A Letter to My Father

My Dear Beloved Father,

Thirty-five years have passed since that morning when you paid for the hotel room in Tel Aviv, took your little briefcase and left this world.

You were sixty years old.

You left me, an orphan at a young age, with a devastating void and a major question:  How do I continue your mission?

Thirty-five years have passed, Abba, and not a day goes by without my attempting to fulfill your dreams, despite all the obstacles in my path.

How do I describe to a generation that didn’t know you what  you were all about?

I was told you were an ish chassid from Poland, immersed in your spiritual growth, like thousands of chassidim who sought to follow the light of the Imrei Emes of Ger, zy”a, as they imbibed the fire of his personality.

You were his beloved grandson, a remarkable masmid, and a paragon of modesty who practiced the art of silence. You were a man of many talents, among them depth, brilliance and a phenomenal memory. Those who knew you testified that you were like a “concrete well that does not lose a drop.” More than anything, you loved the company of the elder chassidim of the previous generation, who had merited to see the Sfas Emes, zy”a, and even those older than that — who had basked in the presence of the Chiddushei Harim, zy”a, and the holy Kotzker Rebbe, zy”a. You would sit with them, listening and absorbing their every word, and storing it in your memory.

You were known to all as Reb Leibel, the son of the leader and spokesperson of Polish Jewry, Harav Yitzchak Meir Hakohen Levin, zt”l, the son-in-law of the Imrei Emes, zt”l, and the son of Harav Chanoch Henich Hakohen, zt”l, the revered Rav of Bendin. Yet, I will always remember how you taught me as a young child that what really counts is self yichus.

In those days in Poland, characterized by spiritual richness but material poverty, no one could dream or imagine that you, who listened much more than you spoke, were destined to become a leading public figure in Torah Jewry in the generation following the Holocaust.

No one dreamed, no one imagined, but that’s exactly what happened.

 

It was in April 1940, that you arrived in Eretz Yisrael, broken and weary from the travails you had experienced. Those dearest to you, your wife and only son, close family, friends, a magnificent Chassidic court—had all been left behind in war-torn Poland. Five years of Nazi occupation decimated the crown jewel of European Jewry and almost erased it completely. One person from a city, two from a family (Yirmiyahu 3:14) survived.

Sapped emotionally and physically, tortured and humiliated, these survivors gathered together. Divine Hashgachah, with great compassion, left some of the giants of the generation to help bandage the nation’s wounds and rebuild from the ashes. One of the greatest leaders of that generation was the Imrei Emes, who helped restore the previous glory of pre-war Europe.

And in this chapter, you played a unique role.

You threw yourself into the task of chareidi hasbarah. It wasn’t a simple task, even in normal times. It was an almost impossible task in those days, without any tools, resources or manpower, facing powerful, established anti-Torah forces.

You were the founding editor of the Hebrew Hamodia. You were the polemicist, the publicist, the inscriber and the designer. You laid the foundation for a new kind of media, one that would be in keeping with pure Jewish values. You were one of the first writers who described those glorious pre-war days.

You were the man who stood up stalwartly to the deniers and distorters; you were the man who presented to them authentic Jewish history, in a clear and methodical fashion.

You described in simple words how the Hebrew Hamodia was founded.

 

“It was the end of Av 5710-1950. We were invited to the home of Harav Yitzchak Meir Levin, zt”l, on Yona Street in Yerushalayim, for a work meeting. On the agenda: the publication of a daily newspaper that would serve as the mouthpiece for the Agudas Yisrael movement.”

Harav Yitzchak Meir Levin refused to discuss the budget. “We’ll manage,” he said confidently. “We’ll have income from subscribers and ads, and there will be no lack of difficulties. But these are the predictable side effects of any good venture. I didn’t invite you here to discuss budget questions, but to discuss when the first edition will appear.”

A heated discussion ensued. It was concluded that the first edition would appear on Friday, 19 Elul, 5710. We emerged from the house — a handful of people who had undertaken this burden to serve as the editorial staff. Only a few of us believed that the newspaper would survive very long…

Still, we decided to begin, to try…And on 19 Elul 5710, the first edition of Hamodia appeared.

 

Today, 64 years later, we can bear witness to just how complicated it was, and that indeed, that “handful of editorial staff” which you headed succeeded in bringing to fruition their goal. It is safe to assume that at the time, you and your colleagues did not think that you were making history. You didn’t think in such terms. You were too humble.

You saw yourself simply as a loyal soldier, carrying out your mission of Gedolei Yisrael. The goal was to provide tools to enable the new generation to preserve the pure traditions of our fathers, most of whom were buried in the ashes of the Holocaust.

Only in retrospect can it be firmly established that you, the devoted emissary, had a significant part in creating history.

You established the infrastructure for a chareidi newspaper upon which the daily Hamodia was built, upon which the weekly edition was built, and it is in this framework, with great mesirus nefesh, that Hamodia’s various editions were founded.

In keeping with your vision from over forty years ago, the weekly English Hamodia was launched 19 years after your passing. It took another six years and, on your twenty-fifth yahrtzeit, the daily English Hamodia, the only one of its kind in the world, was launched, amid widespread skepticism.

How significant and how symbolic it is that this trailblazing publication was launched on this milestone.

*   *   *

What was the secret of your success?

What was the magic formula that enabled you to achieve what you did?

Dedication.

Sense of mission.

Teamwork.

Your remarkable talents and abilities were not only manifested in the publication of a daily newspaper. You understood that chareidi hasbarah was a much broader, deeper concept.

You placed yourself at the forefront of two additional frontiers at the same time, and worked valiantly to promote them with all the dedication and enthusiasm you were blessed with.

In your books, you brought to life genuine heroes. You described the previous generation, the world of Chassidim and ovdei Hashem who tossed away the trappings of this world in order to be able to serve their Creator with purity.

Another great challenge that you undertook was to fight those who distorted history.

Do you remember, Abba, the time you took me to Yad Vashem when I was just a young girl? You were looking for some important documents. The people at Yad Vashem were then busy building a myth, a new world, a new Jew. They looked down on you as an embarrassment, a Jew from a vanished world.

But you didn’t give up.

You proceeded to come out with your monumental work, Megilas Polin, which was followed by a series of books that authentically captured Polish Jewry.

When I got up from shivah, I promised to continue to your mission: to break the myth, and provide an alternative. And, thus, years later, Project Witness was born.

*   *   *

Thirty-five years have elapsed since you passed away.

It is fitting to express the hakaras hatov that chareidi Jewry owes you.

It is worthy to remember that you were a dreamer, a fighter, and a doer.

Many of your dreams were realized in your lifetime, and to this day, there are dreams that continue to come true.

Abba, we have many plans for the future, but we are faced with difficult challenges that present themselves in every generation.

We need a lot of Siyatta DiShmaya.

Please be a meilitz yosher for your dear children, and for all of Klal Yisrael.

Chaval al d’avdin vla mishtakchin.

Your daughter,

Ruth Lichtenstein

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