Beis Moshiach Magazine/By Nosson Avrohom
The Chassid R’ Tzvi Hirsh “Herschel” Rabinowitz of Chernowitz was a unique personality even within the Chassidic brotherhood. He was a clever, daring person with a heart of gold who put his life in danger in order to save more and more Jews. * He also cared for Reb Levi Yitzchok Schneersohn at the end of the latter’s life, with great devotion, and inherited his walking stick, which protected him from all the dangers that he faced. When it was lost, he said in anguish that his success was lost with it; a short while later he passed away. * A special Chassid, a loyal soldier in the Rebbe’s army to spread Judaism and the wellsprings. Presented for 20 Av, the day Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneersohn passed away.
R’ Tzvi Hirsh Rabinowitz of Chernowitz in the Ukraine, known as Herschel, was one of the anonymous soldiers of the Rebbe MH”M for nearly 20 years behind the Iron Curtain. He did not make a move without receiving the Rebbe’s blessing and encouragement. He sent letters to the Rebbe through a third party.
Those who knew him described a Chassid who felt responsible for all Jewish matters in Chernowitz after World War II: building mikvaos, arranging secret minyanim, managing secret Talmud Torahs, matza baking, and kosher sh’chita. R’ Herschel led the way in all these things despite communist oppression. He was the one who raised the funds and paid salaries to a cadre of activists who worked under his direction.
He loved doing a chessed for another Jew, no matter who it was. He used bribes and other means to befriend the right people in the communist government of his city, and took care of Jewish prisoners and those who needed residency permits and various signatures. The Jews of the city described him as a person with a big heart, an angel in the guise of a human. R’ Herschel was the only one with the courage to willingly have freed prisoners stay in his house, even though he knew he’d be under surveillance.
Throughout his life he helped Jews, and he put himself aside in order to do a favor for other Jews. The most outstanding of his acts of kindness was performed right after the end of the war when he lived in Alma Ata (Almaty). He was one of the few who worked to save Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneersohn, the Rebbe’s father, from the exile in Chili, to bring him to Alma Ata which was more civilized. Later on, he accompanied him devotedly and took care of all his needs until Rabbi Levi Yitzchok’s final day, 20 Av.
After R’ Levik’s passing, Herschel and his wife left Alma Ata and settled in Chernowitz. There he continued with his acts of chessed and bolstering of Judaism. Sadly, they had no children, and so we heard about his acts of goodness and kindness from his students and friends.
His name does crop up in many biographies, including Toldos Levi Yitzchok where he is mentioned many times as one who provided much help, along with his brother R’ Mendel, to the Rebbe’s father.
PLAYING A LEADERSHIP ROLE IN CHARKOV
R’ Herschel was born in the town of Kublichy near Vitebsk; his father was R’ Yosef Chaim. In 5696/1936, he married, and the couple settled in Charkov where he began his communal work with a strong emphasis on promoting Judaism. Like many Jews, he earned a living by running a home-based manufacturing business for making clothing. As time went on, he put less and less time into the business and more into communal work, and it was all done with mesirus nefesh.
The mashpia R’ Mordechai Kozliner said that after the Rebbe Rayatz left the country, important questions were decided by three Chassidim who would consider each challenge that the Chassidim there faced as they arose. While still a young man in Charkov, R’ Herschel was one of the three Chassidim who made these decisions. He would join Chassidim who were older than he, such as R’ Avrohom der Alter, R’ Mottel Ellinson, and R’ Yehoshua Volosov.
With the outbreak of hostilities between Russia and Germany, R’ Herschel fled, as did many Chassidim, and arrived in Alma Ata. He settled there in the beginning of 5701/1941 and did not rest for a moment.
He lived with his brother Mendel in the Tashtag neighborhood, where a few Jews lived among many gentile Kazaks. From the first Shabbos, there were minyanim in his home, and he began taking care of all Jewish-related matters in the city. He had a mikva built, and matzos baked, and arranged minyanim in other neighborhoods too.
