As the Jewish New Year begins, we are privileged to have admorim whose advanced years put them in a very special category. Amongst those senior Chassidishe rebbeim, Rav Yisroel Avrohom Portugal, Skulener Rebbe, is one who graces our present time period. On Wednesday, September 1, the Rebbe’s many chassidim welcomed him back from Los Angeles. Rabbi Portugal underwent successful surgery in Los Angeles and recuperated at the ennobled home of Berl Weiss.
Upon arrival in New York, the Skulener Rebbe proceeded to the Skulener Camp in South Fallsburg for further rest.
The Rebbe had gone to Los Angeles earlier this summer to undergo a medical procedure at a hospital there. This was the last in a long series of operations and procedures that the Rebbe has undergone over the past two years due to intestinal complications.
The Skulener Rebbe is the son of Rabbi Eliezer Zushe Portugal, zt”l (1898-1982), revered previous Skulener Rebbe and author of Noam Eliezer; son of Rabbi Yisroel Avrohom Portugal, zt”l (d. 1915), Skulener Rav and author of Shem u’Sh’aris Yisrael. At the age of 18, Rabbi Eliezer Zushe was anointed successor to his father. The family, a long line of rabbis tracing their history to service in the country of Portugal, assumed the surname of Portugal. The town of Skulen (Sculeni, Bessarabia), having long been under the sovereignty of different governments, is presently in the Republic of Moldova.
Having miraculously survived the Holocaust, theNoam Eliezer settled in Bucharest where he immediately established an orphanage for the many children who lost their parents. In addition to taking a very active role in the administration of the orphanage, theNoam Eliezer continuously scoured the countryside for Jewish orphans that were given by their parents to non-Jewish families for safekeeping. He also aggressively confronted churches and other non-Jewish religious organizations in search for Jewish children.
In spite of opposition of the Communist regime in Romania, the orphanage inculcated its children with a full regimen of Jewish studies and religious observances. Governmental opposition forced the Noam Eliezer to fend for himself in the acquisition of necessary food and clothing for the orphanage. Undaunted and fearless, the Noam Eliezer continued and actually expanded the orphanage, never giving up hope of finding and “bringing home” more Jewish children.
Skulener Rebbe vs. Communist Romania
Finally, the Communist regime could no longer tolerate the independent rabbi and his intensive religious activities. Late Wednesday evening, 29 Adar II, April 8, 1959, the Noam Eliezer, who served as father and mother to thousands of Holocaust orphans who call him father to this very day, together with his son, the present rebbe, were thrown into the deepest and darkest Romanian Communist dungeons. The Rebbe was charged with undermining the Romanian government by feeding, housing, and educating Jewish orphans. After long months of intensive international efforts, they was freed on Motzaei Shabbos Nachamu, August 15, 1959, and immigrated almost immediately to America. The Chassidishe world has celebrated the day of the Rebbe’s liberation every year since.
The father continued his outreach and rescue efforts after arriving in America, visiting Israel eight times and establishing the Chesed L’Avrohom organizations. Authoring Noam Eliezer and Kedushas Eliezer, Rabbi Eliezer Zushe was musically inclined and composed many of today’s popular Chassidishe melodies. His son, the present Skulener Rebbe, continues his father’s holy work here in America as well as in Israel.