I grew up hearing stories about my Zeide, known as Professor Avraham Polichenco – or as the Rebbe called him – the chossid from Argentina. He had helped many people find happiness and Judaism. People tell stories about how he saved their life. He also had a very close connection to the Rebbe.

Over fifty years ago, my Zeide spent a year in Israel, much of it in Be’er Sheva. He was the engineer behind the Vasermil Football Stadium, where the Be’er Sheva team played for decades. My mother was born that year, in Be’er Sheva, where I live now. The family had to go back to Argentina after that, but my Zeide always dreamed of returning to the Holy Land. He loved it too much.

In Argentina my Zeide became an important pillar of the Chabad community. He started schools, shuls, education programs, helped the Chabad community fundraise, and was a mentor to many people. He touched so many hearts, that years after his passing, I still hear stories about him from people all around the world.

I’m told he was so much a chossid, that he only acted if he knew it was something the Rebbe would want. So when his heart kept crying for Israel, he consulted with the Rebbe, pleading for his blessing to return to the land that he loved.

The Rebbe replied, “First make Argentina into Eretz Yisroel.”

That message stayed with him, and was passed on to his grandchildren. Wherever we went, whatever we did, we tried to give the place the same holiness as Eretz Yisroel.

My Zeide, Professor Avraham Polichenco, presenting the Rebbe with a golden key to a new yeshiva.

When I met my husband, we noticed many things we had in common. We’re both middle children. We both have a sister and two brothers above us. Neither of us did well in school desks. Our social groups were similar. Both of us had grandfathers who did a lot of good work for their Chabad communities, and kept close connections with the Rebbe. But the most striking was the common story our Zeides had.

My husband’s Zeide had also wanted to move to Eretz Yisroel. He even built a beautiful home in Yerushalayim. His hands were busy with multiple projects helping Jews and Olim in Israel. Of course, he also asked the Rebbe for his advice. The answer? Stay where you are.

My husband's zeide, Peter Kalms, in an encounter with the Rebbe.

My husband’s zeide, Peter Kalms, in an encounter with the Rebbe.

So what was I to do? I had been to Israel and it hadn’t stopped calling my name since. I felt uncomfortable anywhere else. I had dreams and goals for my life in Israel. But how could I go if my Zeides had been told otherwise?

Do Chabad people make aliyah?

Actually, from the very start of Chabad, we have been making aliyah. Two hundred years ago the Alter Rebbe sent a group of chassidim to Israel, and encouraged them to start a new yishuv. The Alter Rebbe even got arrested for sending money to Israel, since at that time, Israel was part of the Ottoman Empire, with whom Russia was at war. The Rebbe Rayatz founded Kfar Chabad in Israel, now with a population nearing 5,000. There are countless Chabad neighbourhoods around Israel, and the Rebbe had encouraged many people to make aliyah.

Why then, were our Zeides told not to go?

In a letter to a South African Jewish community leader the Rebbe gave an answer. The Rebbe listed three conditions to making aliyah:

  1. That the new immigrant arriving in Eretz Yisroel should be able to contribute towards the development and wellbeing of Eretz Yisroel, and certainly not be detrimental to it.
  2. The new immigrant should be able to integrate into the economy of the land, and not add to the excessive burden already placed on it.
  3. Even where the said conditions (1) and (2) are met, the gain of a new immigrant, or group of immigrants, should be weighed against the loss that their emigration from their present country will cause to the local Jewish community. If the person happens to be a leader in his community, and his departure would seriously affect the wellbeing of the community—spiritually, economically or politically-thereby weakening that community’s support for Eretz Yisrael, then the gain would clearly be more than offset by the loss.
    We have seen this happen time and again, when the leaders of a community have been persuaded to make aliyah, with the inevitable result that the community dwindled rapidly, physically and spiritually.
    In a small community, the departure of a single influential member, whether a rabbi or layman, can make all the difference.

(Read the full letter here.)

Our Zeides easily checked off the first two conditions. But on the third, they were stuck. Their communities needed them to stay.

Eighteen months ago my husband and I landed in Israel with our one year old. We came with a goal to build and contribute to the land, we had financial plans, and this would be the first community we’d attach to. We had every intention of fulfilling the Rebbe’s conditions.

Two months later, our son was born in Be’er Sheva. We named him Avraham Yosef Chaim, after my beloved Zeide who so much wanted to return home.

Zeide, you may not have been able to fulfil your dream of returning to the Holy Land, but your grandchildren and great-grandchildren have. We’re here, we’re building, and we’re bringing your dream to life.

Little Avi, named after my zeide.