Photos: Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky Returns from Trip to Russia and Lita


rav-shmuel-kamenetsky-moscow[Photos below.] Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky has returned to Philadelphia after spending a week in Russia and Lithuania leading an Operation Open Curtain chizuk mission.

The Rosh Yeshiva Shlit”a was joined by  and Mrs. Daniel Lander, Rosh Yeshiva Ohr Hachaim, Queens, Mr. and Mrs. Reuven Dessler, director Operation Open Curtain, Rabbi Eli Dessler, Rabbi and Mrs. Shlomo Noach Mandel, who together with Mr. Albert Reichmann have been involved in the revival of Yiddishkeit in the Former Soviet Union for many years, Mr. and Mrs. Mendy Klein, Rabbi and Mrs. Yakov Rajchenbach, Mr. Klein and Rabbi Rajchenbach have been fundamental supporters of the organization for many years, Rabbi and Mrs. Dov Kamenetsky, Mr. and Mrs. Nati Klein, Mr. Levi Dessler, Mr. Harry Mayer, Mr. and Mrs. Yankel Herskovitz, Mr. and Mrs. Yankel Schon, Mr. Chaim Kenny Fink, Mr. Naftoli Uhr, Mr. Shauli Braunstein and Mr. Zecharya Belsky.

Joining from Eretz Yisroel were Rabbi Eli Meir Klugman, who has played an active role in all the facets of Operation Open Curtain.
In Lithuania the delegation was joined by Rabbi Reuven Kamenetsky and Rabbi Dovid Kamenetsky of Yerushalayim.

On Thursday 19 Tamuz, the delegation visited the Operation Open Curtain mosdos including the Etz Chaim Day School, the dormitory, Yeshiva Ohaley Yaakov, and the Moscow Community Kollel.

In the evening, the Rosh Yeshiva Shlit”a was welcomed at a special dinner reception in the Yeshiva and Kollel building. Many local rabbonim and community leaders attended including Rav David Yashuvayev Shlit”a dayan on the bais din, Reb Yakov Soskin the Rosh Hakahal of the greater Moscow community, and the Israeli ambassador Dorit Golender.

The Mara d’Asra Harav Pinchas Goldschmidt Shlit”a, with whom Rav Shmuel shlit”a has an exceptionally close relationship, was not in Moscow, but personally phoned the Rosh Yeshiva to thank him for visiting and giving chiuzk to the kehilla.

After the dinner, the Rosh Yeshiva Shlit”a addressed the packed crowds in the Moscow Community Kollel.

The exciting evening concluded with the “Hachtara”, official appointment of Kollel avrech Rabbi Levi Shpendick as Rav of the Bais Ahron Kehilla in the South West section of Moscow.

On Friday the delegation visited the Jewish owned Lublino business center and davened Mincha in the shul which was built to service the Jewish employees.

Later the delegation set out to Camp Etz Chaim where the Rosh Yeshiva was greeted by close to one hundred campers.

In a little village called Malaya Uvarova, around 75 miles out of Moscow, not too far from the Kremlin, over one hundred girls light the Shabbos candles, and study their history. There they learn, there they sing. There they daven and bench and strive and grow, restoring the glory of Yiddishkeit in the Former Soviet Union.

Over Shabbos some of the campers spoke to the delegation. Sonya began with some family history. “My great-grandfather was a Communist. My grandmother was even worse – a true atheist. But at her funeral, a distant cousin approached my mother and told her about this camp. Why she listened, I’ll never know, but five days later, I was on the train, on my way to Moscow. I have a feeling that when my grandmother got up there, she realized that she had made a fatal error and wanted to correct it, and as soon as possible.” She continued, “There was a pair of tfillin and a chumash hidden in the attic for many years. No one even knew exactly what it was. Three years ago, I went and retrieved it. I’m planning to save it for my future son.”

Ilana spoke about her experiences in the Bnos Batya – Touro program where she has been a student for the past two years. “In the Eitz Chaim School, we learned about our religion. In Camp Eitz Chaim, we had the opportunity to practice it for three weeks. And in the Shabbos Apartment, we made the decision to make it real. Now in Bnos Batya, I don’t have to feel different or strange because I am religious. I am able to keep Kashrus and Shabbos without any difficulty. It was hard to leave my home and my family, but it was really worth it.”

Perhaps most poignant was Avigayil, a girl who came from New York in order to be a counselor. “This is not my first summer in Eitz Chaim. My parents brought me here almost twenty years ago when I was three months old. They both became religious through Operation Open Curtain and they were working as translators in the camp. When I was 1 ½ years old, they moved to New York and enrolled me in Bais Yaakov. If I ever stop to think, I cannot imagine what my life would be like without the incredible people who helped my parents. I stand here today representing the fruits of your labor. When I look at my campers, I do not just see girls. I see people who can become religious like my mother did and then have a daughter who can be a regular Bais Yaakov girl… just like me.”

The girls received many gifts from the guests, but they were far more interested in receiving a Bracha from the Rosh Yeshiva. The long line did not deter the campers – some who had real life decisions to make, others who just wanted to utilize the opportunity to be in the presence of a Gadol Hador. Many left with tears in their eyes, encouraged by the warmth and care that they felt.

By the time Shabbos ended, the women of the delegation had formed such a strong connection with the campers and staff that it only made sense that they join in the singing and dancing which accompanied the end of Shabbos. They danced round and round, clasping hands and singing “Lshana Habaa BeYerushalayim” with fervor and emotion. The havdallah candle was raised high, and there, in the dining room of a former Soviet pioneer camp, the flame shone through the darkness, casting its light on all who were there.

Yes, so much had been destroyed. But the campaign of destruction did not succeed. Operation Open Curtain has stood at the forefront of Yiddishkeit in Moscow and continues to do so. The short trip gave the participants a view of the incredible work that is being accomplished under very difficult conditions.

Yiddishkeit is now flourishing in Moscow; young couples who are married with chupa and kiddushin are dreaming of a future for their children. Once again, the children are singing aleph bais and mode ani, while their older siblings argue over pshat in shnaim ochzin betalis.

Every one of these beautiful neshamas proclaim, in a voice so powerful and real: “Lenin and Stalin, Communism has failed! You are dead and your philosophy is too. But we are still here.”

On Sunday the delegation departed for Vilna and Part two of the chizuk mission.

See below for a full photo album of the trip to Russia:

{Noam Newscenter}