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Giving Our Heart & Soul
By Menachem Ziegelboim

Every summer for 19 years, a bar mitzva celebration was held in Kfar Chabad for the children of the war heroes who had died in Israel’s wars * Thousands of people participated in these moving events * Behind this project was a woman named Shifra Golombovitz of Kfar Chabad * For the first time, Beis Moshiach tells the full story behind the amazing work done on behalf of widows and orphans.*
Part 2 of 3 (Click here for Part 1)

When you speak to Shifra about the families, she remembers each woman and all the children in detail. She recalls names, families, where they live, as though she just visited them yesterday. Shifra says that her strongest connection is with the widows of the Six-Day War, although over thirty years have passed since then. When I asked whether these women managed to settle down and rebuild their homes, she points out something interesting. "To date, more Yom Kippur War widows have married than the widows of the Six-Day War."

How did the Yom Kippur War affect the widows of the Six-Day War?

"Very badly. They wanted to forget, but it started all over again. Again there were funerals and burials. They saw the unfortunate women and sympathized with them, knowing full well what Shabbos would be like for them alone, and how they would observe the holidays with only their children. It was terribly painful.

"It was really tragic in those families where not only was the husband killed, but the son, who in the meantime had grown up and been drafted, was killed too."

Are you still in touch with the women today?

"Yes. Many women are still in touch with me. This very Shabbos a friend will be coming. Three weeks ago I attended the wedding of one of the war orphans who is named after his father. I made his bar mitzva over ten years ago."

* * *

Shifra’s work widened in scope and came to include the mass bar mitzva celebration for the children of war heroes (not orphans, but children of war heroes). The first bar mitzva took place in the summer of 1968, a year after the Six-Day War. "It was held in Heichal HaPe’er in Tel Aviv," recalls Rabbi Itche Gansburg, who initiated the project. "There were 16 bar mitzva boys and we invited the generals and senior I.D.F. men like Rechavam Zevi, Ariel Sharon, Yisroel Tal and many others. It was a very impressive event.

I remember something interesting from that first bar mitzva celebration. Herschel Chitrik was one of the guests. He was so overwhelmed by the event that he gave each boy a diamond. He subsequently received a letter of thanks from General Moshe Dayan.

"I remember that the most inspiring moment was when the children were sitting at their places and each one of them said l’chaim. The children wholeheartedly wished, "halevai v’nizkeh l’Geula" (if only we merit the Redemption). It was so impressive and moving."

It had been suggested that the children go abroad to celebrate their bar mitzva, but the Rebbe sharply negated that idea. The Rebbe’s sensitivity for mothers and their children can be seen in this letter: "The issue in question is the war orphans. It is not appropriate for orphans to leave their homes for a period of time, for by doing so the widows’ feeling of loneliness will be exacerbated, and in many instances, that of the brothers and sisters, too."

Shifra: A ten-year-old child already thinks about his bar mitzva celebration. He dreams about his new suit and how he’ll stand there and receive checks and the cameras will flash – and then suddenly there is war. His father leaves and doesn’t come back. There’s no father and the world is changed. He says, "Ima, I want a bar mitzva in a hall. Like everybody else." And the mother says, ‘Who has the energy or the patience?’

"That’s why we thought of making a collective bar mitzva for the children of war heroes. We told them it was not to substitute for an aliya la’Torah (when they actually turn 13), but it would be instead of a private party at a hall.

"We invited all the Who’s Who, such as Moshe Dayan and the other commanders who came to honor the fallen soldiers. They felt it was an honor they could give to someone who died al kiddush Hashem. Newspapers from around the world reported this unique event."

When the organizers began planning the celebration, they quickly realized that it would be impossible to put all the children from different cities on one dais. The children wouldn’t know each other and would not feel comfortable. Plus, you can’t imbue the children with Yiddishkeit at a party. After thinking it over, we decided to have a camp for them for a few days prior to the event.

The boys were invited to a four-day camp for the purposes of orientation and integration. Each year we extended the amount of time, until camp was twelve days long. It was not easy to coordinate this camp.

