Rabbi Sholom Raichik

22 May 2024

My father, Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Raichik, would go to New York every year for all the festivals of the month of Tishrei, from Rosh Hashana through Simchat Torah. Sometimes, other members of our family would go along. In 1972, my father decided that I should join him and my older brothers in New York for Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

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When we had our audience with the Rebbe, he gave me a blessing for my ninth birthday, which was coming up on the ninth day of Kislev, and noted that it was a special one: “Nine on nine,” he commented in Hebrew: Tes on Tes.

The Rebbe also tested me on my studies in the Talmud. We were learning about the kinds of identifying signs one can use to prove ownership over a lost object.

Inside the room, there was a clock on the bookshelves that stood behind us. “What could serve as a sign for such a clock?” queried the Rebbe.

“The color of this clock could be a sign,” I suggested, and the Rebbe accepted my answer. There were three of us in the room at the time – me, one of my older brothers, and my father – but the Rebbe spent most of the audience focusing on me.

But all of this came at the end of our visit to New York. There was another personal interaction I had with the Rebbe before then, just a couple days after my arrival.

The trip from Los Angeles was actually my first time on a plane; my previous two trips to New York were by train, a two-and-a half-day journey each way. This time, I flew together with Marty Weiss, a family friend, and when we arrived in New York, it was a rainy morning.

Being so young, I was barely aware of what was going on. I was pretty green and had to be told what was happening, where to go, and what to expect. (more…)

Mr. Jonathan Nelson

16 May 2024

The one private audience I had with the Rebbe was before my Bar Mitzvah. Having heard many stories about him, it was a special opportunity to finally be able to meet such a great person.

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He asked about where I went to yeshivah, and I told him that I didn’t go to Lubavitch.

“That’s okay,” he said, and, after I told him about the yeshivah I attended, he went on to ask which tractate of the Talmud I was learning, and about my studies on the secular front. He also asked about my Bar Mitzvah speech, and while I only said a line or two, I got the impression that he was interested in what I had to say, and interested in me as a person.

Although I didn’t learn in a Lubavitcher yeshivah, I do follow the customs of Chabad, and in fact my family has been deeply involved in Chabad for several generations.

When my father, Sholom Nelson, was growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930s, Lubavitch did not yet have a yeshivah in America, and so he went to Yeshivas Chaim Berlin for elementary school. But after the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe came to America in 1940 and opened a yeshivah, he immediately transferred to Lubavitch, where he was one of the first six students to enroll. He found that they offered a sense of inclusion, that they welcomed everybody and cared about every single student.

My father also became quite close with the Previous Rebbe’s family. He recalled that the Previous Rebbe used to sit near the window in 770, and when he saw my father walking by outside, he would occasionally ask for him, or send a message to him through his secretary, to see how he was doing. (more…)

Dr. Menachem Kovacs

9 May 2024

I didn’t grow up in a religious home, but my life was changed when – at age 26 – I attended an “Encounter with Chabad” event for college students, also known as a pegishah. That pegishah – which was held at the end of December 1972 – included inspiriting Torah lectures as well as lots of robust singing of chasidic melodies. It proved very meaningful to me spiritually.

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The event ended around midnight on December 31 and, walking out of Chabad Headquarters onto Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, I saw non-Jewish people celebrating the New Year, mindlessly blowing horns and falling down drunk. The contrast between what I just experienced and what I was seeing in front of me couldn’t have been greater.

This had such a profound effect on me that when I went back home to Silver Spring, Maryland, I sought out the Orthodox rabbi of the Hillel House at George Washington University and the Chabad emissary at the University of Maryland, and I began regularly studying Torah with them.

Not long after, I decided to take a leave of absence from my job – as a teacher of sociology at Montgomery College – and I enrolled in Tiferes Bachurim, the Chabad yeshivah in Morristown, New Jersey, geared to students who were just beginning to learn about Judaism. While studying there, I had my first meeting with the Rebbe.

In preparation for that meeting, I wrote a note outlining my life issues for which I was seeking the Rebbe’s advice.

One of those issues was that I did not want to return to my job in Silver Spring because there was no rabbinic leadership there. Ethics of the Fathers teaches that one must have a rabbi to guide him – a point which later became the focus of one of the Rebbe’s campaigns – and I had no one there. (more…)

Yonason and Devorah Adler

2 May 2024

Yonason Adler

I met Devorah in graduate school, and after dating for a few months, I asked her to marry me. She said yes – but her mother objected. I was a real hippie type, with shoulder-length hair, and she was not comfortable with that. But I didn’t give up, I cut my hair, and after three years, in 1969, we got married, settling in Silver Spring, Maryland, near Washington D.C.

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By then Devorah and I were also in the process of becoming more observant, but even though my mother-in-law had agreed to the marriage, she still wasn’t completely happy with the idea of her daughter being religious. Because my mother-in-law did a lot of entertaining, hosting gatherings for family and friends, our refusal to eat food in her home that was not kosher to orthodox standards was a problem.

