By Chavie Block
We are each brought up with certain beliefs, but it really helps when we are surrounded by those who share our beliefs; it undoubtedly makes us so much prouder. My whole life I’ve been taught and instilled with ideas that I know to be true but they were never as real to me as when I recently went on a trip to Russia and Israel. I can definitely say that it actualized, instilled and brought out in me the pride that I always had. After this trip, my beliefs have become so much more real and they mean so much more to me.
I’ll be honest with you, I was born a Chabad girl, and it affected my life in many ways; customs, ways of living etc. And of course I was always proud to be Chabad, but when I look back at myself I ask, was I really? I was always happy to be Chabad and I always felt a connection to Chabad and the Rebbe, but I still can’t figure out if it was just because I was born into it, or because I truly felt a personal connection. When I travelled to the White Russian town of Lubavitch, where the movement flourished for more than a century, I knew the real answer – because it was me. I was brought up with it, it was automatically instilled and ingrained in me so when I went back to my roots to Lubavitch, it made it so much more real and personal for me.
Let me give you a glimpse into the town Lubavitch, as it is today… there is pretty much nothing except for a few odd houses here and there, a deserted post office, and of course the graves, Kevarim, of The Tzemech Tzedek, Reb Menachem Mendel, the Rebbe Maharsh, Reb Shmuel, the Alter Rebbes wife, Rebbetzin Sterna, the wife of the Miteller Rebbe, Rebbetzin Shaina and lastly the Tzemech Tzedeks wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka.
In addition, there is a house that’s like a Chabad House. The Rebbe wanted something established there, so that when people come to Lubavitch there would be a place for them to relax, eat and have a hassidic celebration, a Frabrengen. In the main room, all four walls were covered from top to bottom with hassidic photos. On one wall there was a massive mural of the town of Lubavitch as it was when the Rebbeim lived there. Studying the picture, we could actually understand how the town of Lubavitch worked, we could visualize the grounds of the market place, the houses, Yeshivas and so on; it was as if we were physically there. On another wall there was a massive display of photos of elder hassidim that studied in Tomchei Temimim, the famed Lubavitcher Yeshiva. I was so overwhelmed when I spotted my great grandfather – Reb Eli Nochum Sklar, a very close hassid of the Freidker Rebbe and the Rebbe, who can be seen standing behind the Rebbe in many of Rebbe’s Farbrengen videos. He is the man with the white beard and glasses, who sits directly behind the Rebbe… I felt truly and earnestly proud, it brought it all into perspective for me. I realized that this was my Yichus, my heritage, it is what made me and it simply blew me away.
I guess you could say it’s a shame that I only felt this way, after I travelled to Lubavitch, but then again it is totally understandable. It is hard for us – the younger generation of Lubavitch to feel the way our fathers did since we never saw or had the Rebbe in our lives. This trip gave me a new appreciation for being a Chabad hassid and that made my whole trip worthwhile….
After a remarkable trip to Lubavitch, and five days in Moscow, I was finally reunited with our home, Eretz Yisrael. I was there for an entire month, and the feeling I got as soon as I stepped onto that holy ground was indescribable… Not only was it my first time there, but it was a time of war and that makes a huge difference. You could definitely feel Jewish pride everywhere you went; all you could feel in the air was love.
I really felt a connection to every Jew, after all we are Keish Echad Beleiv Echad, like one man with one heart, and we are all brothers. My highlight was our last Shabbat in Hevron, singing “Anchanu maminim Bnei mamnim,” “Am Yisroel Chai,” Mishemaamin Lo mefached.” (We are believers; the People of Israel lives; he who believes does not fear – popular religious songs).
The joy and pride I felt was indescribable. We were literally singing, we are not afraid, we believe in Hashem, and He will always protect us no matter what, I sincerely felt it with all my heart.
I might have even taken that feeling a bit too far. When there was a siren, and we had to run off the bus, go to the side of the road and duck our heads, all in a matter of seconds, and boy was that siren loud, I wasn’t even scared. You may see this as close-mindedness, and I guess it could be, but when girls were freaking out, which was completely understandable, I couldn’t understand them. I said to myself, if the Torah said that Eretz Yisroel is the safest place in the world, if G-d said Eretz Yisroel is the safest place in the world, and this is His chosen land, why is anyone afraid!?
As you can see, the security,Bitachon, and faith, Emunah, I felt In Israel, was nothing like I had ever felt before, and may I add, at that specific siren, and unfortunately we had a few, we heard a loud, loud boom, to say the least… But it doesn’t hit you, everyone in Eretz Yisroel lives normally, you would walk down the streets and people are still smiling, going to work, continuing with their day to day lives, it’s incredible, but I also understand them. It’s a feeling you get that you can only experience when you are there, it’s amazing.
We were fortunate. Thank G-d, our trip went smoothly and our schedule did not change. We spent extraordinary Shabbatot in Meron, Yerushalyim, Kfar Chabad and Hevron, we toured Israel from top to bottom, north to south, you name it, and we were there. We toured Ir David, Chizkiyahu’s tunnels and Bar Kochba’s caves. Many of our hikes retraced the steps of our ‘Abba and Imma’, as our tour guide would say. We saw remains of ancient synagogues and houses on the high desert mountains.
Every place we visited had many stories, and deep meaning attached to it. Eretz Yisroel is covered in richness. It made me feel so proud to be a Jew. Each morning I would wake up, and pinch myself that I was in Eretz Yisroel; the holiness felt for the place was like no other. I literally thanked Hashem every single day for making me a Jew. We don’t realize how lucky we are, how special we are to belong to such a nation – the chosen nation. Our rich ancestry is filled with courage, and bravery – without them we wouldn’t be here today. They fought for us, they believed in us, and they did it all because they believed in Hashem. It’s incredible to see such a people, who suffered so much, yet still believe and are going strong. And that’s us, we are those people –how cool is that!
It’s amazing that I experienced all these things, learned so much, and felt such intense feelings for our land, our people, and for being Chabad. But I have to take something from it, and bring it back home with me. And what about people that aren’t as lucky as myself and won’t have such experiences, does it mean that they won’t be able to have the connection I have with G-d and Judaism?
The recurring theme in all these experiences is that I was surrounded by people that shared my ideals and felt as I did. This made me realize that your surroundings have a huge impact on you, and on the way you behave. It’s hard for us Australians; we literally live down under, physically far from everyone and everything. It’s not like we can just hop on a plane to Israel when we need a boost of inspiration, it’s expensive and it’s a long journey… However that is why we need to work for it and make ourselves feel that way.
We all have goals and aspire to things, but what we all should do, is to surround ourselves with an environment that fosters and encourages our ideals and beliefs. We need to surround ourselves with goodness and kindness, with Torah and Mitzvos, this is a time to work on ourselves.We need to work on it for ourselves and find the Holiness that is right at our front step. We must work for what we have, and what we have is gold. We need to make it real for ourselves, and not just be in it because we were born into it. We need to be in it because we want to be in it.
The writer is a 15 year-old girl who lives in Melbourne, Australia.