Yair Lapid’s Chassidic Grandfather

Yair Lapid’s Chassidic Grandfather

It was my final conversation with my Grandma Florence.

I was 22 years old and, to the great consternation of my family, had gotten all frummed out.

At the women’s yeshiva where I had studied the year before, the rabbi told us baalot teshuva-to-be that a few generations back all of our families had been religious. And even though I didn’t say it, I was quite certain that “all Jews” included every family but my own.

In the Freedman family there were all sorts of Jews: Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Zionist, not-so Zionist…the works.

But an Orthodox Jew? Nope. Not even one. Not then, and, I assumed, not ever.

But that December day, the day of our final conversation, my grandmother told me, “Jenny, I know you’ve been spending Shabbats at a Chabad House. And I want you to know that you aren’t the first religious member of our family; my grandparents were actually Lubavitcher Chassidim. In fact, your great-grandfather, since he was a lawyer and the founder of HIAS, was one of the first people allowed to take the boat out to greet the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe when he first arrived in the US.”

I think that was the only time in my life that I actually felt the sky open up above my head.

I was no longer just a confused American woman living my own life in an existential void and meaningless universe. That was the first time I felt that Hashem was watching over me. Guiding me. Bringing me back to the path of my forefathers and mothers who I had never even known existed.

And I envisioned my Lubavitch great-grandmother bent over her tear-stained siddur, her lips moving unceasingly as she pronounced the daily prayer “And we and our children, and our children’s children, and all the children of Your nation, the Jewish people, will all know Your name and learn Your Torah.”

She was, I realized, davening for me, her great-great granddaughter, Jenny Freedman, that I would also, like her, keep the Torah and love Hashem. And even many decades after her death, her prayer was circling around in Heaven until Hashem decided it was finally time to bring her lost great-great granddaughter, Chana bat Gila, back home.

Yesterday, at the opening of the Knesset’s new session, the Deputy Minister of Education, Rabbi Menachem Eliezer Moses, addressed Yair Lapid, the head of the secular Yesh Atid Party which is now the second largest political party in Israel.

Rabbi Moses responded to Yair Lapid’s first speech in the Knesset with the following words:

Yair Lapid with Rabbi Moses yesterday in the Knesset

“You spoke about a glorious future, and I am choosing to tell you about the glorious past and heritage of our people, mine and yours as well…

“Your grandfather, David Giladi, was born as David Klein in Transylvania, Austro-Hungary, to his father Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Klein, a Vizhnitzer Chassid with 18 children…a direct descendant of one of the greatest rabbis of the previous generation, Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke Klein, rabbi of the city Selesh, who is described in the encyclopedia “Shem HaGadolim” as ‘a genius, a tremendous tsaddik, famous throughout the land and author of the book ‘Tsror HaChaim’ which is still studied in yeshivot.'”

The book "Tsror HaChayim" written by Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke Klein, the great-great grandfather of Yair Lapid

Which reminded me that when I heard that Yair Lapid’s party had won so many seats in the Knesset, I let out a noisy groan of an “Oh noooooo.”

I remembered Yair Lapid’s father, Tommy Lapid, who hated religious people and headed the virulently anti-religious Shinui party.

But then I read that while Yair Lapid doesn’t keep many mitzvot, he has publicly discussed his belief in God and in Divine Providence.

Which reminds me of all of our holy grandfathers and grandmothers praying for us, the lost grandchildren they would never know…

“And we and our children, and our children’s children, and all the children of your nation, the Jewish people, will all know Your name and learn Your Torah.”

We have so far to go, but from all directions so many of us are moving inch by inch, step by step—closer.


  1. really awesome. hashem has a promise in the torah. Teach a child in my ways and even if they go astray they will always come back to me. I don’nt know the verse by hard but something like that. its so amazing.

    • susanna rossen

      “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it
      Mishlei 22.6

  2. bikores.blogspot.com

    What was your great-grandfather’s name (if you don’t mind saying)?

  3. Chana Jenny!!!!
    This is so exciting!
    Your grandfather was at the pier, for the arrival of the Frierdiker Rebbe in America. So was my grandfather, along with my father and his two brothers.
    We’re family!
    Come visit me, sister… I’m in Crown Heights.

  4. is this the man – from NEZHIN?

    NEW YORK, Aug. 24 (JTA) –
    Funeral services took place here today for John L. Bernstein, former president of the HIAS, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, who died last Friday at the Danbury Hospital, in Connecticut, where he had been vacationing. He was 80 years old.
    Born in Nazhin, Russian Ukraine, he came to this country in 1890. He studied at the New York University Law School and was admitted to the bar in 1899. He was one of the founders of the HIAS in 1901 and remained active in the organization until his death. He was also a leading member of the American Jewish Committee, Joint Distribution Committee and was active in the Zionist Organization of America.

    • wow, this is amazing. I never saw that before! Rishe, were there a lot of people waiting for the Rebbe or just a few?

  5. Wasn’t one of the Lubavitcher Rebbeim buried in Nezhin?

  6. The Mittler Rebbe, the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi DovBer is buried in Nezhin. He lived from 1773 – 1827, was the son of and successor to the Alter Rebbe, Baal HaTanya

  7. Chana Jenny, there were hundreds of people there at the pier in New York. The Previous Rebbe (who passed away in 1950) was wheeled down the ramp in a wheelchair, March 19, 1940. Many chassidim wept – both from the emotion, the relief, the joy, of seeing their Rebbe again, something they didn’t know if they ever would – and from the pain and grief of seeing first hand in front of their eyes the results of communist torture which put him into a wheelchair.

  8. many Jews in America were then working on shabbos
    feeling it was the only way to survive, to feed their families, to keep a roof over their heads
    they said “this is the new country – here we can’t keep Shabbos”

    the Rebbe said then, on the day that he arrived in American, “America iz nisht andersh” – that America is not different, here too we keep the same Torah as in Europe – no compromises

  9. I’ve got the chills from your story

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