Weekly Chasidic Story #1078 (s5778-47/ 25 Menachem Av 5778)

The Skulener Rebbe and Senator "Scoop" Jackson

The Rebbe whispered something to his gabbai who in turn whispered something to Reb Moshe, the translator. Moshe turned pale. He looked helplessly at Senator Jackson.

Connection: Seasonal-29 Av (Friday, Aug. 10) is the 36th yahrzeit of the Skulener Rebbe.

The Skulener Rebbe and Senator "Scoop" Jackson


Although Henry "Scoop" Jackson [1912-1983], who served as the senator from the state of Washington for the last thirty years of his life, was not Jewish, his dedication and respect for the Jewish people were remarkable. Rabbi Moshe Londinski, of Seattle, Washington, worked closely with Senator Jackson. He aided him with fundraising and helped to gain community support for the Senator in his political career.

One Sunday afternoon in early June, in the early 1970's, Rabbi Moshe received a phone call from the gabbai (attendant) of the Skulener Rebbe, Reb Eliezer Zusia Portugal. "I am calling on behalf of the rebbe," the gabbai said. "The rebbe must see Senator Jackson tomorrow at nine in the morning. Can you arrange an appointment?"

Miraculously, Rabbi Moshe was able to arrange a meeting with the busy Senator. The Skulener Rebbe had requested that the Rabbi act as an interpreter between the Rebbe and the Senator, so Reb Moshe took the next plane to Washington, D.C.

The rebbe arrived with his attendants in Washington, D.C. They met Rabbi Londinski in the outer office, and they entered the inner office of Senator Jackson together. But instead of speaking to the Senator, the Rebbe whispered something to his gabbai who in turn whispered something to the Rabbi. The latter turned pale. He looked helplessly at Senator Jackson.

"What is the problem?" The Senator asked curiously.

"WelI, ah. .." Rabbi Londinski took a deep breath. "It seems that the Rebbe has not had a chance to complete his morning prayers. He needs a place where he can concentrate. Would he be able to use your office for a little while?"

"Of course, no problem!" said the Senator. The Senator immediately stood up and walked with the Rabbi out of the inner office. The two of them stood in the hall, waiting for the Rebbe to finish.

Twenty minutes went by. By this time, both men were pacing the hall. Rabbi Moshe did not know what to say to the Senator. After all, it was his office! Fortunately, the office door opened just then, and the Rebbe himself beckoned them back inside.

Senator Jackson once again seated himself behind his desk. "Now," he said with a smile. "What can I do for you?"

Rabbi Moshe stood next to the Rebbe, ready to interpret every word. The Rebbe opened his mouth to speak. But after just two short words he burst into tears.

"What is wrong?" the Senator asked in concern. "I do not know," the Rabbi said in bewilderment.

The Rebbe was trying to speak through his tears, but Rabbi Moshe could not understand a single word. He stood, waiting for the crying to stop, but the tears continued to pour down the face of the Rebbe.

Senator Jackson beckoned to the Rabbi. "Tell the Rebbe that I know what he wants!" he said abruptly.

"You do?" Rabbi Moshe exclaimed, startled. "How?"

"Just ask the rabbi what he wants me to do about it," the Senator told him.

The Rabbi stared at the Senator for a moment, but then he obediently turned to the Rebbe and relayed the statement of the Senator. The Rebbe stopped crying. "I want it stopped immediately," he said firmly, in Yiddish.

Rabbi Londinski translated the Rebbe's words. "How does he want me to stop it?" the Senator asked.

Again the Rabbi relayed the question to the Rebbe. "The Senator knows which buttons to press," the Rebbe replied.

The Senator consulted his address book, then reached for the phone, punched in a number and began to speak. And as Rabbi Londinski listened, the matter slowly became clear to him. A few days before, the Romanian government had arrested twenty Russian Jews who were then in Romania and falsely accused them of currency speculation. They were imprisoned and due to be executed in a few days.

The whole situation was a ploy by the Romanian government to pressure the United States into giving them 'Most Favored Nation' status, which would bring the country great financial gain. The Senator, as the head of the Foreign Relations Committee, was also very involved with Soviet Jewry, and he had heard about this action by the Romanian government. So he immediately understood what the Rebbe had come for.

The Senator had the Romanian ambassador to the USA on the phone. He said to him slowly and clearly, "As head of the Foreign Relations Committee, I strongly suggest that you immediately call your Prime Minister. Tell him that if those twenty prisoners are not released within forty-eight hours, I guarantee that Romania will never see a cent of American aid. Hair will grow on the palm of their hands before they ever receive the 'Most Favored Nation' status!"

The Senator put the phone down and looked up at Rabbi Londinski. "Tell the Rebbe that it has been taken care of."

The Rebbe smiled and warmly shook the hand of the Senator. Within forty-eight hours, all twenty prisoners had been released and brought to Israel.

Once again, Rabbi Londinski had seen the concern that Senator Jackson had for the Jewish people. He was curious about this, and at an appropriate occasion he finally asked the Senator why he cared so much about the Jews.

Senator Jackson smiled. "Three reasons: One, I was a prosecutor during the Nuremberg trials. I saw how much the Jews had suffered in the concentration camps, and I resolved to do whatever I could to help them.

"Two, my mother, a widow, was a housekeeper for a Jewish family in the town of Everet, Washington. They treated her very well. They even gave her extra food and money during the Depression years to help her raise her family. In her will my mother asked that her children should always be good to the Jews.

"And finally, when I was a young boy, there were a few Jews I would always help out on Saturday. They always treated me nicely."

Senator Jackson did not stop with helping those 20 Jews in Romania. Soon after, he, along with Congressman Charles Vanik of Ohio, introduced an amendment to the trade bill, linking emigration to most favored status. Ultimately, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment of the 1974 Trade Reform Act become law. The implementation of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment made one of the first cracks in the Soviet Iron Curtain.

Later, when Russia suffered a famine, and had to purchase millions of tons of American grain, the Communists were made to allow tens of thousands of Jews to leave the country before the purchase could be agreed to. The doors of freedom had been thrust open and the seeds of freedom began to sprout in Communist Russia.

It is the opinion of many historians that the Jackson-Vanik Amendment significantly contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union, thereby forever changing the course of history!

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the post in "Shabbos Stories for Acharei Mos 5776," based on Visions of Greatness, p.73 and Reflections of the Maggid, p.104

Biographical note:
Rebbe Eliezer-Zusya Portugal [of blessed memory: 1 Cheshvan 5659 - 29 Av 5742 (1898 - August 1982)], the Skulener Rebbe, immigrated to the USA in 1960, after imprisonment in Rumania and international efforts to secure his release. He was a prominent follower of the Shtefaneshter Rebbe and the author of Noam Eliezer and Kedushas Eliezer, but is best known for his superhuman efforts to rescue Jewish orphans and refugees in Eastern Europe before, during and after WWII and his continuing support of them, and his Chessed L'Avraham network of schools for children that continue until today. Those who merited to be in his presence were astonished by the length of his prayers and the beauty and intensity of the tunes that he composed, many of which have become internationally famous today.

Editor's note:
In the mid-seventies I had the merit and great pleasure to be a sole Shabbat Evening Meal guest of the Skulener Rebbe and his Rebbetzin. Forty-plus years later, I still tremble when I recall the intensity, focus and slow pace with which he recited Kiddush.

Connection: Seasonal-29 Av (Friday, Aug. 10) is the 36th yahrzeit of the Skulener Rebbe.


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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