Part Two: The Attempts to Destroy Their Spiritual Culture

The Story of the Orphans:


Dear Friends,


During the Holocaust, there were orphans who came from religious homes who managed to escape to Zion, but who found themselves under the secular supervision of the Labor-dominated World Zionist Organization and its branch, the Jewish Agency. Despite the fact that these orphans came from religious homes, the Jewish Agency placed them on kibbutzim which were known to be anti-religious. The following story is the most notorious example:


In 1943, over one thousand Jewish children, most of them from Ashkenazic religious homes in Poland, managed to escape the Holocaust via a tortuous route through the Soviet Union which led to Teheran in Iran. Representatives of the Jewish Agency in Teheran took control of the children and began to discourage them from maintaining religious beliefs and observances. The children were not even given permission to chant the memorial Kaddish for their parents! They were then brought to the Land of Zion and officials began to place them on anti-religious kibbutzim. Torah-committed Jews in the Land were in an uproar, as they felt that the secular Labor Zionist establishment was ignoring the religious background of most of the children and the wishes of their deceased parents. The Jewish Agency finally agreed to allow a minority of the orphans to be assigned to religious institutions. For example, only four percent of the children were sent to religious orphanages called Batei Avos – Parental Homes – which were sponsored by the Chareidi community, despite the fact that a high percentage of the children came from Chassidic and other Chareidi familes.


The Batei Avos were established by Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman HaKohen, the beloved sage from the Lithuanian yeshiva world who founded and led the Ponoviez Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, a religious city in Israel. Before the first of the Batei Avos was established, Rav Yosef Shlomo spoke at a gathering in Bnei Brak in memory of the Holocaust martyrs, and he declared:


“We owe these sacred souls a debt, and that is to become the fathers and mothers of those few orphans who have miraculously survived.”


Regarding the special plight of orphans from religious homes that were being denied a Torah education, Rav Yosef Shlomo declared:


“The wish of those that perished is that their children should not forget their Judaism and the Oneness of God. It is therefore imperative that we establish for them Batei Avos, homes that will nurture and educate these precious children.”


The audience, composed of blue-collar low-income wage earners, was so affected by the Rav’s words, that a collection of funds was held spontaneously. These funds were the first contributions towards the building of the Batei Avos.


Yosef Meir Glicksberg was the youngest among the first group of seven orphans who arrived from Teheran that were sent to the Batei Avos. “The Ponovizher Rav hugged me in his arms for the longest time,” Glicksberg recalled. Regarding the Rav’s special devotion to the orphans in the period after their arrival, Glicksberg added:


“He would be with us all day long and stroll with us in the orchards. We were like one family.”


In the early period of the Batei Avos, the Rav ate his Shabbos meals with the children, and sang along when they would chant the Yiddish songs from the ghetto. He would often visit them and talk with them, and he became a loving father to these children.


The love and caring attention that noted sages like Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman gave to orphans from the Holocaust enabled these children to rebuild their lives; moreover, this love and caring attention strengthened their ability to resist attempts by secular groups to break their connection with their spiritual roots.


I would therefore like to share with you a related story about how the noted sage and Chassidic leader, the Klausenberger Rebbe, became a loving and devoted “father” to many orphan girls after the Holocaust. This story appeared in an article by Sarah Leibowitz Schmidt in the Jerusalem Post on Sept. 28, 2006. It is based on interviews with her neighbors in Kiyat Sanz, a Chassidic community in Netanya, Israel, which was founded by the Klausenberger Rebbe. The title of the article is: “First Word: Survivors’ Yom Kippur: September 1945,” and the following is an excerpt from this article:




Several of my neighbors in Kiryat Sanz have described that 1945 Yom Kippur in the first, US Army-run, Displaced Persons camp earmarked for Jewish survivors in Feldafing, in the American zone of southern Germany.


The adolescent Edith Cohen was undaunted by the looming fast, having become an old hand at living with a growling stomach. But she was in turmoil because her parents and four siblings had been murdered in the camps, and she had no one to give her the traditional holiday blessing.


In the Yom Kippur prayer book, before Kol Nidre, is the blessing of children by their parents:


For boys: “May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.” For girls: “May God make you like Sarah, Rebeccah, Rachel and Leah.” While many parents bless their children every Sabbath, it has special import on Yom Kippur eve.


In the Feldafing DP camp, 40-year-old Rabbi Yekutiel Halberstam, the Klausenberg Rebbe from the Sanz dynasty, had already emerged as a leader. With no time to mourn the deaths of his wife and 11 children, he had thrown himself into rehabilitating the other survivors.


On the eve of his first post-Holocaust Yom Kippur in 1945, his preparations were slow and deliberate, including study and meditation in isolation. Edith Cohen remembers knocking at his door and entering, pleading: “My father died in the camps. I have no one to bless me.” He graciously complied, put a handkerchief over her head and blessed her.


Soon there was another knock, and a second orphaned girl was ushered in. “Please bless me, Rebbe.” Again, he obliged sympathetically. Then another knock, and another. Soon a line of several dozen girls had formed; each one receiving individual attention until it was time for Kol Nidre.


The Klausenberger missed out on his contemplative pre-Yom Kippur meditation, but he served as surrogate father for dozens of orphans.


Holocaust scholar Esther Farbstein has documented in her best-selling book B’seter Ra’am – soon to be published in English as, “Hidden in Thunder: Perspectives on Faith and Leadership During the Holocaust” – the role that the Klausenburger Rebbe played in the struggle for girls’ rehabilitation and education after the Holocaust:


“Hundreds of girls enrolled in the network of schools that he set up in the first year after liberation. The Rebbe developed a personal relationship with the girls, kept track of each girl’s spiritual condition, listened to the girls’ troubles, and gave them moral support and encouragement…


“In particular, he assumed responsibility for finding them suitable husbands. His attitude toward them was so fatherly and personal that some people regarded his educational work with the girls as the pinnacle of his activity.”




Many of the orphans helped by the Rebbe moved to the Land of Zion, and today, they are blessing their own children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren each Shabbos and Yom Kippur eve in the spirit of the soul of Zion.


Shalom, and a Chodesh Tov – a Good Month,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Comments:


The following two recommended books provided me with information on the orphans that arrived from Teheran:


1. “Builders” – Stories and Insights into the Lives of Three Paramount Figures of the Torah Renaissance: Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, and Sarah Schenirer 


The author is Hanoch Teller, and the publisher is New York Publishing Company. The book is distributed by Feldheim:   


2. “The Chazon Ish” – The Life and Ideals of Rabbi Avraham Yeshayah Karelitz, by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman


This book is part of the ArtScroll History series. For information, visit:


Hazon - Our Universal Vision