Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Adar I 5763 - February 5, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Shearis Yisroel In Korestein, Ukraine

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Recently a reception was held in the Yetev Lev Hall, Stamford Hill, in honor of Shearis Yisroel. The reception was organized by extremely dedicated askonim, consisting of Reb Shlomo Zalman Kraus (nephew of rosh beis din of Manchester, HaRav Gavriel Kraus), Reb Rephoel Eckstein and Reb Shraga Posen, both of Williamsburg, New York, and was graced with the presence of Rav Aharon Leib Berger who (together with his esteemed Rebbetzin) is responsible for running the yeshiva/school, the newly flourishing kehilla, including the soup kitchen, mikva, chevra kadisha and all aspects of Yiddishkeit in the Korestein of the Former Soviet Union.

Chairman Reb Shloime Hersh Shtauber spoke of the extremely important work being undertaken across the former Soviet Union in general and Korestein in particular. When introducing the first speaker -- Reb Rephoel Eckstein -- the Chairman expounded on the way in which a handful of askonim had achieved so much in so little time.

Reb Rephoel Eckstein, together with his partner Reb Shraga Posen, gave a report on the way in which the yeshiva has had an impact on the town in general and on its talmidim and their families in particular. He explained that following the accepted methodology in the former U.S.S.R., children are first encouraged to attend summer camps. The programs are exciting and the gashmiyus of a high standard, so that the parents are quite happy to have their children attend.

After the camp, many individual children's inner spark of Yiddishkeit has been kindled and the askonim are then able to encourage parents to send their children for a longer spell in the yeshiva.

Reb Rephoel reported on a number of individual cases, telling his listeners how, step by step, individual bochurim have come to camp, gone on to the yeshiva, subsequently gone to America or Eretz Yisroel, married and have built a bayis ne'emon beYisroel. One such case is Rabbi Yosef Shkolnik, who not only followed the normal pattern, but came back to the Ukraine and now heads a similar organization as rabbi of Chelminitzki.

Various mohelim from the UK have been in Korestein to carry out brisos, including Dr. Sifman, Reb Shmuel Gavriel Gluck and Reb Uri Ellinson.

Reb Nochum Mordechai Halpern of Manchester has also been to Korestein on a number of occasions to perform brisos on talmidim of the yeshiva and their families and he related some of his experiences to the packed hall.

He explained what is involved in the bris of a young adult and how it differs substantially from the bris of an eight-day-old baby that we are accustomed to. The practical and halachic differences are extremely interesting.

Furthermore, sometimes, one comes across a practical halachic point that one would not dream of at a conventional bris. One such case was of a young man who was serving in the Russian Army had come to have a bris. As soon as the bris was over -- and before anyone had managed to organize the brochoh of "asher kidash yedid mibeten," the nimol had disappeared. Nobody had remembered to inform him that the ceremony was not yet over! Can you make the brochoh if the nimol is no longer there? Subsequently HaRav Nissim Karelitz paskened that one can indeed make the brochoh, even though the nimol is not there.

Reb Nochum Mordechai went on to give a number of examples of the mesiras nefesh of acheinu Bnei Yisroel in that part of the world. On one occasion he had been asked to carry out a bris on a four- year-old child lesheim geirus.

The story was that the father of the child had come to learn in Yeshivas Toras Chaim in Moscow (founded by HaRav Moshe Soloveitchik zt'l), and soon learned that a Yid may not have a non-Jewish woman for a wife. He turned to his non-Jewish wife -- as in the days of Ezra -- and told her that he can no longer live with her; she must go back home. If she wished to learn all about Yiddishkeit and to be megayeir, that is up to her.

She indeed left, but she did not return home. Instead she went to the Seminary in Moscow, where she remained for a couple of years, learning all about Yiddishkeit. She subsequently went through giyur kehalochoh and came back and got married to her former husband kedas Moshe veYisroel. The new couple were soon blessed with a daughter. However, they also had a son born before all these events. This was the four-year-old who was to have a bris lesheim geirus. This was carried out besimchoh gedolah.

