By Dina Hurwitz – The Caffeinated Thinker
A few weeks ago I went on a most amazing trip. I went with Mrs. Miryam Swerdlov and her girls camp and a group of women to spend one week in Ukraine touring the grave sites of the early Chabad Rebbes.
For me, the trip was intensely emotional and very personal, and at the same time I shared all that with 70 people. Before the trip I did not bother to find out who else was going. It didn’t matter, I had to go. Once on the trip, it was because of who was there, that it was such a unique experience. Friendships that will last a lifetime and girls that have so much energy, talent and heart.
It surprised me how much we enjoyed each other. I cannot give enough thanks to the teachers who taught us all about the lives and teachings of who we went to. Because of them, we felt connected to the Rebbes and familiar with their stories, making our prayers there much more personal, we were talking to someone we know.
The highlights of the trip for me were being by the Alter Rebbe and spending Shabbos in Mezibuz, by the Baal Shem Tov. Visiting the Alter Rebbe’s kever was very intense. I was overcome with awe and severity. It was the first Rebbe we went to see, and it was as if the dam holding back and limiting our emotions exploded.
We sang the Hachana Niggun followed by the Alter Rebbe’s Niggun. We read our Pan Klali and then our individual Pans. There was not a dry eye around. Young girls with lists that take an entire page packed with tiny writing. It struck me as sad that at their age they are so aware of all the pain in the world.
Not just aware, but heartbroken. How they cried when they read my husband’s name without even knowing that I, his wife, was right there. I am constantly shocked and comforted when I see people who I have never met, that daven daily for my husband. But watching these girls’ heartbreaking cries? That was something else. Not only was I watching, so were our Rebbes. If to my tired human eyes, this was so obvious, I’m sure it was even more beautiful from where they can see us.
As awestruck as I was in Hadiatch, that’s how incredibly happy I was in Mezibuz. Much of the village looks unchanged for the past few hundred years, so it really matched what I imagined it to be.
The Baal Shem Tov came into this world at a time that was very hard for the Jewish people. He picked us up from the ground, polished us and taught us how much HaShem loves us. He did this with joy and with love (so naturally, I think of my husband). In my understanding, the Baal Shem Tov is the source of joy, specifically serving HaShem with joy. All of that is felt tangibly in Mezibuz. Another thing the Baal Shem Tov is known for is the miracles that he performed. Being there made it seem like everything is possible. We sang and danced and listened to very inspiring words of Torah late into the night.
I must remind you, I am not a teenager anymore and just being able to function on so little sleep was a miracle. Shabbos morning I was woken by the crow of a rooster! Of course, I slept through his initial ten wake-up calls, but it is all part of the untouched beauty of Mezibuz. Again we sang and danced. We shared words and stories, and we shared ourselves. For Seder Nigunnim, towards the end of Shabbos, we went to the Baal Shem Tov’s Shul.
The actual Shul was built in the 1440’s long before the Baal Shem Tov and was destroyed by the Nazis. What is there now is a beautiful replica. So here we are towards the end of Shabbos – the Baal Shem Tov’s time, in the Baal Shem Tov’s Shul, singing songs of each Rebbes following the Baal Shem Tov. Again singing and dancing and hearing stories and words of Torah.
The following are two entries I wrote while on my trip:
* Today we went to a sanitarium where the Rebbe’s brother, who was not well was living. In 1940 the Rebbe’s father was taken prisoner and the Rebbe’s mother, Rebbetzin Chana was faced with an impossible choice. To go with her husband or stay with her son. I believe her son was by then in his thirties and partially paralyzed. Rebbetzin Chana knew that if she stayed with her son, she may never see her husband again, and if she went with her husband she may never see her son again. She went with her husband. In 1941 the Nazis came and massacred everyone in the sanitarium. Those who were not perfect enough to deserve life. Today there is still a functioning hospital there and recently a grave marker for all those killed there. Rebbetzin Chana never knew what happened to her son. The choice between being with your husband or children broke my heart. In my small way, I make that choice daily, and I never know if I am doing the right thing. I imagine the sacrifice those before us had. The difficult choices that must have been heartbreaking. And because of those choices, we are here today, so thank you for your self-sacrifice and I am crying with you.
* Today we went to Haditch, to the gravesite of the Alter Rebbe. The Alter Rebbe is the first Chabad Rebbe, the author of the revolutionary Tanya and my great grandfather many generations back. I woke up nervous, and was unable to eat much of breakfast. It took us 6 hours or so to get there. I may have cried the whole trip. I felt strongly that praying by the Alter Rebbe can bring miracles, but so far, I have not been worthy of one. It took me almost the whole 6 hours to come to a few realizations. Firstly, I am coming on behalf of my husband and he is most certainly worthy. Second, there is a chance that if I am worthy of my husband, I am quite worthy. Third, the 70 other women and girls I am with have an amazing collective energy, and pure hearts all praying with me. And lastly and most important, even if I am not, the Alter Rebbe is. By the time I got there, I was quite nauseous and feeling faint. I ran ahead, for one more minute of holding back was unbearable. I really poured my heart out. I took all of my sorrows, my worries and heartache, and some of my friends and families and I laid it firmly down for the Alter Rebbe to handle. The rest of the group came in, we learned some Tanya, and sang the Alter Rebbe’s Niggun (song). I remembered my wedding when we also sing that song and imagined my husband and myself walking our children to their Chuppas as well. Then we all read a letter of request to heal those who need it, to give children to those who need it, to find spouses for those who need it, and to give livelihood to those who need it. There was not a dry eye among us. It was very powerful. When I left my shoulders were lighter, my heart was lighter and I felt happy. I know G-d is good and there is nothing beside Him.
The energy from our group was so beautiful, I know I will remember that feeling when things are hard. Throughout Shabbos a question kept coming up: How will we take this experience home with us and make sure it doesn’t fade like a memory?
I’m sure that we all had slightly different experiences because we are all slightly different. The thought weighed on me quite seriously. How will I make sure this trip changed me? When I get home will things be different? Is it a possibility that my prayers were answered? If they were not, will I make it? How can I take this joy and hold it tight in my heart, so I can find it when I need it?
On my way home, just as on my way there, I stopped by the Ohel in New York. I wanted to express my gratitude for being able to share this experience. I told the Rebbe of the personal Hachlotas I made on the trip for a daily reminder of where we come from and who we are part of. I told the Rebbe all about his Chassidim and how they are following in his footsteps.
I came home to a miracle but not the ones I davened for.
My husband, who was well taken care of, was smiling and beaming. The week I was gone, over 100 people visited him. He was not bored and definitely not lonely. He was so happy that I had this opportunity and so grateful to all of those who made it possible, especially Mrs. Swerdlov.
The other miracles, well, they may just take a little longer.