[Photos below.] During the Munkatcher Rebbe’s recent visit to his hometown of Mukachevo, Ukraine along with hundreds of his Chasidim, the Rebbe was presented a symbolic “key to the city” by Mukachevo Mayor Zoltan Lendyl at a ceremony in front of the Bais Medrash Hagadol of Munkatch, which was recently returned to the Jewish community by the Ukrainian government after serving as a military base since the Soviets occupied it following WW2. The Shul has since been restored and renovated. The return of the Shul and renovations were made possible by the generosity and diplomacy of New York businessman and philanthropist Mr. Alexander Rovt.
Following are reflections of a participant on the recent trip:
I once heard a profound quote that comes to mind whenever I recall my recent nesiyah to Munkatch, Ukraine, along with the Munkatcher Rebbe, shlita and many of his Chassidim: “What count are not the breaths we take each moment, but the moments that take our breath away.”
On Wednesday night, Parshas Lech Licha, the Munkatcher Rebbe shlita, along with his family and hundreds of devoted Chassidim, flew from Kennedy airport on a journey that would bridge the gap of generations and span the distance of decades. This trip would effectively retrace the pages of history, bringing back to life an era of kedusha and sanctity that many were sure had vanished with the dying embers of WWII. As we soared over mountains and oceans, none of us could possibly have fathomed how many mountains of hope or oceans of tears this flight would engender.
We arrived in Budapest on Thursday morning and were met by scores of chasidim who had journeyed from countries across the globe; Eretz Yisroel, England, Australia, etc. to take part in this momentous and monumental occasion. Buses took us to our hotel, where we davened Shacharis with bated breath. Already, the air in Eastern Europe was tinged with inspiration and excitement. We could feel the awesomeness of the moment in every heartbeat. This would be the first time that the Rebbe shlita had ever spent a Shabbos in Munkatch.
After breakfast, we took our prearranged seats on the buses toward Sátoraljaújhely (Ihel). It was early evening by the time we drove up to the town, and our mincha davening was injected with a powerful dose of kavana. With a sense of reverence and surrealism, we walked toward the kvarim of the Rebbe’s holy grandparents, the Yismach Moshe zt’l and his Rebbetzin. The Rebbe stopped before the grave of the Yismach Moshe and closed his eyes. He paused briefly, then spoke powerful words of chizuk and hisorrerus that were choked with deep emotion. The Rebbe explained that the Yismach Moshe zt’l had admitted to being the gilgul of Yirmiya Hanavi, and so davening at his tzion was particularly auspicious as a segula for the guelah sheleima. These words seemed to pierce through the fabric of our hearts and gain entrance into our neshamos, for everyone present began to shake with the intensity of this unprecedented opportunity. We could not help but cry and plead for all of Klal Yisroel, for the coming of Moshiach, at a site where miracles were sure to be wrought. We finished the entire sefer Revii of Tehillim along with the Rebbe shlita, and every syllable was drenched with feeling. Pain was replaced with hope, as every tefillah surely reached the Shaar Hashamayim. Thereafter, at the kever of R’ Sender from Kamarna, we collectively cried yet another river of tears.
Our next destination was Mukachevo (Munkatch), city of antiquity. Although we were tired, the very thought of finally arriving at the place toward which we had traveled so many miles and hours, instantly revived our spirits. We were about to walk in the footsteps of greatness, to tread upon the same hallowed ground as such Torah legends as the Bnei Yissoschor and the Minchas Eluzar zt’l. We would breathe the same rarefied air as tens of thousands of Chassidim who had come before, who had witnessed yeshuos and refuos in this city where the Munkatcher legacy once flourished. After seventy years, the Munkatcher Chassidus was finally coming home. Mr. Alex Rovt, a businessman who formerly resided in Munkatch but now lives in New York, deserves our true appreciation for ensuring that the borders to the Ukraine were opened for our convoy of five buses. With his connections, we got through quickly and easily. We ate dinner in the beautiful Star Hotel, and retired for the night.
On Friday morning, we davened Shacharis in the “Rebbishe hoif” – the same courtyard where previous Rebbes of Munkatch; the Baal Shem Shlomo, the Baal Darchei Teshuvah and the Baal Minchas Eluzar had done their holy avodah on behalf of the Klal. Now once again, young and old assembled in this same courtyard, where so much of Munkatcher history transpired. Today, the ‘hoif’ is home to the beautiful Beis Medrash Ohel Rochel, which the Rebbe shlita built l’ilui nishmas Rochel Perl, hy’d – the Rebbetzin of the Minchas Eluzar in which the remnants of local Jews assemble to daven three times a day, as well as a folk kitchen that serves the community free of charge. We were moved beyond description to envision the Rebbe’s grandfathers davening within the same four walls between which we stood. We opened our siddurim and pictured a time when these illustrious tzaddikim swayed to the same words we now uttered. We raised our voices in prayer and imagined an era when gedolim were able to break through the barriers of heaven with their tefillos. We were in a place where bakashos had been asked and answered for centuries.
In the courtyard of the Beis Medrash Hagodol , the majestic shul that graced the city center, the Rebbe shlita was greeted by the mayor of the city of Munkatch, Mr. Zoltan Lendyl. With the help and influence of Mr. Alex Rovt, the beis medrash was restored to its former glory this past Chodesh Nissan, after decades of serving as a military complex. The mayor pointed to its restoration as a symbol of his welcome to all Jews, and an indication of Ukraine’s embrace and acceptance of our religion and its practices. He presented the Rebbe with a symbolic ‘key’ to the city, after which the Rebbe thanked him with a gift in return. During our entire stay, the mayor went out of his way to accommodate us, providing us with security and running water – a commodity that’s often in short supply in Munkatch.
Before visiting the kvorim in Munkatch, the Rebbe took kvitlach in the seforim room of his zeides. It was as though the hands of time had been rewound for our benefit, so that we could bask in the kedusha that once pervaded that very room. The Rebbe accepted kvitlach in the same spot where the Minchas Eluzar had, making it a special makom kadosh that is propitious for yeshuos . So many people, for so many years, had poured out their woes within those daled amos! So many had found succor and sustenance therein. When the Minchas Eluzar took kvitlach, he kept the empty chairs of his ancestors beside him so that the Rebbes of previous generations could be there with him, helping him intercede on behalf of Am Yisroel. And now, the Rebbe shlita likewise kept three empty chairs beside him, so he could channel the strength and holiness of his predecessors. Walking into that room, many countenances were weighted down with sorrow and pain. Walking out, their expressions mirrored the relief and hope that now suffused their hearts. Undoubtedly, they felt the presence of not one, but four Gedolei Hadoros helping to lighten their personal burdens. With renewed faith and fortitude, we proceeded to the kvorim of the Baal Shem Shlomo, the Baal Darchei Teshuvah and the Baal Minchas Eluzar, along with their Rebbetzins.
When he came to the kever of the Minchas Eluzar, the Rebbe shlita’s voice quivered with unshed tears, as he addressed his Chassidim. He begged his zeida for rachamim, and then it was as though the dam had broken, and the Rebbe’s tears could no longer be contained. Everyone who stood there joined in with a deep cry that echoed across time, and stood suspended at the Kisei Hakovod. Like a child, the Rebbe cried before his grandfather, sobbing as he pleaded for rachamei Shamayim for all of Klal Yisroel. Once again we all finished sefer Revii of Tehillim, feeling a surety deep within that our tefillos had been heard.
We left to the city, to prepare for the Shabbos of a lifetime. Once again, young and old filled the streets of Munkatch, rushing to the mikvah and preparing for the Yom Menucha with reverence and pride.
Friday night, we gathered inside the Beis Medrash Hagodol. All of the Munkatcher Rebbes, from the Bnei Yissoschor who lived in Munkatch as Rav together with his son the Yodei Binah, then the Shem Shlomo, the Darchei Teshuvah and the Minchas Eluzar – all lived and learned and davened there, as the legendary leaders of thousands. This beis medrash was the center of Chassidus . Under its roof, Gaonim and Tzaddikim lit up the city, and the world, with their Torah. Its walls heard drashos the likes of which our humble ears have never heard; they soaked in tefillos so pure, they sanctified the brick and mortar of the building. These Rebbes turned a simple structure into a Mikdash M’at. And this was the first time in nearly 70 years, since the Nazis y”s forced the Yidden to dismantle and abandon it, that we once again davened tefillas Shabbos inside. There were those among the elder chasidim who tearfully remembered davening in this very shul as children, before the world banished them from the city they loved, laughed and lived in. Now they davened once again with their revered Rebbe, in the place they had once called home.
The Rebbe shlita davened Mincha before the amud, then gave Kabalas Shabbos to his son, Harav Chaim Eluzar shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Minchas Eluzar. Every Chassid’s heart danced along with the Rebbe during Boi Beshalom, and the atmosphere was one of tremendous warmth. After wishing the Rebbe Gut Shabbos, we returned to the hotel and ate Seudas Shabbos together in the big dining hall. During the seuda, Harav Mordechai Gelber shlita, Bnei Brak Munkatch Dayan, gave a stirring d’var Torah.
The Rebbe’s tish was held in the Beis Medrash Ohel Rochel. This tish seemed like a continuation of the one held by the Minchas Eluzar, a lifetime ago. It felt as though time had been suspended, as though the Rebbes of yore were making Kiddush right alongside us. We stayed until the wee hours of the night, when even the stars finally retired behind the clouds, having gotten their fill of such tremendous inspiration.
