Tammy Holzman, Beis Moshiach
Gedalia and his wife returned to Eretz Israel, but not for long. In 1984, his father fell ill, and Gedalia came to stay at his bedside at the medical center where he was being treated.
“While I was in Florida, I heard that the Rebbe said in a recent sicha, that people blessed with riches have the power to bring in a lot of desired changes in Yiddishkeit. Therefore, time and efforts should be invested in bringing wealthy people closer to Yiddishkeit.
“I began to receive calls from my friends who were familiar with what I do, all with a similar message: In your previous job as a horse trainer, you had an ‘open door’ to the world’s rich and famous. Why not go back to this line of work, and use your position to bring them closer to Yiddishkeit?
“The idea sounded interesting and challenging. I wrote about it to the Rebbe and brought it into the mazkirus. The Rebbe’s reply was received that same day. It said: ‘If the wife is agreeable – it must be done.’”
Miriam was not thrilled with the idea. She knew that after doing teshuva, Gedalia looked, dressed, and behaved quite differently than he did in the early days, and she anticipated problems. But after giving it some thought, she gave the green light.
Thus, Gedalia returned to his old occupation, and the Rebbe’s blessings and instructions carried him at every stage. Throughout, he wrote reports to the Rebbe, recounting his travels and the people he met. He always received congratulatory responses from the Rabbi, who thanked him for the nachas derived from his actions.
The beginning turned out to be extremely difficult, to say the least. Gedalia left this field many years earlier, cleanshaven and with a modern appearance – and had returned sporting a thick beard, long peyos and the strings of tzitzis flapping under his shirt. Even people who knew him and appreciated his skills for many years, flinched when they saw him with his new look.
He made many phone calls to people who knew him in the past and were thrilled to hear of his return. But once they met face to face, they backtracked. No one knew what to do with this strange Rabbi who wanted to train horses.
“I remember once finding a great horse and looking for an investor to buy it. The price was relatively inexpensive, approximately $50,000. I called an acquaintance who owned an oil company for whom I trained horses years ago. That guy was happy to hear my voice. ‘Where did you disappear to?’ he asked over the phone. ‘Come to my office and I will write you a check for the amount you want.’
“But when he first laid eyes on me when I entered the office the next day, he retracted the offer. No check was written that day.
“Eventually, I found an investor, and I bought the horse. That horse turned out to be a winner in several races, and every time I met the oil company owner after that, he refused to look at me. He blamed me for causing him a monetary loss.”
The opposition against him was fierce. “Even when I found potential employers, there were those who refused to honor their commitment. People treated me like a leper! A non-Jewish partner once told me straight out: ‘They don’t want you around. It’s going to be very hard for you to find employment here.’”
A year later, Gedalia gave up and wrote to the Rebbe that things were not going well, and that he wanted to return to Israel. The Rebbe instructed him to stay in America and gave him a warm bracha to succeed. Shortly after the Rebbe’s bracha came the long-awaited breakthrough. Gedalia met a Chabad shliach in Miami who advised him to visit a small town, Ocala, where a certain lady, one of the shliach’s mekuravim owned a horse farm.
Gedalia went and stayed there for several weeks. During the second week, the farm owner confessed, “I let you come here because of my connection with the shliach. I didn’t feel comfortable saying no to him. But in the last week I’ve learned more from you than I’ve learned in the horse training field in 25 years!”
Gedalia responded by asking her for a favor. “Give me one of your horses. It does not matter which one. I need to bring one to town to renew my license.” The woman agreed and gave him a horse with a 10cm long fracture in the shin. Gedalia took the horse, renewed his license, and began nursing the horse back to health. He put great effort into it until it was well enough to run and compete again.
“The first time I brought the horse into the race, I asked the jockey not to overwork it. The second time we expected an improved performance, and it finished fourth in the race – which was a good start. After a while, I sold it at a nice profit.
“Then I went to an auction and invested in a new horse. That horse was injured and was not in a competitive state. But the Rebbe’s blessing stayed with me, and after much effort in rehabilitation, the horse scored seven of his 10-over victory!”
From then on, Gedalia knew many successes. But those did not come easily. The greater the success the greater the rejection on the part of his colleagues in the profession. They sent him requests after his victory: “Please go away. Go back to Israel. We’ll support you financially, just go!”
Gedalia wrote about it to the Rebbe, who responded with a letter: “From strength to strength!” Gedalia understood that success was not measured by how many people would be happy to see him or employ him on a personal level, but by how many people would see a Jew with a Chassidishe appearance on the racetrack. That was the mission he was given!
After every trip, including to Europe, Uruguay, Peru, Argentina, Singapore and many more places, Gedalia would report to the Rebbe everything he had done and all that had taken place. He attached newspaper clippings that reported about him with published pictures of the Hasidic Jew, reported every Jew whom he convinced to buy a letter in a Sefer Torah, and received many blessings. At one point, Gedalia temporarily moved to Baltimore for a local horse training business. For that he received several dollar bills from the mazkirus: “For the trip and for the business.”
When his grandson was celebrating his upshernish, Gedalia and his family passed by the Rebbe on one of the Sundays he was giving out dollar bills for tzedaka. The Rebbe blessed him, smiling broadly: “May the horses run well!” After Miriam Goodman received her dollar and moved on, the Rebbe called her back and gave another dollar: “For your efforts for the benefit of the horses,” he said.
