From North to South (and Back)
Rabbi Shaul Leiter
It is now the end of the fourth week of the war. Death and destruction
fill the news. I am not embarrassed to say that it is very very draining
even for normal people. One million people displaced. Whether someone
is in emergency housing, scrambling every day for food and activities
for the children and keeping your wife calm or on a mission helping others
or anywhere in between, it is taking a major toll. And the government
is talking about another month. And about giving up the Golan to appease
I am sitting in my home office. As I write I can hear the bombs falling
in Safed. Our house is shaking. My wife is shouting for me to come to
the shelter. We pray for no casualties.
I have been down to Nitzanim refugee camp, up to the front, a few times,
most recently two nights ago, spent yesterday in the hospital visiting
the wounded, today I shall try to get to the Ari's gravesite.
The whole tourist area north of Kiriat Shemona is one massive army base,
soldiers and army vehicles everywhere, the odd Teldan rental speeding
to get off the roads. Bombs or artillery booming constantly. Just the
sound puts you on edge.
I was there 1/2 kilometer from the front in Kibbutz Snir with 5 others
helping a battalion of soldiers wrap tefilin (I alone did 50), giving
out food, tehilim books and chitas books, and signing them up for a letter
each in the Sefer Torah of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Young men and women,
really children 18 and 19 in uniforms, with automatic weapons, most already
with battle experience, getting a meal before a 14 kilometer hike to their
operations base for 36 hours of search and destroy missions. Truly surreal.
When I said that G-d should protect them, they frowned. When I said you
should be successful, they smiled and said amen. Some asked that we pray
for everyone, that they should all return safely.
We have 8 cars going out, 100 would not be enough.
We also finalized supplying tefilin for the air force, 50 pair to go
to staff rooms on every base, and are still working to come to a deal
with the army and navy.
Today I was in the Safed hospital, the closest major hospital to the
border. 18 injured soldiers arrived today, 25 yesterday. We give out bags
of treats, Psalms, help them put on tefilin if they are able, a good word,
asking them if they need anything. The Ascent/Chabad team are usually
the first visitors for most. After the first day, family and army visitors
begin arriving. We sat there with a few soldiers, called lightly injured,
who had lost an eye or in some other way were maimed or disfigured for
life. Moderately and severely injured are code words for something life
threatening. There are so many we are sending two shifts a day, starting
tomorrow erev Shabbos.
Sunday we have an Ascent staff meeting and the day after I am going back
to Nitzanim refugee camp. The press has been slamming the whole situation
there because it really is horrible, not humane conditions. We have 10
staff there every day, a small Ascent operation, but it is not enough.
We just got an ok to run an actual Ascent seminar there. Three days of
our best speakers, musicians and workshops. Space to sit thousands. We
are very excited about it and hope to pull it off by this coming Wednesday.
It is really just a question of getting the staff there, the audience
is already captive....
Ascent is working on 5 things now and I hope you will contribute. Some
people are being asked a lot, some people not at all. I apologize if this
letter is an imposition. Mezuzos for bomb shelters in Safed- $3000, tefilin
for soldiers who commit to using them daily (we are working with the Israel
and Army Rabbanut etc, the soldiers are asked to pay 25%)-first 150 pairs
$30,000 (I already have $10,000), and tehilim/chitas for distribution
to soldiers, 2000 pieces- $7,000. Cars to the front, each day costs 1000$
(simple account, cakes at $2 per, x 500). Staff to Nitzanim, transportation,
food, equipment, seminar- $7000. No overhead--direct to the end user.
Please help me spread the word. Tax deductable contributions from Canada
go to Mizrachi Canada for Ascent of Safed. In the US to our Ascent POB,
# 28, 383 Kingston Ave, B'klyn NY 11213. Israel- POB 296 Safed.UK- Friends
of Ascent, 3 Sunny Gardens Parade, London NW4. Email me if you need wiring
instructions, thank you for whatever you can do.
Thank G-d we are safe, were in Jerusalem for Shabbos, returned to Safed
and are planning to stay. You can imagine how disorienting it is to be
associated with a place for 25 years and having to rethink things, at
least in the short term. Thank G-d, nevertheless, we are all busy and
accomplishing a lot, even under the circumstances. There were 40 missiles
in Safed on Shabbos, a few dozen every day, but boruch Hashem, only property
damaged, no people. People in Kfar Giladi and Kiriat Shemona and Haifa
were not so lucky. Dozens dead or injured today alone.
Besides the 3 Ascent web sites, being done from remote computers, Ascent
is doing some very major things. Large educational events in Tel Aviv
and Jerusalem (we had 600 people in three events last Sunday, a Shabbaton
this weekend in south Tel Aviv for 200, and are planning a few events
with over 1000 for the coming weeks).
Then, we have set up a yeshiva, tefilin stands, classes, farbrengens,
activities for children etc in the Nitzanim refugee camp, between Ashdod
and Ashkelon. These are all families who have left the north because of
the missiles. They have all the food they need and it is 100% safe but
7000 people and the numbers are growing, more than half children, (I hate
to say it but) are living like animals and being damaged by chronic boredom,
and no physical way to leave. Anyone who had where to go either never
came or left a week ago. Now over a million people have been displaced
but these are the ones who were the most helpless. 10 staff go there every
day, working 10 hour shifts. Every event is swamped with people.
Third, we are sending out cars every day to the front to give aid to
the soldiers going to battle. tefilin, letters in special sefer Torahs,
food, now mezuzos, holy books, tehilims and Chitats, and of course good
energy. Thousands of soldiers are being touched daily. Very important,
we visit the soldiers in the hospital in Safed, the largest hospital close
to the eastern front. We give out gifts, food religious articles whatever
they need. Yesterday there were only 20. Today, I understand there are
many more. And I mentioned before that I have also started a fund to give
tephillen to soldiers if they contribute just 25%. The army will not buy
them for soldiers but many soldiers are asking for them.
Finally, I have a team going from shelter to shelter in Safed, putting
Just Ascent staff themselves are a case in point. All of the staff are
busy but, like me, managing your family under these circumstances is very
straining. Chaya Brocha literally can not stand being out of home any
more and is pushing to go back to Safed even when there is a question
of safety. Ascent is still fighting with the government to get our salaries
(they have issues with non-profits). It does not look good, but even if
we succeed, this will not cover all of the expenses by any means. Thank
you as always for all of your help. Ascent is one institution of tens
of thousands of institutions and business all scrambling to survive. Only
G-d knows what the future will provide.
In Safed there were only 5 alarms today, no direct hits though a few
acres of forest land just north of the city is gone. As always I will
keep you informed. Warm regards, Shaul