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Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews flood tiny Hungarian town for ‘miracle rabbi’ pilgrimage



(JTA) — As many as 50,000 Jews traveled to a Hungarian town for the anniversary of a noted rabbi’s death this week, marking significant growth for the annual pilgrimage and generating what the town’s mayor called “culture shock” for non-Jewish locals.

Since the fall of communism in 1989, Jewish pilgrims have been visiting Bodrogkeresztur, known as Kerestir in Yiddish, in April, timed to the death of Rabbi Yeshaya Steiner, a Hasidic rabbi known as Reb Shayele whom some believe had special powers. The number of pilgrims has swelled in recent years, thanks in part to efforts by the rabbi’s descendants to elevate his profile.

The estimated 50,000 visitors this year — other estimates placed the number lower, but still in the tens of thousands — would be over 60 times the number of the town’s year-round population. It also would likely set a new record for a Jewish pilgrimage in Europe, outpacing even the famed gatherings in Uman, Ukraine, at the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.

“It’s all a bit surreal,” Istvan Rozgonyi, mayor of the town in northeast Hungary, told Agence France-Presse this week. “Christians and Jews co-existed peacefully here for centuries, but the sudden influx in the last decade of so many foreign Jews has been a culture shock for some locals.”

(Barnabas Horvath)

In fact, Kerestir has not had a significant Jewish population since 1944, when the town’s Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Some of Reb Shayale’s family members were among them, though the rabbi himself died in 1925 and others in his family, including a brother and some of his children, had previously made their way to the United States, where his brother’s Staten Island grave is a pilgrimage site of its own.

Reb Shayele is considered in some Hasidic circles to be a “miracle rabbi” who had supernatural powers of healing. He also famously advised a follower about how to rid his granary of mice, leading to the practice of affixing a picture of the “Mouser Rabbi” in one’s home to keep mice away.

“People call me every day to ask if I have the power from my grandfather,” Israel Grosz, the rabbi’s grandson and oldest living relative, told AFP.

Grosz lives in the United States. He believes, as many of the pilgrims do, that access to Reb Shayele’s powers is strongest at his grave. Many of the Jewish pilgrims to Kerestir, mostly but not exclusively men who gather in the town a few days before the anniversary of his death, go to the grave to ask for help with personal issues or for blessings. They visit his former house and the local Jewish cemetery where he is buried.

In recent decades, family members have worked to build up a Jewish infrastructure in Kerestir. They purchased the family’s home and erected a permanent tent over Reb Shayele’s grave, then bought the building next door to serve as a guesthouse. During the pilgrimage season, they add more tents to accommodate visitors to the grave and run shuttles to and from the airport in Budapest. Dozens of buildings in the town of about 1,100 have been purchased by people affiliated with the pilgrimage.

United Hatzalah, a Jewish emergency service based in Israel, sent a delegation to Kerestir. It treated well over 100 people this week, mostly for minor injuries and illnesses, it said in a press release.

The influx briefly changes the town — police had to close it off for three days so fleets of buses full of Jewish pilgrims from across the globe could proceed through its narrow streets — and has induced tensions among locals who are divided on whether the pilgrimage is good for Bodrogkeresztur.

“They should go back to where they came from. I do not care that they used to live here,” one woman told the Christian Science Monitor in early 2020, arguing that Jews were driving up housing costs by buying buildings to serve as guesthouses. Another villager disagreed, telling the outlet, “They have the right to be here as their ancestors were unjustly taken away and killed in 1944.”

Orthodox Jews make other yearly pilgrimages to the burial sites of prominent rabbis across Europe, including in Turkey and elsewhere in Hungary. The most prominent of the pilgrimage sites is Uman, where the Rosh Hashanah event is known as a raucous affair. It took place last year despite the dangers of the Russia-Ukraine war and against the wishes of authorities, with a lower-than-usual number of visitors.

The highest estimate for Uman attendance was 40,000, in 2018. This week’s Kerestir pilgrimage could have topped that, according to its organizers.

“We are proud that more people than ever came to Hungary this year to commemorate my grandfather’s memory and his influential teachings,” Menachem Mendel Rubin, who organized the event from his home in the United States, said in a press release. He thanked local police and the Hungarian government for their support.

As large as this year’s pilgrimage was, it’s unlikely to be the largest: Organizers expect record crowds in two years, for the 100th anniversary of Reb Shayele’s death.

The post Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews flood tiny Hungarian town for ‘miracle rabbi’ pilgrimage appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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