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In Memory of Reb Tuvia Katz z”l

Already as a youth in Argentina, my father-in-law Reb Tuvia Katz z”l stood out for his leadership, and upon immigrating to Israel, he drew dozens of young people in his wake * At Kibbutz, his soul became attached to the art of painting, and apparently, his immersion in art brought him closer to faith * His two choices – the Land of Israel, and the Torah and its commandments – merited his descendants establishing beautiful families, partners in building the Land, developing the economy and science, engaging in Torah and mitzvot, and striving to increase goodness and blessing

Words in memory of my father-in-law, Reb Tuvia Katz, who passed away on the 28th of Adar I, 5784. When he was a month old, his parents left Poland and sailed to Argentina. His mother Shoshana’s brother, Yossel Schickman, urged his sister Shoshana and her husband to flee Poland. Grandfather Rabbi Pinchas, as well as Tuvia’s young parents, feared sailing with a one-month-old infant, but brother Yossel argued that if they did not take advantage of the ticket sent to them by their brother Yaakov, who had already emigrated to Argentina, they would have no other opportunity to leave. They sailed on a ship that later turned out to be the last to leave Poland for Argentina.

In His Parents’ Home

Polish Jewry underwent a great spiritual crisis. Before World War I, the vast majority of Polish Jews were religious, but by the eve of World War II, the vast majority of Polish Jews no longer observed Shabbat. True, many of them were traditional and attended synagogue on Shabbat. This was also the situation of his parents, especially after they immigrated to Argentina. His father prayed in the synagogue on Shabbat, and occasionally put on tefillin. After the end of World War II, when the terrible reports from Poland arrived, and it became clear to his mother that all of her family members and acquaintances had been murdered in the Holocaust, she wept frequently. When Shabbat arrived, she would stand before the candlesticks and say through tears and anger: “For what did I light candles all these years?” She placed the candlesticks in the closet, and for several years she stopped lighting Shabbat candles. Years later, after their children had immigrated to Israel, the parents too wished to join them, but his father passed away shortly before their planned aliyah, and his mother came and joined them in the kibbutz. There she lit Shabbat candles, fasted on Yom Kippur, was careful not to kindle a fire on Shabbat, and tried to observe tradition as much as possible in the kibbutz.

The Dror Movement

In Argentina, Reb Tuvia joined the ‘Dror’ movement, which educated towards Zionism and socialism, and encouraged its members to immigrate to Israel as part of a connection to the ‘Kibbutz Hameuchad’. In the movement, he served as a counselor, and later as a youth leader. It is told that he was highly esteemed by his charges. Under his influence, many became Zionists and immigrated to Israel, where he met his wife Penina. Even his non-Jewish teachers held him in high regard, and when they heard he was planning to immigrate to Israel, they expected him to become a leader there.

Several kibbutzim established by Palmach veterans, such as Hukok, struggled to absorb new members and barely survived. The ‘Dror’ movement directed immigrants from Argentina to them, thereby establishing and sustaining these kibbutzim.

The Hardships and Absorption in the Kibbutz

The initial period in the kibbutz was extremely difficult. The Palmachnik’s, who were ten years older than the new immigrants, struggled to understand them, and demanded that they become ‘Sabras’ like themselves. In those days, Argentina was far wealthier than the State of Israel, and the decline in living standards was keenly felt. Instead of the grand dreams of fulfillment, they faced harsh and painful arguments over trivialities.

In a letter to Argentina, he wrote that they had been sold “false dreams”, and instead of the ideals they had dreamed of, they were performing menial labor for the veterans. The letter caused a stir among members of the ‘Dror’ movement in Argentina. The revered commune member, who had preached Aliyah, was regretting his decision. One of the movement’s leaders in Israel, Tzivia Lubetkin, one of the heroes who fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, traveled to him, heard his complaints, and spoke to his heart to be patient. He acquiesced, and remained. About fifty of his charges followed him to Israel. Years later, he said that without that conversation, he might have left the country. Subsequently, he met Yitzchak Tabenkin, and connected with his pioneering path.

