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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

 

How the Prisoners Saved Their Rabbi’s Daughter


Tonight and tomorrow, 9 Nisan, is the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Aryeh Levin (1885-1969), affectionately known as Reb Aryeh, was a Rabbi who was known as "The Tzaddik of Jerusalem" for his kindness and attention to the poor, sick and downtrodden elements of society, and as "The Father of Prisoners" for his work with members of the Jewish Underground movements who were imprisoned by the British during the British Mandate period and with convicted criminals. Notwithstanding his activism, he behaved with extreme modesty and humility, exuding a quiet, personal warmth that touched many Jews, both religious and secular. Rabbi Levin was the subject of the book [pictured above], A Tzaddik in Our Time: The Life of Rabbi Aryeh Levin, by Simcha Raz.
Reb Aryeh is not known for Negina, but his life was certainly a Great Song to the One Above. Last year’s post, Tzaddik of Yerushalayim - in Our Time, can be found here.

***

The following has been adapted and excerpted from an article by Dovid Rosoff, author of Land of Our Heritage, Safed: The Mystical City, The Tefillin Handbook, and When Heaven Touches Earth. It appears on the Jewish Mag website.

AS EARLY as 1927, Rav Aryeh Levin began visiting Jewish prisoners who had been found guilty of political crimes like possessing a weapon or smuggling contraband into the country. The British overseers of Palestine stiffened their grip on the necks of the Jews in direct proportion to the Arabs’ penchant for stirring up violent riots. In response, the Jewish underground, comprising groups like the Hagana, the Palmach, and the Irgun increased their activities, which led to many of their members being jailed.
In 1931 the British authorities requested that the Chief Rabbi appoint a prison chaplain who would visit the captives on Shabbos. Rav Kook turned to Rav Aryeh Levin, who worked as the supervisor in the Eitz Chaim Talmud Torah, and asked him to take the position. Rav Aryeh accepted, on the condition that he would not receive any compensation for his time. Every Shabbos morning Rav Aryeh walked from his house in Mishkenos to the Russian Compound, where the main Jerusalem prison was located. He prayed together with the prisoners, sat and talked with each one, acted as an emissary between them and their families, and generally filled the vacuum in their lives. He never tried to force his religious values on them; at most he gave them a Book of Psalms to read. The inmates were captivated by his genuine warmth and sincerity, and the honor and respect with which he treated them.
The most heartbreaking situation he encountered was the predicament of the prisoners that were condemned to death. Rav Aryeh made every effort to appeal the sentences and reduce the punishment. Once he even threw himself in front of the High Commissioner’s moving limousine in order to present his petition to him. Concerning those he could not save, like Dov Groner, Moshe Barzani, and Meir Feinstein, Rav Aryeh said: “None of us has any idea how high is the spiritual rank of these martyrs.”
Mattityahu Shmuelevitz, whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, wrote in a letter to a friend: “Yet there is one person in particular to whom I remain grateful first and foremost; a dear, precious Jew about whom you told me nothing; but it was he who stormed heaven and earth for me; and more important - it was he who brought me closer to my Maker in those fateful days... He left and we remained in the prison. He couldn’t take us with him out into the free world, but he always brought the outside world in to us.”

***

Very often, we read or hear stories of how a great Rabbi or Chassidic Rebbe foresaw what would happen to one of his followers, or how he saved him from a great distance in space or time. But it is rare indeed to read about the opposite – how the followers actually helped their mentor. But Rav Aryeh Levin merited such aid, as the following indicates.


Saving Their Rabbi’s Daughter from Paralysis
SHABBOS IN Jerusalem’s central prison was as one would have expected. There was happy anticipation in the air as the prisoners waited for the arrival of Rav Aryeh Levin, who would bring some light and hope into their otherwise drab existence. Rav Levin arrived on time for his regular weekly visit. As usual, he had the prisoners join in Shacharis (the morning prayer service); and as usual, when the time came, he began reading the weekly portion from the Sefer Torah (scroll).
As he was in the middle of the Torah reading, one of the Arab guards approached and asked him to come outside, as there were people waiting for him. Rav Aryeh, however, had no wish to interrupt the reading and motioned to the guard to be so kind as to wait until he was finished.
A few minutes passed by and once again the guard appeared with the same request. Once more, though, the rabbi motioned to him to wait until he finished reading from the Sefer Torah. Soon, however, the captain of the guard himself came, and asked Rav Levin to accompany him. There could be no further doubt: something quite serious must be afoot. Rav Aryeh asked one of the inmates to continue the reading, and he left the cell with the captain of the guard.
Once outside, he saw his son-in-law waiting for him at the prison entrance. In his heart he knew at once that some accident had occurred. However, he did not utter a word, and with the wisdom of silence between them they set off by foot to the Sha'arei Chessed neighborhood, where his married daughter lived.
As they reached his daughter’s home, Rav Aryeh saw members of the family and medical doctors gathered there. It was then that he learned the news: his daughter had been stricken by paralysis. The only comfort the doctors could give him was that in their opinion, her total incapacitation would likely give way to partial paralysis over the course of time, and perhaps in a number of years she would recover completely. After an emotional meeting with his daughter, he reminded members of the family that “the rescuing help of the L-rd can come in the twinkling of an eye.”
That night, when Shabbos was over, the Arab guard from the prison knocked at his door. Burning with curiosity, the inmates at the jail had bribed him to go to Rav Levin’s home and find out the reason for his sudden departure. Rav Aryeh explained what had happened and told them not to worry.
The next Shabbos the prisoners flocked around him and asked how his daughter was. “As well as can be expected,” he said emotionally.
During the Torah reading, an unusual thing occurred during the Mi Sheberach (“may he be blessed”) prayer recited after each of the seven aliyos, in which one asks the L-rd to bless and protect the man just called to the Torah. It is customary that the man called to the Torah pledges a sum to charity.
As Rav Aryeh duly recited the Mi Sheberach for the first prisoner called to the Torah, he was taken by surprise to hear the man announce that he was pledging a day of his life for the recovery of the good rabbi’s daughter. When the time came for the Mi Sheberach of the second called, he announced that he forfeited a week of his life for the sake of the sick woman. The third man called pledged a month of his lifespan; and so it went. At last it was the turn of the seventh man, Dov Tamari, who later became a professor at the Technion in Haifa.
“What is our life in prison worth,” he cried, “compared to our rabbi’s anguish? I pledge all the remaining days of my life to the complete recovery of our rabbi’s daughter!”
Rav Aryeh looked at the young man and burst into tears. He was moved beyond words to see how devoted these men were to him and how much affection they bore him. Unable to continue with the prayer service, he shook hands warmly with every single one of the inmates and went straight home.
That evening, after Shabbos, members of his family came to tell him that his daughter was beginning to show signs of recovery: she had started to move some limbs. A few days went by, and her health returned completely, in utter contradiction to the medical prognosis, which predicted a long period of illness and convalescence.