Later Reb Yisroel Soloveitchik (HaRav Moshe's son) related the following moving and awe-inspiring story about that couple. One Shabbos morning soon after they remarried, the couple came to the rabbonim of the yeshiva (they worked in the yeshiva), with the following shaaloh: They are now a fully Jewish couple but they have a young boy who is not Jewish -- and he has very high temperature. What is the halochoh? Are they allowed to be mechalel Shabbos to treat their child?

Another interesting story was the case of a mother who, having given birth many years ago to a boy and not having the possibility of giving her son a bris, refused to name the child after her father because, as she put it, "My father was a tzaddik and I can't call a child who has not had a bris with that name."

A further example of the feelings that these Yidden have for Yiddishkeit, although they are completely "starved" of ruchniyus, is once when a mother fainted after her child had his bris. The reason for her strong reaction was that this mother had undertaken not to kiss her own baby until he had a bris. She wanted to make sure that she was constantly striving to have the almost impossible carried out, i.e. to be machnis her child bivriso shel Avrohom Ovinu. Once she reached her goal, she passed out and had to be revived.

R' Nochum Mordechai then encouraged anyone who had the possibility to visit institutions such as Shearis Yisroel to do so. He explained how it is absolutely impossible for anyone to fully comprehend what goes on, on a daily basis in such places without personally experiencing it. Month after month, year after year, one can hear the experiences of other people, but until one has made a visit, one will not appreciate what is currently being done and more importantly one will definitely not appreciate how much each individual can do.

He then went on to try and share with his esteemed audience the feelings of simchah experienced by the nimolim when they are zocheh to a bris. Whether an eight-year-old child, an 18-year- old bochur, or indeed even a Yid of 60 years, the enthusiasm with which they jump on the table to carry out the rotzon haBorei is moving.

Very often, we are talking about people who, shortly before, hardly knew that the Ribono Shel Olom exists. However as soon their pintele Yid is ignited, their neshomoh is engulfed and they enthusiastically embrace their true role and goal in life. Having been forcibly kept away from Yiddishkeit for 70 years has not dimmed the inbuilt eternal urge that their cheilek Elokah mima'al has to go where it belongs.

Daily Chesed

He then related the extremely interesting and unusual spectacle that takes place in the morning after shacharis in Korestein. The bochurim of the yeshiva occupy one half of the beis hamedrash, with many old Yidden of 70 and 80 years of age occupying the other side of the beis hamedrash. The young bochurim have tefillin, but unfortunately not all the older mispalelim do. After Shemoneh Esrei, these young 14 and 15-year- olds take off their tefillin, walk over to the other side of the beis hamedrash, and literally put their tefillin on these older Yidden who do not yet know how to do it themselves.

One reflects that the streets of Korestein in Northern Ukraine, plus dozens and dozens of other towns, at one time were teeming with tens and even hundreds of thousands of Yidden amongst whom were many Rebbes, poskim, gedolei Yisroel, and all of this was extinguished and uprooted by the Reshoim yimach shemom vezichrom. And then one witnesses firsthand how Yiddishkeit is once again, very slowly but very surely, being rebuilt by extremely dedicated askonim and rabbonim.

A number of weeks ago, Shearis Yisroel was privileged to be graced with the presence of the Tchernobyler Rebbe at a Vach Nacht. This was the first time the Tchernobyler Rebbe had been to the tziyun of his own ancestors in Chernobyl, which is in the vicinity, and he then came to Korestein with an entourage of perhaps 50 Chassidim. The Rebbe spoke about the fact that Yiddishkeit had been suppressed for all these years and now that the Ribono Shel Olom had rachmonus, one can see how Yiddishkeit is returning. It was a unique experience to see the Tchernobyler Rebbe (who apparently rarely shows such tremendous emotion in public) actually crying as he was speaking.

The Rebbe also spoke about the minhag of saying Krias Shema at a Vach Nacht. The reason is because the gemora asks why we say the parsha of Shema before the parsha of Vehoyoh im shomo'a. The gemora answers that it is because the Shema is kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim and this must precede Vehoyoh im shomo'a which is kabolas ol mitzvos. In the same way, on the night before the Bris we say the first parsha of Krias Shema, in order to be mekabeil ol Malchus Shomayim for the child, who will tomorrow fulfill the actual mitzvah of a Bris which is kabolas ol mitzvos.

