Until the age of seven, he never left Komemiyus, the first chareidi moshav in Israel. The house, the shtiebel and the cow barn in the chareidi shtetl were a haven where he was protected from the ills of the world. His father, the Chassid Rav Moshe Dovid Paluch, zt”l, watched over his Yosse’le in every way possible.
In 5722/1962, at the age of seven, his father took him for the first time to Bnei Brak, to see the elder Gedolei hador, who had gathered at the time for a yarchei kallah, established by the Ponevezher Rav, zt”l. There, he pointed to the dais: This is Rav Ploni and that is Rosh Yeshivah Almoni. The father wanted to imbue his young son’s heart with emunas chachamim and love of Torah.
The father, Reb Moshe Dovid, was a survivor and the right hand of the Mara d’Asra, Harav Binyamin Mendelson, zt”l. It was heartwarming to watch them spend hours learning together in the orchards renowned for their observance of shemittah. The moshav was like a closed spiritual hothouse, an island of holiness and purity amid the Israeli secularism that surrounded it.
After a week in Bnei Brak, en route home, the boy was deep in thought.
“Yosse’le, don’t you miss your mother, after you haven’t seen her for so long?” Reb Moshe Dovid asked. But his son surprised him with the answer.
“No, I have no time to think about it.”
“So what are you thinking about?” the father inquired, and the 7-year-old replied with what he saw and lived all the time at home: “Shivisi Hashem lenegdi samid.” What concepts!
When he heard the name “Yosse’le,” a red light went on in the mind of the halfway-secular bus driver. Everyone was busy searching for Yosse’le Shuchmacher, the boy who had been hidden and smuggled to the United States after his family had tried to force him to live a secular life. The whole country was up in arms. The Israeli Mossad had gotten involved. This, the driver was convinced, was the boy. It also jibed very well with the fact that the man had asked the child if he wasn’t missing his mother. From Komemiyus the driver continued directly to the Lachish District police precinct and gave over his testimony.
At five in the morning, there was a loud knock at the door of the Paluch home. The children awoke in alarm, as police burst into the house and turned it over, searching for “Yosse’le” and the father. At the time, Yosse’le Shuchmacher was ensconced in the home of his hosts in Brooklyn, and when the police found nothing, they stormed into the beis medrash in Komemiyus and took Reb Moshe Dovid in handcuffs to the police car.
He was detained for several weeks, endured humiliating interrogations and was cruelly beaten. But he claimed adamantly — and later told me in a personal conversation — that that boy had never been with him, that they had confused the boy with his own young son, Yosse’le. The authorities thought otherwise, and his trial dragged on for months, as the state was divided in two — causing an even deeper hatred between the chareidi and secular communities.
Little Yosse’le Paluch grew up to be a most remarkable personality. He served Hashem in a way that is nearly unparalleled, with dveikus and the most sincere yiras Shamayim. After he completed Shas and Poskim, Rishonim and Acharonim on his own, he began toiling in Toras Hasod, and rose to great heights. From his home in Kiryat Harim Levin in Tel Aviv, Yosse’le directed a huge network of baalei teshuvah who returned to their heritage under his guidance, and with his assistance, established Torah-true homes. He became their Rebbi.
It was exactly 10 years ago, on Shabbos Teshuvah 5769, in the afternoon. Nothing prepared Reb Yosse’le’s family and his eminent father, whom he cared for in his home in his final years with great dedication, for what was to come. Suddenly, Yosse’le’s great heart stopped; Harav Yosef Raphael Paluch, zt”l, was gone.
A wail of devastation arose from the house. But the elderly father hushed the family: “It is Shabbos today; Shabbos.” With superhuman strength, the father sat and pondered the ways of the world, but he did not shed a tear.
As soon as Shabbos was over, the father’s body was wracked with a shuddering sigh, and he began to weep. The chevrah kaddisha member whispered to the father that his son used to keep Rabbeinu Tam’s zman. At that moment, the father fell silent again, waiting until the later zman. And then he began to lament his son’s passing.
It seems that the question of “Where is Yosse’le?” never had so precise an application as at this time.