I Will Make Sure You Have A Sefer Torah
I Will Make Sure You Have A Sefer Torah | Oro shel yoseph > Commemoration > Yossie, My Best Friend 22

Oro shel yoseph > Commemoration > Yossie, My Best Friend > I Will Make Sure You Have A Sefer Torah

I Will Make Sure You Have A Sefer Torah

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It all began in the spring of 5765. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Raichik's mother, Rabbanit Leah, expressed a desire to visit her birthplace, Bialski-Biali, Poland. She asked her son and daughter-in-law to accompany her, and they willingly agreed.
Bialski-Biali is a large industrial city situated not far from Cracow. The community in Cracow, Dinah Raichik informs us, has 180 registered members. The Shaliach in Cracow, Rabbi Eliezer Gurari, believes there are a few hundred more. The city is near Auschwitz and so many visitors stop there en route.
The Raichiks visited the famous old shul of the Remah, who is their direct ancestor. "My husband was quite surprised that the shul does not have a Sefer Torah and decided aloud, 'I will make sure you have a Sefer Torah,'"Dinah Raichik recollects. "Anyone who knew Yossie knew that the day was not far off, and the men davening at the Remah shul in Cracow would have their own Sefer Torah."
"After we returned to Israel, he began to work on this project, without neglecting his many other responsibilities. During the Shiva, I heard from many people whom he had contacted regarding the Sefer Torah."
Two years passed, during which time Rabbi Raichik continued to fundraise for this goal. It was on the 3rd of Tammuz 5767, at the Ohel HaKadosh, that he metthe Shaliach in Cracow, Rabbi Eliezer Gurari, who had no idea of this initiative. Rabbi Gurari himself was rather depressed as we hear from the Shaliach in Atlanta Georgia, Rabbi Yossie Lew:
"I had spent a few hours at the Ohel, and just as I left, I bumped into Rabbi Eliezer Gurari, the Shliach in Cracow. I had been in Cracow for the Shabbos right after Pesach on the March of the Living, and farbrenged in his house together with about a dozen students. It was an unbelievable experience.
Rabbi Gurari was leaning against one of the trailers outside near the street, looking quite dejected. We started talking. I asked why he looked so sad. He told me that he had just been at the Ohel, and "unloaded" all his Tzoros there, which included his financial difficulties and his loneliness. And now, he said, he was on his way back to Poland, and could not help but feel depressed."
"At that moment," continues Rabbi Lew, "I saw Yossie coming towards us, in a particular direction. (There are many ways to enter the tent outside the Ohel, however this particular way is not the most popular one). I said to Rabbi Gurari: Here comes Yossie Raichik! Rabbi Gurari, although from Israel, had never really met Yossie, and I was able to introduce them."
"Oh," said Yossie to Rabbi Gurari. "You are Gurari from Cracow? Would you like a Sefer Torah?"
Rabbi Gurari was speechless! He later told me that he was in negotiations with the Jewish community leaders in Cracow to have the building called "The Isaac Shul" for his Chabad activities and one of the things he needed most was a Sefer Torah - and he had written this to the Rebbe!
One piece of good news was not enough for Yossie. He added that there are people who would donate money for activities in Cracow because of their own connections there, and that some of them knew Rabbi Yochanan Gurari, Rabbi Eliezer Gurari's father. Exchanging phone numbers they parted ways.
"I turned to Rabbi Gurari, who no longer looked depressed and said:" Nu, what do you say now?"
And he said: "I have heard that the biggest miracles happen at the Ohel. Now that has actually happened to me!"
"Besides the obvious miracle, or at least the astounding coincidence, Hashgochoh Protis also shows what an amazing person Yossie was. He was trying to fundraise millions of dollars for such an important cause, while at the same time, looking out for another Shliach, another Chosid, another Jewish person somewhere in the world. What an incredible person. What an irreplaceable loss."
 The Ba'al Shem Tov Group
For the Sefer Torah for the Remah shul, Rabbi Raichik also had the support of the "Ba'al Shem Tov group", his good friends from Argentina.
Eduardo Elzstain tells the story of the "Ba'al Shem Tov group."
