Milan Here We Come: Mekushar, Shliach, Rav. (Part III)




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    Milan Here We Come: Mekushar, Shliach, Rav. (Part III)

    The life and times of veteran Milan rabbi and Shliach R’ Gershon Mendel Garelick a”h, as he related them himself in a series of interviews conducted with Beis Moshiach Magazine • Part III: Shlichus to Milan, Italy • “The Rebbe told me: ‘When you farbreng with balebatim, don’t take more than 3 L’Chaims, it might confuse them. But davening b’arichus won’t…”‘ • Full Article

    By Beis Moshiach Magazine

    The life and times of veteran Milan rabbi and Shliach R’ Gershon Mendel Garelick a”h, as he related them himself in a series of interviews conducted with Beis Moshiach Magazine

    Part III: Shlichus to Milan, Italy • “The Rebbe told me: ‘When you farbreng with balebatim, don’t take more than 3 L’Chaims, it might confuse them. But davening b’arichus won’t…”‘

    Click here for part one
    Click here for part two


    We were scheduled to leave on Sunday, 11 Kislev. Before that, the Rebbe sent a letter to Rabbi Binyamin Gorodetzky with details about our trip.

    On Shabbos, parshas Vayeitzei 10 Kislev 5719, the Rebbe farbrenged and said a special sicha about shlichus. Before I quote some portions of that farbrengen, I must stress that in those days the idea of shlichus was completely novel. No wonder then that all of 770 was buzzing when someone was going out on shlichus. There was excitement in the air.

    Going on shlichus was so unusual that even after the shliach left, the Rebbe, at a farbrengen, would indicate to one of his family or friends to say l’chaim for him.

    What the Rebbe said on the Shabbos before our trip was meant directly for us and it put the entire community of Chassidim who were present into uplifted spirits. This farbrengen is one of the most amazing and unique talks about the loftiness of going on shlichus and is most encouraging to those going on shlichus to distant parts. At that time especially, going on shlichus meant a serious “disconnect” from Beis Chayeinu.

    The Rebbe said, “When going on the shlichus of the Nasi Ha’Dor, C”K my father-in-law the Rebbe, even if, because of this, he needs to leave those places that are akin to the four cubits of Yitzchok, the beis medrash of Shem and Eiver and going to a distant place, he needs to know that it is not only for the benefit of the place but also for his personal benefit… for when he is here he doesn’t ‘take’ the ‘etzem’ of the Rebbe. Only when he goes on shlichus, far away, does he have the ‘etzem’ of the Rebbe.”


    We had yechidus on Sunday, right before the flight. In yechidus, the Rebbe said something about the parsha of the week and also spoke at length about how the purpose of shlichus is to bring closer the coming of Moshiach. There were also instructions as far as the direction that the shlichus should take.

    The Rebbe said, “When you farbreng with baalei battim, take l’chaim once, maybe twice, but no more than three times because this could confuse the baalei battim, but if you daven at length, this will never confuse them.”


    When we were in this yechidus, the Rebbe gave us sifrei Tanya so that when we arrived in Milan we would give them to friends of Chabad there. Then the Rebbe gave us another Tanya and said we couldn’t know whom we might meet during the flight and maybe we would meet someone to whom it would be worth giving a Tanya.

    When we left the yechidus, they made us a very enthusiastic “tzeischem l’shalom” near 770 with song and dance that went on for quite some time. Suddenly, someone shouted, “Nu, go already!” It turned out that the Rebbe was standing near the main door of 770 and waiting until I left. We immediately got into the car and left.

    Some young men accompanied us and at the airport too, we sang and danced. When we sat down on the plane, I was still very moved by the whole sequence of events of the yechidus and what followed. Still, I got up and began walking around the plane to look for Jewish faces in order to find the one the Rebbe referred to about the Tanya but when I looked around none of the passengers looked Jewish to me.

    I returned to my place and sat next to my wife and we both began to cry. We were just beginning the shlichus and already experiencing such concealment…

    An impressive looking man came over to us. He was wearing a yarmulka. He said to me in English, “I see that you are Lubavitch. Do you have a Tanya?”

    When I asked him why he needed a Tanya just now, he said that he had recently had yechidus with the Rebbe and the Rebbe told him to learn Tanya at every opportunity, especially on a plane which is a particularly suitable place to learn Tanya. The Rebbe told him, “If you don’t have a Tanya, you will find one.”

