Ima, Are We Also The Children of Chernobyl?
Ima, Are We Also The Children of Chernobyl? | Oro shel yoseph > Commemoration > Yossie, My Best Friend 22

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Ima, Are We Also The Children of Chernobyl?

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Without a doubt, this chapter, the Children of Chernobyl project, is the highlight of Rabbi Yossie Raichik's life.
On April 26, 1986 an unsuccessful experiment at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, northwest Ukraine, caused a terrible manmade tragedy. A chain of errors resulted in an enormous explosion in the reactor, followed seconds later by another explosion that lifted the roof of the building into the air.
An outburst of radioactive materials exploded from the plant and was carried by the wind, spreading over a radius of thousands of kilometers. The towns and cities in the radius of danger were in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Sweden. Experts assume that more than thirty times more explosive waste was released from this explosion than from Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War.
The Ukrainian authorities, afraid of criticism and panic, quickly played down the dimensions of the catastrophe and only evacuated residents from a radius of 30 kilometers around the nuclear plant; residents who lived further away were not even warned about the accident. Seven days later, rain began to fall in the affected areas; the people did not then know that this was radioactive rain, whose effects are still visible today, and will not cease for many years to come.
Abnormally large flowers, babies born with deformities, and animals with peculiar blemishes were the first signs. More and more people began to appear at the medical clinics and hospitals. Very quickly, respiratory illnesses were discovered as well as eye problems, various types of cancer; incidents of death became a part of daily life. Even after the extent of the disaster was realized, the authorities had no answer to the millions of citizens in the affected areas who continued to live in their homes, and eat the local produce, absorbing the radioactive materials and its side effects.
This was especially serious for children. In adults exposed to radioactive materials, it can take a relatively long time (between 8-30 years) for disease to develop, but in children, whose bodies are still in the developing stages, malignant diseases can develop within just four years – unless preventive care is given in time.
Families took every opportunity to send their children for a period of recuperation to places unaffected by the fallout; however this was a stopgap measure. Every day there were additional cases of children with the symptoms of exposure to radiation: swollen thyroid glands, a drop in the white blood cell count, etc. Parents became more and more anxious, especially as there was no viable solution. Four years after the catastrophe, they started to worry that they had missed the opportunity – maybe the last one – to save their children, and into this picture entered Chabad in Israel.
The last 20 years of Yossie's life were devoted to saving and bringing to Israel thousands of kids from the areas around the nuclear power plant. He continued his work with the children, integrating them into Israel in the Kfar Chabad campus set up specifically for this purpose – with counselors, teachers, medical treatment and Reb Yossie's warm smile, without which, we have been told, everything would have been very different.
 "Take Responsibility for the Children"
More and more requests from Jewish organizations, asking help for the rescue program, poured into the offices of Chabad. The program was headed by Rabbi Shlomo Maidenchick, obm, then Director of Agudat Chassidei Chabad in Israel, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Aronow, Director of Tzach in Israel, Rabbi Yitzchak Cogan, then a new immigrant to Israel, who was known as "The Tzaddik from Leningrad," Rabbi Shmuel Chefer, Director of the Girls Educational Campus in Kfar Chabad B. and Rabbi Dov Schiff, founder and director of the Bucharim Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad. The instructions and blessings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe left no doubt as to the importance of this assignment: "Take responsibility for these children and bring them to Israel."
Twenty years have passed since then – over 2,000 children have been brought to Israel with the Children of Chernobyl Project. They were absorbed into institutions established especially for them in Kfar Chabad where they received full board, medical treatment, nutritious food, and a sound Jewish education. They then continued on, each one according to his aspirations. The alumni have become integrated within the social and work life in Israel and are grateful to Tzach who rescued them from the physically dangerous areas and from the great danger of assimilation prevalent in the former USSR.
Rabbi Yossie Raichik, a member of the Board of Tzeirei Agudat Chabad, was appointed liaison officer with the representatives from abroad involved with this project. Rabbi Raichik worked at full capacity as he undertook major fundraising for the children who were already in Israel and for bringing other groups from the disaster area.
Although he traveled frequently to philanthropists all over the world, Yossie did not forget "his" children. He visited the campus regularly, asked about the children and was eager to know them all personally. He made sure they had all they needed and more, giving them gifts at every opportunity. His visits to the campus were a holiday for the staff and the children, their cries of delight and laughter to be heard all over.
 "The children deserve everything," his motto with the children from Iran, became his motto for the Children from Chernobyl. These children, like the Iranian children before them, will never forget the person who did so much good for them.
His devotion to the Chernobyl children was so great, that when his own children were young, they did not see a difference between those saved from the Ukraine and themselves. "Ima, are we also the children of Chernobyl?" they once asked innocently, feeling that they were sharing their beloved father with several hundred others…and then when the unbelievable happened, the children of Chernobyl felt that they too had lost a father.
 "Yossie Requested"
 "I was fortunate to know Yossie during these last years when we worked together," reports Rabbi Chaim Ochayon, director of the Children of Chernobyl dormitory. "When you spend many hours together with another person, in all different moods, you get to know their traits. In Yossie, I got to know someone who followed his heart and soul, and combined in his being many of the best midot (traits) one could be blessed with."
Rabbi Ochayon speaks of how he misses Yossie, whom he saw as totally giving, a Chossid living in this world who was totally engaged in the "pressure cooker of Chabad efforts." Even so, he says Yossie had something special that made him do things a little differently than everyone else. "Because Yossie was a Jew with heart and rachmana liba ba'i (Hashem seeks the heart)."
He was not interested in gossip and slander. He was fully involved in his Shlichus, and expected this commitment from those working with him. "Every problem has a solution," he determined, and worked until solutions were found.
Reb Chaim recalls day-to-day life with his friend. "Sometimes he would criticize me, even sharply, but he was always honest, straightforward, fair and sincere, a problem-solver without any trace of personal hostility. Because of this, his eyes always shone and his face glowed with charm and kindness.
"Yossie requested" was a magical phrase for workers in the project. Yossie did not just request, he also actively helped and encouraged so that everything would run smoothly. Whoever saw him working could not stand by idly but joined in to help. When something was completed, Yossie never forgot to thank – another wonderful personality trait. A smile, a clap on the shoulder, a good word and showing an interest in the other – this was Yossie.
Reb Chaim expands a bit on hakarat hatov – appreciating the good, which is not as commonplace in our generation. "After every visit or after a special activity, Yossie would call that very same evening to thank and bless. In his last visit to the dormitory, I noticed how difficult it was for him to go up the stairs and speak to people but even that evening he phoned with his hearty and sincere "thank you."
Days and nights the two pored over the lists of names of those young souls. Rabbi Raichik, relates R. Ochayon, was interested in the minutest details. "It was important for him to know what the children ate for breakfast or lunch, what was the condition of their rooms and even when they last received new toothbrushes—he so wanted them to feel good. He loved the children and his work with the Chernobyl project was with his whole being. On every visit he radiated endless warmth and love to the children and staff.
When I told him that one of the children was hospitalized, he always asked how he was doing, and despite the expense, insisted that the best specialists be called. On the eve of the holidays and every so often, he would give the children gifts. When I once commented on the extravagance he said 'If you love someone you want him to have the best.' His kind heart could not bear that a child lacked something."
The many years of the project brought many smachot, britot, pidyon haben, bar and bat mitzvot and even weddings. Yossie attended all these smachot, his face glowing as the baal hasimcha's face glows.
"He did not merit to see his own children under the Chuppah, but he recently married off two of "our" girls. He not only raised the necessary funds for the emotional evening, he also paid the apartment rental for the first year, and undertook all the details for the wedding. The brides saw in him a real father.
A month before his passing, he was sandak at the bris of a son of one of the graduates of the Children of Chernobyl program. The evening after, he called me, very emotional, and told me of his great joy in holding this Jewish infant on his knees. This was the last simcha of the Children of Chernobyl that Rabbi Raichik attended."
Reb Chaim only worked with Yossie for two years, "two years in which I learned so much" and finds it difficult to come to terms with the fact that this is over. "It has not come to an end," he insists. "The atmosphere he created and his joy and vitality are still with us. We can be consoled by what he left for us – the team, the children and all his supporters: faith, devotion, dedication to the project of the Rebbe. His face comes to mind, and I can see what it means to be a chasid of the Rebbe, fully dedicated, heart and soul to the Rebbe and to his instructions.
