Immediately following the holiday of Pesach, with the difficult news about the tremendous suffering that Rav Eliezer Berland shlit”a is going through, Rav Grossman packed his bags and flew to Johannesburg. “I left Eretz Yisroel immediately the day after Passover together with the grandson of the Rav, R’ Chaim Reicher. We already did a lot of work before the holiday to bring the Rav matzos. It was a major operation before the holiday. ” Begins Rav Yitzchak Dovid Grossman the Chief Rabbi of Migdal Ha’emek, founder and dean of Migdal Ohr educational institutions.
In a shiur which he gave Tuesday May 3rd at the “Keter Eliyahu” shul in Johannesburg (video above) he says “It’s a crazy thing that such a Tzaddik is in prison. Today they didn’t allow him food. Such a holy man, servant of Hashem, It’s a spiritual thing, it is our punishment not his punishment, it’s something that we have no explanation for. May it be G-ds will that he gets out of there, and b”h we will make him a huge celebration here. Everyone here is go up to Eretz Yisael and greet Moshiach”.
The following day Rav Grossman spoke to the information line of Shuvu Banim and said “We need to know that the Rav needs a great salvation, for two days he has not eaten, they did not want to give him food until thank G-d I succeeded today. I went to the manager of the prison and I turned over the world until I brought the Rav food. I said I’m not leaving this place until I hand this food to the Rav. It’s a daily struggle to bring him food. And the very fact that the Rav is in prison is frightening. It reminds one of Yosef Hatzadik in the pit, and we need to do whatever we can to help him so that he can continue to enlarge and glorify the Torah.”
After hearing the difficult words of Rav Grossman, we worked on arranging an English interview with him. We merited getting a hold of him on Thrusday night in the car on the way to the airport back home. Rav Grossman summarized his trip for us, told us about his struggles to help the Rav both within the legal system and within the SA Jewish community, and some shocking news about how the prison guards deny their Jewish prisoners mehadrin Kosher food.
Rav Grossman begins his words with us “I arrived here Sunday from Eretz Yisrael because I decided that I can’t stay in my home if I do mitzvos, and though I have Migdal Ohr which has thousands of children in Schools and I am Chief Rabbi in Migdal Ha’emek with many Jewish families involved, but now when Rabbi Berland, who I am so close to him for 40 years – I cannot stay there and not do anything when he is in the bor in jail. So I left right away to come here and since I arrived until this minute I’m working very hard day and night non-stop to see what we can do to help the Rabbi.”
“The situation is very very bad right now” Rav Grossman says as he goes on to relate the moment he met his long-time friend behind bars where they rejoiced and studied Torah together, and spoke about when the Baal Hatanya was in jail and explained that a person needs to remember that G-d is with him in jail. “Rabbi Berland is so happy in learning, he was dancing, and crying, I cannot explain. I took his hand and I say ‘it’s so cold’, then I discovered that he hasn’t eaten in two days, because they didn’t let food in.”
“I went and said to the lawyer that we need to immediately bring food to the Rabbi, he asked permission and they said no. So I said ‘I am not leaving the jail until I meet the chief warden of the jail and I explained to him that this is a holy Rabbi, he eats only what is special kosher. So he called one of the non-Jews who is in charge of the food, and he said to me ‘you see this man, this man says that it is kosher’. For them if it’s not pork it’s kosher. So I explained to the chief warden of the jail that this is a holy Rabbi. So he said ‘only the court can give permission to bring him food, only the court’. In the end I said that he hasn’t eaten in two days, his feet, his hands, their cold! I can’t believe it! So I convinced him that today he will make an exception, I went and got food and gave it to the Rabbi. Today he told the lawyer ‘no more, no more’.
“I spoke the whole day with the Chief Rabbi here and the people to convince them to give him food and they all said ‘only the court’, so they need to wait for Monday for the court, and we need to pray that the court will allow them to bring him food. This is right now the situation, everyone who understands knows what it means to be in jail in Africa, it is not to be believed.”
“But we are working very hard, we met the biggest lawyers, we are doing everything we can, and today we did another appeal that maybe we can get him out of jail (on bail) but we need to wait a couple of days to see what will be”.
“I’ve also worked very hard day and night to change the whole atmosphere with the Chief Rabbi and the community, and I think I’ve been successful in this issue. But right now we need to pray more and to see, because my heart is broken to see this Tzaddik sit in a bor in jail in this place, in this situation, it is not to be believed that this is the fact. I’m going back to Israel tonight, I’m going to work very hard also in Israel, to give him a chance to come to Israel because it is mamsh pikuach nefesh, mamash (literally a life threatening situation)! This is the situation, and Hashem will help.”
