Pillars of Support and Good Friends
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Oro shel yoseph > Commemoration > Yossie, My Best Friend > Pillars of Support and Good Friends

Pillars of Support and Good Friends

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"Ilearned how to give Tzedakah from Yossie," declares Dani Elsztain, a Jewish philanthropist and close friend from Argentina.
I gave Yossie my first significant amount of Tzedakah – $1000 – for CCOC," he smiles, " a fortune for me in those days…but I was sure that he would be able to do something much more meaningful with the money than I ever could."
"Whenever he came to Argentina," remembers Elsztain, "we arranged for groups of friends who donated regularly to meet with him. At these meetings, Yossie insisted that everyone say a few words. In the beginning it was difficult, but soon we all showered blessings and best wishes on everyone around us, and Yossie beamed. We knew that without Yossie this would have never happened."
Elsztain tells of a personal experience just before his wedding. He and his future wife disagreed on one of the details of the Chuppah which was spoiling the atmosphere of this special time. Who helped resolve the matter – Yossie had arrived in Argentina and they spoke with him confidentially. "Only Yossie, with his love and sensitivity could have resolved the argument so beautifully."
"Rabbi Raichik had a tremendous influence on our entire family and we will never forget what he did for us!" writes Mrs. Elana Glasenberg, a donor from Switzerland.
"He helped plan our son's bar mitzvah in February 2007. He suggested that we come to Israel and have a party for Gil together with some of "his" children from the Chernobyl project. This so influenced Gil that he donated some of the money he received for his bar mitzvah to improving the children's living facilities. Our children became aware of children their own age who did not grow up with abundance which was a very important lesson for them."
"Rabbi Yossie," Elana Glasenberg shares, "planned the bar mitzvah down to the last detail and the result was an event that the family remembers until today. At a family simcha in Zurich that he attended, he made a strong impression on everyone present, introducing himself and knowing how to give time to each and every person. We all remember him and his shining personality."
Many people have remarked that Rabbi Raichik did not have "donors," he had friends.   When approached by Yossie for money for his projects, they did not ask what it was for. "You ask, we give," they said, which is what they did. They had full trust in him.
 A Line in the Book of Achievements
New York-born Elaine Gold says that it was her great mazal that she didn't miss out on meeting Rabbi Raichik.
 "I attended a Board meeting in Israel," she recounts, "and Rabbi Josh Metzger said you must meet my friend Rabbi Yossie Rachik.
 "Trying to get out of this meeting I said, "I have no way of getting to Kfar Chabad."
"No problem, I was told, they will have someone pick you up." So I was stuck."
As agreed-upon, a driver picked Elaine up and brought her to Kfar Chabad. There, she says, she was received with the biggest warmest smile that she had ever seen. She was given a handful of candy, taken on a tour of the facility, and she then handed out the candy to every child that passed by.
"I was enchanted," she summarizes. "That visit made me totally committed to helping Yossie, the children and the wonderful project of bringing them to Israel."
True to her decision, Elaine continued to contribute and remain involved with CCOC. Each time Yossie was in New York they met. "When I got a call from him, it was one of the most special calls I ever received.
His passion for what he believes in – his love for his family and children amazed me every time anew. I knew that because of him thousands of children are alive today, hundreds are better humans after meeting him. I shall always be grateful to Rabbi Metzger for "forcing" this meeting on me."
Charly Gotlib from Belgium remarked on Rabbi Raichik's influence on those around him, and described him as a person " who worked to make this world better by his kindness and his actions."
 "For Yossie's project, in fact," he is quick to correct, "for our project under his leadership, he made me travel to Southern France and Paris, to Israel, and even twice to the United States, to help with his fundraising. Through him I met many interesting people while gathering special memories and wonderful experiences."
He remembers the first big event Yossie involved him in: the celebration of the arrival of the 1001 child from Chernobyl. "It was my idea. I suggested it and he was enthusiastic," he recalls. "I was responsible for arranging a large hall in Antwerp with one of those giant screens set-up with an uplink that showed on live camera the ceremony in Ben Gurion airport for arrival of the 1001 child in Tel Aviv. I felt that day that we had entered into Yossie's book of achievements—even if it was only a short line."
Another line belongs to Risa Pulver from Florida, who visited Israel and saw the exciting Children of Chernobyl project."On arriving home immediately after this trip, we received a magnificent photo album with pictures depicting our visit to Kfar Chabad," she recounts. "This is just one small example of the warmth and attention to small details that characterized him."
 "We were honored to have Yossie at the bar mitzvot of our twin sons, Dylan and Jake. He explained to me that a bar mitzvah is really celebrated on the actual 13th Hebrew birthday and he therefore made arrangements for Jake and Dylan to be called up to the Torah at Chabad of Sunny Isles Beach, Florida. Yossie just did it!!" Risa sums up.  