Along with his varied activities among the Jews of the city and the many refugees who escaped the Germans, a noteworthy chapter in his work was helping R’ Levik who was in exile in Chili at the time. With great ingenuity he, along with others, managed to extricate him from there and at first hosted him in his home in Alma Ata until they rented a home for him.
R’ Herschel invested much effort in saving R’ Levik from the intimidation of the communists who wanted to extend his exile for another year. R’ Herschel knew that another year like that would put the infirm rav in serious danger. R’ Herschel knew that R’ Levik’s medical condition worsened in exile, and he did all he could to extricate him until he obtained R’ Levik’s release papers.
Mrs. Bas-Sheva Altheus, who was the one who actually rescued R’ Levik, related that three Chassidim arranged the trip, with R’ Herschel leading his brother Mendel and R’ Yosef Nimotin. Mrs. Altheus said that men could not travel there because of the danger involved, and so they asked her to bring the release papers to Chili.
At first, she was inclined to refuse. She was the sole support of four children, hers and her sisters. But her father R’ Chaim Eliyahu Altheus came to her in a dream and urged her to go. Among the small group of Chassidim who helped R’ Levik, few knew that R’ Herschel obtained a huge sum of 50,000 rubles for R’ Levik’s rescue and took care of all R’ Levik’s needs – a nice home and suitable food as was needed for his escalating health problems.
R’ Levik spent the first Shabbos in R’ Herschel’s home. R’ Herschel arranged a Kiddush in his honor, which was attended by many Chassidim.
The atmosphere in the home during the Kiddush and afterward was extremely elevated. The pure stream of R’ Levik’s Torah that had been blocked up in exile for five years began to pour forth, words of Torah, Chassidus and Kabbala. Those in attendance were very moved, and R’ Levik thanked all those who worked to obtain his freedom.
R’ Herschel did not suffice with simply rescuing R’ Levik and bringing him to Alma Ata. He devoted time on a daily basis to provide for all his needs.
According to the instructions of the doctors, R’ Levik needed to eat chicken soup every day, but how does one go about acquiring a live chicken each day during war time? Once again, R’ Herschel was the one to rise to the occasion. Daily, he worked tirelessly to get the chicken, shecht it, kasher it, and cook it, and he personally would feed R’ Levik during the period of his illness when he was too weak to eat on his own.
R’ Herschel also managed to get hold of special flour, something which was exceedingly difficult in the wartime economy. He did not just get hold of the flour, but he personally baked special challos for him to use on Shabbos and the rest of the week. In addition, he would acquire raisins and personally made wine for R’ Levik to use for Kiddush and Havdala.
Throughout R’ Levik’s illness, R’ Herschel remained at his bedside day and night, every weekday, Shabbos and Yom Tov. Actually, back when R’ Levik was still in Chili, R’ Herschel experienced an amazing miracle as a result of his bracha, which only served to deepen the connection between them.
It was at the time that he was on the run from Charkov to Kazakhstan. During the escape, he was separated from his wife and for two years did not know what had happened to her. When he arrived in Kazakhstan, he asked R’ Yaakov Yosef Raskin who would correspond with R’ Levik, to send a request that he arouse great mercies for him to be reunited with his wife. R’ Levik wrote back that he had no doubt that she was alive and well, and that they would meet again. And so it was, she was found and made her way to Kazakhstan where she rejoined her husband.
As mentioned, R Herschel merited to assist R’ Levik in Alma Ata until his passing. He recounted the following story to R’ Mendel Futerfas:
It was on his final day in this world, when R’ Levik turned to me suddenly and asked me to give him a cigarette. Since I was well aware of his health condition, I tried to deflect him from doing so, and I asked him why he needed to smoke. “Fool,” he answered me, “The Rebbe told me to smoke.”
I found that to be amazing and I continued to ask, “What does that mean? When did the Rebbe instruct such a thing?”