"It all started in the 2001/2002 time period when Argentina was at the beginning of its financial crisis. Banks were closed and the economy was disastrous.
I decided I wanted to arrange an inspirational trip to visit the grave of the Baal Shem Tov as well as the kvorim of other tzaddikim as well. I wanted to go to Lubavitch and other places. I invited a few friends along using my miles to cover the plane fares. Then I told Yossie about the trip. In the midst of the chaos that was Argentina, he picked up the ball immediately and arranged that entire trip for us, as they say in America, from "soup to nuts."
Yossie did more than I could possibly have imagined in putting this trip together. Nothing was left to chance. Everything was thought-out and arranged so that we would have the sweetest religious experience possible. He was our guide and our leader, his enthusiasm and reverence contagious every step of the way.
Every year since then, we have gone on this uplifting journey of religious exploration and inspiration. Each year the group has grown and the length of our stay has increased. And each year it has been Yossie who has put together every minute detail of every hour of the trip. It was Yossie who always accompanied us. It was Yossie's wealth of knowledge, his warm sense of humor, his attention to every detail that made each trip even more memorable than the one that preceded it.
Over the years, the group consolidated to 15 businessmen who put everything aside, travelling far away from any civilization (even though during the last trip they all had their Blackberries along). Yossie was tour-guide, making sure they had everything for their spiritual and material comforts. It was Yossie's wealth of knowledge, his warm sense of humor, his attention to every detail that made each trip even more memorable than the one that preceded it.
At the very end of his life, when all I wanted was for him to take care of his health, Yossie was still making arrangements from his hospital bed, still directing the show in his own inimitable and loving way. Every time we spoke and I wanted to hear about his health, he kept changing the subject and discussing the trip. He would do end-runs around me so that he could keep making arrangements even while I was telling him he had to rest."
Cesar Wengrover, a member of the group, recalled, "He taught us what a tremendous zechus we had to daven at the 'Tziyun', the gravesite of the Ba'al Shem Tov, on Chai Elul – 18th Elul, and the significance of the 12 days from then till Rosh Hashana – each of these days represent a month of the last year. Yossie knew how to keep us happy during the long hours of travel, when the movement of travel kept us up. For me personally it was not so easy to feel the holiness," admits Wengrover. "But Yossie taught me how. In his merit, I felt it in the 'Tziyon' the light, the Ba'al Shem Tov. From him I learned that the Baal HaHilula is not just a Tzaddik, he is holy.
During these trips I learned a tremendous amount from him. I noticed that Rabbi Raichik made sure we had good blankets for the journey and extra pillows for all of us. We are talking about travelling for 24 hours, and he did everything in his power to make the journey comfortable. We were far away from civilization, going through forests and pathways, really feeling that we were the Ba'al Shem Tov's students…Rabbi Yossie accompanied us with stories and lessons, making sure that the spiritual side was inspiring.
On one trip a few years ago, Yossie's eldest son Eli joined us – it was his birthday during that time." Even then, when Yossie was preoccupiedwith friends and trip arrangements, he took time to be with his son and celebrate. For me, this was a most instructive lesson of family life and personal relationships."
Two years before he passed away, and after his meeting with the Shaliach in Cracow, Yossie suggested to the "Ba'al Shem Tov group" that they visit the Remah shul in Cracow, enabling them to start writing the Sefer Torah. His enthusiasm was catching and the group sponsored the cost.
It was a most historic and moving experience; some of the heads of the communities, Rabbonim, and of course members of the group started writing this Sefer Torah in "Isaac Shul'. The original plans were to finish this within 12 months, and celebrate the completion of the Torah in Elul 5768 with pomp and ceremony. However as we know, this did not come to happen as Yossie was then hospitalized for the last time, and the group from Argentina took the trip to the graves of the Tzaddikim on their own, without Yossie.
"We acutely felt his physical absence," remembers Eduardo Elsztain, "and just as acutely his emotional presence – we knew he was with us in heart and soul."
"We prayed our hearts out for Yossie at every kever along the way. We beseeched the Almighty to heal our precious friend. We stormed the gates of Heaven on his behalf. But it was not meant to be. It was not in the Almighty's plan."
