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Reb Shlomo Appelboim, of Blessed Memory

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: Baruch Katznelbogen

** Webmaster Note: The following is a translation from Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov as sponsored by George Zilbergeld. Additional clarifications are provided in parenthesis ( ).

 

REB SHLOMO APPELBOIM, OF BLESSED MEMORY

The Chassidim tell a story about Rabbi Avraham-Yehoshua Heshel, "the Rav from Apta," of blessed memory, that once, his Chassidim came to him and found him sitting in his room, sunk in thought, wrapped in sorrow, with tears streaming from his eyes.

The Chassidim were seized by amazement and fear at what they saw.  They did not dare to ask for an explanation and stood, rooted in place, but one of them gathered courage and asked, "Our Rabbi, teach us, why are you crying?"  The Rabbi answered and said, "I see in my mind the enormous pain and cruel suffering that our brothers, the House of Israel, will experience in the future before the Redeemer will come…"

The hearts of the Chassidim were seized with trembling at what they heard, and as before, they stood wondering, in silence…But the one who had asked, asked again:  "How is it possible to think, G-d forbid, that the Holy One, Blessed be He, who conducts His world with kindness, will place on his nation Israel suffering that is too heavy to bear?!"

On that, the Rav from Apta sighed a deep sigh, and said: "Indeed, I am crying about these.  Do you know, my son, how great and terrible are the sufferings that Jews are able to bear and stand up against?!"

I remembered this story when I stood next to the fresh grave of our departed friend, Reb Shlomo Appelboim, of blessed memory, on the day when his gravestone was erected, on the "shloshim," [thirtieth day] since his death.  Indeed, he was one of those "who was tested with them – and stood up under them."

I remember, once in a friendly, intimate conversation, the departed told me about all of the many troubles he went through during those times, how the news of Job reached him that he had lost his entire family and everything he had, how he found a hiding place with his friend, a goy, who endangered his life in order to rescue him from the claws of the murderers.  That entire night, he told me, he walked back and forth in the cellar, like a crazy man, and he was not able even to cry, because his heart had turned to stone.  And with the morning light – he found that all his hair had turned as white as snow.

The departed succeeded, despite his enormous loss, to rescue from that fire – his deep faith in G-d, that in spite of everything – His mercy had not ended…

When he came to the Land of Israel, he found his place among the Chassidim, and he lived a full Chassidic life:  even though his health was weakened, he participated in every celebration and memorial with his body and his money.  He had many friends who were spiritually connected to him, and all of them, as one, respected and appreciated him.  He was always aware of the commandments between man and his fellow man, the more so between man and G-d; he was a Jew who feared Heaven and observed the commandments, easy and difficult alike, and it was not in vain that he found his final resting place in the "Shomrei Shabbat" [Sabbath observers] section in the Zichron Meir cemetery.

In his lifetime, he chose Bnei Brak as his dwelling place, but on holidays, and an occasional Sabbath, he went up to Jerusalem, because he was one of the lovers of Jerusalem.  Every journey to there was a holiday for him, a kind of "pilgrimage."  And there also, he found his place among the Chassidim of the Rabbi from Gur.  He was spiritually connected to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, with whom he corresponded.  And how great was his happiness when he received a letter from the Rebbe.  This correspondence encouraged and strengthened him.

Here is the story that I heard from Reb Shlomo Appelboim about Ivan Shamay, a righteous gentile.  This Christian had a progressive outlook and a great love for Israel.  His wife also had the same attitude toward the Jews.  He would read and study the Bible, and from it he learned the history of the nation of Israel and admired its heroes and prophets. 

Reb Shlomo fled from the lot where the Jews were assembled a few hours before the Jews were slaughtered.  When the fearful news of the fate of the Jews of the town reached Ivan, he did not allow Shlomo to go outside.  He hid him in his house, even though he knew that the matter involved a danger to his life and the lives of his family.  And so it was, until Shlomo went out to the forest.

The parting between the two friends was difficult.  With tears, they promised each other, a holy promise, not to forget each other.  Then Shlomo made a vow:  "If I will not die, and I will live, I will make aliya to the Land of Israel and Jerusalem, and I will remember my friend, Ivan, his soul and the souls of his household; I will remember him and I will pray for him." 

When the World War ended in 1945, Shlomo headed toward the Land of Israel.  And after a long journey filled with suffering, he finally arrived.

Here, he felt the calamity of his loss and his widowhood, his isolation and lack of family.  He told all of his friends and acquaintances about the wonderful man Ivan, the friend of his soul, but he was afraid to write him a letter.

After the death of Stalin, when the reins loosened a bit, he dared to send a letter to Ivan.  A long time passed without an answer, and Shlomo already stopped expecting one.  But his friend did not disappoint him.  One day, he received a letter from him, in which, among other things, was written the following:

"My Dear Shlomo,

"How very happy I was to read that you succeeded, and also merited, to return to your homeland, the Land that the G-d of Israel promised to your forefathers through the words of His holy prophets. He is now fulfilling His promise and gathering the Children of Israel to their holy, chosen Land.

"My friend, before you asked me to do so, I went to the cemetery to visit the graves of your brothers, but in vain!  Not even the memory of a monument or a grave remains.  But with this I will console you:  for various reasons, the field has been put under the supervision of the army, and it is protected from becoming a pasture.  No animals or cattle have access to it."

"Be happy, Shlomo, that you are living among your people."

One tourist from America, who had left Vladimirets, was visiting in Israel, and Reb Shlomo showed her the letter.  She was so amazed at the letter that she asked him to give it to her so that she could show it to the other people from the town who lived in America.  Shlomo agreed to her request.

Two great loves – love of man and love of books – were united in the heart of the deceased.  Whoever was close to him knew also, that the love of man, because he was man, created in the image of G-d, was the love of a G‑d-fearing Jew, righteous in his deeds.  With regard to the love of books that burned in him – he loved, more than anything – the Book of Books.

Reb Shlomo, of blessed memory, knew how to observe the commandments between man and his Creator, and he also knew how to fulfill the obligations between man and his fellow man.  Therefore, he had so many friends, dedicated in heart and soul.

Our Sages said:  "It is decreed that the dead be forgotten from the heart." But whoever saw the great crowd of friends, among them Torah scholars and yeshiva students, who came on the first anniversary of his death to the cemetery in Zichron Meir in Bnei Brak to visit his grave and to pray for the ascendance of his soul, whoever heard the eulogies – words that came from the heart – from Rabbi Zalman, the head of the Chazon Ish Yeshiva – was convinced that Reb Shlomo, of blessed memory, was not forgotten from the heart, and that his soul "is bound in the bond of life."
 


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