INTERNATIONAL SHLUCHIM CONFERENCE ADDRESS
November 7, 2010
Dear Shluchim of the Rebbe. Dear Guests.
Until the last minute I wouldn’t believe that I would stand at this platform. And I’ll tell you why.
A few months ago, my dear friend, Reb Moshe Kotlarsky, asked me to speak at the Kinnus Hashluchim. I immediately refused because of a few reasons. First of all, it’s not my type of event. Second, I’m not a great speaker. Third, he asked me to speak in English which is not my mother tongue. I think in Russian; I have to translate every word.
I asked him permission, I said to him, ‘If you want me to be a partner of the Kinnus, let me pay for everything.’ And you see, how did I end up? I paid, and I’m here. This is the power of Chabad. This is what they teach you in all of your workshops and seminars, etcetera, how to treat the supporters.
No, really, if you check my heart rate now, my fitness trainer would be proud, because I cannot achieve it in a gym. I’m really worried. And he took, together with the Rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk, Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky, they made for me a full hand massage, you know, like to encourage me to come here. They even wrote me this speech; I have a beautiful speech here. I took it with me; I took my glasses, because if I suspected I would not be able to say the words, at least I could read. But after a little l’chaim, you know, I relaxed a little bit. Maybe …
It’s a good speech. It’s a good speech to be published on COL, or any other newspaper.
It’s l’chvod Chabad Lubavitch movement, the Dnepropetrovsk Jewish community, Reb Moshe Kotlarsky, Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky, but it’s not me. It’s not my speech. I read it; it’s not me. If you want to understand me I have to speak differently.
Before I start, I want to, because the energy that I see here, the five thousand people in one space, in one venue, is a beautiful energy. I feel it. Really, I feel it. Each of you, me and each of you a few times made a l’chaim remotely by correspondence. I want face to face, me and you, everyone, make a l’chaim for your simcha and my simcha. Because I am someone who will fill the account to be able that Reb Moshe can send you checks. L’chaim, l’chaim.
I have something for a substitution here. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask them. Oh, they bring me now. L’chaim, l’chaim. Thank you very much.
I wish we would have a lot of simchot. And you know, when he called me and said, ‘the money finished; you have to send more,’ I felt such a big happiness, such an uplifting feeling, like one more child born, one more bachur turned 13. Two more people got married. L’chaim, l’chaim.
So, I thought what subject could I speak about with you. I cannot tell you a d’var Torah, because a small boy was before me and knows more than me. I cannot do any pilpul about halacha with you, because I am so down to the earth. I can just tell you a few stories about my life. And, you know, my life was not so dramatic like I read in the book about refuseniks, about people who were in the gulag or prison because of their Judaism.
I really was born in Dneprodzerdzhinsk, which is, for people who don’t speak Russian is very difficult even to pronounce. It’s a small city in the east of Ukraine, very, very industrial. I was born in a normal family, and my father and mother worked hard to be, let’s say, able to feed their children. And what did I know about Judaism? Nothing. Only a few [things], because everyone has a Yom Tov, like a holiday, like May Day, Revolution Day, and we had also with everyone.
And I had a bit on top, like my grandmother. The parents dressed me in a white shirt and took me to my grandfather, and it was a Yom Tov, which at that time I didn’t understand. But they called it Pesach, because we had the matzahlech. We had the chopped herrings. The adults had a glass of vodka [wine]. So I didn’t understand. Everyone was playing on the ground, and I had to be at my grandmother’s place.
Another grandmother used to live with us in our apartment, and she wasn’t well. For many years she did not go out of the apartment. But once a year she didn’t eat. It was Yom Kippur. She passed away twenty years ago, but if I would meet her now, if she would be here now, maybe not the first question, but the second question I would ask her, ‘how did she know the date?’ Because she has no friend, she has no connection with the world, just T.V., Soviet T.V., which never said about Yom Kippur or any other date.