    “When I got on the plane,” said the man, “I began looking for a Tanya but did not find one until I got to you.”

    To me, this story was a reminder that the Rebbe was running the entire shlichus and we were just the Rebbe’s stick, that’s all.


    We did not take a direct flight to Milan; we traveled via Paris where we stayed for a few days. We arrived in Milan on Yud-Tes Kislev.

    The Rebbe constantly thinks of the shluchim. At the farbrengen that the Rebbe held for Yud-Tes Kislev, he told someone to say l’chaim for me.

    In the Sichos Kodesh 5719, you can read the following: The Rebbe told someone to take a full cup. “Perhaps you will take for Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik who arrived today in Milan and is celebrating Yud-Tes Kislev there. Where is a relative of his? Who is related to his family and is here? There is nobody closer? Nu, let it be so.”


    This wasn’t the only farbrengen where the Rebbe spoke about our shlichus. There was another Shabbos, parashas Vayishlach 5725, when the Rebbe said special things about my place of shlichus in Italy:

    It was shortly after the passing of Rebbetzin Chana. At that time, the Rebbe began saying “Rashi sichos” in which he explained a verse or several verses from the parsha according to Rashi’s commentary. The sicha I am going to tell you about was one of the first Rashi sichos. Not only was I present but the Rebbe told me to say l’chaim and spent time on a Rashi about Italy. The Rebbe referred to the transformation of Italy, Rome, before the coming of Moshiach.


    When we arrived in Italy, I sat down to write a letter to the Rebbe about everything that happened during our trip, our stay in Paris and what followed.

    In response to this letter, the Rebbe sent me a letter which said, “Enclosed is Chanuka gelt and it is as if it were kessef also in the material sense…”

    In those days, the Rebbe would give out Chanuka gelt on the fifth day of Chanuka to bachurim who learned Chassidus. He would give them a coin but the Rebbe sent us two single dollar bills.

    This is what the Rebbe added to his letter: kessef in the material sense, i.e. actual coins.

    [It’s interesting to note that the first letter that he received on shlichus ended with the words, “as is explained in Torah Ohr and several places in drushim on Sisa es Rosh,” and R’ Garelik passed away on the Shabbos when we read Parshas Shekalim, “Sisa es Rosh.”]

    Chabad pioneering work in Italy


    When the Garelik family arrived in Italy, they knew nobody. The Tzippel family welcomed them and showed the shluchim a nice two-room apartment, suitable for a newly-wedded couple. R’ Gershon Mendel did not want the apartment. They showed him another apartment which was very large but it was in terrible condition, very primitive, but this is the one R’ Gershon Mendel wanted. He walked around it and said, “It’s more u’foratzta,” and took the apartment.

    The apartment had two tables and fifty chairs so they could have farbrengens. Mrs. Garelik described the apartment to the Rebbe and wrote that in one room they held the meetings of Tzeirei Chabad and in another room they translated Talks and Tales, etc.

    The Rebbe once spoke about them and R’ Zalman Duchman said, “They have twelve rooms.” The Rebbe enjoyed the comment and said, “You all heard, and it is obvious to all that it is worthwhile to travel overseas, after preparing in Tomchei Tmimim for ten to fourteen years, in order to live in Milan in twelve rooms …”

    During the entire first year on shlichus, the Rebbe told various Chassidim to say l’chaim at farbrengens for Gershon Mendel and his wife.


    Not many know this interesting fact:

    In Italy, there is a family by the name of Tzippel that bought property, planted olive trees, and eventually manufactured their own olive oil.

    Every year, R’ Gershon Mendel would take this olive oil and bring it, sometimes in a regular container and sometimes in a silver container, for the Rebbe, for Chanuka. “M’shmanei ha’aretz” (from the fat of the land) – “Zu Italia shel Yavan” (this is Italy of Greece).

    In 5731, the Rebbe sent a thank-you letter to the Tzippel family in which he mentioned the oil, “They brought me as your emissaries a jar of olive oil that was produced on the land near the sea that you purchased and own.”


    R’ Gershon Mendel related:

    In 5725, I received a letter from the Rebbe dated, “30 Tishrei, the first day of Rosh Chodesh Mar Cheshvan.” The repetition in the date caught my attention.

