Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

17 Shevat 5759 - Feb. 3, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Bnei Brak at 75: City of Torah and Chassidus

by T. Braun

The history of the "City of Torah and Chassidus," Bnei Brak, is surely closely linked to the history of the entire Torah settlement of Eretz Yisroel. It cannot be separated from the annals and deeds of the initial builders of the renewing settlement, who were enamored of Eretz Yisroel, and whose hearts were constantly directed toward Tzion, the resting place of the Shechina Hakedosha.

Nonetheless, there was something different in the fascinating story of the city of Bnei Brak, now the metropolis of chareidi Jewry, situated in the heart of what was then referred to as the "new yishuv" -- between Tel Aviv, the "first Hebrew city," and Petach Tikvah, a city founded with the blood and sweat of pioneers from the old yishuv in Yerushalayim.

Those Petach Tikvah pioneers, who left Yerushalayim's Old City, had only recently emerged from the "immersion in fire" which settling Eretz Yisroel under the conditions of those times entailed, when Bnei Brak was founded. They were Jews -- some of whom had been born in Yerushalayim and were descendants, sons or grandsons of Jews of lofty spiritual stature who had come to Eretz Yisroel to sanctify themselves within it.

Even those who weren't born in Yerushalayim already had a quite a long history of absorption pangs. Their pioneering acts of founding new neighborhoods of Yerushalayim, outside the Old City's walls, building villages and urban settlements, was accomplished after they had become familiar with Eretz Yisroel character, its climate, its conditions and its people. Thus, when they set out to found a new settlement, they didn't detach themselves from their former homes. On the contrary, Yerushalayim remained the sum and substance of all their joyous events.

Unlike them, however, the founders of Bnei Brak and their leader, a great man of vision and deed, Rabbi Yitzchok ("Itche") Gerstenkorn, were completely pioneers. When they settled Bnei Brak, they had left their entire past behind them, fulfilling what was said: "Go you from your country, and from your birthplace, to the land which I will show you," without any possibility of remorse.

For them, aliya and the building of their homes occurred at the same time. They entered the wilderness and confronted the sand dunes together with their families. They fastened tent-pegs and laid foundations, while exposed to the winds, sweltering sun, frosty nights, coyotes, the onslaughts of mosquitoes, and the dangers of thieves and robbers. They survived without enough water, without sewers, without lighting, without vital food products. Without anything.

Shavuos 5684

The first group of settlers arrived straight from the great Jewish metropolis of Warsaw. They sold their homes and belongings, liquidated their businesses, and set sail on a ship which docked in Yaffo, where they celebrated their first Shavuos. It was compounded by great joy as well as by old- timers' caustic remarks, one of which was heard by Reb Itche Gerstenkorn. "Now they'll dance as much as they wish," the old-timer had said. "Let's see how they'll dance next Shavuos."

But they ignored these remarks, and set out to settle the land immediately after Shavuos.

But where should they settle? No Absorption Department met them. No organization had made even the most basic arrangements for them. But they were not deterred. The vibrant spirit of the man of vision, Reb Itche, urged, prodded and spurred them not to stop nor to be discouraged. R' Yitzchok didn't suspect the old-timers of malicious intent. He understood that they spoke from experience. But he resolutely decided that there could be no retreat. "Here I will sit, because I desire her."

Nonetheless, how does one begin? There wasn't even a tent in that wasteland called Bnei Brak. But a group of families with their children waited, and needed a roof over their heads.

On the 8th of Sivan, the day after isru chag Shavuos, Reb Yitzchok Gerstenkorn went to Tel Aviv, where he bought construction materials and hired workers. He set out with them to the place which would one day became the city of Torah and chassidus and began building shacks.

Rabbi Gerstenkorn, initiator of the entire endeavor, had three years of extensive activity, both in the shaping of the idea to found the chareidi settlement in Eretz Yisroel as well as in all the practical aspects of acquiring land and raising money for the lofty purposes, including two advance visits to Eretz Yisroel.

