The First Australians in 770 – The Life & Times of Rabbi Shraga Feivish Herzog



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    The First Australians in 770 – The Life & Times of Rabbi Shraga Feivish Herzog

    In 5716 (1956), a Hamodia journalist reported with much excitement about a news-worthy story: “[Three] Australian bachurim who told of reviewing a certain maamar Chassidus at a farbrengen on a certain Shabbos Mevorchim, almost as if they were speaking about Vitebsk or Nevel or Cherson.” One of those three bachurim who came from distant Australia was R’ Shraga Feivish Herzog a”h, who recently passed away. His fascinating life began in Slovakia, continued in Australia, the United States and Eretz Yisrael, and ended in London recently • Beis Moshiach brings his life story, intertwined with his correspondence with the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach By Beis Moshiach Magazine • Full Article

    By Avrohom Rainitz, Beis Moshiach

    In the Hamodia of Tishrei 5716, there was an article by A. Gitlin that expressed wonderment over the “Australian bachurim who told of reviewing a certain maamar Chassidus at a farbrengen on a certain Shabbos Mevorchim, almost as if they were speaking about Vitebsk or Nevel or Cherson. These bachurim sit and circulate in the rooms of 770 and discuss with their friends of Tzeirei Agudas Chabad in New York about the approaches to outreach work and activities, because they are here not only to receive but also to deliver. And I sit and marvel – from whence comes the strength of these seven immigrant families to accomplish deeds that are in the category of a revolution?”

    One of those three bachurim who came from distant Australia was R’ Shraga Feivish Herzog a’h, who recently passed away. His fascinating life began in Slovakia, continued in Australia, the United States and Eretz Yisrael, and ended in London.

    CHILDHOOD IN A CELLAR

    R’ Shraga Feivish Herzog was born in Slovakia on 12 Kislev 5694; his bris was on the Chag HaGeula, 19 Kislev. His childhood years were cut short when he was six, when Slovakia began deporting Jews to concentration camps. His parents gave him and his brother to a friend of the family, a righteous gentile, who agreed to hide them until the end of the war. In the years that followed, Shraga Feivish lived hidden away in the cellar and did not see the light of day until the end of the war.

    After the war, he found out that his parents had been sent to concentration camps and his mother had died at the end of the war of typhus. His father, miraculously survived and the great joy at their reunion was marred by deep sadness over the passing of his mother.

    The family continued to live in Slovakia until 5708 when the Soviets conquered the country which had, in the meantime, been annexed to larger Czechoslovakia. It became a communist country, a satellite of the Soviet Union. His father realized there was no future for Jews there and at the first opportunity emigrated for Australia.

    ONE OF THE FIRST TALMIDIM IN AUSTRALIA

    His older brother, R’ Aharon Eliezer, was first sent to learn in Yeshivas Dushinksy in Yerushalayim. However, after a while he returned to Australia. At that time, there were no yeshivos in Australia and when the brothers met two Lubavitcher Chassidim, R’ Zalman Serebryanski and R’ Abba Pliskin, who suggested that they be the first talmidim in the yeshiva they wanted to start in Shepparton, the boys happily agreed.

    On Tuesday, 17 Cheshvan, R’ Zalman and R’ Abba went to Shepparton together with the two Herzog bachurim and they started the first Chabad yeshiva on the Australian continent. In a letter that R’ Zalman wrote to the Rebbe Rayatz two weeks later, on 28 Cheshvan, he reported that “the older one is learning Gemara Kesubos with my son Aharon, and R’ Betzalel [Wilschansky] learns Yoreh Deah with him, as per my request. R’ Abba Pliskin is learning Gemara Bava Metzia with the younger one.”

    R’ Shraga Feivish Herzog receiving a dollar from the Rebbe.

    R’ Shraga Feivish Herzog receiving a dollar from the Rebbe.