 I Have Seen a Tzaddik
Lucila Fried was a young girl when she met Rabbi Raichik. "My father, Tato Fried, was in his office. I was about to enter," she recalls. As soon as I saw he was in a meeting, I excused myself and said I would return later. My father then stopped me and said, 'Please Lucila, come in. I would like you to meet Rabbi Raichhik.'"
Lucila, was in her late teens, a young Argentinean girl who was not brought up in an orthodox family. Right from the beginning, she tells us, Rabbi Raichik struck her as a warm and jovial person, and she enjoyed every moment in his presence. Later, when he told stories about the Chernobyl project, her positive first reaction turned to one of admiration.
"Several years later," she remembers, "I was asked to do an English assignment during my first year at UCLA. We were asked to write an essay about someone whom we admired. Some students wrote about Gandhi, others about Mother Teresa, and so on. I chose to write about Rabbi Raichik. I was so happy to share knowledge of his work with the other students so that they would know about his sacred work, that they would know about this Jewish person who was down-to-earth, intelligent, with a gigantic heart. He never knew about this UCLA essay."
Lucila writes about joining her father on a four-day trip to Israel. Rabbi Raichik came to pick them up at their hotel, "which I found amazing – his schedule was so full but he made time to come and pick us up."
"While we were touring the wonderful Center, Rabbi Raichik continued his work. I noticed that wherever he went was filled with positive energy and vitality, joy, and laughter. Later, when I thought about it afterwards, I thought to myself: I met a Tzadik. 
I have to thank my father for introducing me to him. A unique man, who loved to give, who had pleasure when he made others happy. I wish I could say I know many men like him... He was a Tzaddik."
 Beyond Words
People who knew Yossie for years can sit for hours talking about him – another story, another experience, something suddenly remembered.
Jeanie Schottenstein is the exception. Jeanie and Jay Schottenstein were, and still are, the pillars of the Children of Chernobyl project. "Our relationship cannot be condensed into a few examples, however strong and wonderful they may be," she determines. "What can I say?" asks this legendary philanthropist who makes no attempt to hide her tears. "That we loved him? That he was a good friend? Part of our family? How does one begin to tell about an entire period of life in which Yossie was an integral part of us?"
 "Anyone who knew Yossie thought that he was his best friend," the smile can be heard in her voice. "But he really was our friend…there are no words to describe him adequately. There was no occasion in our lives where Yossie was not involved. Small or large, significant or less significant; he was always there. Happy with us at our happiest moments, and sad with us in our troubles."
"We initially met in Kfar Chabad, when the first group of children arrived, over 20 years ago," she remembers. "From the first moment we set eyes upon him, Yossie became part of our lives."
Due to their charity work, the Schottensteins know many many people, "but Yossie was different. His neshama," she thinks, "is what made him special, because Yossie was a normal person, normal, it was absolutely not normal, how normal he was…"
Jeanie does not refer at all to their contribution to the project; that is marginal, she says. Rabbi Raichhik was a friend, not another fundraiser. "I can tell countless stories about him, I can talk about him for days," her voice breaks. "However I do not want my memories of my connection with him to turn into a collection of stories." She searches for the right words, "He brought his entire being wherever he went, and to every person he met. To say that we yearn for him, and how much we miss him does not come close to expressing what we feel now. There is not a day that we do not think about him, miss him and feel his absence."
Neil Book, the son of Bob Book, a philanthropist from New York, articulated these very sentiments. Neil met Yossie through his father, whom he accompanied on various fundraising evenings. Over the years, Neil met Yossie at different events and in various places all over the world, but the dinners stand out most in his memory.
"He was always running late," he chuckles. "It took him another 15 minutes to reach our table, because he knew everyone and everyone knew him. Yossie had a gift – everyone he came in contact with felt as though they were his best friends. Therefore, when he walked into the restaurant, all of his "best friends" would greet him from different tables, while he tried to wind his way to us."
When he finally reached our table, regardless of the tremendous pressure and stress of work, he always had a smile on his face and opened up his arms as wide as he could, to embrace each of us at the table. That big smile and warm embrace is the picture in my mind of Yossie that I carry with me.
 "In the course of the evening, from one L'chaim to the next, we would cover a full range of topics. He had a brilliant mind for business and had the ability to grasp an issue immediately, down to the smallest details, offering sound advice on how to deal with it. He would talk about his latest efforts with CCOC, working through some of the challenges and obstacles he dealt with daily. He was responsible for evacuating more than two thousand kids, but could speak in great detail about each one, their personal struggles and achievements."
Neil continues to recall these meetings around the table, when the conversation would inevitably turn to his personal life. For most of their friendship, Neal was single. He would share with Yossie what it was like being single in New York City and in many cases spare no detail. When he finally met the right girl, he had the opportunity to introduce Rabbi Raichik to Sharon on a couple of occasions.
"The last telephone conversation I ever had with Yossie, just prior to his going into the hospital was when I called to tell him that I was engaged to be married. Yossie immediately started singing Siman Tov and Mazal Tov and clapping. He must have said Mazal Tov fifty times - finally he said, 'I have to admit, I didn't think this day would ever come. I am only saying Mazal Tov, because for the first time in my life I'm speechless.'
My last memory of Yossie, is listening to him sing and clap, and sharing one of the most special moments of my life with me. Yossie's speech was labored and he was having difficulty breathing. While he was just a matter of weeks from death, in typical Yossie fashion, he put his own problems aside and made me feel like I was the only person in the world and his closest of friends."
Neil adds that he is not an observant Jew, although he has a very strong feeling for Yiddishkeit. Throughout his life, his family has been involved with a number of Jewish causes and they had many Chassidic acquaintances. Yossie became "my first Chassidic friend," he says, and exploded his own pre-conceived notions of "religious people with long beards and black hats". "Around Yossie I never felt 'less Jewish,' than someone else, he had a way of making me feel special and part of the club."
Yossie's picture sits in Neil's office and in his conference room. "A day doesn't pass that I don't miss him or turn to him," he says. "I feel truly blessed to have known him and to have been a small part of his life. I know that he will always be a part of mine." 
 Why Do the Lubavitchers Care About the Sefardim?
Another perspective on the fundraising trips comes from Rabbi Avremi Berkowitz who was a bochur in 5758-9, working under the head shaliach in Argentina, Rabbi Tzvi Grunblat. He says today that he learned many basic principles from Rabbi Raichik on Shlichos, especially regarding fundraising and behavior with donors. Avremi served, alongside his studies in the local yeshiva, as a private tutor for the children of most of the affluent families in Buenos Aires and in this capacity met Rabbi Raichik nearly every time that he was there. Avremi sometimes accompanied him on trips or sat in with him in meetings with potential donors in people's homes. For him, these were lessons for life. 
"He showed each and every person how much he cared—asking about his family and his work. The other person would open up, divulge his greatest secrets and share smachot and tzarot as though they were family."
"The businessmen I met with would sometimes tell me how much they trusted Yossie and how he helped them in different situations, with personal problems, work conflicts etc. It's truly amazing how simply he lived, compared with the large amounts of money he was privileged to raise. Yossie used to stay with me in a room in the shul, or in the guestroom of someone's house. He never asked more for himself, only for others.
 "Yossie had a little bag that he always carried with him: a Chitas, a Rambam, a few Likutim, a maamer and his fundraising brochures and kosher candies for the children of the families he would be meeting. Yossie taught me how important it was to invest in the professional appearance and content of the marketing material but even more important was your personal appearance. "Through us they judge Chassdim, religious Yiddin and if they feel we have a decent and respectful approach then they will be open to embracing much more."
Yossie did not raise money, or talk about money: he spoke about the kids and the urgency of the matter, the life-threatening situation and the need to save lives. When he was asking for help he would ask them to sponsor a child, a flight, never for money. His dedication, his loyalty, his belief in the project raised the money.
Avremi Berkowitz remembers one night in the home of a businessman. Yossie was sitting and farbrenging about his life, about his shlichus saving families from Iran, about his father, and in his special subtle way he encouraged all those who were present to do more, not only in tzedakah and donations, but in all aspects of Jewish life. The host who was from the Sephardi community, asked why are Lubavitchers so caring about Sephardim even though they themselves are Ashkenazim?
"If I answer your question without being diplomatic then you will become a Lubavitcher," Rabbi Raichik warned him with a smile. He said he didn't want to answer the question unless everyone truly wanted to know, because the price is high: you may feel uncomfortable and obligated to truly love every Jew.
After they literally begged him, Yossie said, "The Alter Rebbe wrote in the 32nd chapter of Tanya that every single Jewish person has a Chelek Elokai Mimal Mamosh (some part from above within him) therefore we are equal and must love each other like brothers and sisters mamosh without judging another person if they are Ashkenazim or Sefardim, rich or poor, Israeli or Argentinian."
Only the Lubavitcher Rebbe truly lived the embodiment of that chapter from the Tanya. The first Shliach the Rebbe sent was to Morocco, and from there on the Rebbe showed us how to truly live and love every Jewish person mamosh.
Yossie then became very emotional and said, 'If you see me as a Lubavitcher who loves other Jews unconditionally, then I want you to know it's not to my credit, it's the Rebbe who showed us the way to believe and live like that."
