Grapevine: Being Belz

Belz institutions are flourishing, as are the numbers of the rebbe’s disciples.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
 ■ THOUSANDS OF Belz Hassidim swarmed into the multipurpose sports arena in Malha last week for a festive gathering that nonetheless carried a serious message. The Belzer rebbe, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, in an hour-long address, pointed to an essential difference between prewar Belz Hassidim in Europe, who were genuinely pious people who devoted themselves to Torah study, and present-day Belz Hassidim, many of whom are involved in politics.
But even more troubling to him than this is the increasing secularism of the Jews in Israel, who are not content to simply live a secular lifestyle, which in any case is a cause of sadness to him, but frequently attack and malign the haredi population.
Despite this, Belz institutions are flourishing, as are the numbers of the rebbe’s disciples. Following the rebbe’s address, the crowd spontaneously burst into song as the rebbe distributed kiddush cups to philanthropic hassidim who had contributed to Belz projects and institutions.
■ FOR THE first time in more than 20 years there will be no Seder in the apartment at 45 Hakablan Street in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood that for many years was a place of pilgrimage for scholars, politicians and simple folk seeking a blessing. The apartment belonged to Shas spiritual leader and former Sephardi chief rabbi Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and was also home to Yosef’s youngest son, Moshe Yosef, his wife, Yehudit, and their children, who individually and collectively took care of the needs of the aging rabbi.
Other than his apartment and his extensive library containing some 30,000 volumes, Ovadia Yosef, who died in October 2013, had no assets, and his children, after a certain amount of conflict, eventually agreed to put the apartment up for sale and divide the proceeds. Moshe Yosef and his family were to find accommodation elsewhere, and were given plenty of leeway by his siblings to do so.
In the final analysis, it was agreed not to sell the apartment to a stranger, even though there were several very handsome offers. Instead, the apartment is to be purchased by Moshe Yosef, who will create a nonprofit organization for this purpose, and the apartment will be transformed into an Ovadia Yosef heritage center. Thus, Moshe Yosef and his family will this year have their Seder in their new home. The heritage center will contain a great deal of the memorabilia of Ovadia Yosef as well as that of his wife, Margalit, and will be dedicated to both of them.
■ USUALLY, THE sale of leaven does not take place until after the beginning of the month of Nisan. But as the Knesset is already in recess, the sale of the Knesset’s leaven was conducted on Wednesday of last week, when the Knesset’s director-general Ronen Plot met with Rabbi Alexander Hochman, who will transfer the sale to the office of the Chief Rabbinate, and on the eve of Passover, one of the chief rabbis will sell all of the nation’s recorded leaven to a non-Jew for the duration of the festival.
Plot also decided to introduce an extra-special pre-Passover cleanup drive among Knesset staff, who were each given three plastic bags – a white bag for paper; blue for soda cans and empty bottles; and black for other waste items.
The bags containing waste materials were then placed outside the various offices in the building, collected and sent for recycling.
■ NOTHING SUCCEEDS like success, and Rabbi Benji Levine’s success as a storyteller is legend. People never get tired of listening to him talk about his grandfather, the famed Reb Aryeh Levin, with whom he spent part of his youth, and about whom he has a never-ending fund of anecdotes.
During the intermediate days of Passover and Succot, Rabbi Benji, as he is generally called, usually leads groups of people through the Nahlaot neighborhood, where his grandfather lived, and in doing so keeps up a constant stream of interesting patter not only about his grandfather but also about his grandfather’s neighbors, many of whom were also his relatives. Some, who were giants of Jewish learning, worked in modest trades to put food on the table. Most were genuinely humble individuals who did not give themselves airs and graces, and in talking about them, Levine all but brings them to life.
He had intended to devote only one of the intermediate days of Passover to the tour, but demand was so high that he was left with no choice but to agree to a second tour, which will take place on Thursday, April 28, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Reservations should be made through the OU Israel Center, (02) 560-9110.
The charge is NIS 60 for members and NIS 65 for nonmembers.
With Nahlaot so close to Mahaneh Yehuda, participants should remember to bring shopping bags so that they can catch up with supplies for the end of the festival and Shabbat, once the tour is over.