(lubavitch.com) Five miles south of Tel Aviv and near Ben Gurion airport is Israel’s modern day version of Anatevka, complete with agricultural fields, milk cows, numerous educational institutions, more than 8,000 Chasidic Jews, and the headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch in the Holy Land.
Established in 1948 by Chabad Chasidim who escaped from Russia via Poland after the war, Kfar Chabad (Chabad Village) –then a desolate patch of land known as Safaria—is 60 years later an unusual village where the old seems undisturbed by the dynamic growth and modernization that abounds.
At its start, the image of Eastern European Chasidic Jews working the land surprised and inspired early Israeli settlers. The reality of Kfar Chabad shattered the city-dwelling religious Jew stereotype, provided a nostalgic link to the past, and symbolized rebuilding the ruins of Judaism after the Holocaust.
White-bearded with overalls and rubber boots, famed Chasidic farmer Zusik Rivkin embodied the village’s message while manning the milk cows until his passing in 2007.
“He believed it was part of his mission as a Chasid to show the world that a religious Jew works hard on the field and at the books,” recalled one of Rivkin’s family members in an interview after his passing.
“He would say: ‘We also earn our bread by the sweat of our palms.’” Indeed, Rivkin, and many like him, fulfilled the mission as Chasidic farmers, rising at 5:15 am for farm chores, while dedicating time during their hard-working days to intensive daily learning sessions in Talmud and Chasidic thought.
Today, Kfar Chabad boasts all the amenities of a small city, with all the charms of a country village. Set among orange groves, it is home to a host of schools for boys and girls from preschool through rabbinical college, scores of synagogues, a printing press, a vocational school, a matzah bakery and a honey farm, as well as shops and restaurants, making it Israel’s largest village, where thousands of students come to visit its various educational attractions during holiday seasons.
The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneerson, encouraged and guided the village’s creation in this central location to facilitate broader outreach for the benefit of Israel’s Jews. In a May 20, 1949 letter, the Rebbe officially established the village and provided its mission statement.
“I have directed that a Torah scroll be sent to you. What is the job of settlers? To appreciate that it is by Divine providence that you and your families have come to the Holy Land . . . The Torah scroll should serve you as a sign and constant reminder to live your lives according to the Torah and to bring its spirit to your brethren near and far.”
Helped along when Israel assigned Kfar Chabad large swaths of land for agriculture and housing, shortly after Chasidim settled there, the village began to grow.
Outreach was a part of life for all residents. One of the village’s original founders relates: “In the early years, so many people left Kfar Chabad to work with various communities during holidays and special events that the remaining residents struggled to make up a minyan,” –hard to imagine today, when the villages numerous synagogues are daily filled to capacity.
Rivkin used meetings with visiting farmers, workers and technicians as an opportunity to don tefillin. One veterinarian in particular, Dr. Davidson, never acquiesced to Zusik’s offers to don tefillin. While working with a unit of Israeli soldiers battling near the Suez Canal during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Davidson saw a group of Chabad Chasidim approaching to offer support and a chance to put on tefillin.
Completely inspired to see them near the battlefield, Davidson was the first to agree. “You go and tell Zusik from Kfar Chabad that Davidson put on tefillin,” he told the group.
Part of the Lod Valley Regional Council which was founded in 1952, Kfar Chabad’s dynamic growth, says the council’s director, Menashe Moshe, is homegrown.
“The area is largely agricultural and has many fields and orchards. However, Kfar Chabad and most of the other villages in the region are undergoing intensive residential construction and development to handle the housing demands,” Moshe told Lubavitch.com. “Most of the demand is coming from kids who grew up here and now want to live here. They are fueling the growth and development in the communities.”
“In general, this is an area of tremendous diversity that has achieved a good level of harmony. I have worked close with Kfar Chabad on several projects and participated in events there. I believe that Kfar Chabad has contributed in a meaningful way to generating and sustaining that harmony,” he says.
A good fit with a region that boasts religious and secular members, as well as many immigrants of Moroccan, Iraqi, Russian, Polish, and Argentinean, Kfar Chabad is home to TZACH, or Chabad of Israel’s headquarters. From their Beit Shazar headquarters donated by former Israeli President Zalman Shazar in the 1970s, TZACH oversees Chabad activities and 230 centers in Israel, and provides educational programming and services for the 2 million students in Israel’s 5,000 public and religious schools.
More than 200 Israeli and international students learn in Kfar Chabad’s branch of Tomchei Temimim Yeshiva. Established in 1963, it’s one of the network’s largest and most reputable. The state-accredited Beit Rivka girls teaching seminary trains close to 800 students each year. One of the oldest Chabad educational institutions in the world, it has provided schools all over Israel and abroad, with highly skilled, state-licensed Judaic studies teachers, for decades.
In 1986, the late Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of blessed memory, approved and financially supported the construction of a look-alike building modeled after Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, New York. A tourist attraction and visitor’s welcome center, the building also houses Agudat Chassidei Chabad, the Kehot Publication Society, the Kfar Chabad weekly magazine, and an extensive Jewish book library.
According to Kfar Chabad Council Director, Rabbi Binyomin Lifshitz, the physical growth of Kfar Chabad compels it to grow qualitatively, particularly in terms of its educational services.
“The Kfar is growing physically, and going forward, our priority is to increase the emphasis and effort on education,” Lifshitz told Lubavitch.com. “We have schools and grades for every age, and will now seek to enhance educational opportunities for children with special needs.”
Construction cranes are a common site in Kfar Chabad. “ The Kfar has continued to grow and build, adding residential units, expanding schools and offices, and further developing the industrial zone, says Lifshitz.
Along with the population surge comes a full array of services and stores: two full medical clinics, several grocery stores, clothing, and hardware stores, fish, produce, computers, jewelry, dry cleaning, three book stores and five Judaica centers. Kosher food is plenty; the Kfar offers 3 restaurants, a pizza place, falafel stand, and a burger eatery.
A lot has changed since Zusik milked his first cow here. Though he is no longer alive, his dairy farm and its herd of 130 cows are still very active, producing in excess of 1,500 liters of kosher milk each day. Still, the original pioneering spirit, and the blessings of two Lubavitcher Rebbes continue to inspire the residents of Kfar Chabad.