Dances of Teshuva in Poriah

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HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook zts"l,

"The Eternal your God will once again gather you from among all the nations where He scattered you...bringing you to the land that your ancestors occupied.

God will remove the barriers from your hearts, and from the hearts of your descendants; and you will love the Eternal your God with all your heart and soul." (Deut. 30:3-6)

In 1911, 18-year old Avraham Rosenblatt ran away from his parent’s home in Kishinev. His parents objected to Avraham's strong desire to leave Russia for Palestine, then under the oppressive rule of the Ottoman Empire. So the young man, active for many years in a local Zionist youth group, quietly stole away from home, and made his way to EretzYisrael.

Decades later, Rosenblatt was a highly respected accountant and comptroller in Tel Aviv. But when he first came to the country, he was employed in the moshavot of the Galilee area, working as a farm hand and security guard of the Hashomer organization.

In the winter of 1913, Rosenblatt found himself working in Poriah, near Tiberius and the Kinneret. Poriah was a fledgling agricultural community recently established by a group of 40 young pioneers from St Louis, Missouri.The moshavah was eventually abandoned several years later, after relentless confiscations and persecution by the Turks during World WarI.

It would be another 40 years before the village of Poriah was reestablished.

Yet a high point in the short history of Poriah took place one legendary evening in 1913. Many of the chalutzim present, including Rosenblatt, cherished the memory of that wonderful winter night, when the young secular pioneers sang and danced together with Rav Kook, then chief rabbi of Jaffa.

The Rabbi’s Journey to the Galilee

A small delegation of rabbis, led by Rav Kook, set out in mid-November 1913 to visit the new communities of the Galilee and north. The goal of this rabbinical tour was to strengthen ties with the isolated moshavot and bolster religious observance.  As Rav Kook observed in his introduction to Eileh Massei, a pamphlet documenting the rabbis' month-long tour:

"We are called upon to assist as best we can,to 'come to God's aid for the heroes' - to visit the moshavot, to raise their spirits, to inject the dew of holy life into the bones of the settlements… [We must] elevate the life of faithful Judaism, and publicly announce the call to peace and unity between the Old Yishuv [the older, established religious communities in the cities] and the New Yishuv [the new Zionist settlements]."

The journey enabled the rabbis to meet the Second Aliyah pioneers first-hand, and learn of the difficulties of life on the moshavot.

Meeting Rav Kook and the other rabbis had a powerful impact on many of the pioneers, awakening in them a desire for greater observance of Shabbat and kashrut. Practical arrangements for separating agricultural tithes were instituted, and other religious matters were worked out. But the most crucial issue - the problem of education, which required fundamental changes  - could not be properly rectified during such a short visit.

The Visit to Poriah

When the chalutzim of Poriah heard that the rabbinic delegation was nearby, they sent two representatives - on Shabbat - to invite the rabbis to visit their community.  Since Poriah was beyond the allowed limits for walking in non-residential areas on Shabbat, Rav Kook did not give them an immediate answer, in order to prevent further Sabbath desecration on their return trip.He told them that if they waited until Shabbat was over, he would respond. When Shabbat was over, the Rav agreed to visit the followingevening.

The visit to Poriah made a powerful impression on the young pioneers who, until then had felt very distant from rabbis, Torah and mitzvot. Rav Kook spoke to them about matters of Torah, and the mitzvah of settling the Land.

He spoke of the need to unite the entire nation, a connection of soul and spirit, from the elderly rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Sonnenfeld, to the youngest laborer in Poriah. The pioneers responded with cheers and applause. Full of youthful enthusiasm, the young men jumped up and danced with Rav Kook.

The Guard's Account

We are fortunate to have the testimony of one of the guards who was present that evening. In a letter penned nearly 60 years afterwards, Avraham Rosenblatt described in detail this inspiring encounter, vividly etched in his memory:

I recall a beautiful episode that took place 57 years ago, when Rav Kook toured the moshavot in the Galilee. I was working on the Poriah farm near the town of Tiberias. We were just a handful of 60 workers then. At the end of Tishrei 5574, we heard that Rav Kook, along with three other rabbis - Rabbis Sonnenfeld, Yadler, and Horowitz -were touring the isolated moshavot in the Galilee in order to influence them to keep kashrut and family purity.

I remember that we were informed that the delegation was nearby, and that the rabbis would also visit Poriah. We sat in the dining hall, singing and dancing as was our custom back then. Then we were told that the delegation had arrived and were in the office of the manager, Eliyahu Israelite; and that the rabbis wished to meet with us.

We had already finished eating. We were dancing and singing, 'God will rebuild the Galilee,' when Rav Kook joined in and danced with the men.

Suddenly Rav Kook turned to me and my friend [Pinchas] Schneerson. We were both on guard duty that night, and wore Arab cloaks and kefiyyeh headdresses, with rifles on our shoulders. Rav Kook asked us to accompany him to the manager's office. I was shorter than the Rav, but Schneerson was tall. So the Rav asked Schneerson if he could borrow his 'uniform.'

The three of us returned to the dancing, with the Rav wearing a kefiyyeh and a rifle over his shoulder. Everyone stared at Rav Kook's change of dress. In fact, the clothes suited him. The Rav began to sing 'Vetaheir Libeinu' - 'Purify our hearts to serve You sincerely.'

Then the Rav stopped and spoke to us.

"Dear brothers! Holy brothers! Builders of the Land! Just as I am not embarrassed to wear your garments, so too I request -do not be embarrassed by the Torah of Israel!  In the merit of observing the Torah's mitzvot,you will live many years in the Land of Israel, in kashrut, in purity, in the study of the holy Torah. Is it so hard to be a Jew? In your homes in the Diaspora, you were certainly educated in the spirit of Judaism. Your homes were certainly conducted in purity and kashrut. Please, please...

Rav Kook concluded his address withthese words:

"I will not remove the uniform of your guard unless you promise me - all of you, with one heart and a willing soul - that you will fulfill my request. I ask that you should be guards, and guard over your 'pintele yid,' your inner Jewish spark."

We all cried out, "We promise!" And the Rav responded, "Happy is the eye that witnessed such dances of teshuvah and holiness. Praised be His name!"

Rav Kook then went to the manager's office and quickly returned, to join in our dancing. He sang 'Vekarev pizureinu' - 'Bring our dispersed from among the nations' - and other such songs. The Rav continued to dance and sing with us for over an hour.

The delegation remained the following day to oversee the kashering of allthe kitchen utensils. The rabbis gave instructions to the young women working in the kitchen, and they departed in joy and happiness.

Together in Our Hearts

Many years later, Zeev Horowitz, a member of Kibbutz Geva, recalled the happy exuberance of that evening:

"I will never forget that image: Rav Kook, a tall, handsome man with a high hat, spied a security guard wearing a Bedouin cloak. He said, "Let's exchange – I'll take your 'rabbinical cloak,' and you'll take mine."  Everyone's spirits were high. At the end, the Rav announced: "I wore your clothes, and you wore mine. So it should also be on the inside -in our hearts!"

(Adapted from Megged Yerachim no. 156 (Elul 5772);  Eileh Massei; Encyclopedia of Founders and Builders of Israel., sent to Arutz Sheva by Rabbi Chanan Morrison: Rav Kook on the Net:

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