Friday, September 07, 2018

The Yabloner Rebbe

George C. Nagel - aka the Yabloner Rebbe (screenshot)
Rafi Goldmeier posted a fascinating video on his blog Life in Israel (reproduced below). It is appropriate for the upcoming Day of Judgment – better known as Rosh Hashana. There are 2 take-aways from this. One is that anyone can lose their faith, no matter how religious they are. And the other is that it is never too late to do Teshuva - to repent for our sins.

(The following narrative is taken directly from the video below.)  

This is the story of a Chasidic Rebbe by the name of Yechezkel Taub. He became the Rebbe of a group of wealthy Chasidim in a small town in pre war Europe called Yablon. 

Early in his leadership, the Yabloner Rebbe urged his Chasidim to make Aliyah - believing that Moshiach's arrival was imminent. His Chasdim resisted - but he was able to convince many them to do it. He argued that the wealthier ones would build their own homes. And the rest would buy land from wealthy Syrian land owners and along with him build a city, which would include a dairy farm. 

He raised a ton of money from the wealthier Chasdim and bought 10,000 acres of land in the North of Israel. He then made Aliyah with between 2 and 3 hundred of his Chasidim. But then everything that could go wrong –went wrong.  Disease, murders. And no one in the Jewish agency seemed to care about them. They had no money and couldn’t get any from them. 

The Rebbe offered to make a deal with the Jewish agency and told them that even though they don’t have any money, they had land. He would give them the land in exchange for food and expertise in building a farming community. They agreed and sent food and a group of Religious Zionists farmers to train them.  Long story short - things started to get better.

Meanwhile the Chasidim that gave him money to buy land started immigrating to Israel because of the rise of antisemitism in the 30s. When they got there and asked for the land they paid for, the Rebbe told them it was gone... That he had to trade it to save the lives of the starving Chasidim that came with him. They asked for their money back. But he didn’t have it. Needless to say, those wealthy Chasidim were very upset calling the Yabloner  Rebbe a thief.

He decided that he had to go America and raise the funds to pay them back. His wife went back to Poland (there were no children).  And in the middle of all this World War II broke out. He then heard that his entire Chasidus had been wiped out. He could not go back to Poland. He could not go back to Israel.

At that point the Yabloner Rebbe decided that can no longer be religious. He took off his kipa, shaved off his beard, cut off his Peyos, and stopped keeping Shabbos. He moved to Los Angeles and changed his name from Yechezkel Taub to George T. Nagel.  He had nothing to do with the Jewish community – an very few people know who he really was. His family in Israel did however maintain contact with him, however.

The Yabloner Rebbe started a successful construction business and became very wealthy.  But then lost most of it in a development project that went south. He got so ill from that experience that he was hospitalized.

While he was there, he made yet another life changing decision – turning  away from his goal of making a lot of money. He realized that he doesn’t really need it and preferred instead to gain more knowledge.

In 1972 at age 77, he enrolled in a University (CSun), moved into the dorm where he became a celebrity student to his younger peers. He eventually got his bachelors degree in psychology and started working towards his masters degree.

He was at that point somehow convinced to return to the community he built (now called Kfar Chasidim). He agreed but wanted to first finish his masters. Which he did and in 1980 - not sure what to expect.

Upon his rival there was a big party thrown for him and each of the original pioneer settlers went up to him. This is what they said:

‘Rebbe, you saved our lives’.  ‘Our families all died in the Holocaust.’ ‘You pushed us like crazy to come here.’ ‘And we hated you!’ ‘We wanted to go back to Poland’.  ‘But you made us stay, and we stayed.’ ‘Our families (in Poland) all died’ ‘There’s nothing left of them.’ ‘Look at our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.’ ‘Look what we’ve set up here!’ ‘It’s all because of you!’ ‘Please come home!’

George Nagel put his Kipa back on, grew back his beard, grew back his peyos and became the Yabloner Rebbe again. He passed away in 1986 and was buried next to some of the other founders of that city.

What a remarkable and inspiring story this is. Here you have a man that was a charismatic religious leader who because of his belief that Moshiach’s arrival was imminent - was able to convince many of his reluctant Chasidim to make Aliyah.

And then because of the tragic events that befell him - including the loss of his Chasidim slaughtered in the Holocaust - he lost his faith! To such an extent, that he had nothing to do with Jews or Judaism for many decades of his life. And then came back to it all when he realized what he had done to save so many of Chasidim who had grown into large families. He must have seen the hand of God in all of this.

I know that there are some readers here that were once observant and no longer are. I am not here to criticize or judge any of them.  I do not blame anyone for going OTD after experiencing the trauma that is usually associated with that. I only thank God that I was never tested that way. But what one can see from this story is that it’s never too late to come back. If anything counters the claim those who go, do not return, this story is it.