Thursday, December 25, 2014

Surviving Via Shanghai

In his youth, Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz probably never imagined that he would visit Shanghai, let alone take care of the finances for several yeshivas in that Chinese city. Thanks to visas issued by Chiune Sugihara however, Shanghai was the famous escape route of the Mir yeshiva, of which Rabbi Shmuelevitz was one of the Roshei Yeshiva (deans of school).

Born in Kovno, Lithuania, on Rosh Hashana in 1902, Rabbi Shmulevitz was orphaned when he was 17. He studied at the Grodno Yeshiva in Poland, where his father had been a respected lecturer and began giving lectures in the preparatory program of the yeshiva. A few years later, with a group of fellow Grodno students, Rabbi Shmulevitz moved to the more advanced Mir Yeshiva in Poland. The Mir was led by Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, whose daughter, Miriam, Rabbi Shmulevitz married in 1929.

Ten years later, when the Soviets took control of Mir, the yeshiva and the families associated with it went into a wandering exile together - 2 months in Vilna, 7 months in Keider and a few more months divided into 4 groups in various Lithuanian towns.

In 1940, the entire yeshiva received visas for Japan and traveled eastward on the Trans-Siberian Railroad before embarking by ship for Kobe, Japan. A few months later, they moved to Shanghai.

The Mir refugees were not the only Jews who had found safety in Shanghai. To be certain that all the Jews of Shanghai received a proper education, it is reported that Rabbi Shmulevitz worked tirelessly to maintain the financial stability of the various yeshivas that had been established there. Rabbi Shmulevitz was so dedicated to the students that he turned down American visas for himself and his family. The yeshiva remained in Shanghai for 5 ½ years. In 1947, they received visas to the United Sates and re-established the yeshiva in New York.

At the outset of the war, Rabbi Finkel (Rabbi Shmulevitz’s father-in-law) had been in Palestine trying to establish a branch of the yeshiva there. Six months after arriving in America, Rabbi Shmulevitz moved to Jerusalem. He resumed teaching at the new Mir, where he remained a Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir until his death on 3 Tevet 1979.

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