The Pangs of Settling Eretz Yisroel

At the same time (as related in detail in the book, Bechevlei Yotzer by Rabbi Aharon Soraski) three of the settlers decided to work alongside the hired laborers and apply themselves to the very same tasks being performed by the hired hands. They were: Reb Chaim Perl, Reb Chaim Shemengrad, and Reb Sholom Tik.

Later on the three of them suffered the aftereffects of the backbreaking labor. The skin of one peeled as a result of the heat of the burning sun. The other was bitten by a scorpion and writhed in pain an entire day. The third suffered heat stroke. But after four days, the shack which they built stood erect.

The three, who had been wealthy merchants in their native countries, had come to Eretz Yisroel without their families, since in the brief time available to them they hadn't managed to liquidate their businesses. But they also didn't want to forego the experience of being the first pioneering group to carve the history of Bnei Brak.

Those three were joined by an entire family, the first to settle in Bnei Brak: Reb Moshe Weitz, his wife Soro, and their two children, Avrohom and Benzion. On erev Shabbos the family left Yaffo to settle in the already built shack, which still lacked windows and doors.

When the appointed time arrived, Soro Weitz lit Shabbos candles, the first Shabbos candles to be lit in the renewed city after two thousand years of desolation. Because there were no windows, the howling wind spurted through the shack and threatened to extinguish the flames of the candles. The men had to cover the doors and windows with their Shabbos coats in order to prevent the howling wind from blowing out the candles. This was the first battle, and the Shabbos candles won, and sanctified the city at that time, and for always.

After Shabbos, led by Reb Itche Gerstenkorn, the other settlers and their families arrived in Bnei Brak and occupied the shacks. In this first group were: R' Arye Mordechai Rabinowitz, a descendent of the Yehudi Hakodosh and the rav of the Karov community of Poland, who came to Eretz Yisroel with the first group and served as the first moro de'asra of the new settlement, R' Tzvi Ephraim Lehman and his family, R' Zelig Shapira and his family, R' Yisroel Halbfish and his family, R' Moshe Granwitz and his family, R' Yosef Ehrlich and his family, and three additional men: Reb Moshe Guttman, R' Chaim Malin and Reb Yechiel Makover, whose families remained behind in Poland in the meantime.

It would take many volumes to describe the obstacles which these pioneers had to overcome until they established even the most minimal means for basing their lives. They overcame the transportation problem with donkeys, atop which they would ride to Tel Aviv to buy their basic provisions. The also used those donkeys to overcome the problem of the water. Atop donkeys, they would set out for the neighboring Arab village, from which water was drawn from the well in exchange for a container of kerosene for the operation of the pump. The water was brought to the settlement and transferred to barrels and clay jugs. It took a long time until the first drilling to the depths of the earth took place for a local well. But once this was accomplished, there was abundant water for everyone.

And They Became Builders of the City

The first settlers underwent a total upheaval in their lives, not only due to their shifts in location, but also due to the changes in their entire lifestyles. In the past, all of them had been successful merchants. They had lived in relative affluence and in comfortable homes with all of the conveniences.

Here everything was different. They adjusted themselves to a life of harsh labor. "They became the builders of the city" in the fullest sense of the phrase, and with their very hands, they hewed sand mounds, paved paths and a central road, and did not grow tired under the beating sun. The ideal of settling Eretz Yisroel burned fire in their bones, and this enabled them to overcome all of the difficulties.

Their souls were revived by the fact that they merited what their predecessors had not. What particularly revived their weary souls in the mornings and toward evening, when they would gather in the beis medrash situated in a special shack which was built immediately upon the arrival of the very first settlers, for tefilla betzibbur three times a day, for the daf yomi shiur, and a gemora shiur and an additional one in Mishnayos and the Shulchan Oruch.

All these endeavors were accompanied by joy. After all, it was no insignificant thing to leave Poland and to build a new settlement on the sacred soil of Eretz Yisroel, the palace of the King, with one's own hands.

