EXCLUSIVE: THE REAL STORY BEHIND THE AMNON LEVY INTERVIEW
A few months’ ago, Israeli TV journalist Amnon Levy ran what he claimed was a hard-hitting expose of Rav Eliezer Berland, shlita, including a full in-depth interview with Nachman Shalom, the main false witness who has been persecuting Rav Berland and blackening his name for six long years.
The interview with Nachman Shalom took place very shortly after the untimely and unexplained death of Nachman Shalom’s only child, a little boy.
AMNON LEVY’S ‘LITTLE WHITE LIES’
The program began with Nachman Shalom showing Amnon Levy how he managed to scale a pipe closely attached to a wall next to his home in Tsfat, to demonstrate how he ‘saw what he saw’ inside the Rav’s apartment building.
The apartment building that the Rav was staying in at the time of the allegations six years ago is in Beitar Illit. There is no pipe attached to the building, which is built on a steep decline down a hill. What’s more, the nearest lamp-post to the Rav’s apartment was located many metres beneath it, on the street below the apartment, and stands alone.
It’s impossible to climb these stand alone lamp-posts, without the help of a convenient nearby wall for the feet to grip onto. What’s more, the top of this lamp-post comes no-where near the Rav’s former apartment, or its balcony, in Beitar Illit.
Strangely, Amnon Levy didn’t inform the viewers of this small problem with Nachman Shalom’s story, and also didn’t invite Nachman Shalom to show him how he’d ‘climbed the pipe’ on location outside the Rav’s former home, in Beitar Illit.
NACHMAN SHALOM’S VIOLENT ACTIVITIES
Shortly before Nachman Shalom appeared on Israeli television six years’ ago to make his first allegations about Rav Berland, he and his brother had recently been arrested for shooting five live bullets into the home of Rav Berland’s gabbai, in Meah Shearim, while the gabbai’s small children were home.
Attempted murder is a serious crime, yet Nachman Shalom never served any jail time for his offense. In fact, he gave his first, infamous, interview to the media whilst under house arrest, prompting rumors within the chareidi world that he’d cut some sort of deal with the Israeli police to turn ‘state’s witness’ against Rav Berland, as part of the State’s ongoing persecution of religious leaders in Israel.
Again strangely, Amnon Levy didn’t inform the viewers that Nachman Shalom had been under house arrest for firing bullets at Rav Berland’s gabbai when he’d first made his shocking revelations against Rav Berland on Israeli TV, six years’ ago.
In the interview itself, Nachman Shalom admitted how he’d been obsessed with the Rav, and had been stalking him for many months before being told to leave the Rav alone by other members of the community who were concerned for the Rav’s safety.
What he failed to tell Amnon Levy – or perhaps again, what Amnon Levy himself failed to disclose to his viewers – was that Nachman Shalom has been under psychiatric care for many years, and had been formally diagnosed with schizophrenia, a condition for which he’s taking a number of medications.
One of the defining features of schizophrenia is psychosis, which is where the affected person is unable to discriminate between real and ‘imagined’ experiences. Schizophrenics commonly experience hallucinations including hearing voices speaking to them that no-one else can hear, and entertaining delusions which are fixed, mistaken ideas about what’s occurring to them, or in their surroundings.
As the schizophrenic believes 100% that their delusions are true, it’s very difficult to reason with them, and to help them see how they’ve lost touch with reality.
Given the extraordinary, unbelievable nature of what Nachman Shalom claimed he witnessed, and his even more extraordinary claims regarding his wife, it’s extremely strange that Amnon Levy (and the other journalists who have been covering this story) didn’t tell their audience that their ‘star witness’ is schizophrenic, and requires a number of medications to control his hallucinations.
As a side note, despite the many references to ‘other complainants’ that typically pop up in the media’s coverage of Rav Berland, Nachman Shalom and his wife are the only witnesses the Israeli police had when they brought the Rav to trial.
AMNON LEVY’S INTERVIEW WITH RAV BERLAND
Two of Rav Berland’s most senior students, Rav Eliyahu Succot and And Rav Eliyahu Meirav, were with the Rav throughout the two and a half hour interview session, which took place at the Hadassah hospital on the outskirts of Jerusalem, where the Rav was recuperating from a number of serious surgeries culminating in the removal of a kidney.
Rav Succot took copious notes of the questions posed by Levy, and Rav Berland, shlita’s, answers. The interview aired just as Rav Berland was appearing in Israeli court to request that he be released to home arrest.
Whilst in prison, the Rav had developed a number of cancerous tumors that the Israeli Prison Service had refused to allow treatment for. There was a strong feeling amongst the Rav’s family and followers that the Rav had to be got out of prison ASAP, and that his health couldn’t stand up to another year or two sitting in prison, even if he would ultimately be found completely innocent.