    The brothers were yirei shomayim but they had no Chassidic background and knew nothing about Chabad. R’ Abba began giving them introductory classes in Tanya and tried to slowly get them accustomed to the foundational principles of Chabad. R’ Abba, as his name indicates, was a loving father to his students, especially to the two orphaned Herzog brothers, and they loved him dearly.

    Shabbos morning, Yud Shevat 5710, as they learned Chassidus with R’ Pliskin, a picture of the Rebbe Rayatz suddenly fell to the floor and the glass shattered. R’ Shraga Feivish related that this caused them great anguish over Shabbos and only after Shabbos did they find out that sad news of the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz. That was the significance of the picture falling.

    The talmidim of the yeshiva benefited greatly from the constant presence of the three Chassidim: R’ Zalman, R’ Abba and R’ Betzalel. Every day, especially Shabbos, the three would spend a long time on davening with deep and quiet intensity in the mode of Chabad. Their learning was also with great chayus and the talmidim were greatly impacted by them. They felt that their learning in yeshiva wasn’t ordinary; everything was done with special chayus. The indirect influence on the talmidim penetrated their hearts and a year later they would in turn be able to infuse chayus into the new talmidim.

    THE CONDITION FOR NUSACH CHABAD

    Aside from learning Nigleh and Chassidus, young Shraga Feivish also absorbed hiskashrus to the Rebbe from those running the yeshiva. He began corresponding with the Rebbe. The first letter that we have in our archives is from Tishrei 5711 in which the Rebbe writes, “I read the p’n on erev Rosh Hashana at the tziyun and afterward in the room of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, where one goes to give pidyonos and for yechidus. One who gives [a gift to his fellow] needs to inform him. Surely you saw my general letter. Please let me know what was done with this in the general month that is the month of Tishrei; thanks in advance.

    The following letter is from a very special date, 9 Shevat 5711, the day before the Rebbe officially accepted the Chabad nesius. At the end of the letter, which was “general-personal,” but with a handwritten addition, after the Rebbe wrote the date, 9 Shevat 5711, he added before his signature, “with blessings for success in your learning and may you impact your surroundings.”

    Shraga Feivish was greatly encouraged by these words and since he was one of the first talmidim in the yeshiva, he felt it his obligation and privilege to actualize the Rebbe’s blessing and influence the new talmidim who joined the yeshiva.

    For Tishrei 5712, Shraga Feivish wanted to leave Australia and go and learn in Tomchei Tmimim in 770. He wrote to the Rebbe about this and was answered in a letter from the end of Tishrei 5712 in which the Rebbe added in his handwriting, “For now, continue learning where you are. It would be proper to learn the craft of shechita. If you firmly decide to  accept all matters of a Chabad Chassid, you may also change your nusach ha’tefilla to the nusach of Rabbeinu.

    In a letter from Kislev 5713 the Rebbe wrote to him again about the nusach ha’tefilla. After writing that “Your letters were received in their time as well as your p’n, and thanks in advance if you would inform me of your current learning schedule and about your involvement to broaden the Torah and aggrandize it and may Hashem grant you success,” the Rebbe added in his handwriting, “Surely you are continuing to daven nusach Chabad.” Before his signature the Rebbe added, “with blessings for the holiday and material and spiritual success.”

    GROWING DESIRE TO TRAVEL TO THE REBBE

    As the years passed, his desire to travel to the Rebbe grew and when he asked the Rebbe again, he was answered on 25 Iyar 5715 (free translation):

    “In response to your letter in which you write about your learning schedule in yeshiva and afterward with talmidim in the Talmud Torah, and you also mention your desire to travel to America.

    “According to the Gemara at the end of Kiddushin, they were not created except to serve me and I was created to serve my Maker, from which we understand that all matters of the world, not just his own, depend on the fulfillment of ‘and I was created to serve my Maker.’ And since G-d granted you success and chose you as his emissary to draw the hearts of the Jewish people to our Father in heaven, by learning Torah with students, and also to have a good influence on the yeshiva and Talmud Torah, one ought to think meanwhile only about how to enlarge your work as much as possible, especially when the yeshiva needs to enlist all available forces in order to grow, both in quantity and in quality, as much as possible. The aphorism of the Alter Rebbe to one of his Chassidim is known, that one ought to be concerned about what one is needed for and then G-d will take care of what one needs. This is the rule for each one of us.

