For those who are hungry and thirsty for spiritual sustenance, a magnificent place of inspiration and support awaits them. This place is truly God’s gift – The Holy city of Jerusalem.
Living in this city can be life transforming.
The qualities which are of greatest importance to many people living here are integrity, simplicity and commitment to God’s service. Absorbing wisdom is sought after with intense dedication. This is where the Holy One Blessed Be He is immensely appreciated and loved, where prayers rise up day and night for the awakening and the redemption of the Jewish people and of mankind.
If you are fortunate to interact and join with people from the religious community, especially on the Sabbath and Holidays, it is likely you will experience this vibrant atmosphere, alive with pure, transcendent energies, with enthusiasm, learning, singing and sharing. Many saintly teachers and unassuming people can be found here; people who are strong, humble, kindly, dedicated, living to learn, to teach, to absorb, and to be. The joy of learning wisdom is much greater than being concerned with “looking good,” or which car one is driving.
Bayit Vegan, perched on one of the southern hills of Jerusalem, high enough to catch the ocean breeze, is a unique neighborhood teeming with holy life. When I walk its pleasant tree-lined streets in the afternoon, I find myself surrounded by droves of school children returning home from their Torah studies, their faces innocent and eager, their minds filled with Torah teachings and stories about great spiritual masters. Some of the older children hold hands with their younger siblings to guide them home. Other children line up at some grocery stores, helping with the family shopping.
If you were to forget your wallet filled with cash on a street bench in Bayit Vegan, it would almost surely be returned to you intact. People would go through great pains to locate you. Honesty and integrity are a natural part of everyday life here.
On Shabbat—the Sabbath—and holidays, the sounds of prayer and singing can be heard on every street corner, from homes, synagogues, and yeshivot (religious schools). The streets that are closed to traffic are filled with people walking peacefully, greeting each other in friendship and respect, blessing each other for the best. Meals have been prepared in advance; guests are welcome at every table.
After my husband Joshua completed his residency in pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, we moved back to San Francisco. This is when we first met Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Our encounter with this extraordinary master of loving kindness forever changed our lives.
We became deeply drawn toward Jerusalem, and when Joshua was offered a position at Hadassah University Medical Center to teach pediatrics and head up their children’s ward, we moved to Israel with our three young children. From what we had heard, Bayit Vegan seemed the best neighborhood. Without our knowing it, the hand of divine providence was masterfully guiding us.
When we first moved to Bayit Vegan, Joshua searched for a synagogue in which he could pray daily and found one just a two-minute walk from our home. A number of friends mentioned that there was another synagogue three minutes away that Joshua would probably like even more. But he was happy enough with the nearer synagogue and put off going to visit the other.
One Shabbat afternoon Joshua was late for the minchah (afternoon) service, so he walked over to the farther synagogue. Upon arrival, he found the building empty. “I must have missed services here, too,” he thought.
Someone entered and reassured him that he was not late; within a few minutes the synagogue filled up and services began. The atmosphere was intense, everybody deeply and enthusiastically involved in their prayers. Much to Joshua’s surprise, the service did not end quickly. Usually he found himself taking longer than the congregation to finish his prayers, but in this case, the timing of the prayers was in harmony with his. He noticed that the prayer leader seemed to be waiting for a small, elderly man in the front right corner of the room to finish. After services, this elderly gentleman came over to Joshua and greeted him warmly.
“Where are you from?” he asked. “San Francisco.”
“Oh! I bet I know San Francisco better than you do!”
Joshua smiled in anticipation. This rabbi in a long black coat certainly didn’t look like a typical Californian.
“I bet I’ve been to some places in San Francisco that you’ve never been to,” continued the rabbi.
“What place would that be?” asked Joshua. “Have you ever been in jail?” he inquired.
Joshua admitted that he had never been sent to jail in San Francisco—or anywhere. With a big smile, the elderly gentleman told him proudly, “Well I have!”
