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FEBRUARY 1998 EDITION


OF COMMITMENTS
AND SACRIFICE

by Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn

Reprinted with permission from Along the Maggid's Journey,
by Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn, Published by Mesorah Publications, Ltd.,
Brooklyn, New York, l995


R' Moshe Aaron had aspired to learn in the great European yeshivahs following the example of his uncles, Rabbi Moshe Shain and Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg, today the Dean of Yeshivah Torah Ohr in Jerusalem. However, because World War II was raging, travel to Europe was impossible.

As a student in Mesivta Torah Vodaath in the early 1940's, the young Moshe Aaron had fallen under the spell of the legendary R' Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz (1886-1948). R' Shraga Feivel was a charismatic, multifaceted individual whose lectures electrified students and laymen alike. His passionate love for the Land of Israel was contagious. When he taught Scripture or Psalms and spoke of the Holy Land, tears welled up in his eyes.

Under the influence of "Mr. Mendlowitz" (as R' Shraga Feivel insisted on being called), Moshe Aaron decided that if he couldn't travel to Europe, he would go instead to study in Israel; but that too was impossible during the war. (His grandfather, R' Yaakov Yosef Herman [1880-1967], had reached Israel on the last passenger ship to leave the United States before the war.)

After the war ended and the Jewish communities in Europe were tragically decimated, Moshe Aaron set his sights once again on Israel, and it became the focus of his life. His mother was encouraging but his father, R' Lipman, couldn't see the point. "He is doing so well in Torah Vodaath," he would say. "What is the point of leaving? He has wonderful friends, such as Yosef Levitan, Hershel Mashinsky, Moshe Wolfson, and Shmuel Mendlowitz. Why go away?"

Moshe Aaron's mother would reply simply, ''If he wants to go that much, it is ordained in Heaven that he be there."

The British, who controlled Israel at the time, were not anxious for Jews to emigrate there, especially young men, for they feared that the newcomers would join the militant resistance forces of either the Haganah, Etzel or Lechi, all of whom were committed to driving the British out of Palestine.

One day in April of 1946, Moshe Aaron met his uncle, Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg, and told him about his yearning to go to Israel. Rabbi Sheinberg assured him, "If you want to go, you will go. The Talmud says 'A person is led in the way he wants to go.'" (Makkos 10b)

A week later Rabbi Sheinberg asked Moshe Aaron about his plans.

Moshe Aaron said, "The British still won't let anyone in.”

Rabbi Sheinberg responded, ''But what are you doing to be able to go? You have got to do yours, and God will then do His."

"What is there for me to do?" asked the surprised Moshe Aaron.

"Get a passport, buy clothes, get valises, pack your things, and get ready," urged Rabbi Sheinberg.

Moshe Aaron did just that. He obtained a passport, packed five crates of books, put together some clothes, and was ready to travel.

At the end of April it became known that Great Britain had relented and issued 32 certificates for immigrants to Palestine. The Jewish Agency kept 22 for Zionists; gave eight to the Mizrachi, and two to Agudath Israel. The U.S.S. Marine Carp was going to be the first ship to leave for Haifa since the end of the war.

Moshe Aaron was friendly with Mike Tress (1909-1967), head of Agudath Israel in New York, and asked Mr. Tress if he could have one of the certificates.

"I can give it to you", said Mr. Tress, "only if you receive permission from R' Shraga Feivel."

Moshe Aaron was sure that his Rabbi would grant permission -- after all his love for the Land was unsurpassed. But to Moshe Aaron's dismay, R Shraga Feivel refused. "Is it fair to send you" he asked, "when that same certificate can be used by a whole family?"

Moshe Aaron was devastated, but he understood. He continued his studies in Torah Vodaath, his love for Israel undiminished.

Three days before the Marine Carp was to set sail, the mother of one of the families that had been granted permission to travel suddenly fell ill. Her family would not travel without her and returned their certificate to the Agudah. Moshe Aaron, who had heeded his uncle's advice, was ready to travel at a moment's notice. Since no family could possibly prepare for a trip of this magnitude in only three days, he was sure that the certificate would be his, but Mr. Tress still insisted that only Mr. Mendlowitz could authorize release of the certificate.

This time R' Shraga-Feivel said that Moshe Aaron could use the certificate, but on one condition. ''You cannot go like an American!"

"What does the Rabbi mean?" Moshe Aaron asked.

R' Shraga Feivel explained. “An American goes to Israel, takes a sniff and comes back home. If you go, then it must be with the idea of staying there, getting married, and building a family. In that way I will be sending a family to Israel.”

"But I don't know where my future wife is”, protested Moshe Aaron.

"You must try to find your partner in marriage there”, insisted R' Shraga Feivel.

Moshe Aaron thought for a moment and said, "If I find my wife there, I will stay." Thereupon, R' Shraga Feivel granted him permission to take the certificate.

