June 20, 2024
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BPY Welcomes Grandparent Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich

Last week, as students prepared for Thanksgiving break, BPY middle school was given the incredible opportunity of listening to the inspiring life story of Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich, well-known Soviet refusenik—who also happens to be the father of the school’s very own shlicha, Chana Moriah Dahan.

Rav Mendelevich started off by thanking Hashem for bringing him to New Jersey at this special time, where he would be able to celebrate Thanksgiving, Chanukah and his granddaughter Roni’s bat mitzvah with his family.

As the holiday of Chanukah was approaching, Rav Mendelevich shared that each night of Chanukah symbolizes a specific miracle that he experienced and encouraged students to do the same this year. “Look at the candles and think about what each candle symbolizes in your life and for Am Yisrael.”

After giving students a brief background to who he was, an assimilated and ignorant Jewish child, who never went to Jewish school, Rav Mendelevich listed the eight miracles he focuses on each year during the eight night of Chanukah.

1: “I celebrate the miracle of being Jewish.”

2: “I celebrate the miracle of Am Yisrael Chai (No matter the challenges we’ve faced as a nation, we have overcome and survived.)”

3: “I celebrate the first time I realized I could pray. I was a 10 year old boy and my dad was arrested. I didn’t know what I could do, but I knew I had to do something. I began to cry and scream and pray to please help my dad.”

4: “I celebrate my Jewish pride instead of being embarrassed to be Jewish. I acknowledge that the biggest privilege in my life is to be a Jew.”

“Once I began connecting to my Judaism and learning a bit, I surrounded myself with friends like me who were proud of their Judaism even if they didn’t know much. Every Jew is important so we began to organize underground classes on Judaism and doing kiruv, fulfilling the mitzvah of “ואהבת לרעך כמוך.” On Chanukah, the small group of Chashmonaim encouraged others to get ready to fight. Here, we were the Chashmonaim and we undertook the mission to try to get Jews out of Russia to Israel. Unfortunately, we were denied exit. So we continued working hard, teaching Hebrew to as many Russian Jews as possible to prepare them to go to Israel.”

5: “I celebrate the incredible fortune when we discovered that a member of our group was a former pilot from the Russian Air Force. He helped us plan a scheme to hijack a small plane to get over the border of Russia and smuggle some Jews out.”

6: “I celebrate the success of our dangerous plan to hijack the plane and get over the border of Russia to Sweden, even though we were caught and arrested. I was put in jail for 11 years at the age of 21 yrs old.”

7: “I celebrate the fact that all the publicity of my arrest brought much attention to the Jews’ situation in Russia and it eventually helped other Jews leave Russia.”

8: “I celebrate when I was finally released from jail, came to israel and joined the IDF in 1981. I then got married to my wife and began my family.”

Middle school students really enjoyed his lecture and left with feelings of appreciation and Jewish pride!

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