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Interview with Ruth Benjamin

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I am a giyores. I converted on the !5th Sivan 5725 with the Haifa Beis Din in Israel. I wanted to do things properly and completely. I was keeping Shabbos , and, when I got married, we kept Taharas Hamishpocha and i put on a sheitel etc. everything was exciting and wonderful. I was going to shiurim, getting involved, preparing one day to move to a religious area. However, we never quite managed that.

We were both working at Shaar Menashe hospital, and living in the staff quarters. Shaar Menashe has an unusual history. As far as Yidishkeit is concerned, it is one of the most devastating places of the century. It was known as Ein Shemer, and in the very early days of the state of Israel, it was a camp to receive Yemenite children. A camp which made a definite, systematic and unfortunately successful effort to tear these children away from Yidishkeit.

Even when it became a hospital there were still ruined buildings with writing on them which gave a hint of what went on before. It was in this environment, and sometime after the birth of my first child, that I also felt my Yidishkeit beginning to erode, until I became totally confused.

We moved back to South Africa, and based on my conversations with Rabbi Bernhard, my doubts were resolved. My daughter was in Menora school, which was Rabbi Bernhard’s school (a precursor to Torah Academy) in Killarney. This was a little frum school. I used to talk to him sometimes. He was the Rabbi of Oxford shul.

Rabbi Bernhard had come to South Africa in 1969, and he was unofficially Chabad. He had spoken to the Rebbe, and was very involved. Rabbi Bernhard had contact with the Lubavitch movement in New York.  At that time there were only a few families at Chassidim Shul, e.g Kirsh, Bacher, Berkowitz, Alloy and Gourarie. I said, ‘’the community needs a Chabad movement!”

When Rabbi Shmuel Lew came out to South Africa in 1971, I asked him to send a shliach to South Africa. He said, ”why South Africa?”, and then he said ”You ask the Rebbe.” I wrote to the Rebbe, and I was told, ” your Rabbi is coming.”

We waited for them with baited breath. The Bachers went to fetch the Lipskars from the airport. First they stayed in Berea, and then they moved to Camelot. We were very happy that two wonderful people had come. We had heard all about them from Rabbi Koppel Bacher. We had really looked forward to seeing them, and they were everything we hoped they would be.

Rabbi and Mashi Lipskar are the Rebbe’s first shluchim in South Africa, and they were the only shluchim for a long time. They started shiurim which were wonderful. Before that Rabbi Gourarie had given a shiur at his home and at Chasidim Shul.

We realized that the best way to get people involved was to get them to stay over for shabbos, or at least to eat at us for shabbos. The lipskars had people staying over. We had people staying over. We had so many people staying over that Faigie Montrose called it, ”the Benjamin’s dorm”, or something like that. People stayed over in the house all over the place, and ate with us every shabbos. There were a lot of young jewish people, and a lot became really, really frum, completely frum and they went to Yeshiva. The boys went to yeshiva in Kfar Chabad, e.g Tzemach Mendelow, Akiva Centner, Danny Rosen etc. They collected around Rabbi Lipskar. The girls went to Machon Chana which also started in 1972.

I had little idea of how deeply involved I would get. Among the highlights of my Yidishkeit were, meeting the Lipskars, going to the Rebbe for Yechidus for the first time in 1972, Shavuos time. Mashi had said to me, ”please will you go to my sister’s wedding, because can’t be there, please represent me.” That was Rabbi Sholom Ber and Dini Groner. They got married straight after Shavuos in 1972.

Each day I progressed more and more in my Yidishkeit. As you learn more you do more. It’s often better to do the hardest things first, then the other things come more easily. Never think you’ve arrived, and there’s nowhere to go. I have always had connections with the Lipskar’s, even though I don’t live near them anymore, telephonic connections.

My eldest daughter Debbie and her husband are shluchim in Einav, Israel. Her daughter married a Rabbi and they are shluchim in Bolivia. Debbie has nine children, and three are married.

I remember a couple of anecdotes from those days: There was a Jews for J group who were trying to get Jews involved. We decided to break up their meeting. We took Rabbi Yossi Hecht along as well as a minister I knew. Rabbi Hecht’s hat was down and covered his face, someone else came and did the talking. Eventually we found out that a lot of people there were not Jewish. They got scared and we broke up the meeting.

Then there is the story of Shoshana Rosovsky who fell in love with a Palestinian and then wanted to leave him. She was in touch with the Lipskars, Rabbi Lipskar and the Breslover’s got her and her children out, they looked after them and they became frum.