Tuesday, August 22, 2006
The Skulener Rebbe: Enduring Decrees with Love and Song
Tonight and tomorrow, the 29th of Menachem Av, is the 24th yahrzeit of the holy Skulener Rebbe, Rebbe Eliezer Zusia Portugal, ZTUK”L. Although he did not have a large following of Chassidim, he left a strong impression upon all of those who came in contact with him, by virtue of both his deeds and his heart-felt niggunim. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I had the merit of meeting the Rebbe personally, attending his Tish and hearing his Torah and niggunim [more on this below].
The following, from HaMaayan, will be interspersed with other info culled from around the Internet [sources listed below].
Rebbe Eliezer Zusia, the "Skulener Rebbe," was not a Chassidic Rebbe at all until well into his sixties. His first "career" was as Rabbi of the town of
Chernowitz, too, changed hands several times during World War II, eventually ending up in the
At the end of the World War II, he immediately founded institutions for the orphans of the Holocaust. He saved thousands of orphans. He personally made cared for some three hundred of them, all of whom called him “Abba”. Almost all of them settled in Eretz
He often had the occasion to meet people who always reminded to him that they were sons-in-law of the Rebbe, and called him their father-in-law. Later it was learned that he did not have girls of his own at all. Then the secret was understood: they were the orphaned ones who were regarded as his daughters, and that the Rebbe had married off to men who were regarded as his sons-in-law.
Because of these activities, the Rebbe was persecuted, by both the Germans and Russians. More than once his life was in danger. One day he was even taken out to be executed, but he was saved from the Germans by a miracle. The Russians also imprisoned him several times. But despite everything, he never stopped his appointed task.
The governmental authorities viewed his spiritual work as a challenge to Communism and accused him of trying to supplant the state as the orphans' guardian in order to send them to Eretz Yisrael. On Rosh Chodesh Nisan 5719 (1959) the Rebbe, zt"l was imprisoned with his son, the Rebbe Shlita. They were put in a notorious prison together with dangerous criminals, isolated from one another, so that they would not conspire together. The charges: smuggling children to Eretz Yisrael and spying for the
Despite the danger, the Rebbe remained in
It should be noted that the Rebbe underwent tremendous periods of being tortured when he was in jail, by the Germans, Russians and Rumanians. Despite this, he was inspired to compose some of the loftiest niggunim in the midst of this terrible travail. Some examples of his dedication to the orphans, even at risk to himself follow.
From the Shema Yisrael website:
Mesiras nefesh, means dedication to the point of self-sacrifice… One endeavors whatever he can on behalf of his people who are incarcerated. The Skulener Rebbe, HaRav Eliezer Zusia
From the Shema Yisrael website:
The colonel who was in charge of the border guards lived in Chernowitz and knew the Rebbe well. The Rebbe had won him over many a time with heartrending entreaties on behalf of his brethren. The last time he was there the colonel had told him, "This is the very last time you will bother me. If you come again on behalf of your Jews - I will kill you!"
Nonetheless, when the Rebbe was notified about a family of nine people that had been captured, he immediately undertook the daunting and dangerous task of rescuing them. Nothing worked, not even a hefty bribe. They were adamant; these people were to serve as an example for others. There was still one avenue to be employed: the Rebbe would go to the colonel and beg, regardless of the imminent personal danger involved. Jewish lives were in danger and that was more important than his life. His family begged him not to go. "How can you risk your life like this?" they asked. He responded, "It is not clear that he will take out his wrath against me, but one thing is for sure, their lot is sealed unless I am able to do something in their behalf."
The Rebbe approached the colonel's house with trepidation, climbed up the steps and knocked on the door. When the colonel saw who stood at his doorstep, he was overcome with anger. He grabbed the Rebbe and threw him down the stairs. The Rebbe was hurt badly, yet, with extreme difficulty, he was able to get up. With the little strength he had left, he once again climbed the stairs and knocked on the colonel's door.
The colonel opened the door and could not believe his eyes. There stood the Skulener Rebbe, dirty, bloodied, clothes torn - but with defiance in his eyes. "I must speak to you, colonel!" the Rebbe said, with tears streaming down his face. The colonel listened: the Rebbe begged, he cried, as he depicted the bitter plight of this hapless family. The colonel's hardened heart could not ignore the selfless pleas, the heartfelt emotion of the Rebbe. His devotion to others at the expense of his own health impressed the colonel. The family was freed. Mesiras nefesh triumphed.