As Rabbi Raichik looks down upon us from above, he sees thousands of Jewish souls who returned to Yiddishkeit and Chassidus through him. "It is hard for us without you, Yossie," the tears choke Reb Chaim's voice. "It is hard for us, and hard for the children. Pray for us, ask the Holy One, Blessed be He, that we succeed in continuing your work."
 As Equals
 "Don't say 'It won't happen.' Say 'It will happen,' and then it really will happen." This was one of Rabbi Raichik's mottos, reports Tami Afergan, administrator of the Children of Chernobyl Girls' dormitory.
 "I was about 18 years old, when I started to work for this project. I still remember the first time I saw Rabbi Raichik. His walk, his non-condescending manner, his impressive appearance. I was amazed at the pleasant atmosphere and the feeling of equality despite his status and the distinguished donors whom he brought for visits. He related to everyone equally."
Tami remembers that with the children, the staff and the affluent visitors that came to learn about the project, Yossie knew how to adapt – to each one according to style and personality.
 "There were some who needed 'warming up' and they were introduced to the children personally, so that they would hear and see for themselves about the Project. Others found it too difficult to hear the stories and sat in his office. Sometimes it was a combination, the donors sat in his office and some of the girls came for a short talk. It was never manipulative," she emphasizes. "Rabbi Raichik didn't do this for a donation or to appeal to anyone. He was like this with everyone he met; it was his nature to exert himself so that the atmosphere suited everyone."
Another motto that was a way of life, continues Tami, was "Children first." His concern with each and every child was amazing, way beyond any expectation. Stories and incidents? They flow in quick succession.
 "If he wanted to invite girls to his office to meet an important donor, he first made sure it was convenient for them, that it didn't interfere with any studies for exams, etc. Only after he was sure that it was absolutely ok with them did he continue. If he found out later that a girl was tired or thirsty, he would correct us, the counselor staff: Why did we bring her if she wasn't feeling well?
I remember events in which the girls participated, and Reb Yossie was the one who made sure that they had seats, food and drink, down to the smallest detail. Before the wedding of one of the Children of Chernobyl girls, he asked me to make a list of what the other girls would need. After writing clothing etc., I added a few luxury items: make-up, hairdresser, taxi. Without even looking at the list, he said, 'Give them everything.'
At the end of the wedding, when I came over with several girls to thank him, I pointed to one girl and said, with a smile, 'Be prepared, Masha is next.' On the spot he took out a $50 bill from his pants pocket and put it in his shirt pocket 'This is for your wedding,' he told the excited girl. And so it was. Yossie was privileged to hear that she was a kallah, and participate in the preparations for her wedding."
He had high expectations from the staff, but he never blamed the children. 'He is only a child, what do you want from him?' he would answer when a staff member criticized a child. 'If anything, we have to demand that the older person educate him.' He remembered all the girls' names, talked with them and took a personal interest in their private lives. He used to take out a photograph of himself with his twin brother. 'Guess which is me' he would ask them and smile," and Tami smiles as well.
 "When a girl told him it was her birthday, he reached into his pocket and out came a bill; he gave the first bill that he touched. The girls loved it when he came to visit. The happy atmosphere that prevailed stayed with them the entire day."
When the girls heard that Yossie was hospitalized, they were devastated. "They cried all the time, they arranged a rotation of saying Tehillim, staying up all night over their Tehillim," Tami remembers "and when they heard the terrible news, their world fell apart. It wasn't the program they were concerned about. They knew that the staff would continue in their positions and therefore they would not be lacking anything in the future, but their great love for this person left them, lost and alone – orphans."
 Don't Give Up
Tami presents another perspective when she talks about the visits of important supporters. The arrangements before a scheduled visit brought a lot of pressure and tension, which increased as the date grew closer. Of course we knew it was important to impress visitors with the wonderful accomplishments, with the hope that the necessary funds would be found for the project.
