wanted to keep mitzvos (Jewish Commandments) but were unable to: "Chabad Chassidim met two Jewish brothers, local residents, who are Orthodox Jews. They complained that not only did they not have kosher meat, but the local mikva was not operable." The news item concluded with the great success they had after much effort:
"After great effort, they found the necessary ice in eastern Beirut and the mikva was made kosher." (Ed: ice can be used to fill a mikva instead of rainwater in certain situations) SHMA YISROEL IN LEBANON
Rabbi Baruch Marzel of Chevron, has a special knack for helping Jews who live in Arab areas. Thirty years ago, he had the merit of setting into motion a complicated operation on behalf of Jews living then in Lebanon, which entailed building a mikva in Bhamdoun in the midst of the Lebanon War. With the outbreak of war, Marzel was called up to serve in the army and his unit was sent to the front. Whenever there were breaks in the fighting, he and his fellow soldiers walked around the streets. One day, he needed to replace his camera that had broken during the fighting. He went into an electronics store hopeful to buy another camera and quickly rejoin his brigade. He enters the store and sees a man behind the counter looking at him oddly. The man, looks like a local, but when he notices Baruch, he begins shouting: "Shma Yisrael!" (The Shma is a Jewish Prayer). He couldn’t believe it. He hadn’t met any Jews in Lebanon although He'd heard there were some and now he'd actually met one! Quickly, the store owner hurries over to pull down the door shutters. Then, he whispered to Marzel that he’s a Jew. “My name is Eliyahu Luzia.” Baruch asked him why he doesn't move across the border to Israel. Eliyahu said that he has elderly grandparents whom he can’t possibly leave. He told Baruch about the state of Jewish life in the city since the PLO turned the Jewish house of prayer into its military base and wreaked havoc on the local Jews & Christians in the most brutal fascist fashion. “However", Eli explained, "Our main problem isn't the shul. We have a worse problem. Our woman’s mikva, the only one in Bhamdoun is damaged from the shelling.” Crying, he asked Baruch to do something so that family life wouldn’t be affected. This was a complex request. There was a war going on after all, and Marzel knew he couldn't fulfill Eliyahu’s request on his own, so he asked the military chaplaincy corps for help. Quickly, he received a response: "We can’t help now. Sorry…" But he didn't give up. A few days later, while traveling by tank, he spots an unusual sight: A Lubavitcher RV, a Mitzva Tank parked in the main square of the town putting tefillin on Jews. On the tank are men from the city of Tzfas (Safad). They came to Lebanon to print the Chassidic book of the holy Baal Shem Tov’s teachings called: Tanya. Taking advantage of the IDF invasion they had come to Lebanon to seek out any Jewish families they could find. Baruch told them about the problem of the damaged mikva. The Lubavitchers went with him to meet the Luzia family. They came in as Mr. Luzia was davening with tallis and tefillin. Someone took a picture and sent it to the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Brooklyn. Eliyahu Luzia was an Orthodox Jew and ran a successful business. It was his success and older parents that delayed his making aliya. He was in touch with Chabad in France and to the surprise of the guests, he showed them the Lubavitcher publication: "Talks and Tales" in French that they sent to him. (The Popular Yiddish version is titled: "Shmuzen". In Hebrew: “Sichot LeNaar”) (French is the main language in Lebanon) The men heard from Mr. Luzia whatever they needed to know about the repairs needed for the ladies Mikva. They returned to Tzfas on Friday, and went to the Chief Rabbi of the City, Rav Levi Bistritzky a”h to discuss the problem facing the Jews of Bhamdoun. They asked the rav to join them on Sunday morning for a return trip to the town to examine the mikva. Rav Bistritsky called New York to ask for the Rebbe’s bracha for this unusual trip. After not too long a wait, the Rebbe's secretary called with an answer and a blessing for success. Sunday, Rav Bistritzky joined the men on the Winnebago "Tank" for the trip to Lebanon. When they arrived at the mikva, he wrote down what repairs were needed. Renovating the building was not a big problem. The main problem was how to refill the mikva after. WHERE TO GET 200 BLOCKS OF ICE?
The Lubavitchers returned to Tzfas and prepared for the following Sunday when they could fix the mikva. The question still remained – how are they supposed to fill a mikva in the summer? Rabbi Bistritzky came up with a novel idea that is used sometimes in difficult situations – to fill the Mikva's pool with blocks of ice. But where to get ice in this hot country? A call had to be made to Lebanon, but obviously, this wasn’t possible. He called his mother living in the United States.
What does one do when you need ice? You call directory assistance. That’s what people used to do. Mrs. Bistrisky being in Brooklyn, picked up the phone and called the operator in Lebanon to ask who sells ice. Then she calls from Brooklyn to a certain Arab who lives in the city of Beirut. A dealer who sold solid blocks of ice. Like someone calls down to the supermarket at the corner, she ordered 200 blocks of ice. She told him: "No need to deliver" and told the bewildered Arab that a group of Jews will be coming by to pick them up. THE REBBE’S INVOLVEMENT
Now comes renovation day. A delegation of Lubavitcher men came from Tzfas to this little town in Lebanon traveling in a "Mitzva Tank". In case you don't know what this is? It's an RV (mobile home) usually a Winnebago, that is a mobile Jewish Education Center. Equipped with Jewish ammunition: Tefillin, Shabbat Candles and brochures and books explaining traditional Jewish life and Mitzvos (commandments). On this "Tank" the repair crew traveled into the wilds of wartime Lebanon, along with Rabbi Yaroslavsky an expert on the building and repair of a Women's mikvah. The group traveled through rock filled abandoned streets past destroyed homes, burned out tanks, dead bodies and highways riddled with holes from shells. After a long drive, they finally met the Arab ice seller waiting with the large order of ice. He was waiting for them at the agreed upon location. Well, he told them, he had ready for them- Two blocks of ice! He explained that some lady had called him and said she needed 200 blocks of ice and he assumed she didn’t know what she was talking about. Why? Because this is a ridiculous amount of ice and nobody ever orders so much. Here he had brought two blocks, hoping to see by the reaction of the buyers that his assumption had been correct. Rabbi Bistritzky explained that they needed 200 blocks of ice and quickly! Within a short time, he came up with the amount they needed. Excitement ran high – the rebuilding of the mikva in Lebanon was becoming a reality! But they still had the complicated task of transporting such a large amount of ice from the truck to the Mikva's pool. (a mikva has 2 pools. The one you bathe in and the one that holds the kosher mikva water, this way, you can empty, clean and refill one pool and you are always left with one kosher pool, which is normally rainwater) All members of the group were pressed into service. The first one stood near the truck of ice and they formed a line from the truck to inside the building by the pool. The last ones on line, were Rabbi Bistritzky, Rabbi Yaroslavsky, and Rabbi Avrohom Goldberg who stood near the reservoir. Then, in assembly line fashion, they passed the blocks from man to man until each block was set into the pools reservoir. When the final blocks of ice were placed in the reservoir, they made a circle and danced and sang! How many times does one get to fulfill such an extrodinary mitzva? Shortly thereafter, they returned to Eretz Yisroel. Rabbi Bistritzky returned a week later to check the mikva after the ice had melted. He confirmed that all was well from both a technical as well as a halachic standpoint. With the work was completed, they reported to the Rebbe. The Rebbe's answer: “Does the mikva have a heater?” Well, it didn't... But that's another story. Within a short time, a heater was found in Israel (no small project if you know Israel) and the contraption was sent up to Lebanon for its new home in the mikva. Now the Jewish women could finally enjoy going to the mitzva (commandment) cheerfully in the coldest of weather without suffering from the cold. In case you don't appreciate this, try going swimming in February at Coney Island. The Rebbe asked how much the renovation had cost and then sent them the entire sum! A short while later pictures were sent to New York of the renovated mikva which the Rebbe examined and then returned to Rabbi Bistritzky. The Tanya printed in Bhamdoun, was given to Eli Luzia, along with other Jewish books, to encourage him in his Jewish observance. But the stories not over... TICKETS FROM THE REBBE
While the Chassidim were busy working on the mikva and printing the new Tanya, Mr. Eli Luzia and his wife Aliza asked the Israeli army staff to help them visit Eretz Yisroel for Tishrei 5743 (October 1982) where their son, Bentzion, would celebrate his bar mitzva. (coming of age) Such a thing, hadn't been possible in previous years, (not since 1948) but now, with Israel’s control of the area where they lived, it presented a rare opportunity for them which might not come again so soon. Fulfilling their request was no simple matter. Even when they finally arrived at the border of Eretz Yisroel, there were various delays. It was only with the intervention of Prime Minister Mr. Menachem Begin that they finally able them to enter the Holy Land. At his bar mitzva celebration, which was celebrated with great pomp at a hall in the center of Jerusalem, were the Chassidim from Tzfas who had visited his home in Lebanon several times. Joining them were bus loads of others who had heard the fantastic story. They astonished the family when they announced that, at the expense of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, tickets had been purchased for the whole family to travel to New York so they could join the Rebbe for Sukkos and Simchas Torah. (Ed: Must be that the grandparents came along too) The family flew EL AL on Chol HaMoed together with Rav Bistritzky. Their first encounter with the Rebbe was on Hoshana Raba (the last day of Succot), when Eliyahu and his wife stood on a very long line of people outside the Rebbe’s Succah. The Rebbe was passing out cake with a blessing (bracha). Eli had brought a valuable gift with him from Lebanon. When it was his turn, he took out a wine bottle, a silver plate and