“He’s A Good Bochur!”



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    “He’s A Good Bochur!”

    The life and times of Rabbi Eliezer Nisselevitch, from Mesirus Nefesh in Samarkand to a chinuch empire in the suburbs of Paris • By Beis Moshiach magazine • Full Article

    Avrohom Rainitz, Beis Moshiach

    The dozens of policemen who blocked traffic on all streets between the city hospital and the Chabad school of the Shneor community in Aubervilliers, France had never seen a sight like this in their lives. They did not understand what made thousands of men, women and children drop everything in the middle of the day to tearfully escort the shliach, Rabbi Eliezer Nisselevitch a’h.

    They did not understand that for thousands of people, he wasn’t just a successful shliach. He was, first of all, a loving father. Just the previous week they had learned in Chitas, “Whoever teaches Torah to his friend’s child, is considered as though he gave birth to him,” and now, thousands of children were escorting their spiritual father. He took them out of public school and provided them with a Jewish education.

    As for the parents, every morning after bringing their children to school, they sat down for “Torah Cafe” with R’ Nisselevitch. After a deep shiur in Chassidus, they stayed on to talk about relationships and chinuch. For many of them, this was the backbone of healthy family life with shalom bayis.

    The thousands who followed the aron in France, as well as the numerous people who attended the funeral on Har HaZeisim in Yerushalayim, will always remember his perpetual smile, one hand raised up in joy, his other hand giving a warm, loving hug. Although only a few hours had gone by since they heard of his sudden death of a heart attack, they already missed the beloved shliach who always had a good word to say and who beamed Ahavas Yisrael to every Jew with whom he came in contact.

    CHASSIDIC CHILDHOOD WITH MESIRUS NEFESH

    R’ Nisselevitch was born on 12 Adar 5717 to his parents R’ and Mrs. Moshe and Mara in Samarkand. His father, one of the leading activists in the Chabad underground in Samarkand, gave his children a Chassidishe chinuch with mesirus nefesh. R’ Leizer’s childhood was one of constant fear of the KGB.

    The Nisselevitch family lived in the Bagishmol quarter in a closed courtyard with other Lubavitcher families like Chudaitov, Boroshansky, Malachovsky and others. Every time someone knocked on the door of the yard, young Leizer knew to quickly hide under one of the beds. In those days, every house had to have an exact reckoning of every inhabitant and when government representatives came, they always wanted to know whether there were any children. According to Soviet law, all children had to attend public school.

    His father did not want his children attending communist school for even a day and he hid them. Whenever a car passed by in the middle of the night and honked near their house, he would wake up in a fright lest they had come to search for them. Once the car continued on its way, he could not fall back asleep.

    When R’ Nisselevitch would talk about his childhood, he did not give himself credit for learning Torah with mesirus nefesh. In his usual modesty he would say, “It was mainly my parents who had mesirus nefesh; for me it wasn’t mesirus nefesh because that is the way I was raised. The mesirus nefesh not to go to public school was my parents’ because this put them in danger.”

    He once told about life in his youth in Samarkand, describing the complicated process by which they obtained a kosher chicken. He had to go by train with a live chicken in a basket to the shochet. The chicken was well hidden so the clucking wouldn’t be heard. At the same time, they had to make sure enough air got in so the chicken wouldn’t die on the way.

    Although they lived behind the Iron Curtain, cut off from the ebb and flow of Chabad life, his parents were able to instill Chassidishe chayus and absolute hiskashrus to the Rebbe MH”M. They somehow got copies of the Rebbe’s sichos whether through the Israeli consulate or tourists who endangered themselves to bring these precious treasures. At farbrengens that he attended, the main topic was when will we merit to see the Rebbe.

    Throughout his childhood in the Soviet Union, he did not go to shul because of fear of informers who were planted there by the government. The only time he went to shul was when his father took him on a trip to Vilna where, far from home, he dared to take him into shul for a few minutes when the shamash went out to take care of something. In those few minutes, his father hurried to convey as much as he could about a shul: Over here is the bima for kerias ha’Torah which is elevated by a few steps. Here is the Aron Kodesh where the Sifrei Torah are. Here is the lectern of the shliach tzibbur. These were things that he had never seen before.

