Tuesday, September 18, 2007

“But what About the Jewish Soldiers Around the Corner?”

"Yes," said Chaim. "I would like to conduct religious services for the Jewish personnel."

- Rabbi Chaim Jacobs

The following is In Connection with the forty years of the Rebbe's Mivtza Tefillin. Also included is an interesting picture of the Rebbe. Part 66 of the series. This is a tale about a gentle lad named Chaim Jacobs who came from England in the early '60's to study in 770 as told to Rabbi Ari Kirschenbaum - Shliach of the Rebbe to Prospect Heights Brooklyn by Rabbi Elkanah Schwartz, Rav Cong. Kol Israel of Prospect Heights.

"One Shabbos afternoon, he entered a storefront Shul on Rogers Ave corner Crown Street, engaged a discussion with one of its congregants named Elkanah Schwartz and asked to speak at the Seudas Shlishis. He did, and continued to do so for many months. Two blocks over on Rogers Ave between President and Carroll Streets was the Young Israel of Botanic Gardens, which later appointed Rabbi Schwartz as its Rav.

That year, Hoshanah Rabbah came on a Sunday, and when Rabbi Schwartz arrived at the Young Israel that morning, he was greeted by a pleasant surprise: six handsome Jewish young men in military fatigues. Around the corner from the Shul, on Bedford Ave between President and Union Streets, stood an armory, used on weekends by the National Guard. Mr. Don Hairenson, a schoolteacher, who was a member of the Young Israel, had gone earlier into the armory, approached the commanding officer telling him it was a Jewish holiday and that a synagogue around the corner was holding services, and asked if Jewish personnel can be excused to join him. The CO announced that Jewish personnel were free to go the synagogue.

The six young men were naturally treated royally. They were given seats of honor and benched over the Arba Minim. One was called to the Torah, and after services, all six joined the Rabbi in the Succah.

Some time later, Chaim Jacobs met Rabbi Schwartz and greeted him with a special smile. "You know," said Chaim, "some bochurim from 770 went this week to Fort Benning, Georgia, to put teffillin on Jewish soldiers."

"That's very nice," said Rabbi Schwartz, "but what about the Jewish soldiers around the corner?"

Some time later came the Six Day War, and in its wake the Rebbe's Teffillin campaign. Chaim was one of the many stalwart soldiers who grabbed Tifillin and fanned out across bus and train terminals, airports, shopping malls, campuses, and other population centers. However, Chaim was a gentle lad, forever jostled out of the way by others with elbows. He turned to 770, eager to serve but finding no available target/outlet.

Then, a thought: he remembered the story Rabbi Schwartz told him. He tucked his Tifillin under his arm, and trekked the five blocks to Bedford Avenue , making a left and going the block-and-a-half to the huge doors of the armory. He entered, and was immediately interrogated and asked: "Can I help you, sir?"

"Yes," said Chaim to the uniformed officer. "I would like to speak with the commanding officer."
"Come this way," the other, said, and Chaim followed. Soon he was facing the CO, who asked, "Can I help you, sir?"

"Yes," said Chaim. "I would like to conduct religious services for the Jewish personnel."

"Follow me," the CO, said, and Chaim followed him into the cavernous room where hundreds of men in uniform were doing all kinds of activities. The CO announced over the booming PA system: "There is a Rabbi here to conduct religious services. Any Jewish personnel who want to join him are free to do so." Immediately, a sizeable group of men dropped what they were doing, and walked over to Chaim. The CO graciously gave them a large room for the services.

A week later, Chaim was back. Each week of the month, there were different guardsmen, and each week he found many willing Jews to join him. Chaim had no choice: he recruited other bachurim. Gentle Chaim, shoved aside in the quest to fulfill the Rebbe's mivtzah, now found himself not only with his own targets, but also with needing help!

Summer arrived, and the guardsmen went to boot camp for two weeks. By arrangement Chaim and nine other bachurim stood in front of 770 one morning at 5:00am when two military hummers stopped for them. For two hours they drove, arriving at 7:00am at the camp just as the CO was ready to dismiss the men. The CO announced that ten Rabbis just arrived to conduct religious services, and whoever wanted, could join them. A few hundred young men came forward.

Back at the armory some weeks later, the CO approached Chaim. "Rabbi," he said, "there's another armory a few blocks away, on Bedford and Atlantic Ave, that has more Jewish personnel then we do."

So the following Sunday, Chaim sent a crew of bochurim to look after the armory near Union Street, while he took another crew with him to the new armory. Indeed, there were more Jews there then in the first place.

And so it went. Eventually, the commanding officer of the National Guard for the State of New York sent a memorandum to the CO's of every unit throughout the state, advising them they could arrange for religious services for their Jewish personnel by contacting Rabbi Chaim Jacobs at 770! Indeed, "the stone that was despised by the builders became the chief cornerstone."

Some years later, Rabbi Chaim Jacobs became the Rebbe's Shliach to Glasgow, Scotland, where he still carries on, now ably assisted by his son, Rabbi Mendel Jacobs.

Picture description: The picture was taken by a New York Times Photographer during the winter of 1992.

Good Shabbos.
Copyright © Menachem Kirschenbaum 2007

No comments: