Weekly Story: We are Active

Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon

As we celebrated Hei Teves, we are reminded of the sicha the Rebbe said after maariv on the eve of the 12th of Teves. In that sicha, the Rebbe pointed out that it is thirty days before Yud Shevat, and therefore everyone should inform him [the Rebbe] of his/her activities each ten days, in regard to their increase in learning Torah and giving Tzedokah.

The Rebbe stressed no one is exempt from this, and each person should discuss their situation with their Rav/Mashpia on how to proceed.

In a farbrengen on Hei Teves, this point was also brought out. In the court decision, the Judge pointed out that the question he had to decide was “Is Lubavitch active” and he personally saw that it was active day and night.

The question therefore is when we celebrate Didan Notzach, the question we have to ask is; what does it mean that Lubavitch is active? Does it mean that my family member, friend etc., who are on shlichus are active and I actively support their activities, but personally not involved the the peulos and mivtzoyim or does it mean that although I may not be an official shliach, I am still active in the Rebbe’s peulos, a certain amount of time each and every week. I can give a shiur on Jnet in the zechus of its founder Yudi, or every week put tefillin on a few Jews, etc.

This reminded me of the Release Time Program. It is related that the Rebbe noticed a bochur (some say it was Reb Yitzchok Shpringer a”h) sitting in the beis hamidrash and learning Wednesday at three in the afternoon. The Rebbe asked him why he is not participating in Release Time. He [who had just arrived from Europe] replied, I can’t speak a word of English, so what could I do with the children?

The Rebbe replied, “You can help giving out the candies and making with them a brocha.” In other words, although he had a valid excuse, the Rebbe said he is not excused from this duty. So too as Lubavitchers and chassidim of the Rebbe we have a duty to fulfill. Find a mivtzah of the Rebbe that you can become active in.

With that said, I will now present a draft of a chapter I am working on concerning the biography of the Frierdiker Rebbe. I should note certain points are left open as I wanted to verify the details, and perhaps you can help me fill them in.

If anyone has any knowledge about the ten years the Frierdiker Rebbe was in America and his peulos here, please inform me of it. I thank you for your assistance.

(Eighty years of) Release Time

One of the points that grievously pained the Rebbe was that many of the Talmud Torah’s hired instructors that personally were not observant. So when a parent did decide to give their children some Jewish education, they were taught that it no longer exists. In numerous sichos, he cries out at this travesty.[1]

On the 4th of MarCheshvan 5702 (1941),[2] the Rebbe wrote to Reb Aharon Halevi Popack, who was a student in Tomchei Tmimim and to Reb Yitzchok HaKohen Feldman, who was a student in Torah Va’das, that they and their friends from their yeshiva other yeshivos as well, should establish a committee or arousal/inspiration on the importance of every Jewish child receiving a proper Jewish education.

They established “The Committee Tahamulah To Increase students in Kosher Talmud Torah’s.” Their modus operendi was two-fold; they would canvass the Talmud Torah’s in a neighborhood and evaluate them/check them out if they are proper or not. They went to interview the principals of the Talmud Torah’s with names of children that they are considering/trying to register.

They would ask the typical questions as to how many children are in the class, what are the ages of the classes, which books are being used, and are the teachers/instructors themselves Shomrei Shabbos. They stated that they will be publicizing two lists of Talmud Torah’s; the proper/recommended ones and the improper/not recommended ones. Seeing that people were asking specifically for observant teachers, helped convince administrators of some Talmud Torah’s to hire those teachers who were observant themselves.

Then they would go knocking on doors in that neighborhood and inform the people which Talmud Torah is adequate for their children and if necessary they would help subsidize the cost.

The students would do this during their lunch break or in the evenings and on Shabbos they organized mesibos Shabbos for children in their neighborhood, where they related stories of the Torah and our sages, gave out nosh (teaching them to recite a brocha) and gave the children a fun time. This brought success to their efforts, as the children enjoyed these programs.

Then later on that year in 1940 the New York Assembly and Senate passed a law, permitting parents to take their children out of public schools for an hour a week to receive religious instructions. The governor signed it on ===. The public school system would make the final hour of the day available. However, due to the prevailing belief that the US constitution requires a separation of Church and State, the religious instruction, cannot take place in the public school building, it must take place in a separate place.[3]

Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Konikov who was a Rov in Williamsburg and ran five Talmud Torah’s there,[4] found out that other religions are availing themselves to the allowance that the state established in 1940 permitting parents of public school children to sign out their children one hour a week for them to obtain religious instruction.

He began to do it himself and registered the children of a public school that was close to his shul. However, the interest and desire was great and there were many children of various ages that registered and he couldn’t do it on his own. So he went to Yeshivos and girls schools and encouraged some of the students to come help him, making numerous classes. Although they did, it was a tremendous hassle especially as some rabbonim were against it.

