The Avner Institute presents heartfelt encounters with a war widow and activist to whom the Rebbe was more than a religious figure: rather, a deeply caring individual who guided her throughout her private and professional life. With special thanks to Rabbi Moshe Orenstein and Menachem Cohen from the editorial staff of Kfar Chabad magazine.
By Mrs. Shifra Yehudis Golombowitz-Morosow
My husband, R’ Dovid Morosow (may G-d avenge his blood), was called up to serve in the reserves when the Six Day War began. He fought in Unit 84, under the leadership of General Yisrael Tal (Talik). In the meantime, our son was born, but in the days before the cellphone, my husband only found out when he was able to get away to visit, which was about three weeks after the birth.
By Divine Providence, due to jaundice, the bris had been postponed again and again. When my husband came for a quick visit, he immediately spoke to Rabbi Garelik, who decreed that the bris be performed that day.
It was nine o’clock Friday morning. Kfar Chabad in those days was a village with one big family, an achdus [unity] only Chassidim can experience and appreciate. The boys of the village got to work. From Rabbi Leibush they asked for canned goods, from R’ Zalman bottles of Tempo cola, Chaika cooked rice, and at one p.m., four hours after the rav’s psak din [legal ruling], a lovely bris was prepared.
That was the last beautiful family time that we had. Right after that, when they continued receiving reports about heavy fighting, my husband wanted to go back to rejoin his buddies. He could not remain at home while they were fighting the enemy.
He got up and went, and never returned. Shabbos morning, 30 Sivan 5727, he was hit by Egyptian fire on the banks of the Suez Canal.
Right after Shabbos, R’ Binyomin Klein, the Rebbe‘s secretary, received news of the tragedy. Knowing it would cause the Rebbe much anguish, he pondered how to convey it.
He wrote the news on a paper and continued to deliberate. Suddenly, he heard a buzzing sound in the secretaries’ office, a signal that the Rebbe was calling on the intercom. R’ Klein went in immediately.
The Rebbe asked him, “Anything new?”
Without saying a word, R’ Klein handed over the pile of letters with the sad news on top. The Rebbe stared at it for a long time and R’ Klein left the room.
A short time later, at the farbrengen of Shabbos Pinchas, the Rebbe referred to the greatness and self-sacrifice of Israeli soldiers. Then, in a voice choked with tears, he said, “I would like to mention the grandson of R’ Chonye Morosow, who was moser nefesh al kiddush Hashem, after the miracles that occurred to him prior to that. Surely G-d will avenge his blood and help him in the place he is in now; He will build for him a proper house within the Jewish nation, and he will merit life in the World to Come.”
The Rebbe ended with the quote, “And the soul of my master will be bound up in the bond of life with Hashem your G-d.”
During the week of mourning, as we sought out any source of consolation, we took out the letter from the Rebbe that we had just received on the birth of our son. We discovered an amazing thing:
In all of the Rebbe’s letters marking the birth of a son or daughter, the usual wording is to the father: And may you raise him [or her] together with your wife with abundance, etc. That was the wording my friends received, as did I following the births of my two daughters.
To our amazement, this time the Rebbe wrote and may you raise him, without adding together with your wife.
(At this point, I will mention another amazing thing. When the family asked the Rebbe for a blessing for our marriage, the Rebbe’s reaction was, “Why do you need my blessing? You have the merit of the fathers — R’ Chonye Morosow, may G-d avenge his blood!” [He was murdered by the Russian Communists.] And the Rebbe did not give his blessing. I leave it to everyone to interpret this on their own.)
I sensed in every part of my being that the Rebbe felt my pain and was with me. When my son, Choni, got a bit older, I took him with me to the Rebbe. I think it was 1971. This was a tremendous dream that came true and I intensely prepared for it.
I will never forget the first “Shabbat Shalom” that I received with the Rebbe. The Rebbe’s prayer, always “like a servant before his master,” made a powerful, indelible impression on me.
I did not know just what a Rebbe was. Although I grew up in a religious home, my Dutch upbringing did not include education on connecting to a tzaddik, a holy man. But I felt more and more like I was being drawn in like a magnet.
Unfortunately, there was one thing that cast a cloud over the trip and our acclimation to the Rebbe’s court. Choni was stricken with a bad case of constipation which gave him no rest. And when a four-year-old is restless, that is his mother’s fate as well, with no day nor night. I looked for an avenue of escape and thank G-d, with the help of some better known and some lesser known “home remedies,” the matter was resolved.
In spite of my stress, I considered it obviously improper to disturb the busy Rebbe with this “terribly important” development. So I did not write or speak to the Rebbe about it.
