SHUVU began with an impassioned drashah by Rabbi Avrohom Pam at the 1989 convention of Agudath Israel. Rav Pam spoke about the responsibility of American Jewry to provide the hundreds of thousands of immigrant children arriving from the FSU in Israel with the Torah education denied to them for seventy years by the Soviets.
Today SHUVU is a vast network of kindergartens, elementary schools and high schools, and reaches other underserved communities, in addition to children from Russian-speaking families. But before the first SHUVU school was dedicated, SHUVU provided supplementary programs in Chinuch Atzmai schools, which were ill-equipped to receive children from non-religious, Russian-speaking families.
Sha'arei Torah in Haifa was one such school. It is located in a neighborhood with a large Arab population, into which a lot of new Russian immigrants moved because of the cheap rents. SHUVU's director Chaim Mikhael Gutterman wanted to set up an afternoon program in the school but did not have the budget for the $700/month program.
On a fundraising trip to the United States, a few years after SHUVU started, Gutterman went to brief Rav Pam, He mentioned the Haifa program and his inability to finance it. While he was speaking to Rav Pam, he heard Rebbetzin Pam on the phone to a travel agent booking a reservation to Israel.
The next day, Chaim Mikhael received a call from Rav Pam. The latter explained that Rebbetzin Pam had cancelled her trip to Israel for the wedding of her sister's daughter so that they could contribute $700 to pay for the first month of the program in Haifa.
For Rav Pam taking responsibility for the Russian-speaking immigrants was not just a matter of inspiring others, but of his own incredible mesirus nefesh. His last public appearance was at a SHUVU parlor meeting to which he was transported in an ambulance and brought into the house in a hospital bed.
FAST FORWARD over twenty years. This past Shavuos the Guttermans had at their Shavuos table a woman named Channah Penina, who studies and works with Mrs. Gutterman in the social work program on the Neve Yerushalayim campus. Chaim Mikhael asked her about her background and how she had come to Neve, where she was also a madricha.
She related that she was born in the FSU and her parents, both doctors, emigrated to Germany, where the government placed them in a region in need of doctors far removed from any Jews. When she reached eighth grade, her parents sent her for a year to grandparents in Israel to provide some Jewish identity.
"I'm sure you never heard of a school in Haifa named Sha'arei Torah," she continued. "But the school had an afternoon program for Russian-speaking students and that's where I went." From that year, even after returning to Germany, she always harbored a desire to return to Israel to study Torah.
Rabbi Gutterman surprised her by telling her that he had indeed heard of Sha'arei Torah and sharing the story of Rav and Rebbetzin Pam's mesirus nefesh that made possible the program that had such a large impact on her life.
FINAL FRAME. Last week, 35 young community leaders from England spent three days in Israel on a whirlwind tour of SHUVU schools in Lod, Bat Yam, and Petach Tikva. On the second night of their visit, SHUVU made an emotional sheva berachos for Channah Penina and her husband Ariel Avezbadalov, a brilliant talmid chacham originally from Uzbekistan.
At the ceremony, the kallah's brother approached Rabbi Gutteman and told him that he too had been in the Sha'arei Torah program a few years after his sister and that he is now studying at Aish HaTorah.
In Shomayim, I imagine, Rav and Rebbetzin Pam were smiling.
Another Lesson from the Gross Family
No Mishpacha reader could fail to have been moved by words of Shimon Gross last week, as he described the vigil he and his wife Michal are keeping by the beds of their sons Raphael Yitzchok Isaac and Chaim Michoel Shlomo as they struggle for their lives, even as they mourn the loss of their two beautiful young daughters. The strength and emunah pashute that he conveyed strengthened us all.
His wife Michal Gross has also evinced almost super-human emunah. This week I received an email circulated by a neighbor of the Gross's in the Givat Mordechai neighborhood of Jerusalem.
The women of Givat Mordechai organized an evening of tefillah for the Gross's two boys. Michal Gross gave over two messages to the organizer of the evening. The first was that each woman should undertake to make a Kiddush Hashem in her home, through some act of mesirus nefesh for Torah, mitzvos, or gemilus chassidim.
But the truly remarkable request was the second: No one should speak any lashon hara about the exterminator, whose error was the immediate cause of the terrible tragedy that befell her family – "a man of Torah and learning" well known in the Givat Mordechai community.
Michal Gross's ability not only to forgive but to empathize with the suffering of someone who was the instrument of a loss that can never be made whole or recompensed humbles us. We cannot help but recognize a level of emunah worthy of David Hamelech, who when cursed by Shimi ben Gera spared him from punishment, for "He is cursing because Hashem has said to him, 'Curse David'" (Shmuel II 16:10).
How many of us – who suffered no direct loss – were quick to condemn the exterminator and term his mistake unforgiveable, without an ounce of sympathy for the tortures he is enduring.
RATHER THAN CONDEMN and ask how anyone could have been so careless, it would be more productive for us to use the hapless exterminator's example to ensure that we do not one day find ourselves in the same position.
Most of us drive cars. Even the briefest lapse of attention can turn our car into a killing machine. Yet who among us has not made an elementary driving error simply because we were momentarily distracted by our cell phone. And if, chas ve'shalom, we failed to notice a ball rolling into the street and the child sure to follow it because we were engrossed in a conversation or trying to navigate a large vehicle while clutching a cell phone in one hand, what would the rest of our lives be like?
Could we count on a Michal Gross to say we were "just Hashem's messengers?" Or would we know that everywhere we went thereafter people would be asking, "How could he have been so careless?" And even if they weren't, how would we feel knowing that we had been chosen to be Hashem's instrument of tragedy?
Let me be clear, I write these words not primarily for my readers, but to strengthen my own resolve not to take a mobile device in hand while driving.
Barry Rubin, a"h
In August 2012, Professor Barry Rubin, the author more than a dozen books on the modern Middle East, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs and director of the GLORIA Center at Bar Ilan University, sent out an email announcing that he had been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. "Every creature that has ever lived on this earth has died. If they could do it, I can do it," he wrote.
I sent him an email to let him know that I quote him more frequently than any other Middle East specialist, secure in the knowledge "that I am on solid ground [and] that the analysis is backed up by real knowledge of Israel and the surrounding countries." His writing lacked all partisanship. I have, for instance, no idea about his views on settlements. He once described himself as a liberal Democrat, but in recent years was scathing on the folly of the Obama administration's Middle East policies.
I even took a new role as "posek," and pronounced him the "one truly indispensable commentator on Israel and her neighbors" and thus possessing the status of someone upon whom the tzibbur depends. He liked that, and we maintained an intermittent email correspondence thereafter
Apparently I was not the only fan to come out of the woodwork to tell him how much he or she benefitted from his work. He commented wryly that the outpouring of support from people with whom he had no previous contact made it almost, but not quite, worth finding out that he was terminally ill. Until then, he had always felt he was writing into a vast black void.
After a career writing about virtually every aspect of the Middle East, one of his last books was Children of Dohlinov, the small shtetl from which his grandfather came, and also the birthplace of Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky and Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman. (Thirteen of Rubin's books are available free at the website of the GLORIA Center.)
Sadly, I never got around to bringing him Reb Yaakov or of meeting him in person. Professor Barry Rubin was not a household name to most Mishpacha readers – though news editor Binyamin Rose did interview him regularly – but his passing will be felt by all who care about Israel.