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Shabbos Stories for Parshas Eikev

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The Shabbes Goy by Joe Velarde


Joe Velarde became the fencing coach of Columbia University in the
1940's-50s and was an early advocate of civil rights in sports, eventually
retiring to California.


Snow came early in the winter of 1933 when our extended Cuban family moved
into the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. I was ten years old. We were the
first Spanish speakers to arrive, yet we fit more or less easily into that
crowded, multicultural neighborhood. Soon we began learning a little
Italian, a few Greek and Polish words, lots of Yiddish and some heavily
accented English.

I first heard the expression Shabbes is falling when Mr. Rosenthal refused
to open the door of his dry goods store on Bedford Avenue. My mother had
sent me with a dime to buy a pair of black socks for my father. In those
days, men wore mostly black and Navy blue. Brown and gray were somehow
special and cost more. Mr. Rosenthal stood inside the locked door, arms
folded, glaring at me through the thick glass while a heavy snow and
darkness began to fall on a Friday evening. "We're closed, already", Mr.
Rosenthal had said, shaking his head, "can't you see that Shabbes is
falling? Don't be a nudnik! Go home." I could feel the cold wetness covering
my head and thought that Shabbes was the Jewish word for snow.

My misperception of Shabbes didn't last long, however, as the area's
dominant culture soon became apparent; Gentiles were the minority. From then
on, as Shabbes fell with its immutable regularity and Jewish lore took over
the life of the neighborhood, I came to realize that so many human
activities, ordinarily mundane at any other time, ceased, and a palpable
silence, a pleasant tranquillity, fell over all of us. It was then that a
family with an urgent need would dispatch a youngster to "get the Spanish
boy, and hurry."

That was me. In time, I stopped being nameless and became Yussel, sometimes
Yuss or Yusseleh. And so began my life as a Shabbes Goy, voluntarily doing
chores for my neighbors on Friday nights and Saturdays: lighting stoves,
running errands, getting a prescription for an old tante, stoking coal
furnaces, putting lights on or out, clearing snow and ice from slippery
sidewalks and stoops. Doing just about anything that was forbidden to the
devout by their religious code.

Friday afternoons were special. I'd walk home from school assailed by the
rich aroma emanating from Jewish kitchens preparing that evening's special
menu. By now, I had developed a list of steady "clients," Jewish families
who depended on me. Furnaces, in particular, demanded frequent tending
during Brooklyn's many freezing winters. I shudder remembering brutally cold
winds blowing off the East River. Anticipation ran high as I thought of the
warm home-baked treats I'd bring home that night after my Shabbes rounds
were over. Thanks to me, my entire family had become Jewish pastry junkies.
Moi? I'm still addicted to checkerboard cake, halvah and Egg Creams (made
only with Fox's Ubet chocolate syrup).

I remember as if it were yesterday how I discovered that Jews were the
smartest people in the world. You see, in our Cuban household we all loved
the ends of bread loaves and, to keep peace, my father always decided who
would get them. One harsh winter night I was rewarded for my Shabbes
ministrations with a loaf of warm challah (we pronounced it "holly") and I
knew I was witnessing genius! Who else could have invented a bread that had
wonderfully crusted ends all over it — enough for everyone in a large
family?

There was an "International" aspect to my teen years in Williamsburg. The
Sternberg family had two sons who had fought with the Abraham Lincoln
Brigade in Spain. Whenever we kids could get their attention, they'd
spellbind us with tales of hazardous adventures in the Spanish Civil War.
These twenty-something war veterans also introduced us to a novel way of
thinking, one that embraced such humane ideas as 'From each according to his
means and to each according to his needs'. In retrospect, this innocent
exposure to a different philosophy was the starting point of a journey that
would also incorporate the concept of Tzedakah in my personal guide to the
world.