So he told me the following, “When I visited the Rebbe Rashab on one of the holidays, on Motzaei the yom tov the Rebbe said, ‘Levik, you probably want to smoke.’ I nodded yes, and the Rebbe told me to go into his house and in a certain place there was a box with cigarettes. I brought the box to the Rebbe and he opened it and took out a cigarette and gave it to me.”
When R’ Herschel heard this, he lit a cigarette and gave it to R’ Levik.
When he finished smoking, he said to R’ Herschel, “Herschel, bring me a cup of water and a bowl.”
When he brought it, R’ Levik said to him in Yiddish, “Now it will be easy for me to cross the border.” R’ Levik washed his hands, closed his eyes, read the Shma, and passed away.
R’ Herschel was very saddened by R’ Levik’s passing, and as the first to know, he was the one to begin the process of informing the general community of Chassidim.
The Rebbe MH”M was well aware of the kindness that R’ Herschel did for his father and thanked him very much for it. They say that when one of Anash was able to leave Russia and went to 770, he gave the Rebbe a picture of R’ Herschel. The Rebbe stood up and said, “You have no idea what this man did for my father.”
R’ Herschel received many letters and instructions from the Rebbe, but due to the hardships of the times nothing remains of them except for one letter that the Rebbe sent him. The Rebbe signed it simply “Menachem.”
B”H 17 Menachem Av 5721
Tzvi Hirsh Sh’yichyeh
I was happy to read your letter, and I wish to be in strong hope that you will continue to give good tidings in the future – about yourself and about your nephew and his family sh’yichyu. And these should be good tidings in every detail, and especially after I heard so much about your activities in those days for my father. That help brings with it extremely great blessings, and the fulfillment of one’s heart’s desires for good, in regards to you and in regards to the relatives.
With hope for good tidings, and a heartfelt regards to the friends, close friends and acquaintances sh’yichyu – Menachem.
A MAN IN THE GUISE OF AN ANGEL
Immediately upon R’ Levik’s passing, R’ Herschel left Alma Ata with his wife and settled in Chernowitz. Within a short time, he became an outstanding askan in the city, while weaving clever connections with government figures and taking care of all Jewish matters in the city as well as attending to individual help for any Jew in need.
In his book Pirkei Chaim, R’ Chaim Meir Kahane speaks a lot about Herschel Rabinowitz. R’ Kahane, a Vizhnitzer Chassid, spent ten years in Siberia before going to Chernowitz. He arrived with the clothes on his back, nothing more. It was R’ Herschel Rabinowitz who helped him get on his feet, in exchange for which he became a melamed and was one of R’ Herschel’s close confidants.
“A new generation arrived here [in Chernowitz] from all ends of the country,” said R’ Kahane. “I did not recognize any of them. At the time I was arrested, eighteen shuls were still open. Upon my return, only three were operating and one of them was the big, old shul named for the Beer Mayim Chaim.”
R’ Kahane goes on to say that when he entered the shul on Shabbos for the first time since he arrived in the city, he realized that all the rabbanim and gabbaim were government appointees, which limited his stay in the shul if he would go at all. After experiencing exile in Siberia, he preferred not to endanger himself. One of his friends told him the secret about the wide ranging Chabad activities in the city and about clandestine gatherings where they learned, farbrenged and davened an authentic Chassidic davening.
“That friend told me about the most outstanding member of the group, Herschel Rabinowitz, whom he described as an angel in the guise of a human, saying there was no end to the good deeds that he did for others. He committed to going to him that same day, on Shabbos, in order to tell him about me and my situation.
“Indeed, late on Motzaei Shabbos, this man appeared in the place where I was staying. Nearly from the start of the conversation there was formed between us a bond of love and friendship. He encouraged me to strengthen my bitachon that I would soon return to my city and he said he would do everything in his power to help me with registration for a permit to reside in the city.