    His father, wanting to protect him from communist heresy, made sure his children did not learn to read and write Russian; just Lashon Kodesh and Yiddish. This way, he ensured that they wouldn’t read Russian literature and newspapers and wouldn’t be influenced by the heresy in them. By the time R’ Nisselevitch left Russia, his spoken Russian wasn’t that good. It was only when he was in the United States and was enlisted to work with Russian immigrants that he improved his knowledge of Russian to be able to be mekarev them.

    FEAR OF A SLIPPERY SLOPE

    We see to what extent his father was afraid of outside influences from the following story, written by R’ Hillel Zaltzman in his Samarkand, as heard from R’ Moshe Chaim Cohen:

    “Before my bar mitzva, I went to live with my grandfather Refael to learn more seriously. In his courtyard lived the Chassid, R’ Berel Yaffee, the Boroshansky family, the Nisselevitch family, and the Malachovskys. Naturally, I was very influenced by the Chassidishe atmosphere there.”

    Young Moshe Chaim became very friendly with R’ Moshe Nisselevitch’s children, Leizer and Chaim. He remembered something that happened when he lived with his grandfather which illustrated for him the power of a Chassidishe chinuch.

    His friend, Leizer was blessed with a number of talents including a talent for music, a sweet voice, along with a talent for chazzanus for the Yomim Noraim. In his childhood he also enjoyed taking pictures and when he was able to save up some money he bought a camera, and a violin with which he accompanied himself when he sang chazzanus. His father was not happy about any of this since he was afraid that it would cause him to go off the derech of Torah.

    Leizer tried to convince his father about the importance of a camera. He could use it to take pictures of maamarim that were not in print, but R’ Moshe did not accept these explanations. As a mechanech and “chacham who anticipates what will happen,” he considered it a slippery slope that his son could fall on.

    The argument ended when the camera and violin disappeared in the outhouse. Leizer was upset. He had a hard childhood in which every knock at the door had him running for cover, and now, the only sources of enjoyment he had were buried by his father in the sewage.

    Moshe Chaim, who was a witness to all this, was amazed by how his friend Leizer, despite his enormous disappointment, loved and respected his father and obeyed all his commands.

    ‘HE IS A GOOD BACHUR’

    The Nisselevitch family received their long-awaited exit visas on erev Pesach 5731/1971. Upon arriving in Eretz Yisrael, Leizer learned for half a year in the yeshiva in Lud and in Kfar Chabad. In Tishrei 5732, he went with his father to the Rebbe where he stayed to learn in Oholei Torah.

    He had yechidus with the Rebbe and although he did not speak much about himself, he once told an extraordinary story that happened to him in yechidus. At the time, his grandmother Zlata did not feel well and his parents asked him to ask the Rebbe for a bracha for her. He began asking the Rebbe for a bracha for Zlata bas … but being in an emotional state he forgot her mother’s name. The Rebbe looked gently at him and said: Maybe Tzivya? Needless to say, this was the name.

    Another time, when his grandmother Zlata had yechidus, the Rebbe asked her, “You have a grandson who learns here?” When she said she did, the Rebbe said, “He is a good bachur.”

    MOVING ENCOUNTER THAT LED TO A SHIDDUCH

    When he became of age for a shidduch, he submitted a list to the Rebbe with the suggestions he received from various shadchanim. The Rebbe’s response was, although they are all fine, this is not your shidduch.

    Rabbi Sholom Mendel Kalmanson traveled from France to the Rebbe in 5741 and he met R’ Moshe Nisselevitch in 770. The two friends, who had learned together in Kutais in Georgia had not seen one another since 5706, when many Lubavitcher families escaped from Russia. They were very excited to see one another and caught up on their experiences in the intervening years. R’ Moshe told him about his Leizer and R’ Sholom Mendel told him about his daughter Chaya, and that’s how an idea for a shidduch came about. After the Rebbe gave his blessing for the shidduch, there was a l’chaim in Crown Heights.

