Yossele Schumacher affair

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Yossele Schumacher (Hebrew: יוסל'ה שוחמכר‎‎; born 1952) is a Soviet-born Israeli whose abduction as a child in 1960 became a cause célèbre in Israel. Schumacher's abduction by his Haredi Jewish grandparents, to prevent him from being brought up as a secular Jew, led to a division in Israeli society between Orthodox Jews, who largely supported the abduction, and Secular Jews, who largely opposed it. After an international search by the Mossad, Schumacher was found in the United States and returned to his parents in Israel.

Background[edit]

Yossele Schumacher was born in the Soviet Union in 1952 to Jewish parents Alter and Ida Schumacher. His maternal grandparents, Nachman and Miriam Shtrakes, were Haredi Jews of the Breslov Hasidic sect, who, unlike most Russian Jews, had kept their Haredi religious traditions alive.[1] In 1958, the family immigrated to Israel. In Israel, Yossele's parents settled on a secular kibbutz. After running into financial difficulties, Schumacher's parents requested that his Hasidic maternal grandparents, who had settled in Jerusalem and joined the Breslov community there, take care of him. The grandparents took him in and sent him to a religious boarding school. A few months' later, Yossele's parents' financial situation improved, and they asked for their son's return, objecting to the grandparents' desire to bring him up religiously. The grandparents, determined to raise him as a Hasidic Jew and falsely accusing the parents of planning on returning to the Soviet Union to raise the boy as a Communist (an accusation that was often voiced by Haredim), refused.[1][2] They decided to hide the boy within the Haredi community in Israel, and together with his son Shalom, Nachman Shtrakes arranged for Yossele to be hidden away.

Abduction[edit]

Yossele was hidden in various Haredi enclaves in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Safed, Rishon LeZion, and Komemiyut. Israeli police launched a search operation for him, and the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the grandparents to return him to his parents by 15 February 1960. The grandparents refused, insisting that the parents were planning on returning to Russia.[3] Nachman Shtrakes was subsequently imprisoned, but still refused to divulge any information. The Haredi couple in Bnei Brak that had briefly hidden him was also imprisoned.

The Haredi community was convinced that the Israeli government's desire to return Yossele to his parents was part of a government plot to secularize as many Orthodox children as possible. The Israeli government, on the other hand, saw the refusal to return Yossele as a direct challenge by a religious subculture to it's authority. With police still searching for the boy, it was decided that he needed to be taken out of Israel. They now needed to find someone who had the know-how to smuggle a small child out of the country. Rabbi Abraham Elie Maizes of the extreme anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect asked one of his disciples, Ruth Blau, also known as Ruth Ben David, to do it. Blau, originally Madeleine Feraille, was a French convert to Judaism who had served in the French Resistance during World War II, managed an import-export firm, and attended graduate school in France and Switzerland before converting to Judaism in 1950. Although initially Zionist, she later adopted Haredi anti-Zionist views and in 1965 married Amram Blau, founder of Neturei Karta. Her son Uriel assisted her, and Yossele himself, who had been convinced that his parents did not want to bring him up as a proper Jew, cooperated. On June 21, 1960, Schumacher was taken out of Israel by Blau, who had disguised him as a girl, forged a passport for him, and then taken him on a flight to Europe.[4] Schumacher would spend two years total in Europe under her care,[2] living in Switzerland, France, and Belgium. Initially, Blau took him to Switzerland, where she enrolled him in a yeshiva. Meanwhile, authorities in Israel had increased their search efforts. The Israeli internal security service, Shin Bet, along with soldiers and police, searched for him in religious neighborhoods, villages, and kibbutzim.[1]

Mossad investigation[edit]

Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion finally asked the Mossad to investigate. Mossad Director-General Isser Harel assembled a team of forty agents, but due to their unfamiliarity with the traditions and nuances of Haredi lie, they were swiftly unmasked in their attempts to infiltrate the Haredi world. As the search for Yossele proved fruitless, Harel became convinced that the child had been smuggled abroad and was probably somewhere in Europe.[5]

Subsequently, the Mossad began searching for Yossele overseas. Harel moved his operations headquarters to a Mossad safe-house in Paris, and sent agents to infiltrate Haredi communities throughout France, Itay, Austria, and the United Kingdom, then expanded the search to South America and the United States, but their efforts to infiltrate these communities proved difficult. During their investigation, Mossad agents abducted rabbi Shai Freyer, a teacher at the yeshiva Yossele was studying in, as he traveled between Paris and Geneva. He refused to divulge anything during intense questioning, convincing the agents this was another dead end, but Harel ordered him held prisoner in a Mossad safe house in Switzerland until the end of the investigation to prevent him from alerting the Haredi community.[5]

After getting word that Mossad was searching for Yossele, Blau took first to Brussels, then to Paris, presenting the child as her daughter each time she traveled. From Paris, she smuggled Schumacher to the United States in March 1962 on a flight to New York City, where he was hidden in the apartment of a Haredi woman, Mrs. Gertner, at 126 Penn Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn in New York City. The family gave Schumacher the name Yankele Frenkel and kept him indoors, holding him from the time he arrived in March until August 1962.[2]

As they combed potential suspects in the Haredi world, Mossad investigators found a potential lead in Ruth Blau. Checks showed that she was a regular visitor to Israel, where she spent time with members of Neturei Karta, had met Yossele's grandfather on several occasions, and that her last visit to Israel was around the same time of the abduction. Focusing their investigation on her, the agents traced Blau, who was still in France, to the outskirts of Paris. At this time, Blau had decided to sell her house, and met a potential real estate agent named "Mr. Faber" in an attorney's office. The real estate agent was in fact Harel, who interrogated her over the abduction. Though uncooperative at first, Blau began to talk after she was told her that Schumacher was cooperating with them.[6] By this point it was August 1962, and with Schumacher's location identified, two officials from Shin Bet came to the door of the Gertners' home in Brooklyn and requested the immigration papers of Yankele Frenkel. No papers were presented, and the agents took the boy from the house. His mother arrived from Israel to retrieve him several days later.[2]

Controversy[edit]

The abduction of Schumacher caused enormous controversy within Israel between many Haredi Jews — who supported the grandparents and claimed that Schumacher's parents were communists — and the secular population, some of whom reportedly yelled Epho Yossele? ("Where is Yossele?") in Jerusalem.[2] The phrase had previously been used by Haredi Jews that supported Schumacher's grandparents to taunt police searching for Schumacher both in Israel and internationally.

The search itself was also an object of controversy, as Harel was criticized for his focus on this case at the expense of manhunts for Nazi officials, notably from then Aman director Major General Meir Amit and even from the Israeli spy Peter Malkin.[7]

Later developments[edit]

Yossele Schumacher returned to his family, which at the time was living in Holon. At first, he attended a religious school but was later sent to a secular school. In 1969, he was chairman of the Holon Youth Parliament.[8] He was conscripted into the Israel Defense Forces in 1970, and served as an officer in the Artillery Corps. He then worked at IBM for several years. In August 1979, he married Ita Horowitz in a wedding that drew media attention.[9] Schumacher has three children, and lives in the Israeli settlement of Sha'arei Tikva and serves as a member of the settlement committee. In 2007, he visited New York and met Mrs. Gertner, in whose home he had been hidden.[2]

References[edit]

Other[edit]

Goldman, Shalom. "'Where is Yossele?' Trust Me, You Want to Know"' Tablet Magazine, Sept. 30, 2015. [1]

Shlomo. "The Kidnapping of Yossele Schumacher -- A Domestic Quarrel that Divided Israel in the 1960s", Israeldocuments.blogspot, July 22, 2015.