Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ruth Blau & Yossele (Yoseph) Schuchmacher, Part 2


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.

Please find the first part of this series HERE

 Part 2

Ruth Blau wrote in her book “Shomrei Ha’Ir”:

Yossele’s grandfather, the Breslover Chassid Nachman Starkes, lived most of his life in Uman / Russia. He was a pious man and tried to protect his religious life as good as he could. This wasn’t always easy because he lived in a country where Stalin ruled. Only tiny Jewish minorities continued with their Jewish lifestyle. Most other Jews assimilated into Russian society. 

However, frum Jews like Nachman Starkes were not free in practicing their religion but Stalin threatened them. Starkes didn’t escape Stalin’s police and was sent to a prison camp in Siberia where he lost an eye, a few toes. 

Rabbi Meizish (Meises) who had asked Ruth to take Yossele abroad was, the same as Nachman Starkes, a former prisoner of the Soviet Gulag. In 1957, Miriam and Nachman Starkes moved to Jerusalem and lived together with their 19 year old son Shalom. However, the Starkes family didn’t expect the same spiritual religious fights they had fought in Russia. Now they were in the middle of Mea Shearim and, therefore the family thought that everything will change and they are free in their religion.
Three months later, Ida Schuchmacher nee Starkes and her husband moved to Israel. When they arrived, little Yossele was still suffering from a wound at his head, as a Russian child had hit him with a metal stick. 

As we learnt before, the Schuchmacher couple brought Yossele to his grandparents in Mea Shearim where he stayed for two years. Ruth Blau claims that his father Alter only came to visit Yossele twice. Nachman Starkes, on the other hand, took Yossele quite a few times to his parents in order to see them. Yossele’s older sister Sina was first brought to her grandparents in Mea Shearim but only stayed for the first six months. Afterwards her parents took her to a girl’s school in Kfar Chabad (near Rishon Le’Zion). In those days, Shalom Starkes studied in a Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad.

While the Schuchmachers were busy building themselves a life in their new country, the Starkes were also suffering from poverty. However, they were, more or less, used to it and always satisfied with their small portion. Their greatest dream was living in Israel and this had come true. Back in Russia, Alter Schuchmacher was still religious but this had changed as soon as he came to Israel. He stopped praying, going to the Synagogue, he stopped keeping Shabbat, he didn’t put on Tefillin anymore and Ida and him stopped keeping Taharat Mishpacha (the family purity laws). 

Actually this happened to many formerly religious families. Back in Eastern Europe they were frum but as soon as they settled in the Land of Israel, they stopped keeping Mitzvot. Alter Schuchmacher found a job in a factory. Ruth Blau describes Alter Schuchmacher as a weak character who finally went back to his Communist ideologies. The latter made it very hard for the Schuchmachers to adjust in the State of Israel and they were afraid of what the future would bring. In Russia, on the other hand, a Communist like Schuchmacher could make a career but not in Israel. Thus, Ida and Alter started thinking about returning to Russia. Nachman Starkes had heard about the plans of his daughter and son – in – law and was ready to protect his grandchild Yossele. Israel’s public was not very happy with Alter Schuchmacher’s plans to return to Russia. Especially in those days, every Jew who had made Aliyah and then left Israel, was seen as a traitor. 

According to Ruth, Yossele Schuchmacher was happy to see her, he was ready to leave the country and didn’t want to go back to his parents. Ruth describes herself as “extremely impressed by his pure soul”. Then, Yossele was already eight years old.
After Ruth Blau took Yossele to the US, she went to see the Satmarer Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum in Williamsburgh / New York. She saw the Rebbe sitting at his desk but she doesn’t mention in her book whether she actually spoke to him. Someone accompanying her had told her before not to mention Yossele to the Rebbe because he would be too busy with other issues. In the end, Yossele lived with the Gartner family in Brooklyn who took care of him.

It didn’t take too long until Ruth was investigated by the police. She refused to tell where Yossele is. Finally, the Mossad found Yossele in the Gartner house. His mother Ida arrived in New York in order to pick him up. The Amercian authorities refused giving out a visa to Yossele’s father Alter because he was a Communist. After arriving in Israel, Yossele underwent medical and psychological treatment. One month later, the press published a photo of the “new” Yossele: His Peyes (sidecurls) were cut off and now it was stressed that he is the son of Alter Schuchmacher the Communist. His godfather became David Ben Gurion, an atheist.

Ruth describes that Yossele was facing difficulties in getting used to his new environment. He was nervous but, as soon as he saw his grandfather, his eyes started to shine. 

Ruth Blau writes that, at the same time the State of Israel was accusing her of “kidnapping”, the Israeli government kidnapped Moroccan children. The Jewish parents in Morocco were told that there children would be taken to Israel for a few weeks. Just on vacation but they never returned. 

As we all know, Sepharadim in those days were much much more religious than Ashkenazim and what the Ben Gurion government did was placing the Moroccan children into secular Kibbutzim where the Tefillin were taken from them. The children didn’t receive kosher food and were told that they don’t need to keep Shabbat anymore.

As a matter of fact, this wasn’t the first time the secular government acted this way. After the Holocaust and even before the official foundation of the State of Israel, religious Jewish children from East Europe were brought to Israel and put into secular Kibbutzim. None of the leading Zionist figures took care that those children continued their religious life. On the contrary, these children were forced into secular Kibbutzim and to forget about their frum heritage. 

A very dark spot in Israel's history !

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