    “Increase diligence in your own learning and increase in your holy work to expand the yeshiva, Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch in Melbourne, and through this will be increased the blessings of G-d and success in your personal matters. With blessings to receive the Torah with joy and pnimiyus.”

    The surprising appointment to shlichus.

    His yearning to travel to the Rebbe was so powerful that he wrote to the Rebbe again and on 9 Tammuz, the Rebbe wrote another letter to him on the subject (free translation):

    “In response to your letter of the first day of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, in line with what I wrote to you previously, you need to utilize every power and possibility for action in strengthening and enlarging Yeshivas Oholei Yosef Yitzchok in Melbourne, enlarging it both in quantity and quality, and also to see how all those whom you can impact – should also do likewise. And the merit of the many depends on you, and you need to look at this as it is, in truth, that now there is an enormous opportunity and possibility to establish the country as it ought to be, through step-by-step strengthening of matters Torah and mitzvos in that country, especially chinuch al taharas ha’kodesh. Since only beginnings are hard, surely you will see great success in this.”

    Although the Rebbe said no to his desire to leave Australia, the Rebbe added this in the margin:

    “As for visiting here for a few weeks so that afterward you will be able to work on all those matters with increased strength and enthusiasm, that depends on the ability to receive the requisite funds for travel.”

    THE “AUSTRALIANS” IN THE HAMODIA

    R’ Shraga Feivish raised the money and went to the Rebbe for the first time for Tishrei 5716. He went with his friends, R’ Aharon Serebryanski and R’ Shmuel Gurewicz.

    The three bachurim who arrived from distant Australia, but looked like Chassidishe bachurim in every way, amazed those who saw them. The newspaper Hamodia wrote at length about the Australians who arrived and brought regards from the Chabad revolution in Australia.

    Rabbi Uriel Zimmer, who wrote the article under the pen name, A. Gitlin, wrote in amazement about “the Australian bachurim” as quoted above.

    SURPRISE: A LETTER APPOINTING HIM SHLIACH OF THE REBBE

    When he had yechidus at the end of Tishrei and he asked permission to remain to learn in 770, the the Rebbe said his place was in Eretz Yisrael. R’ Shraga Feivish went to Eretz Yisrael in Cheshvan 5716 where he learned in Tomchei Tmimim in Lud and Toras Emes in Yerushalayim.

    Recently, a letter was discovered that he sent at that time to the Rebbe’s office in which he requested that they send him some volumes of Talks and Tales in Yiddish and English. The Rebbe wrote “fulfill his request” on the letter.

    In Iyar 5716, Eretz Yisrael was in a turmoil after the fedayeen terrorist attack on the vocational school in Kfar Chabad in which five students and their madrich were murdered. Anash there were tremendously disheartened and the Rebbe, who wanted to encourage them, said he would sent a group of shluchim.

    Shraga Feivish, who was learning in Toras Emes at the time, was as excited as everyone else about the arrival of the shluchim. Nothing prepared him for the moment that he received a letter from the Rebbe’s office (19 Tammuz 5716) in which he was informed that he was chosen to be the shliach of the Rebbe and representative of Anash in Australia:

    Pursuant to the sicha of the Rebbe shlita at the farbrengen of Shavuos this year, that young people – bachurim and young married men – of Anash go up to the Holy Land – may it be rebuilt and established by Moshiach Tzidkeinu speedily in our day –  for a few weeks (halachically, conditional on returning) during the upcoming summer and stay in Kfar Chabad. By doing so, they will also raise the spirits of Anash who live in the Kfar as well as the spirits of Anash in every location, and they should also visit Chabad institutions in Eretz Yisrael and the holy tziyunim, etc.