On the 11th of Tammuz, 5684 (1924), the settlement of Bnei Brak donned official garb in honor of the celebration of the official laying of the cornerstone. The ceremony took place in the presence of rabbonim, public figures, guests from various places throughout the country, and the few residents of the city. However, after the celebration, at which an uplifted mood prevailed, gray, difficult days arrived: the days of preparation, of laying the groundwork, which accompanied all of the concerns for the ongoing livelihoods of the residents, for the formation of vital infrastructures, and in the main, the repayment of the debts for the purchase of the land. This burden was borne by Rabbi Yitzchok Gerstenkorn, the initiator as well as the life force behind this special pioneering endeavor.

A Model of a City Built Al Taharas Hakodesh

It's a mistake to think that he was naive and didn't consider in advance all that awaited him in this endeavor. His shouldering this special pioneering effort was not the result of his having been swept up by the stormy fervor which paralyzes one's perception of reality and blurs the true view of circumstances.

The contrary was true. Reb Itche was a clever, realistic person, determined as flint and strong of nature. He was fully aware of the difficulties and saw the obstacles which had to be overcome before transforming the dream into a tangible reality. This fact emerges from his plans and from his foresight, for at every stage, he was two stages ahead.

Just as at the outset he thought about the 1000 dunams of land which had to be acquired, about investors to be recruited, and the first shacks to be built, so did he devote advance planning to the infrastructure, education, sources of livelihood and finances. He also knew that he could not expect help from any organizations, parties or public funds, but had to initiate and organize everything himself.

One may ask: If such was the case, how did he undertake so difficult a task? The answer is: He was spurred by his fiery faith and by unlimited ahavas Eretz Yisroel, as well as by the inner feeling that the ground was burning underneath the feet of the Jews of Poland, and that his founding of Bnei Brak was also a rescue endeavor from the aspect of "for sustenance He has sent me."

75 years have passed since the dawning of this daring adventure. Today, Bnei Brak is a city of Torah and chassidus, with between 120,000 and 130,000 residents, ken yirbu. For years it has been a model of a city founded al taharas hakodesh, and it is an incontestable fact that it occupies a place of honor on the map of the settlements of Eretz Yisroel.

It is studded with radiant gems in the form of the yeshivos hakedoshos. It is carpeted with its chassidic courts, consummated by gedolei Yisroel, maranan verabonon, the roshei yeshiva and the admorim who chose it as their place of residence. It is replete with great talmidei chachomim, and filled with hosts of bnei Torah who nourish it day and night through their Torah study. It is bustling with synagogues, botei medrash and talmudei Torah. Alongside all this, it is a city which sustains its inhabitants, and is no less developed than other cities which were built with public funds.

When observing all this, it is impossible not to be astounded by the intensity of the initial vision and its source, which transcends all understanding. The Chazon Ish, who settled in Bnei Brak nine years after its founding, accompanied the steps of R' Yitzchok Gerstenkorn with strong bonds of friendship. In a letter, he writes: "All history consists of many intertwined branches whose beginnings are linked to their ends and whose ends are linked to their beginnings. However, the vision of one who sees the initial growth, while it is still an isolated factor, before its future has unfolded, is different."

These remarks aptly depict the vision and the man, R' Yitzchok Gerstenkorn, who stood beside the cradle of Bnei Brak and accompanied it until it grew into a metropolis. At the outset, he had the perception to see its future. Fortunate is the person who is able to hope and to believe and to be so convinced of the correctness of his ways and the steps he has taken.

In historical retrospect, we clearly see the precise plan of hashgocho Elyona. Today, it is evident to all that He prepared an asylum for us by means of the renewal of the Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisroel, and sent illustrious figures -- stalwart men of stature -- to build this refuge. Without a doubt, Reb Itche Gerstenkorn is among those unique men. He was the shlucha deRachmono for this great enterprise, as were other great figures, each with his own mission, task and place.

