a pair of pants in Cyprus

Friday, 28 April, 2017 - 8:35 am

 Dear Friends,

Allow me to open with a section from the story of Eliezer Tal Klein’s escape from the detention camp in Cyprus. Eliezer was a Palmach fighter, who helped the Ma’apilim – the illegal immigrants coming from Europe – and was deported to Cyprus in 1946 by the British authorities.

“We went outside, and my friend went to find out if there is a Jewish community and rabbi. He returned after two hours, with no information. In the end we found an Israeli living in Cyprus. I was brought to him by some workers who showed me his house and left immediately; it seems they didn’t want to endanger themselves too much. I met a Hebrew-speaking couple (he is an engineer working in Cyprus) and introduced myself. They panicked.

I asked him to guide me in the port, so that I will be able to get on an Arab boat going to the land (Israel). He refused.

I asked that at least I should be allowed to sleep in their house; they were even more frightened by that.

And in the end, I asked that they lend me a pair of pants (mine were torn). They refused to do that as well.

I was forced to leave them, and searched for a place to sleep in a grove or vineyard in the area, intending to go to the port the next morning.”


I am writing this letter from Cyprus, in the office of my friend and colleague Rabbi Chaim Hillel Azimov from the Chabad House in Northern Cyprus. In a few hours I am supposed to lead a historical event: the completion of the writing of a Sefer Torah, which will be handed over to the shul of the Jews of Northern Cyprus. From an examination I made, this is the first time since the Creation of the World that a Sefer Torah is being consecrated in Northern Cyprus. Only 59 km from here is the area where there were those detention camps, and I admit that I am excited; the words of Rabbi Lord Dr. Jonathan Sacks are ringing in my head: “Nazis searched out every Jew in hate, we (the Lubavitcher Chassidim) will search out every Jew in love”.

The illegal immigrants were Holocaust survivors – profoundly lonely, sole remnants of their families, from whom everything dear to them had been taken. All that was left was the desire to reach the Holy Land, the land of Israel. But here too the British greeted them with hatred and deported them to detention camps in Cyprus, which was under British rule at the time. Seventy years have passed. Northern Cyprus is an independent republic. The UN does not recognize it and no country in the world recognizes it except for Turkey, but the Lubavitcher Rebbe recognizes it and set up a Chabad House there. I don’t know if you’ll receive a pair of pants here, but a shul and hot meal are waiting for you here, and with love.

“When a woman conceives and gives birth to a male” – this is how this week’s Parasha begins. Our Sages compared the mother-and-child relationship with that of a person who sows in order to grow a crop – so too, a mother sows with love and even with tears, and with Hashem’s help gets to harvest the fruits of her labors – sons and daughters who follow her ways. Chana Miriam Azimov z”l died in Adar 5758 (1998), leaving behind her a large family. Chana Miriam ran a warm household of love and joy in Jerusalem, and would always say, “If there is room in the heart, there will be room at the table.” Today, when I see the open house of her son and daughter-in-law, the many guests who come and go and are received warmly and with love, I understand from where Rabbi Chaim Hillel gets these capabilities. Maybe he doesn’t notice, but I certainly see while looking from the side, that his mother’s sentence is fulfilled every day and every hour here, and has done so for the past 10 years. Because Rabbi and Rebbetzin Azimov have lots of room in their hearts, and that is expressed around the table in their home as well.


Shabbat Shalom from Cyprus,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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