It was only later that Joshua found out to whom he had been speaking: the beloved and revered Rabbi Yerachmiel Yehudah Meir Kalish, the Amshinover Rebbe, from the city of Amshinov in Poland, founder of this community synagogue as well as its yeshiva. He was the descendant of a long line of illustrious Chassidic rabbis from Poland.
Joshua was elated to have finally found his place of prayer. He attended services every day and delighted in watching the kindly Amshinover Rebbe oversee the activities of the synagogue.
The Rebbe spoke clearly and rapidly with a gentle, melodious, high-pitched voice that reverberated with enthusiasm and joy. He kibitzed with everybody, occasionally tugging on the side curls of the younger students. His clear eyes conveyed the innocence of a child and at the same time the depths of ancient wisdom. He was so humble, yet he was treated with great reverence.
Joshua and his holy teacher became very close. Joshua was considered a ben bayis, a part of the family. As the years went by, Joshua was privileged to be invited to sit in on countless private counseling sessions conducted by the Rebbe. Joshua never tired of watching this holy man’s unique way of listening from the heart, encouraging and strengthening those who came to see him with empathy and intense love and care. The Rebbe radiated joy, a gift from his connection with the Almighty One.
It was with pure joy that the Rebbe greeted those who needed his help and came to him for counseling. He loved them more than they could realize. His every movement, his smile, the twinkle in his eyes, his sense of humor, put people at ease. Cookies and a drink of juice were set out on the table. But the instant the Rebbe made eye contact with his visitors something immediate and profound happened. Their resistance, any emotional blockage or burden, would fall away, immediately replaced by a sense of release and joyful trust, comfort, and a new sense of confidence.
The Rebbe made his visitors feel like they had all the time in the world to pour out their story. He listened with unconditional respect and support. He enjoyed hearing their words, finding great delight in their insights, asking them the kinds of questions that would invite them to draw upon their inner resources to an even greater degree. The Amshinover Rebbe was like a gardener, gently planting seeds of wisdom in his visitors’ hearts. Extremely respectful of his guests’ free will and initiative, his silent prayers gently, yet forcefully encouraged them to tap into their inner resources of strength and wisdom and to connect with the Almighty.
In the Rebbe’s company, people saw themselves the way he saw them and strove to transform themselves. This is the way Joshua and I experienced the Amshinover Rebbe’s love and deep respect for us. And today, this is the model we use when counseling others. This is the way that works best with everyone. We are fortunate to live in times when this approach to counseling and coaching is recognized and valued in most fields of psychology. It was first promoted already in the sixties by the renowned author Carl Rogers, who modeled and taught the “client centered” approach of respect and positive regard, listening with deep attention, acceptance and empathy—not giving advice but bringing the focus on the client’s own ability to evaluate their inner resources and make their own decisions.
The Rebbe slept only two hours a day, usually between 7:30 and 9:30 AM. Between midnight and five o’clock in the morning he often counseled people. Many politicians and other prominent individuals who professed never to associate with any Rebbe visited Rav Yerachmiel secretly to ask for advice or a blessing on an undertaking.
One day Joshua saw the Rebbe quite upset with his gabbai, his attendant. This was the first time Joshua had ever seen the Rebbe displeased! “What happened? What did the gabbai do?” Joshua inquired. While the Rebbe was sleeping, the gabbai had unplugged the telephone so that the Rebbe, who wasn’t feeling well that morning, could catch at least a short nap undisturbed.
“Don’t you know that someone could really have needed my help and been unable to reach me? Don’t you know it could have been a matter of life and death?” the Rebbe pleaded with the gabbai. The Rebbe couldn’t bear the thought of not being available to someone in distress!
I witnessed a small incident that said much to me about the Rebbe’s great gentleness. One Yom Kippur morning, everyone was intensely waiting for him to join the congregants in the yeshiva synagogue for the beginning of the services. The room was packed. The Rebbe was coming out of his study room and was heading for the sanctuary when his four-year-old granddaughter stood before him, barring the way. The Rebbe asked for permission to pass, but she shook her head and wouldn’t let him go. He waited for quite a while, smiling and gently talking to her until she allowed him to pass. His entire demeanor with all people reflected this same patient consideration and warm, kindly manner of speech.
