Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

24 Shevat 5759 - Feb. 10, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







England's Committee for the Rescue of Immigrant Children in Israel: Fifty Years of Mesiras Nefesh in the Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish People

by Moshe Schapiro

The post-1948 era will be remembered always as a low point in Jewish religious history. Riding high after miraculously defeating a pan-Arab military force comprised of seven mechanized armies, Israel's atheist Zionist regime embarked on a campaign to systematically secularize thousands of Jewish immigrants streaming into the country from Arab countries throughout North Africa and the Middle East.

It was the age of the infamous ma'abarot, decrepit transit camps surrounded by barbed wire where new immigrants were corralled and then indoctrinated in the beliefs of secular Zionism. Here side locks of children were sheared and religious parents were jeered for stubbornly adhering to their "outdated" and "primitive" customs and beliefs. Hundreds of Yemenite children mysteriously disappeared from these camps and were later declared dead, when in fact they were spirited into kibbutzim where they were taught to scorn their heritage and tradition. Few people were aware of what was taking place inside the camps because hardly any outsiders were granted entry into them.

When news of the horrors taking place in the camps reached HaRav Yechezkel Sarna, the venerable rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chevron, he immediately contacted Dayan Yechezkel Abramsky and Rav Eliyahu Lopian and summoned them to an emergency meeting at his home. "We must do something," Rav Sarna tearfully declared at the meeting. "It is our obligation to help."

Following a lengthy discussion lasting well into the night, the three rabbonim decided to establish a national organization dedicated to extricating the children from the camps and to provide them with a Torah-true education. They named the fledgling organization Vaad Hatzala -- Committee for the Rescue of Immigrant Children in Israel. Now all they needed was someone to lead the organization and coordinate its activities. But where would they find such a capable leader?

Enter Rabbi Simcha Shapira, a young engineer, who ten years earlier had fled from Russia after serving as an officer in the Czar's anti-Bolshevik militia force. He was captured by the Red Army and duly sentenced to death by execution, yet by some miracle the officer in charge of the firing squad pardoned him at the very last second.

In 1930 he escaped and made his way into Eretz Yisroel through the arduous overland route, attended university in Haifa, received a degree in architectural engineering, married, and finally moved to Yerushalayim. Rabbi Shapira set aside a substantial part of his day for Torah study, and he earned a livelihood by designing religiously oriented construction projects such as yeshivos, synagogues and religious neighborhoods.

Although Rabbi Shapira solemnly accepted the task assigned to him by the rabbinical committee, he did not realize what he had gotten himself into until his first day on the job. At the time the Vaad Hatzala was comprised of a few dozen well- meaning activists operating on a shoestring budget. How would this ad hoc organization manage to rescue thousands of immigrants from government-funded encampments surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire? And even if they could somehow pull off such a feat, how would they then provide the children with a Torah-true education? There were hardly any religious educational institutions in Eretz Yisroel at the time.

Furthermore, a new and even more lethal danger reared its ugly head during the initial stages of Rabbi Shapira's tenure -- the Christian missionary threat. Like beasts of prey discerning the scent of blood, hordes of missionaries flocked to Eretz Yisroel and preyed on vulnerable immigrants desperate for a source of livelihood.

The deal offered by the missionaries was plain and simple -- food and cash in exchange for Jewish children. Often the parents were fooled into believing that their children would receive a Jewish education, when in fact the missionaries placed them in monasteries and made good Christians out of them. At one point, over 6,000 Israeli children were trapped in the hands of the Church.

Rabbi Shapira was overawed by the challenges that his organization faced. It seemed that theirs was an impossible task.

At this point an historic alliance was forged between Vaad Hatzala and the venerable P'eylim organization, which had been formed by HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer, the head of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. P'eylim had even less funding at its disposal than Vaad Hatzala, but it had the ability to recruit and mobilize hundreds of volunteers from the religious community. A committee of rabbinical leaders decided to make the most of the two organizations by delegating different tasks to each -- P'eylim would take care of the field work, and Vaad Hatzala would assume the responsibility of organizing and supporting the Torah community's struggle for the soul of the Jewish People.

In 1951 Dayan Abramsky, the Brisker Rav and yblt'a HaRav Avrohom Yaakov Zalasnick (rosh yeshivah of Eitz Chaim and life member of Vaad Hatzala's executive committee) urged Dr. Sam Kahn to travel to England to collect desperately needed funds to support Vaad Hatzala's rescue work.

Dr. Kahn, despite his extremely busy schedule and pressing professional duties, agreed to undertake the task. Paying for all of the expenses from his own pocket, he traveled to England and remained there for three months. The funds he managed to raise injected new life into the joint activities of Vaad Hatzala and P'eylim. All 6,000 Jewish children were rescued from the hands of the Church, and dozens of Torah schools were established to accommodate the hundreds of immigrant children who were reached by the activists in the field.

Dr. Kahn returned to England yearly until shortly before his petirah. A ladies' committee was started in 1958 and has continued raising funds for the rescue work in Eretz Yisroel ever since. The wife of Dr. Kahn's brother, Mrs. H. Kahn, took charge of the ladies committee, and together with Mrs. E. Levy, Mrs. M. Jung and Mrs. E. Bowden, organized successful annual fundraising functions for over 40 years.

In 1994 the venerable P'eylim organization merged with Lev L'Achim, a nationwide outreach organization founded by Maran Harav Eliezer Menachem Shach and Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman. The new and vastly expanded organization -- P'eylim / Lev L'Achim -- maintains the long-standing partnership with Vaad Hatzala and persists in the never-ending struggle against the negative influences that threaten to engulf the Jews of Eretz Yisroel.

