Written by Raanan Isseroff
Tuesday night, in Ramat Aviv Gimmel, Dudu Fisher performed to honor Chabad of Ramat Aviv with a very special guest appearance. Dudu, who is an Emmy Award winner, has appeared on Broadway and sung for the Queen of England, last night graced the hall of Ramat Aviv Gimmel’s Rosen Community Center for a concert celebrating the release of the first Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, also known as the “Alter Rebbe”, from Jail on the 19th of Kislev in 1799.
The Alter Rebbe, who is the third Rebbe after the Baal Shem Tov, encapsulated the philosophy of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov in his famous book: “Tanya”. In a modular fashion, the Alter Rebbe teaches the secrets and basis of the esoteric teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. The Alter Rebbe was assigned the area of Lithuania and was tremendously successful in transforming the cream of Lithuanian Rabbonim to be Chassidim of Chabad. In response, a movement sprung up to protest the Alter Rebbe’s ideas.
In truth, this movement was not new and had existed already two or three generations previous even in the time before the Baal Shem Tov with a stated general theme of being against the “Chassidim”, without specific claims. As such, they called themselves the Misnagdim (literally: the “Againsters”) and as well, to make fun of those who followed the Baalei Shem they called the followers of the four Baalei Shem the “Chassidim”.
In the time of the Alter Rebbe, Vilna itself was quickly converting to be a Chassidic city. Half of the Vilna Council, its head and even the son-in-law of the Rav all joined the new movement. It was alive, fresh and full of life. These people weren’t the “bottom of the barrel”, rather they were the learned elite of the elite! As such, it’s possible that the opposition saw the ascendency of the Alter Rebbe’s popularity in Lithuania, and in Vilna itself, as an affront to their way of life.
Unfortunately, as is the case many times in history, the hotheads, were louder and wealthier than the more reasonable and understanding (and more educated) people. In their passion to eradicate this perceived threat, the Alter Rebbe was slandered to the authorities and was arrested and incarcerated for 53 days. Many people were beaten for being Chassidim, some were even beaten to death, Chas veshalom.
On the flip side, a number of these people, some of whom who were truly sincere people, when they later realized their mistake, they too became chassidim. One, wrote a letter outlining the mistake of those who fight against the Chassidim and from this letter came even more Chassidim.
After 53 days of interrogation, the Alter Rebbe was released and vindicated of all charges. Later in the war against Napoleon in 1812, he was awarded a medal of honor for his help against the French.
Dudu Fisher, has an interesting story, starting with his mother’s birth in Riga, Latvia in 1932. As he enjoys telling, his mother and grandmother’s life were both saved by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson when she went into a very prolonged and painful labor and was on the brink of death itself. A messenger was sent to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who was at that time in Riga, to ask a blessing for her to give birth normally.
The Rebbe gave his bracha, and as the messenger returned to the hospital, she found that the mother had just given birth. An event Dudu is very grateful for.
Dudu starred in the Hebrew production of Les Misérables playing its leading role of: Jean Valjean, in Israel from 1987-90. He later played the same role on Broadway during the winter of 1993-1994, and again at London’s West End, where he was invited to perform before Queen Elizabeth II. At both venues, Dudu made history as the first performer ever to be excused from performing Friday night and Saturday’s. A very unusual thing to happen in the then predominantly Jewish Theatre industry. As he tells the story, he was invited to perform in New York on Broadway, a very prestigious invitation. However, he had one small problem: He refused to work on Shabbos and Yom Tov. He was in a quandary and didn’t know what to do.
A friend suggested he ask the Lubavitcher Rebbe for advice.
“What?” he responded. “What can a Chassidic Rebbe possibly know about Broadway?”
The friend suggested that he had nothing to lose, so Dudu made an appointment with Rabbi Leibel Groner, the Rebbe’s secretary. At the meeting, Dudi was surprised to learn that the Lubavitcher Rebbe knew very well, what: “Les Miserables” was. He told the Rebbe the problem and received his blessing to be strong in his Yiddishkeit (Jewish Observance) and everything would be fine, which is what happened.
Also speaking for this historical evening were Rav Yitzchok Dovid Grossman, the Chief Rabbi (Rav HaRoshi) of Kiryat Melachi and Rabbi Sendi Wilshanski of Chabad of Milano.
The event was put together by Chabad of Ramat Aviv run by director Rabbi Chaim Yosef Ginsberg. Rabbi Ginsberg also heads the Yeshiva of Ramat Aviv, a yeshiva for Baalei Teshuva which has around 50 young men from all walks of life who have taken time off to discover their Jewish heritage. The yeshiva has produced hundreds of baalei teshuva and many families who have settled in every part of Eretz Yisrael, many of whom are today shluchim.
The yeshiva also boasts a Kollel run by Rav Shimon Gedassi, which gives semicha and is for advanced students.
In addition, the yeshiva runs a community outreach program. So at any time of the day, one will find local residents coming to visit, to sit in on a class join the minyan or just for a shmooze.
As if that’s not enough? There’s a Chabad men’s mikva and women’s mikva too. And at 45 Rechov Chaim Levanon, there’s a women’s baal teshuva yeshiva too! That’s right! The yeshiva boasts an attendance of over 30 women, who come from all over Israel to learn what is exactly Chassidus and how to live a truly Jewish life.
The Ramat Aviv Community is very supportive and welcoming to Chabad. Most of the local population is quite traditional, if not very religious. Many are children of formerly modern orthodox, many of whom are children or grandchildren of survivors.
Even the University of Tel Aviv, traditionally not a big supporter of anything Orthodox, has a surprisingly high number of American Orthodox Medical and other kinds of students.
The event was a big success, with Rabbi Ephraim Marzel singing, and Rabbi Dael Shakrit playing violin. There was no charge for the event and Dudu stole the show singing a number of songs from “Fiddler on the Roof” and in honor of his mother: “A Yiddisher Momma”. But he really stole the heart of the audience when he sang the song he sang for queen of England honoring Israel’s soldiers.
The Yeshiva of Ramat Aviv is currently accepting candidates to learn full time and can accommodate English speakers as well. To find out more call: 0528652111 or from America: 011972528652111.