How Pious Jews Hid a Hasidic Rabbi’s Grave from the Communists

While the shtetls of Eastern Europe tended to have populations split roughly evenly between Jews and Gentiles, the Ukrainian town of Berdichev was a mega-shtetl, with Jews constituting some 80 percent of its population for much of its history; it was also larger in absolute numbers than most of the other market towns where Polish and Russian Jews once lived. In the late 18th century, its claim to fame became the presence of a major ḥasidic holy man by the name of Levi Yitzḥak, whose grave has remained a pilgrimage site to this day. Yet, even though the grave’s location has been preserved, only recently has his actual tomb been found. Dovid Margolin explains:

[I]n the first decade of Bolshevik rule [in the Soviet Union], an unrelenting onslaught [on traditional Jewish life] was led by the yevsektsii, the Jewish sections of the Communist party, [which] worked to uproot every vestige of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—confiscating synagogues, beating rabbis, and paving over Jewish cemeteries. The yevsektsii were most powerful in traditionally Jewish areas, and there was no place more Jewish than Berdichev.

“The conversion of the 200-year-old Jewish cemetery of Berdichev into a public park has resulted in a war between religious Jews and policemen and laborers employed in excavating the cemetery and transforming it into a park,” the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on July 12, 1929. While the city’s rabbinate proclaimed that ancient Jewish remains were being desecrated, “the Communists declare that . . . only the skeletons of horses have been dug up.”

Berdichev’s oldest cemetery was indeed destroyed and is today the city’s central Park Shevchenko. [But] one grave remains—that of a legendary Berdichev rabbi named Liber the Great (d. 1771). Rabbi Levi Yitzḥak, on the other hand, was buried in what was a relatively newer cemetery, destruction of which it seems the Jewish section did not get around to. In 1930, Stalin ordered the yevsektsii disbanded, and by the end of the year Jewish Communists had lost their power in the city.

[It seems that] some time after this episode, to head off the destruction of the rabbi’s grave, observant Jews in Berdichev themselves took down the brick mausoleum surrounding the grave and capped it with pavement and a headstone in order to make it less of a target.


More about: East European Jewry, Hasidism, Jewish cemeteries, Soviet Jewry


Why the White House’s Plan to Prevent an Israel-Hizballah War Won’t Work

On Monday, Hizballah downed an Israeli drone, leading the IDF to retaliate with airstrikes that killed one of the terrorist group’s commanders in southern Lebanon, and two more of its members in the northeast. The latter strike marks an escalation by the IDF, which normally confines its activities to the southern part of the country. Hizballah responded by firing two barrages of rockets into northern Israel on Tuesday, while Hamas operatives in Lebanon fired another barrage yesterday.

According to the Iran-backed militia, 219 of its fighters have been killed since October; six Israeli civilians and ten soldiers have lost their lives in the north. The Biden administration has meanwhile been involved in ongoing negotiations to prevent these skirmishes from turning into an all-out war. The administration’s plan, however, requires carrots for Hizballah in exchange for unenforceable guarantees, as Richard Goldberg explains:

Israel and Hizballah last went to war in 2006. That summer, Hizballah crossed the border, killed three Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped two others. Israel responded with furious airstrikes, a naval blockade, and eventually a ground operation that met stiff resistance and mixed results. A UN-endorsed ceasefire went into effect after 34 days of war, accompanied by a Security Council Resolution that ordered the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in disarming Hizballah in southern Lebanon—from the Israeli border up to the Litani River, some 30 kilometers away.

Despite billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer support over the last seventeen years, the LAF made no requests to UNIFIL, which then never disarmed Hizballah. Instead, Iran accelerated delivering weapons to the terrorist group—building up its forces to a threat level that dwarfs the one Israel faced in 2006. The politics of Lebanon shifted over time as well, with Hizballah taking effective control of the Lebanese government and exerting its influence (and sometimes even control) over the LAF and its U.S.-funded systems.

Now the U.S. is offering Lebanon an economic bailout in exchange for a promise to keep Hizballah forces from coming within a mere ten kilometers of the border, essentially abrogating the Security Council resolution. Goldberg continues:

Who would be responsible for keeping the peace? The LAF and UNIFIL—the same pair that has spent seventeen years helping Hizballah become the threat it is today. That would guarantee that Hizballah’s commitments will never be verified or enforced.

It’s a win-win for [Hizballah’s chief Hassan] Nasrallah. Many of his fighters live and keep their missiles hidden within ten kilometers of Israel’s border. They will blend into the civilian population without any mechanism to force their departure. And even if the U.S. or France could verify a movement of weapons to the north, Nasrallah’s arsenal is more than capable of terrorizing Israeli cities from ten kilometers away. Meanwhile, a bailout of Lebanon will increase Hizballah’s popularity—demonstrating its tactics against Israel work.

Read more at The Dispatch

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden