by Hillel Fendel
Rabbi Yitzchak David Grossman, legendary head of the Migdal Ohr Institutions in Migdal HaEmek in the Jezreel Valley – known as the "Disco Rabbi" because of his practice of entering noisy nightclubs to find potential returnees to Torah – related the following extraordinary incident in his most recently column in the weekly BaKehillah.
In the days preceding Yom Kippur one year, a man came to Rabbi Grossman and tearfully told him that his grandson had been caught in the clutches of missionaries. "My son and his family live in Europe," the man said, "and they sent their son to study in Israel. He ended up renting an apartment with a missionary, who convinced him to move to a monastery in Dir Hana to learn Christianity. How can I pray on Yom Kippur when my own grandson is sitting in a monastery?!"
Dir Hana, located not far from Migdal HaEmek, is a predominantly Muslim village, with a Christian monastery perched on a hilltop at the edge of town. Rabbi Grossman contacted the village mukhtar and asked for his help in entering the monastery. The mukhtar said that his son is in charge of bringing food up to the site, and that he could give him a lift up the hill. But in order not to attract attention, the distinguished Hassidic-looking rabbi, originally from Meah She'arim, put on a wig and jeans and made his way up to the monastery on a tractor loaded with bread, vegetables and other victuals.
The disguise worked; the Christians thought he was a new recruit and allowed him to enter. Rabbi Grossman quickly located the young man in question, and asked to talk with him privately. They entered a side room, Rabbi Grossman took off his wig, and the astonished boy exclaimed, "Rav Grossman?! What are you doing here?!"
"What are you doing here?" the rabbi countered. "Your grandfather survived the Nazi camps – does he deserve this? He came to me crying and cannot be comforted!"
The boy began to cry and complain about things his family had done to him, but Rabbi Grossman was insistent: "I hear you, but you have gone too far. Yom Kippur is two days from now. How can you remain here on that holy day?"
The boy said, "No matter what, I eat on Yom Kippur." Rav Grossman said, "I have a full refrigerator at home – just come! Be with us in Migdal HaEmek on Yom Kippur."
The boy refused to commit himself, yet they still parted warmly, and Rav Grossman got back on the tractor to return home.
Yom Kippur came – with no sign of the boy. "I was very tense," the rabbi related, "and with a very heavy heart, I began reciting Kol Nidre…
But the next night, after the fast, I received a very emotional call from the grandfather, who told him that his grandson had spent Yom Kippur in the synagogue with him, full of remorse at what he had done and resolved to start on a new path."
Many years later, Rabbi Grossman continued, "I was in a shtiebel in Monsey, New York, when a local man came up to me, dressed as a typical Orthodox Jew. He bent down to me with a smile and whispered, 'Rabbi Grossman, where's your wig?'"