Chaim Bruk, Beis Moshiach
5739. A frightening rumor shook up Breslover Chassidim worldwide. A message sent from the Ukraine, which was behind the Iron Curtain, to Rabbi Michel Dorfman, a distinguished Breslover Chassid, warned of an evil plan of the Soviet government. According to this plan, all the villas bordering on the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman zt’l would be cleared away on Pushkina Street, including the holy gravesite and cemetery.
They planned on building apartment buildings on this land. In those days it was the policy of the Kremlin, once in five years, to legislate an official national development plan, and it was the job of the local governments to carry it out. This meant that the decision had been made “high up” in the government.
Zubaida, the local gentile woman in whose yard the gravesite was located, knew R’ Dorfman from years back, when he still lived in Malachovka near Moscow. Now, when she heard about this plan, she was afraid for her home. She didn’t want to swap her house and yard for a small apartment.
For this reason, Zubaida sent a message to R’ Dorfman. She knew that the place meant the world to him and that he would do all he could to cancel the evil decree. The message reached R’ Dorfman via a Breslover Chassid who visited the gravesite. She asked him to quickly inform R’ Dorfman about the plan.
A DELEGATION GOES TO THE UNITED STATES
Upon receipt of the news, Breslover Chassidim were shocked and didn’t know what to do. The elders of the Chassidus were asked to decide how to save the holy tziyun. In a special meeting that met to discuss the matter, R’ Dorfman said that, in his opinion, in this situation a bribe would not help.
“If there is a chance to try and avert the evil decree,” he said, “efforts need to be made in the highest levels of the American government so they exert pressure on the Soviet Union.”
The trip was planned swiftly. R’ Chaim Menachem Kramer, who was in Eretz Yisrael at the time, contacted his brother-in-law, Rabbi Nosson Maimon (son-in-law of Rabbi Tzvi Aryeh Rosenfeld zt’l, a distinguished Breslover Chassid in the U.S.) so he would host R’ Dorfman. R’ Maimon, who was 23 at the time, was happy to do so.
R’ Kalman Rosen, who was a gifted writer, wrote letters to various relevant parties. R’ Dorfman was going to go to America to deliver the letters in the hopes that they would be effective in the highest echelons of the American government.
However, the carefully laid plan was never carried out because of the lack of familiarity on the part of the Meah Shearim Chassidim with the protocols in the halls of government in the U.S. The days passed but all attempts to contact senior people at the White House were unsuccessful. They knew they had to take immediate action to try and convince those high up in the American government.
In the meantime, R’ Michel Dorfman and R’ Nosson Maimon visited the Satmar Rebbe and the posek, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, and received their blessings for success in their mission. A few days later, the two went to Manhattan, to the office of president of Agudath Israel, Rabbi Moshe Sherer. R’ Moshe Sherer was an askan with connections in the American government as well as extensive ties with the highest tiers of leadership around the world.
R’ Moshe Sherer asked the two men the reason for their visit. R’ Dorfman spent fifteen minutes telling him. R’ Sherer listened and then shook their hands and promised to do all he could to save the tziyun in Uman. When they returned to R’ Maimon’s home in Brighton Beach, they went to rest but then the phone rang.
R’ Sherer was on the line. “You speak English. At nine tomorrow morning, be in Washington. You have a meeting with those in charge of the Russia desk in the State Department,” he said briefly and hung up after giving him the entrance code to the building.
The next morning at nine, Maimon was at the State Department. Those in charge of foreign relations with the Soviet Union heard him out but had no useful advice to offer him.
This was the era of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and its satellite nations in the communist Eastern bloc and the United States and Western Europe. Relations between the USSR and the U.S. were very cold to the point of hostile. The suggestion of those at the Russia desk at the State Department was that when R’ Dorfman and R’ Maimon went to the Soviet Union, they should first inform the clerks at the desk who would provide them with a letter to the American ambassador in Moscow so he would help them. R’ Dorfman and R’ Maimon realized that salvation would not come from the State Department and they turned to other avenues.
ASKING FOR THE HELP OF THE LUBAVITCHER REBBE
They decided to go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe to ask for his help. Years before, in 1947, when a similar plan was made by the authorities, Chabad Chassidim in Lvov assisted their Breslover brothers to purchase the plot that contained the tziyun, maybe Lubavitch can help again? But in those days, a year and a half after the Rebbe’s heart attack on Shemini Atzeres 5738/1977, the Rebbe was not receiving people for yechidus.
The two men, who urgently wanted to speak to the Rebbe, wondered what to do. A Chassid came to their aid when he told them that on motzoei Shavuos, Chassidim and others passed by the Rebbe on motzoei Yom Tov in order to receive kos shel bracha.
“Then you can give the Rebbe a letter in which you will have written about your mission and ask for help to save the holy tziyun.” The two did as he suggested.