One day Joshua was invited to a special celebration at the Rebbe’s synagogue. The man who was being honored beamed with pride, joy, and gratitude. At first Joshua didn’t recognize him, but when he looked more closely at the man’s face, he realized that only a year ago he had seen this man hanging around the yeshivah’s kitchen door. A despondent, downtrodden man in his fifties, he looked and moved like a beggar.
As soon as he saw him, the Rebbe asked: “Could you do us a favor and help us in the yeshivah kitchen?” The Rebbe knew that the best thing you can do for a person who is depressed is to keep him busy. A few days later, Joshua saw this former beggar again, zealously focused on cleaning the kitchen.
A few weeks later, the man was proudly carrying a ring with the many keys of the yeshivah: he had been placed in charge of running the dormitory, the synagogue, and the kitchen. Within the year, he asked to retire from his duties at the yeshiva, with apologies to the Rebbe, as he was now venturing out into his own business. Living in an atmosphere filled with loving blessings and acceptance had restored his sense of self confidence and initiative. His life was transformed.
The Rebbe’s intuitive awareness and power of blessings were, of course, unspoken. One day, Joshua was late for a medical conference in Tel Aviv, where he was to lecture. In those days the road from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv was dangerous, narrow and steep, with many sharp turns. Joshua was driving too fast and lost control of the car, which slid straight toward a tree.
Miraculously the car stopped inches from the tree trunk. “Thank God!” he thought.
Later, as Joshua was driving more slowly through Tel Aviv, one of his tires blew out. “Oh, no! I’ll never make it to my lecture—and people are waiting for me.” Amazingly, he found a service station just a few yards away! In minutes, the attendant had changed his tire, and Joshua even made it to the meeting on time. After his lecture, he drove back uneventfully to Jerusalem.
Back in Bayit Vegan, Joshua stopped by to visit the Rebbe, as he did every day. This time the Rebbe greeted him at the door of the yeshivah with a big smile and the words, “Shalom Aleichem, peace upon you.” “Aleichem Shalom,” Joshua replied. The Rebbe saw that Joshua wasn’t getting the hint. “Do you know why I greeted you with a Shalom Aleichem?” he asked.
“I’m not sure. Why?”
“In our tradition, we greet people like this only on two occasions: when we haven’t seen a good friend for more than three days, or when someone has gone through a time of danger.” Joshua had seen him only yesterday. Then it dawned on him: “Ah!…Yes! I have gone through danger. As a matter of fact, life-threatening danger. If my car hadn’t stopped just before it hit the tree…or if my tire had burst on the steep, wet, winding road down to Tel Aviv….” The Rebbe knew all along!
“Should I bentsh Gomel?” Joshua asked, inquiring about reciting the prayer that one says upon escaping mortal danger.
“If you feel you wish to,” was the Rebbe’s modest answer.
This story makes us wonder. Who knows how often we can be spared great hardships through the prayers and intercessions of those who feel closely bonded with the Almighty.
Silent blessings connected to the Highest Source flowing graciously and easily—these are our latent gifts to receive and to give. We are so privileged with great, immense potential. We are sitting on a treasure chest and we don’t know it. May we soon discover it.
The best gift that the Amshinover Rebbe gave to me was the gentle spiritual growth and transformation that happened to Joshua as he was basking in the warmth and kindness of his loving attention. I was the first to benefit from it, for this growth was my dearest wish for him.
On our first visit together we were received with much welcoming smiles and attention. The first question the Rebbe asked me was “How are you adjusting to your new environment?”
At that time I was wholly absorbed in selflessly
being a wife and mother. I didn’t know what to say.
Joshua answered: “She is doing very well here.”
The Rebbe snapped back at him:”I didn’t ask you. I asked her!”
I forgot all about this, but Joshua never did and metioned it a few times over the years.