I was big atheist. I was a pioneer, I was a councilman member, I hadn’t been a Communist member, but because, you know, they didn’t let me. I tried, but they didn’t let me. My father always told me, ‘you have to make your career. You have to become this and this and this, because you have to establish yourself in your life.’
So when I was 25 years of my life, there was nothing of Judaism. But after Perestroika, when the businesses came to the Soviet Union, I realized there were more Jews in the city. Because if you do a business you can meet more and more Jewish people, because, you know, they do… they are machers. I cannot say that business was only Jewish business, but a lot of Jewish people were in business. That is why I understand the Jewish people, I am Jewish, etcetera, etcetera.
I remember the year 1995. We already had quite a big business. We already had the bank. The Ukraine was an independent country. And our city got changed, because we started to see strange people on the street. I remember I drove in my car and I saw someone – I don’t know whether it was Rav Kaminetsky or someone else – but it was someone who looks different than any other pedestrians. They walked. And my partner once came to me and said, ‘Look, we have a rabbi in the house, in the city. He invited us for dinner. Shall we go?’ I said, ‘Okay, but what will we find there? To find food? We have a lot of food. To find a relationship? So why do we need it?’ And I refused; we didn’t go.
A few weeks after he came to me again and said – he was a big friend of mine – he said, ‘It’s not only food, it’s not only a relationship, he’s a good person.’ And we decided to go. It was a big discussion whether we would go with family or without, with them or without. I said, ‘Let’s go first without, because I don’t know what they will do with us, maybe there will be some special program. Let’s try.’ And we came. This was my first time, 1995, April. I met my rabbi, my great friend, Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky.
I don’t remember what we talked about during the dinner, but the next day he invited me to the shul, to the synagogue, which I had never been in before. I came. It was a very old building, built before the revolution, and there were a few people who had tried to keep it and protect it from the Soviet Union intervention and they wrote a letter to the rabbi to send a shaliach. I came to see it and I expected to see something spiritual, like I saw in the movies, but I saw a lot of movement, a lot of people going around.
But what impressed me more than other things was the soup kitchen behind. It was a very badly-kept soup kitchen, like a very simple style and maybe twenty people sat and ate simple food. I asked, ‘What is this?’ He said, ‘Anyone who wants to eat can come and we give him.’ My question was, ‘But how do you know they really need it? Maybe they have enough money, enough food at home but just want to challenge you, just want to eat for free.’
He looked at me seriously and asked me a question which changed my life. ‘Can you come and ask for food?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘If someone comes and asks, he really needs it.’ This changed my life. The next day I came to the shul. He explained they have a program like a summer camp, this and that, I don’t remember the description. But the next day I came to shul and gave him $10,000.
After that I gave out the millions. And everything I can explain why I did that. Everything I can explain besides that $10,000. Because if we could turn time back and I would have to do it again, I’m one hundred percent sure I would give everything again and again and again besides that $10,000, because it was unexplainable. Because at that time our business means that we have to go and take and put in the pocket. But to do the reverse, backward, it was against the nature. I did it, and it changed my life.
I would not be a person who appreciates, who is thankful, if I would not appreciate the G-d who put on my way the people, special people, like Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky. And I want to mention especially Reb Lev Leviev. You see Reb Moshe Kotlarsky gave me only 20 minutes, and it’s already ten past so if you want to listen to the story, you should be patient, because I cannot finish.
So I don’t like if someone teaches me, you know, but I like to study. Reb Lev Leviev never taught me. He gave me an example. He came to Dnepropetrovsk in 1997 to open Beit Chana, named for his mother. For us it was like someone who came from the moon, like a rich man from the Forbes, etcetera, etcetera, from Israel who came to give. And the delegation from Dnepropetrovsk met him at the airport, follows from one building to another. He didn’t say much. If you know him, he never talks much. For me, he never taught me, but I studied from him. I studied from him how to give.