Initially, we tried making some changes that would enable us to eat there. She would buy meat from a kosher butcher, but then she would make some mistake so there were still kashrut problems with the food. We offered to get place settings that matched her fancy china and that we would cook for ourselves the same foods that that she was serving, but she didn’t like that idea. She kept pushing us to eat her food, we kept refusing, and the tension in our relationship kept getting worse.

During those years, my wife and I were very close with a Chabad emissary named Rabbi Itche Springer. After speaking with him about the trouble with my in-laws, he suggested we make an appointment to meet the Rebbe.

We came to 770 on a Sunday night. There, we sat on a bench with a list of questions for what seemed like forever. At about two o’clock in the morning, we went into the Rebbe’s room.

We had already been briefed on how to act during an audience with the Rebbe: Not to shake his hand, to stand rather than sit, and so on. But when we walked in, my wife was feeling very faint so the Rebbe took one look at her and said. “Sit down!” (more…)

Rabbi Shmuel Lew

21 April 2024

It was a severe time for the Jewish people of Russia. Under Premier Brezhnev, the USSR was no longer sending people off to Siberia and shooting them, but it was still a totalitarian state, and Jews were still being imprisoned or losing their jobs for engaging in religious activities.

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For decades, a Chabad organization called Ezras Achim had been providing them with assistance, primarily in the form of parcels, but due to the tension between the two superpowers, it was difficult in the early ‘80s for Americans to travel there in person. Living in a more minor power, which is also closer geographically, Jews in England were uniquely positioned to cross the Iron Curtain. That is why I was enlisted, by an activist named Ernie Hirsch, to make the trip; he had learned that the Russian Jewish leadership was primarily associated with Chabad, so he wanted to send Chabad chasidim.

In 1981, Reb Nosson “Bobby” Vogel and I flew to Moscow from London. We went for exactly one week, over Rosh Hashanah. We barely brought any clothing because our suitcases were full with enough Kosher food to last two months, almost all of which we left behind. We also brought Jewish books; three beautiful etrogim, which we kept among apples and oranges so as not to arouse suspicion; and a few recordings of chasidic melodies being sung at farbrengens in 770, in which you could actually hear the Rebbe singing along. I also took tapes of the Rebbe’s public talks in Russian, disguised with some classical radio music I had recorded at the beginning and end of each tape.

When Reb Nosson and I entered Russia, a customs agent spent nearly an hour inspecting everything we had – including the tapes.

“Play this one,” he ordered, pointing to a specific tape. “Rewind it first, and don’t stop until I tell you to.” (more…)

Mr. Yoni Nierenberg

18 April 2024

When Jewish students enter a university today, they can be virtually assured that they will find a Chabad House on campus – that they will be welcomed into a warm, inclusive Jewish atmosphere, invited for Shabbat and holiday meals, and offered Torah classes. It is hard to imagine that this was not always the case.

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This story goes back to before I was born. In the early 1960s, my father – Dr. Harold (Tzvi) Nierenberg – served as the dean of Long Island University, and although he was not a chasid, he was selected by the Rebbe to head up a revolutionary new outreach initiative.

How did this come about?

At that time, it was unusual for an academic to be an Orthodox Jew. And my father was not only Torah observant but also deeply involved in the Jewish community. He founded the first Orthodox synagogue in our town – North Belmore, Long Island – and he made it a point to reach out to Jewish students on campus. It was through one of those students that he was introduced to Rabbi Leibel Alevsky, the coordinator of programs for the Lubavitch Youth Organization, and Rabbi Alevsky, in turn, introduced him to the Rebbe.

My father immediately recognized that the Rebbe was a holy man – a tremendous tzaddik and a tremendous spiritual leader – and also that he was an incredible strategist. And I believe that this is what forged the connection between them. Although my father was an academic – he got his Ph.D. from Columbia University – he had a keen business sense, and he understood the role that visionary strategy plays in the success of any enterprise.

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Rabbi Sholom Ber Lipskar

11 April 2024

In 1981, I founded an organization called the Aleph Institute for Jewish men and women who have been incarcerated or are serving in the military. Among other things, we launched a program whereby the Federal Bureau of Prisons allowed us to take prisoners that met certain criteria out of prison for a two-week furlough. In this time, they were able to learn about the various prayers and laws that are relevant to a Jew living in the restricted environment of prison.

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The Rebbe had inspired the founding of this organization, so it was only natural that, in 1985, when we took a group of twenty men out of prison, we brought them to Crown Heights for the Shabbat after Shavuot.

That Shabbat, at 1:30 PM, we knew that the Rebbe would be speaking at a public gathering, a farbrengen. Since there were no sound systems on Shabbat, and you had to be pretty close to the Rebbe to hear him well, people would reserve their places early in the morning, sit there for the prayers, and then remain for the farbrengen. But, these men from prison were not used to keeping such a rigorous Shabbat schedule, and so we arranged for a group of yeshivah students to sit around a table, holding the space for them.

