Rabbi Yossie Raichik, who as director of Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl project oversaw the rescue of thousands of children from the dangers of radioactive fallout, succumbed Sunday to complications from a lung infection. He was 55.

Raichik’s passing came as a shock to the tens of thousands of friends and admirers worldwide who took to reciting Psalms in the past week as the rabbi awaited a lung transplant at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital.

The son of Rabbi Shmuel Dovid and Leah Raichik – who were sent to Los Angeles as emissaries of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, in 1949 – Yossie Raichik grew up in a household modeled on the selflessness of his parents.

In the years following World War II, his father tended personally to the welfare of many displaced Jews in Shanghai, China. He also resuscitated Jewish communities across North America as a roving emissary of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, and was sought after worldwide to help mediate local disputes. The father’s wisdom, humility and selflessness inspired others to sacrifice for the sake of communal and personal peace.

His mother, who was known fondly as the “Bubbe of the Golden State,” created an open-door home where titans and paupers alike felt comfortable dropping in at any time of the day or night.

The son reflected his parents’ warmth, and attracted a cadre of civilly-minded professionals with his disarming personality. He worked on Chabad of the West Coast’s now-famous Telethon prior to founding the Children of Chernobyl project.

In the early 1980s, he traveled to Iran at the behest of the Rebbe on a special mission to rescue hundreds of Jewish families.

Rabbi Yossie Raichik, who helped rescue thousands of children from the dangers of radioactive fallout, passed away Sunday.
Rabbi Yossie Raichik, who helped rescue thousands of children from the dangers of radioactive fallout, passed away Sunday.

When the Chernobyl, Ukraine, nuclear accident transfixed the world and sent a radioactive cloud across Eastern Europe, Raichik immediately turned to helping those in need. He moved to Israel in order to facilitate the airlifting of children hit hardest by the disaster.

Since its founding in 1989, Children of Chernobyl has brought more than 2,531 children and 1,757 parents from areas surrounding Chernobyl, Ukraine, to live in Israel. Recognized by UNICEF, the project has garnered the support of Hollywood filmmakers and politicians, as well as Jews worldwide who considered Raichik their personal rabbi.

This summer, the organization airlifted its 81st group to Kfar Chabad, where it provides medical treatment, special homes and assistance to adjusting to life in the Middle East.

“Since taking on the role of director of the program and until his last day, Raichik was a father not only to his own children, but to the thousands of children he helped to bring to Israel,” said Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Levenhartz, assistant director general of the Chabad-Lubavitch Youth Organization in Israel. “He traveled across the world and was away from home for long periods of time in order to bring the necessary resources to care for the welfare of the children in Kfar Chabad.”

Just last month, Raichik participated in the circumcision of a son of one of the group’s rescued children.

“He always saw the good in everyone,” added Levenhartz. “Everyone appreciated his advice and warmth.

“Moments before he was hospitalized, he used his last strengths to hug his children and dance with them.”

Raichik is survived by his wife Dina, their children, and his brothers and sisters, who serve as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in locations across the globe.

“He was a true Chasid,” Rabbi Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi, chief rabbi of the Israeli village of Kfar Chabad, tearfully said at the afternoon funeral. “It is hard to separate from him.”

Raichik was buried at Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuchot cemetery.