In what historians would later call The Great Depression, a nickel was a lot
of mazuma and its economic power could buy a brand new Spaldeen, our local
name for the pink-colored rubber ball then produced by the Spalding Company.
The famous Spaldeen was central to our endless street games: stickball and
punchball or the simpler stoopball. One balmy summer evenings our youthful
fantasies converted South Tenth Street into Ebbets Field with the Dodgers'
Dolph Camilli swinging a broom handle at a viciously curving Spaldeen thrown
by the Giants' great lefty, Carl Hubbell. We really thought it curved, I
swear.

Our neighbors, magically transformed into spectators kibitzing from their
brownstone stoops and windows, were treated to a unique version of major
league baseball. My tenure as the resident Shabbes Goy came to an abrupt end
after Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941. I withdrew from Brooklyn College
the following day and joined the U.S. Army. In June of 1944, the Army Air
Corps shipped me home after flying sixty combat missions over Italy and the
Balkans. I was overwhelmed to find that several of my Jewish friends and
neighbors had set a place for me at their supper tables every Shabbes
throughout my absence, including me in their prayers. What mitzvoth! My
homecoming was highlighted by wonderful invitations to dinner. Can you
imagine the effect after twenty-two months of Army field rations?

As my post-World War II life developed, the nature of the association I'd
had with Jewish families during my formative years became clearer. I had
learned the meaning of friendship, of loyalty, and of honor and respect. I
discovered obedience without subservience. And caring about all living
things had become as natural as breathing. The worth of a strong work ethic
and of purposeful dedication was manifest. Love of learning blossomed and I
began to set higher standards for my developing skills, and loftier goals
for future activities and dreams. Mind, none of this was the result of any
sort of formal instruction; my yeshiva had been the neighborhood. I learned
these things, absorbed them actually says it better, by association and role
modeling, by pursuing curious inquiry, and by what educators called
"incidental learning" in the crucible that was pre-World War II
Williamsburg. It seems many of life's most elemental lessons are learned
this way.

While my parents' Cuban home sheltered me with warm, intimate affection and
provided for my well-being and self esteem, the group of Jewish families I
came to know and help in the Williamsburg of the 1930s was a surrogate tribe
that abetted my teenage rite of passage to adulthood. One might even say we
had experienced a special kind of Bar Mitzvah. I couldn't explain then the
concept of tikkun olam, but I realized as I matured how well I had been
oriented by the Jewish experience to live it and to apply it. What a truly
uplifting outlook on life it is to be genuinely motivated "to repair the
world."

In these twilight years when my good wife is occasionally told, "Your
husband is a funny man," I'm aware that my humor has its roots in the
shticks of Second Avenue Yiddish Theater, entertainers at Catskill summer
resorts, and their many imitators. And, when I argue issues of human or
civil rights and am cautioned about showing too much zeal, I recall how
chutzpah first flourished on Williamsburg sidewalks, competing for filberts
(hazelnuts) with tough kids wearing payess and yarmulkes. Along the way I
played chess and one-wall handball, learned to fence, listened to
Rimsky-Korsakov, ate roasted chestnuts, read Maimonides and studied Saul
Alinsky.

I am ever grateful for having had the opportunity to be a Shabbes Goy.
 

Note: Chessed Halberstam worked in the employ of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneersohn, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, for eighteen years — from 1970 until the Rebbetzin's passing in 1988 — performing household chores and serving as the Rebbetzin's driver.

The Rebbe requested that I try to see to it that the Rebbetzin gets out of the house every day for fresh air. Usually we would drive out to a park in Long Island. In the years that my son, Ari, was a young child, we would often drive by his school on Ocean Parkway to take him along; the Rebbetzin enjoyed playing with him, pushing him on the swings in the park playground, etc.

One day, as we neared the park, we found our regular route closed off due to road work, and were forced to proceed instead on a parallel street. As we drove along that street, we heard the sound of a woman screaming in Russian. When I stopped at the next traffic light, the Rebbetzin turned to me and said: "I heard a woman screaming; can you go back and see what that was about?"

