Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sad but uplifting story: Visiting Sholom Rubashkin in jail

Ex-Aussie Chabadnik gives Chizuk to a Chosid
(Remembering Reb Nochum Zalmen z'l and his son-in-law - one of Melbourne's best - Reb Hershel Klein z'l)

My visit to R' Sholom Rubashkin

By Rabbi Shalom Gurewicz

My job in Kashrus takes me to Cedar Rapids, Iowa every month. Knowing that Sholom Mordechai is sitting in prison there, I applied last month to visit him. I was approved and visited him yesterday. He was so happy to see me besides for the fact of just having a visitor, he had also been placed in solitary confinement the night before and nobody including his wife and attorney knew about it yet and he was not allowed to make calls •

My zeida, Nochum Zalman Gurewicz, once took my aunt Ida to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe. She told the Rebbe that her husband Hershel was not a Chossid but a ‘finer poshuter yid’- a simple Jew (in fact he was a Yid a Talmud Chochom). The Rebbe answered her ‘un vos is a Chossid? A finer poshuter Yid!’- ‘and what is a Chossid, a fine simple Jew!’

Sholom Mordechai is a Chossid. His actions in prison had me thinking if my ‘Chassidishkeit’ and behavior in freedom is the way it should be.

While in prison, Sholom Mordechai has requested to shower every morning. He does not do this for the same reason most people shower in the morning but this was his way of going to the Mikvah before Davening. He will not Daven unless he showers first.

His toilet is in the actual cell so in order not to Daven with a toilet in the room he has taken his sheets and made a Mechitzah around the toilet. At one point when his ‘cell mate’ complained of contraband they did a search on the cell and took down his mechitzah.

He told me that in the morning when he woke up in solitary confinement he started saying Tehilim (Sholom Mordechai is known for saying the whole Tehilim daily even before prison) and then he started to cry. Immediately he stopped himself and looked up to Hashem and said what am I crying for and began laughing away and then began to sing and dance in the cell five nigunim including Nepolian’s march, a known Lubavitcher song.

He would take some of the water that was given to him to drink and save it in a bag for neglevasser. He would not watch TV even with not much else to do there. He felt that once you compromise your spiritual values it is a slippery slope downhill. All the other prisoners had to do was watch TV, he had his seforim. He said that when they didn’t watch TV they would be yelling things at each other and there were also screams of ‘there is a Jew here, kill the ….Jews’. He would read a lot of Tanya which gave him Chizuk throughout the hardship to remain positive.

When he was put into solitary confinement, the small closet like room had a slab of concrete which was his bed. He looked worried how he would sleep on it without any mattress or something soft. During a small reprieve from the cell, a fellow African American from another of these solitary confinement cells screams out to him ‘hey Rabbi’! Turns out he was from Franklyn Avenue in Brooklyn which is right near Crown Heights. He told him that a small thin mattress is bought to the room from 10pm to 5am and he should not worry.

He told me the story I think of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe while he was in prison he said that at one point he felt like this was Mesechta Gehainom but it was Chelek Beis! Sholom Mordechai felt the same way now in solitary confinement.

On my way out of the prison I shared the elevator with a lawyer who looked at me and said ‘you are a Rabbi correct?’ then he said ‘that means you are Jewish.’ Then he said ‘Well I am a Christian who loves Jews’ to which I responded that we all need to love each other. I then proceeded to tell him about my visit and he was somewhat familiar with the Rubashkin story. He was shocked to hear about the way he was being treated which is horrific.

We learned a small bit of a Sicha from the Rebbe about the geula from Mitzrayim. Sholom Moredchai was pointing out and trying to understand how it could be that all the Yidden who were taken out of Mitzraim never even made it to Eretz Yisroel? It was bewildering to him.

Let us be inspired and let Hashem together with our Tefilos and all our good Hachlotos help this Chossid get out of prison and be able to continue his life as a Chossid together with his family and community in Postville who are waiting to see him again, and all of this with Moshiach Tzidkeinu NOW!!!

Rabbi Shalom Gurewicz
Chicago, IL

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