***

In 1965 (5725), four years before his passing, Rav Levin was honored at a ceremony assembled by the veteran underground resistance fighters from the Mandate period. Timed to take place on his eightieth birthday, it was held in the courtyard of the old central prison in the Russian Compound.
Rav Aryeh stood up to speak. “The importance of this assembly is that it has brought friends together. Moreover, this good meeting is taking place on the other side of the prison bars...It particularly makes my heart glad to see the families of the prisoners, especially the little children, since I have always loved small children.”
Then he added, “I do not know if I shall be privileged to be with you again like this. All I ask of you is this: Tell your children: There was an old Jew in Jerusalem who loved us so very much!” With that he burst into tears, and among the thousands of people there, not a dry eye was to be found.

Zechuso yagein Aleinu – May Reb Aryeh’s merits protect us!
*
UPDATE, EREV PESACH: from our good friend, Yisrael Medad of My Right Word:
A friend of mine at Yeshiva University and close to us Betarim was Benji Levine, grandson of Rav Aryeh (he is well known for his famous Four Jews skit). When I told him that I was taking my junior year off to go to Israel for a year in the framework of the Zionist youth movement leadership program (Machon), he asked me to please convey personal regards to his grandfather. So, when I arrived in Jerusalem in late August 1966, I sought out Emmanuel Hanegbi, Lechi veteran, estranged husband of Geula Cohen and father to Tzachi. I told him that I need to see Reb Aryeh as soon as possible. Coming from NY, I really wasn't aware of how compact Yerushalayim is (well, was) and as we were in the old Herut branch offices behind the Mashbir, he said no problem and he locked up and we walked out and around and into the neighborhood behind Machaneh Yehuda and right into his house which was all of two rooms (it still is a Yeshiva today). He welcomed us in and when I told him the purpose of my visit, his eyes lit up and then he took my hand into both of his and sort of rubbed my hand. Immediately, my hand and then body grew warm. I had heard of this special ability of his and thought it metaphorical but I give testimony now that the warmth was real and physical and it is something I will never forget. He died in Nisan of 1969 and many saw that of one of his last acts of running away from kavod [honor] as he had specifically asked that there should be no hespedim [eulogies] at his funeral. Many felt that as he didn't trust anyone to really fulfill his last request, he somehow arranged it that his be niftar [pass away] in Nisan when no hespedim are said in any case.

Comments:
just perfect
Now back to my Pesach cleaning!
 
Simcha Raz's book about Rabbi Arye Levin is a great inspiration, and every time I pick it up I am inspired anew.
 
That is quite a beautiful story (Heichal Negina) with R’ Arye Levin Z’L… Thanks for posting it!
 
A friend of mine at Yeshiva University and close to us Betarim was Benji Levine, grandson of Rav Aryeh (he is well known for his famous Four Jews skit). When I told him that I was taking my junior year off to go to Israel for a year in the framework of the Zionist youth movement leadership program (Machon), he asked me to please convey personal regards to his grandfather. So, when I arrived in Jerusalem in late August 1966, I sought out Emmanuel Hanegbi, Lechi veteran, estranged husband of Geula Cohen and father to Tzachi. I told him that I need to see Reb Aryeh as soon as possible. Coming from NY, I really wasn't aware of how compact Yerushalayim is (well, was) and as we were in the old Herut branch offices behind the Mashbir, he said no problem and he locked up and we walked out and around and into the neighborhood behind Machaneh Yehuda and right into his house which was all of two rooms (it still is a Yeshiva today). He welcomed us in and when I told him the purpose of my visit, his eyes lit up and then he took my hand into both of his and sort of rubbed my hand. Immediately, my hand and then body grew warm. I had heard of this special ability of his and thought it metaphorical but I give testimony now that the warmth was real and physical and it is something I will never forget. He died in Nissan of 1968 and many saw that of one of his last acts of running away from kavod as he had specifically asked that there should be no hespedim at his funeral. Many felt that as he didn't trust anyone to really fulfill his last request, he somehow arranged it that his be niftar in Nissan when no hespedim are said in any case.

A freilicha and and koshera Pesach mit zeis.
 
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