I also vividly remember the way the Rebbe looked at me and smiled when Joshua presented one of my first paintings to him. He gently suggested: “Perhaps you might have it reproduced and sold in the gift shops?” Encouragement like this goes a long way. I felt inspired, more paintings evolved. These developed into a children’s story, then into a book entitled “A Gift of Love” with 36 full color illustrations. It was first published decades ago and people still ask to buy more copies. It is soon to be republished.
His encouragement for my creative output continues to this day through the loving attention of his daughter, Rebbetzin Chayah Milikovsky. She is giving me her keen support, especially with my writings and paintings.
During Yom Kippur services in 1973 at the Amshinover yeshivah, the praying was so intense and focused that no one seemed to hear the sudden loud warning sounds of the siren announcing an unexpected attack on our land. Joshua recalls, “I didn’t hear the sirens. At the end of services I looked around and was surprised to see that a great deal of the congregation was absent. Then I heard the news. We were under attack. Those who were on active duty had received a discreet tap on the shoulder from one of their neighbors assigned for this task of recruiting each other and had retired silently in order not to disturb the prayers. Within a few hours every available soldier had reached his assigned place of military duty.
In times of attacks and wars, the people of Israel become immediately united as one, ready for great sacrifice in order to protect others from danger.
This commitment in oneness brings down powerful divine intervention in many unknown and unpredictable ways. Ardent prayers for peace and strength ascend from most every heart, calling for safety and blessings on everyone facing any harm. This power of blessings has incalculably spared countless lives during the six wars since Israel’s independence in 1948. Hatred and weapons have no real power when confronted with the holiness of true connection with the supreme Source of Life.
What was most miraculous about Rav Yerachmiel was his radiance. A radiance of smiles and kindness, good cheer and enthusiasm that was irresistible—a dynamic spirit impossible to contain. Considering what this frail looking gentleman had experienced during World War II, this was truly wondrous.
You may be wondering how the Rebbe ended up in jail in San Francisco. This incident was part of a dramatic story of escape from Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II, under the inspired guidance of his illustrious father, Rabbi Shimon Shalom Kalish, known as Rav Shimon Shalom. A handful of books have been written about this miraculous rescue of more than sixteen hundred Jews. The material quoted below is from one of these books, The Fugu Plan, by Marvin Tokayer and Mary Swartz. Rav Yerachmiel’s daughter, our dear friend Rebbetzin Chayah Milikovsky, who was fifteen years old at that time, was also kind enough to share some details of these events with us.
Rescue with Reb Shimon Shalom in Japan
In Poland, at the end of 1939, there seemed to be no avenue of escape from the invading Nazi hordes. All of the surrounding countries had shut their borders tightly, except for Russia. And Russia offered little safety for Polish Jews. An atmosphere of helplessness, denial, and doom prevailed, not only for the Jews, and not only in Poland, but throughout Europe.
Yet, out of the blue, someone appeared that no one could have dreamed of or hoped for: Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese Consul-General in Kovno, Lithuania. He understood the desperate situation of the Jews and was in a position to save many hundreds of them. Against his own government’s orders, and at great risk to his career and the safety of his family, Sugihara granted hundreds of visas to Polish Jews who had fled to Lithuania. Even when he was forced to leave Kovno at the end of 1940, he continued to sign visas at a fast pace and was even handing them out the window of the departing train he was on. The visas permitted the refugees to travel through Russia and on to Kobe, Japan. Although their final destination was to be Curaçao, after spending several months in Kobe, they would be sent to Shanghai, China.
Among those who received visas were the Amshinover family, Rabbi Shimon Shalom and his wife Yita Tauba, his son Rav Yerachmiel Meir and his wife Faiga Bracha with their children, Menachem and Chayah. These 6 people were the only survivors of a family numbering much more than a hundred members. Most fortunate were those who escaped in spite of the organized mass murder of 6 million European Jews.
In Poland, just a few hundred managed to get through, most of them thanks to the generosity and self sacrifice of Sugihara. Among them the students of the Mir Yeshiva also found their way out.