 "He would sit with the staff, and go over the smallest details. His marketing was very professional. He knew to minimize trivialities and define what was most significant. 'Direct the projectors to the right places.' He advised us, instilling in us the message: Even if you only have a little, wrap it up nicely and present it beautifully. It is not only the 'what' that matters but also the 'how'.
Sometimes we were in total despair. Things don't always go according to plan. I remember the preparations for the visit of the American actor, John Voigt. We were working on a serious production. Reb Yossie wanted to bring some graduates of the program, but no matter how hard we tried to reach them, everyone was busy, and we couldn't reach our goal. 'No such thing,' Reb Yossie said, seeing our despairing looks. 'At the end we will succeed'. And with his encouragement and support we were indeed successful. This was his way in everything: 'Don't give up.'
"And of course," it is most important for Tami to add, "everything that he demanded of others he demanded of himself. When he saw that matters were not moving, he took the initiative himself, creating an atmosphere of activity which swept us all with him. Even when things did not go according to plan, it was Reb Yossie who was the first to pull himself together, improvise and continue."
She again remembers John Voigt's visit: the original plans were that Rabbi Yisroel Lau would open the visit with a speech. Minutes before the opening, the organizers found out that Rabbi Lau was unable to come and the microphone was left unattended, waiting.
"Before we even had time to think about what to do or recover from our shock, Reb Yossie stood up on stage, took hold of the microphone and spoke in the most natural manner as though he were fully prepared...It was so successful that no one thought that this was a last minute improvisation!"
"After the visit, as he did after every visit," stresses Tami, "Rabbi Raichik phoned each and every member of the team and thanked them. He was absolutely exhausted, drained from the strenuous timetable, but he never forgot to phone with a good word for all those who worked for him." "He knew to appreciate the work of the people out there, in the field," she relates emotionally. "Once he gave me a ride while he was on an important telephone conversation abroad. He changed his original route because he knew that I was going to see 'his girls', showing me how much he appreciated my work."
Tami has worked for the Children of Chernobyl program for thirteen years and knows that since the 21st of Elul 5768, things are not the same. "But we will continue," she is adamant, "with all the energy that he has left us, everything he has taught us over and over again in his special way. We will continue and raise the kids whom he was so concerned about. We will make every effort for his sake, so that he will see it has not stopped. Each and every child who grows up here and discovers his Judaism will be one more light to elevate his soul.
"It is so sad," she concludes, "that although he himself took such care that the children breathe fresh air, both spiritually and physically, clean of radiation, clean of outside influences – it was his lungs that collapsed. However this is who Rabbi Raichik was," Tami tries to smile. "First, he made sure that the air and the atmosphere were good for others."
 Above All
Another veteran member of Rabbi Raichik's staff, Judy Kirshenbaum, was his secretary for nearly ten years of the Children of Chernobyl project.
She attributes everything she knows about public relations, fundraising and work skills to him and is deeply grateful. "Even arranging my own family smachot was much easier after all I learned from him." She adds, "I remember telling him after my oldest son's Bar Mitzvah that I did it exactly like one of the many events that we had arranged for our donors!"
Judy was very proud to work with Rabbi Raichik. Usually, she says, they worked very well together. Once in a while they argued, but, as she notes, he never raised his voice. When he was upset he would tell her how he felt, they would talk it out, sometimes it took a few days and conversations, but he never yelled.
One of the things about Yossie that left a great impression on her was his faith in Hashem. "Yossie appeared to be very modern and so forth but he was very connected to Hashem. One morning when I had been working for him for about a month, we had to go to the airport to meet some donors. He went ahead in his rented car, which he had to return at the airport for some reason and I came afterwards in my car. At that time I was driving a small Subaru 600 and on the way back to Kfar Chabad he asked me how I liked the car. I told him it was ok, except if there was an accident, God forbid.
 "His immediate answer was "That's why there's a G-d in the world." I was very impressed with that answer. He didn't start trying to convince me to buy a bigger stronger car or to discuss all kinds of logical things. There was only one answer - "That's why there's a G-d in the world." Total and complete faith in Hashem. He went straight to the heart of the issue. It wasn't in my hands anyway – it was only up to G-d."
Judy is quite sure that's how he felt about his illness. "If we could ask him, his very untimely death as well – it was up to G-d."
