Raoul Wallenberg
Raoul Wallenberg

Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World

By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum

In an event that probably has no precedent in the history of the Jewish people, a synagogue will be named after a gentile. The name to be honored is that of Raoul Wallenberg, the righteous gentile who served as a Swedish diplomat and saved the lives of 100,000 persecuted Jews in Budapest during the Holocaust. A tremendous effort is currently being expended to promote the legacy and heritage of Raoul Wallenberg. In December 2013, a founding dinner of the Raoul Wallenberg Heritage Foundation was held at the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates. Michael Reagan, son of President Ronald Reagan, addressed the dinner and Dr. Joseph Frager, world renowned as the organizer of the annual Israel Day Concert in Central Park, served as chairman.

On July 9, 2014, in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the day Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Budapest and commenced his miraculous and heroic achievement of saving more than 100,000 Jewish lives, the Congress of the United States will formally present its highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal, to Raoul Wallenberg. This major event is the result of tremendous hard work by Peter Rebenwurzel, chairman of the Raoul Wallenberg Centennial Celebration Commission, and Ezra Friedlander, CEO of the Friedlander Group.

The Raoul

Wallenberg Synagogue

The synagogue is located in the village of Las Palmeras, a tiny little Jewish colony in the province of Santa Fe, a few miles away from Moises Ville, one of the best known Jewish colonies in Argentina. Las Palmeras was founded when 30 Russian Jews from Moises Ville moved into the area in 1904 and established a colony. In 1920, a branch of the Agricultural Mutual Aid Society of Moises Ville opened in the new town. Las Palmeras also had a synagogue, Jewish library, and a community meeting room. The present synagogue structure was built in 1936 by the Israelite Association of Welfare and Worship and also served as a Hebrew school. The association, founded in 1920, built a building for its own use and therein organized various organizational and civic activities. The first rav of the shul was Rabbi Meyer Gainsky, z’l. The last serving chazzan was Luis Liebenbuk, who presently resides in Moises Ville. The current custodian of the shul is Mario Frizler. The shul houses all necessary religious items, including two sifrei Torah, siddurim, Chumashim, shofars, and menorahs. The shul is divided into two– one part for men and one part for women, with a proper mechitzah in between.

After the loss of their son, their only child, Baron Maurice de Hirsch, z’l (1831—1896), one of the world’s five richest persons, together with his wife Clara, a’h (1833—1899), devoted themselves to Jewish philanthropy and alleviating Jewish suffering in Eastern Europe. He developed and implemented a plan to bring Jews to Argentina as autonomous agricultural settlers. This plan harmonized with Argentina’s attempts to attract immigrants. Jewish agricultural settlements were established in the provinces of Buenos Aires, Entre Ríos, and Santa Fe. Moises Ville is a small town in Santa Fe, founded in 1889 by Eastern European and Russian Jews escaping pogroms and persecution, financed by Baron de Hirsch. The original name intended for the town was Kiryat Moshe, honoring Baron Maurice “Moshe Zvi” Hirsch. It was later changed to the current Moises Ville, to be more in tune with the Spanish language. The town is located 380 miles from Buenos Aires. It had 2,572 Jewish inhabitants at the 2001 census, representing 64 percent of its population.

In 2004, the centennial celebration of Las Palmeras was led by Baruch Tenembaum, a native son who is the founder of the international Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. The Las Palmeras home of Baruch Tenembaum is destined to become a communal and provincial historical monument. In 2013, the shul received major international recognition with the issuance of a picture postage stamp by the State of Israel.

The Chief Rabbi

Of Israel Decides

As part of the centennial celebration, a decision was made to reconstruct the Las Palmeras shul and restore its original glory. The decision to rename the shul as the Raoul Wallenberg Synagogue was made in conjunction with the international Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, an educational, non-governmental organization based in New York. The organization, directed by Eduardo Eurnekian and founded by Baruch Tenembaum, consulted with numerous religious authorities regarding the propriety of identifying a Jewish house of worship with the name of a gentile. Amongst those consulted, Rabbi David Lau, chief rabbi of Israel, enthusiastically welcomed the initiative.

Among other concepts, Chief Rabbi Lau noted, “the heroic image of Raoul Wallenberg represents an inspiration for all the inhabitants of the planet. This is a singular man, a righteous among the nations who, in the darkest era of history, radiated a powerful light of truth and devotion.”