Shabbos morning, we davened once again in the Beis Medrash Hagodol . The Rebbe led Shacharis, and honored his son in law Harav Yosef Horowitz shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Chaim V’Sholom with Mussaf. After davening, we were treated to a beautiful Kiddush in celebration of the simchas bar mitzvah of the Rebbe’s grandson. The seuda was held in the big hall of the Star Hotel, where we all ate together with the Rebbe shlita, at his ’tish.’ Mincha and Shalosh Seudos were in Beis Medrash Ohel Rochel. Throughout Shabbos, the niggunim that were sung during davening, during the seudos, and during tish, filled all the Chassidim with a special longing. They were sung with fervor and feeling, for this was where those niggunim truly belonged. Just like us, the songs of Munkatch had returned to their birthplace. After Maariv and havdalah, we gathered once again in the ‘hoif’ for Kiddush Levana. The men broke out in spontaneous song, reaching out to one another and forming a circle of simcha beneath the very same moon that had long ago witnessed this event take place in Munkatch every month. As the Gentile townsfolk looked on in bewilderment and disbelief, the Munkatcher Chassidim accompanied the Rebbe to his hotel, dancing down the main street of the city center.
After resting up a bit, everyone convened in the hall of the hotel for the seudas bar mitzvah and seudas melava malka. The size of the crowd was impressive. Aside from those of us who had journeyed to this event, there were also dozens Yidden from the Ukraine in attendance, who had remained after the war and continued to live there. For those people, this sight was a reincarnation of the past. It left them awed and disbelieving to witness the Munkatcher dynasty come back to vivid, vibrant life.
At the onset of the seuda, there was a stirring address by the local Rav of Uzghorod (Ungvar), the shliach from Chabad in the Carpathian Region, Rav Menachem Mendel Taichman. After singing zemiros melava malka, the bar mitzvah boy’s father Harav Chaim Eluzar delivered a heartfelt dvar Torah. The bar mitzvah boy, Aharon, said his pshetl to a rapt audience. The Rebbe shlita then described his feelings during this Shabbos and this simcha, reflecting on what it meant to be there at that particular point in time. His voice clouded with emotion, and we too felt deeply affected. After bentching and kos shel bracha, the men danced for very long, as though they wanted to capture that dance and bring it back home with them as an unforgettable souvenir. They wanted that moment to inspire them forever. It was already dawn when everyone finally left to sleep, eternally grateful for having had the privilege of personally participating in this exceptional Shabbos experience.
We all grouped together Sunday morning in the “daven shtib” in the home of the Rebbes of Munkatch, to watch as the Rebbe put tefillin on his grandson Aharon for the first time. How can I possibly portray the emotion that was present in the very room that the Minchas Eluzar and his forbearers did their avodah , when a future dor of Munkatch was crowned with his first mitzvah as a young man. With his great grandfathers surely looking on in pride, the Rebbe shlita helped Aharon don his tefillin for the first time – effectively proclaiming that, although the Goyim had done all they could to extinguish the flame of Torah in Munkatch, its legacy would continue to burn for eternity.
We davened Shacharis once more with the Rebbe shlita, in the room that now recognized and welcomed a new Munkatcher Rebbe; in a room where three generations of tzaddikim smiled down with simcha. After a mesibas L’chaim, the Rebbe wrote the final osiyos in a Sefer Torah that was written al shem the Baal Kedushas Levi, by R’ Yakov Yosef Wertzberger shlita, a Munkatcher chossid and spiritual leader in today’s Berditshev, who came specifically to partake of this Shabbos in Munkatch. In the afternoon, we headed to Sighet, Romania, where the Rebbe’s grandfather, the Baal Yitav Lev, is buried. Once more, we imbibed divrei hisorrerus, before citing sefer Revii of Tehillim. The Rebbe lit a candle near the kvarim of other tzaddikim of Sighet who are buried in the same ohel. And then, we drove back to Munkatch to say a final goodbye.
Sunday night, the Rebbe stopped in Ungvar on the way to the airport, at the ohel of R’ Moshe Leib of Strizhev. Our journey had reached its end, and another chapter in the Munkatch tome had been written. On our return flight, I could not help but reflect on the richness and resonance of this Chassidus. The thousands of Munkatcher Chassidim today are but an extension of all I had witnessed that Shabbos. Everything that Munkatch is, and everything it will grow to be, came about because of the Munkatch that once was. Many years hence, this Shabbos will not just be a fond but distant memory. It will be a living legacy for our children. Because this Shabbos wasn’t just full of momentary breaths – it was full of moments that took my breath away.
See below for photos: