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This Six-Day War Widow Dedicated Her Life to Families of Fallen Soldiers – Part 2



How ‘Shifra from Kfar Chabad’ won acclaim throughout Israel

(Continued from last week)

The first challenge was to find appropriate homes where these families could stay. But that turned out to be simple. The people of Kfar Chabad opened their small homes and hosted as many people as possible. The next step was to arrange the communal Seder itself. Remember, this was before the days of catering and disposable dishes. Reb Itchke led the effort, and many women lent a hand to do the actual cooking. Since all the host families would be celebrating the Seder together, we needed to cook food according to the most exacting standards of kosher-for-Passover.

Begin surrounded by war orphans at a special bar mitzvah ceremony in their honor. (Photo: Moshe Milner)

in Beit Shazar, we had tables beautifully set, with everyone seated together, so you could not even tell which families were from Kfar Chabad and which were guests. We needed to think of everything, toys for the kids who would not sit, and cribs for the little ones who could not stay awake, and many other details.

The atmosphere was so festive. Everyone did their part to make things special. I especially remember how Rabbi Avraham Lider, a Torah teacher from Kfar Chabad, got up and sang Chad Gadya in Arabic. The ladies—many of whom were from Arab lands—just couldn’t get over it. Today, there are public Seders everywhere, but this was ground-breaking at the time.

Encouragement From the Rebbe

The greatest reward we got for our efforts came from the Rebbe. In a public farbrengen before Passover, he discussed the communal celebration being prepared in the Holy Land and said he was very gratified by the reports he was receiving.

One year, he sent us $100 with a note saying that it was his personal contribution toward the Chanukah party we were arranging.

Throughout the years, the Rebbe was a constant source of support and inspiration. He once told me that I must view each of the women as a daughter of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.

A birthday party for orphaned girls

After the Rebbe launched the Shabbat candle campaign, he asked Rabbi Laibov to arrange that every daughter of our families receive a candle holder as a gift. I was afraid that a single candle holder could be seen as a memorial candle, something that could have a very negative effect, and therefore I suggested that we send them each two candle holders, which they would more easily connect with Shabbat.

But the Rebbe had stated that girls should light only one candle. What was I to do? The Rebbe replied that we should indeed send two candle holders, explaining that one was to be used now, and the second should be kept until they would get married.

The Rebbe added that he wanted to pay for the candle holders.

In 1973, I traveled to the Rebbe. Before I went, I told my friends they could write letters that I would personally deliver to the Rebbe. Before long, I had a stack of letters addressed to the Rebbe. One woman, however, had written a note directly to me: “Shifra, tell the Rebbe how broken I am. I want to get married already.”

I handed the Rebbe that letter as well, and he blessed her to find a marriage partner and create a home with him. Two weeks passed and she met an eligible bachelor, whom she soon married.

She later remarked, “You know who was my shadchan [matchmaker]? The Lubavitcher Rebbe!”

Bar Mitzvah Celebrations

A gathering of war widows

Reb Itchke had the idea that we should celebrate the bar mitzvah of our orphan boys. You need to understand the psychology here. For 13 years, a boy looks forward to his bar mitzvah.

From the age of 10, he is already envisioning himself on his “big day.” Then bang, everything changes. Mommy no longer has the strength/desire/headspace/energy for a bar mitzvah or her son’s dreams for the future.

What do we do? We visited the homes of each of the sixteen boys who would turn 13 that first year, and we developed direct connections and friendships with them. The owner of an event hall in Tel Aviv donated space. Representatives of the Department of Defense came to the celebration. In order to make things as personal as possible, we printed personalized invitations for each boy with only his name to send to up to 100 addresses.

We continued those annual bar mitzvahs for many years, celebrating with more than 180 boys.

Healing Through Love

Another thing that began back then were the camps for bar-mitzvah boys. The purpose of the camp was to meld them into a cohesive group who would feel comfortable sharing their joyous day together. We deliberately arranged for the boys to be hosted by families, so they could be part of the day-to-day family life.

Israel’s President Zalman Shazar, seated, and Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the first chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, at a ceremony for the daughters of fallen soldiers.

We worked closely with the Israel Air Force and Navy, and we gave those kids a really good time, experiences to last a lifetime and the feeling that they were part of the “Chabad family.”

Someone once told me he was taking a jeep tour in the Golan, and the manager of the business told him he had taken part of our camps as a child. Even though he is not religious, he made sure to marry his wife in a traditional wedding because of the experience.

We never tried to force anyone to do teshuvah, but I have no doubt that the seeds we planted have grown many fruits. I once received mishloach manot with the note, “Dear Shifra, the fruits in this basket are kosher, not picked on Shabbat.” For the people sending that gift, that was real progress!

I once traveled to a certain kibbutz (I will not mention the name, but I assure you that it is far from Chassidic, and that they even sell pork there). When I came to visit a woman there, she showed me that she had prepared juice with kosher certification and paper cups for me. For her, this was a big deal.

Someone recently knocked on my door and told me, “You do not remember me, but you made me a bar mitzvah.” Thank G d, I remembered his name, his mother’s name, and even the name of the street where he lived. He told me he still feels especially close to Chabad.

Another anecdote:

Reb Yechiel Neparstak once traveled to the Golan Heights to put on tefillinwith soldiers stationed there, but the sentries refused to let him onto the base. When he turned to the commander for help, the commander said, “Why are you not letting him in? I will be the first to put on tefillin, and I want everyone to do the same.”

Shifra Marasow and her children

After the tefillin had made their rounds, the commander explained, “In my kibbutz there is a boy whose father fell in battle and mother had been killed in an accident. When I saw how the people of Chabad cared for this boy with love and dedication, how can I not put on tefillin?”

We have been told by professionals that our work of “healing through love” by showing people attention and genuine care had an even stronger therapeutic effect than professional help.

There was one boy whose parents had both been killed in a terror attack. He was raised by his aunt and once came to our camp in Kfar Chabad. When the boys went on trips, he would insist on standing in the front of the bus next to the driver (perhaps to escape if need be). When camp ended, his aunt told us, “His host-mother managed to accomplish what all the psychologists had not been able to do.”

The campers would also write letters to the Rebbe and receive replies, which were just outstanding. From those replies, you could see how the Rebbe cared for each child.

My story is finished, but not complete. I wish I could have told you there were no more wars, no more widows, and that my work is done. Unfortunately, we are still hoping for Moshiach. Thank G d, we are believers, and this hope gives us strength and empowers us to strengthen others as well.

           By: Fradie Brod

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