Around the World with Chabad
“Join Chabad and see the world.” But the Chabad traveler is never a tourist – rather, a soldier, an emissary, and a mover-shaker. In connection with the Kinus Hashluchim The Avner Institute presents an edited report by Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner, of blessed memory – original founder and leader of the Melbourne community – and sudden adventurer who crossed many a border and time zone to fulfill the Rebbe’s directives and instruct communities, individuals, and institutions in all global manners of Judaism.
Man on a Mission
Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner, of blessed memory, was chief Chabad emissary to Australia, Rav of the Chabad community, and director of the branch offices. During the month of Menachem Av 5731 (1971), he paid a visit to the Rebbe at 770 Eastern Parkway, Chabad headquarters. On 11 Av, before returning to Australia, he was summoned after Mincha by the Rebbe, who gave him 26 ten-dollar bills for various individuals. Afterwards Rabbi Groner was sent to various locations – Milan, London, Tehran, Mumbai, Calcutta, Singapore, and several Israeli towns.
When asked by the Rebbe where he would be around 20 Av, he said, “In Eretz Yisroel.”
“I have a brother who is buried in Tzfas [Safed],” said the Rebbe. His bright blue eyes welled with tears, and he continued, “Go there and see if the gravestone needs fixing. If it does, please repair and I will pay for it, and place a note there.”
His first stop after leaving New York was London. It was there that he heard the news that his first grandson, R’ Mordechai Telsner, was born. But did he return to New York for the bris? No – he knew that the Rebbe would be displeased were he to stop in the middle of his mission.
Following his trip around the world, he wrote up a report. The first part, covering the early days 12-18 Av, were omitted. However, it is known that one of the ten-dollar bills was a reward from the Rebbe for his participation, and used to buy a gift for Rabbi Groner’s wife, who did not accompany him.
The farbrengen in Yeshivas Toras Emes in Jerusalem was very geshmak (pleasurable). That day, I visited my relative, R’ Zelig Slonim, and gave him a ten-dollar bill for the farbrengen.
20 Av, evening.
In honor of the yahrzeit of the Rebbe’s father Levi Yitzchok Schneerson, another farbrengen was held in the Tzemach Tzedek shul in the Old City. Boruch Hashem there was a nice crowd. I reviewed the sichos [discourses] and a little of the ma’amar [essay]. A few of the young men spoke excitedly about the BaCH (Orach Chaim 238) quoted one of the sichas.
I went together with two talmidim (students) from Toras Emes – Moshe Perman and Menachem Hershkop – to Tzfas (Safed). On the way we picked up about eight soldiers, who hitched a ride in our taxi and, with our consent, all put on tefillin. We went directly to the cemetery, where I immediately found the Rebbe’s brother’s grave. We stood there for some time, reciting chapters of Psalms, and I also wrote a note, which I placed on the grave – a request for the Rebbe’s health and success in leading the Chabad community and the Jewish people until the coming of the Righteous Redeemr, speedily. I also made a special request that the decree of Mihu Yehudi [Who is a Jew, according to secular law] be annulled and that all of the Rebbe’s wishes be fulfilled.
The students took pictures. The grave and gravestone are, B”H, fine. Only some of the color on the letters had come off. When I returned, I told Rabbi Efraim Wolf, who promised he would have it fixed right away. The date also needed to be corrected – 13 Iyar instead of 12. Surely this had already been relayed to the Rebbe.
We visited the other holy sites in Tzfas, Miron, Tiveria, including the graves. Reciting Psalm 70, we again asked that the Rebbe continue to lead the Chabad community and Klal Yisroel until the coming of Moshiach – and, again, that the decree of Mihu Yehudi be annulled.
That evening we returned straight to Kfar Chabad, in order to hear the Rebbe’s farbrengen from New York. Boruch Hashem, a nice crowd came, to listen. Then I returned to Yerushalayim with those who had come for the farbrengen.
21 Av, eleven a.m.
I met with Mr. —-, an international chairman of Keren HaYesod (United Israel Appeal). He welcomed me graciously because of the telegrams he received from Melbourne and Sydney about my participation in their work. When I asked him to arrange a meeting for me with Prime Minister Golda Meir, he said, “It is difficult. I myself have not been able to meet with her. She is very busy.” He added, “But, I’ll try.”
When I told him that the United Israel Appeal was beneficial to the Jews in Australia, he explained that he was a great admirer of Chabad. “I visited 770 several years ago.” He himself hailed from Cleveland, Ohio. “I greatly enjoyed the davening there, although I did not get to have yechidus [private audience with the Rebbe].”