    I was once invited to be mesader kiddushin for a couple who were marrying in some country in Europe. I arranged with the parents that I would be the mesader kiddushin but all the rest of the details should be prepared by them before I arrived.

    When I arrived at the hall, I looked at the kesuba where it said the date and was not pleased. There were some rabbis present, not just Lubavitcher Chassidim and they did not understand what the problem was. I said there was a Shulchan Aruch and Pri Chadash about this date.

    A short, interesting discussion ensued. When I saw that this made no impression on them, I told them that this was actually a point made by the Rebbe in his letter to me on this date, “30 Tishrei, the first day of Rosh Chodesh Mar Cheshvan.”

    Needless to say, this made a kiddush shem Lubavitch.


    Today running summer camps for children is the norm. Over the years, Jewish camps that provide chinuch al taharas ha’kodesh have done wonders. There are shluchim, askanim, educators who themselves run summer camps who took their first steps in the world of Judaism in these summer camps.

    What is known today was not so widespread back then. In those days, not a single camp existed on the European continent.

    In 5719, their first year on shlichus, they decided to open a camp for children. The camp was very successful.

    The Rebbe encouraged the camp to an unusual degree. He sent letters and telegrams and even young men to visit the camp. The highlight of the Rebbe’s involvement was a highly unusual sicha he said at the Yud-Gimmel Tammuz farbrengen of 5719. The Rebbe was effusive in his praise for the camp that was founded despite the difficulties involved:

    “On Chag HaGeula, 13 Tammuz this year [5719], a Gan Yisrael summer camp was opened, the first on the European continent, in Italy. This camp was founded by Rav Gershon Mendel Garelik (with all the titles that are due him) along with his wife, the Rebbetzin (with all the titles that are due her):

    “This one lone couple traveled there and they set up there a school for boys and a school for girls, organized shiurim for adults, and something that in all of Europe, including the Chassidim in Europe all the way up to the shpitz Chabad couldn’t establish, they accomplished.

    “An American-born girl and a Russian-born boy and ‘Hashem sits and makes matches,’ had them meet in the United States and then sent them, as it were, to ‘Italy of Greece,’ and they started all those things – and there is more to come – to the point of ‘uforatzta west and east and north and south!’

    “There was not even a penny to buy the summer camp and they had to buy it with money that they borrowed. There were no children and it was necessary to work with ‘a strong hand’ and ‘a great hand’ and ‘an upraised hand’ and gather children and the children are now full of joy as are their parents.

    “Chazal say, ‘one of you is exiled to Barbaria and one of you is exiled to Samatria’ – and the intention is that by being exiled to a certain place it is like everyone traveled there and accomplished that which needed to be executed, according to the mission of supernal providence.

    “And the avoda mentioned above serves as clear proof to this. The summer camp is in the vicinity of Rome and Chazal say ‘Tzor was not filled except through the destruction of Yerushalayim’ – which refers to the kingdom of Rome.

    “As said, they began on 13 Tammuz 5719, a Shemitta year, ‘Gan Yisrael’ – in order to carry out the spreading of the wellsprings, by way of the children of Gan Yisrael and through them to their parents. May all the young ones see and do and travel to places they are sent.”


    R’ Gershon Mendel Gareli had yechidus over a hundred times and this was in addition to two hundred letters which the Rebbe wrote to him over the years.

    Most of these yechiduyos were after he had already gone on shlichus to Italy. In those days, the way it worked was that when the shliach arrived in 770, he was received in yechidus. This is why he was always accepted immediately upon arrival and sometimes again before he went home.


    R’ Gershon Mendel traveled to the Rebbe hundreds of times. When someone with a problem came to him, he would say, “The best advice is to go to the Rebbe and present your problem to him.” Sometimes, he would go along with the person but he never went in to the Rebbe with him. Sometimes, when the person did not want to go, R’ Garelik would go and present the problem. Since people don’t lack for problems and it isn’t hard to convince them to bring them to present to the Rebbe, he went to the Rebbe very often.