“Everyone should learn more, daven more, and do more chesed for the zchus of Reb Lazer Berland, which is the biggest thing, because when he hears that people are davening and learning this gives him strength. Let’s pray and Hashem will help, I’ll do everything when I come to Eretz Yisrael I will work very hard, and let’s see what will be next week and we will see if we were successful.”
“I just met with Rabbi Katz the Chaplain of the jail, he also does not have the power, but I’m going to request again that he himself should be the one to bring the food to the Rabbi, that we must change the court order and allow him to bring the kosher food to the Rabbi.”
When we asked Rav Grossman why doesn’t the Chaplain of the jail have the power to make sure that the food being served to the Jewish prisoners is really kosher, the Rav answered, “I don’t know, this is a big problem, I asked this question to the Chief Rabbi and to Rabbi Katz and I explained that I helped make legislation in Israel that everybody who wants special Kosher edeh chareidis and Landau food they received it, but here you can’t do it, this is the fact. Your question is a question without and answer.”
We asked, “So do they have to wait until Monday just to put in a request with the court that the Rav should have kosher food? Right now it’s Thursday”. He answered that luckily once a week, on Friday, during family visiting hours the Rebetzin can come and give him food, but it won’t last for two days without a refrigerator.”
“We had some success” said Rav Grossman, “yesterday I brought the food, today the lawyer brought the food, tomorrow the Rebetzin, but they say ‘no more, no more’.”
It should be noted that after Rav Grossman left, the guards held to their word of “no more food”. Yesterday (Sunday), when Nachman Sitrit, the assistant of the Rabbi, went to bring him food he was arrested and interrogated for a few hours being told “There is no difference between an 80-yr old prisoner and a young prisoner, everyone will eat the same food. Make sure we never see you again here. We will stop you until you give up trying to bring food.”
Is there anyone in the Jewish community helping? “No”, says Rav Grossman “they don’t help but thank G-d we made peace with the Chief Rabbi, I succeeded in making a ceasefire.”
Why are they not helping? Rav Grossman tries hard to explain, “I don’t know, maybe because last time they were here they didn’t have a place to eat and sleep, so some of them slept in synagogues and make a little baalagan, I don’t know, because now everything is quiet because they have their own private community an hour distance from the Jewish Community, they have a whole city there of about 80 families, and they don’t come to the city and don’t interfere… But they [the Jewish Community] think that if Israel wants the Rabbi to come and he doesn’t then that means that he ran away from court, it makes the whole situation look bad. What can I tell you?”
“Right now the main emergency is to get food to the Rav, this is very important. Secondly we will wait for the appeal. The situation of the Jewish people here… You know… What can I tell you?”
“I was with Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein for a few hours explaining who Rabbi Berland is, who are his people, what happened. I got all the people who are working with Rabbi Berland to meet the Chief Rabbi, at the end he says, let’s finish and from this minute let’s make a ceasefire so that we can do everything to help the Rabbi and I’m sure that this will happen. And the Chief Rabbi himself said he will see what he can do. This itself was a success.”
Rav Grossman ends our interview talking about the greatness of the Rav. “Rav Eliezer Berland is a ish kadosh, he is a moiradike talmid chacham, he knows kol hatorah kulah, he gives his whole life to help people, he’s working with the best people who help them make hundreds and thousands of baalei teshuva, he is working for Hashem Yisborach day and night, day and night, there is not day and not night for him, during all the years that he was mikarev yidden l’avihem shebashamayim to make nachas ruach for the eibishter.”
As difficult as this situation is while we are all tremendously worried about the Rav and his wellbeing, we must remember how settled the Ravs’ mind and emotions are even if the most difficult times. Even when the Interpol arrested him the Rav was engrossed in his sefer Ktzos Hachoshen inside the police car, and did not take his head out of the sefer for a moment, in every court appearance and wherever he is, he is only occupied with the holy torah. Like Yosef Hatzadik singing and dancing in jail so too the Rav accepts all suffering with joy and yishuv hadaas.
But we must never stop praying.
UPDATE: Under pressure from Humanitarian Rights agencies the court on Monday May 9th gave an order to allow food to Rav Eliezer Berland once every other day. Upon further pressure the order was given the following day to allow for food every day.
Rabbi Berland is still being held unlawfully and being denied bail. Efforts are underway to change this situation.