“The next morning, I headed off for Chernigov to prepare my next moves. Immediately upon our first encounter, this good man, R’ Herschel z”l, began working on it and was successful, with bribes of course, to obtain permits for us, i.e., permission to live in the city. He also found me work. When I left prison, I signed a document which said I would no longer be involved in harmful activities but would do honest work like every other Soviet citizen.”
His book goes on to tell of the good job he got, thanks to R’ Herschel, which enabled him to observe Shabbos. Needless to say, a job in those days meant a loaf of bread and it meant you were a Soviet citizen in good standing and could avoid the danger of being sent back to Siberia.
R’ Yoel Dubkin of Tzfas was only four years old when his parents arrived in Chernowitz, but he remembers the greet esteem his father had for R’ Herschel.
“Half a year after my parents married in 5717, the KGB began to make life difficult for my father. They wanted him to publicize an article that would prove there is no G-d, but he did not agree. My father was an officer in the Soviet medical corps and he fought against the Nazis and later on the front lines against the Japanese. With all that, he remained religious. They knew this, which is why they knew that an article denying G-d would make a great impact on the Jews of the city, but my father firmly refused.
“They fired him and told all the clinics in the area not to hire him. They thought they would break him. At the time, we lived in Glubaka, and since my father was fired, we had nothing to eat. Nor did we have any family support.
“R’ Herschel Rabinowitz, who heard what happened to our father, brought us to the big city of Chernowitz. My mother was in an advanced stage of pregnancy with my brother. He arranged a resident’s permit in the city, and for a few months he placed us in the home of a Jewish woman who worked with him. Her help and his help was really a matter of saving lives. My father had suddenly turned into a target of the government.
“Then R’ Herschel tried to find work for my father as a doctor, but he ran into difficulties. There were hints from the government that if my father capitulated, he would be offered a good position, but he refused.
“For half a year we lived in Chernowitz and it was Herschel who took care of all our material needs, until my father found work in a medical position in a coal mine in the Carpathian Mountains. My parents always had a warm spot in their hearts for him and admired his activities. They would talk a lot about how great he was.”
R’ Herschel, as mentioned, did not operate on his own. He was greatly helped by R’ Moshe Vishedsky, R’ Ozer Vinokursky, R’ Chaim Meir Kahane, R’ Moshe Pen, R’ Dovber Robinson, his nephew R’ Yitzchok Ezerkovitz and other Chassidim.
But the final responsibility was on his shoulders alone, as R’ Mordechai Kozliner related:
“The concept of impossible did not exist for him. When he found out about a Jew in trouble with the police, first of all he hid him in his own home, even though he knew that this was dangerous. Even in cases where he knew there was no natural way to save a person, he worked with all his might until he succeeded.”
SECRET MINYAN IN THE HOME OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY SECRETARY
As mentioned earlier, the official shul was run by a government appointed rav and gabbai. A young Jew who walked in to daven would immediately find himself in the cross-hairs of the KGB and could be fired from his job. R’ Herschel started several private, secret minyanim. Those minyanim would change addresses whenever it seemed that the KGB had gotten wind of them. R’ Herschel was also a daring person, and at one point he set up one of the minyanim in no less than the home of the secretary of the Communist Party in the Chernowitz region.
This fellow was a Jew who had sold his soul to the devil, but deep in his heart were warm feelings for Jewish tradition, and R’ Herschel succeeded in connecting with him and influencing him, to the point that he eventually agreed to hold a minyan in his house. The inner room was used for prayers and the entrance foyer was used for farbrengens and other celebrations.
It was here that the Chabad Chassidim in Chernowitz felt more secure than in the other locations, because what KGB agent would suspect that Jewish activities were taking place in this house? Throughout the year, there were regular prayer services in this house, except for the worker’s holiday of May 1st, since at that time the homeowner would host high ranking government and police officials in his home.