Chaya Rivka Heber worked with Rabbi Raichik for eleven years and in the last years was his personal secretary. "He was not a boss, he always treated you as an equal," she sums up their work together. She also learned a tremendous amount from him.
 "On one hand, he was a perfectionist. He wanted to make sure that everything was done correctly, not just ticked off as finished. He spent hours on each matter as he put his entire self into it – whether it was a thank you letter, a picture album or even a birthday wish. He did his utmost to try to portray his feelings and wishes in the most tangible and real way. He took his time thinking out each and every detail.
Yet on the other hand, even at times when there was a lot of work and pressure there was always a pleasant atmosphere in the office.
Yossie was extremely friendly and outgoing and I believe that is why anyone who walked by his office knocked on his door to say hello –  he always had a good word to say. 
We all knew when he came to the office because you could hear his loud, jolly, friendly GOOD MORNING to each and every worker.
Yossie was able to relate to everyone on their level – the most intelligent lawyer, the successful businessman, my little son who came by after school, or the poor old man who knocked to ask for Tzedakah. Yossie always had a good word or a small funny joke to bring happiness to someone's face.
Yossie also knew how to show appreciation. After a big project, Yossie would call me, even after working hours, to say thank you. He always thanked the cleaning crew for their efforts as well as the driver who did an errand for him. Even if it was part of their job, he always made sure to say thank you!" 
Chaya illuminates another side of Yossie. With all his dedication to the Children of Chernobyl, his Shlichus from the Rebbe and the project of his life, there was something else above all – his own family.
"It did not matter how busy he was – when his daughter or his wife entered his office he put everything aside and just concentrated on them. It was amazing to see," said his secretary, "he gave his entire self to this family member, as though the work to which he was so dedicated, did not even exist."
Yossie was a perfect example of priorities. When his wife called, he just paid attention to her; you would never know that he was in the midst of a busy, important meeting, or if it was his daughter Shuli who came to the office after school, everything else stopped. He would take time, seat her on his lap, find out how her test was…and spend time with her. The important letter that he was in the middle of writing seconds before would wait. Shuli was priority number one. When he was with his family, everything else was forgotten."
Chaya recalls that towards the end of his life, Yossie was sitting in his office, compelled to use his oxygen mask, but trying to make sure that no one see him, that no one be distressed because of him. "If someone knocked on the door, he quickly removed his mask, shoved it under the table and pretended that there was nothing wrong – he did not want to cause grief to others; he always saw other people way before he saw himself."
 "His Children"
Leslie Leventman shares that from the very beginning of the collaboration between MTV Networks (a media production company that produced video clips for the Chernobyl Dinners) and Children of Chernobyl, Yossie was "a pleasure to work with and moreover, a true inspiration to observe."
 "Yossie was one of the most genuine and caring individuals I've known in my life. He always had the well-being of others at the top of his mind and in his heart. His spirit and generosity were unparalleled. Yossie always gave of himself to people in need, and smiled every day doing so. He spoke so lovingly of his wonderful family and was so incredibly proud of his children. The warmth of his heart overflowed to CCOC and the children helped by its important mission. We were all delighted and blessed to interact with him - from the young artists in my creative group to my entire team, he was able to relate and identify with everyone. Yossie was an extraordinary individual. Being in his presence was a complete joy and blessing. He was a true and honest friend and is dearly missed."
To the donors who knew him as the fundraiser, Rabbi Raichik remained the same fantastic person and wonderful friend with an outstanding personality who devoted himself to "his children" of whom he spoke enthusiastically.
Many of these philanthropists came on visits to Israel and saw for themselves the dormitories and the educational institutions in which they were partners. Of all their memories of the children, the staff and the country, one person stands out: the inspiring, high-spirited, jovial and special Rabbi Yossie Raichik.
Mr. Tato Fried, a cherished supporter from Argentina, is just one example of the delegations of donors who came to visit Kfar Chabad. He came with his daughter, Lucila, then in her twenties, who cannot forget her visit.
