Tens of newly released letters shed light on the Rebbe’s efforts to assist Jews throughout the world, from holocaust survivors to the Jews of Morocco. A glimpse into the Rebbe’s letters to the Jewish Distribution Committee. Part 1.
A little over a month ago a revolution in the Rebbe’s Torah took place. An entire section of the Rebbe’s Torah which was hitherto overlooked, has finally been made and accessible.
The Rebbe’s English letters which until now were never properly organized are now available on the newly launched Rebbe Responsa app, a digital platform containing thousands of the Rebbe’s letters written originally in English. With it’s interactive features, including subject tagging, search, articles, daily quotes and featured content, the Rebbe’s view and guidance on a vast array of subjects these untapped treasures contain are now easily accessible for all to learn and internalize.
As we continue our search and discover new letters, newly released content is added to the app daily, and from time to time we come across some truly unique finds. Scattered in various archives housed in libraries and universities across the country, are entire collections containing tens of letters written by the Rebbe in English, waiting to be discovered.
A good example of one such collection that comes to mind is the letters found in the archives of the American Joint Distribution Committee (the JDC).
The JDC (better known simply as the Joint) is a humanitarian organization that has financed and facilitated humanitarian, social, and religious aid to Jewish communities around the globe. From the onset of its establishment (in 1914) the Joint has worked hand in hand with the Rebbes of Chabad on several missions. After the formation of the Soviet Union, the Joint even turned to the Frierdiker Rebbe, the de facto leader of Soviet Jewry, to distribute their funds behind the Iron Curtain.
From providing aid to refugees in the post-holocaust DP camps to revitalizing the Jewish communities in North Africa and the Holy Land, the JDC has a rich history of collaboration with Lubavitch on many fronts.
Amongst the endless collections of letters and documents housed in the JDC archives, we have come across a large treasure trove of correspondence between the Rebbe and the directors of the committee. These letters have been added to the Rebbe Responsa app, making a valuable addition to our ever-growing database.
Join us as we journey through these historic letters and the unique stories they tell, accompanied by historical context and background.
An entire book can be written on the relationship between the Rebbe and the Joint. In this article, we attempt to present this relationship from the lens of these newly discovered letters.
To view the entire collection on the app, see here.
Caring for Every Jew
A few months after the passing of the Frierdiker Rebbe in 5710 (1950), Dr. Joseph J. Schwartz – then the Chairman of the European Executive Council of the JDC – wrote a letter to the Rebbe.
“I had the great privilege of knowing your late father-in-law, the sainted Lubavitcher Rabbi, and had the deepest respect and regard not only for his personality but for the wonderful and inspiring work which he performed. His interest in things affecting the Jewish people was universal and was not confined to any single country or to any single group. The community of Israel scattered throughout the world was his sphere of interest and to this community he gave his great heart and mind and his unbounded energy. It was a privilege for me to have been associated with him even at this distance. It is my hope that the same pleasant associations that prevailed between the Lubavitcher group and ourselves during the life of your father-in-law will continue in the future.“
The Rebbe’s work throughout his leadership exemplified the sentiment of the above letter. The Rebbe cared not only for his own followers but for every single Jew in need no matter where they may be.
A brief study of the Rebbe’s subsequent dealings with the JDC shows us that no Jew was beyond his concern.
In the following paragraphs, we will get a glimpse into some of these efforts.
Religious aid to the DP camps
In the aftermath of WWII the surviving Jewish population of Europe, scattered in DP camps throughout Germany, was in a dire state. Surviving the horrors of the Holocaust, these Jews were in desperate need of humanitarian and religious assistance.
Feeling the dire need of these downtrodden Jews, the Rebbe, then the chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch – the educational branch of Chabad-Lubavitch – supplied them with thousands of religious articles and books.
Below is a letter from 5705 (1945), addressed to the JDC in which the Rebbe turns to the Joint for their assistance in continuing Lubavitch’s work in the DP camps:
“The Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch – the central organization for Jewish education operating under the auspices of my venerable father-in-law, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher Rabbi שליט”א receives numerous requests from overseas, particularly the liberated areas in Europe, for various religious articles, such as Tefillin, Mezuzoth, Taleisim, prayer books, Chumashim, etc. These articles are sent by our organization free of charge. However, in view of the large numbers now urgently requested, we wish to ask you whether you would be able to offer us any assistance in the procurement of shipping space for a sizable transport of such religious articles to the liberated areas of Europe?
“Your early reply will be greatly appreciated.
In a subsequent letter the Rebbe writes:
“Since the day the people in the concentration camps of the war-torn countries were freed, a steady contact was developed with them. The Jews of these countries turned to us with pleas for various kinds of Religious literature and textbooks, and especially books designed for Jewish education. From the books and brochures which are published by us, we already sent out to all our places of contact many thousands of copies, free of charge.
“Our financial status, however, makes it impossible for us to supply these people with all the books which are not published by us, and obviously, we are forced to purchase same from other publishing houses and book stores. The books which I refer to are Chumoshim, Gemoras, Shulchan-Oruch, etc.
“We request, therefore, that you buy through your own channels, the amount of religious books of which they are in dire need, and then turn them over to us, so that we may be able to ship same to the people of Europe.
In an additional letter the Rebbe lists the quantities of the various seforim which the survivors were in desperate need of.
Due to the complications of shipping items to Europe at that time, the JDC was unfortunately unable to fulfill this request. In the following months however, the Joint did provide help and funding for various projects that Merkos held in Europe.
Later that year a special fund was set up by Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch (קרן המצו״ת) to supply Tefiilin Taleisim Mezuzos and books for the survivors.
Shmurah Matzah for the Jews of France
In the mid 40’s a window of hope opened for the Jews living in the USSR. In 1946 the Soviet government allowed the repatriation of thousands of Polish Jews who found themselves in the country after fleeing the Nazis in WWII.
Seizing this opportunity of escaping the religious oppression of Communist Russia many Chabad Chassidim managed to obtain Polish passports, and, under the guise of Polish citizens were successful in leaving the country. Many of them ultimately settled in France.
In 5710 (1950), with the help of the Joint, 1,000 pounds of flour was obtained for the baking of Shmurah-Matzah for the Jews of France. These Matzos were baked by the newly arrived Russian emigres.
In a letter addressed to the Joint (dated 19 Shevat, 5710 – a mere few days after the passing of the Frierdiker Rebbe) the Rebbe writes:
“I am informed by our representative in Paris, Rabbi B. Gorodetzki, that an agreement has been reached with your office in Paris to provide 1000 lbs of Shemurah flour for Pesach for France.
“As you readily understand, the time element is of importance, and it is therefore to be hoped that your Supply Department will expedite this shipment with the utmost dispatch.
“…Your understanding [and] cooperation in this matter is greatly appreciated. Thank you also in anticipation of your advice regarding the above.
The North Africa Mission
Shortly before his passing, the Frierdiker Rebbe entrusted the Rebbe with a mission to assist the Jews of North Africa. At the time, without proper means of Jewish education, the state of North African Jewry was in a state of decline; their plight was for the most part unheeded by the western world.
A mere ten days after the Frierdiker Rebbe’s passing the Rebbe started outlining the foundations of this immense mission, and within a few short months, the first Chabad emissary arrived on Moroccan soil settling in the town of Marrakesh (then home to over 40,000 Jews). Within a short amount of time, Rabbi Michoel Lipskier established a full Jewish infrastructure in Marrakesh and it’s surrounding cities.
In an English letter written a few months after Rabbi Lipskier’s arrival in Marrakesh the Rebbe writes (16 Shevat 5711):
“…shortly before [my father-in-law’s] Histalkus he set in motion a far-reaching project of educational work in North Africa under the auspices of the Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch. The fruits of these efforts are already in full bloom, in the form of a Beth Medrash l’Morim, a Yeshivah, Yeshivah Ktana, Talmud Torahs for boys and Talmud Torahs for girls, evening classes for businessmen and working people, etc.
Within a short amount of time, several more Shluchim joined Rabbi Lipskier, establishing schools and bolstering the religious infrastructure.
