There are two kinds of moshavim – Israeli agricultural settlements. A small portion of them were founded before the State of Israel by non-observant Jews; the majority, however, were founded by religious immigrants from Arab countries or by Romanian and Hungarian Jews, after 1948
For many years, I have served as the rabbi of the Moshavim Movement, an organization once associated with the non-religious Mapai party that helped found many of these settlements in Israel. While the religious Zionist HaPoel HaMizrachi helped found perhaps 70 settlements, there are 270 Mapai moshavim. In the early days, the difference between these two groups was that the religious Zionist ones didn’t have enough money, but they did have synagogues and Torah scrolls. Meanwhile, the Mapai moshavim had more money, but not enough synagogues and not enough Torah scrolls.
So, in approximately 1960, I went to America, where there were many defunct synagogues, to collect some of their Torah scrolls for the moshavim. At the time, I was also involved with the Histadrut, Israel’s main labor union, as well as the editor of Machanayim, a magazine published by the IDF chaplaincy.
When my brother, Pinchas Peli, heard about my trip, he arranged for Rabbi Berel Levy to come pick me up from the airport. “You’re coming to my house for dinner,” Berel told me, “and then we are going out. I’ve arranged an audience for you with the Rebbe.”
That is how, just a few hours after my arrival, I came to 770, and at about 2:30 AM I went into the Rebbe’s room.
“You are Rabbi Menachem Hacohen?” asked the Rebbe. “I thought there were a few of you: One of them is the editor, one of them the Histadrut rabbi, and another the author!” (more…)