Upon inquiry, however, Moshe Aaron found there was a new problem: The boat was embarking from a port in New Jersey on the Sabbath! Immediately he went to the Bronx to seek the counsel of Rabbi Moshe Bick (1911-1990). Rabbi Bick said that going to the Land of Israel was a mitzvah; he advised Moshe Aaron to submit his documents and board the ship Friday afternoon. After Sabbath began, he could leave the ship and return Saturday afternoon for the journey (see Orach Chaim 248:3 and Mishnah Berurah n. 20).

Moshe Aaron's father, R' Lipman, went to the boat with his son on Friday, deposited the papers with the captain, and stowed kosher food in Moshe Aaron's cabin. Together they stayed in New Jersey for the Sabbath.

An accountant esteemed for his impeccable honesty, R' Lipman was a very learned and pious man, one who gave regular lectures to laymen. From the time of his bar mitzvah, he read from the Torah every Sabbath throughout his life, and from the time he was married he was the cantor for the Mussaf prayers on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

That Sabbath morning R' Lipman was asked to lead the morning prayers. When he came to the words "May You shine a new light on Zion," he broke into uncontrollable sobs. The men in the synagogue knew he was sending a child to a place where Jewish and Arab hostilities could erupt into war at any time. They cried along with him.

That afternoon at 3 p.m., Moshe Aaron was barred as he attempted to board the ship. "Where are your ticket and passport?"

"Please call the captain," he announced, proud of his compliance with the Sabbath laws. ''He knows me. He has my papers."

The captain confirmed that everything was in order, and Moshe Aaron made his way to his cabin. His bunkmate was Yaakov Zev Rakofsky, who eventually became the Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Police Force.

The religious men on board organized a quorum for the afternoon prayers. They ate the third Sabbath meal together and prayed the evening prayers. All together, there were 35 Orthodox people on board, including a rabbi from the Bronx who had a Torah scroll with him. There were another 300 Jews on board and 300 Arabs. Most of the passengers had been stranded in the United States by the war.

Two days into the voyage, all 35 Orthodox Jews were summoned to the captain's quarters. ''I see from my log book that none of you have come to meals in the main dining room. What are you eating, and why haven't you joined the other passengers?"

"We are Orthodox Jews," one of the men announced, "and we have special dietary requirements. The kitchen and dining room on your ship are not kosher."

"But you knew that before you came on board," the captain countered.

"Yes," came the reply. "We took along provisions for the journey.'' Moshe Aaron had taken along two loaves of pumpernickel, a few boxes of matzah, canned food and wine for Sabbath. The other 34 had brought food as well.

"I will not permit this," the captain said with concern. "I have been on the seas for close to 50 years, and never have any of my passengers had to manage with makeshift provisions. How can you make a kosher place for yourselves on the ship?"

The Orthodox Jews explained that they would have to have their own kitchen and dining room, and they would have to kasher (make kosher) the stoves and ovens. "Tell me what has to be done, and I will see to it that your needs are met," the captain said.

He gave immediate orders to the officers on board that they relinquish their private kitchen and dining room to this group; henceforth the officers would eat in the main dining room with the passengers.

The captain arranged for the Jews to kasher the ship's galley. He provided them with everything they needed--even the ingredients for the women to bake fresh challah every day! The sailors caught fresh fish for the Orthodox passengers. If the fish had fins and scales (see Leviticus 11:9), they were kept and cooked; if not, they were tossed back into the sea. The religious group held daily quorums, which included all the Torah readings.

The ship docked at Naples, Italy, and passengers were permitted to go ashore for six hours to see the sights or shop. Many of them made their way to the bullfight arenas, the shopping areas, and the quaint side streets of Naples. By 8 p.m. everyone was back on board, and the Marine Carp set sail.

One evening Moshe Aaron was relaxing on a lounge chair on the deck, observing Naples as it faded in the distance. The weather was clear and the seas were calm. From behind his back, Moshe Aaron heard beautiful, lilting music and turned to see where it was coming from. Sixty or seventy Arab men, dressed in white gowns, were singing and dancing in a mesmerizing rhythm. As the singing became louder and more intense, the men danced feverishly.

Moshe Aaron ran downstairs to his bunkmate Yaakov Zev. "Come," he shouted as he entered the room. "You must see something magnificent."

"I'm too tired," said Yaakov Zev, who was already in bed.

"Believe me, you will thank me," said Moshe Aaron excitedly. "I have never seen anything like this in my life."

Hesitantly, Yaakov Zev got dressed and followed Moshe Aaron, who was almost running to make sure he would not miss the dancing. When Yaakov Zev saw the dancers, he froze in terror. His face was white with fear as he turned to Moshe Aaron.

"What's wrong?" asked the frightened Moshe Aaron.

"This is not an ordinary dance," whispered Yaakov Zev. "This is a dance of slaughter and terror. They are getting ready for a pogrom!"