R’ Herschel served as a role model for each and every matter of Jewish life, and for an extended period maintained minyanim in his own home. Before davening, the people would study Chassidus in pairs. During other periods, they would daven and farbreng in his house only on special days and Shabbos Mevarchim. Whenever a Chassidic holiday would come around, and the local Chassidim wished to hold a farbrengen, everybody knew without a doubt in whose home it would be held.
During the holiday of Sukkos, large farbrengens would be held in the sukka in his home. Some of those years the main speaker was R’ Mendel Futerfas, who upon being released from Siberia immediately made his way to Chernowitz. In the city, there were those who identified with other Chassidic groups, mainly those connected to Sadigura and Boyan, but all of the spiritual activities were held in conjunction with the Chabad Chassidim, and Jews of all stripes participated in the davening. There would be a farbrengen every Shabbos Mevarchim, with the mashpiim R’ Moshe Vishedsky and R’ Ozer Vinokursky leading the farbrengens.
LOOKING OUT FOR THE FAMILIES OF THE INCARCERATED
R’ Herschel also handled the issue of sh’chita. He funded a regular salary for an elder shochet to provide sh’chita services for all the Jews of the city. Eventually, that shochet was caught and sent to Siberia, but R’ Herschel did not give up and found another to replace him.
So too it was with a Talmud Torah. Without Torah learning for the children, R’ Herschel knew well that there would be no continuity. He opened small Talmud Torahs that operated in various homes with a small number of children. Chassidim who lived in distant cities would send their children to learn in Chernowitz, at least during the three summer months. Their confidence that the children would not be caught was because of R’ Herschel’s connections. For many years, the melamed was R’ Chaim Meir Kahane. His wife had run a Jewish school before the Communist Revolution for many years. As mentioned, R’ Herschel arranged a fictional job for R’ Chaim Meir with a regular salary, so he could be a melamed full time with peace of mind.
After R’ Moshe Vishedsky was arrested and sent to exile in 5708/1948, R’ Herschel took it upon himself to support R’ Vishedsky’s wife and six children until he was released. He was in touch regularly with Mrs. Vishedksy, and did not refrain from helping her despite the fact that during the first year of imprisonment, and until the end of the investigations, the KGB maintained an agent outside the Vishedsky house all the time, and it was dangerous to be in contact with the family.
Apparently, R’ Herschel was also in touch with wealthy householders, including those who never entered a shul but who felt warmly toward Judaism. One of them was R’ Reuven Kutterman, who would come every year on his father’s yahrtzait to say Kaddish in R’ Herschel’s shul. R’ Herschel was very friendly with him and the man would donate a lot toward communal projects.
Aside from prisoners and their families, R’ Herschel also looked out for the impoverished in the city and outlying areas. Also, the Ribnitzer Rebbe, who was known as a holy man, lived with the Rabinowitz family for a long time. Chana, R’ Herschel’s wife, supported and assisted him throughout the time that they hosted him.
R’ Herschel and his wife raised other people’s children who felt that the Rabinowitzs were like their biological parents. They tell that moments before Mrs. Rabinowitz passed away, what concerned her was the spirituality of the children, that they continue to go in the way of Torah and mitzvos.
THE MATTER WAS TAKEN CARE OF
One of the dangerous aspects of R’ Herschel’s work was obtaining government permits, mainly residency permits for released prisoners. These released prisoners, despite having served their terms for many years, did not receive permission from the authorities to live in big cities, and obtaining these permits in Russia was sometimes harder than getting a job. There was a very strict record keeping protocol of local populations. In the lobby of every building sat a person, appointed by the government, whose job it was to write down all who passed through. Once a week, he would give the list to the police. Of course, it wasn’t possible to live in a city without a permit.
R’ Herschel and his wife had tremendous mesirus nefesh when they hosted former prisoners who came secretly to their house. R’ Herschel would go to government offices and bribe the right people and get permits for them. This is what happened with R’ Mendel Futerfas. R’ Mendel returned from Siberia weak and ill and owning nothing. The Chassidim did not dare host him due to the great danger involved; that is, no one but R’ Herschel.