He told me once something which I read now in the holy books. He told me ‘mitzvah gorerret mitzvah.’ The reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah itself. So now I know it.
I thank G-d I met on my life’s way Rav Moshe Kotlarsky. This is really a special person, and I met him many, many years ago also with the help of my friend, Reb Lev Leviev. There was this big event in Israel, like Kinnus Hashluchim for the Soviet Union. And they introduced me to him. He didn’t know at that time that I could be here now and pay for the Kinnus, but he was very kind to me.
I really admire this person because I watch his life. It’s something special. For me, I’m really a material person. You know, I follow the logic like a woman. You know, I want to understand if I come from here, if I go there, I want to understand what will be at the end. But a life to be sacrificed in the name of Hashem, in name of the Rebbe, for me, it’s something special.
Simcha Fund. It’s an interesting story how we come to the Simcha Fund project. In 2007 I had some problem in my personal life. I was really down. And once I came to the Kaminetsky house, and I said, ‘I don’t know what to do, because this is bad, this is bad. I have a very bad mood. It’s not like I don’t want to live anymore, but I need something to help me survive with these circumstances.’ And he said, ‘Don’t worry. Why don’t you write a letter to the Rebbe.’ 2007. What does it mean to write a letter to the Rebbe for me, a material person?
He said we have some minhag, you know, ‘We write a letter to put in the book and you will get an answer.’ So I wrote a letter. I wrote the letter in which I described all of my problems – family situation, business situation, children, this and that. It was three pages. He said, ‘Okay, choose a book.’ I chose the book. Put it inside; I put it inside. He said, ‘Now we will have to make a l’chaim.’ We made a l’chaim, and I woke up in the morning, you know, I forgot about everything before. But in the morning when I came to my office there was a translation of three letters, because the page where I put it there were three letters.
I’ll tell you a secret now which I never told to anyone before: one was addressed to someone who has a problem with their health. ‘Please be aware and take care of your health.’ It’s not to me. Yet. The second was about loshon hara. This was very much to me. And the third one was like this – ‘I am very happy to hear you help your community, but now I want to hear you help hakol haChabad.’ It was April, 2007.
I’m afraid to be mistaken. In August or September there was a wedding of one of the children of Lev Leviev. I met Rav Moshe Kotlarsky at the wedding. At that time business was above the roof. It was golden rain. I was in a very good mood, and I said to him, ‘I want to give you ten million dollars.’ Just like this. He looked at me without any emotion and said, ‘What is the project?’ I said, ‘No project, just to … you can do whatever you want.’ And I saw the emotion, because I understood he has much bigger supporters than I am, but everyone wants to have a project. And, you know, I don’t even have a project – I just give him money.
What was his biggest achievement, biggest step from my understanding? He said, ‘Okay, fifty-fifty. I will take five million for the budget to help the shluchim with their needs, and half of the money I want to make a project for you.’ It means for me. Like this the Simcha Fund was born.
Now I can tell you the project is beautiful, because every quarter I receive albums in three colors. One color is like a light brown color for the newborn, and when I open it I see that picture of your newborn with a letter addressed to me, ‘Mr. Bugolubov, thank you very much.’ It’s beautiful.
Another color is a green color for someone who turns 13, for a Bar Mitzvah. Beautiful bachurim faces who already have a Chabad Lubavitch Borsolino hat.
The blue one is a beautiful couple. I already started to make research, because the couple who was married two years ago already has children. So I tried to find the name. Maybe in ten years I will see the boys with a name who got the check from Mr. Bugolubov, you know, like this. In twenty years I want to find someone who got the check when he was born and got married.
Maybe when I’m retired I will make a big agency to connect people, because I will have a database, the biggest in the world. And Baruch Hashem, he came to me, approached me, they bothered me for the money to fill up the fund often and often and often. That means you work good; you don’t sleep. And simcha by simcha by simcha, together with me, I want to celebrate.