On motzoei Shavuos, when kos shel bracha was distributed, the two men gave the Rebbe a letter. The letter described the situation and asked for a bracha and advice. They signed the letter: Yechiel Michel ben Chana Perel, Nosson Yaakov ben Yenta Freidel, son-in-law of your friend, R’ Tzvi Aryeh Rosenfeld.
A day passed and another day passed since they had submitted the letter to the Rebbe. R’ Dorfman and R’ Maimon called the Rebbe’s office every few hours but there was no answer from the Rebbe. After three days, there was an answer for them which said they should speak to Rabbi Pinchas Teitz who would help them. The Rebbe included a warm blessing that they be successful.
The two went to R’ Teitz in Elizabeth, New Jersey. R’ Teitz delivered the Daf Ha’Shavua every motzoei Shabbos on the radio which was listened to by large numbers of people. He was greatly esteemed by government figures and he had contacts everywhere; all were charmed by the charismatic rabbi.
R’ Teitz did much for the Jews in the Soviet Union, a little bit openly and mostly undercover. He was the first to print a siddur in Russian. With his efforts, he extricated many Jews from communist Russia. Apparently, it was as a result of this outreach work that R’ Teitz developed a relationship with the Rebbe.
“We sat in his house and told him the situation and said we had been referred to him by the Lubavitcher Rebbe,” said R’ Maimon. “When he heard that we came because of the Rebbe, he became very emotional and was ready to do anything to help us. In the end, he said, ‘Your story relies entirely on what the gentile woman Zubaida said. I first need to look into it and see whether this is correct. If it is, we will see what to do. Let us speak in another day or two and tell them in the Rebbe’s office that I am involved.’”
THE SURPRISE CONNECTION
R’ Teitz called his trusted contact in Moscow. As his loyal emissary throughout the Soviet Union, the man had renovated the gravesite of the Baal Shem Tov decades before. This man took a plane from Moscow to Kiev and from there he traveled to Uman to feel around among the local residents and the municipal offices whether the information was correct.
Two days later, word came back to New Jersey: The authorities are planning on destroying all the houses in the area as well as the cemetery and building huge apartment buildings. The plan has already gained government approval and the municipality is about to implement the plan. It does not look as though any lobbying efforts will be successful at this stage.
R’ Dorfman and R’ Maimon were called to R’ Teitz’s home in New Jersey and they tried coming up with a counter-plan. They knew they had to reach the highest government echelons in the U.S. in order to try and influence the Soviet authorities to cancel their plan.
R’ Teitz sat in thought and then suddenly jumped from his chair and went over to a desk drawer from where he removed a letter with a government logo on it. He waved it and said, “Oy, R’ Michel, R’ Michel, who knows, perhaps it was for a time like this that I attained a connection to kingship!” [A reference to the statement that Mordechai told Esther regarding her going to the king without being called].
The signature of Robert Lipshutz, the president’s adviser for Jewish affairs, was on the bottom of the letter as was that of President Jimmy Carter himself. R’ Teitz began telling them the story behind the letter:
In December of 1974, Carter announced his candidacy for president for the Democratic party. At first, Carter seemed like a dark horse as he was an unfamiliar governor from Georgia, a small Southern state, who was not involved in party politics on a national level.
Throughout Carter’s campaign, the large Jewish organizations did not acknowledge him at all. Like many others, they did not think the peanut farmer governor of Georgia had a chance at winning.
THE REBBE’S SURPRISING INSTRUCTION
The Lubavitcher Rebbe thought otherwise. In one of R’ Teitz’s meetings with the Rebbe, as they discussed Jewish matters and government, the Rebbe told him to establish a warm relationship with Carter, the presidential candidate, since this connection could be very helpful in the future.
R’ Teitz did not delay in carrying out the Rebbe’s instruction. He invited Carter to a classy event that he arranged in his honor. In attendance at the gathering, which was covered by the media, were distinguished Jews and many wealthy people who were contacts of R’ Teitz. It was the first and most intimate meeting of Carter with rabbis and religious communal figures. The fact that it took place when Carter was low in the polls, warmed his heart and he remembered the event for many years to come as he himself referred to it afterward.
[One thing that R’ Teitz did not know about that event that he arranged upon the instruction of the Rebbe, was that the decision was made to cancel it, and along with it maybe the only chance to save the tziyun in Uman. The fact that it actually took place was an additional piece of the divine providence involved in the wondrous instructions of the Lubaitcher Rebbe, but this only became known seventeen years later, in 5756. More on that later.]
A few days after the event, R’ Teitz received a letter of thanks and appreciation for his work on behalf of Carter. Signed, as mentioned above, was Carter’s signature and that of his adviser for Jewish affairs, Robert Lipshutz. The letter noted that if he would ever need advice or help from Carter, he should contact them.