They readily traveled by train from Kovno, through the endless plains of Siberia and Mangolia, to Vladivostok. From there they took a boat to Kobe, Japan. The entire journey took about two weeks. In Kobe the refugees were warmly received by the Jewish community of a few dozen families (Middle Eastern and European businesspeople who had settled in Kobe before World War I), who, with the financial help of international Jewish organizations, quickly rented as many homes as were available.
Coming into contact with the Japanese way of life was an immense delight. The Japanese were charming, and polite; Kobe was a lovely, clean city. What a contrast from Poland, with its deep- seated, centuries-old hatred of the Jews, its brutal, murderous pogroms that erupted at the least pretext, its pervading dirt and poverty.
All this felt like paradise. But soon a government summons was sent to the Jewish community of Kobe requesting two of their leaders to appear for a “military interrogation” in Tokyo. This was a serious matter. Everyone knew that the Germans and Japanese had become allies, and that Nazi hatred and lust for power was already infecting the Japanese military leadership.
Those in charge of the Jewish community of Kobe realized that this “interrogation” required more than diplomatic skills or business acumen. A miracle was needed. The community asked Rav Shimon Shalom to represent them, as well as the elderly Rabbi Moshe Shatzkes. They were accompanied by Leo Chanim, a Jewish resident of Kobe, who served as their translator. Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro, young linguist, accompanied them as well.
The following is quoted from the book “The Fugu Plan” by Marvin Tokayer and Mary Swartz:
The four men traveled overnight by train from Kobe to Tokyo, a thirteen-hour journey. The train’s Japanese passengers seemed much amused by the long, black formal satin coats and broad-brimmed hats of the two bearded old men…But they could not have been more gracious in their actual dealings with the “strange foreigners”: extra room was made for the Jews; tangerines, balls of rice wrapped in seaweed, even sake was offered to them. The rabbis smiled and politely refused.
Then a group of Nazi soldiers passed through the car screaming, “Parasites! Pigs!” in German. They kicked at the rabbis’ legs, grabbed at their beards and spat into their faces. “You think you are safe here? Hah! You are safe nowhere. We will annihilate you. We will eradicate your whole, stinking, sub-human race from the face of the earth! You are doomed, Jews. Soon you will be dead…” The soldiers moved on, bored with the lack of response.
The rabbis tried to clean themselves up and sipped some hot tea from thermoses they had brought with them. Leo Chanim was in utter shock. Feeling ill, he went to the bathroom and threw up.
When they arrived in Tokyo, they were met by two officials and were immediately taken to a windowless interrogation room in a nondescript government building. On one side of the table sat the three rabbis and Leo Chanim. On the other side were four admirals in dress uniforms. Heads shaven, arms folded stiffly across their chests, they sat motionless. The opening pleasantries were so brief they were just short of insulting. Then suddenly the opening shot was conveyed through their translator.
“What is the inherent evil of your people that our friends the Germans hate you so much?”
Rabbi Shatzkes was the more eminent scholar, and the Rebbe deferred to him. But Rabbi Shatzkes had no answer. What could one say to such a question? How does one confront such arrogance, such a void of knowledge. Where does one begin?
“The Nazis hate the Jews because the Nazis know that we Jews are Asians.”
It was the Amshenover Rebbe who had spoken. Scarcely three seconds had passed between the posing of the question and this calm response. It surprised the admiral because of its totally unforeseen nature. The admiral involuntarily shifted his eyes to look directly at the Rebbe. “What does this mean—you are Asians. We are Asians!”
“Yes,” the Rebbe agreed. “And you are also on the list.”
The Amshinover Rebbe smiled a smile so supremely calm, so warm, so totally out of keeping with the threatening atmosphere which the officers had tried to create that, in spite of themselves, all four of them leaned forward, waiting for him to speak further.
“My dear friends, I have just come from Europe. I have lived with the great hate that the Nazis have for others. I think that perhaps no one who has not lived in the midst of it can understand it. But to get even an inkling of the scope of their hate, don’t read their writings in the censored translations they give you. Read what Nazis write in the original German. There, you will learn that you also are on their list of ‘inferior people.’ So are the gypsies, the blacks, the Slavs. and the Japanese. . .”