I also spoke with one of his assistants, who told me he would also try to arrange a meeting with the Prime Minister. Sunday morning, however, he called and apologetically explained, “I did all I could, but I’m afraid the Prime Minister is just too busy.”
22 Av, Friday morning.
I had a meeting with Mr. —— in his office at the Jewish agency. I recognized him from somewhere else; he in fact had also attended my daughter’s wedding. I told him that I had come on my own initiative, because of the issues of Mihu Yehudi and the fake conversions going on in Vienna.
“Since you are the one who arranges all Aliyah and absorption, you must be made aware of the tremendous confusion and chillul Hashem [desecration] such actions were causing,” I pleaded.
At first, he tried to deny it all, saying, “Nonsense, it’s lashon hara [gossip],” until I showed him clear proof. Although I spoke sharply, I tried to be respectful, and we have remained friends. I explained how my friend, Rabbi Wolpo, who’s the chief rabbi of Rishon L’Tzioyn, had a number of cases where girls came to him with conversion certificates, which turned out to be fake.
He sighed, “What can we do? Why is Lubavitch getting involved? Since Lubavitch does nothing, they should be quiet. And if they feel the need to get involved, they out to shout about the Law of Return and non-legal conversions.” He also agreed that the ministers should leave the government, but he lacked any influence.
I countered: “That you say Lubavitch does nothing – first of all, you need to use your ‘seat.’ You should threaten to resign.”
He shrugged. “And what will be? I would sit and hope, that with G-d’s help, everything should be arranged properly according to Jewish law.”
He stared at me and asked, “What would you do?”
I explained, “First, we need to know in general what is going inside the Jewish Agency. Then we can arrange everything in Vienna – unlike what they are presently doing. From what you said, it seems like you know everything but are doing nothing.”
“The matter is indeed problematic,” he answered. “For they come and say they are Jews.”
I brought up the 20 Av farbrengen, and the Rebbe’s discussion about a sick person – an analogy to those who defend their inactivity about Mihu Yehudi by pointing to the good they do. It’s like a sick person showing his healthy limb to the doctor for fear of being told he is sick.
I pointed outside to King George Street, where the Jewish Agency is located. “See those people walking out there? In a while we won’t know who is a Jew and who isn’t.”
He remained silent. In all I was there for about an hour.
While in Kfar Chabad, I recommended that a complete file be arranged of all the prominent cases where outright gentiles were receiving fake certificates. Here too a Rav had arranged a marriage for a girl who showed him her Israeli ID with her status as a Jew, but he found out later that she was not. Such news should be brought to the government.
Shabbos Eikev, Shabbos Mevarchim Elul
I davened in the Tzemach Tzedek shul, where there was a Sefardic chassan (bridegroom) and a large crowd of guests. At the Kiddish I spoke in Hebrew about Mihu Yehudi and gave over some of the sichos. The farbrengen lasted several hours.
I went to Rishon L’Tziyon to visit the local yeshiva. Beforehand, I had arranged through Rabbi Wolpo a list of the girls who had come to him with fake certificates.
The yeshiva principal, Rabbi Mordechai Goldberg, apologetically explained, “Right now it’s vacation, so the place is empty. However, students, teachers, and counselors come anyway.”
Rabbi Raskin was also there. I reviewed the sichos in Hebrew and spoke about Mihu Yehudi. I emphasized to the young students the need to strengthen Torah study, both nigleh (revealed) and Chassidus. We sang Chassidic melodies and danced. After davening Mincha and Maariv I went to Kfar Chabad to farbreng with the people there.
The farbrengen there lasted a few hours. Boruch Hashem, a large crowd came to the new beis midrash [study hall], along with Rav Shneur Zalman Garelik (Rav of Kfar Chabad). I gave over sichos from Parshas Pinchas and the ma’amer on Eicha [Lamentations]. I spoke mainly about Mihu Yehudi and saw an awakening. There were ideas about what to do to annul the decree. I suggested arranging a file with all the known cases. There was also a suggestion to recite Tehillim, Psalms, Thursday evening, Erev Rosh Chodesh Elul, to annul the decree.
I visited Rabbi Garelik at his home, then went to Tel Aviv with Rabbi Efraim Wolf to visit the American ambassador. He received me nicely and recalled positively the past shluchim (emissaries) who had come to visit him. I mentioned visas being given without hassle to ones who had just left Russia and wanted to see the Rebbe.
Then I went to the home of Mr. Yehuda Paldi, who was also involved in Mihu Yehudi. He was the chairman of the Shleimus Ha’Am [Unity of the Nation] committee. He was excited to see me, a shliach of the Rebbe – and the ten-dollar bill, which I promptly handed him. He explained to me everything he is going to avert the decree. “I am writing it all to the Rebbe,” he said. He lives and breathes this issue and takes action.