Seeing the tremendous potential, yet realizing that he could not undertake it on his own, in addition to cover the expenses and dealing with the issues of his own Talmud Torah’s. So he wrote a detailed letter to the Rebbe asking if he should continue to take advantage of this as well and take Jewish children out, and if it should be expanded to other neighborhoods.

The Rebbe was thrilled / enthusiastic by this information and he truly recognized the change it could accomplish. Shortly afterwards, on the 7th of Shevat Rabbi Konikov received a letter from our Rebbe stating that his father-in-law the Rebbe instructed the Merkos to become involved in this endeavor. Also in the letter were the legal documents affirming that it is being organized by a religious institution as was legally required.

Initially, it was given over to the above-mentioned Committee, a division of Merkos, headed by Reb Yitzchok Hakohen Feldman.[5] Two years later, in 5704 (1944), the Rebbe saw the need to make it into its own organization, and he chose the name ShaLoH (an acronym for Shu’ah/Shiurei Limudei Hadas) and its English name would be Committee For the Furtherance of Jewish Education.[6]

There were mainly two reasons for this decision; one that someone should be totally devoted to this cause and doesn’t have any other responsibilities to another cause. In the first year alone, they were able to enroll 2.000 students, how much more successful would it be if someone dedicated his day and nights for this cause. Secondly, it was a numbers game. There were only a very small amount of students in his own Yeshiva, and the manpower needed far exceeded the amount of students he had at his own disposal. So he made it an independent organization and indeed numerous students from other yeshivos participated.

Each Yeshiva had one student that was the co-coordinator and encouraged his friends to join. That student would bring them the teacher’s guide, brochures, candies and whatever supplies the main office prepared, as well as the money to cover their travelling (subway) expense.[7] The Yeshivas that participated were Torah V’das, Chaim Berlin, Tiferes Yerushalayim, Yeshivas Yitzchok Elchonon /YU and===.[8]

However, as with many good plans and activities, there were those who opposed it. The reform Jews argued that it violates the separation between religion and government, and in 19== it was ultimately resolved by the Supreme Court that it is not a violation.

But then there were some frum rabbonim that opposed it, and therefore did not allow them to use their shul. They felt that if the parent was considering signing up their children into a day school or an afternoon Talmud Torah for a few days a week, now that they have a free hour a week, they might feel they is no need to pay for a few hours in the regular Talmud Torah or even go to a day school.

However over the years as they saw the increased enrollment in the release time students, and then noticed that the enrollment in the Talmud Torah’s was also increasing and/with many of the students said/saying they are registering as a result of being in the release time program, that success convinced them to join in the Rebbe’s efforts.

In just ==years, the enrollment blossomed to over 10,000 children. And a sizeable percentage of those children enrolled into Talmud Torah’s and day schools,[9] and it reached its zenith in 19==, when they had =,000 enrolled in == locations.[10]

The importance of participating in Released Time can be seen from the following points. The Frierdiker Rebbe instructed the committee to create comics for the children, which will present the concepts of netilas yadyim and other mitzvos in cartoon fashion. To him this was just as important as teaching Chassidus.

When the artist Michael Schwartz brought the illustrations he created for these comics to 770, our Rebbe just concluded davening Shacharis and with his tefillin on, he looked over the pictures / sketches and pointed out certain changes to be made.

Additionally, one of the questions the Rebbe asked before agreeing to some people going on Shlichus was, ”Did he participate in the Release Time Program?”

At the same time the Frierdiker Rebbe instructed Merkos to prepare booklets specifically geared to these children. Some of the booklets that they published then were===FIND OUT===.

One student who participated as an instructor wrote to the Frierdiker Rebbe In the winter of 5703 expressing his inner turmoil at the fact that his activism is taking away time from his learning and distracts him while he’s learning as well. In response, the Frierdiker Rebbe explained how essential chinuch work is, eclipsing everything else.

“Words are inadequate to express the great merit one has from doing this holy work. All the supernal angels and heavenly neshamos in Gan Eden are jealous of all those involved in the mission of saving Jewish children from the web of kefira spun by the apostate faculties of the treifeh Talmud Torahs, and bringing these children under the wings of the Shechina in the proper Talmud Torahs.

“The Mitteler Rebbe writes that spiritual death is worse than physical death. Imagine you saw Jewish children drowning or trapped in a burning home, and you and your friends had the ability to rescue them from death. Would you or your friends stand back and be concerned about your Torah learning?!

“All the more so when you witness so many Jewish children drowning in the sea of kefira and being burned by the poisonous kefira they are being exposed to. How can you and your friends be concerned about your Torah learning?! You must all ‘cast your lives aside’ and work much mesiras nefesh and enthusiasm![11]

During the summer months when they weren’t any children in school the teachers/instructors switched gears. They utilized the mesibos Shabbos gatherings and some outings each one was able to make to encourage the children to register in a Talmud Torah or Day School. One Summer/In the summer of 194-, they went to bungalow colonies encouraging the elementary graduates of day schools to continue their studies in a Jewish high school or mesivta instead of going to Public school.

In his letters the Frierdiker Rebbe states that it is simply a question of saving lives and that nothing is more sacred than that. When our Rebbe became Rebbe it was known that he insisted everyone to participate in Release Time, even those who just arrived from Europe and didn’t know a word of English were instructed to go; You can help give out the candies, and say the brocha with them.[12]

With this encouragement many of the instructors developed a passion for chinuch and it became the calling of their life. This was not only true to the students of Lubavitch, who were then sent by the Friediker Rebbe to open up schools throughout New England states, but also to many of the instructors from the litvishe Yeshivos and Beis Yaakov’s.

In the late 1940’s Rabbi JJ Hecht established a few day camps where there were a large amount of Jewish children in the program.[13] Then a few years later in 1953, he established Camp Emunah, an overnight camp where these children would live and breathe Judaisim for a few weeks in the summer and it brought back many families to become observant. It also gave a boost to those who were already were in a day school. Then in 5716 (1956) a boys camp Gan Israel, was established with the same goal.

In fact the only times the Rebbe traveled from 770 (besides to go to the ohel) was to visit Camp Emunah and Gan Israel.[14]

The power of release time came be seen from the following statement our Rebbe said when he was in Paris in 5647 (1947), when he went to bring his mother to America. During one of the farbrengens he said:

The greatness of my father-in-law the Rebbe is that not only is he occupied with teaching Chassidus to chassidim, but he is concerned about reaching and educating every Jew. In America there is a law that children can leave public school for an hour of religious instruction. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish children are going to public schools and every Wednesday, an instructor takes them out to a nearby shul and teaches them about Judaism.

In one of the programs a girl informed her instructor that she has a Jewish friend that she is trying to convince to join, but is unsuccessful. However, there is another girl in the class that is Catholic and often gets her friend to go to Church with her on Sundays. The Instructor asked her for the girls information and after speaking with her and her parents registered her to attend the Release Time.

So instead of this girl attending a Church, she is saying Shema Yisroel. That is the Rebbe, the Nasi of Klal Yisroel who is concerned about each and every Jew.[15]

Your feedback is greatly appreciated.

This week’s post is lzechus the complete and immediate recovery for my sister Chaya Rivkah bas Cheyena and all who are in need of a brocha.

Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their chassidim.He can be contacted at avtzonbooks@gmail.com


[1] See Sefer HaSichos ======

[2] This is slightly over a year and a half from when the Rebbe arrived in America, and around four months after he established Machne Yisroel, Merkos and Kehos, and placed them under the leadership of his son-in-law, our Rebbe.

[3] Initially each borough chose a different day. In Manhattan it was on —-, In Brooklyn it was on === and in == it was on ==.

[4] They all were called Beis Rivkah. His daughter Devorah (later on she married Rabbi Yitzchok Groner) was one of the instructors and heard from her students that their non-Jewish classmates go out for an hour for religious instruction, and she related the information to her father.

[5] By then Rabbi Popack was sent to open a day school in Bridgeport Connecticut. The following year, when Rabbi Feldman could no longer volunteer, the Frierdiker Rebbe appointed Rabbi JJ Hecht to become its director.

Interesting to note, that he was one of the students who assisted Rabbi Konikov in the early years and in his letter to the Rebbe he noted that JJ is doing a phenomenal job with the children. For many years he was assisted by Rabbi Mordechai Heschel, the son and ultimate successor of the Kopnishitzer Rebbe.

[6] In – it became known as the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education.

[7] Reb Zelig Scharfstein related that he would go into the Merkos office, even in 5708 (1948) and receive from our Rebbe the money to repay the instructors. So even though it had its own office, the Merkos covered some of the expenses.

[8] Yeshiva University/ Reb Yitzchok Elchonon took care of Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, Tiferes Yerushalayim lower east east side, Torah V’Das Williamsburg, Chaim Berlin ==, and Tomchei Tmimim went wherever it was needed.

As Tomchei Tmimim /770 grew, and they were able to cover the schools on their own, being that every student knew the importance the Rebbe gave to it, and it wasn’t easy to convince the other students, they slowly fell out.

[9] So even if they had the same amount of students in two successive years, it was a growth in registration, as they registered the same amount of new students as those who were now in Talmud torah’s or even day schools, as well as those who graduated from elementary school.

[10] It should be noted that it was not only in the five boroughs of New York City, but that by 5705 (1945) it had expanded to cities throughout New York State such as Buffalo, Rochester, Monticello and Ellenville, and all over North America — In Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, California, Rhode Island and even Canada.

[11] Igros Kodesh vol. 7 page 126.

[12] It is related that one time on Wednesday, there was a single bochur in the beis hamidrash and at around two in the afternoon, the Rebbe turned off the lights. The bochur raised his eyes from the sefer and was shocked to see the Rebbe, who simply said “It is Wednesday Hour [what are you doing here]?”

[13] One of them was in the coney island area.

[14] The Rebbe visited the camps in the summers of ….

[15] Heard from Rabbi Ezriel Chaikin, who was present at that farbrengen.

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