It is written: "Hashem thought to destroy the wall of the daughter of Tzion; He extended a line" (Eicho 2:8). One of the gedolim explains: The moment HaKodosh Boruch Hu entertained the thought of destroying the wall of the daughter of Tzion, He "extended the line" for its renewed building. Only in that manner can we understand how an avreich from Warsaw, R' Yitzchok Gerstenkorn, was inspired to assume responsibility for the building of a chareidi city al taharas hakodesh in Eretz Yisroel.

The Source of the Idea

The spiritual source from which Reb Yitzchok Gerstenkorn nurtured his idea was chassidic Poland, in the shtiebel of the Sakranwitz chassidim, located on the famous Nabalki Street of Warsaw. The tzaddik, the chassidic leader of this dynasty, was the admor of Sakranwitz, the saintly R' Shmev'li Kalish, son of the "silent tzaddik," R' Mendeli of Vorke, and a grandson of the founding father of the Vorke dynasty, R' Yitzchok, one of the great admorim of Poland of over a hundred and fifty years ago.

Reb Pesachya Gerstenkorn, Reb Yitzchok's father, was one of the prominent chassidim of Sakranwitz, a talmid chochom and a great baal chessed. He raised all four of his sons, including Reb Yitzchok, to study Torah diligently and to lead true Torah lives. He even accompanied his son during the incipient stages of the founding of Bnei Brak. Reb Pesachya, however, did not merit to see the fulfillment of the endeavor, because he passed away in his prime.

When we examine the forthcoming chapters of Bnei Brak's history, parts of which appear in a book written by Rav Gerstenkorn, My Memories of Bnei Brak, it is immediately evident that with all of the initial difficulties of recruiting settlers and organizing the building, the most difficult part was, "who will rise up" -- that is, who will offer financial support. This was much more difficult than "who will go up." Indeed this is the most difficult aspect of the building of every important enterprise.

A Tireless Effort to Recruit Funds

For many years, Reb Yitzchok Gerstenkorn trudged from donor to donor in Europe, the United States and South Africa in order to secure support for the institutions of Bnei Brak and cover the deficits which the city had incurred. It was also necessary to assist the factory owners who, due to the problems of the period and their location, found it difficult to stand on their own feet. Among them were those who had liquidated enterprises in Poland and had brought all of their assets to Bnei Brak in order to open factories there. Many, in the end, remained penniless.

One of them was Reb Tzvi Meir, a Gerrer chossid, who upon the advice of the admor, had gone to Eretz Yisroel with his family to settle in Bnei Brak during its first years. He was the father of R' Yitzchok Meir, who later served as mayor of Bnei Brak, and has published his memories of the city.

Days and years passed, and the cycle of efforts to lay the groundwork of the city continued, with ups and downs. But it seems as if from that point on, the main aim was to insure the unique character of the city, so that it would remain as its founders had hoped, a city of Torah and mitzvos, capable of withstanding all the raging winds of the period. It was fervently hoped that Bnei Brak would not become like other settlements where, after the passing of their founders whose intentions had been pure, fostered a new generation "which did not know Yosef," and which rejected all that proceeded it. Examples of such are many.

Reb Yitzchok Gerstenkorn spent considerable time devising ways to attract the great Torah centers to this city so that they would imprint their character on it. On one of his trips to America, he met the gaavad of Ponovezh, R' Yosef Sholom Kahaneman, who had come there on behalf of his own yeshiva. Reb Itche proposed that the Ponovezher Rav establish his yeshiva in Bnei Brak. But HaRav Kahaneman was deeply attached to his own large community in Europe, and was unable to abandon it.

After the events of 5689 (1929) and the massacre of the Jews of Hevron, among them twenty-four students of the yeshiva, Reb Yitzchok Gerstenkorn proposed that R' Moshe Mordechai Epstein serve as Chief Rabbi of Bnei Brak, and transfer the yeshiva there. But R' Moshe Mordechai Epstein decided to move the yeshiva to Yerushalayim.

