The story of Gershon Joseph Lifshitz
The following account is excerpted from and based on a May 10, 1991, article by Miri Peer published in Yom Hashishi (Friday), a religious newspaper in Jerusalem. It was translated from Hebrew by Zohar Jolles.
"Although his family name was Lifshitz, the people in Jerusalem knew him as Rabbi Gershon Schmidt for his occupation as a blacksmith...."
According to his family, he walked most of the way from Russia to Jerusalem to escape from service in the czar's army.
"He walked and walked, and after many wandering hours he stood by a tree and heard a voice: 'You have to rest here a little.' Was it his imagination? He was a realistic person. ... This voice led him till he came to Jerusalem."
In Jerusalem he married Elka Rachel and they settled in a rental flat some distance from the Jewish quarter.
"He used to fix old coffee grinding machines, prepare a new knife or another handle. He built iron beds, decorated or simple. Occasionally he got an order to build a safe. His specialty was to prepare a complicated locking system that no one but the owner would be able to unlock. ..."
"No one could imagine that there was a tzadik [righteous man] and clever scholar behind those blackened, muscular hands. ... As darkness of evening covered Jerusalem, he discovered the real light, studying the whole night. His sons never saw him asleep."
Gershon Lifshitz memorized the Mishna and studied the Kabbala.
Once, shortly after the start of the 20th Century, he and two other rabbis went in search of the 10 Lost Tribes. Their trip, which took several months, included a boat ride to Aden, Yemen's capital. During the voyage Gershon became ill and returned to Jerusalem.
In World War I, the Ottoman Turkish authorities who controlled the Holy Land sought to draft Gershon's three sons to fight against the British.
"He sent his son Arie to Egypt, which was under British occupation. Another son was released from service because he was a religious Sephardic scholar. He dressed himself with a turban and a gown and got permission to stay at home. The third son hid himself.
"One night they heard firm knocks on the door. Gershon hid under the bed. As the women opened the door they saw Turkish soldiers, who said Gershon had to go into the army instead of his sons. They looked everywhere in the house and moved everything. But they found nothing and left. It was a miracle."
Another day the soldiers came to his workshop, but he hid in the shadows in a corner and prayed. Again, they didn't see him.
Gershon and his family lived in the Moslem quarter of Jerusalem until 1927, when the Arabs rioted against the Jews.
"The yard was burned out, and a daughter was almost killed. The youngest son was stabbed and bled helplessly. The attackers escaped from roof to roof and vanished. A British patrol arrived afterward and called for help."
After the riot, Gershon moved his family into the Jewish quarter on Hebron Street.
A neighbor from across the street, a Mrs. Rosenfeld, recounted that one night she awoke and saw Rabbi Gershon through the window studying:
"He was looking at someone and talking to someone. I wanted to see who it was, but there was no one. I really tried hard. There was no one. It was an 'Elijah Hanavi' vision. I started to believe that he is one of the 36 hidden tzadikim."
Experienced amateur genealogist Martin Fischer is available to conduct freelance family history projects including searching online databases, creating family trees, editing memoirs and developing genealogical Web sites. For more information, go to http://www.the-efa.org/, click on find a freelancer, and type Martin Fischer in the search box, or go to http://www.apgen.org/, click on search by name, and type Fischer and Martin in the search boxes.