    Once, a certain American rabbi was going to be in Zurich and R’ Garelik was involved in the matter for which this rabbi was traveling. The rabbi saw the Rebbe before he left and at the end of the yechidus, the Rebbe said about R’ Garelik, “Check if he is in Europe. With him, even on Rosh Hashana it is not written where he will be during the year …”


    Even during the years when yechidus was discontinued, R’ Garelik tried to go to the Rebbe at every opportunity. He was particular about going every year for Chof Av, the yartzeit of the Rebbe’s father.

    One year, people in his community insisted that he remain in Milan at that time and it looked as though he would not be able to go.

    When he felt that he could not forgo being with the Rebbe on this great day, he took his son Levi Yitzchok (a child at the time) and went to the Rebbe. As they arrived, the Rebbe was just entering the hallway and when he noticed them he said, “A yashar koach for coming.”


    R’ Garelik related:

    One year, I was in the camp in the summer and on the morning of 12 Tammuz I knew that the Rebbe would farbreng that evening. I did not see how I could possibly go to the Rebbe. I thought, at least I’ll go to the airport to see how Chassidim are going … At least that will be part of the trip to the Rebbe …

    I arrived at the terminal and began walking around. Suddenly, a local wealthy person met me and asked, “Rabbi, where are you going?” I said, “I’m going to New York.”

    He asked me: Do you have a ticket already?

    I said: No.

    To my surprise, he said: I didn’t buy a ticket yet either. Come, let’s buy tickets. He bought a ticket for himself and for me and we boarded the plane.

    Thus, from the desire to see how others are going I myself went to the Rebbe.


    In one yechidus, the Rebbe asked R’ Garelik whether he had ordered kosher food for the flight. The Rebbe said that even if he had no need for it, it was important that the airline know that there were people who needed kosher food and it was worth ordering kosher food and to be busy with it as though he was eating it.

    After that, R’ Garelik always ordered a kosher meal although he never ate it because of his standards regarding the kashrus of food.


    R’ Garelik related:

    One year, at the beginning of Elul, when I was at the Rebbe, a rumor spread that a large charter flight from Eretz Yisrael would be coming for Tishrei with many Chassidim. Since this was no small thing in those years, it was only natural that everyone was talking about it. This created an atmosphere of “coming to the Rebbe.”

    I was supposed to return to Italy. I was about to take a taxi from 770 to the airport and as it was my regular practice to take leave and receive a blessing from the Rebbe’s mother, I thought of doing so this time also but I felt bad. Here, all the Chassidim were coming to the Rebbe and I was leaving.

    I stood there outside of 770 and suddenly (this is not the place to explain how), I was facing the Rebbe in his room.

    The Rebbe looked at me and with a big smile he said: Nu, this is the inyan of “the king in the field and displaying a smiling face to all …”

    When I left the Rebbe’s room, I was overwhelmed by the royal revelation that I experienced. I thought: We always learn in Chassidus the mashal of the “king in the field” who displays a smiling face, and all the explanations, and it all took place before my eyes. It was not just another explanation in a maamar Chassidus but a tangible experience of the revelation of the king in the field who displays a smiling countenance …


    The following happened a few days before Rosh Hashana 5725. I was returning to Italy and on my way to the airport I went to Rebbetzin Chana to bless and be blessed for a good year.

    She offhandedly said, “Look, it’s almost Yom Tov and I don’t have any wine in the house.”

    Since I was on my way to the airport and the taxi was waiting for me, I did not pay this much attention and I went on my way.

    As I sat on the plane it suddenly struck me. What did I do? Does the Rebbetzin need to ask?! With one hint I ought to have run to buy wine. I felt terrible. Since then, every year before Rosh Hashana, I think of this. Those were her final words to me.


    Shortly after the passing of the Rebbetzin’s mother on 6 Tishrei 5725, I had a brief yechidus.

    In general, when having yechidus, I would write my personal situation in avodas Hashem, about matters that required fixing. At a time like this, I did not present reports about my work (I did this at other times, through the secretaries.) but this time, since it was after the passing of Rebbetzin Chana, I thought it might not be the right time to write about my spiritual state. Better I should bring joy to the Rebbe with good news about positive activities.

    When I submitted my letter to the Rebbe, the Rebbe read the reports and said: As for what you didn’t write, you should go to the Ohel.

    Hearing this, I felt that the Rebbe was hinting that one cannot hide from writing about personal matters.


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    Milan Here We Come: Mekushar, Shliach, Rav. (Part III)