“Let me tell you a story,” the Rebbe continued, sitting back slightly in the hard chair. “In Berlin, not many years ago, perhaps three or four, a young German girl fell in love with a fine young man, a Japanese man who was working at the Japanese embassy. Naturally enough, the two young people wanted to marry, but such a thing could not be in Germany. Such a marriage was forbidden by law, by the laws of ‘racial purity,’ which prohibit a fine German girl from marrying a. . . Japanese.”
All four admirals were now staring at the Rebbe, not even trying to conceal their interest. They had heard such stories about America which had changed its immigration laws to keep out the “Japs” or about the British, who called Asians “Yellow Monkeys.” And now, what was this man saying? That Japan’s most successful ally—those who would rule the world with her—that the Germans too thought in such terms?
“You are lying,” the first admiral said.
“No,” the Rebbe said, calmly. “Consider for yourself: What is the image of Hitler’s master race? How does he describe it? In films, documentaries, newspapers, who is shown bringing victory home to the German fatherland? Always, always, the so-called Aryans. Tall, broad-shouldered, blond hair, blue eyes. . . The reason they hate me, the reason they hate all of us, is because we don’t fit the image of the Aryan master race.”
The admirals sat staring straight ahead for a long time after the Amshinover Rebbe had finished.
Eventually, one of the lesser admirals spoke directly to the [Japanese translator Fujisawa]: “Tell our Jewish guests there will now be a brief recess. Tell them we have been inexcusably inconsiderate in not allowing them time to rest from their long trip and in not offering proper refreshments. Tell them we will meet in two hours time in a more comfortable place.” He paused, then added, “and be polite, Fujisawa- san.”
The four officers stood as the Jews were shown out of the interrogation room and led to a suite of clean, Western-style rooms overlooking the garden behind the building.
When, several hours later, the Jews were shown into a large conference room lined with windows, the atmosphere was entirely different. Again the four admirals were lined up proudly on one side of a table. But now, seated beside them, were two newcomers, resplendent in long white robes and tall stiff black hats tied decorously under their chins. They were high-ranking Shinto priests. The heavy table had been set out with bowls of apples and bananas and tangerines and plates of seaweed-wrapped rice balls. Gone was the heavy hand of the military. The admirals were merely for show. Throughout the next four hours, they said not a word. From the opening greeting through the final farewells, the two priests were entirely in control.
The discussion centered almost exclusively on religion: comparisons and contrasts between Shinto and Judaism, extended explanations of the theory of common origin (that the Japanese were descended, in part, from one of the ‘ten lost tribes’ which had come to Japan). Rabbi Shatzkes described the basic principles, ideas and ceremonies of the Jews. The younger of the two priests responded with explanations of the customs and beliefs of Shinto.
It was late afternoon before the meeting drew to a close. As a final note, the Amshenover Rebbe repeated the gratitude of the refugees to the Japanese for taking them in and treating them so well.
An admiral spoke briefly to the priests, and then the first admiral, in turn, reassured the rabbis. “Go back to your people. Tell them they have nothing to fear: we Japanese will do our utmost to provide for your safety and peace; you have nothing to fear while in Japanese territory.”
The Fugu Plan: The Untold Story of the Japanese and the Jews During World War II, by Marvin Tokayer and Mary Swartz, New York: Paddington Press, Ltd. 1979, pp. 168-181.
A few hours before, the Jewish community had stood on the brink of catastrophe. Now a gentle old man had dissolved the danger with a few inspired words. When a person lives in a state of blessing, connected with God, the right words and the right decisions naturally flow spontaneously.
The refugees spent five months in Japan in blessed peace and security. During that time, Professor Setsuzo Kotsuji, a Christian minister who was well-versed in classical Hebrew and who had acted as an unofficial liaison between the Jewish refugees in Japan and the Japanese government, came to visit Rav Shimon Shalom a few times, eager to learn all he could about Judaism. A deep friendship grew between them, so deep, in fact, that Professor Kotsuji later converted to Judaism.
