Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ruth Blau (Bloi) & Yossele (Yoseph) Schuchmacher


I am going to describe the “Yossele Schuchmacher” case according to Ruth Blau’s book “Shomrei Ha’Ir – Guardians of the City” as well as Isser Harel’s book “Mivzah Yossele - Operation Yossele”. When Yossele Schuchmacher was kidnapped, Isser Harel happened to be the Mossad director and in 1962, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion himself ordered the Mossad to get involved and find the child Yossele. The case of the kidnapped boy surely rocked the entire nation.

Ruth Blau (formerly “Ruth ben David”) doesn’t mention too many names in her book. However, Isser Harel writes that it was the previous Neturei Karta head, Rabbi Katzenellenbogen, who asked Ruth to take Yossele abroad. Rabbi Katzenellenbogen together with Rabbi Eliyahu Meizish (who used to be very friendly with Ruth). 

It is not really clear to me whether the Rabbi's name was MEIZISH or MEISEL(S). There are different versions in the books and maybe one of the readers can contribute some information !
Moreover, Isser Harel writes that Yossele’s kidnapping took place with the knowledge of the former Satmarer Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum.

Isser Harel describes the background from his point of view:
In 1957, the Schuchmacher family made Aliyah to Israel from Poland. Countless other sources claim that the Schuchmachers’ actually made Aliyah from Russia. Even Ruth Blau said so. However, Isser Harel said POLAND. 

Alter and Ida Schuchmacher, together with their two children, made Aliyah. Their daughter Sina then was nine years old and their son Yossele (Yoseph) was four years old. The Jewish Agency first sent them to Nahariya; afterwards the family moved to Holon (near Tel Aviv). In those days, there was neither any “Nefesh be’Nefesh” nor received new immigrants lots of financial help. This only came into existence much later.

The Schuchmachers’ were facing a hard time getting adjusted to their new country. Thus no one was surprised that they were also in dire straits.
Only a short while before the Schuchmachers made Aliyah, Ida Schuchmacher’s parents Nachman and Miriam Starkes had moved to Israel; together with with Ida’s brother Shalom. They made Aliyah from Poland but seemed to have lived before in the Soviet Union. 

The Starkes also had an older son with the name Ovadiah. However, he had moved to England where he worked as a Shochet in a haredi community in London.
Nachman Starkes and his two sons (Shalom and Ovadiah) were very strict Haredim and members of Chassidut Breslov. The real old Breslovers and not the modern Baalei Teshuva movement we see today !

Nachman Starkes found his way to Jerusalem and settled in Mea Shearim. His son Shalom became a Yeshiva student. In the meantime, the Schuchmachers’ arrived and due to their financial difficulties, they decided to give their son Yossele to the Starkes in Mea Shearim. His sister Sina was sent to Kfar Chabad (near Rishon LeZion). After a while, Alter and Ida Schuchmacher found an apartment in Holon and also jobs. They decided to get their children back home and be a real family. Just like in the days before they came to Israel. Thus, with the beginning of the new school year of 1959, they enrolled their children in a religious school in Holon. Daughter Sina returned to her parents and afterwards, the Schuchmacher’s went to Jerusalem in order to pick up Yossele. Then, Yossele had already been six years old. 

Ida and Alter Schuchmacher were shocked when they heard that Ida’s parents, the Starked refused handing them over their son Yossele. A huge dispute arouse between them and Ida Schuchmacher tried anything in order to change the mind of her parents. Nachman Starkes claimed that Holon is a place of secular Jews and therefore, Yossele cannot receive the religious education he now is used to. Ida Schuchmacher said that the children were enrolled in religious schools but no argument helped. Starkes refused, as those religious schools belonged to the National Religious Movement. Under those conditions, Nachman Starkes was not prepared to give in and decided that young Yossele is staying where he is; in Mea Shearim. Soon after, Yossele disappeared from their home and was hidden at a different Mea Shearim location.
In January 1960, Ida and Alter Schuchmacher went to a rabbinic court in Tel Aviv but Ida’s father Nachman didn’t show up in court. Due to his weak health, so he claimed. The Schuchmachers’ didn’t know what to do and made an appeal to the Great Rabbinic Court of the State of Israel. Nachman Starkes still hid the boy and Yossele’s parents were not allowed to see him. The lawyer of the Schuchmacher family claimed that Starkes may take Yossele out of the country. Maybe to Ovadiah Starkes in London.
On February 10, 1960, Israel’s Supreme Court and the Rabbinic Court decided that Nachman Starkes must return the child Yoseph Schuchmacher to his parents until February 15. Nachman Starkes, however, refused announcing the Yossele’s whereabouts and the child was not returned. Again, the Schuchmachers’ went to the Supreme Court. This time, the court decided to get Nachman Starkes arrested. He would be in jail until he is telling where Yossele is hidden. 

Nachman Starkes rather wanted to go to jail than giving up on the boy. In the meantime, the case had turned into a public matter and the first journalists arrived in order to make interviews. Nachman Starkes told everyone that his daughter Ida and his son – in – law Alter are about to leave Israel and move to Communist Russia. This way, Starkes planned to influence even the secular world that Yossele may be in danger by moving to Russia. You have to take into consideration the times: Then Russia was the biggest enemy of the Western world and its secularism was well – known. How then could a child be brought back into such a country ?