    In the sixties, the kalla’s father together with his wife Basya started the Shneor community in Aubervilliers. Over the years the work grew and with the Rebbe’s blessing, their son-in-law and daughter, Menachem Mendel Deitsch and Sarah joined them and worked to expand the mosdos and run the daycare and preschool.

    At this point, with another son-in-law, there was talk about R’ Nisselevitz joining and expanding the mosdos. His wife ran the elementary school and high school in Aubervilliers even before she married (She was called “Morah Chaya” by all.) They stayed in Crown Heights only briefly after they married and then went on shlichus to Aubervilliers.

    R’ Moshe suggested that his son study shechita which was very needed in France. R’ Leizer did not like the idea but out of respect for his father he asked the Rebbe. The Rebbe’s answer was to consult with Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dworkin, the rav of Crown Heights. R’ Dworkin greatly encouraged him to study shechita which R’ Leizer did.

    JEWISH EDUCATION FOR EVERY JEWISH CHILD

    His father-in-law, R’ Kalmanson, ran the kehilla and the school for decades. Over the years, young blood joined; at first, Rabbi and Mrs. Yosef Yitzchok and Chana Kalmanson, then Rabbi and Mrs. Meir Simcha and Miriam Kalmanson. They put their energy into opening a Chabad House and eventually R’ Meir Simcha took on the actual running of the mosad.

    After R’ MM Deitsch moved to Eretz Yisrael, R’ Nisselevitch and his wife called one of their donors, Mr. Nissim Taib, to help build the mosdos and that is how the beautiful Shneor building sprouted up.

    After the passing of his father-in-law, R’ Nisselevitch was appointed chairman of the community and he wrought a transformation in the area of Jewish education. In his research he discovered that the official statistics of the Jewish community in France showed that there were 100,000 school-aged Jewish children. However, only 25,000 attended Jewish school. Out of the 75,000 Jewish children who were not in Jewish schools, a high percentage attended Christian schools.

    The major problem with non-Jewish education is assimilation. More than 80% intermarry after attending non-Jewish schools and this is a tragedy!

    The two main obstacles for parents who have some feeling for Judaism is tuition and transportation. Since the Jewish schools are private and do not receive money from the Education Ministry, most of the schools’ budget comes from tuition which makes tuition very high, especially in comparison to free public schools. Monthly tuition can be 400-500 euros a month (currently $400-500 but the euro used to be much more). A family with several children can end up using their income and even more than that toward tuition.

    With this in mind, R’ Nisselevitch launched a massive campaign whose purpose was to get Jewish children to switch from public school to Jewish schools. In an interview with Beis Moshiach six years ago, he told about this campaign:

    “We advertised in the French media, putting ads on television stations that are broadcast all over France, in newspapers and various media.  We set up a special hotline which takes calls and refers them to our staff.  The calls sometimes come from families who saw the ad and sometimes from a third party like family, friends or acquaintances, who contact us about a family whose children attend non-Jewish schools.  Our staff, who are experts in this, contact the family, sit with them, and professionally and sensitively address all the obstacles that stand in the way of registering a child in a Jewish school.

    “We advertised that we accept children and take into consideration the situation of each parent.  It’s not free but we subsidize as much as we can.  We check the parents’ income and charge very low tuition and sometimes even provide free schooling.

    “Another problem is the distance to school.  Many Jews live in distant places that make it difficult for them because they go to work early.  This is why we set up a transportation system to bring the children to school.  We now have eighteen transportation lines that take and bring the children home.”

    Six years since that interview, the school has grown from 400 students to nearly 700, and there are 30 transportation routes from all over Aubervilliers!

    INVESTING IN THE PARENTS

    When Mrs. Nisselevitch began running the school, Rabbi Chodakov told her in the Rebbe’s name: If you want to be successful with the students, you need to have the parents cooperating with you.

