Ever feel you are so close to the aleph-bet that you could practically touch it? Well, now in Safed, Israel, you can.
The Gan Haotiot exhibit opened last week with a ceremony that honored the 15th anniversary of the tragic death of the first director of Chabad-Lubavitch in the mountainous northern Israeli city, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Kaplan. Kaplan was killed in 1998 at the age of 50 by a truck in Russia while on his way attend the groundbreaking of a new Lubavitch center there.
The exhibit, designed by Safed resident Rafi Malka, depicts life-sized letters of the Hebrew alphabet scattered about an outdoor garden. The artistry on the letters reflects Jewish themes and connections.
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The opening event, held right in the park, included the participation of the city’s mayor, Ilan Shochet; the former mayor, Zev Perel; Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed; members of the Kaplan family; rabbis; residents; and the original Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries to Safed, among others.
Speakers detailed the dedication and impact that Rabbi Kaplan had on Jewish life in Safed.
Blessed as a boy with a prodigious mind, Kaplan excelled in his studies and conduct, and received special attention from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.
By 1973, Israeli officials had been asking the Rebbe to send someone to revitalize the historic northern city of Safed. Kaplan was summoned by the Rebbe’s chief of staff, Rabbi Chaim Mordechai A. Hodakov. It had been years since the Rebbe had personally selected an emissary, preferring instead that couples find their own places.
Within a short time Rabbi and Mrs. Kaplan and their one-year-old son were on their way to Israel, complete with very specific instructions from the Rebbe about building a community, setting up educational centers, and restoring a 19th-century Lubavitch synagogue that had fallen into disrepair, together with much of the city.
Speakers noted how Safed today is again a thriving center of Jewish life, with numerous Jewish institutions—including 19 Chabad-Lubavitch institutions—and is a focal point for tourism, Jewish studies and a wide range of Jewish groups who have moved to the city since Kaplan’s arrival in 1973.
Otzar Hastam is a project of Agudat Kiryat Chabad of Safed, under the direction of Kaplan’s son and successor, Rabbi Chaim Kaplan.
The opening event, held right in the park, included the participation of the city’s mayor, Ilan Shochet; the former mayor, Zev Perel; Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed; members of the Kaplan family; rabbis; residents; and the original Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries to Safed, among others