How can one explain such dedication? From where did he draw the Emuna, the faith? Perhaps from learning like this:
from Chumi Friedman's Eishes Chayil website:
from Chumi Friedman's Eishes Chayil website:
The Skulener Rebbe was imprisoned in
After months of tremendous international efforts, including the intervention of United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, he was freed and emigrated immediately to
In 1961, Rebbe Eliezer Zusia visited
From Yehudis Samet's "Other Side of the Story":
An aide of the Skulener Rebbe, Rebbe Eliezer Zusia
“You have no idea how much she suffered beforehand, and how tempting the authorities make it to inform,” the Rebbe said with tears in his eyes.
Jonathan Rosenblum added:
Few of us will reach the level of the Skulener rebbe, but each of us can go a long way to bringing peace among ourselves by learning to turn a favorable eye on our fellow Jews.
The Rebbe continued his rescue and outreach efforts after arriving in
Sources, in order:
Hevrat Pinto, a French websiteThe Jewish Press
The Rebbe’s Avodas Hashem and Niggunim:
The Skulener Rebbe was endowed with many fine characteristics which he applied to his Divine service, in particular his intense feel for music. As a “sweet singer of Israel”, he composed many melodies which are sung with enthusiasm until today, thus attracting the hearts of hundreds of young people, who, owing to him, remained just and fearing of G-d.
He prayed with an extraordinary enthusiasm, and very lengthily. One said: “Whoever did not see the prayers of the Skulener Rebbe never saw a real davening.” Those who did not hear at the melody which emanated and went up with deep concentration in his prayer, never witnessed how a heart can cling to the love of his Creator.
“One of the inyanim to singing is that it the niggunim can help one to appreciate the meaning and beauty of the words. I have found this to be true, such as at the Skulener Tish, most recently. It's not just while you are singing and hearing them as well, the niggunim continue to play in my mind as do the memories of seeing the Rebbe.”
My personal experience with the Rebbe ZT”L bears this out. I found him to be an incredible oved Hashem, who served his Creator with all his being. As mentioned, he davened very lengthily. It was not unusual for those with him to open a Gemara, Chumash, or other sefer to learn, while waiting for the Rebbe to finish Kriyas Shema or Shmoneh Esre. Nevertheless, no one became bored or wanted to leave, for they knew they were davening with someone really special.
His niggunim are very soulful, yet full of emotion and enthusiasm. He could sing “Kol Mekadesh” to a standard Chassidic Tish niggun, then intersperse it with his own niggunim such as “B’yom HaShabbos Sisu v’Simchu”, and get up and dance with everyone present. I also witnessed him interrupt the singing to give a Torah explanation to the words of part of a niggun [and then continue the melody]. Similarly, at Havdala, he would recite it normally, then when he came to “LaYehudim Haysa Orah,” he would sing his own niggun and start everyone off dancing. It was an incredible experience!
Besides the above-mentioned niggunim, the famous “Yamim al Ymei Melech” tune was composed by Rebbe Eliezer Zusia of Skulen. There are some seven recordings of his niggunim, and it appears that four of them are out of circulation [I couldn’t find them on the Web].
Skulener Niggunim, David Werdyger, Vol. II 
Shiru LaShem Shir Chadash 
Baruch Hashem Asher Nasan Menucha 
Padah B’Shalom Nafshi 
Oy Oy Shabbos 
Hoshiva Li Zechuso Yagein Aleinu v’al Kol Yisrael – May the Rebbe’s merits protect us all!
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My Rebbe, shlita, was the Gabbai to the Rebbe, Rabbi Eliezer Zisya, from about 1974 until about the Rebbe', ztl petirah. The Rebbe, ztl's, Shacharis davening would last 2 1/2 hours, and my Rebbe would have to schlep Minyan in order the Skulener Rebbe, ztl would have a Minyan. Twenty and thirty years and more later those Yidden whom my Rebbe schlepped into the Skulener Rebbe ztl's minyan would express extreme gratitude to my Rebbe for having enable them to have the zechus of davening by the Skulner Rebbe, ztl. May the Skulener Rebbe, ztl's, neshama have an aliyah. May he be a meiletzer yosher for us in this dor. 30 Av 5774.
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