It is interesting that Rav Gerstenkorn's two requests were fulfilled many years later, when both these illustrious yeshivos, Ponovezh and Slobodke, were established in Bnei Brak. Slobodke in Bnei Brak was the second wing of the original yeshiva, headed by R' Yitzchok Eizek Sher, that had remained in Europe when much of the yeshiva moved to Hevron.

The Chazon Ish

At the particular stage under discussion, these plans still hadn't materialized, and the great spiritual yeshua for Bnei Brak came by surprise, from a totally unexpected direction. Toward the end of 5693 (1933), the godol hador, the Chazon Ish, moved to Eretz Yisroel. At the time of his aliya, he still had not decided precisely where to live, and for a certain period even thought of Tel Aviv, where he indeed lived during his first few weeks in Eretz Yisroel, renting a flat on HaYam Street.

The moment he arrived in Eretz Yisroel, he turned to his studies. Shortly afterward, one of the founders of the Beis Yosef yeshiva in Bnei Brak, R' M. Shetchigel, approached him. Rav Shetchigel was one of the few in Eretz Yisroel who knew about the greatness of the Chazon Ish already in Lithuania. When he learned about his arrival, he rushed to see him. He proposed that the Chazon Ish move to Bnei Brak, and the Chazon Ish consented.

After the petirah of the Chazon Ish, R' Shlomo Cohen, who had been one of his close acquaintance for decades, said, "On isru chag of Pesach of the year 5693 (1933), the Chazon Ish secretly told me that he planned to move to Eretz Yisroel. He asked me to go to R' Chaim Ozer, and ask that he write a letter to Rav Moshe Blau, requesting a visa. I was startled by the news. However, I went to R' Chaim Ozer immediately, and received the requested letter.

"Rav Blau's reply arrived a while later. In it, he said that he could send the visa immediately, on condition that the Chazon Ish agree to occupy the position of the ravad of the Eida HaChareidis of Yerushalayim. If he did not agree to that, he could receive the visa only within a few months. The Chazon Ish told me to reply that he was willing to wait. However, R' Moshe Blau made a special effort, and obtained the visa within a short time. As soon as he received it, the Chazon Ish prepared for his aliya" (Digleinu, Kislev 5714).

It may be assumed that his main reason for his refusal of the position of ravad was that he was very far from that idea, and that his heart was set on the new yishuv, preferring to act where he was needed.

Why did he choose Bnei Brak over Yerushalayim? He answered: "Yerushalayim doesn't lack talmidei chachomim and askonim. But when I came to the new settlement, I found a wasteland. If I succeed in planting the seeds of Torah there, it will be good. If not, I am prepared to go down with the members of the new yishuv to the abyss, chas vesholom." ( Rav Moshe Shoenfeld, ibid., Marcheshvan 5715.)

That was how Divine intervention brought about the rare combination of the great Chazon Ish and a receptacle for his influence, the new chareidi settlement of Bnei Brak, whose founder so yearned to find the suitable person to transform it. The mighty spiritual change came in the wake of the dramatic turning point in its history, when the giant of the generation settled there. Along with this, his own daily activity underwent a great change. In Lithuania, he led a very unassuming life, and rarely took part in public affairs. However, when he arrived in Bnei Brak, the Chazon Ish opened himself to every sacred endeavor, and to all public and private affairs.

So That Bnei Brak Won't be Like Other Cities

Reb Yitzchok Gerstenkorn describes this point in one of his books: For fifty-two years, the Chazon Ish lived in Europe, nearly incognito. Only in the circles of lomdim and in the yeshivos gedolos was it known that a great man of Torah lived in Vilna -- not a rav, not a dayan but an unassuming giant of Torah who had written the Chazon Ish. Most people didn't know him.

When he came to Eretz Yisroel his life changed completely. From all corners of the country, roshei yeshiva, businessmen, industrialists, merchants and laymen came to him for advice. Some came to ask for brochos for the ailing and to pour out their hearts and discuss family problems. People loved him. They regarded him as saintly. A single word from his mouth alleviated many cares. He spoke soothingly, with an encouraging smile for everyone who turned to him.

