From the Anash.org Inbox: Hadassah Chen, a former resident of Milan, Italy, writes her memories of Rabbi Moshe Shaikevitz, who passed away recently, her visit to the shiva house, and how she only discovered his true greatness after his passing.
By Hadassah Chen
I didn’t know his greatness at all until he passed away.
It makes me so sad.
He had been my teacher for a short time, he was very strict, we were all scared of him.
All I remember was that every time I and my friend Aviva would get into trouble (cause we did!) I felt he always somehow gave me the punishment and let my friend go.
Rav. Shaikewitz’s wife Soshi has been my teacher for most of my childhood, she is the one who taught us Jewish girls of Milan, everything, chumash, dinim, navi. Every one of us at a certain point had “Mora Soshi”.
As a young girl, I loved looking at her when she taught us, at her white pure skin, her long chains she always wore on simple but fine sweaters. She always looked clean, calm, slim, and frail like a woman from a different century.
I don’t really remember seeing them together ever, the “mora” and her husband, they were always at different times in school, and I never saw them side by side at social events.
Yet there was something very strong that united them.
They were both busy and raising a large family yet when they spoke about each other on a day to day basis, you felt the respect that transpired through the words.
You felt the love.
Rav Shaikewitz in my mind was one of those men that when you think about him, you can’t imagine him sick, or sleeping, or slow, or just resting on a chair.
He was always busy, running, doing, organizing, school, seminar, chevre kadishe, bet chabad, yeshiva and then children, grandchildren, inlaws, parents, and wife who is maybe the last on this list but the first in his life for sure.
You can’t imagine Rav Shaikewitz lying with no life, still and silent.
The whole Italian Jewish community is in shock still after the sudden passing of this incredible and not known to many for his true self, amazing man.
At only 61 years of age, Rav Shaikewitz suffered a cardiac arrest 2 weeks ago in his home and passed away, surrounded by some of his children, wife, and grandkids.
You will wonder why I am writing about it, it’s sad, it’s true but sadly in these hard times, people lately have been dying much more and families have been broken.
Since Rav Shaikewitz has passed away I have been hearing incredible stories about his persona, his incredible humbleness, caring about everyone that needed or asked for his help, his incredible passion and dedication for each of his children spread around the globe who every night tried to call him, ask for advise or learn with him. The more I heard about him the worse I felt inside of me.
How did I never think of getting to know him a little more than judging that harsh surface that reminded me of him in school scolding me.
He was very close to both my parents yet when I saw him or he called we hardly said hello to each other.
Stupid, silly me!
The week I chose to fly home to Milan and spend some time finally with my family was also the week of shiva for the Shaikewitz family.
I went with my mother even though I was scared. I wasn’t sure what to expect. A tragedy of this magnitude, a vibrant man leaving suddenly 13 children and wife, what do you say? As we made our way upstairs, we were asked to stand by the door for Corona precautions.
I had never been to their home, a nice cozy apartment not far from our house.
The oldest child appears greeting us, she’s a woman married with 10 children, she looks like a teenager. I remember when I use to babysit her sometimes!
She smiles at us, we talk, slowly other children gather around us, I had lost count or sight of all the Shaikewitz kids and now they were almost all married with their own families. Each girl that appeared to greet us, seemed, like an incredible woman of her own, fine, chasidish, dressed so fine, all with this porcelain skin like their mum. The sister looks so close to each other, yet respectful of each others’ space, the younger sister the only girl not married yet is sitting in the dining room on the couch next to her mother, holding her hand.
I try to look without being noticed too much, there is Mora Soshi sitting on a couch holding a siddur, her face looks in pain. She is suffering.
At the same time though that image of her sitting surrounded by her children only, who were the only ones who could get close to her, made me feel as if I was in front of a queen.
She looked royal.
I couldn’t stop staring at her.
The second daughter Freida, who is herself married with 9 kids kh! came towards me strong and smiling yet her eyes were red and swollen. Freida is the one I know best, she looks at me before I can say a word.
“Everything happens for a reason, it’s Hashem’s will and my father left us full instructions on how to continue without him almost as if he knew…” she says.
I look back at her speechless.
She goes on…” it’s incredible Hadassah, everything is so clear, we are ready to continue all my father’s work and fulfill all the projects he had undertaken”.
I think you might need 10 people to do what your father alone did.
Listen, she tells me, last week my brother Meir who is a Chabad shaliach in Rome discussed an important matter about his shlichut with my dad. He was supposed to visit a new congregation in the coming Shabbat and was asking for advice. My dad encouraged him to try it out and told him a story to tell the community where he would be spending Shabbat.
That Shabbat never happened because my dad passed away on Thursday, but as we were all together Shabbat, my brother revealed to us the story my father had told him, to us siblings.
“A man was granted the privilege to have a vision of the entrance of the Garden of Eden, he sees an old man who had died and come up to heaven, sadly though there was no one to greet him and he was walking alone in his old age towards the angels until an angel got up and helped the old man reach the gates of Heaven, as they were making their way a wave of excitement took over heavens as suddenly all the angels moved towards another man who had just crossed the sky to walk into heaven. This man was much younger and healthier than the old man who had walked a few minutes before, yet all the angels were ready on their feet to greet him and help him in.
At this point the man seeing all this – complained to the angels, I don’t understand, a man walks in and is old and frail and none of the angels got up to greet him, this guy who is younger gets all the attention and help? Don’t you respect the elder people like we do down on earth?
The angel answered him:
“Dear man here in Gan Eden, time is not counted through days going by. Here, time is counted through the good deeds the person accomplished.”
Tears are running down my cheeks.
This is the story Rav Shaikewitz told his son.
They never saw or spoke to each other again.
They say righteous people can feel when their time has come to leave this world.
Rav Shaikewitz left a present for his family to give them strength during that long Shabbat spent home crying and desperately longing for him.
This story. Now they know he is ok wherever he is.
I left the house feeling as if I had been on a different planet as if I had gone back in time and lived through one of those stories of the Baal Shem Tov.
The whole picture of these 13 amazing children all tight around their mother, such dignity, such poise. No anger, no drama, no exaggeration.
There was a special feeling in that house, an atmosphere of G-d fearing, love and respect for each other, and the full acceptance of the will of the One above with courage and faith.
Not ordinary at all.
I hope you understand now why I had to write it.
May the special neshama of Moshe Shaikewitz have an aliyah zl.
Rabbi Moshe Shaikevitz’s A”H Vision
Join us in continuing the vision of a most impactful Shliach –Rabbi Moshe Shaikevitz
On Friday, 5 Cheshvan 5781, Rabbi Shaikevitz tragically passed away.
Rabbi Shaikevitz dedicated his life to building, growing and uniting the Jewish Community of Milan, Italy. With unsurpassed kindness, humility and motivation to his Shlichus, he built numerous mosdos and influenced the lives of countless individuals.
A week before his sudden passing, Rabbi Shaikevitz placed a down payment on a new building of 1500 square meters. His hope was to create a center where all would feel welcome and to use the space for learning, joy and togetherness.
Now it is OUR opportunity to continue what Rabbi Shaikevitz started and to ensure that his dream becomes a reality!
To join with the Beit Chabad Milan and other supporters of Rabbi Shaikevitz to Continue the Shliach’s Vision, please visit charidy.com/milano.