We drove back to the beginning of the street. There we saw a woman standing on the curb and weeping, while near her workers were carrying furniture and household items from a house and loading them on to a truck belonging to the county marshal. At the Rebbetzin's request, I parked behind the marshal's truck and went to learn the details of what was going on. The marshal explained that the woman had not paid her rent for many months and was now being evicted from her home.

When I reported back to the Rebbetzin, she asked me to go back and inquire from the marshal how much the woman owed, and if he would accept a personal check; she also asked that I should not say anything to the family being evicted. At this point, I still did not realize where all this was leading, but I fulfilled the Rebbetzin's request. The sum that the family owed was approximately $6,700. The marshal said that he had no problem accepting a personal check, as long as he confirms with the bank that the check is covered; he also said that if he received the payment, his men would carry everything back into the house. When I informed the Rebbitzin of the details, she took out her checkbook and, to my amazement, wrote out a check for the full amount, and asked me to give it to the marshal.

The marshal made a phone call to the bank, and then instructed his workers to take everything back into the house. The Rebbitzin immediately urged me to quickly drive away, before the woman realized what had transpired.

I was completely amazed at what I had seen and later, when we were in the park, I could not contain myself and asked the Rebbetzin what had prompted her to give such a large sum to a total stranger?

"Do you really want to know?" asked the Rebbetzin.

"Yes, I do," I replied.

"Then I'll tell you," she said. "Once, when I was a young girl, my father took me for a walk in the park. He sat me down on a bench and started to tell me about the idea of hashgachah peratit ('specific divine providence'). Every time — said father — when something causes us to deviate from our normal routine, there is a divinely ordained reason for this; every time we see something unusual, there is a purpose in why we've been shown this sight.

"Today," continued the Rebbetzin, "when I saw the 'Detour' sign instructing us to deviate from our regular route, I remembered my father's words and immediately thought to myself: Every day we drive by this street; suddenly, the street's closed off and we're sent to a different street. What is the purpose of this? How is this connected to me? Then I heard the sound of a woman crying and screaming. I realized that we have been sent along this route for a purpose."

 

Why Did You Look?

Reuven was in trouble. Big trouble. Five years had passed since he last paid the rent on his farm. Somehow the Baron was so busy that he overlooked Reuven's little farm year after year. But the miracle came to an abrupt end one cold snowy winter day, when a large fine carriage drawn by four splendid horses stopped before Reuven's old house. The driver opened the door, and out stepped a huge man in an immense white fur coat with high shining leather boots and a long curled moustache...the Baron himself.

He strode angrily through the snow, down the path to Reuven's door, and gave it two mighty blows with his fist. When Reuven opened up, he grabbed him by the front of his shirt, pulled him outside, shot a steely look at him as though he was some sort of insect, pushed his forefinger repeatedly into poor Reuven's chest and bellowed: "If I don't have ALL THE RENT in a week....DO YOU UNDERSTAND? ALL THE RENT IN ONE WEEK!! You and your family are sleeping in the....” his nose was touching Reuven's as he lifted him off the ground, then threw him on his back and screamed "...SNOW!!!"

The Baron stormed back down the path, and as Reuven was brushing himself off watching the carriage fade into the horizon, he knew that he was in big trouble. His only hope was the Baal Shem Tov.

He set out immediately in his wagon, and early the next morning he was in Mezibuz waiting in line to see the great Tzaddik.

When he entered the Baal Shem's room, he almost forgot what he wanted to ask. So great was the simple holiness there. But when the Master looked up at him from behind his desk, poor Reuven began weeping, "My family, my wife and five children will be thrown in to street, they'll all die of cold and hunger. Ooy Rebbe!! Save me!!"

The Besh't handed him an envelope, assured him that he had nothing to worry about, and gave him instructions:

"Give this to the Baron as soon as possible, but DON'T OPEN IT UP!"

