Sunday, January 28, 2007

Day in History

1950: On the secular calendar the date on which Joseph Isaac Schneersohn (Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn or Friyerdikker Rebbe ("Previous Rebbe" in Yiddish) or Rayatz) passed away. "Born in 1880, he was the sixth Rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic Judaism movement. After many years of fighting to keep Judaism alive in the Soviet Union, he was forced into exile, which eventually brought him to the United States after spending some years in Poland. He was the father-in-law to the last and most famous Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson. Joseph Isaac Schneersohn was born in Lubavitch, Belarus (then Russian empire). He was appointed as his father's personal secretary at the age of fifteen. In 1897 at the age of seventeen he married a distant cousin Nehama Dina Schneersohn. He was appointed as the first head of the new Tomchei Temimin network of Lubavitch yeshivas in Russian empire. As he matured, he campaigned for the rights of Jews by appearing before the Czarist authorities in St. Petersburg and Moscow. During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 he sought relief for Jewish conscripts in the Russian army by sending them kosher food and supplies. With rising anti-Semitism and pogroms against Jews, he traveled with other prominent rabbis to seek help from Western European governments. He was arrested four times between 1902 and 1911 by the Czarist police because of his activism, but was released each time. Upon the death of his father Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn in 1920 Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn became the sixth Rebbe (paramount leader) of Lubavitch. It was a time of great social and political upheaval following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the First World War 1914 - 1918 as Russia was first defeated by Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II and then succumbed to the Russian Civil War after the execution of the last Czar Nicholas II and the entire royal family in 1918. The victorious anti-religious secular -minded Bolsheviks, with Jews who had joined the Communist Party in their midst, were intent on uprooting and suppressing all religious life in the "new" Soviet Russia. Following the takeover of Russia by the Communists, they created a special "Jewish affairs section" known as the Yevsektsiya which instigated anti-Jewish activities meant to strip Jews of their Torah -centered way of life based on Orthodox Judaism and its ancient codes such as the Shulkhan Arukh and the Shulchan Aruch HaRav laws compiled by the first Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. As Rebbe of a Russian-based segment of the Jewish people, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn was vehemently outspoken against the new aggressive Communist regime and its goals to establish atheism in the land. He purposely directed his followers to set up religious schools going against the dictates of the Marxist Leninist "dictatorship of the proletariat". Thus in 1927 he was arrested and imprisoned in the Spalerno prison in Leningrad. He was tried by an armed council of revolutionaries who repeatedly threatened his life waving guns in his face. He was sentenced to death. A world-wide storm of outrage and pressure from Western governments forced the communist regime to commute the death sentence and instead banished him to Kostroma on the Urals for three years. This was also commuted following political pressure from the outside, and he was finally allowed to leave Russia for Riga in Latvia 1928 - 1929. He then went to visit the Eretz Israel) and the USA where he was received by US President Herbert Hoover in the White House. From 1934 until the early part of the Second World War he lived in Warsaw Poland. Following the Nazi Germany attack against Poland in 1939 Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn refused to leave Warsaw. He remained in the city during the bombardments and its capitulation to Nazi Germany. He gave the full support of his organizations under Chabad Hasidism to assist as many Jews as possible to flee the invading armies. With the intercession of the United States Department of State in Washington, DC (at that time Germany was not at war with the USA) and with the lobbying of many Jewish leaders on behalf of the Rebbe, he was finally granted diplomatic immunity and given safe conduct to go to New York City where he arrived on March 19, 1940. Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn was already physically weak and ill from his suffering at the hands of the Communists and the Nazis, but he had a strong vision of rebuilding Orthodox Judaism in America and he wanted his movement to spearhead it. In order to do so he went on a crash building campaign to establish religious Jewish Day Schools and yeshivas for boys and girls, seminaries for women and rabbinical colleges for men during the last decade of his life, from 1940 to 1950 when he was often unable to stand up due to his past sufferings in prisons and interrogations. He settled himself in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in New York City. He established publications, printing houses for the voluminous writings of his movement, and started the process of trying to win over the Jewish masses world-wide to his cause. He began to teach publicly, and many came to seek out his teachings. He began gathering and sending out a small amount of his newly trained rabbis to other cities which was emulated and amplified by his son-in-law and successor Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson with phenomenal success. In 1948 he established a Lubavitch village in Israel known as Kfar Chabad near Lod. When he died in 1950, he was buried in the Borough of Queens in New York City. He had no sons, so his two remaining sons-in-law were left to run the Lubavitch movement. His gravesite became a central point of focus for his successor who would visit it weekly for many hours of meditation and supplication."

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