The home of Rav Ovadia Yosef, which is visited by thousands of people from all walks of life, has known many moving moments. But it’s doubtful that any could match the recent visit by three busloads of Jewish women and their children, who were rescued from Arab villages and are now leading full, Jewish lives.
It was erev Rosh Chodesh Elul, a special time of mercy and Selichos, and these survivors were being taken on an unforgettable trip organized by their rescuers from Yad L’Achim, led by Harav Shalom Dov Lipschitz, the organization’s founding chairman.
The first stop was Kever Rachel in Beit Lechem. The holy site was unusually crowded – due to a hachnassas sefer Torah ceremony being held for a Torah that had been written for captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit and the fact that it was erev Rosh Chodesh Elul – and many people were turned away.
But the IDF allowed in Yad L’Achim’s buses and soldiers at the site were given express orders to allow the visitors to spend as much time as they needed in prayer.
These broken women, who had been through so much, poured out their hearts to Mama Rachel. It was as if, at long last, they had found someone who could truly understand their worries for the welfare of their children.
But the emotional highpoint came when three brothers uttered a tefillah for three of their siblings who are trapped in Gaza, with an Arab grandfather who refuses to release them to their mother, Galit Pupok, of Upper Nazareth.
“Acheinu kol Beis Yisrael hanesunim b’tzara uvishivya,” they cried out, as the tearful mothers repeated after them, word by word.
From Kever Rachel, the buses made their way to 45 Rechov Hakablan in Har Nof, Jerusalem, to the home of Hagaon Harav Ovadia Yosef. The women and children crowded into the Beis Medrash that is attached to the living quarters, together with the social workers who accompany them on Yad L’Achim’s behalf.
Heading the delegation was Hagaon Harav Shalom Dov Lipschitz , Harav Yisrael Lipschitz , one of Yad L’Achim’s leaders, and Harav Yosef Ganz, its director general. The children were greeted by Shas head Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Housing Minister Arial Attias.
When Harav Ovadia entered, everyone rose. The Rishon Letzion looked into the eyes of his visitors as Yad L’Achim’s chairman Harav Lipschitz explained that the children had recently been rescued from hostile Arab villages and today were taking their first steps in the world of Torah Judaism.
“Righteous women,” Harav Yosef began, in an emotional voice. “You have merited to be the daughters of our holy fathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, daughters of our holy mothers, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah. You are heroes.”
He lauded them for taking the important step of giving their children a Torah education, bederech Yisrael Saba. His uplifting words were peppered with a personal note, when he said: “Even though you now welcome the Shabbat Queen into your homes alone, together you’re your righteous children, know that the heavenly angels accompany every Jew when he leaves the Beit Haknesset on Shabbat night. They come to your homes and shower you with an abundance of blessing, parnassah, nachat, happiness and wealth.”
When he finished speaking, the children approached him individually for brachah and to receive a copy of the Yechaveh Da’at siddur with his signature and dedication. He warmly blessed each child, “You should grow in Torah, to chuppah and in maasim tovim.” As he uttered the blessing, he stroked the cheek of each child.
A particularly powerful moment was when a three-year-old who had just had his hair cut, leaving long, curly payos, approached the Rav. His hair had just been cut by Harav Lipschitz, under the watchful eye of the mother, who refused to allow him to trim the payos.
After all the children had received a brachah, Harav Ovadia got up to return to his residential quarters. Appearing to have a difficult time parting from the mothers, he turned and gave them yet another brachah: “You should be blessed from Hashem,” he said, pausing. “May Hashem fulfill the wishes of your hearts for good.” And then: “You shouldn’t know sorrow and pain.” To which the women tearfully answered, “Amen!”
As the Rav entered his study, accompanied by the senior Yad L’Achim delegation and Shas ministers, he was extremely generous in his praise and blessings for Rav Lipschitz and ordered the ministers to do everything to help Yad L’Achim achieve its exalted aims, chief among them advancing an amendment to the missionary law that would give it teeth.
Harav Ovadia was clearly moved by his encounter with these children, wearing kippahs and tzitzis, who only a short while ago were being educated as Arabs.
Speaking after the meeting, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said: “Previously, I only knew of Yad L’Achim’s intensive Pidyon Shvuyim activities through the regular reports I received from Harav Lipschitz, the head of this important organization.
“But this evening, chills ran down my spine when I saw the faces behind the names and stories. This powerful emotion was also felt by Maran who has dedicated his life to Jewish education for every Jewish child. How great is his joy in seeing Jewish children who were seemingly lost, now growing and being educated as faithful Jews.”