Writing in Chevlei Yotzer, Rabbi Aharon Soraski says: "The Chazon Ish did not want Bnei Brak to be like the other cities in Eretz Yisroel. He wanted to it be a model city, the joy of the universe, where every aspect of life was characteristically Jewish and exuded kedusha. He devoted his best efforts to safeguard it from all foreign elements. He was also very wary of every crack in the wall of its faith. As a result, he acted out of character, from the moment he arrived in the city.

"The Chazon Ish inculcated everyone with the feeling that life in Bnei Brak had to be different and loftier than life in every other place. He also invested untold energy in order to realize this goal. In his many efforts to expand the city of Torah, he offered various types of assistance to all of its Torah and chessed institutions. There is barely a public institution in Bnei Brak which didn't benefit from his help. He spurred various activists to establish yeshivos and educational institutions in Bnei Brak, and influenced many public enterprises to establish themselves there, helping them develop.

"Due to his concern, the amount of money needed to build an entire floor in the Beis Yosef of Novardok yeshiva was recruited. At his initiative, the Tiferes Tzion yeshiva was built, as was the Chachmei Lublin yeshiva. Due to the pains he took, the Volozhin yeshiva was transferred from Tel Aviv to Bnei Brak, and the great Kollel Avreichim in Zichron Meir (which today bears his name) was founded. At his encouragement, the illustrious Ponovezh and Slobodke yeshivos were established there. With his inspiration, Torah shiurim for young workers and ba'alei batim, merchants and tradesmen were instituted, mikvehs were renovated, many needy families received help, chessed funds were formed, and the Shomrei Shabbos cemetery, the only cemetery of its kind in the world, was built.

"He infused a spirit of life into the city, and encouraged Holocaust survivors, who were attracted to Bnei Brak by his presence there and who had came to Eretz Yisroel in order to restore and revive the destroyed communities and yeshivos of our nation. In that manner, Bnei Brak became the city of Torah and chessed, a city replete with chachomim and scribes, a metropolis of Torah in the new yishuv in Eretz Yisroel."

How apt is the quote cited in the name of the gaavad of Ponovezh, who told Reb Yitzchok Gerstenkorn: "How wise you were to make the Chazon Ish the patron and proprietor of your city. If only I had a share of your merit."

Concern for the Guarantee of the Character of its Government

The foregoing quote is a concentrated summary of the great efforts of the Chazon Ish in transforming Bnei Brak into what it is today. Even though 45 years have passed since his petirah, every spiritual and Torah enterprise in Bnei Brak bears the mighty, blessed imprint of his influence. He laid foundations, but also did not refrain from playing a personal role in strengthening Torah study. An example of such is cited in an article in Digleinu, written by R' Shraga Steinberg, zt'l, the rosh yeshiva of Tiferes Tzion in Bnei Brak: "Twice a year, the Chazon Ish would come to the yeshiva in order to test the young students. Once he asked me if the students would benefit if he [also] came in the middle of the year (Digleinu, Cheshvan 5715)."

At the very same time, he was deeply concerned for the character of the city's government and made all-out efforts to guarantee that the municipality be administered by Torah- loyal officials. When the first elections for the local council were held in 5700, he did his utmost to recruit as many chareidi voters as possible. Because the right to vote was given only to those who lived in the city and had paid taxes for three months, the Chazon Ish made sure that even the students studying in the various yeshivos in the city participated in the elections. In order to effect this, he gave them the money necessary to pay taxes for three months, by means of his loyal confidante, Rav Zelig Shapiro. This endeavor was subsidized by R' Yaakov Halperin, the founder of the Zichron Meir neighborhood and one of the Chazon Ish's staunchest admirers.