I went to visit the rabbinate office in Tel Aviv about a personal matter for one of my ba’alei teshuva members in Melbourne. I spoke to Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Zilberstein, whom I know, and also Rabbi Goren, the chief rabbi. I gave him a yasher koach [congratulations] for his speech at the Mizrachi for Mihu Yehudi gathering about annulling the law.
I visited the home of Rabbi Yedidya Frankel, who is to officiate at the wedding of my friend’s daughter in Melbourne and needed to consult with me about the details. Rabbi Frankel said he visited the Rebbe and showed me letters the Rebbe had sent him. I spoke to him about Mihu Yehudi.
I returned from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim. Seated next to me was a lecturer from Bar Ilan University, who had been in the Tzemach Tzedek shul on Shabbos. He told me he was impressed at what he heard.
I attended a bris of the son of Rabbi — of Yerushalayim. He gave me the honor of having me relay sichos of the Rebbe. I again spoke about Parshas Pinchas – and Mihu Yehudi.
I traveled to Hertzliya to the wedding of my friend’s daughter. I spoke in the middle of the meal and also stressed the problem of Mihu Yehudi.
I left Eretz Yisroel for Tehran. Although I arrived late at night, the chief rabbi, Rabbi Yedidya Shofet, was there, as well as Chacham Uriel and two people from the community who had received a telegram from Rabbi Wolf about me. I stayed in Tehran on Thursday, Friday, and Shabbos Rei, Rosh Chodesh Elul.
During my time there I spoke with the deputy to the Israeli ambassador in his office. The ambassador himself was in Eretz Yisroel. I discussed Mihu Yehudi and urged him and his colleagues to look into this problem.
I also visited the Jewish Agency, as the shluchim had done. I spoke to the main person at length about sending boys (especially the religious) from Tehran to religious institutions; otherwise, they would become corrupted. As Chacham Yedidya explained, a few went to Eretz Yisroel who were a little religious and came back the opposite.
I visited the deputy chairman of the community. He was very friendly to me. I have him a ten-dollar bill from the Rebbe with the explanation that Rebbe gave me. The man understood the sanctity.
I spoke with the principal of the Alliance Israelite school, who showed me the only mikvah, ritual pool, that Rav —, of blessed memory, built. (I recommended some corrections.) I also visited the Jewish hospital.
In the evening, Chacham Yedidya and I davened at the home of a mourner. At six a.m. a large crowd gathered to daven – about 500 men and women. They asked me to speak, and the Chaham said that I should speak in Hebrew, which he would translate. I spoke about Torah study, kashrut, family purity, etc.
We davened Mincha in another shul, after which Chacham Yedidya gave me the honor of speaking. I met many of the youth both in shul and outside, and I spoke to them about tefillin. They also knew I am from Chabad.
I arrived and a few of the distinguished community members were already waiting, having received telegrams in advance from Eretz Yisroel.
I davened Mincha and Maariv in the Knesset Eliyahu shul, and was invited to early morning Selichos. After the davening, I was invited to eat at the Jewish club in honor of the new Israeli consul. All of the most distinguished men and women came. The meal was kosher because they had a shochet, ritual slaughterer. I emphasized proper chinuch (Jewish education) and Chabad activities.
I visited their school, where many of the students are Jewish, relatively speaking, although the number is diminishing due to those making Aliyah. But there were about eighty. I spoke to the gentile principal, who is very interested in the Jewish students’ receiving chinuch. There were two girls traveling under the auspices of ——–in Yerushalayim. I promised them material from Tzeirei Agudas Chabad and Merkos L’Inyanei Chinuch.
I addressed the students, visited all the classes, and asked those students who were already bar mitzvah who did not put on tefillin to come up. I lay tefillin on all of them, about twelve, and asked if they had their own. Only two did. The others cannot buy any due to poverty. The teacher said he had brought fourteen pairs with him. I gave him $150 and bought ten pairs, giving each to the students as a gift on condition that they be used every day.
Afterwards, I visited another school, where the number of Jewish students is small, as most too had left. There too, the gentile principal called upon all the Jewish boys and girls, as well as the Jewish teachers, and I lay tefillin on the boys who were bar mitzvah. I explained the necessity of learning Torah and doing mitzvoth. A Jewish teacher came with me, and I asked that he be allowed to teach occasionally and arrange for lessons outside of class time.