"What are you talking about?" asked Moshe Aaron incredulously.

"Listen to me," said Yaakov Zev firmly. "I am from Israel. I lived among Arabs. I recognize this. Before they go out for a pogrom, they work themselves into a frenzy with this music. We are in serious danger!"

Moshe Aaron was shocked. A pogrom here at sea? Would there be a mutiny on the ship? Were all the Jewish passengers in danger? '

The two of them noticed an Arab standing in the back of the room away from the crowd. Yaakov Zev brought the man a drink and began making conversation in Arabic. He gave the man a $20 bill and asked, "What is going on here?"

The Arab became very serious and said, "Our people are insulted that this ship will dock in Haifa, a city of our enemies. It is a disgrace for us that the first boat from America will dock in a Jewish city. We will change that. We bought knives and weapons in Italy, and we will soon take over the ship. Anyone who stands in our way will be killed!"

Yaakov Zev went directly to the captain to inform him. The captain proceeded immediately to the dancers and summoned the leaders to his office. The Arabs insisted that the boat dock at Beirut, Lebanon. The captain said, "I am neither Jewish nor Moslem. I am an old Protestant, and I will not get involved in this argument."

The captain understood, though, that he had no choice. He had to accommodate the Arabs somehow, or there would be bloodshed on his vessel. Cleverly, he proposed an alternate plan that would save face for everyone. "If you wish, I will not go to Haifa, but I will not go to Beirut either. I am willing to dock at Alexandria in Egypt, but you will be responsible for the cost of getting a train from Alexandria to Cairo and then getting another train to your final destinations."

The Arabs discussed it among themselves and agreed. Alexandria was a fair compromise.

The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful, though there was some apprehension about arriving so far away from the intended destination. As they got closer to Alexandria, however, the Orthodox Jews realized there would be another problem; they would dock on Sabbath afternoon, one day earlier than the scheduled arrival in Haifa.

When the ship anchored in Alexandria, the Egyptian Foreign Office had to issue visas to all on board. Because it was the Sabbath, however, the Orthodox Jews refused to sign any documents. They explained to the captain that there were two problems. They could not sign because it was forbidden to write on the Sabbath, and they were not permitted to leave the ship.

Ever practical, the captain dealt with first things first. "The signing is no problem. We will have officers sign for you. But why can't you leave the ship on the Sabbath?"

One of the men tried to explain the halachic problem: If one is on a boat that is not within the boundary of the city when the Sabbath begins, he may not get off the ship and walk into the city (see Eruvin 4lb and Orach Chaim 405). The captain was exasperated. "If you don't get off the ship, I will take you all back to the United States!"

"We are not threatened," said one of the men. "We will not violate our Sabbath, and we would be willing to go back if we have to. Rest assured, however, that we will take you and the shipping company to court, because we paid for a trip to Haifa. It is not our fault if you could not work it out with the Arabs."

"Well, all the luggage is being taken off right now," said the frustrated captain as he changed the subject. "If you don't get off and claim it, I take no responsibility. You know that many of the handlers here in Egypt are thieves, and if you don't claim your belongings they will be gone in no time."

"Then that will be our sacrifice for the Sabbath," came the reply. "We will not leave the ship until after dark."

They watched as the luggage was unloaded. Moshe Aaron recognized his five crates of books. Everyone stood on deck keeping an eye on the luggage until they had to go down to pray Minchah (the afternoon prayer). When they returned, all the luggage was gone!

The captain was waiting for them. "You can't say I didn't warn you," he said. He expected at least some of them to run down and try and retrieve whatever they could, but no one budged. One man swallowed hard and said, ''If that's how it has to be, we accept it."

After dark, the men prayed Maariv (the evening prayer) and then went to their cabins to pick up their family members and any belongings they had. When they got to the ramp to disembark, the captain was waiting for them.

"Did any of you think for a moment that I would allow anyone to take your luggage?" the captain asked. "My friends, I was testing you. I wanted to see how serious you really were about your religion. When you went down to pray, I ordered my men to take your luggage and place it out of sight so that you would think it was stolen.

"I must tell you," he continued, "I have traveled the seas for 50 years and I have seen all kinds of people observing all kinds of religions. Everyone is religious until it costs money--then the religion goes overboard. But not you people. You were willing to sacrifice everything you had. I am convinced that the only true religion is Orthodox Judaism!"

He smiled at the people he had come to admire. "Your train to Cairo left this afternoon. You must now stay until Monday morning to get the next train to Cairo and then switch for the train to Lod. You needn't worry, though. I have arranged for you to be put up in the finest hotel in Alexandria. The hotel and train tickets will be paid for by my shipping company."

And then, to their added surprise, he said, "I have instructed my officers to give you each the equivalent of $25 pocket money, so that you can enjoy your stay in Alexandria."



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