I grew up on Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in the 1950s. Though Crown Heights is mostly Chabad-Lubavitch, my family was not – we were just “plain Orthodox.” However, due to the proximity and fame of the Rebbe, we would go see him twice a year during his public appearances.
One of those times was Simchat Torah, when we would go to see the Rebbe and his chasidim dancing with the Torah into the wee hours of the morning. The other time was on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, when he conducted the Tashlich ceremony at the pond in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Thousands of people would march with the Rebbe, singing their hearts out, and I recall this making a tremendous impression on me as a child.
Those were my childhood memories of the Rebbe. When I grew up, I moved away from Crown Heights. I went to university, became a psychologist and, after getting married, became a U.S. Air Force chaplain in Alaska.
In 1973, while on my way to take up my post for the first time, my wife and I drove across the country, stopping among other places in St. Paul, Minnesota. There we met two Chabad emissaries, Rabbi Moshe Feller and Rabbi Gershon Grossbaum, who upon hearing about my deployment insisted that I inform the Rebbe.
I obliged and wrote to the Rebbe about my upcoming mission. In my letter, I noted the problem of building in Alaska a mikveh – the ritual pool, without which a Jewish community cannot function. The U.S. Army had allotted the money, but I could not find anyone who knew how to build a mikveh, at least not anyone willing to come to Alaska.
When I finished writing the letter I handed it to them, and they asked me if there was anything they could do to help me. I confided my problem to them and to my shock, the younger emissary, Rabbi Grossbaum told me that he makes a living doing exactly this – designing mikvehs and overseeing their construction – and he would love to help me.
“Here I am looking all over America for someone to build me a mikveh,” I thought. “And, before they even put the stamp on the letter to the Rebbe, my problem is solved!” (more…)