By Yisrael Hershkowitz for Inyon – Hamodia
Have you ever tried to take one child, without his parents, out of any country and put him on a plane abroad?
In typical Jewish fashion, that is the answer Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Aharonov gives to the question I asked – another question. I had asked him to describe his role in the heroic operation named “Chernobyl’s Children,” which he supervised for a period of nearly 26 years, during which 3,000 children were brought to Israel.
Now, as the campaign begun in the summer of 5750/1990 rounds out nearly three decades, we seek to hear some of the stories behind the scenes, only to discover that that’s a more complicated undertaking than it appears.
“Taking one child – any child younger than 18 – out of any country, is considered impossible, even today. Even if it’s just for a leisure trip, and much more so when the objective is to separate the child from his homeland forever. Now, imagine that this child needs to be taken out of Russia, the Soviet Union at the time, when even an adult could not board a plane and leave. And this child needs to be taken out without his parents, without Russian cooperation and without the destination nation – Israel in this case — having signed a document approving his admission.
“Now,” he concludes, “multiply that child by the number 196 — the number of children who left Russia with our very first group.”
How, indeed, did the impossible happen?
“We did it, b’chasdei Hashem. The fact is that the group left, and the fact is that it was followed by dozens more groups.”
Typically cryptic for Rabbi Aharonov — the legendary chairman of Tzeirei Agudas Chabad in Israel — one of the most influential and well-connected Jews in the world. One of his landmark efforts, however, was overseeing the global campaign to bring the children of Chernobyl to Israel. While Rabbi Aharonov speaks little, and provides terse answers, the bit that he does reveal indicates that the campaign was both momentous and miraculous.
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