By Yossi Baumol
Commander Eugene Lebovits is a prominent Holocaust survivor and a retired IDF General who commanded the liberation of Haifa during the War of Independence, now living in Florida. He visited Makor Chaim a few weeks ago together with Ori Shechter who served as Gush Etzion Security Chief during the “Shuvu Achim” search operation for the three kidnapped boys in the summer of 2014. He was so taken with Makor Chaim that he asked the yeshiva to take a major role in his annual “Celebration of the Generations” Holocaust Survivors’ Convention to be held on Shabbat Chanukah Weekend, December 15-17, at the VIP accommodations at the Venetian-Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas.
Eugene was born in 1928, in the town of Uzhorod. When he was 10 years old, the Hungarian Nazis seized his town, and 12,000 Jewish families were deported, most of whom were then slaughtered by machine gun fire. Uzhorod was the first Hungarian ghetto and in early 1944, Eugene became a runner for the ghetto, scavenging outside the ghetto walls for badly needed food. Eugene and his brother were shipped off to Auschwitz, but managed to stay alive by working in Jaworzno, a munitions plant. Towards the end of the war, Eugene was taken out to a killing field in the forest but he managed to take cover and feign death, lying under a pile of dead bodies.
Eugene was eventually captured by the Russians and worked as a Hungarian translator for the KGB. He fled to Prague and got involved with the Jewish Underground, smuggling Jewish refugees to Israel from post-war Europe through the British 3Mandate blockade. Using his KGB ID card, he was able to move 36 war orphans from Prague to Paris, and then onto Brussels and Antwerp and ultimately to Israel, where he started his career as an undercover agent for the Haganah. He moved up in the ranks and, commanding five units, he successfully led the conquest of the entire city of Haifa, which was accomplished in one day.
In 1951, on a visit to Chicago, Eugene met and eventually married his wife Natalie and started a business career in the U.S. He is a highly regarded speaker and an active philanthropist for many Jewish causes.
One of his pet projects is the Holocaust Survivors’ convention which takes place annually in Las Vegas. This year the location is all the more poignant in view of the recent terror attack in Las Vegas, which took the lives of 60 innocent victims. The themes of the weekend will include “The 3 Boys: Unity in the Face of Terror,” “Serving G-d with Joy Instead of Pain,” “Israel’s Revenge for the Holocaust?” and more. Commander Lebovitz and other Holocaust survivors as well as Ori Schechter, Yossi Baumol, and other activists will be sharing their miraculous stories over the weekend, and unique audiovisual programs will be presented on Saturday night and Sunday.
Makor Chaim was founded by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and headed by Rav Dov Singer since its establishment in 1985. For 20 years, the yeshiva has been based in Kfar Etzion in a collection of old huts and caravans which served Yeshivat Har Etzion 45 years ago. Wanting to expand, the kibbutz has been insisting that Makor Chaim vacate the area and find a new home, but it was only after the kidnapping of the three boys in 2014 that the government finally offered a lot suitable for the establishment of a permanent campus.
The yeshiva became well known throughout the world when two of its students–Naftali Fraenkel and Gil-Ad Shaer–were kidnapped together with Ayal Yifrach of Yeshivat Shavei Hevron. The IDF “Shuvu Achim” search campaign was run out of Makor Chaim where the President of Israel, the Chief Rabbis, and many dignitaries came to pray and show their support. In Israel, Makor Chaim and Rabbi Dov Singer have long been famous for their superb high school, teacher training programs, Neo-Chassidic adult outreach programs, and for their unique student exchange program with Yeshiva University’s MTA high school and South Africa’s Yeshiva College.
The “Celebration of Generations” weekend is being dedicated to the construction of Makor Chaim’s new campus on the ancient “Derech Ha’Avot” near Neve Daniel in memory of Naftali, Gilad, and Ayal, Hy’d. The first two dormitory buildings are nearing completion and construction of the beit midrash and high school building are scheduled to begin in the near future. Derech Ha’Avot is a restored, one mile segment of the biblical road from Hebron which features Roman milestones and the ancient mikvah which served pilgrims going up to Jerusalem. This Second Temple period mikvah is the only such mikvah not near any known community. It was situated 11 miles from Jerusalem because right around the bend at today’s Neve Daniel was the very first spot where those coming up from the south along this ancient thoroughfare could get a glimpse of Jerusalem. Makor Chaim is building at this spot where our forefathers felt they had to purify themselves before they could even gaze upon Jerusalem.
The “Celebration of Generations” Holocaust Survivors Convention is especially suited for Holocaust survivors and their families, but all are welcome–there are still places available. For more information, please contact Yossi Baumol at email@example.com or at 917-929-8525.