Jun 20, 2012
Saving Lives in Katamon
Photos by Chaim Perl
Israelis hearing from journalist Mr. Yisroel Katzover about the Rebbe's influence to stop abortions in the poor neighborhood of Katamon, Israel were amazed by one audience member's surprise announcement.
One of the oldest and poorest neighborhoods in Yerushalayim, Katamon fell victim to a rampant epidemic of abortions toward the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s. Those who resided in the overly crowded red houses on Rechov Bar Yochai were particularly affected, with many left feeling helpless and without any other options.
Forty years later, the saga of the red houses resurfaced in a most riveting address by Mr. Yisroel Katzover this past Sunday in the tent near the Rebbe’s Ohel. Hailing from all over the east coast of the United States, a large multitude of Israelis had come together for a unique program in preparation for Gimmel Tammuz.
A respected senior journalist in Eretz Yisroel, Mr. Katzover shared an intriguing personal story that took place at that time. He was to be completely taken by surprise by the events that were to follow.
“I had the good fortune to have experienced many yechidus’n with the Rebbe,” related Mr. Katzover. “On one occasion, I brought my wife along with me. At one point during the yechidus, the Rebbe turned to my wife and inquired about her occupation as social worker in Katamon. To our great surprise, the Rebbe began speaking about the many abortions that were being performed in the neighborhood, particularly in the section of “the red houses.” The Rebbe then proceeded to map out a comprehensive plan that would enable this issue to be rectified. Indeed, this program was put into place and saw terrific success, leading other cities in Eretz Yisroel who were experiencing similar issues to follow suit.”
Breaking the silence of the rapt audience during Mr. Katzover’s address, a man who had been sitting in the audience stood up abruptly and requested permission to speak. Turning to the crowd, he revealed that he had once been a child of the red houses of Katamon. His concluding sentence brought the transpiring events to a full circle: “I am my mother’s first child, born after two abortions.”
This was just one of the many emotional and inspiring moments of the special event. Representing fifteen communities throughout the eastern seaboard, more than 100 men and women were in attendance, despite the fact that it was Father’s Day. Many shluchim brought their mekurovim, joined by the many who had come along with the kvutza bochurim who visit them weekly on mivtzoim.
“For my mekurovim, this program – the first of its kind – lends a special significance to a visit to the Rebbe and puts them in the right frame of mind,” said shliach Rabbi Naftali Hertzel of Boca Raton, Florida. “This is especially so because the program was conducted completely in Hebrew, their mother tongue, opening them up to a whole new world that, up until now, has only been available in English.”
The crowd was addressed by Rabbi Zushe Wolf, director of JEM in Eretz Yisroel, who recounted a number of stories that were recently related during interviews for the “My Encounter with the Rebbe” video project in Eretz Yisroel. His remarks were followed by a video screening of an address by Mr. Moshe Levi, a remarkable soldier who lost his right hand in the Yom Kippur War. Having been unable to attend personally, Mr. Levi shared memories of his unique visit with the Rebbe via a prerecorded video presentation, detailing how the Rebbe had forseen his successes in life.
Closing the first segment of the program, Mr. Katzover delivered the following poignant request: “Every time that I went to visit the Rebbe, I used to present the Rebbe with a “statement,” an update that summarized Israel’s current security situation and issues in about ten lines. Now, too, eighteen years post-Gimmel-Tammuz, as we go to the Rebbe’s tzion, we must each present a “statement” to the Rebbe, a personal letter with personal requests.”
Following Mr. Katzover’s remarks, the crowd turned to prepare their panim, accompanied by Rabbi Holtzberg’s clear instructions.
Upon leaving the Ohel, the crowd was treated to a lavish dinner, enjoying the company of their friends and fellow shluchim.
“I took a day off from work and also passed up on a number of important things that I was meant to do today,” related a participant from Maryland, who had driven four and a half hours each way in order to attend. “The inspiration that I gained from this program and visit to the Ohel makes me want to come and visit the Ohel once a month.”
“We owe a great yasher koach to Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, and the staff of the Hebrew-speakers’ division of Merkos Suite 302 for this most inspiring and highly successful program,” stated Rabbi Levi Weber, shliach to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “Today’s event has left us all looking forward to the next one.”
Special thanks are extended to Mr. David Scharf, coordinator of the annual Kinus HaShluchim, Rabbi Abba Refson of the Chabad House at the Ohel, and the dedicated tmimim of the kvutza for organizing the event. Shluchim Rabbi Shlomo Beitsh of Rockville, Maryland; Rabbi Shmulik Gourarie of Baltimore, Maryland; Rabbi Zalman Lipsker and Rabbi Levi Weber of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Rabbi Naftali Hertzel of Boca Raton, Florida; Rabbi Mendy Cheruti of Miami, Florida; and Rabbi Avrohom Holtzberg of George Town, New York are thanked for their invaluable assistance in making the program the success that it was.