 "As soon as we arrived in Kfar Chabad," Lucila tells us, "Yossie opened the back of the car. There he had tons of toys for the kids: little cars for the boys and jewelry for the girls and more. As he was taking out the toys from the car he said simply, "These will be a present to the kids from you." "I remember turning red," says Fried "because, as I said to my Dad later, 'If I had known, we would have done it ourselves'… But this was the way Yossie was: ideas in action. Here I saw a man that understood human sensibility. We were names, now we had become people with identity, with a present for each. He knew these toys would become like a bridge, to connect us to the kids, and to enable us to chat with (as well as enjoy being with) the kids.
I had the pleasure to meet some lovely girls at the center, who were extremely sweet, and spoke English perfectly. This is how we were able to have some conversation despite that my mind was in shock seeing and feeling the love of everyone. I understood that kids wanted to be kids, and this is how they were being raised and educated. And best of all, the kids were happy.
Before my visit I thought that the main objective was to remove these kids from the radiation areas, but once I saw with my own eyes, I understood that this was just the start of the project. The extensive medical treatments with the continuous supervision were of course on the cards.
Rabbi Raichik told us that the kids were not forced to wear tzitzis or a kipa (yarmulka). They had the choice, and usually they chose to but sometimes they did not. He pointed out that these kids were in a process, and that the main idea was to save them and follow through with their treatments so that in the near future they could be reunited with their families. He said that they had gone through so much that the idea was to help them to adapt.
We also had the chance to meet some counselors, teachers, as well as doctors who were at the Center and not everyone was religious. I found this great. It was about helping, giving and sharing. It was about the kids.
Later that same evening at supper with my Dad, we spoke about our visit to Kfar Chabad and how deeply we were impressed: with these little kids so happy in their lives today, in spite of what they have gone through. Dad was amazed at the scope of this tremendous organization, of the educational staff, but of everything – of the person who knew every corner, who knew what was taking place every minute, breathed, and lived for the sake of the thousands of little children that he saved."
 A Person Loved by All
Over 2,000 witnesses – "The Children of Rabbi Raichik" – the young and pure souls, the children of Chernobyl, with their moving stories:
 "I am already in Israel three years," writes Mushka. "I always looked forward to the parties we had in the dormitory or to meeting a new group – that was a real 'prize' for me – because then Rabbi Raichik would also come.
I waited for his smile, his funny good words. Quite often, even if the Rabbi was not in the dormitory, and I was not in a good mood, or I was homesick, I thought of his jokes. During one of the parties, I was very sad and I even cried. When my counselor called me to come downstairs, I quickly dried my tears and went downstairs, not in the mood. I sat looking at the visitors, when suddenly Rabbi Raichik came over and made me laugh. That was Rabbi Raichik – he always brought happiness.
He approached everyone individually. Everyone was a 'world', I miss him terribly now; however when I find things difficult or I am upset, I recall the jokes he would make, and laugh..."
Nestia Neglar, another girl, also recalls the visits of Rabbi Yossie to their dormitory. "When he came I knew it was not going to be a regular day. I knew that somehow he would make me feel good. He was an expert at picking up who was miserable and then making her happy. He gave us each individual attention and we all knew that he was not like everyone else. He was someone we all loved."
And then she recalls an episode that really touched her:
"Once his daughter told us that when her father (Rabbi Raichik) returned from abroad with lots of candies, she asked who they were for, and he told her that he bought them for us, his girls from Chernobyl – that really touched me," she tells us emotionally "because that meant that even when he wasn't with us, he thought about us and how to make us happy. That was a wonderful feeling."
She reminisces about new groups that came every so often. Rabbi Raichik wanted to soften the first shock and the challenges of integration into the new country, and he would bring American hevre to dance and make things happy. Very quickly the new young arrivals and the observers who came to watch would be drawn into the circle. "He really was very very special. It was a great privilege to know such a Tzaddik."
Rachel Obtianikova, another girl, recalls the visit of supporters to the girls' dormitory. More than once, when the big day came, she herself was tense. "I just wanted it to go smoothly so that we could continue with our routine."
When the important visitors arrived, Rabbi Raichik accompanied them. "The time passed so quickly that I did not even notice. I even forgot that five minutes earlier I had been depressed...Wherever he was – everyone was in a good mood. His jokes and energy made everyone more alive."