Regarding this, Rav Moshe Shoenfeld writes: "When the voting right depended on the payment of a half-lira tax, an avreich from Bnei Brak apologized to Rabbenu, and said that he didn't have the half-lira. Rabbenu told him: `You can sell your tefillin and in exchange purchase a voting right. You will put on tefillin even if you must borrow them from someone and in the end you will buy new ones. But you will be unable to rectify the loss of your vote, and the vote for the chareidi representatives will be lost" (ibid., Cheshvan 5717).

In 5711 (1951), after Bnei Brak legally became a city, elections for the city council were held for the first time. Once more, Rabbenu displayed much interest in the events. This time, since there was a chareidi slate, he made certain that his own personal representative would be on it. That man was Rav Shimon Soroka, one of the heads of Tzieri Agudas Yisroel, who was chosen as a member of the municipality, and held that position until his petirah in 5747.

Throughout most of his tenure, he held senior positions, such as that of deputy and vice mayor of the city, and for a number of years he even presided as its mayor. There is no doubt that due to the intervention of Rabbenu to insure the character of the municipal government, it has always been headed by chareidi representatives, except for Moshe Begno, z'l, a Mafdal member who was chosen as mayor after the petirah of the first mayor, Rav Yitzchok Gerstenkorn.

Afterwards, the position was occupied by Rabbi Reuven Aharanowitz, Rabbi Shimon Soroka, and yibodel lechayim, Rabbi Yitzchok Meir, Rabbi Shmuel Weinberg, Rabbi Moshe Irenstein, Rabbi Yerachmiel Boyer and the current mayor, Rabbi Mordechai Karelitz.

The City With Everything

75 years later, Bnei Brak has fulfilled itself and achieved the aims and hopes of its founders. In Bnei Brak there is a place for everything which is chareidi, while all that is chareidi finds its place in Bnei Brak.

For those who cherish the memory of the Chazon Ish, Bnei Brak is the city of the Chazon Ish. For those who are drawn after the illustrious, heartwarming image of the Rav of Ponovezh, Bnei Brak is Ponovezh and its Yarchei Kalloh. For the disciples and followers of Maran, the Kehillos Yaakov, and yibodel lechayim arukim, Maran, rosh bnei kol hagolah HaRav Eliezer Menachem Shach, shlita, Bnei Brak expresses their deep affinity for their rav and mentor.

For the thousands of chassidim who are attached with bonds of love to their admorim and the chassidic courts, Bnei Brak is a worldwide center of chassidus. For all it is the city of Torah. For all -- from every circle and from every type of yeshiva -- it was, and is, and will always be the great and illustrious city of Torah.

Bnei Brak is a city in which Torah Jews have found ground on which to grow and to raise future generations on Torah, yirah, mussar and chassidus, a city which contains everything.

Bnei Brak is an eternal, ultimate example for those who said that in the 20th century it is impossible to build without casting off the yoke of Torah chas vesholom. The city is the best proof that it is possible to build an entire city which contains everything al taharas hakodesh.

Bnei Brak is the city whose chol is kodesh and whose kodesh is kodesh kodoshim. Its symbols are Shabbos kodesh and the yomim tovim, during which it becomes totally detached from the mundane. It closes its streets, and seals them from the bustling chol outside it, while mei'ein olam haboh resounds from within, even in the literal sense of the concept.

R' Itche Gerstenkorn did not build a new city.

In his announcement in the Hebrew newspapers, prior to the celebration of the cornerstone laying, he wrote: "On the 11th of Tammuz 5684 (1924), at three in the afternoon, the cornerstone will be laid for the new buildings in the ancient city of Bnei Brak.

"The settlement in Bnei Brak is currently renewing itself by Polish immigrants."

He was precise to the end. When he wrote, "in the ancient city of Bnei Brak," he was echoing the words of the novi: "I will cause all of the cities to be inhabited and the wastelands to be built. And the land that was desolate will be tilled, whereas it was a desolation in the sight of all that passed by. And they will say: `This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited'" (Yechezkel 36:33-36).

End of Part I


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