During the interview, Rav Berland clearly stated that he hadn’t done anything wrong – but that part of the interview was edited out by Amnon Levy, and the clips that were shown were carefully edited to portray the Rav in as bad a light as possible.
Given the Rav’s looming court appearance to request being released to house arrest, the Rav’s legal team believed that it would help the Rav’s case to show public contrition – even though it had been forged by Amnon Levy and his video editors – so the interview stood, unrebutted, and shortly afterwards the Rav was finally released to house arrest.
NOW, THE TRUTH IS STARTING TO COME OUT
But now, as the Rav is approaching the end of his period of house arrest, and as the grip of the Israeli courts is finally weakening, we are able to share with you the true story of what really happened at that interview.
For years, Rav Succot has been carefully transcribing the Rav’s words, and on the day of the interview he took down pages of notes describing the questions Levy really asked, and the Rav’s responses. Here’s some of the real exchange that occurred between Amnon Levy, and Rav Eliezer Berland, shlita.
Rav Succot began:
“I was privileged to be with the Rav when he was interviewed by the media, where the Rav gave over many interesting things about himself. I came together with Eliyahu Merav, and when we first entered the room, the Rav greeted us with such warmth.
“We were brought into a room with a large table and a sofa at the end. The gabbai told me to sit on a chair near the sofa, but when the Rav came in he told me to sit next to him on the sofa, one on either side. And so it was for about two hours, with the Rav holding our hands, and pumping life into us….
“At first, the Rav was learning from Ketzot HaHoshen, but then he asked to be brought a book by Amos Shocken, who was a Jew from Germany. Shocken brought in this book many stories from the Breslov community before World War II. Rav Yitzhak Breiter, H’yd, said that in Breslov, it’s assur – forbidden – to be famous. All Breslovers are equal! The Rav repeated this several times.
“Then, he began to speak about who had been the leader of Germany, and about German history from that time. When the interviewer [Amnon Levy] heard him speaking, he said to him: ‘You don’t speak like an ordinary chareidi. You know so much about the world, and you speak with such enthusiasm and life!’
A REAL ZIONIST
“The Rav said: ‘I’m not chareidi.’ The interviewer replied: ‘You?! You’re so chareidi! If you’re not chareidi, then what are you?’ The Rav said: ‘I’m a Zionist.’ Then he added quietly: ‘A real Zionist. I love the land of Israel the people of Israel, the country of Israel. So is the Rabbanit – her father, Shaki, was a member of the Knesset.’
“The interview then said to the Rav: “I’ve never seen a group of chassidim who love their Rav so much. Why do they love you so much?’ The Rav answered: ‘Because I give them back their neshama (soul), I reveal their own neshamas to them. I love each one of my talmidim (students) like an only son.
“[Levy then asked]: ‘How many talmidim do you have?’ And the Rav responded: ‘About 10,000. It’s all very natural; each one has 10 children, so from a thousand there’s already 10,000.’ The interviewer asked: ‘How can you take care of so many talmidim? Doesn’t it take a lot out of you?’ The Rav replied: ‘As much as it takes out of me, it gives me back twice as much strength.’
“The interviewer asked: ‘They say you are very sick. You’ve had two operations, you’ve got a serious illness. Aren’t you afraid?’ The Rav answered: ‘What is there to be afraid of? I’m not at all interested in whether I’m alive or dead. The Sanzer Rebbe (Klausenberger Rebbe) was in the most difficult situation during World War II – more than can even be spoken about… But he was completely focused on the geula (redemption of the Jewish people) and on Hashem. So I just keep learning, and I just keep praying.’
OPEN THE BOOKS AND LEARN!
“The interviewer asked: ‘Haven’t you thought about who will be your successor in Shuvu Banim?’ The Rav replied: ‘What is it, to lead? Open the books and learn! Likutey Halachot, Likutey Moharan, Ketzot HaChoshen. Really, we don’t need anyone to lead. Anyway, I receive so much strength and life from my students, I will live for at least another 40 years!
“The interviewer asked: ‘There was someone who said horrible things about you. What do you say about that?’ The Rav replied: ‘If I would see him now, I would go over to him and hug and kiss him. I’m just not capable of hating any Jew.’
Rav Succot continues: “The interviewer asked: ‘You are so religious, what do you think about people like me, who are chiloni (secular Jews)?’
“The Rav was quiet for a moment, then said: ‘No. There is no such thing as a secular Jew. It’s all just percentages. For example, I’m 70% chareidi.’ ‘You, only 70%?!’ the interviewer burst out. ‘I’ve heard that you engage in many fasts, etc.’ The Rav answered: ‘I’ve never fasted in my life, since I was born. I just can’t stand eating! Let’s say if I was really hungry, *maybe* I would eat on Yom Kippur… It’s just that I’m not hungry, so I’m not really 100% [chareidi]. And how about you?’ the Rav asked Amnon Levy. ‘What percentage are you?’