    In the interview with Beis Moshiach, R’ Nisselevitch stressed their investment in the parents, particularly with their new project. When a child comes from public school, this is also the spiritual level of the home. Suddenly, the child is in a Chabad school and a gap forms between parents and children. It is this gap that they work on closing as quickly as possible.

    R’ Nisselevitch had shiurim every morning for parents who aren’t rushing to work. The parents who came with their children to school, enjoyed a 45 minute class on school premises. This made R’ Nisselevitch the person they turned to for all sorts of things. He helped them with shalom bayis and in general, in being mekarev them to Judaism.

    Aside from the daily classes, on Tuesdays R’ Nisselevitch arranged a full day of classes on an array of subjects: Lashon Kodesh, Halacha, Tanya, etc. Every parent comes when it’s convenient for them. At certain times, there are as many as 15-20 parents sitting and learning.

    During the shiva, many said in wonderment that in the rare case when only a parent or two showed up for a shiur, R’ Nisselevitch gave the shiur with the same chayus as though he was speaking to twenty parents. “Who will welcome us so graciously and who will give the Tanya classes in the morning?” asked the parents sadly.

    SPECIAL ED PROGRAM

    The crowning achievement in recent years has been the “exceptional” division for those students who were unsuccessful and even expelled from regular programs. R’ Nisselevitch shone a powerful spotlight into the hearts of these students and was able to light up their point of exceptionalism and set them on the right path.

    During the shiva, a young woman came who told the family that although she had been thrown out of every school she attended, R’ Nisselevitch looked at her as a tzadekes; that’s what he called her. Today, she is frum and happily married and it’s thanks to the unconditional love that she received from Rabbi and Mrs. Nisselevitch.

    Another woman who attended the funeral said that when she was a young girl she had to leave home because of shalom bayis problems between her parents. She moved in with the Nisselevitch family. One night, R’ Nisselevitch woke up at three in the morning and saw that she hadn’t gone to sleep yet. When he asked her about this, she said that she was still hungry because she did not like what was served for supper. R’ Nisselevitch made her a supper that she liked!

    She told this story to her husband two years ago and said, “If I am a normal person today who is happily married, it is only because of Rabbi Nisselevitch!”

    Her husband, who did not know of her relationship with the Nisselevitch family surprised her when he told that he was about to sign on a donation of a bus for R’ Nisselevitch’s school.

    HIS BIG HEART WAS SILENCED

    On 8 Sivan 5782, while in shul in the Shneor community, R’ Nisselevitch had a heart attack and passed away.

    The family says that during the shiva, one of the daughters asked for encouragement and consolation from the Rebbe and she opened to an answer in the Igros Kodesh. In a letter to Mr. Eliezer Steinman, the Rebbe wrote:

    I received your letter of 13 Sivan and the one prior to that. The reply was delayed because it was difficult to write after the event in Kfar Chabad [when in 1956, Arab terrorists murdered five students and their teacher in the vocational school] which some wanted to explain with what it says in the Torah, ‘I will be sanctified with my holy ones,’ but even there the matter is obscure and we only learn from there that sometimes G-d acts in this way. Since it is not understood even in Torah, it is not an explanation but an attempt to draw a parallel, therefore the time has come for ‘And Aharon was silent.’

    All that is only as far as attempts to explain the event but as far as the consequences that the event compels, there is no doubt, just as it happened to our ancestors through the Egyptians a few thousand years before, that every persecution and decree came with the answer: ‘as they afflicted them, so they increased and grew stronger.’

    ***

    He is survived by his wife and children: R’ Yosef Yitzchok, R’ Shneur Zalman, R’ Aryeh Tzvi, R’ Yekusiel Dovber, R’ Tzemach Menachem, R’ Yisrael Shimon Peretz Yehuda (Yishpi), Uziel, Chaim, Yechiel Nissim; Mrs. Mushka Tevel, Mrs. Zlata Levin, Mrs. Hinda Ester Teichtel, and many descendants who are mekusharim to the Rebbe, heart and soul.

    May we soon see the fulfillment of the promise, “Arise and sing those who dwell in the dust,” with him among them.

    *

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