But the Rebbe thought otherwise. During yechidus, he gazed at my son Choni and then asked me his first question, “Does he still suffer from constipation?”
To the best of my knowledge, the Rebbe had no sources who could have reported this “earth-shattering” information to him. But that the Rebbe knew this . . . well, we don’t ask questions.
I was very moved. I saw large sacks of mail being brought into the Rebbe’s room. At this time, I headed a large organization which was of special importance to the Rebbe, but the thing that worried him most was, “How is your son?”
In Need of Sleep
When the Yom Kippur War broke out, the command center of Tzach, our Chabad organization, was flooded with phone calls from the entire Who’s Who: “What does the Rebbe say?”
Remember, this war broke out only a six years after the Six Day War. In the previous war, the Rebbe’s voice was the only one that was expressed clear and confident victory for the Jewish nation. Many people, including those in high positions, wanted to know what the Rebbe was saying now.
The chossid R’ Itche Gansbourg came up with the idea of having a hotline 24 hours a day for any question or problem. He asked me to respond to callers, considering me, a war widow, the one most suitable for the job.
I said yes. It was an opportunity to do something in this fateful time. R’ Itche then asked the Rebbe for his consent and blessing.
The Rebbe’s quick response was, “Shifra needs to sleep at night.”
I felt like a daughter protected by her father. The Rebbe did not even refer to me as Mrs. Morosow/Golombowitz, but as Shifra.
After the cessation of hostilities in the Six Day War, the Rebbe had sent an extremely powerful letter to Tzach, the Lubavitch Youth Organization, that the souls of all those who were killed defending the Holy Land were pleading: Watch over our children. Even those who in their daily, mortal lives were not religiously observant were now in the World of Truth, and they wanted their sons and daughters to go in the way of Torah and mitzvoth.
Tzach did not know what to with this request. They turned to me, and for 22 years I ran an organization which provides support to war widows and orphans. The Rebbe was involved in every detail of our activities and on several occasions donated money.
During my first yechidus, I brought letters from about forty war widows with whom I was in constant contact. When I told them I was planning a trip to the Rebbe, each of them laid out her requests.
The Rebbe responded personally to each one and addressed each of the problems they raised. He even asked me to give his letter to them personally, not through the mail, because in this way I would be able to add an explanation and, mainly, consolation. To some of the letters the Rebbe even included a check from the special fund of the Rayatz, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn.
There were also those who presented their questions orally, and I conveyed their messages. There were some astonishing things. One of the widows asked for advice about her son, who suffered a certain developmental problem. The Rebbe suggested music therapy, which was very interesting, because at that time this had not been really used or discovered.
The daughter of a friend of mine, who lived in the Givat Brenner kibbutz, suffered from a certain medical problem. The Rebbe asked if she was taking a syrup manufactured from a certain tree that grew in the U.S. Once again, the doctors treating her had not heard of this. The Rebbe got intimately involved with the issues of each individual.
One of my widowed friends wrote to me on a small card, Shifra, tell your Rebbe that I am broken. I was unsure of what to do. After deliberation, I decided that this widow had expressed her feelings in the clearest way possible and that I would not edit this little paper. So I submitted it to the Rebbe as is.
The Rebbe blessed her that she should find a good shidduch soon. Two weeks later, she met her second husband, a bachelor. They had three darling children and live a wonderful life. Till today she says, “My shadchan was the Lubavitcher Rebbe.”
Elijah the Prophet
For a long time, I often went to the homes of widows to speak with them and give them encouragement. One day, someone knocked at my door and asked to talk to me. He wished to remain outside.
We sat on the porch. “It must be hard for you to travel to the homes of widows without a car,” he said.
I nodded in agreement. He then took out a big envelope full of money and placed it on the table. “This is for you to buy a car,” he declared, and then disappeared before I could say a word.
I did not know him and had never seen him before, nor after. He seemed to be Elijah the Prophet.
I informed the Rebbe about him and even asked whether it was permissible to use the car for personal matters as well. I received an express letter, which stated:
1) I should not drive, because the roads in Israel were dangerous for women.
2) I should get a driver, but the car should be owned by me (and not Tzach, under whose auspices I worked). It is all yours, he wrote.
By the way, over the years, whenever I raised the topic of driving, the Rebbe said, “No, it is not for you.”
Time and again, the Rebbe reminded me that I have a doting father, as though I were an only daughter. The truth is, the Rebbe had many “only” daughters. He once told me that whenever I spoke to my widowed friends I should first contemplate that this woman is also a daughter of Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah.
Dedicated by Sholom Jacobs and family in memory of the Rebbe’s powerful leadership and tireless devotion to all of Klal Yisroel. To receive inspiring stories and letters to your inbox email: [email protected]