“Raoul gave hope to thousands of persecuted souls, and to them he was a lifesaver. The circumstances of his disappearance, which even today are still shrouded in mystery, have left an indelible wound in all our hearts.”

“It is clear that there is no halachic objection to naming a synagogue after him. On the contrary, this would represent an expression of recognition of goodness owed by so many Jews to this marvelous human being.”

One of the considerations of the chief rabbi may have been a miracle detailed in the Talmud (Mishnah Yoma 3:10 and Gemara at Yoma 38a). A pair of copper and bronze doors in the Holy Temple was called the Nikanor gateway. Fifteen semicircular steps led to this gate. On special occasions, the Levites stood on these steps and sang. Each door was 20 cubits by 5 cubits (approximately 33 feet high and 8 feet wide). The brass was carved with intricate designs and its finish was exceedingly bright. The heavy doors required 20 men to open them. The Nikanor Gate was opened only on the Sabbath, festivals, and Rosh Chodesh. If the king was present in the Temple, the doors were also opened in his honor. On all other days, smaller gateways (to the left and right of Nikanor gate) were used.

Nikanor was an Egyptian Greek from Alexandria who had chosen to become a Jew and lived in the land of Israel. Nikanor wished to make a special contribution to the Holy Temple. He traveled to his hometown of Alexandria in Egypt and commissioned skilled experts from Corinth to create a pair of elaborately designed copper and bronze covered doors. When the beautiful doors were completed, Nikanor placed them on a ship bound for the land of Israel. Halfway to his destination, a severe storm broke out. The ship tossed and tilted and was in danger of sinking. The sailors aboard decided the large doors made the ship too heavy and they had to be thrown overboard. Nikanor begged them to spare one of the doors and the sailors relented.

Throwing one door overboard did not help. The sailors were ready to throw the other door overboard. Nikanor grabbed hold of the door and said that if they threw the second door into the sea, they would have to throw him in with it. The sailors decided to wait a little longer and, after a short while, the sea calmed. When the ship reached the port of Acco, in the land of Israel, Nikanor descended from the ship with the remaining door. He turned and looked out to the sea, grieving for his other beautiful and now lost door. He noticed an object coming closer to the shore from behind the ship. It was the other door floating to the shore!

What a great miracle. The door had somehow followed him to the land of Israel. Nikanor brought both doors to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, where they were installed in a central place between the outer courtyard of the women and the three inner courtyards of the men. These copper and bronze doors became known as Sha’ar Nikanor, the Nikanor Gateway. Years later, all the large gates in the Temple were replaced by gates covered with gold, except the doors of Nikanor the convert, in tribute to the miracle that occurred to them, a testament to the devotion and dedication of Nikanor the convert.

Another consideration of the chief rabbi may have been that of Queen Heleni and King Monoboaz II (Yoma 37a and 37b). In the later years of the second Holy Temple, in the kingdom of Adiabene (in Assyria), Queen Heleni, wife of King Monoboaz, and her son Prince Monoboaz II, converted to Judaism and brought gifts to the Holy Temple. Queen Heleni donated a golden chandelier, which reflected the rising sun and glowed early in the morning to signal the proper time for Kohanim to recite the Shema, and a golden tablet with the passages regarding the Sotah inscribed on it. Later, King Monoboaz II donated golden rims, bases, and golden handles for all the vessels used in the Holy Temple.

The Governor Supports

The Decision

The full reconstruction of the synagogue in Las Palmeras will immediately commence when the site is formally declared a historical monument by the province of Santa Fe. The upgraded facilities will include a section with historical ornaments and services for tourists. The two sifrei Torah will be digitally examined and recertified as kosher. The reconstruction work will be entirely financed using private funds.

The reconstruction will be carried out under an agreement signed in 2013 by Antonio Bonfatti, governor of the province of Santa Fe, and Baruch Tenembaum, representing Las Palmeras. At the same time, the provincial government has assumed maintenance after the completion of renovations and remodeling.

“In recent years, the Province has promoted a historic preservation program consisting of the restoration of historic buildings throughout the province. Therefore, we do not hesitate to support this initiative, that encourages the preservation of our culture and our traditions,” said Governor Bonfatti. The synagogue in Las Palmeras is one of the oldest in the province of Santa Fe and is “a historical and architectural symbol for all of Santa Fe,” added the governor. v

Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He can be contacted at yeshiva613@aol.com.


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