 I Am Not Like My Father 
In the year Yossie was in mourning for his father, he never stopped saying mishnayos in his father's illustrious memory. Avremi recalls, "We would go everywhere in town to gather a minyan for Kaddish. One time we found two young Jewish boys who had never put on Tefillin! We helped them perform the mitzvah of tefillin and then Yossie spent another hour after the davening, speaking with them, thanking them profusely for their help in completing the minyan.
I asked Yossie why he spent so much of his time with these young men, when I knew he was late for a fundraising appointment. He answered, 'My father once told me, "When you meet a Jew in the street who is willing to put on Tefillin, there is no doubt that he believes in Hashem and that also means that he believes in the Torah given down by Moshe Rabbeinu. The fact that he does not put on Tefillin daily, or is not careful about keeping the mitzvot of the Torah stems from the fact that he has not learned enough and therefore doesn't know enough. Therefore if the Shaliach or the person who meets him will devote the necessary time and invest in him the strength needed – this Jew will then take upon himself the Mitzvot of Hashem."
(and in the beautiful original Yiddish, "oib a id iz greit tzu leigen Tefillin, heist az on a frage er gloibt in der aibershter, un vibald er laigt tefilin meint az er oichet gloibt in Toiras Moishe, un oib er legit nisht teffilin alamol un iz dervaile nisht Shomer Torah umitzvos iz viblad er vaist nit genug, ober oib der Shliach oder der bachur oder yungerman vos laigt Tefillin oif em vet areinliegen di tzeit un koichos, vet der id onfaingen hiten altz vos der aibershter mont fun a id.")
Yossie was quiet for a moment and then added, 'I am not like my father who spent every moment of his time helping people put on Tefillin, however if I have started something and I helped these guys put on Tefillin, can I now just walk away? He then made sure that Rabbi Shlomo Levy, the Shliach who runs youth programs in Argentina, would get their details and be in touch with them."
 A Personal Hazala
Rabbi Raichik's radiant personality moved people to action – without pressure and with enthusiasm. Religious, non-religious, from a wide range of backgrounds, everyone was treated equally.
And this is not something to be taken for granted. Mr. Nestor Dan, an Argentinean living in Israel, who knew Rabbi Raichik for over 10 years, was originally introduced by his brothers-in-law, Eduardo and Dani Elsztain. Nestor was at his nephew's bar mitzvah, which Rabbi Raichik also attended, and was immediately captivated by Yossie. "He visited me at home, and I visited him in his home, and I never once felt that our different way of life disturbed him. Of course, in a most pleasant way he tried to influence me, but he always accepted me as I was. And just that," he reports with a smile, "influenced me more than anything else."
Dan remembers the Shmura Matza that Yossie sent before every Pesach, the Mishloach Manot baskets for Purim—which, following his example, the Dan family then started to send to their friends—the four species for Succot. "He had a unique happiness, an exceptional giving and understanding."
His voice becomes a whisper as he remembers a car accident he was involved in four years earlier in which a woman was killed. That same day, after he was questioned by the police, Nestor went home, totally broken. "I cried incessantly. My wife, my mother and friends all tried to calm me down, but to no avail. Who knows to what level my mental condition would have deteriorated if my wife had not had the brainstorm of contacting Rabbi Yossie Raichik?
She reached him on the phone and somehow I was able to tell him what had happened. Yossie reacted in his typical fashion: 'Give me a few moments to think and I will get back to you' and so it was, 10 minutes had barely passed and he called back.
Firstly, he told me that I have to be grateful that I am on this side, the side of life, and not on the side of the woman who was killed. Secondly I am left with a debt to the family of this woman in particular and to society in general. 'You choose the time convenient to you, and what to do', he instructed me, 'but act on these two directions and pay your debt.'
 "I cannot translate into words my feeling of relief when we ended the conversation," Dan says emotionally. "In time I took the steps that I thought were appropriate in the two directions he recommended, and my mood improved greatly. I owe him an enormous thank you, I do not know how I would have continued my life if he had not helped me in those moments of crisis."
Nestor stops for a moment; the memories are difficult.
"I had always heard and knew how much he helped others – the Children of Chernobyl, his friends, the entire world… but then he helped me personally and I can never forget this."
And Dani Elstzain, Nestor's brother-in-law adds: "The first thing that comes to mind is the way Yossie made people feel when he was around. His happiness, his light, the L'Chaim he taught us to say with kavanna.
"Yossie was the one that we all ran to when we needed something," Dani continues. "A lulav on erev Succot, a kosher dinner in the middle of the Ukraine, good advice and a hug in the center of Buenos Aires. From him I learned to look at the positive side of people and events, to enjoy what life brings us. Because of him, I came closer to Yiddishkeit and at least for me, it is not pashut.
"Today, when I think about him, my eyes fill with tears and my heart overflows with all the beautiful things that he left us, that he taught us." His voice breaks as he adds one more: "L'Chaim, Yossie!"
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