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New Book!

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TUGH-72dpi-CMYK-3D I’m very excited to announce a new book I had the privilege to put together.

This book highlights the spiritual activism which took place both inside and outside the Soviet Union between 1975 and 1992. Although a movement to help Soviet Jewry began in the United States and elsewhere in the 1960s, its focus was essentially political, not religious. Its goal was to get the Soviet authorities to allow Jews to immigrate to Israel, not necessarily teach them what it meant to live a Jewish life. For the most part, many of the intellectuals and scientists who became activists in the sixties and the seventies never embraced an observant life. They saw their return to Jewish identity in mostly secular terms. There were a handful of old Jews who miraculously held onto their beliefs and observance even from Lenin’s time, but by Soviet design they had no influence on the younger generations. From a Torah perspective, the Soviet Union was a vast spiritual wasteland.

Then a spark was lit – albeit among a handful of young Jews who were alone, scattered, persecuted, under constant surveillance by the KGB and without books or teachers. Fanning their spark into the fire of a spiritual revolution required Jews from outside the Soviet Union to get involved. And, indeed, a few such Jews stepped into the breach.

One of them was was couple: R’ Mordechai Neustadt and his wife. From husband-and-wife travel agents trying to make a small difference there eventually grew this vast network called Vaad Lehatzolas Nidchei Yisrael (Organization to Rescue Dispersed Jews) that dispatched hundreds of shlichim (emissaries) to the Soviet Union to teach and encourage members of a budding baal teshuvah movement. Moreover, as the Soviet Union began collapsing and started letting its Jewish population emigrate, the Vaad helped already-freed Soviet Jews make the transition to life in Eretz Yisrael and America. It would set up yeshivas, kollels and educational institutions geared specifically for them. In short, the Vaad turned a trickle into a torrent. It changed the course of history.

The Vaad’s shlichim were particularly noteworthy in that many of them were prominent roshei yeshiva, venerated mechanchim and acclaimed talmidei chachamim. This cadre of distinguished emissaries placed themselves in the line of fire, risking arrest, detention and hostile interrogations from the KGB just to teach Torah to a lost generation. They were frontline participants and living witnesses to one of the greatest miracles in recent history – the resurrection of Torah-true Jewish life in the former Soviet Union. Their testimonies not only tell the story but tell it with an especially high dosage of Torah perspective.

The hope is that this book becomes the source for young and old, novice and maven, who want an in-depth firsthand account of what happened to Jews in the Soviet Union, the miracle of how Torah sprouted from behind the Iron Curtain, and why, for all its tragedy, the story of Soviet Jewry turned into an incredibly inspiring chapter in the unparalleled ongoing story of the Jewish people.

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Asifa Impression #3: The Reason for the Ridicule

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A man went tubing up the Delaware River with a group. What a relaxing experience it was! Feet dangling over the sides of the inflated rubber tube, rhythmic sounds of the river… It was so relaxing that he closed his eyes and dozed off…. When he opened them he realized he was in trouble… big trouble…

After writing about the universal appeal of the Internet Asifa and the widespread negative reaction of much of the media – including downplaying the content and/or using the event to launch into Orthodox Jew-bashing – the question is: Why the attempt to blunt the message?

I’ll answer that from a story I heard from my good friend, Rabbi Label Lam.

A man went tubing up the Delaware River with a group. What a relaxing experience it was! Feet dangling over the sides of the inflated rubber tube, rhythmic sounds of the river, an occasional splash of cool water as he gently paddled…. It was so relaxing. In fact, at one point he decided to just close his eyes for a few moments and take in the wonderful rays of the sun.

This is the life, he thought to himself. No worries. No cares. Just relaxing.

It was so relaxing that a few moments turned into a few minutes… which turned into a few extra minutes… which turned into…. Oh my God! He opened his eyes and no one was around. They were way upstream, and he was drifting downstream. In fact, what was that sound? He was heading toward a waterfall!

That is life, Rabbi Lam explains. Growth – psychological, physical and especially spiritual – requires work. Going against a current. Exerting oneself. Sometimes more, sometimes less – but exerting oneself. Some people think they are living the life. They don’t need to work too hard. Take in the rays and relax like me, they tell people.

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