Mr. Yoel Steiner (Part III)

Can you tell us about the years you spent away from your family and your return to Yiddishkeit? (continuation of last week)

There was a man by the name of Rabbi Neuman, from Manchester, staying on this kibbutz at the same time. We got to speaking and when he found out that we lived in Chester, he was horrified. He said “What is a Jewish boy doing in Chester?” After some correspondence, Rabbi Neuman arranged with a committee from Manchester that took care of orphans to take care of us. They arrived at the house of the Angelworths to take us away. The Angelworths were very upset. “We gave them everything; they are like children to us, now you are going to take them away?”

I was taken to a hostel in Manchester and from there I was to be sent to a kibbutz in Eretz Yisrael called Shomer Hatzair. Shomer Hatzair is a real left-wing kibbutz. There were some religious boys in that hostel as well, and in the middle of the night one of the boys took me aside and said, “Come with me, you’re not going to this kibbutz.” He took me to the home of Rabbi Halpern. From there I was sent to a yeshivah 18 miles outside of London. The bachurim there were very kind to me and they taught me alef-beis. They taught me with love and kindness. Slowly I caught on. Every day we learned Chumash and Mishnayos. In the afternoon we had an English program. I developed a true love for learning.

The bachurim in the yeshivah were very poor. Every Friday the Rosh Yeshivah would take a few bachurim to the East Side in London to pick up some clothing. One boy got pair of trousers, one boy got a shirt, and so on.

What brought you to America?

It was about 1948 when the Skvere Rebbe, zy”a, was passing through England on his way to America from Bucharest, after having suffered a lot in the war. The Rebbe gave us a shmuess and I was very pulled toward him. I went in [to speak to] him once more before he traveled to America. After that second meeting, I felt I had to follow the Rebbe to America.

At this point one of the best bachurim in the yeshivah, Reb Herschel Ginsberg, decided to go to America. I took him to the boat, the Queen Elizabeth, which would take him across the ocean. My parting words to him were, “Reb Herschel you must send me an affidavit to come to America.” Sure enough, around Selichos time, Reb Herschel sent two affidavits: one for a young man name Reb Yona Phillip, z”l, [who] was a Dayan in Monroe, and one for myself.

The Rosh Yeshivah was very upset, since we were from his top talmidim. However, I felt that I had to leave, and so we left on a boat to America. When we arrived on the shores of America, they wouldn’t let us off the boat. They claimed that our passports were no good. We were informed that we were going back to England. We knew this wasn’t a possibility for us. We asked to be able to call a man by the name of Gedalia Schwartz in America, and we were granted permission. He came onto the boat and he got Mr. Itche Ochs to sign for us. He came and signed and then we were taken to Ellis Island.

It was not heaven on Ellis Island. It was quite an experience to live there with all the dirt and all the filth, but we had no choice. Itche Ochs was finally able to get us off Ellis Island, and he took us home to his house. The next morning we went straight to see the Skvere Rebbe. Yonah Philip went on to learn in Beis Medrash Elyon and I stayed with the Rebbe.

Can you leave us with a message?

I’ve had a very long and difficult life. I’m very close to Skver. The Rebbe once gave me a brachah that I should have arichas yamim veshanim. The Eibershter should help that all Yidden who need it should have a refuah sheleimah and be zocheh to greet Moshiach.

to be continued

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.