[When I asked Gedalia to show me the letters, his eyes filled with sadness. Turns out, in the early1990s, he received an offer to train horses in Eretz Yisrael. While the decision was being made, he sent the entire contents of his house in a shipping container to a delivery company in New York for safekeeping. When it was concluded that they would stay in Crown Heights rather than move to Eretz Yisrael, he sent for his belongings. That was when he found out that the owners of that shipping company vanished, and with them the contents of all the containers under their care – tons and tons of things stolen and sold. Gedalia lost dozens of valuable objects, including an ancient Shabbat candelabra that was passed down in the family for generations. But most painful was the loss of dozens of letters and photographs of the responses he received over the years from the Rebbe, now gone…]
Jewish Success On Screen
On one occasion, the Rebbe had given Gedalia a bracha: “May people watch you and may you succeed.” At first, Gedalia thought that the Rebbe was blessing him in separate parts of his work – that Jews who would watch him in his performances would awaken, and that he should succeed in his work with the horses. But he realized that the bracha was actually to succeed in awakening Jews and Yiddishkeit THROUGH his line of work. Through the success of the horses, he would work to awaken Jews and draw them closer to Yiddishkeit.
Indeed, wherever he went with his horses, he was a sensation. Newspapers and magazines wrote about him: The Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald. NBC broadcasted a story about the bizarre phenomenon called Gedalia. They filmed him praying, adorned with tallis and tefillin, and wearing a cap in the midst of the horse race.
At the time, states where horseracing had been illegal for many years, legalized it. Even Baptist Texas caved in. The Rebbe blessed Gedalia to work there, too. Gedalia remembers how, during his time working in Texas, his work was aired on NBC which had an astonishing impact on a local girl.
The young girl had moved to the Holy Land for a few years where she kept Torah and mitzvos, but when she returned to her home in Texas she found it difficult to withstand the social pressure and to adhere to her Jewish education.
One day at home, she turned on the TV, and heard the news anchor announce: “You’re about to watch the world’s most special and strange horse trainer!” The image of Gedalia appeared on the screen.
The narrator introduced Gedalia as an ultra-Orthodox Jew and told of the many obstacles lining the path of someone who needs to combine Jewish law and lifestyle with his job, yet his success in meeting all goals along the way. The girl watching it was so influenced by what she saw, that she decided on the spot that she, too, wants and can hold onto Yiddishkeit, no matter when and where she is!
When Gedalia went to Argentina and Brazil, it was broadcast in spots on a few television channels, and some people made the trip especially to see him. One Jewish visitor was a Holocaust survivor who burst into tears upon laying his eyes on Gedalia and told him that since childhood he had not seen a Chassidic Jew and did not believe that those still existed. “I flew in for four hours to see you with my own eyes, to believe it,” he wept. Gedalia spoke with him in authentic Yiddish, as he was used to talking to his grandparents, and his words of encouragement penetrated deep into the Jewish man’s heart.
When the Rebbe instructed during recent years that the Besuras HaGeula should be publicized, Gedalia decided to enlist his jockeys to assist in that endeavor. He sent them on their rides wearing a yellow shirt emblazoned with a crown with a “Moshiach” inscription that showed clearly to all screens and audiences, bringing publicity to the topic of Moshiach and Geula.
One day, he attended a wedding where an ultra-Orthodox guest loudly complained – to whomever was willing to listen – that Gedalia was causing a chillul Hashem in his televised appearance. He claimed that a Jew should have nothing to do with a profession like horse training, let alone be featured on TV. Before Gedalia was able to respond, a Jewish woman protested, “People like Gedalia make me proud to be Jewish! People like you make me embarrassed to be one!” and angrily left the wedding.
From horses, too, there is what to be learned in Avodas Hashem.
A devoted Chassid is supposed to learn from everything he encounters in the world, and Gedalia learned several lessons from what he has seen and experienced.
“One lesson is the importance of education,” he says. “The amount of detail that needs to be checked off for a horse to excel is enormous: Proper health, body temperature, nourishing food, regular workouts, and constant routine. Warming up for racing, cooling down afterward, and much more.
“If this is what we do for horses to succeed,” he wonders out loud, “how much more do we have to do for a good chinuch for our children?” he muses. “There is no freedom from chinuch, no shortcuts. To get the best out of our children, we need to work and invest without ever taking a break!
“The second lesson is a lesson in confidence. The first rule of racing is confidence. Even if you have the best horse, you will not win if you are not confident enough that you are capable and will win. The same is true in the war for the coming of Moshiach – we must be infused with a sense of assurance and triumph! That is a requirement.
“And one more thing,” he adds. “In horseracing there is always a preference for the purity of the race horse because they are physically better at ‘providing a show.’ But occasionally, a horse comes in that is a little different, not purebred. Yet, with investment and dedication, it becomes one of the winners.”
And the conclusion can surely be drawn by the readers themselves.
Facing the Future
Seven years ago, in preparation for one of the horse races, an unprofessional trainer got one of the horses nervous and it kicked Gedalia with tremendous force. A doctor diagnosing Gedalia said that that kick was as forceful as being hit by a car. Gedalia was unable to move his hand for a long time and was in severe pain.
For a long time after that accident, Gedalia tried working remotely. Lately, he feels back to his old self. Despite his age, he feels unable to sit idle and evade the assignment given to him by the Rebbe, and he has begun the first steps towards returning to horse training. So when you hear in the media about an ‘80-year-old Ultra-Orthodox horse trainer,’ you will already know his name, and what his mission in the world is…
*All this wouldn’t be made possible without the support of Rabbi Alon Razla of Ft. Lauderdale in Florida, whose tireless efforts, supporting and promoting this mivtza of the Rebbe, have helped carry it down the road.
Gedalia welcomes support for his unique activities in spreading Yiddishkeit and can be contacted at Gedaliah770@gmail.com or email@example.com.
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