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United for the Jews of France

What could bring the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Malkiel Kotler and Rav Dovid Feinstein together on a trip to Toronto?

That was the question that many people had, as this eminent grouping made the trip north to Canada this past weekend. The answer was surprising. It was to raise money for French Jews – including for their education by Chinuch Atzmai.

Rabbi Yossi Milstein, who serves as a representative of Chinuch Atzmai, explained to Ami how this fascinating mission came about.

“About four years ago, after the terrorist attack in Toulouse, France, a large aliyah of French Jews began. The children of those who went to Israel ended up being placed in the mamlachti dati school system.” That system consists of “traditional” dati schools that are a bit above the observance level of the secular system.

The rate of aliyah has increased every year, and rabbanim are concerned that the recent attack in Nice will be used by the Jewish Agency to promote even more aliyah.

The Kaliver Rebbe has been involved with the Jewish communities in France for many years, and, despite his recent illness, has continued to be involved. In fact, it was he who discovered that children who had studied in frum schools in France, such as Otzar Hatorah or Chabad, were being placed in the spiritually dangerous mamlachti dati school system. This latest initiative was due to his direction, as well.

“The Rebbe organized a meeting four months ago,” Rabbi Milstein said, “to which he invited the Skulener Rebbe; the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Zalman Leib; Rav Aharon Feldman, the rosh yeshivah of Ner Israel in Baltimore; Rav Malkiel Kotler and Rav Dovid Feinstein.”

At the meeting, the assembled group decided on a number of resolutions. One was that they would create an organization, the Keren L’Hatzalas Yaldei Tzorfas, to help those remaining in France, because the sudden migration was causing difficulties for those left behind. Another was that they would work to move those who were in Eretz Yisrael into the Chinuch Atzmai system.

“But we said,” Rabbi Milstein explained, “that we wouldn’t have enough space. Furthermore, these children newly arrived from France would need more help than the usual children in our system.”

The gathered gedolim decided that they would arrange for a fundraising effort on behalf of Chinuch Atzmai, to get the additional funds necessary to absorb the French refugees. They would need $3 million to put caravans, tutors, coordinators and after-school programs in place.

Rav Malkiel and Rav Dovid approached the philanthropists Ruby Schron and Reuven Wolf to head the organization. Fundraising began a bit quietly, but after a little while, they decided that it was time to give the effort a more public platform.

“We needed to do something sensational,” Rabbi Milstein said, “in order to emphasize the importance of giving toward this cause.” To that end, the trip by the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Malkiel and Rav Dovid was organized, during which they met with capable donors and foundations that could both provide money and raise awareness. They flew to Toronto with Ruby Schron on a private jet provided by Reuven Wolf.

Rabbi Milstein said that one aspect that many of the donors asked about, was the incongruity of the Satmar Rebbe helping to raise money for Chinuch Atzmai, a system associated with the Israeli state, which Satmar has generally not supported. He said that the Rebbe made several points about his involvement. First, that the Divrei Yoel himself directed certain groups of children to Chinuch Atzmai when it was clear the the chareidi school systems were inappropriate for them, such as the Moroccan and Russian refugees. The Beirach Moshe would also publicly make appeals for Yad L’Achim in his beis midrash, even though Yad L’Achim would use some of that money for Chinuch Atzmai. He also noted that the end goal of this campaign is not that the children should remain Chinuch Atzmai products, so to speak, but that they should eventually be able to leave that system and attend chareidi institutions. However, at the moment, the only way for them to receive a Torah education is through Chinuch Atzmai; there are no other options.

Furthermore, it is only the caravans/classrooms that will be actually used within the Chinuch Atzmai system. The tutors, parent coordinators and after-school programs are actually outside of that system.

The after-school programs are for children in the mamlachti dati system, to help provide them with some Torah education and to hopefully funnel them into more religious schools.

The efforts have been exceptionally successful. Rabbi Milstein said that in one meeting, Rav Dovid Feinstein took the initiative and asked the donor for much more than they had originally decided to request – the donor acquiesced.

In the next meeting, with a foundation, they again asked for the sum of money that Rav Dovid had mentioned. The people they were meeting noted that for the initiative that was being undertaken they could have asked for a figure four times as large.

To that, the Satmar Rebbe responded that if that was indeed something they were willing to do, he would ask for it. And they agreed to give that amount.

In traveling to Toronto, these gedolei Yisrael have shown that klal Yisrael will act in achdus to help their brethren who are in France as well as those have left France.

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