IT ONCE HAPPENED
by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
Gershon Ber Jacobson was a well-known journalist, according to some he
was the journalist’s journalist. He wrote for several major newspapers
around the world, was fluent in many languages including French,
English, Yiddish, Russian, Georgian and Hebrew, had a fluent, often
stirring style, an eye for often uncomfortable detail, and an
unquenchable drive for often life-threatening scoops.
But in addition to all this, or perhaps we should say foremost, he was a
totally observant Jew and a devoted Chasid (follower) of the Lubavitcher
And it saved his life at least once.
The scene was immediately after the Six-Day War. Israel had decimated
the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and the other Arab nations
surrounding them. An idea popped into the mind of Gershon Ber, who at
the time was the chief correspondent in New York for the Israeli
newspaper "Yediot Achronot" the biggest daily in Israel, to get a really
He decided that the scoop of scoops would be to get into Egypt and get
an interview with none other than the Prime Minister himself, Gamal
Gershon Ber began getting the necessary papers, when he got a phone call
from another important personage from the "other side" of the coin –
Isser Harel, the head of the Mosad (the Israeli "secret service.")
"Jacobson are you insane?" he screamed, "Listen, we have information
that if you go through with this you’ll never come back. They’ll arrest
you as a spy and you’ll never get out! And we won’t be in a position to
help you! Do you understand? Don’t go! And if you do we will take no
Gershon Ber thanked Harel, hung up the phone and called the headquarters
of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He described the entire scenario and asked the
Rebbe what to do. It wasn’t long before he got a reply.
The Rebbe said he definitely should go but he should do the following
things: 1) Take several pairs of new Tefilin; 2) Take a new sh’chita
knife for the kosher slaughtering of birds; 3) Check into the best room
in the most expensive hotel; 4) Before leaving the United States write
short letters to all his friends and important acquaintances telling
them he is in Egypt and mail them as soon as he arrives in Egypt; 5) As
soon as he enters the hotel call all the foreign ambassadors living in
Egypt; 6) At the first opportunity visit the Jewish community there.
Gershon Ber did exactly what the Rebbe told him and a week or two later,
landed in Cairo. He told the driver to take him to the finest hotel and
on the way he stopped at the post office and mailed the letters he had
Then he checked into his room and immediately set about calling all the
foreign representatives in Egypt as the Rebbe had instructed.
And the response was fantastic! In fact, one of the ambassadors was so
impressed (he claimed that in the 15 years he was in Egypt no one had
ever called him) he insisted on coming to see him and when he arrived
insisted on being Jacobson’s personal driver!
"Very well!" he answered. "Then let’s go visit the Jewish community
here." With the ambassador as his driver, they pulled up at the home of
the head of the Jewish community. Jacobson brought greetings from the
Rebbe and began asking journalistic questions; how was life in Egypt?
Was there anti-Semitism? Was anything affected by the Six Day War? etc.
The community leader answered that although there was not overt
anti-Semitism it was nevertheless very difficult for them to get around
and impossible for them to contact the outside world. For instance, what
they really needed were a few pairs of Tefilin because several had
become unfit for use, and a sh’chita knife for slaughtering chickens
because the one they had somehow broke and was irreparable. But they
couldn’t get out of Egypt to get these things replaced.
You can imagine the the Jewish community leader’s joy and amazement when
Gershon Ber produced exactly these items and told him that the
Lubavitcher Rebbe had told him to bring them.
Gershon Ber Jacobson got the interview with Prime Minister Nasser. When
he arrived safely back in New York, he got another call from Isser
Harel. "Listen Jacobson. We know for SURE that they were planning to
arrest you for spying. But when you got there and made such a storm with
those letters and phone calls, they didn’t want to arouse adverse public
opinion. Tell me, where did you get the idea to do those letters and