a special goblet which he gave gratefully to the Rebbe who took the gifts and blessed the family. Speaking in French, so they would understand, he gave the family many brachot (blessings). They told the Rebbe that they would soon be returning to their home in Lebanon and they requested a bracha. The Rebbe looked upset and told them that under no circumstances should they return, not even for a short time. They were shocked and explained that they hadn't taken their possessions. They hadn't even sold their house! The Rebbe was adamant insisting that they don't go back. Next Eli then told the Rebbe that his wife Aliza was suffering terribly. At that time, Aliza had been experiencing various health-related problems and the doctors were recommending an operation (a hysterectomy lo alaynu) after which she wouldn't be able to have more children. The Rebbe negated the idea of operating and told her Mrs. Luzia not to worry, she would again give birth please G-d. Turning to Aliza with a smile, the Rebbe said in French: “You will yet bear another child!” Aliza was amazed. She and her husband were middle-aged, and their youngest child was a boy of thirteen. Over the years she had dreamed of having another child, a girl. But a woman her age...? A nice dream. She smiled, but in her heart, she knew she wasn't so young. Eliyahu and his wife are Sefaradim, not-yet Chassidim and they had just been told “NO” about two of the most major issues in their life! They didn't know what to do. They had to decide whether to listen to the Rebbe or not. Meanwhile, a few days went by and they returned by plane to Israel, and started their lives over from scratch. There they heard the terrible news that the PLO terrorists had taken control of Bhamdoun massacring all the Christians who lived there. (Ed: most probably the Jews too) Now, the Luzia's fully understood the Rebbe's concern. Why- if they had gone home? Even for a short time, they would have joined their now dead friends for a most horrible end. Meanwhile, a few months passed and the Luzias settled in the Land of Israel. Once while visiting her doctor, Mrs. Luzia was told to get ready. She was quite pregnant! This was an unusual surprise, being that her previous child had been born over thirteen years ago. After a few months the Luzia's welcomed a new baby daughter into their new home in Israel. NOT THE END OF THE STORY
What? An not-so-young woman just recovered from a terrible illness give birth? Her doctor was up-in-arms! The doctors terrified Aliza warning her from trying attempting to complete a pregnancy at her age, warning her of all sorts of complications. And even if the baby is born, the high risk of defects. "Better" They advised her: "To abort now and save yourself a lot of trouble". The Luzias remembered that not one word of the Rebbe had not been fulfilled saving their lives. And with this simple faith, they ignored the dire warnings of the doctors. Eight months later, just ten months after their meeting with the Rebbe and the great miracle of being saving from death, Aliza gave birth to a healthy daughter, whom they named Ruth. Today, Ruth is eighteen years old, and an endless source of happiness to her parents and a living reminder of their most remarkable salvation in the most unusual way. LUBAVITCHERS DISCOVER A JEW IN THE PHALANGE MILITIA
Two weeks after readers read the article in Maariv quoted at the beginning of this article, they read another interesting item about Chabad in this Lebanese town of Bhamdoun. This is what Menachem Rahat of Maariv wrote: "A resident of Bhamdoun, which is on the Beirut-Damascus highway, who has been serving in the militia of the Phalanges (a Lebanese Christian political group under Gemayal who cooperated with the IDF) for four years now, was discovered by Chabad to be an Orthodox Jew who wears tzitzis." "Samu Hagi, 21 years old, was on duty on the Beirut-Damascus highway when he noticed a Chabad mitzva tank that had come to the Phalangist blockade. In his halting Hebrew, he asked the bearded Chassidim to explain what their vehicle, with the picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, was for." "After they explained their purpose, he told them that he himself was a religious Jew who lived in Bhamdoun. Seeing they didn't believe him, he lifted his shirt to display his tzitzis. The Phalangist soldier also told them that he tries to keep Taryag mitzvos to the best of his ability. Every so often he organizes a minyan on Shabbos in the shul. Samu invited the Lubavitchers to his home and introduced them to his parents and brothers who are also religious. In the moving encounter, the Jewish hosts in Bhamdoun wanted to hear about Jewish life in Eretz Yisroel and asked for help in realizing their dream of praying at the Kosel." Bhamdoun (Arabic: بحمدون), is a town in Lebanon 23 kilometers (14 mi) from Beirut on the main road that leads to Damascus and in the suburbs of the main tourist city of Aley, lying at an altitude of 1,100 meters (3,600 ft) above the Lamartine valley. Two separate villages compose the town, Bhamdoun-el-mhatta (literally meaning "Bhamdoun the station") and Bhamdoun-el-day'aa ("Bhmadoun the village"). The population is mostly Orthodox Christian. Besides the synagogue (a very large abandoned structure) there are two mosques, two Greek Orthodox churches, two Maronite Church, and one Protestant church. The synagogue, built in 1910, was one of three grand synagogues in Lebanon. It was abandoned shortly before the Hamas takeover after the war in 1982, but the shell of the structure still stands. (From Wiki) Rewritten and reredacted and compiled by Chabad4israel staff, with apologies if someone was not credited. Courtesy of the Bistrisky Family, Beis Moshiach Magazine, Chabad of West Orange and Maariv.
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