"Many many years, all of his personal time, strength, energy and health, Rabbi Raichik gave to his Project" was written in another letter. "Even during the holidays he was sometimes abroad, looking and finding generous people who were prepared to contribute."
"He also used to visit us, ask how we were and want to know how we were feeling. He came into the recreation room, the dining room and our dormitories, to see what could be improved or repaired."
Judith Astrovsky, a Chernobyl girl writes, "He made sure that every Pesach and Succot we would go to the families with a smile, with new clothing and shoes. Chanukah we were given money, to buy new toys and games, this in addition to Chanukah gelt… He was like a father who gives all he has to his children. He sacrificed for us, with love, with dedication and joy of life. Heartfelt thanks for everything!"
 "I Would Give Him Mine"
Ilona Makish, who was also brought to Israel on the Children of Chernobyl Project, met Rabbi Raichik nine years ago. Every time he came for a visit, she says, there was great joy and many smiles.
 "He gave so much, his entire being, as though we were his own daughters," she tries to find the correct words. "He was like our second father, and for some of the girls who had none – he was their first father."
"The Rabbi was hardly at home, he traveled a great deal looking for donors," Ilona knows. "And what for? Just to make sure that we had what to eat and what to wear. Whoever we are today is because of him. All the girls here are living just because of him."
There is no one like him and there will never be anyone like him," adds her friend Rivka Freiden. "The least I can do to repay him is to tell the world what a special man he was. I have so much to say, and not just me, each and every one of us. Of this most modest man, with the warm heart and the widest smile I have ever seen. I have never met anyone like him, not in the Ukraine nor in Israel, he was an angel."
Once, the girls were discussing the staff and comparing them. "There are those who ask how we are but it doesn't really interest them," they said, "but when Rabbi Raichik asks, he cares, he tries to find out if we have homework, and if it is in Torah subjects he offers to help."
Birthdays are a fond memory for the Children of Chernobyl. When a child told Rabbi Raichik that it was her birthday, he immediately put his hand in his pocket and the child received the first note he pulled out of his pocket. He did not stop there; he then sang at the top of his voice, "Happy Birthday to you" and his happiness drew the curious to see what was going on.
The girls talk wistfully about the Purim festival, which would now be completely different without Rabbi Raichik. "And do you remember his 'Gut Shabbos?" Pained responses come in return.
"Why didn't they tell us that he needed a lung transplant?" another girl adds. "I would have given him mine." "But then you would not have been able to live," explains one of the other girls in the group. "Nu, so what," the girl answers, shrugging her shoulders, "I am just one girl that he saved, and he would have been able to continue to save many more girls like me!"
 "He won't be at my wedding," says a girl, and another girl joins in, "He promised me that he would be at my wedding…remember Rivka Duchman?" and the memories surface, remembering the wedding of their classmate, a recently married alumni. "He paid for everything."
 "We were dressed beautifully, and had makeup on, when he approached us together with the director," remembers Ula Katchrina. 'Now it's your turn,' he said to me with a smile, and we all started to laugh. 'I have time yet, I am only 14,' I reminded him although there was no need to, as he knew every detail about each one of us. Apparently our festive and grown-up look that evening must have added quite a few years…"
"He joined in our laughter. 'Yes you have time, don't rush,' he told me, and at that moment I made a decision: it does not matter when I finish my years in the dormitory, or when I marry, Rabbi Raichik will be invited to my wedding."
Yossie's death shocked all who knew him, including the children of Chernobyl, who wept for hours on end, refusing to be comforted, unable to come to terms with the loss. "I was as shocked as everyone else," Ula tells us, "especially when I immediately remembered our conversation at the wedding and his wide smile."
"And then I decided, "Bli Neder (without making an oath), when I am a kallah (bride), please God, I will travel to Jerusalem and put an invitation to my wedding on his grave, and I will ask Rabbi Raichik, in whose merit I have arrived at this day, to be the guest of honor at my wedding."
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Oro Shel Yoseph

NGO: 58-0819-27

P.O.B. 520 Kfar Chabad,
Israel 60840

Phone: (972) 3  9607-499


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