Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Prisoners' Rabbi

From a plaque outside Cell #29:

Cell #29 served as the shul on Shabbat and holidays. Once the everyday articles had been cleared out, all of the Jewish prisoners congregated here to pray with the late Rabbi Aryeh Levin.

The elderly Rabbi frequented this room every Shabbat on a regular basis to pray with the prisoners and lend them an ear, offer them reassurance, words of comfort and strength, and relay regards from the inmates to their loved ones outside the prison walls.

For over 20 years, without seeking any prizes, on days of sweltering heat and days of frost, he never abandoned his "dear sons" who even nicknamed him "The Prisoners' Father." Rabbi Aryeh Levin was also popular among the prison authorities, and on several occasions the prisoners were granted leniencies thanks to his efforts.

In the shul (synagogue)

We took a moment to daven Mincha (afternoon prayers) in the shul.

Yours truly, my own Omer beard rapidly growing, catching up with Rabbi Levin behind me.

And now, onward to some of the sights from Rabbi Aryeh Levin's neighborhood....

Rabbi Levin was well known for his "Ahavat Yisrael," love of his fellow Jew. In the early 20th century, when all the divisions which still plague the country were first beginning, Rabbi Levin stood out as one of the few who simply ignored political or religious differences. In the 1940's, at the dawn of Israeli statehood, Zionism and Judaism stood opposed, and most fervent Zionists were also fervently secular (today the situation is reversed.) When Rabbi Levin would run Shabbat services at the prison, many of the prisoners would come just to get out of work detail, and would show up smoking cigarretes (a desecration of Shabbat.) Rabbi Levin would calmly ignore the breach of Halachah and greet anyone and everyone. Pretty soon thereafter, nobody

Likewise, he was close friends with Rabbi Cook, the Chief Rabbi of Palestine, widely regarded as the founder of the National Religious movement, a movement of religious Jews who still participate in the national life of Israel in spite of the state's avowed secularism. This friendship earned him scorn by some amongst the Hareidi (ultra-religious anti-zionist) crowd, but he continued to teach at the Hareidi Etz Chaim Yeshivah.

The Eitz Chaim Yeshivah

Across the street stands the Zohorei Chama beit midrash (study hall,) one of the original buildings on Jerusalem's main boulevard, Jaffa St., which was a hostel and kitchen for the needy at the time of Rabbi Levin. Today it serves as a shtiebel (synagogue with constant minyanim, prayer quorums, ever fifteen minutes or so.)

The Zohorei Chama building. The big "Happy Face" is actually a sun dial.

Rabbi Levin lived downhill from the shuk (market), in the neighborhood of Yemin Mosheh.

The entrance to Yemin Moshe.
Looking back through the entrance towards the shuk.

Some of the locals hanging out in Yemin Moshe

Rabbi Levin lived an extremely modest life, residing in a one-room apartment most of his life. Although he lived through the 1960's, he refused even the basic comforts. When he was given a refridgerator, he passed it on to his daugher-in-law immediately. "What would I do with this? It would only make me buy more food than I need."

The door to Rabbi Levin's modest one-room abode.

Today the street where Rabi Aryeh Levin is named after him. He would likely be horrified by this.

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