Shifra: "It’s almost impossible to bring a boy from Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov and a boy from Yerushalayim together at Kfar Chabad. One mother said she didn’t want her child to be influenced by nonreligious children. A boy from Ashkelon didn’t want to come for personal reasons. A child from a kibbutz didn’t want to come because he refused to wear a yarmulka, but I wanted him to participate.

"I decided to make house calls in order to convince the mothers to send their boys. Right after Pesach I began going from house to house, and I felt the Rebbe’s bracha with every step."

There were many complicated issues that arose. Sometimes extra wisdom and sensitivity were required to get to the root of the problem and to solve it effectively. Shifra apparently dealt with it all successfully.

"I once went to a family that lived at Kibbutz Dor, near Afula. The mother had remarried and I heard the boy call her husband ‘Abba.’ I decided that it wouldn’t be to the child’s benefit to be part of a group of orphans. The parents said it was alright and they understood my position.

"When I left, the parents walked me out, and out of the child’s earshot they said, ‘We heard what you have to say and you’re right, but we really want him to join the camp because he’s not getting along with his father. We want him to see that this is normal, and the children may be able to help him.’ I agreed and that’s what we did."

Were there women who had remarried, settled down, and wanted to forget?

Shifra responded emphatically, "People don’t want to forget. They want to go on, but not to forget."

Would a woman who, for example, had remarried five years ago, send her child to the camp?

"Yes. I’ll give you an interesting example. Once before going to the Rebbe, I wrote to the mothers (not everybody had a telephone) that I was going and that I would be happy to take their Pa’Nim. Many women responded.

"One of the women sent me a torn paper with scribbled writing in pencil, which said, ‘Shifra, tell the Rebbe that I can’t be alone anymore and I want to get married.’ I didn’t think it was proper to give the Rebbe a paper that looked like that. It wasn’t respectful or nice. Then I said to myself that the Rebbe is a Rebbe and he accepts everything.

"Afterwards I received a paper with the Rebbe’s answers to all the women. To this woman the Rebbe had written, ‘A blessing for a good shidduch soon, in a good and auspicious time.’ I went back to Eretz Yisroel and decided to go to each woman and bring her the Rebbe’s answer.

"I arrived at that woman’s house and said to her, ‘Rochele, you have an answer from the Rebbe.’ She was in the middle of something and with difficulty she turned to hear the answer. I told her that the Rebbe had given her a bracha for a good shidduch soon. One month later she married a man who had never been married before, who cared for her very much. Today they live in Moshav Balforia and they have four children together.

"One time after giving birth, our activists at the hospital suggested that she light candles. She answered, ‘Do you know who my shadchan was? The Lubavitcher Rebbe.’ The woman asked whether she could send her second son to our camp, even though he had a father, because ‘all his life he heard stories about Chabad and he really wants to come to your camp.’ I agreed, and years later both boys became baalei teshuva.

Rabbi Gansburg: I remember how I wanted to organize a women’s committee of I.D.F. widows. The Rebbe negated the idea, saying that these women had to remarry as soon as possible.

Shifra kept in touch not only with the mothers but with the children, too. They loved her dearly. Shifra has many stories about regards she has received from the children, who over the years became men, some of them quite distinguished.

"I recently received regards from a businessman in Bangkok, Yisroel Yored, who was one of the bar mitzva boys. I’ve received regards from Chile as well as other countries. They don’t forget me," Shifra says with a smile.

Did a boy who came to camp feel the impact of his loss?

"Of course. He would want to go to a soccer game, and who could take him? There would be a parents’ meeting at school and everybody’s father would go except his. It’s a terrible situation. Boys especially feel the lack of a father, for a father is everything to them.

"When the boy turns 13 his mother subconsciously begins to throw more responsibilities on him, which used to be the husband’s. If there’s a short circuit to fix, she asks him to do it, but the boy wants to play with his friends. He wants to remain a child, but his mother gives him the responsibilities of an adult.

"In ‘67 they kept telling the kids, "Your father was a hero." In the Yom Kippur War they weren’t heroes anymore, they were just the "fallen." In the war of Peace in Galilee, the father had become a military mistake, as the government had sent his father to an unnecessary front.