"When we deplaned in Israel, we were told that Yossie had just passed away. He had stayed alive for the duration of the trip and on the last day, knowing we were on our way to Israel, he closed his eyes and returned his precious soul to the Almighty."
 The Closing of a Circle
Thousands walked slowly through the streets of Kfar Chabad, accompanying their beloved and admired friend on his last journey. '"He was a 'Chassidishe Youngerman' – A Chassidishe Man, genuine, it's hard to separate from him," bitterly cried the Rabbi of Kfar Chabad, The Gaon Rabbi Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi Shlita. "Kfar Chabad does not realize whom they have lost today, we have lost a treasure!"
During the Shiva, thousandsstreamed to the Raichik home to cry with the family, tell them stories, and share memories of "our Yossie". There were those that flew into Israel especially, who came to Kfar Chabad for an hour, and went straight back from the airport to their homes. Everyone wanted to be near Yossie, near his family. For some it was the first time they were in their friend's house. "He lives here?"asked a friend who had come in from abroad especially and looked around in amazement. "With all the money that passed through his hands, and with all the wealthy people he mixed with, I was sure he would be living in some exquisite mansion, according to his status and connections."
Thousands of stories were heard around the low chairs, in the houses of the Raichik families in Kfar Chabad and Los Angeles, from the far past, from the last days; Jewish people from all walks of life came to share what Rabbi Raichik was for them. Over and over, people commented that something in their hearts could not just let this go. The idea of writing, in order to remember, to learn and to make known came about during the Shiva. Yet the family felt they wanted to do something more for the sake of his illustrious soul and the answer was 'written on the wall' more accurately on the 'scroll.'
"Two thirds of the Sefer Torah for the shul in Cracow was already written, and it was quite clear that it would have been Yossie's greatest desire that we finish his work," recalls Dinah.
She approached the "Ba'al Shem Tov group" in Argentina who immediately undertook this project, together with other family members who helped as much as they could. Their dedication was contagious, just as Yossie's had been. Even the professional producer who was hired, Michael Kaplin, felt as though he was arranging his own family's event, and worked tirelessly.
The March of the Living takes place in Poland on Holocaust Day and the family decided that would be the most appropriate time for the Hachnasat Sefer Torah. The date was set for the Monday after Pesach 5769. Some of the participants flew to Israel for Chol Hamoed, some immediately after Isru Chag, so that they would arrive in time. The response was amazing. Many friends left their work to join their friend's celebration. "Although time has elapsed, I still feel as though I have lost a brother," one person exclaimed – expressing what everyone else was feeling.
At four in the afternoon, thecelebrations started. The last letters in the Sefer Torah were written in the exact same place where the first letters were written by the Sofer Reb Shneur Vigler, in the Izik shul, where the activities of the local Chabad are held. After an hour, the Chuppah set out; the Polish police officers closed the streets and secured the parade.
 "It was surrealistic," says Dinah, "people came out of their houses, stood and stared at us in amazement – Jewish people carrying a Sefer Torah, torch lights, a car with Chassidishe tunes. The citizens of Cracow had never in their lives seen anything like it. The last time Jewish people walked through the town was when they were taken to the ghettos.
 "For over half an hour there was dancing in the streets around the Sefer Torah which was passed from hand to hand. Yossie's friends gave all they had, dancing and singing with great harmony, accompanied by the singer R. Yoni Shlomo. Posters around the town announced the event and many youngsters who had arrived in Poland for the March of the Living came to join in. The merrymaking was so inspiring that their counselors had to literally 'schlep' them away when the time came for them to leave.
The rejoicing moved to the Remah shul, and continued into the streets. Everyone who could come, came, and those who could not – in countries around the world – joined in through the telephone broadcast. "Many danced with phones in their hands. They sang, they danced and they cried. It was really joyful, but there was also a great sadness. The task that Yossie had dedicated himself to was successfully finished, but he himself was not physically present."
 I Am Here For Him
The guests continued to the Galicia Jewish Museum, where the Seudas Mitzva was held. The guest of honor, a personal friend of Rabbi Raichik, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, opened the ceremony. He looked at the large photograph of his friend, which hung facing the participants and said, "I don't recognize Yossie here, so serious… He always had a smile on his face. Here we see him with a look to the future, and the future," and here he looks to the youngsters present "is you, his children."