Starkes regarded his acts as a big Mitzvah; saving Yossele from the secular world and giving him a Torah education. Nachman Starkes told everyone how much a religious Jew is suffering in secular Russia. Especially under the Communist regime. This is the reason why he himself escaped from there. He claimed that in Russia, one cannot live as a religious Jew but may be send to Siberia. The Russian themselves had tortured him when he expressed his will of leaving the country. 

The case Yoseph “Yossele” Schuchmacher became File No. 60 – 720. The police were officially searching for the child and handed out fully descriptions to the public. People who knew Nachman Starkes were asked to come in for investigation. The police department launched a special unit with the intention of checking out all acquaintances of Nachman Starkes and thus finding the place where Yossele was hidden. Furthermore, the police took influential people from haredi society to Nachman Starkes in order talk to him and convince him to release the child. Without any result.
It turned out to be extremely hard searching all the small alleyways in Mea Shearim. All the small houses and cellars. The inhabitants stuck together and were not of any help. Everyone tried to find Yossele: Cops, agents, journalists and it must have been a weird and always suspicious atmosphere in Mea Shearim. However, the Starkes made the claim that Yossele himself didn’t want to return to his parents.

On May 12, 1960, the Supreme Court decided that the police have to continue the search for Yossele. No matter what. Even with force. Sometimes it looked as if the police gave in because there were violent acts on both sides and the police wanted to avoid any violence. 

Starkes’ lawyer claimed that his client could no longer be in jail due to his bad health. The Schuchmachers’ now now also demanded the arrest of Nachman’s son Shalom because he would act while his father was imprisoned. 

In June 1960, the “Agudat Israel” Knesset member Shlomo Lorenz tried to negotiate between the Starkes and the Schuchmachers. In the meantime, Ida and Alter Schuchmacher announced that Yossele would study in a Yeshiva as soon as he was released from his hiding place. The parents even agreed to sign a letter where it says that they would not take the boy outside the country. 

On June 8, 1960, the Knesset discussed the issue how the police should act and continue the search. Many religious Knesset members, however, took the side of Nachman Starkes. For instance, Knesset member Yaakov Katz called Nachman Starkes’ intentions of saving the child “pure”. The Knesset stated that every Israeli citizen has the right to raise his child when the education doesn’t have a bad influence on the health and well – being of the child. Those groups supporting Nachman Starkes insisted on the Torah; and according to the Torah, Nachman Starkes is right. Mea Shearim considered itself as a “country within a country” and asked the police not to interfere. 

The religious Knesset member Shlomo Lorenz saw the entire affair as extremely tragic. The affair would challenge the entire Israeli society by splitting it into half. Meaning, the opinion of society was divided into those supporting the Schuchmacher family and into those supporting the Starkes family. 

Mea Shearim accused the police of violating human rights. The cops would use severe force while investigating in the neighbourhood. What does the government intend to show ? That it has more power than an old frum Jew (Nachman Starkes) and that the prime minister is higher than G – d ?

The police, on the other hand, justified themselves that they would act according to the facts. An old Jew immigrates from Russia, takes care of his grandson, then refuses to return him to his parents. Nachman Starkes would not recognize any authority but only G – d. 

The police didn’t only act in Jerusalem but also in other places. 
So far the description of former Mossad director Isser Harel.

Now let us continue with the details Ruth Blau gave in her book:

Rabbi Eliyahu Meizish called her up while she was visiting Israel. Ruth went to see him and the Rabbi told her about Yossele. For several months, some Haredim have been hiding an eight – year – old boy. Rabbi Meizish continued telling Ruth the background about Yossele’s parents and Nachman Starkes. Ida Schuchmacher had married a secular Jew and now she does everything he wants. The Rabbi claimed that the boy only loves his grandparents and if Ruth was willing to bring him out of the country. Furthermore, Ruth was told that this was a big Mitzvah. Ruth Blau had a hard time thinking about whether to agree and asked for some time to think it over. 

The next day, Ruth went back to the Rabbi and told him that she agrees. Rabbi Meizish told her the name of Leibl Friedman (if this is really the real name !) from Bnei Brak. He should take her to the child.

My own opinion so far:

Rabbi Meizish used Ruth HaGioret (the convert) and this doesn’t surprise me. He would have never send a born haredi Jewess from Mea Shearim but rather told Ruth, whose final goal was total acceptance of haredi society, that everything was a Mitzvah. At first, Ruth may have had her doubts but, as she says, she found a way how to get the child abroad. Nevertheless, one of her thoughts may have definitely been “What do I get out of this ? What is in for me ?" As anxious as Ruth was, she anticipated a huge step forward in her haredi life. Afterwards she may profit from total acceptance although she was a convert and maybe she would also receive a respectable Shidduch.

There are times when born Haredim avoid getting involved into something but send out a convert and tell him about the great importance of the issue. Or to give it a name: “Exploitation”. 

Nevertheless, I do see the point of the parents and I do see the point of the Starkes family. It is not an easy decision; especially when you consider that years before, the State of Israel (or then even Palestine) had rescued little frum children from the Shoah, brought them to Israel and put them into secular Kibbutzim. A huge important but, unfortunately, forgotten subject I am going to write about these days !


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