At the elections that took place on November 2, 1976, Jimmy Carter won, against all prognostications, with a small majority of a little more than 50% of the votes against the 48% which Ford got. According to the complicated system of the electoral college, Carter won with 297 electoral votes, most of them from the south and east coast as opposed to the 241 electoral votes that Ford got. Carter was the first president from the deep south since the Civil War.
R’ Teitz concluded his story and as he held the letter he said to R’ Dorfman, “I haven’t used the letter until now. Maybe the time has come, for the honor of Rabbi Nachman.”
A sudden hugely ambitious idea sparked in the mind of R’ Dorfman as to how to get President Carter to influence the communist authorities: the SALT summit.
PRESIDENT CARTER ACCEPTS THE CHALLENGE
In the 60s, the arms race had accelerated and threatened to get out of control. In an attempt to lower the tension and stop the endless arms buildup, the Soviets and Americans began a round of talks in 1969 called the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) initiated by President Nixon.
The talks led to the signing of two documents, SALT-1 which was signed in 1972 and SALT-2 that was signed in the summer of 1979.
The SALT talks were planned to take place in Vienna about a week and a half after the meeting between R’ Teitz and R’ Dorfman. Leonid Brezhnev, premier of the Soviet Union and secretary-general of the communist party, and Jimmy Carter, president of the United States were going to meet to sign an agreement. “It’s a great opportunity for the two leaders to talk about the matter of Rabbi Nachman,” said R’ Dorfman.
There was one problem: how to explain to the president or his adviser the importance of the little area in the backyard of a building in Uman, in order to persuade him to use his influence to preserve the area. R’ Teitz thought and thought and then came up with an idea. “R’ Aryeh Kaplan is the one!”
Rabbi Aryeh Moshe Eliyahu Kaplan was an American Orthodox rabbi with a masters in physics who decided, upon seeing how many Jews were flocking to Eastern meditation, to explain the connection between meditation and Judaism.
R’ Kaplan, at that time, was a renowned academic throughout the U.S. Millions of people, Jews and non-Jews, avidly read his columns that were published in the newspapers. He had a special affinity for Breslov Chassidus and he would often quote Rabbi Nachman in his articles.
Upon the advice of R’ Teitz, R’ Dorfman and R’ Maimon arranged to meet with R’ Kaplan. They explained their concern that the president and his aide would not understand what the commotion was about.
R’ Kaplan began to laugh. “Ha, ha, R’ Michel, do you think that Rabbi Nachman only belongs to Meah Shearim? Rabbi Nachman today is familiar to people all over the world, Jews and non-Jews. Even Martin Buber mentions Rabbi Nachman in his letters. Elie Wiesel also mentions Rabbi Nachman. Today, even non-Jews understand that people need to hold onto something more spiritual. Don’t worry. I will prepare a convincing letter for the president and his adviser. They will understand the importance of this matter.” R’ Kaplan closed himself up in his office for half an hour and then gave them a letter.
“We went back to R’ Teitz’s home with the letter,” said R’ Maimon. “When he read it, he was totally amazed at the content and the tone. R’ Teitz added a few lines and wrote that he had received letters from academics, scientists and spiritual masters from around the world about the Russians’ plans to destroy the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and if it happened, it would be a terrible tragedy for the entire academic world. Contrariwise, the president had the ability to do a historic kindness with the Jewish people, a kindness that would be engraved in the Jewish history books for years to come. The letter was sent to Robert Lipshutz.”
Two days later, Lipshutz responded, “It’s all arranged. President Carter will speak to the Russians during the summit and the matter will be resolved. Don’t worry.”
R’ Dorfman was in a state of ecstatic joy from the moment he received the letter. “We did our part,” he said. “Now, the Russians won’t dare to touch the grave!” He ordered a ticket and flew back to Eretz Yisrael. R’ Teitz promised to update him of any and all developments leading to the summit.
THE KREMLIN DECIDED NOT TO TOUCH THE TZIYUN
In preparation for the SALT II summit, the United States and Soviet Union worked out an agreement regarding mutual arms limits. On 23 Sivan 5739 (June 18, 1979), Brezhnev and Carter met in Vienna. The agreement was signed in front of the entire world.
What the media did not know was the unofficial agreement that was reached behind the scenes by the Americans and Russians regarding the tziyun in Uman. A few days after the summit, a call came from Dobrynin, the Russian ambassador in the U.S., at the White House. He said, “As far as the topic that was raised at the summit; don’t worry. At the Kremlin they issued a ruling that they would continue the project as planned except for Bilensky Street; they won’t touch that yard.”
Lipshutz quickly updated R’ Teitz who immediately called R’ Dorfman about the Kremlin’s decision. The joy that erupted in Breslov centers in Eretz Yisrael and the U.S. is indescribable. R’ Teitz and R’ Dorfman ordered R’ Nosson Maimon to go to Russia to ensure that the Russians kept their promise. He went and validated that the plans had changed and the tziyun remained.