When R’ Mendel left his house after a long stay, he was feeling much better. R’ Mendel great appreciated R’ Herschel’s help and left with him, as a gift, his old cap and coat that he brought from Siberia.
R’ Lazer Nannes had a similar story. He said that after he returned from Siberia, he went to Chernowitz. At the local police station he was given a permit for one day only. The one who hosted him at this fateful time was R’ Herschel, in whose home R’ Lazer rested and ate. R’ Herschel worked to arrange an unlimited permit for him. “When he returned home he said, ‘Don’t worry, it was arranged. You can stay in the city as you please.’”
THREE TONS OF ICE TO FILL THE MIKVA
One of the ongoing battles, which required great mesirus nefesh, concerned the opening of mikvaos. R’ Herschel opened many kosher mikvaos in Chernowitz. Now and then, the KGB would discover a mikva, close it, and R’ Herschel would open a new one. His involvement in opening mikvaos was one of the first things he did upon arriving in the city.
The one operational mikva in Chernowitz when he arrived was a mikva run by the shul, which was built by the gaon, author of Beer Mayim Chaim. After the war, the government closed most of the shuls except for this shul, and therefore, the mikva inside the shul building also survived. Still, the shul was official and had government-appointed gabbaim, and everyone knew that these gabbaim reported to the authorities about what went on there.
R’ Herschel decided to change the situation. He contacted each of the gabbaim. To some of them he offered a generous retirement package knowing that they sold their souls to the communists for money; after receiving a nice amount of money, they agreed to leave. To others, who were less likely to inform, he offered them money to continue in their positions and to play the dangerous game of being double agents.
Somehow, he had a nice, clean mikva built. With mesirus nefesh, he obtained cement, iron, and building materials – items that were very hard to obtain in those days. He managed to have all these things brought, secretly, to a certain place, and they were used to build an alternative mikva. After that mikva was built, other mikvaos were built. “In the yard of the house of the woman we lived with, I remember there was a mikva,” recalled R’ Dubkin.
Building a mikva required a lot of money. At first, he collected money from wealthy Jews in Chernowitz, but later on, he secretly sent a girl with a letter to other Russian cities, in order to collect money from other Jews. The girl went to Riga, among other places, where she raised 11,000 rubles, a very respectable sum.
Stalin died around Purim 1953. People were hopeful about better times to come, but in vain. In the good days before Stalin, there were 70 shuls, while after the war, there were only 12. Stalin closed another nine, and three remained. After Stalin’s death, the government ordered the closing of another two. One of them was the shul of the Beer Mayim Chaim.
The official reason given was that supposedly a medical committee had visited the place and declared the mikva a danger to the public as it was unsanitary and promoted disease, which was an outright lie.
R’ Herschel immediately got busy building another mikva. Nobody was happier than he when he discovered a house where a mikva had once been. Mr. Tzimmler, who lived in the house, was persuaded to give him the house for the mikva, but there were still many difficulties.
After constructing the pit there was no rain and R’ Herschel had to get three tons of ice blocks without revealing what they were for. After filling the truck, he had to unload it at the mikva building without arousing suspicion. He came up with a simple plan. The truck was parked outside the house and the driver made believe there was a problem with the truck. The guard at the house believed him and allowed the truck to unload the ice at the house so that the truck could be fixed more easily.
That was just the first stage. There were many more problems, but Hashem helped, and within a short time the Jews of Chernowitz had a new mikva. R’ Herschel also paid for its upkeep and miracle of miracles, the KGB did not discover the mikva even though its location and operation were known by many people. This mikva was meant for Chassidim and their families. R’ Herschel was sometimes apprehensive about telling certain families, out of concern that they might be too talkative, so he paid for their trip to the mikva in Moscow which was known to the authorities.