I see Rav Moshe Kotlarsky already is making for me the scary face. Maybe I’m out of time. Okay, he allows me five more minutes, if you allow me. I cannot go out without mentioning the Dnepropetrovsk Jewish community. Because it’s something – it’s an unbelievable creature, an unbelievable entity which I grew up in. Because it was nothing. It’s very difficult to explain to people who never lived in the Soviet Union, who never understood the Soviet Union mentality. If you come now to Dnepropetrovsk, you understand it’s not only easy to be a Jew in Dnepropetrovsk; it’s a pleasure to be a Jew in Dnepropetrovsk. It’s a big honor to be a Jew in Dnepropetrovsk. We built the biggest Jewish center in the world.
You know, my biggest achievement when I started to put tefillin on, when I started to say Shema Yisrael, when I started to keep kashrut, my biggest achievement was I started to see hashgacha pratit. I remember the time and the date and the destination. I flew 10,000 meters on my private jet, and I thought to build something memorable for Jewish people in the Ukraine, but I thought it should be in the capital of the country. I decided to buy a piece of land in Kiev and to build a beautiful building which will be in memory of my existence on earth. First of all, I didn’t find any land in Kiev. I cannot build anything in Kiev.
But all of a sudden the idea came to me to build in Dnepropetrovsk. What is the hashgacha pratit? Dnepropetrovsk is the capital of Jewish people in Ukraine. So Menorah Center is seven towers. Each one has a light on top, and the idea is to light one building on Yom Rishon, Yom Sheni is two, etcetera, on Shabbat it’s all seven. So all of the planes that go from Europe to the East will see seven lights.
We built Menorah Hall. Menorah Hall is an event center which, at one time, can hold 1,700 people. Unfortunately, with the speed with which the organization grows, we cannot receive the Kinnus Hashluchim, but maybe a smaller event we can host.
My life changed very much. Something which I really didn’t think about before – like when I go out of the synagogue I’m shy to have a kipah on my head, now I have tzitzis. The reason I have it is because my son, Baruch, had an upshernish and Reb Moshe Kotlowsky came for the event and brought two tzitzis, for him and for me.
And for me it’s very difficult to tell him, like the man in a house who over three years old has to wear tzitzis without doing it. So I started also doing it. I have a synagogue in my house in London. I have a Sunday Jewish school for kids. I’m ready to do much more, and if you ask me why, I cannot answer. Because this last year I was in Israel during Shavuot, and they have a beautiful company of Russian Jewish people, and they invited the big talmidei chachamim just to be with us to give us some shiurim. It was misnaged like this.
We sat at the table and he made something like a question and answer, like what was the trigger point for each of you to start keeping Shabbos. Everyone answered, ‘I met a friend.’ ‘I married the wife.’ ‘I came to the situation, etcetera.’ When it was my turn, I didn’t want to tell. I said, ‘It was a nes. It was a miracle, because I can’t find any reason in this world to explain why I started to keep Shabbos.’
So Reb Moshe is already nervous; I’m not anymore, so I want to finish. I want to finish now, but I want to thank the people who Hash-m sent my way. I already mentioned Reb Shmuel Kaminetsky, Reb Lev Leviev, Reb Moshe Kotlarsky. Chief shaliach from Austria, Rav Yaakov Biderman. Reb Shaya Boaz who gives me shiurim, and who gives me an appetite to study Chassidut, Kabbala, Tanya, Torah. Reb Pinchas Althaus who doesn’t understand me, and I don’t understand him. But we love each other so much; it’s a body language.
And I want to thank you, all of you, because if it was not for you I would not be able to execute my right to do a mitzvah. Thank you very much. You are with me. You nominate me as a partner, and it’s the maximum you can do for me. The next step is my step. Next time I have to come to you and say, ‘I don’t want to be a partner anymore; I want to be a part.’
Thank you very much again, and I expect from you more requests for checks.