 "Our parents, my father and his father of blessed memory, studied together in the same Yeshiva in Ottvotsk. The winds of the Second World War were blowing strongly, and Yossie's father, Rabbi Shmuel Dovid, would go to the Chinese Embassy, to see and yet not be seen. His quiet personality helped him as no one suspected that he had come to investigate what was being planned.
"One day he came back to his friends, very excited. At the Embassy they were discussing issuing visas to Shanghai. The next day, all the boys went to the Embassy and were issued exit visas. Only few know of the behind the scenes work of Rabbi Shmuel Dovid in saving these boys who escaped to Shanghai.
Rabbi Kotlarsky takes another look at his friend. "I was his counselor in the boarding facilities in Montreal, when he was a young kid. From the first moment he was perceived as full of kindness and personality. One could never get angry at him. I remember his "Yiras Shamayim" – the way he expressed each and every word during his davening – as though he was counting diamonds. With Yossie it was a combination of the Love of G-d, the Love of People, the Love of the Torah and the Love of the Rebbe. I hope my children have that love of the Rebbe. He did everything simply, without making a commotion, and that was his greatness," summarizes the director of the Mercaz Linyonei Chinuch.
Moshe Malamud, another friend from Crown Heights, took the microphone: "What has brought us here today to Cracow?" he asked those present. "We do not know each other; the only connection between us is Yossie Raichik."
"Each and every one of us had a very special connection with him—thinking Yossie was his very best friend. Yossie always had a good word; he always knew how to keep us happy, to give advice, to learn and to encourage. A Shaliach, a Rabbi, a businessman – Yossie always knew what one needed."
"Like all of you," Moshe's speech is choked up, "I miss him. Thank G-d I have parents, family and friends, but Yossie is not here, and now I know what it is to lose a good friend."
Yossie and Dinah's ten-year-old daughter, Shuli, spoke to her father:
Dear Abba,
We are now together with family and your close friends after completing the mission that you began. We have brought the Sefer Torahto the Aron Kodesh of the Remah shul. This is the Sefer Torah that you decided must be written and you were, as always, not satisfied with just talking but you immediately acted and had the zchut, at least, to be present at the beginning of the writing of the Sefer Torah.
It is very exciting to complete the Sefer Torah that was so important to you and for which you made every effort. I know how much you wanted to see the Sefer Torah in its place and it is very sad that you are not with us. However, I know that the completion of this mission gives you great satisfaction and for the family and for me that is a great nechama.
I love you very much,
Shuli 
Eli, the oldest son, finished the Mishnayos, and Dinah addressed Yossie whom everyone had assured her was "there this evening" and thanked everyone who had helped and all those who had come from near and far who had "made the evening so memorable and meaningful—your friends from all over the world who chose to leave every thing behind, and come to Poland in your honor."   
Anyone who wanted to say a few words about who Yossie was for him could do so, if he so wished. "We were warned that it wouldn't work, that no-one would speak," Dinah recalls, "but one by one people spoke—until about midnight; some even stayed well into the early hours of the morning reminiscing."
It was a most exhilarating evening – connecting to the soul of the departed, an evening of farewell. "We completed something that was very important to Yossie – the closing of a circle," Dinah concludes. "We don't understand everything, but it was clear that this was a burning topic of utmost importance for him. Now that the people davening in the shul have a Sefer Torah, it elevates his soul and brings him much nachas."
"The day after the event, when we participated in the March of the Living, a marcher approached us and asked, 'Aren't you from yesterday?' When we answered in the affirmative, we were told emotionally, 'I often come to Cracow, and more than once the Remah did not have a Sefer Torah. I am so happy that at last there is a permanent one!"
"That the Remah did not have a Sefer Torah bothered Yossie, and we have completed it in his stead," said Dinah. "One cannot imagine what an unbelievable feeling this is for us."
Among those who left everything behind to participate were a number of shlichim. One shliach took the opportunity to approach one of the philanthropists regarding a contribution and was told, as the person continued to dance:
"Contact me another time; I am only here for Yossie."
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