Last week I received the following communication from Rav Ari Waxman, shlit'a, the Mashgiach Ruchani of the Talmidim from Chutz La'Aretz of Yeshivat Sha'alvim. It related to one of the most beloved characters at the Yeshiva, a quiet, hard-working and dignified man whom (for reasons no one knew) everyone calls Gandhi. Gandhi has run the laundry service at Sha'alvim for as long as anyone can remember.
I had the zechus of meeting Gandhi a few years ago when I spent a week at the Yeshiva with my son. Although he barely said a word, for some reason I knew I was in the presence of a very special man. Rav Waxman's email only confirms what I felt.
Dear Talmidei Sha'alvim-Baruch Hashem, Ghandi was inundated with emails from the talmidim. This morning Rav Waxman forwarded Gandhi's response:
I'm not sure if the name Meir Gintzig will ring a bell, at the same time I am sure that the name which he is more commonly referred to, "Gandhi", will bring back many fond memories. Some of you may have heard that a couple of months ago Gandhi suffered a minor stroke and although he has been released from the hospital unfortunately he can longer continue his work in the yeshiva. Since you are very well aware of Gandhi's tremendous devotion to his work you can imagine that he finds this new situation a very difficult one.
We thought that this would be an appropriate time for talmidei Sha'alvim who are interested in wishing Gandhi well, expressing any kind of hakarat hatov, or "stam" writing Gandhi, to do so.... We are sure that hearing from you will bring Gandhi tremendous simcha!
While we are mentioning Gandhi let me take a minute to fill you in on some details of of his background which you were probably not aware of during your time at Sha'alvim. Gandhi, age 74 ba"h, grew up in in Krakow. During the years of the Holocaust his parents were taken away by the Germans and killed in front of his eyes. Gandhi managed to survive different forms of concentration camps, including Auschwitz for a few months, and came to Israel at age 15. He joined Tzahal and at age 17 fought in the War of Independence. During the fighting Gandhi was part of a unit that captured the neighborhood of Katamon in Yerushalayim. In 1950 Gandhi was placed on Kibbutz Chafetz Chaim as part of the Nachal program which combined army service with work on a kibbutz. In 1951, upon finishing his army service Gandhi joined the first settlers of Kibbutz Sha'alvim. At the time of Gandhi's initial arrival Sha'alvim was made up of three tents, 1) "Ohel Banim" with 14 men, 2) "Ohel Banot" with 9 woman and 3) a Cheder Ochel tent. It seems that Gandhi's incredible work ethic began already back then. The well known Rav of Kibbutz Chaim, Rav Kalman Kahana Zatz"l, knew Gandhi well from his work on Chafetz Chaim and Rav Kahana's visits to Sha'alvim. In 1956 Rav Kalman Kahana commented that if someone wants to learn what true hasmada is they should go to Gandhi. How did he get the name Ghandi? Also appropriate for these days. In Purim of 1957 Meir Gintzig came to the mesibat Purim dressed up as the Indian philosopher Gandhi and since then the name "Gandhi" stuck. In 1990 Gandhi married Grasia Amar who was also amongst the founders of Kibbutz Sha'alvim. Finally, with Siyum Daf HaYomi in the air we'll mention that Gandhi completed Sha"s twice!
We wish Gandhi a refuah shleimah and, once again, we ask you not to underestimate the joy that you will will bring Gandhi by writing to him, even if only a few words.
Dear students, alumni, and all who have been inquiring about my health,All I can say is that it is an honor to have simply met someone like Gandhi. May Hashem grant him a refuah shleimah b'karov and may we all be zoche to see him back at work soon.
Thank you very, very much! I am so touched to have received so many letters from you especially now that I am sick and can't work.
Zvi Kaspi and his family reads me the letters that you send and together we laugh about the experiences that we have gone through and didn't even realize that we were experiencing.
At the moment I am sitting with Zvi Kaspi and I am trying to write a response to all of you. (Unfortunately I am still unable to write and my eyesight has also become weaker.)
I want to tell you how much ani ohev etchem and I want to let you know that all of the years that I worked for you in the laundry room brought me so much happiness. For me you are the finest youth of Am Yisrael. You left houses filled with plenty and came to a settlement out in the middle of nowhere to live in conditions that you were not accustomed to.
I have not managed to remember your names however even through someone's laundry number it is possible to note one's character and see what kind of person he is. I have interesting memories of different personalities which I associate with different laundry numbers. I remember many who would enter the laundry room with derech eretz and say hello, take or give his laundry in an orderly fashion with a glowing smile, always dressed neatly, and sometimes I identify a boy according to the color of his shirt.
Amongst the letters that I received some were particularly touching. True, I tried very hard to make sure that everything was clean, orderly, and ready on time because this is how a Jew is expected to go about his work. Chaza"l tell us great things about Rav Yochanon HaSandlar who would make shoes for a livelihood and at the same time was a tremendous lamdan and an upright and righteous person.
One of you wrote to me something like this: "A person is connected to his physical objects and Yakov Avinu also crossed the river for his pachim ktanim. And here I am, in a new place, running around trying to change dollars into shekels, I get a safety deposit box for my passport and ticket, they take a picture of me for my insurance policy, they give me a key to my room, a key to my safety deposit box, I run to the makolet to get a drink- everything is new and strange. And I walk into the laundry room and feel at home. The loud noise of the machines calms me down. Someone smiles and is taking care of me and once again I feel that everything is under control."
What can I tell you young Rabbotai. As Zvi Kaspi says, "We fulfilled a dream". We fought very hard for this land. We freed it and built a place of normal life here. How can we not be filled with joy for what we have here today?
And you, my young friends, have grown up and become men who are spread out all across the world, real bnei Torah with wonderful memories of Eretz Yisrael. I serve you with a love of the Torah and those who learn it and with the knowledge that you are the next generation of Am Yisrael.
The laundry number that you received in Yeshivat Sha'alvim is a small part of the tapestry of your great memories.
Yehi Ratzon that Eretz Yisrael will always hold a special place in your hearts. We rely on your zechuyot to bring a yeshua to Yisrael.
And I will BS"D become healthy again and continue to be of service to bnei Torah,
Meir Ginztig- Gandhi