The Rebbe’s shluchim not only cared for the children’s spiritual well-being but provided them with basic humanitarian aid. Many of the children studying in the vast network of “Oholei Yosef Yitzchok” schools, especially those in the remote villages, were lacking the bare minimum. The Shluchim clothed and fed these impoverished children.
The financial burden of this project was immense. Due to the impoverished state of Moroccan Jewry, the funding for this vast project would have to come from outside the country. Lubavitch at the time did not have the funds to finance its ever-growing mission in North Africa.
In an English letter dated 10 Teves, 5711, addressed to philanthropist Benjamin Platt the Rebbe writes:
“Since our great leader of sainted memory is no longer with us physically, although spiritually he is with us more than ever, a vacuum in the financial position of the Merkos has been created which threatens its very existence. Nevertheless, knowing that it is his will and testament, the work of the Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch has been maintained in all its ramifications, and, moreover, has been expanded. Thus we have embarked upon a far-reaching educational program in North Africa, where we have established a number of institutions bearing the name of the late Lubavitcher Rabbi of sainted memory (Oholei Yosef Yitzchok — “The Tent of Joseph Isaac”) for the poor and needy and hitherto neglected North African children and youths.”
Before his passing, the Frierdiker Rebbe spoke of his vision of attaining the Joint as a partner in this project.
Later that year the Rebbe writes to Dr. Moses Beckelman, the Director-General of the Joints European Council:
“I was gratified to hear through our representative and head of our European office, Rabbi B. Gorodetsky, upon his recent return to New York, of your sincere desire to maintain the traditional spiritual affinity and practical cooperation which the European Council of the JDC has extended to our work over the years, I am indeed looking forward to such cooperation.”
After months of deliberation, the Joint acquiesced, ultimately providing hundreds of thousands of dollars towards the North African project, making it one of the largest endeavors taken on by the organization.
With the help of the Joint’s backing, the Rebbe sent out several other emissaries, eventually establishing schools and institutions in dozens of cities, towns, and remote villages, servicing tens of thousands of students across North Africa and serving its remaining Jews to this day.
In 1957, the relationship between the Jewish community of Morocco and its government was quite strained.
A year earlier, the government refused to allow its Jewish population to immigrate to Israel (then considered an enemy country), with thousands of Jews attempting to leave illegally detained. The worldwide Jewish community was up in arms in pressuring the authorities to lift the restrictions. Many Jewish leaders and activists openly criticized these discriminatory actions.
In November of that year, King Hassan of Morocco was scheduled to visit the United States and meet with President Eisenhower to discuss matters of mutual interest. A group of Jewish activists sought to seize this opportunity to make public demonstrations demanding the lift of the ban.
In a letter to the heads of the Joint (dated 2 Kislev 5718) the Rebbe stresses with an urgency that it is of utmost importance to ensure that these demonstrations do not take place. This directive is in line with the Rebbe’s well-known view regarding Soviet Jewry, that the most effective method of diplomacy is quiet diplomacy. Acts of public demonstrations, the Rebbe writes, will only serve to further aggravate matters.
“As I have already made known my views on the subject in private conversations, it is my firm opinion, strengthened by information from Morocco, that the efforts presently made to obtain concessions from the Moroccan Government should be conducted in a friendly and pleasant atmosphere, and that any hostile demonstrations on the part of any Jewish circles at this time would only serve to defeat the purpose. Such demonstrations would antagonize not only the Moroccan Government, but also the State Department, which would consider them ill-conceived and ill-timed, and detrimental to its policy.
“Above all, an openly hostile attitude at this time would stifle any conciliatory attitude on the part of the Moroccan Government, and would very likely provoke it to retaliatory measures against the Jewish community in Morocco, and especially against Jewish institutions there which are connected with Jewish-American efforts, such as yours and ours.
“Although my views were recognized, and assurances were made that a corresponding policy would be followed, I now learn with regret that certain circles are bent on taking the opposite view.
“This is the reason for this letter, as I regard you as a person with a sound realistic point of view, whose influence could go a long way toward preventing the unpleasant consequences of hasty, ill-begotten steps in the wrong direction.
Part 2 of this article will be published in the coming days.