Rabbi Alexander (Sender) Linchner z”l, the Founder of Boys Town Jerusalem, was born and raised in the United States right after the turn of the 20th century. He was one of the few American bachurim to study at the great yeshivos of Eastern Europe before the Holocaust. During the course of his studies at the yeshivah at Radin, Poland, he came under the direct, personal influence of the holy Chofetz Chaim, Rav Yisroel Meir Kagan zt”l; and for the rest of his life, he always considered the Chofetz Chaim as his personal mentor. He returned to the United States before the outbreak of World War II, where he became principal at Yeshivah Torah Vodaath, in Brooklyn, New York, working under the guiding hand of his father-in-law, Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz zt”l, who was also the founder of Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools. He and his son-in-law trained and inspired a generation of Jewish educators who founded Jewish day schools in many American Jewish communities, forming the backbone of Jewish education in this country.
While still learning in Radin, Sender was surprised when one day, a few months into the z’man, he received a message that the Chofetz Chaim wished to speak with him. Understandably, this made the young American bachur nervous and anxious. The Chofetz Chaim was already an old man, well on in his years, and he generally did not meet with any of the students in a private setting. In fact, not only did Sender Linchner never merit to speak with the Chofetz Chaim before, he had even only managed to briefly see his holy countenance just a few times.
As he entered the home of the tzadik, he was quite anxious and tense, but the warmth exuded by the Chofetz Chaim helped him relax quite a bit. The Chofetz Chaim began by asking him how he was faring in yeshivah, how often he is in touch with his family back in the United States, and other personal questions about his general well-being. Sender felt better that the Chofetz Chaim was taking an interest in his needs and really cared. He then showered him with a multitude of brachos and well wishes that Sender should have much success with his learning, and with all his endeavors.
When Sender Linchner returned to the yeshivah, a crowd gathered around him, as everyone was curious to know what the highly unusual meeting was about. Sender shrugged his shoulders and explained to them that he himself had no idea why he was invited to meet with the Chofetz Chaim and, based on the conversation, there was nothing specific that the tzadik wished to tell him. Of course, he was still thrilled and it was an experience he cherished and never forgot.
A few days later, the reason for the meeting became known. It was only a few weeks before Pesach and there was a severe shortage of flour in Russia. Always thinking about the needs of klal Yisrael before his own, the Chofetz Chaim was very concerned that millions of Jews living in Russia would not be able to procure matzos for Pesach.
One evening, the Chofetz Chaim received the incredible news that the government of the United States delivered a huge emergency shipment of flour intended for the starving Russian people. The Chofetz Chaim was ecstatic about the news. The Russian Jews will now have matzah for Pesach. It was a tremendous relief for him.
Wanting to express his great appreciation to the United States for the kindness and largesse they carried out, the Chofetz Chaim was well aware that simply writing a letter addressed to the American Government would probably not do the trick. Yet, he still very much wished to somehow express his appreciation to the American people.
The Chofetz Chaim therefore invited the only American bachur at that time learning in the Radin yeshivah to his house where he made him feel very special and showered him with brachos. This was the only way he could show a measure of hakaras ha’tov to the United States for the kindness it had done. Although he knew that the American Government and the American people would never hear about his gesture of thanks, he nevertheless understood that gratitude was something that a person must show, regardless if the person who extended the kindness is aware of the thanks or not. We must always recognize the good in others, as well as the good done for us by others.
(Rabbi Eliezer Abish, Portraits of Prayer)