My father was a descendant of the Gerrer chasidic dynasty of Poland, in a direct line from the Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Rottenberg. Unfortunately, he was not able to stay in Poland with his people. When he was drafted into the Polish army, he had to run – he escaped to Germany where he married my mother. I was born in Germany in 1930, but after the Nazis came to power – before the start of World War Two and the Holocaust – my parents managed to immigrate to Israel.
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That is where I grew up and was educated. Shortly after I got married, my wife and I were offered teaching positions in Brazil, and in the summer of 1956, we moved to Sao Paulo. But things didn’t turn out as we expected. Because of the problems we encountered, I turned to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for advice, and thus began my ongoing correspondence with him – centered mostly on educational issues and challenges.
After a year, we decided to return to Israel. On the return trip, we stopped in New York to visit my grandmother, and I used this opportunity to meet the Rebbe.
During that audience, we spoke about Brazil and my work there. I also confided in him an idea I had been mulling over of staying and teaching in New York for a bit. Initially, the Rebbe objected, “Is there a lack of teachers here? In Brazil they need teachers more than in New York.” But when I explained that I already found someone to take my place in Brazil, the Rebbe didn’t press me further.
That’s how it happened that we stayed in New York for two years (1957-1958), during which time I taught at Yeshiva Ohel Moshe in Brooklyn. At the end of each school year, I brought my class for an audience with the Rebbe, and the Rebbe delivered a short talk to the boys. In general, throughout those two years I was privileged to have a close connection with the Rebbe, and I would like to share one anecdote that stands out in my memory.
One day, I received a letter from my brother in Israel that my father had suffered a heart attack and that his condition is critical. Although nowadays it is hard to understand this, back then transcontinental telephone calls were rare because of the high cost, so the most common method of communication was by letter, which would take approximately a week to reach the US from Israel. I made the calculation that the letter, which arrived on Thursday, was probably sent on Sunday, meaning that almost a week had passed since the incident, and I was very worried about what might have happened since. (more…)