However in this case, as the bochurim who are going to have a Bris the next day are not eight- day-old babies but are old enough to be mekabeil ol Malchus Shomayim themselves, therefore the Krias Shema of the Vach Nacht has much more significance. The kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim at that Vach Nacht was an experience never to be forgotten.

The guest speaker of the evening was the famous HaRav Shmuel Dishon. Rabbi Dishon, in his selfless manner, left Brooklyn motzei Shabbos after speaking at a melave Malka, straight for the last flight to London to come speak for Shearis Yisroel. He has constantly and enthusiastically encouraged and supported the work being done in the former U.S.S.R. He told the story of real mesiras nefesh of a mother during the last war, managing to convince an SS guard yimach shemo vezichro to allow her to have a knife. All present were convinced that she wanted to commit suicide and were astounded to see the real reason for the knife. She took it and opened a bundle she was carrying and made a brochoh ". . . asher kideshonu bemitzvosov vetzivonu al haMiloh" and performed the Bris, saying that, as they were all about to become korbonos, she wanted to make sure that her little baby was a kosher korbon.

HaRav Dishon said that we should contemplate that a substantial proportion of Klal Yisroel today has parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who originated in Russia. Those living today in the free world were zocheh to the Hashgochoh that led their ancestors to leave the U.S.S.R. in time. Others were not so lucky. So easily the tables could have been turned and we could have been there and others could have been in America, Europe and Eretz Yisroel. How grateful we must be to the Ribono Shel Olom that our grandparents left and as a very minimum we should help support the grandchildren of those who were less fortunate.

Rav Dishon posed a simple question: How is it possible that the U.S.S.R., one of the mightiest and most feared forces in the world, crumbled without one shot being fired? The U.S.S.R. was a country that had military might. With the exception of the USA, it was better armed probably than any other country throughout history. In a short time it disappeared like smoke.

He stated that this is something that is completely shelo kederech hateva and was only brought about by the incessant pleading by the neshomos of the grandparents of present day Yidden in Russia and Ukraine. They constantly came to the Kisei Hakovod, pleading with the Ribono Shel Olom to do something about the rapidly disappearing Yiddishkeit of their descendants. They said "Ribono Shel Olom, if You don't do something about it now, there will be no Yiddishkeit left to rekindle!"

With the collapse of the U.S.S.R., pockets of Yiddishkeit have sprung up in many places. Rabbi Dishon implored and encouraged the audience to do everything possible to support and physically help Korestein and all such Torah centers, so that as many Yidden as possible can be brought back to their roots.

An exhausted but happy Rabbi Dishon left for Heathrow in time to return to New York for two public lectures scheduled for him on Monday. May Hashem give him koach to keep benefiting Klal Yisroel.


The evening was then privileged to hear from a former talmid of Korestein, Rabbi Yosef Shkolnik, mentioned earlier in this report. He related how his grandfather had encouraged him to go to a shul for the first time, a shul that had been reopened by Rabbi Berger. He went into great detail of the extreme dedication and enthusiastic support that Rabbi Berger and his wife gave -- and give -- him continuously until the present. He has turned the full cycle of coming back to Yiddishkeit and is now in the privileged position of being able to help others.

It was recognized that the London Yidden packed the hall, giving of their time selflessly shelo al menas lekabel pras.

A tribute was also paid to Alex Strom and J. Reich who, with great sacrifice, collect and distribute substantial funds to support many kehillos in the former U.S.S.R., including Korestein.

The audience were given the opportunity of sending a kvitel to the tziyun of the Valedniker Tzaddik, HaRav Hatzaddik R' Yisroel Dov ben HaRav Reb Yosef, the talmid of Reb Mottele Chernobyl zt'l (whose name "Shearis Yisroel," the yeshiva carries) who was nistalek on 21st Teves, 5612 (1852). His tziyun is just outside Korestein, zechuso yogein oleinu.


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