The day after he returned to Eretz Yisrael, the phone rang in the house he was staying in. It was R’ Teitz calling from Rome. Overcome with excitement he shouted, “Nosson, you won’t believe what I’m holding!” It was the front page of The New York Times. The headline told about Carter’s “shake up” of his White House staff. Two of the people leaving were Jews and one of them was none other than Robert Lipshutz, who had resigned his position as White House counsel to the President….
“I am not a Lubavitcher Chassid!” said R’ Teitz loudly, “but I have already learned that I have no comprehension in the Lubavitcher Rebbe. One can only wonder if everything that happened was only for this.”
THE REST OF THE STORY…
How great was the divine providence in the success of Lipshutz’s efforts thanks to the strong and unforeseeable bonds of friendship between Carter and R’ Teitz at that event in Carter’s honor, when he was a presidential candidate? We shall see in this marvelous end of the story:
Seventeen years passed since the SALT II summit and it was 5756, after the disgraceful dig carried out by hooligans at the grave of Rabbi Nachman in his resting place in Uman (with the intended purpose of moving him to Eretz Yisroel). R’ Dorfman deviated from his usual custom and gave an interview to Jeremy Levine of The Jerusalem Post. R’ Dorfman stated his view unequivocally that it was forbidden for anyone to touch Rabbi Nachman’s grave and that the tzaddik wanted to remain there in Uman.
A few days later, after the vasikin minyan, his loyal driver R’ Maimon escorted him from the Breslover shul to his home on Rechov Hoshei’a in Yerushalayim. When they arrived at his house, R’ Dorfman asked R’ Maimon to listen to his answering machine.
They could hear a message in English: “Hello, I live in America. I am staying in Israel now for a particular matter. My mother was born in Uman. I read the interview with the rav and was moved. I would like to meet with you.”
R’ Maimon translated it for R’ Dorfman and R’ Dorfman asked that he contact her. R’ Maimon called the woman and introduced himself. The woman was very happy and asked what time the next day she could see the rav. But R’ Dorfman said, “No, we will go to her.”
The woman felt uncomfortable but she had no choice; R’ Dorfman insisted. The next day, after davening vasikin, R’ Dorfman and R’ Maimon went to the woman’s home in the Ramat Aviv neighborhood of Tel Aviv.
The house was new and did not have a mezuza nor furniture aside from two chairs on which R’ Dorfman and the woman sat. R’ Maimon, having no choice, sat on the floor. The woman didn’t stop apologizing for the state of the house. To R’ Maimon’s surprise, right after saying hello, R’ Dorfman began telling the woman the entire story about the decree that hovered over the gravesite and the efforts carried out through Robert Lipshutz whom R’ Teitz knew because of the event he made for Carter as the Lubavitcher Rebbe told him to do.
The woman suddenly turned pale and stopped him. “Let me complete the puzzle. My name is Joyce Starr and I live in Georgia in the United States. I am Jewish but far from mitzva observance. I am here in Israel on a mission for the Jewish billionaire Ronald Lauder who retained my services in the attempt to import water from Turkey to Israel or find another solution.”
In those days, there was a serious water shortage in Eretz Yisrael due to years of drought. Experts from the world over went to Israel to find a solution. Lauder, who donated tens of millions of dollars a year for Jews in Eretz Yisrael and the world, had hired this woman since she had an international reputation in the field of water supply so she could find solutions to the water shortage.
“When Jimmy Carter was the governor of Georgia, I was appointed as the personal aide to Robert Lipshutz in his work on the campaign that he ran for Carter across the United States. I remember that event that R’ Teitz organized very well. We were on our way there with Jimmy and Robert when suddenly an urgent call came in: Jimmy Carter was being asked to redirect his jet for an appearance in a nearby state.
“The truth is I am a very straight person. I don’t want to boast but it seems I was born this way; I cannot say a lie and I have paid the price for this trait in various high level positions I held over the years. That time, despite the fact, as I noted, that I am not at all religious, when I heard about this proposed cancellation, an inexplicable feeling came over me. I said to myself: This is Jimmy’s first encounter with religious Jews and the Jews who support him. Who knows what could come out of this encounter and now it will be canceled, just like that?
“I called Robert aside and said to him, ‘You should know that we can expect tremendous humiliation throughout the entire media. I sent out 1000 press releases to the papers and media so they would come and cover this unusual event in which an important Jewish rabbi is supporting Jimmy. If Jimmy cancels his appearance now, we can expect to receive harsh criticism and will become a laughingstock.’
“When Carter was informed about the 1000 press releases that were sent, he immediately decided to carry on with the original plan and go to the event arranged by R’ Teitz.”
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