When he passed away in 1973 he was buried in Jerusalem’s Har Menuchot cemetery. A few years ago, his two daughters came to Jerusalem to visit Rebbetzin Chayah. It was a most pleasant visit. They were accompanied by a translator, a woman who had also converted to Judaism.
The golden period of rest in Japan didn’t last more than 5 months. For then, heavy pressure from Nazi Germany forced the Japanese to send the sixteen-hundred Jewish refugees now scattered across Japan to Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Rav Shimon Shalom and his family were invited by Japanese military officials to remain in Japan and avoid the difficult living conditions in war torn Shanghai. Rav Shimon Shalom, however, would not abandon his people in their distress.
He and his family remained in Shanghai until the end of World War II. During those dark years, the Kalish family heard about the vicious torture, murder, and deportation of millions of European Jews. In Poland, hardly anyone survived. The Kalish family escaped only through miraculous divine interventions. But in Shanghai, another tragedy occurred to them: One night, Nazi thugs cornered Menachem, Reb Yerachmiel’s only son, as he was walking alone down the street. They mercilessly beat up this young seventeen-year- old so brutally that he never completely recovered.
In 1945, the family boarded a ship for San Francisco, on their way to New York. They were told at the American Embassy that all of their passports were in order. But when they arrived in San Francisco’s immigration check point, it was discovered that Menachem was a few days past 18, the age at which he was required to have his own passport. So Menachem, with his father and mother were sent to jail in San Francisco until the paperwork could be sorted out. Chayah traveled on with her grandparents to New York. Perhaps this was the final blow for Menachem, who had hoped to finally find a place of justice and peace. For the rest of his life, he chose to quietly study by himself in his room. He never married or took up any challenge.
One week later, representatives of the Jewish community in San Francisco finally succeeded in bailing them out. The family settled in New York for a few years. In 1954, Reb Shimon Shalom’s soul departed for a higher world. It was then clear that his legacy of leadership should be taken over by his son Reb Yerachmiel, who had the qualities necessary to move the family to the Holy Land, Israel, recreate a new community and open a yeshiva there. Chassidic masters are ambassadors between earth and heaven, between us and the refined, pure realms of intense holiness from higher worlds. Their deep soul connection with the Supreme One is capable of lifting up entire communities to a higher level.
So the family moved from New York City to Jerusalem, the beloved Holy City hoped for against all hope for so long! They settled in Bayit Vegan, where they built the Amshinover synagogue and yeshivah, on Harav Frank Street. It has been thriving ever since.
Rav Shimon Shalom had only one son, Rev Yerachmiel, who had two children: a daughter, Rebbetzin Chayah, and a son, Menachem, who never married. Rebbetzin Chayah had three children who are now blessed with many children and grandchildren, now numbering more than one hundred. The kindness, holiness, wisdom, humility, peace, harmony, and inner joy that Rav Shimon Shalom and his descendents exemplify influences the lives of many thousands. And these thousands reach out to many more thousands. For the true love of God and of His Creation forever strengthens, comforts, heals, and frees those who are receptive and yearning for higher values and meaning in their lives.
Chassidic Rebbes, through their continuous, absolute, intense devotion to God and their fellow men, are channels of a steady flow of blessings from on High that can permeate the lives of the people around them, endowing them with the strength to thrive and make the best of even the most difficult circumstances. The Rebbes’ inner connection with the Higher Realms radiates from them as a powerful energy of inner bliss, peace, and well being. This is what we experienced with Reb Yerachmiel. He rarely gave discourses. The engaging way he moved, swiftly and lightly, the intense focus with which he prayed, or smiled, or looked at people spoke volumes. The tone of his gentle voice penetrated the heart. Harmonious transformations of people and situations just seemed to happen around him.
Reb Yerachmiel was a practical, down to earth man, quick to action. Joshua once brought a friend of his from New York, Professor Rose, to visit the Rebbe. Professor Rose was prepared to have a deep theological conversation with him. The Rebbe sat them down with drinks and cookies.
“How are you?” he asked Professor Rose. “Fine, thank you.”