    “Yesterday, nine shluchim (the tenth will join them in a few days) went from here. On the way, they will be joined by another shliach of the Rebbe and a representative of Anash in Europe, and according to the schedule will arrive, G-d willing, in Lud on erev Shabbos kodesh, 5 Menachem Av.

    “According to the Rebbe’s instructions that there also be a shliach of his and representative of Anash from Australia, you were chosen and merit to be the Rebbe’s shliach and representative of Anash in Australia. The responsibility (and privilege) that this entails is understood.

    “Based on all this, obviously, upon their arrival in the Holy Land, you will immediately join them and conduct yourself according to their schedule and as they do in all matters until the day you leave the Holy Land.

    “Surely you will affirm this and inform us here; with thanks in advance.”

    You can imagine how surprised he was when he was suddenly informed that he was chosen by the Rebbe to be the Rebbe’s personal emissary and the representative of Anash in Australia!

    Indeed, on Friday, 5 Menachem Av, when the group of shluchim arrived in Eretz Yisrael, all Chabad Chassidim in Eretz Yisrael at the time came to welcome them at the airport. Among the welcoming party, of course, was R’ Shraga Feivish who, from the moment the shluchim landed, became part of the group.

    R’ Shraga Feivish in his later years

    In reviews that were published over the years about the travels of the group of shluchim in Eretz Yisrael, R’ Shraga Feivish’s name is mentioned in nearly every place they visited. In some of the places he farbrenged with Anash. In other places he spoke to the Nshei Chabad and also addressed young talmidim.

    After the group of shluchim returned to Beis Chayeinu, they submitted a letter to the Rebbe in which they wrote, “We, the undersigned, who merited to be shluchim of the Rebbe shlita, stand at the ready for the future too, to do and fulfill, with all of heart and soul and might anything the Rebbe demands of us, no matter what it is. We hope that this is understood even without this tzetel.”

    The letter was signed by eight of the shluchim who returned to New York. When the Rebbe received the letter, he added the names of the additional four shluchim including R’ Shraga Feivish Herzog.

    THE REBBE’S MAVEN

    R’ Shraga Feivish married Shoshana Hershtik of Tel Aviv in Elul 5719. Shortly after marrying, he received an offer to move to London. He himself wanted to live in New York near 770 but when he asked the Rebbe, he was told to move to London.

    At first he was an elementary school rebbi. He taught hundreds of children and became known as a veteran mechanech in London.

    Years later, he received a bracha from the Rebbe to go into business. He would ask the Rebbe before every deal he made. He once presented an excellent deal to the Rebbe for a group of houses and to his great surprise the Rebbe told him not to do it. Of course, he obeyed.

    Afterward, big problems with the project came to light and obeying the Rebbe saved him from a large financial loss.

    After many years in which he asked the Rebbe before every deal, the Rebbe told him in a yechidus: Now you are a ‘maven’ on your own and you don’t need to ask every time.

    Over the years, he went to the Rebbe often whether on charter flights from England or other opportunities. In 5727, which was a Hakhel year, he went to the Rebbe with his entire family, an unusual and expensive thing to do in those days.

    In 5745, when he went at the end of Adar for his son’s wedding in Crown Heights, the Rebbe asked the secretaries to locate him and ask him to be the Rebbe’s shliach to take matzos for Anash in England.

    In 5748, after the passing of the Rebbetzin a’h, Anash in London chose him to be their representative to travel to the Rebbe for nichum aveilim.

    Over the years he became one of the pillars of Chabad institutions, Lubavitch House, the mechina of the  yeshiva, Beis Chana, etc. Aside from his large donations, the directors of the institutions enjoyed consulting with him. In addition, he was the gabbai of the central shul of Lubavitch.

    R’ Shraga Feivish Herzog passed away on 19 Iyar 5782 and was survived by his wife and children: Yanki – Crown Heights; Shlomo – London; Yisroel – Nachalat Har Chabad; Chana Shochet – London; Shmuel – Montreal, and grandchildren.

    Beis Moshiach magazine can be obtained in stores around Crown Heights. To purchase a subscription, please go to: bmoshiach.org

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