Shifra adopted not only children of war heroes, but orphans of soldiers who died in road accidents or work-related accidents. At a certain point, people at the Ministry of National Social Security asked that she also get involved with children of those killed in terrorist incidents.

"We took them all," says Shifra. She has many examples of how sensitive the children were. "During camp we had a boy who would constantly climb out the window. He made me crazy. Once when we went on a trip, the child stood near the driver the entire time and refused to sit down. Afterwards I realized that it was because his parents had been killed on the highway.

"You needed a tremendous amount of sensitivity in order to understand why the child did what he did, and we’re talking about more than one child."

Shifra devoted herself to the families, above and beyond the call of duty. One year when they held the camp for the bar mitzva boys, one boy from Kibbutz Chemdiya couldn’t attend because he was sick. The mother called Shifra and asked her to make him a private bar mitzva celebration. Shifra willingly agreed and invited the woman to Kfar Chabad, but the mother said there was another boy at the kibbutz who wanted to celebrate his bar mitzva, too. Shifra rose to the occasion and said, "You know what? We’ll come to you for Shabbat." Shifra loves to recall that Shabbos, saying, "I never had such a nice Shabbos."

The program for the camp was planned taking into account the many sensitive issues involved. The children did not sleep together, but were placed with families throughout the Kfar, where they were royally welcomed. The children made friends with other boys their age and learned how to live a healthy life.

"During camp the children opened up among themselves, which helped free them from their depression," says Shifra. There might have been a boy who enjoyed singing or playing, but the home atmosphere wouldn’t allow him to do so. When he would see his friend singing or playing, he’d give himself permission to do the same. There may have been a boy who had gone to the cemetery and did not feel the need to cry and mourn. He wouldn’t dare to say that to his mother who cries all the time, but he could share the truth with a friend."

Each morning of camp, Shifra got up and spent the entire day into the night with the children. She participated in every game and accompanied them on every trip, as hard as it was. She was always at their side.

These camps were creative workshops for Jewish life. They did not achieve results easily; only after a huge amount of difficult work. Shifra and her staff of counselors (the Rebbe once said to make sure they were yerei Shamayim) did their work devotedly, drawing the hearts of the children to their Father in Heaven.

"No, we wouldn’t force or even coax them to do mitzvos," explains Shifra, who faithfully kept to her aim of not talking about Yiddishkeit. "From a religious standpoint, the children did what they pleased. We never told a child to put on t’fillin or to wear tzitzis. We taught them what tzitzis are, and then we showed them how to tie them. At that point the child was ready to ask for tzitzis himself."

"There was a boy who refused to daven for an entire week. Once, when we went to visit an army base he suddenly opened up and davened.

"We once had a camp in which we focused on learning about the Baal Shem Tov. You know the Baal Shem Tov davened in the forest. We took the children at 5:00 a.m. to the park in order to daven. A boy who didn’t want to daven in the camp building agreed to daven among the trees. And how!

"Each year we went to the Kotel to daven, but there were children who did not want to daven. A child may have feared being seen by a relative, or any other reason (you have to remember that there were children from ardent anti-religious kibbutzim).

"We took the boys to Yerushalayim at 12:00 p.m. and during the night we stayed at Yeshivas Ateres Kohanim, where we had contests and games. Then we went for a walk on the walls of the Old City. At 2:00 a.m. we stood in front of Shaar HaRachamim. We continued the tour until dawn, and then arrived at the Kotel.

"At 4:30 a.m., facing the Kotel, no child was embarrassed. They all opened up. You had to see how their hearts opened up.

"That’s how we found different ways of instilling Yiddishkeit, but our goal was always to have it come from them, not from us."

(Click here to continue.)


Boys being called up to the Torah at camp





When the children were sitting at their places and each one of them said l’chaim, they wholeheartedly wished, "if only we merit the Redemption."







"At 4:30 a.m., facing the Kotel, no child was embarrassed. They all opened up. You had to see how their hearts opened up."



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