The Rebbe leaned forward over the table to look penetratingly into his eyes. “How are you, really?” he inquired softly.
At this point Joshua’s friend suddenly broke down and spilled out his story. He hadn’t even mentioned it to Joshua. Having been given a grant from an organization in the United States to teach at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, he had just moved to Israel with his wife and children. But when he arrived, he discovered that the position was unavailable; it had simply disappeared.
Immediately, the Rebbe picked up the phone and called some acquaintances at the University. Amazingly, within minutes the problem was solved, and the position reappeared. From that day forward, Professor Rose happily began to teach at the Hebrew University.
In 1975, eight young couples, including Joshua and me, all of us students of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, were inspired to found a spiritual community in Moshav Me’or Modi’im. We needed the government agency of Poalei Aguda’s approval to do so. It was only through the intervention of the Amshinover Rebbe that we received the go-ahead. The settlement is situated near the site where the ancient Maccabees began their revolt against the Greeks to reclaim the Holy Temple. Even though twelve previous attempts to settle a moshav at this site had failed, Me’or Modi’im continues to thrive. The early years were rough, the living conditions very primitive with no source of income available. It was mostly due to the frequent visits, blessed uplifting support and help form Rabbi Carlebach that the founding settlers kept their spirit strong. Between his blessings and those of the Amshinover Rebbe, the moshav survived.
In 1976, with little warning, the Rebbe took ill and, a few weeks later, quietly passed away. Joshua had been attending to him at Hadassah Hospital. He still hasn’t quite recoverd from this loss. The first words Rebbetzin Chayah said after her father’s departure were: “In all my life I have never seen my holy father do or say anything that wasn’t perfectly good.”
On that day, I knew Rav Yerachmiel’s soul was departing from this world when I witnessed three sparrows fly into our apartment in Bayit Vegan and perch on a chanukiyyah, a Chanukah menorah. Chanukah is a celebration of the victory of the Maccabees and the restoration of Light in the Holy Temple. The sparrows sat there for several minutes and then flew off. As the Rebbe’s soul was ascending to higher worlds, these messengers on wings were bringing to us the blessings of our beloved Rebbe and signaling that our venture to settle Moshav Me’or Modi’im had his support and approval. A few minutes later, Joshua called to confirm the sad news.
After the Rebbe left this world, the community insisted that his grandson, Rav Ya’akov Milikovsky, assume leadership of the community. It took an entire year to convince Rav Ya’akov to accept the awesome responsibility and become the present Amshinover Rebbe.
Looking back to when the Rebbe had first moved to Israel in 1954, the small insignificant neighborhood of Bayit Vegan had been zoned by city planners as an industrial area. When the Rebbe moved in, the neighborhood rapidly changed into a vibrantly alive religious community composed of Israelis, North and South Americans, Europeans, South Africans, and more, all of whom lived together in harmony. Bayit Vegan teems with yeshivot, synagogues, and other study centers. Since 1968 its population has grown at an ever increasing rate. New apartment buildings have mushroomed over all the surrounding area. The entire neighborhood is teeming with a peaceful vibrantly alive atmosphere.
Even though Reb Yerachmiel, the Amshinover Rebbe’s soul departed to a higher world more than 30 years ago, we remember him as vividly as if our encounters happened yesterday. With just one glance, one smile, a few gentle words from him, whole new transformations would emerge in our deeper awareness. He was a powerful ally to our growth, our inner search for true reality and harmonious living. He was a gentle friend, a most caring, loving father, holy Rebbe, mentor, counselor and coach. Who can hold on for long periods of time in a state of immense reverence and blissful inner communion with the infinite Creator, with a Peace encompassing eternities? Fortunately for us, there are some exceptional soul giants who can. The power gathered from that sustained, awed focus is radiating forth from them as an indescribable energy that is palpable, bringing a sense of blessed harmony and calm, steadying and strengthening those who happen to be around, leaving an unforgettable feeling of warmth, kindness and well being. A highly, refined, pure energy that heals on every level.
from the book: Masters and Miracles – By Liliane Ritchie.