Reuven was so overjoyed, he wanted to fall to the floor and kiss the Besht’s feet. He thanked him profusely, ran outside, jumped into his wagon and was on his way to the Baron's castle. It was a ten hour trip, and after a few hours of travelling alone in the beautiful Polish countryside, he began wondering. What could the Besh’t possibly have written that would calm the Baron? And in what language? Could it be that he also had such a convincing command of Polish? Usually he only spoke Yiddish. But he pushed these stupid ideas from his mind, and prided himself for ignoring his foolish urges.

"I must put my complete trust in the Tzaddik", he said to himself. "After all, the Baal Shem NEVER made a mistake."

But a few hours later he was still battling. He had taken his mind off it a hundred times now, but his curiosity was conquering him. "What possible harm could it make to just PEEK??"

After ten hours, the Baron's castle loomed up in the distance. "Made it!" he said to himself as he parked in front and got out. But as he was walking toward the massive castle door a horrible idea crossed his mind:

"What if the Baal Shem made a mistake and gave me the wrong envelope!! What if it's EMPTY!! Wow! Good thing that I thought of it before it was too late!"

The envelope wasn't even sealed; he just lifted the flap and took a "peek". Aha! Sure enough the letter was there. Just another little look here... and before he knew it he had pried the letter partially open without really removing it from the envelope, and was twisting his head around trying to discern a letter or two.

"Gevalt!!" he whispered to himself. The paper was....blank!!!

Suddenly the door opened and the Baron himself was standing before him.

"Brought me the rent, Jew? Well, that was quick wasn't it! Let's have a look!" He snatched the envelope from Reuven's hand and took out the "letter".

Reuven was expecting that any moment he would explode in rage. But after several minutes of pregnant silence, the Baron looked up from the letter and said in a very friendly tone. "All right, Jew. I'll forget about the debt. Clean slate O.K.? But from now on I want the rent on time every month. Do you understand? I won't be so lenient next time". And he slammed the door shut.

Reuven ran back to his wagon and headed back to the Baal Shem. IT WAS A MIRACLE! The next day he was standing in the Besht’s room full of gratitude.

"Tell me exactly what happened." Said the Baal Shem.

"It was incredible! The Baron actually wiped off the entire debt and let me go!! I’m a free man! Rebbe! You saved my life and the life of my family how can I.....”

The Baal Shem didn't look pleased, "He erased the entire debt? That's all? Tell me, did you open the letter?"

"Well, umm umm” Stammered Reuven sheepishly, "I didn't really open it.... that is I did take a small peek, just to see that there was no mistake."

"Ahhh! Why did you look!?" exclaimed the Besh't. "Couldn't you control yourself? If you would have left that letter alone, the Baron would have given you the entire farm as a gift, forever!"

 
Proud to be Jewish at the Boy Scout Jamboree
                             by Aliza Karp

Across America it is not unusual for a Jewish Boy Scout to be the only
one who is Jewish in his troop. This ratio also holds true at the Boy
Scout Jamboree, which is held every four years at Fort A.P. Hill in
Bowling Green, Virginia, when more than 35,000 Boy Scouts and another
8,000 staff of volunteers participate in a comprehensive summer camp
experience.

So this year, when the Boy Scout troop from Alaska suffered the tragedy
of losing four of its leaders to an electrical accident on the first day
of the Jamboree, the only Jewish Boy Scout in the Alaskan contingent,
Noah Magen, was left in a quandary. Come Sunday morning, when Jamboree
activities are suspended for a few hours, all his troop mates would be
going to religious services for each of their own religions. But what
does a Jewish scout do on Sunday? Especially during the week of the
death of loved ones, when religion takes on extra significance?

Shimmy Heidingsfeld, a member of the Tzivos Hashem team, learned about
Noah's dilemma and went to the campsite of Alaskan Troop 711 to find
Noah and bring him to the "Shul Tent," for the Sunday program. At the
Jamboree, Tzivos Hashem, the international Jewish children's
organization founded by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1980, provides
programming enjoyed by Jewish Boy Scouts of all backgrounds and levels
of Jewish observance. This is the fourth Jamboree in which Tzivos Hashem
has participated.