WE WILL SEND A LETTER TO ZEIDE
Despite the distance and the Iron Curtain, R’ Herschel was in touch with the Rebbe MH”M. Emissaries of the Rebbe would visit Russia and would go to Chernowitz to meet with him and convey various messages. As mentioned previously, he received many instructions and letters from the Rebbe. These letters were sent through friends from Eretz Yisroel and the United States. R’ Herschel would regularly send questions to the Rebbe on every subject and would act in accordance with the instructions that he received. He would also receive financial assistance for his activities in Chernowitz from the secretariat.
He would say, “Let us send a letter to Zeide and only then will we know what to do,” with “Zeide” of course being a code word for the Rebbe. At the beginning of the 60’s, R’ Herschel greatly desired to move to Eretz Yisroel. He came up with a plan of how to leave Russia. Because he did not serve in the army, nor did he have children who served in the army, it was easier for him to obtain the necessary papers. But as a Chassid, he did not make a move without asking the Rebbe. The answer he received was he should remain in Chernowitz and continue to preserve Jewish life there.
Although everything was ready for him to leave and he yearned to go and see the Rebbe, he obeyed and remained in Chernowitz. Throughout the years, he helped others leave while he himself remained behind. The Chassid R’ Moshe Vishedsky, who had a deep friendship with R’ Herschel, went to 770 immediately after leaving Russia in 5728. He told the Rebbe about Chernowitz and about R’ Herschel’s work. The Rebbe knew much about what was happening in the city and yet he listened closely to the report.
At the end of the yechidus, he asked the Rebbe for a bracha for R’ Herschel and for his nephew R’ Yitzchok Ezerkovitz and his six year old son Yosef, that they could leave Russia. The Rebbe said that R’ Herschel should remain in Chernowitz. R’ Vishedsky tried to insist that at least the nephew and his son should perhaps leave, and the Rebbe said, “You know what… Leave it to me.”
When R’ Vishedsky left Russia, he was the one who brought the Rebbe the famous picture of his father R’ Levik, a picture he got from R’ Herschel Rabinowitz.
We can learn about R’ Herschel’s bittul to the Rebbe from the following story. He had an uncle, not a Lubavitcher, who escaped from Russia and lived in Tel Aviv. This uncle heard that R’ Herschel had a heart attack and he was very worried about him. When he heard from R’ Vishedsky that the Rebbe said R’ Herschel should remain in Chernowitz, he was angry at the Rebbe. “How does he allow an old, sick man to remain alone in that country?” He sent a letter to the Rebbe in which he complained about this and asked that the Rebbe have compassion on him. He asked, by what right did the Rebbe keep R’ Herschel in Russia?
When R’ Herschel heard about this letter, he sent an urgent letter to R’ Vishedsky for him to give to the secretaries. In the letter, R’ Herschel pleaded with the Rebbe not to listen to the nonsense that his uncle wrote. He wrote that he happily accepted the Rebbe’s instruction and would remain in Chernowitz until his final day.
R’ Bentzion Vishedsky submitted this letter to the secretariat. He was R’ Moshe’s son and was at 770 at the time. R’ Mendel Futerfas was in the office, and he read the letter and showed it to R’ Bentzion Shemtov. All present were amazed by the letter and by R’ Herschel’s hiskashrus.
R’ Herschel lived for only a brief time more. Even in his final days, he continued working from his sickbed.
Throughout the years, R’ Herschel went about with a special walking stick. He got the stick from R’ Levik, whom he had cared for devotedly. “This stick was his calling card,” said R’ Shlomo Raskin.
R’ Herschel would take the stick when he went on important and dangerous missions, mainly when he had to meet with KGB people or the police. When he walked with the stick he said, “This stick of R’ Levik leads me,” and this is how he explained his success with the government.
One day, R’ Herschel went to the KGB office on behalf of a Jew but he forgot his stick there. There was no option to return and take it, and from that day on he was downtrodden. One day, he told his family, “Since I lost my stick, my success has also been lost.”
A few months later, on 14 Kislev 5728, he passed away.