In the end, the immigrants clung to the Land and joined the great pioneering enterprise of the kibbutz movement, working the soil of the Land with their hands, and blooming its desolate places. The children of the immigrants and the veterans grew up together in the children’s houses, were drafted together into the most elite combat units, and risked their lives defending the people and the Land. Even their cousin, Natan Berengola, who joined them, and Aharon Shmeuni, their ‘outside child’ in the kibbutz, served as officers in the most elite reconnaissance units.

Art and Faith

In Israel, Reb Tuvia began to develop his artistic inclination, perhaps seeking deeper meanings in the material, and the light reflected in colors amidst the crisis of absorption. In addition to working in the orchards and later as the construction coordinator in the kibbutz, he studied painting with the artists Stimatzki and Zeritzki, and even before leaving the kibbutz, he had already exhibited his works. It appears that his immersion in art brought him closer to faith.

He later taught art and faith at the ‘Emunah’, ‘Orot Yisrael’, ‘Talpiot’ and ‘Bayit ve’Gan’ colleges. Among his students were those who said that initially they thought they would have to abandon religion to devote themselves to art, but Reb Tuvia showed them a way to combine art and faith.

Return to Religion

Before their educational mission to Brazil on behalf of the movement, he underwent training in Jerusalem. There he also attended classes at the ‘Machon Meir Yeshiva’, and heard lectures on Judaism for the first time. In Brazil, he continued to explore Judaism with a Chabad emissary. The family returned to Israel, but Reb Tuvia remained a month in New York, to study at the Chabad yeshiva.

Now, this is a story that ba’alei teshuvah [newly religious Jews] will understand. While in the study hall, he wore a kippa, but since he was not religious, and did not want to appear religious, he was careful to remove it before leaving. Once he forgot to remove his kippa, and as he stood to board the subway, he was startled to find himself wearing a kippa like the religious Jews. He tried to step aside to remove it, but right there stood a young Jewish woman praying, and it was uncomfortable to remove the kippa in front of her. He thought to himself that when he boarded the train, he would remove the kippa, but in the first car there were Hasidic Jews, in the second there were religious Jews, and in the third, there were more Jews. He continued to the fourth car, and there he found some relief, for they were all Puerto Ricans and Black Americans – here, he could sit comfortably and remove his kippa. But then a second thought entered his mind: “Is this who you want to be? Here you feel comfortable? Sitting among the gentiles and removing your kippa?!” From then on, he began wearing a kippa.

The Move to Jerusalem

After another period in the kibbutz, he wished to strengthen his observance of Torah and mitzvot, and the couple with their three children moved to Jerusalem. By virtue of his initial choice of Zionism, he continued to cling to the mitzvah of settling the Land, which is equal to all the mitzvot, and chose to draw close to the circle of the ‘Merkaz HaRav’ Yeshiva. It is possible that my wife, his firstborn daughter, then 15 and a half years old, played an important role in this. She agreed to leave the kibbutz on condition that they would continue to uphold its values: Zionism, socialism, and military service. In Jerusalem, when she studied the lectures of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, she found reinforcement and empowerment for the values she had learned in the kibbutz, and she decided to observe the mitzvot.

There was then an opportunity to purchase an apartment in the new Gilo neighborhood, and this is what Rabbi Tuvia did. However, Rabbi Dov Begun told him that if he wanted his two younger sons to grow up in Torah, it would be better for them to live in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, and send their children to the ‘Noam’ school. He heeded his advice, and settled in the same building as Rabbi Filber. Years later, Rabbi Dov Begun told me that at the ‘Noam’ school they were hesitant to accept the children, but he, who always believed in teshuva and ba’alei teshuvah, told them that within a year they would integrate and be among the best, and so it was. Subsequently, they studied in Yeshiva le’Tzirim, the pre-Yeshiva school of ‘Merkaz HaRav’.

In the early years, he prayed on Shabbat at the ‘Merkaz HaRav’ Yeshiva. In the process, he merited to draw close to Rabbi Uzi Kalchayim ztz”l, who became his rabbi and friend, and with whom he studied every Shabbat for many years. In the early years, they were hosted at Rabbi Kalchayim’s home for the Seder night and festival meals, until they eventually became part of the family.

Sadly, thirty years ago Rabbi Uzi passed away. However, remarkably, precisely at the time of Rabbi Tuvia’s passing, two hours before Shabbat, Rabbi Menachem, Rabbi Uzi’s son, arrived, and took upon himself the care of his purification rites. At the funeral, where he requested that they follow the custom of the Kabbalists, whereby descendants do not walk behind the bier, I asked his son, Rabbi Ami Kalchayim to recite the Kaddish. Thus, Rabbi Uzi ztz”l continued, through his sons, to accompany Reb Tuvia on his final journey.

A Radiant Countenance

Reb Tuvia had a unique perspective on life. As an artist, he would observe people, houses, streets, trees and courtyards, mountains and skies, delving deep, and gaining unique insights, which found expression in his paintings, and in his conversations with friends, students, and disciples.

He had a special radiance about his face, and he merited to impart a good feeling to many he encountered, often encouraging people in times of distress and crisis.

Two Choices

The two great sins in the Torah were the sin of the Golden Calf, and the sin of the Spies, upon which the destiny of the Jewish people and the revelation of God’s word and blessing in the world, depend. Through his two major choices, Reb Tuvia engaged in rectifying both. In his youth, he chose to be a Zionist and immigrate to the Land and settle it, and when he reached the age of responsibility, he chose to observe Torah and mitzvot. By virtue of these two choices, he merited that many of his descendants continue to be pioneers at the forefront of settlement, engage in Torah and mitzvot, and serve in elite combat units. In recent months, he prayed fervently for their success in battle.

In his final years, he moved to live in Har Bracha, near his daughter Inbal (my wife) and his son Hagai. In Har Bracha, some sixty of his descendants live, including sons-in-law and daughters-in-law of grandchildren. Another son, Rabbi Amir, resides in Sedei Eliyahu. In Har Bracha, he savored the joy of his grandchildren, often recounting how on every path he walked, he would encounter a grandchild, or great-grandchild, calling out joyfully, “Grandpa! Grandpa!”

Conclusion

When Reb Tuvia was born eighty-seven years ago in Dubno, Poland, he merited that his grandfather, Rabbi Pinchas Schickman, one of the leaders of the Mizrachi movement in the city, was his mohel. Dark clouds were gathering over the skies of Europe, and the Holocaust was imminent. When the grandfather prayed, “This little one will grow to be great. Just as he enters the covenant, so may he enter Torah and mitzvot, the wedding canopy, and good deeds,” it was difficult to know if this would indeed be the case. Almost all those gathered there, along with their children, perished in the Holocaust. Who could have known if they would succeed in escaping to Argentina, if the newborn would establish a family, if there, so far away, he would continue to maintain his Jewish identity.

Now Reb Tuvia will ascend, and tell his grandfather that, by God’s mercy, the State of Israel has arisen, and for three generations already, his descendants have been engaged in settling the Land – in Hukok, Rehovot, Nir Eliyahu, Neve Ayalon, and Judea and Samaria. They are establishing beautiful families, partners in building the Land, developing the economy and science, engaging in Torah and mitzvot, and striving to increase goodness and blessing. His son, Yossel Schickman, thanks to whom the family fled to Argentina and was saved, immigrated to Netanya with his three children, and from all of them, he now has grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. At the optometry practice (‘Optika Lilian’) that Yossel opened, his son Danny works to this day, and there, in a place of honor, hangs a large, beautiful photograph of Grandfather Rabbi Pinchas Schickman, may God avenge his blood.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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