Tzivos Hashem solved the dilemma for Noah, and for many other Jewish
scouts at the Jamboree. "One of the first things Noah spoke about when
he got home was the Shofar Factory at the Sunday Jewish program," said
Noah's mother. "It meant a lot to him to be able to attend and connect
with the other Jewish scouts."

The Tzivos Hashem program was held in the Shul Tent, where the 100
scouts and leaders, who are Sabbath observant, pray with a minyan daily.
On Friday night, the Shul Tent, together with the adjacent Chapel Tent,
was overflowing with 500 Boy Scouts for Shabbat services.

Scout Patrick Matson, a lone Jew with Troop 271 from Ocean Springs,
Mississippi, wanted to attend the Friday night services. In order to
abide by the buddy system, he brought along a friend who was not Jewish
as a buddy. The "youth friendly" service was conducted in both Hebrew
and English. The Hebrew was mostly singing and the English read aloud.
The singing took on a camp style spirit and became lively and fun.
Patrick was pleased, "My friend said the service was amazing."

The Jamboree schedules a mixture of mandatory and optional activities.
Each Jamboree participant is obligated to visit the Religious
Relationships Booth of his religion. The Jewish booth was at the back of
a tent shared with booths of various religions. The Jewish booth was a
constant buzz of activity.

The Tzivos Hashem program in the Shul Tent drew close to a thousand Boy
Scouts. The program opened with brief greetings by Boy Scout
dignitaries, a play about loving a fellow Jew staged by the scouts, and
singing with audience participation. The boys then went to different
stations and booths in the Shul Tent. They were able to craft their own Shofar, braid a "Havdala" candle, and have their picture taken at a panorama display of the Western Wall while wearing tefilin. Surrounding the Shul Tent were clusters of scouts and leaders engaged in Jewish studies.

Executive Director of Tzivos Hashem, Rabbi Yerachmiel Benjaminson sees the Boy Scout Jamboree as a window of opportunity. "Tzivos Hashem is fortunate enough to have a team of enthusiastic young men who take an interest in each and every Jewish scout. In the short span of the Jamboree, they are able to give the scouts a taste of their Jewish Heritage and a desire to learn more."

Jay Lenrow, Chairman of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting, came to his first Jamboree in 1964 with his father, who was also his scout master. In 2001, Jay came again to Jamboree, this time he was the scout master and his son was the scout. "What we want to do is create a strong Jewish connection to link the generations by combining the love of the outdoors and camping achievements, coupled with growth and development of Jewish knowledge and observance," said Jay. "Scouting can do that."

Sunday afternoon a gathering was held in the Shul tent of Chabad Rabbis from Virginia and Maryland, together and officials from the Boy Scouts of America.

"We stand ready to support any organization whose values line up with ours," explained Dave Richardson, National Director of Religious
Relationships. "A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly,
courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

Twenty-three year old Mendy Nagar, of the Tzivos Hashem team, attended a Boy Scout leadership program and explained to the Rabbis, "At first I was sure their method would not work. It sounded good, but there was no discipline involved. It was based on giving the kids responsibility, which makes them self-motivated. But to my surprise, when I tried to make it happen with real kids in a real camp... it worked!"

The Rabbis agreed that Scouts and Chabad share many values. It was
decided that they would begin a relationship with the Scouts by
providing Jewish programming for Jewish scouts in their areas. Mr.
Richardson said he would get word out to the scouts that Chabad
programming would be made available. "We have to work together for the sake of the children," concluded Richardson.
 
NO FEAR
 
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson

To commemorate the yartzeit on the 20th of Av of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson—father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe,--we present the following interview with Dovber Guraryeh who recently moved to Israel from Russia. His family lived next door to Rav Levi Yitzchak's family in Yeketrinislav (Dnepropetrovsk) where Rav Levi Yitzchak was the Chief Rabbi.

