Israel, like several other countries, has a full-size replica of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe’s red-brick Brooklyn home, where his successor also held court. As if one replica of the home of a famous rabbi weren’t enough, a solicitation to build a home for the Righteous One appeared in my mailbox yesterday and had me wondering why the righteous are doomed to homelessness, like those young people camping out in tents around the country to protest the outrageous price of housing.
Then I started reading the eight-page brochure and discovered, first of all, that the Righteous One in question was the Hassidic rabbi (in Yiddish, rebbe) Avraham Matityahu Friedman (1848–1933), who held court in a Romanian town called Ştefăneşti (which his disciples render as Shtefenesht). That town once had a grand study house (beit midrash) where the students also received all their meals. In a palatial building next door the rebbe dispensed advice and blessings. The rebbe’s dying wish was that the buildings remain places of prayer, Torah study, and benevolence, and so they did for a decade after his death. But the Holocaust changed everything in Ştefăneşti, as it did throughout Europe.
Now the rebbe’s disciples hope to fulfill his wishes by creating a similar place in Israel from which blessings will rain down as they did in his court in Ştefăneşti.
Why now? Because according to gematria (Jewish numerology) this year (the Jewish year 5771, but the brochure has it as -776), there is divine support for the construction of this house of salvation, to be built between Bnei Brak and Tel Aviv, at the intersection of Jabotinsky, Hahalutzim, and Haim Landau streets.
The building is to include a large events hall, to be available to all free of charge (as long, that is, as they contribute to the cost of construction); a mikveh (ritual bath); a large synagogue with a women’s gallery; a house of study; and a warehouse for foodstuffs to be distributed to the needy.
The laying of the cornerstone is scheduled for this coming Sunday, July 24, 2011, and the entertainment will consist of the greatest singers, world-famous cantors, and renowned paytanim (chanters of religious poems). The brochure doesn’t say, but it’s a safe bet that women will not be welcome at this event.
Now the brochure produces a downpour of miracles. Mrs. N., for example, tells of her married son who was childless for 17 years, until he and his wife visited the rebbe’s grave and bought an amulet that they hung on their living room wall. The next thing they knew, they had a baby boy.
Then there is H.B., who organized an evening in honor of the rebbe, and 30 days later was blessed with the engagement of his daughter. Amazingly, the young man’s name was identical to that of the rebbe. Even more amazing, the following year H.B. held another evening in honor of the rebbe, and 30 days later yet another daughter was engaged.
Now comes the pitch. For NIS 395, you get a lucky stone. For NIS 1,800 you get a lucky stone on a wooden-and-epoxy tray with a picture of the rebbe and of the building. You also get to be inscribed on a golden page, along with all the members of your family. In addition, you get a set of amulets, for prosperity, health, a blessed home, and to ward off the evil eye. For NIS 5,200, not only do you get a miniature Holy Ark with a miniature copy of the rebbe’s very own Torah scroll, you will also be safeguarded from all evil in your home and on the road.
The temptation to obtain such blessings is great, but I can’t help thinking of all those young people in tents, who may soon be on the streets. We might all benefit more from building housing for them, and it doesn’t have to be palatial.
Text copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.