By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
I want to share with you some experiences from a most unlikely, almost counterintuitive weekend which was recently celebrated in Dallas. Imagine a Chasidic rebbe from Israel, who doesn’t speak English, accompanied by an entourage of Chasidim wearing long, shiny coats and high fur hats, who mostly speak only Hebrew and Yiddish, descending upon the Dallas for four days to uplift the community. Would you think they could have even the slightest impact? Guess again!
From Feb. 20-23, Rabbi Chaim Shaul Taub of Bnei Brak, known as the Rebbe of Modzitz, led a large entourage of loyal followers to Dallas. He is the scion of a long line of Rebbes of Modzitz, a Chassidic sect originally from Poland. This sect has always been renowned for their musical acumen and the many famous melodies composed by their Rebbes throughout the ages, many of which form the staple of our prayer services and Shabbos songs (without most realizing the source of those melodies). This entourage was joined by distinguished American Torah leaders, dignitaries and lay figures, all who added to this historic visit.
The mastermind and most unlikely host of this most unlikely trip was R’ Zvi Ryzman of Los Angeles, a business leader, renowned philanthropist and Torah scholar of note and author of numerous works on Talmudic thought and Jewish philosophy. For reasons many could not fathom, R’ Zvi decided a couple of years ago that a visit by this Rebbe to Dallas would uplift the community, and, if we would be willing to host it, he would take care of the rest. He has been pushing me all this time, despite the pushback of many sceptics, to host this visit. Finally the sceptics relented and what seemed illogical came to be, led by R’ Zvi himself with his wife and family. (At one point R’ Zvi exclaimed to me, “Rabbi Fried, tell everyone to stop worrying so much! I’m telling you it’s going to be good!)
What came to be was something never to be forgotten by the many hundreds of Dallasites who were positively affected and uplifted by this visit. The visit began with R’ Ryzman delivering a fiery Talmudic discourse at a local home, kindling a new movement of Talmudic study which will pull together many different communities. Friday morning, we brought the group to Yavneh Academy, where, after the Rebbe and R’ Weinreb spoke, the entire school broke into singing and dancing with the Chasidim! After addressing the older students at Akiba, the group visited Torah Day School of Dallas, greeted by the entire school who were outside awaiting the Rebbe’s arrival, the younger children holding welcome posters. After singing and dancing in honor of the Rebbe and the Torah he represents, he addressed them all standing outside the building. After further addresses inside, all the students received a gift from Modzitz, as did the students of Yavneh, a Modzitz Megilla of Esther for Purim printed in honor of this visit. Sunday morning, the Rebbe visited Texas Torah Institute and addressed the students on the importance of Jewish unity. The teachers and administrators of the schools later noted the positive impact of this visit upon their respective student bodies. (The entire visit with the Rebbe was a test of my instant replay translating skills!)
What happened in between was sublime: an uplifting Shabbos of inspirational words of Torah by the Rebbe and other members of the entourage, new friendships and connections, singing and dancing, and more singing and dancing! The theme of the Shabbos at Ohr Hatorah, and the entire visit, was “Meshi’nichna Adar Marbim B’Simcha,” or “When the month of Adar arrives, we increase our joy” in anticipation of the holiday of Purim, a most joyous holiday of celebration. The event was crowned by a gala melava malka celebration hosted at Shaare Tefilla by R’ Ryzman with singing, words of Torah and graced by a surprise video address by former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Y. M. Lau. Members of every Dallas orthodox shul participated in an unprecedented show of Jewish unity — the rabbis of many shuls gracing the dais.
Most impressive of all was who was most moved by the entire weekend: the members of the entourage themselves! I’ve been privy to many notes and letters shared among themselves and to me, how they’ve been driven to tears of joy to celebrate with so many whom have recently returned to their Jewish roots. One Chasid writes of him joining the others in singing at the DATA “learner’s minyan” led by Rabbi Epstein that he later related to the Rebbe how the occasion had driven him to tears. He wrote that the Rebbe said to him, “It seems that this occasion has been as emotional for you as the time we visited the gravesite of the children in a forest in Poland.” The Chasid answered him, “There my tears were from feelings of sadness and destruction. Here, my tears are the tears of joy from growth and building.”
We all saw how Torah, joy and song can transcend language and political barriers. This was a weekend of Jewish unity not to be forgotten for many years to come!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at email@example.com.