Less than two days after a fire destroyed his mobile Jewish center, Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Shmuel Rosenberg was back at work Sunday afternoon at one of Israel’s busiest intersections, handing out cold drinks, and offering the chance to don tefillin to the hundreds of soldiers who constantly congregate at the Lower Galilee site.

Along with his wife Chani, Rosenberg opened the Chabad House at the Golani Junction almost four years ago. Essentially a mobile home on the back of a flatbed truck – regulations at the intersection prevent the construction of additional permanent buildings – Rosenberg would commute each day from his home in nearby Kfar Tavor, setting up shop early in the morning. From the structure, he would learn Torah with visitors, hand out refreshments and answer questions about Judaism.

The fire came as a shock to the people who had come to see the Chabad House as a fixture of life at the junction.

“Hundreds of soldiers were in shock,” said the rabbi, who since the tragedy has been making do with a plastic table as a rudimentary stand. “There were groups of soldiers standing around at the junction throughout the day.”

Located between Haifa and Tiberius, the crossroads holds a place in citizens’ hears as home to the Museum of the Golani Division, a highly-decorated brigade dating back to the War for Independence, and a memorial to members of the elite formation who were killed in battle. It also serves as a gathering point for any troops in transit between the central and northern sections of the country, and for tourists passing through the region.

Since the Rosenbergs first arrived, the number of visitors who stop at the Chabad House has steadily increased: In the last couple of years, an average of 100 people visits daily. Hundreds of Israelis who make regular business trips to the north of the country, or whose military duties frequently take them past the junction, stop in for a class with the rabbi each time they pass through.

Two years ago, Rabbi Menachem M. Makemal joined to assist in running programs at the mobile center. And earlier this year, they established a library of hundreds of volumes at the Chabad House in memory of Rosenberg’s sister and brother-in-law, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, who were murdered along with four other Jews at their Chabad House in Mumbai.

“All of it, all the hard work of the past four years, has gone up in flames,” lamented Rosenberg. “There is nothing left to remember it by.”

An average of 100 people visited the Chabad House at the Golani Junction every day.
An average of 100 people visited the Chabad House at the Golani Junction every day.

Fast-Moving Blaze

According to the rabbi, last Friday afternoon, he drove the Chabad House to Sde Ilan, a small town not far from the junction where the mobile home could be left until Sunday morning. He then drove home to spend Shabbat with his family.

But late Friday night, a fire began in a building near where the Chabad House was parked. The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

By the time the flames reached the mobile home, the fire’s intensity was enough to consume the Chabad House’s thin walls and quickly reduce most of the contents to ash before firefighters could extinguish the blaze. Even the truck was transformed to a heap of charred scrap metal.

The Rosenbergs are struggling to raise the money to rebuild. Just to replace the mobile home and its contents will cost in excess of $60,000. But they are hoping that, after what has happened, they will finally be given permission to build a permanent center at the juntion.

Anyone who has tefillin or Jewish books to donate to the Chabad House, or who can make a donation towards rebuilding, can call Rabbi Shmuel Rosenberg at +972-52-860-3018.