Among the teachings of the Rebbe, the last and current in the seven-generation dynasty of Lubavitcher Rebbes, is that rather than dwell on something bad, to turn it into a force for good. In other words, transform the negative into the positive.
That is the intention of Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, director of Chabad of Rehavia, which operates out of storefront premises that closely neighbor the Great Synagogue and World Mizrahi headquarters. The managements of both cooperate with Goldberg when he has an overflow congregation as do the managements of several other synagogues in Rehavia and Nahlaot.
Goldberg, who has held his present position for 12 years, has a regular congregation of 80-90 people, and a much larger congregation on the High Holy Days. During Passover and Rosh Hashanah, he provides free meals for the poor and the elderly, and also did so during lockdowns.
Just under three weeks ago, at a little past midnight between Saturday and Sunday, someone tried to enter the Chabad premises, not by breaking the glass on the window or door but by forcing the lock. A security camera caught the culprit in action, which is how Goldberg was able to pinpoint the time.
The area is very close to Paris Square where thousands of demonstrators congregate on a frequent basis. Sometimes there are so many that the crowds stretch nearly all the way to Keren Kayemet Street on one side and halfway down Agron Street on the other.
For this reason, police security cameras are posted on or near the rooftops of all buildings in the vicinity. A private detective with connections to Chabad told Goldberg that the police would never show him the evidence of what actually took place, though they did arrive on the scene soon after they were called on Sunday morning, and though Goldberg has filed an official complaint.
It wasn’t just a simple matter of someone trying to break in. The person responsible also sprayed the door and window with some kind of dangerous chemical substance. When he arrived for morning prayers that Sunday morning, Goldberg noticed that there was a yellowish-brown film on the glass, but thought maybe someone had spilled coffee and did not pay much attention.
In opening the door, his hands apparently touched the surface. Later, during prayers, he subconsciously rubbed his eyes, felt a searing sensation, and then it was as if the whole area around his eyes was on fire. He couldn’t open his eyes, and the pain was such that he couldn’t sit in one place, but ran up and down the external passageway at the side of the building which leads to where prayers and lessons are conducted.
Rabbi Leibl Diamond, who works with Goldberg, called Magen David Adom, which administered first aid and took him by ambulance to Shaare Zedek Medical Center, which though only a short drive away, seemed to be at the end of the earth. Goldberg, the son of a physician, was terrified he was going blind.
Fortunately, medical staff were able to rinse out the chemical content from his eyes and give him soothing drops. Happily, his sight has not been impaired, but he has to go for check-ups over the next few months.
SOMEONE, HE doesn’t know who exactly but presumes it was one of his congregants, was able to convert a scene from the video of a security camera to produce a blurred image in which the face of the culprit is not easily identifiable. Yet the person’s build and the body language offer important clues, though Goldberg has no idea why anyone would want to break in or cause him any harm.
Meanwhile, Goldberg has been busy drumming up support for the writing and inauguration of a new Torah scroll, which he calls Shmira Torah or Torah Guardian. He is hopeful that when he is ready for the launch. the venture will be supported by the chief rabbis of Israel and Jerusalem, directors of Chabad centers from all over the country and prominent community figures, to raise awareness of the value of security.
What was he up against? The strength of the chemical peeled away the paint around the lock on the Chabad center front door and it could have very easily blinded him, had he not been treated so quickly.
Bearing in mind that people dressed in the style of the ultra-Orthodox have in recent weeks been physically attacked both in Jerusalem and Jaffa, Goldberg, when asked whether he is frightened, finds it difficult to answer. “There are many questions,” he replies. He’s not exactly sure how he feels, but if his painful experience has prompted the writing of another Torah scroll, he is at least turning it into a force for good.
Another thing he plans to do is launch a mezuzah campaign throughout Rehavia and Nahlaot on a street-by-street basis. Whenever misfortune strikes, it is a custom in Chabad to examine the mezuzot in the home of the person affected. More often than not, at least one mezuzah is found to be flawed, in which case it is replaced by a new mezuzah scroll and fortunes hopefully start to improve. Replacements and additional mezuzot will be sold to householders at a considerable discount.
Meanwhile, Goldberg has no intention of letting the police close the file. No one from the police has been in touch with him since the incident, but he’s going to make it his business to be regularly in touch with them, not just for the sake of solving the case, but in the knowledge that if it happened to him, it could happen to anyone.
If the culprit is just one person on a rampage, Goldberg wants him caught before he does any more damage.