As per instructions of the community leader, the builder came for instructions to fix the mikvah of Knesset Eliyahu. I visited the most important shul of the Bene Israel, the “Magen Chassidim,” and spoke with the director. The secretary also told me that on 2 Elul about 150 people came for Selichos. They showed me their own mikvah.
A car was waiting for me. The distinguished leader took me to the schools and shuls. In the past, some 2000 Jews lived in Calcutta, but no only 310 remain.
I first visited the Meyers school, which only had 20 Jewish students, and I spoke to them all. Those who are already bar mitzvah go to shul every morning and are paid to complete the minyan. So they already had tefillin. I asked a few of them to come in the evening to the Beit E-l shul in order to arrange some kind of organization for them.
Then I visited the —– school, which is beautiful and has a nice dormitory. The girls’ division has about twenty-five students. They gave over some tefillos (prayers) and chapters of Psalms, and I actually cried to see that even in Calcutta words of Torah are heard.
I addressed them at length about Judaism. They said, “It is difficult to arrange a youth group. There is so much fear of going outside; there are killings every day.” But they said they would try.
I spoke to the Jewish studies teacher and also promised to send books. I spoke at length with the principal about looking out for the Jewish students. I visited all the classes; they gave me gifts and took names of the students in order to set up pen pals with students in Beth Rivka.
I davened in the Magen Dovid shul, a beautiful building. I spoke with a few of the youth about arranging some organization. At the Beth E-l shul I saw the mikvah. I gave Mr. —, the local askan [community activist], a ten-dollar bill. I also gave $10 to Mr. – in Bombay, and for all of them I wrote the Rebbe’s address so they could send their thanks.
After my arrival, I called the — families. They have four sons and want to send the two older ones to Melbourne. I met them. There are only 500 Jews in Singapore, 130 from Eretz Yisroel and most of whom have no connection to Judaism.
I spoke to Mr., one of the distinguished people, about ancient sefarim; I was told there aren’t any. They have many sifrei Torah, some of which are pasul [defective].
I visited their shul and checked the sifrei Torah; some are fine. I asked Mr. – to send a few here. He said I had to write a letter to the community and he would make an effort.
(In Tehran too I saw sefarim in the community and asked the vice chairman about them. But he said he could not give them to me because it is communal property. In Bombay I was told there were many sefarim, but someone came and took nearly all of them. I searched in Calcutta too but did not find any – nor in Singapore.)
Here, in Singapore, I went to shul on Waterloo Street. I addressed the minyan, who kept me there a long time asking questions. I also invited some of the youth and asked them to arrange speaking engagements for me. I spoke with the teacher of the Talmud Torah because there is no regular, fulltime school. On that day, Thursday, there was no school, but I spoke and promised to send sefarim. I was told that talks and discussions for the youth would be arranged.
I visited the mikvah. There is also a spring of water there; each time it fills up the mikvah.
I returned to Australia.
I davened in Rabbi Chaim Gutnick’s shul in honor of his son’s bar mitzvah. At the Kiddush I gave over the content of the sichos, especially about Mihu Yehudi. I davened Mincha at the yeshiva on 92 Hotham Street. At the third Shabbos meal I gave over more sichos and again emphasized the topic of Mihu Yehudi.
Tuesday, 18 Elul.
In honor of the birthday of the Ba’al Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi) there was a farbrengen at the yeshiva gedolah, where I gave out another $10 bill. I reviewed some sichos and stressed the topic of neiros l’ha’eer, lighting candles – that there needs to be a ner (candle), holder, oil, wick; an increase in Torah study.
There was an assembly at the yeshiva, where I told about my visit to the Rebbe, the gift of $10, and the emphasis on Torah study. I also spoke at Beis Rivka and Ohel Chana, the girls’ schools, where I was successful, Boruch Hashem.
As per the Rebbe’s instructions, I managed on short notice to arrange a gathering, and a large crowd showed up. Rabbi Perlow spoke, as did I, about strengthening Torah study.
I spoke for Hillel students; again the topic was strengthening Torah study, Mihu Yehudi, etc.
Shabbos Ki Seitzei
There was a Kiddush. There too I gave over the sichos of Parshas Pinchas and Mihu Yehudi. I also gave an interview to the Jewish News and emphasized increase in Torah study – and Mihu Yehudi.
Since my return, I’ve already written letters to Tehran, Bombay, Calcutta, Singapore, and have also sent packages of books in English to those I promised. The students of Beis Rivka also wrote letters to the students in Calcutta. I sent a letter to Mr. — about whether the mikvah in Bombay was fixed.
May Hashem give me the merit to carry out the Rebbe’s shlichus fully.
HaTalmud Yitzchok Dovid ben Menucha Rochel
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