After prayers, our group went to eat something, and then at approximately 1:25 PM, we started coming back to 770. The students got up and the men slipped into their places, crowding into this cavernous synagogue along with thousands of other Jews.

Normally, when the clock hit 1:30, you knew the Rebbe was within seconds of coming out; he was very precise. But this time, Rabbi Leibel Groner, the Rebbe’s secretary, came downstairs from the Rebbe’s office. (more…)

Mr. Avrohom Hilsenrad

3 April 2024

My parents were both brought up in chasidic families – my father’s family was Vizhnitz and my mother’s Ger – and both came to America as children in 1920. I was born in 1941, and grew up in Flatbush, in an area that was almost entirely Jewish, but barely had a minyan of Shabbat-observant Jews.

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My father, Zalman Aryeh Hilsenrad, began working for the Orthodox Union (OU) as a young man, and a couple of years before I was born, he became the first executive director of the organization. In a time when many Jews were uninterested in the old ways and were becoming more Americanized, he worked to revitalize observant Judaism.

In the 1940s and ‘50s there weren’t many chasidic courts one could attend in New York, and my father would go to many of them, but his closest connection was with Lubavitch.

For as long as I can remember, my father had a picture of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe on his desk, and he would visit him regularly.

In 1949, when I was eight years old, my father took me along with him to a meeting with the Previous Rebbe.

Although my father was fluent in Yiddish, he had a hard time understanding the Previous Rebbe. As he explained to me, the Rebbe had a speech impediment, which was in some way connected to the suffering he had endured under the communists in Russia. Therefore, the current Rebbe was also present in order to act as an interpreter and to facilitate the conversation with his father-in-law. I didn’t understand a word of Yiddish, and my father translated for me.

When we came into the room, the Previous Rebbe asked me something. (more…)

Rabbi Sheldon Rudoff

28 March 2024

The story I am about to tell happened in the early 1950s, not long after the Rebbe took over the leadership of Chabad Lubavitch. At the time, I was in high school and living in Crown Heights on Carroll Street, which is around the corner from President Street where the Rebbe lived.

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I used to see him on Shabbat mornings, walking from his home to Chabad Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway. He was not yet as well known then, and he was very approachable, as he walked alone without an entourage.

He’d greet me with “Gut Shabbos,” and we’d walk together, while he inquired about my Torah learning and about my teachers. We would part ways when we reached Eastern Parkway – he’d go right to Chabad, and I’d go left to Young Israel, where I served as a youth group leader.

We were just two people walking to their synagogues – a teenager and the Rebbe. Being so young, I did not realize the import of these encounters. I only learned to appreciate them later.

Then there came a time when my Young Israel youth group was invited for a private audience with the Rebbe. We were all Torah observant boys, studying at such storied Orthodox institutions as the Brooklyn Talmudical Academy, Yeshiva Chaim Berlin, and the Isaac Elchanan Yeshiva, which had a branch in Brooklyn back then.

From our Modern Orthodox perspective, Chabad was an anomaly, because the other chasidic sects that we were familiar with were very insular, but Chabad was open and doing a great deal of Jewish outreach. For instance, on Sukkot, Chabad chasidim would stand outside the subway stations offering the lulav to Jews, so they could fulfill that commandment. This was strange to us, and yet it also made an impact on us. And I do recall that some of the kids became enraptured by Chabad as a result. (more…)

Mr. Marvin Goldsmith

21 March 2024

I grew up in Long Beach, California, and – after serving two years in the army – I moved to Los Angeles. There, I attended the University of Southern California, graduating from its Law School in 1959.

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Not long after that, my wife and I met a rabbi who had come to Los Angeles to develop Chabad there. His name was Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, and we became fairly close. As a lawyer, I helped him out with a few parking tickets, and we became closer. Chabad in California has grown tremendously over the years, but I’ve been connected with Rabbi Cunin ever since the time he was working out of that second-floor office on Fairfax Avenue.

In 1969, I helped Rabbi Cunin acquire the building of the very first Chabad House. It was the old Pi Lambda Phi fraternity house at UCLA, and I had been a member of the fraternity when I was in college, so I wound up helping him with some of the legal aspects of the purchase.

Later, I accompanied Rabbi Cunin to present the key of the Chabad House to the Rebbe. We also had the lock with us. It was a Schlage lock, as I recall, and the plan was to then bring the lock back to California and install it in the door. But the Rebbe was against the idea. When we brought the key to the Rebbe, he told us: “Don’t put the lock on the door – it should always remain open!”

I’d had a private audience with the Rebbe before then, and a couple more after it as well. Whenever I came, there would be a great number of people who wanted to see the Rebbe, so you had to be patient when you waited for an audience. At my first meeting, it was around 9:30 in the evening when I began writing the note which I would hand to the Rebbe – but it was approximately 4:00 AM by the time it was my turn to enter his office. (more…)

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