A Finnish surprise

Friday, 24 June, 2022 - 7:17 am

On Wednesday morning I boarded a Finnair flight from Zurich to Helsinki, together with my good friend, Rabbi Chaim Drukman from Luzern. Helsinki is a very beautiful city, but that was not the reason for our trip. We took this 2400 km, two-and-a-half hour flight in order to celebrate together with our beloved friend, Rabbi Benyamin Wolff and his family, as he dedicated the Chabad House in Finland.

I have known Benyamin for more than twenty years. 

I have known the devotion of his wife Ita and how much their children love the shelichut. Our children are friends of theirs. 

As a shaliach, I know very well what they are coping with and how huge and significant this moment was; I felt that the simcha, the happy occasion, was my own. 

I knew that they have been shelichim of the Rebbe in Helsinki for nineteen years already – more than once, I received regards from them, from people who had been hosted by them or had just passed by. 

I had known that they had purchased a building.

I had also known that the building was named after Sami and Charlotte Rohr z”l. I remembered how Sami told me, when he visited Basel, about his special connection with Rebbetzin Ita Wolff, going back to when she was a one-year-old and arrived in Bogota, Colombia, with her parents, Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin and Rivka Rosenfeld, who had come to serve as Shluchim there. 

But, much to my surprise, there was much that I did not know.

I did not know that they are not the first Chabad shluchim in Finland.

I did not know that their children are not the first children of shluchim to be born in Finland.

I did not know that seventy years before they went there, in 1930 (5690), Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Chabad Rebbe and the father-in-law of our Rebbe, sent Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu Shwei z”l to Finland, and for five years he illuminated Finland with Torah and chassidut, giving Torah classes to children and adults – Benyamin and Ita met one of those children when they arrived in Finland.

And the biggest surprise of all: I did not know that Rabbi Shwei was Rebbetzin Ita Wolff’s great grandfather! His son, Rabbi Izik Shwei z”l, was actually born in their place of shlichut.

With goosebumps from the surprise, I stood there, looking at the Wolff children, and suddenly understanding that they are fifth-generation shluchim. A fifth generation of people who in the definition of their essence are dedicated and fully devoted to the Jewish People, to each and every man, woman and child. They are not the first in their families to be born into a life of shlichut, and neither are their parents; in fact, their great-grandfather was also born into a life of shlichut – and in Finland, just like them. 

There was one more thing that I realized only when I was already on the way back to the return flight to Zurich. I realized that we had been in Finland, met hundreds of people, and didn’t hear one word about NATO, nor about Putin. Instead, we heard a lot about love and about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. People spoke about their love for Rabbi Benyamin, Ita and their children. The speakers mentioned the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who inspired the construction of this great and important edifice.

The President of the Jewish community in Helsinki, Mr. Yaron Nadvornik, connected the two things when he said with much feeling that of all the rooms in this impressive building, what he liked most was the wall upon which the picture of the Rebbe hangs and the inscription above it: “Make things warm and bright for others; God will make things warm and bright for you.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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