“The interviewer replied: ‘Perhaps 5%.’ ‘Wow, 5%! So much!’ the Rav exclaimed. ‘But I make a Pesach seder, because I want my family to remember they are Jewish,’ added the interviewer. The Rav responded: ‘Wow, you make a Pesach seder? You’re at least 10%!’ ‘But I eat on Yom Kippur,’ continued the interviewer. ‘What do you think about that?’ The Rav answered: ‘Most baal teshuvas, even famous ones, also once ate on Yom Kippur.’
“The interviewer then asked: ‘Do you believe in miracles?’ The Rav replied: ‘Of course! I went to Russia in the midst of the Communist regime, to go to the grave of Rebbe Nachman in Uman. In those days, it was impossible for an Israeli to go to Russia legally, so I went illegally. I was caught 20 times, and they threatened to send me to Siberia. But they never actually sent me to Siberia, and I had the privilege of being by Rebbe Nachman’s holy tziyon in Uman on many occasions.
“The interviewer wanted to know: ‘Why is it so important, to go to the grave of Rebbe Nachman?’ The Rav said: ‘Going to the burial places of great tzaddikim is one of the foundations of Yiddishkeit. In a few more days, nearly a million people will go to the holy grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron. Each person who goes to the grave of the Tzaddik receives a spark from the soul of the Tzaddik, which helps him to serve God with greater strength and clarity.”
Rav Succot explains: “The interviewer continued asking the Rav questions like this for more than an hour. He kept saying to him: ‘I never met anyone with so much enthusiasm and life. How do you have so much vitality?’ The Rav answered him: ‘Because Hashem is revealing new things to me at each moment. For example, just today I merited to meet you! Such a special person.’
‘HASHEM GAVE ME A GIFT’
“The interviewer asked: ‘But what do you know about me?’ The Rav replied: ‘Hashem gave me a gift; I am able to read people’s faces, through the shape of the lines on their face and their expressions. I can see in your face that you are kind and wise, etc.'”
At that point, the interviewer changed track, and started talking to the Rav about some of his relatives from Haifa, where he grew up. Rav Succot continues:
‘The interviewer said: “I first heard about you from Liki Miller, many years’ ago.’ The Rav got very excited: ‘Liki?! She’s my first cousin – my mother’s sister’s daughter.’ The interviewer continued: ‘Yes, she told me years’ ago: ‘I have a cousin, Eliezer Berland, who is so religious that when he goes out on to the street, he takes his glasses off, even though he has a high number and he sometimes bangs into telephone poles. All in order to not look at women!’
“The Rav responded: ‘Yes! This is the most important thing! It’s not just me – all the chareidim also don’t look.’ The interviewer rejoined: ‘But God also created women. What’s wrong with them?’ The Rav replied: ‘There is nothing wrong with them. There is also nothing wrong with meat and milk, and with wool and flax. You just don’t mix them together.’
The Rav then began to speak about his childhood in Haifa:
“In those days, when we were growing up in Haifa, it was like one big family. We all knew each other, everyone knew who I really was. Everyone knew that I was holy and pure. The truth is, in my whole life I never had a not-good thought.”
Rav Succot continues: “The interviewer then asked him: ‘Who brought you close to Rebbe Nachman?’ The Rav replied: ‘It was my wife. She was never attached to this world, she was only attached to God and the Torah. She was learning Likutey Moharan, and she introduced me to the teachings of Rebbe Nachman.
ONLY TALKING TO GOD
‘But really, since I was a young child, I was always talking to God, and I would go to the fields and forests by Haifa, on Mount Carmel, and talk to God. Later on, I found out that this is one of the main teachings of Rebbe Nachman, to do hitbodedut.’ The interviewer asked him: ‘But now that you’re in the hospital, and you can’t go out to the fields, what do you do?’ The Rav replied: ‘Now, right here, I am only talking to God. Even as I am talking to you, I’m really only talking to God.’”
WHAT LEVY TOLD THE RAV’S GUARDS
After the Rav left the room at the end of the interview, Amnon Levy came over to talk to the security guards and told them: ‘Usually, I do very long interviews so the people I’m interviewing get worn out, and then they’ll say what I want them to say, at the end. But by the Rav, it was the opposite, I became exhausted and he just got stronger and stronger. Now after leaving here I feel like I’m at least 20% religious!”
That’s how the real interview played out. BH, when the Rav is finally completely freed on October 5, 2017, we’ll be able to share even more of the real story of what’s occurred over the last five years with you – and the truth will finally be told.