After finishing yeshiva I attended a bookkeeping course which I completed successfully. I got a job as a bookkeeper at the train station in Dnepropetrovsk. And it was through this job that I was able to help Rav Levi Yitzchak. I remember clearly, a few years before the beginning of World War II, I was sitting in my office in the train station when I heard everyone saying that the Rav of the city was being taken away. I left my office and saw the Rav carrying a bundle on his shoulder and two policemen walking at his side. I was able to ascertain that he was being taken to Kiev and notified the family as soon as possible.

How did you feel when you saw the Rav being taken away?

As can be understood, it was very upsetting. But, truthfully, it wasn't a surprise. Everyone in the city was expecting the Rav's imprisonment. We all knew that if it wasn't today it would be tomorrow, or the next day.

What made it so obvious?

You, everyone who never lived in Russia as it was then, don't understand what it is. It was the most terrible time of Stalin, and in all of Russia there was not a strong rabbi like Rav Levi Yitzchak, of blessed memory, who would neither bend nor bow to the government. Everyone in the community worried about him. Everyone in the city. He gave sermons without being at all concerned about the Bolshevik emissaries who infiltrated everywhere. He declared publicly in the synagogue, in a voice filled with fire, that we couldn't give in one drop in areas of Judaism. The Bolsheviks didn't have to send spies. He didn't hint. He spoke clearly and decisively. There was, therefore, no doubt that he would be imprisoned. It was just a matter of when.

Did the Rav's strong words, during that difficult period, have an impact on the Jews of the city?

A tremendous impact. Specifically because people recognize words of truth that come from the heart, and whatever he demanded of others he first did himself. He was very strong-minded and didn't compromise on anything Jewish.

I remember, for example, in the area of kosher food. If he wasn't absolutely certain that something was 100% kosher, even if the manufacturers became angry or if the government threatened, he wouldn't give his stamp of approval. He always warned them that if they wouldn't accept all of his instructions he would announce that all of the products were not kosher. In Stalin's time even the mightiest warrior was afraid to do this type of thing.

The government didn't interfere?

Actually, many people were surprised. This was a great wonder. How he was not afraid to act and judge according to his reckonings at a time when all religious workers were being sent to Siberia. But this is how it was. Total self-sacrifice. He also arranged Jewish weddings with total self-sacrifice.

Did he also officiate at your wedding?

I was married in 1925 and, of course, Rav Levi Yitzchak officiated. He was also the sandek at my oldest son's bris. But the self-sacrifice for "kosher" weddings to which I was specifically referring were in the '30s, when the fear of the government reached new heights. People were afraid of their shadows, but the Rav was very adamant that couples shouldn't get married without a kosher chupa. He also went against the government in his insistence that Jewish bodies be prepared for burial and buried according to Jewish law as opposed to the civil requirements of the government.

How did the Jews react?

They loved him. Everyone. From every group. Everyone respected him, even those who were on the "other side." His upright bearing, his aristocratic face, he was quite a handsome man—his nobility made an impression on everyone with whom he came in contact. I remember that everyone, even those who did not agree with his views, spoke of him with the utmost respect.

You went to the Rav's shul on Shabbat?

Of course! He used to speak each Shabbat afternoon at the third meal, words of Torah, Chasidic discourses. The discourses were lengthy and not everyone understood them for they were filled with much esoteric wisdom. I remember on Rosh Hashana when he would blow the shofar he really looked like an angel. His face was beaming and he seemed to be like a burning flame.

I also remember that on every Simchat Torah he would rejoice with such happiness that words cannot describe it. He would dance for many hours without stopping, with the Torah scroll pressed against his heart. His deep and intense happiness was witnessed by many who came to see the dancing of "Rebbe Levik" on Simchat Torah. Anyone who saw it never forgot it.