Today the main focus of Vaad Hatzala's work is on combating Christian missionary activity, contending with the rising influence of cults and mysticism, and responding to the escalating rate of intermarriage between Jews and Arabs.

Missionary activity in Israel has reached truly epic proportions. Several missionary organizations are active in Israel today, including Baptists, J's Witnesses and Mormons. These groups reach out to members of all religions, Jew and Gentile alike, and they have huge sums of money at their disposal.

Messianic Jews (e.g., Jews for J.) pose by far the greatest threat. Unlike Baptists and Mormons, messianic Jewish groups exclusively target Jews as their victims. Some sects of Messianic Jews market themselves as an alternative form of Judaism, making them more dangerous than Baptists of Mormons, for their victims often are unaware that they have been drawn into an offshoot of Christianity. Messianic Jews are also numerically superior to all other missionary groups combined, with approximately 21,000 members (7,000 Jewish Israeli and 15,000 non-Jewish members). By comparison, all other missionary groups have approximately 4,000 members. In all, approximately 25,000 missionaries whose sole objective is to convert Jews are currently operating in Israel.

And that brings us to the Year 2000 Pilgrimage. According to a survey conducted by the Tourism Ministry in November 1997, some 4.5 million Christian pilgrims are expected to visit Israel between April 1999 and the end of the year. If the Pope and other church leaders lead their followers on pilgrimages to Israel, the number of pilgrims is expected to reach 16 million. (Israel's entire current population is about 5 million.)

Tourism Ministry officials are concerned that Ben Gurion Airport will not be able to handle the massive influx of pilgrims into the country. These highly stimulated and spiritually excited evangelists openly talk of "flooding the country and `saving' the Jews by showing them `the light.'" Their plans include establishing permanent communities throughout the Galil, especially along the shores of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee).

Cults abound in Israel to such a degree that it is almost impossible to keep updated records of all the various strains and variants. Suffice it to say that a rudimentary understanding of mystic beliefs such as Transcendental Meditation, Hari Krishna, Guru Maharishi and Scientology has become strictly de rigueur among members of society's upper echelon. The media reinforces the rising popularity of mysticism by dedicating weekly hour-long programs to this topic. It is therefore not surprising that according to a recent survey, approximately 30,000 Israelis identify strongly with one form or another of mysticism.

Vaad Hatzala counters the missionary threat and the growing interest in cults by: raising public awareness of the problem; hindering attempts by missionaries and cult groups to reach the Israeli public; issuing warnings to Jewish residents in areas targeted by cults and missionaries; infiltrating missionary groups and cults; and by lobbying politicians to outlaw missionary activity. Much of the fieldwork inherent in these efforts is carried out by P'eylim / Lev L'Achim.

As for intermarriage, it has become a frightening phenomenon in Israel, one that is rapidly reaching epidemic proportions in a country that built its reputation on national Jewish identity.

Vaad Hatzala and P'eylim / Lev L'Achim operate an emergency hotline that has received over 2,700 distress calls -- an average of 900 calls per year -- since it was introduced in 1995. These calls come from Jewish women who became victims of domestic violence in their relationships with Arab men. Those who call Vaad Hatzala's hot line represent but a small percentage of the victims. Many times this number are suffering in silence. Conservative estimates place the number of mixed marriages that result in grief for Jewish women at well over 10,000.

The vanquished Jewish wife, essentially nothing more than a hostage, often becomes a scapegoat for members of the husband's family and their neighbors, who may take advantage of the situation and add some blows and insults of their own. Hatred for the Jewish Nation that has simmered and boiled within them for so long finds an outlet, and they fear no legal repercussions.

The Jewish wife dare not attempt escape, fearing that her husband will murder her along with her children. In any case, where would she go? Her friends have ostracized her and her parents refuse even to acknowledge her existence.

In those rare instances when a woman does manage to escape her husband's village, Israeli police officers and welfare officials may treat her with indifference. Israeli law officials entertain little sympathy for Jewish girls who have married Arabs. Sometimes they merely berate her. "It's your own fault," they may respond. "You deserve whatever you got; go on back to your husband." (Ample documented proof of such treatment is available on demand.) Finding no option, she often returns submissively to her captor to endure more vicious beatings.

The 10,000 women who are currently married to Arab men have given birth to some 30,000 children -- Jews born of Jewish mothers. These youngsters are raised as Arabs and are taught by their society to hate the State of Israel as well as all Jews. Yet they lead miserable lives, for they never fully integrate into Arab society, as the son of a Jewish mother bears a heavy social stigma.

Vaad Hatzala responds to this alarming social trend by: funding public lectures, media releases and publication of brochures and handbooks, all aimed at raising public awareness of the disastrous social impact of intermarriage; sponsoring an emergency intake hot line (177-022-6100) for abused women; encouraging and helping women to terminate relationships with Arab boyfriends and husbands; counselling family members of women who have become involved with Arab men; launching clandestine missions to rescue Jewish women and children who are trapped in Arab villages; providing emergency housing, food, transportation, clothing, school supplies and other necessities for victims of domestic violence and their children; and by providing women and children with psychological treatment and counselling to help them reintegrate into mainstream society and make a fresh start.

This year "Vaad Hatzala-Committee for the Rescue of Immigrant Children" will be holding its annual function in London on February 23rd and 24th. From their lofty vantage point in Gan Eden, Rabbi Simcha Shapira and Dr. Kahn will most certainly enjoy seeing their descendants perpetuating the struggle for Jewish continuity in the Holy Land.

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