Rabbi Yosef Shmuel Yehoshua Gerlitzky

21 February 2024

When I was a child growing up in Montreal, the entire Chabad community would make an annual trip to New York for the 10th of Shevat – the anniversary of the Previous Rebbe’s passing, and of the Rebbe’s subsequent appointment as his successor. We would travel there by train, an eleven-hour journey, and on the way the respected chasidic mentor Rabbi Volf Greenglass would lead a communal farbrengen, which invariably ended up with everyone in our car breaking out in a dance.

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There were few major Chabad communities outside of New York and Israel in those days, and Montreal’s was the largest community to travel together to the Rebbe, so we received special attention. All of the children were invited for a special audience, and the Rebbe spoke to us. Rabbi Yoel Kahn, the Rebbe’s oral scribe, was also present for these meetings, to ensure that the talk was transcribed, to be reviewed by the Rebbe and eventually published.

The first time I entered the Rebbe’s room was during one of these trips. It was 1960, and I was six years old. I remember standing in front of the Rebbe’s desk, together with my brothers and sisters, flanked by our parents on either side. At the beginning of the audience, my father gave the Rebbe a three-page letter he had prepared earlier. As one of the founders and directors of the Chabad yeshivah in Montreal, my father would include in his note various yeshivah related matters, in addition to writing about our family.

The Rebbe looked at the letter, and then immediately turned to my father, while pointing at me. “Why didn’t you write his name?” he asked. He didn’t just remark that the note was a name short, or ask “who is missing?” – he pointed directly at me.

My father was shocked. I saw his hands shake, and he seemed flustered. He didn’t say a word, and when the Rebbe held out the letter to show that my name was missing, he didn’t reach out to take it. (more…)

Rabbi Meir Tzvi Gruzman

15 February 2024

During the mid-1980s, I directed a branch of Tomchei Temimim, the Chabad yeshivah network, in the town of Kiryat Malachi, in Israel. While I was there, a certain mashpia, or chasidic mentor to the students, worked on instilling within the students a tremendous enthusiasm for the various mitzvah campaigns being promoted by the Rebbe, which involved sharing mitzvot with other Jews. Their strong commitment to these outreach activities, however, began to interfere with their regular study schedule. It happened on more than one occasion that after going out on mivtzoyim, as these activities are called, the students returned to yeshivah quite late.

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At one point, the students turned to me with their dilemma: “What should we do when mivtzoyim get in the way of learning Torah?”

In turn, I wrote a letter to the Rebbe, putting the question to him. As the Rebbe was such a strong proponent of these outreach activities, did he intend for students to engage in them at the expense of Torah study? Perhaps these mitzvah campaigns were so urgently needed that they should be done even if meant studying less Torah – but on the other hand, perhaps the students were supposed to get involved in mivtzoyim only so long as they didn’t interfere with their studies.

“A tomim,” replied the Rebbe, using the moniker for students of Tomchei Temimim, “is first and foremost a tomim. Mivtzoyim can only be with permission from the faculty.” The word “tomim” was underlined twice, and “first and foremost” had three lines under it!

His point was that it was the faculty’s job to determine how much time the students could dedicate to outreach work, outside of formal study times, without interfering in the student’s ability to fully devote himself to his main task – learning Torah. Therefore, all such activities had to be coordinated and approved by the faculty.

Over the years I spent working in Tomchei Temimim, in that particular branch and elsewhere, the Rebbe taught me several other important lessons about the nature and the priorities of the yeshivah. On one occasion, there was a certain very serious young man who had some complaint about members of the faculty, whether it was a Talmudic lecturer, mashpia, or the dean of students. “Why don’t you talk to the Rebbe about this?” he would often demand of me.

Before one trip I made to New York, he asked that I discuss with the Rebbe several issues in the yeshivah which, as he saw it, needed to be addressed. I refused, seeing as I disagreed with some of his claims. “Write to the Rebbe yourself,” I suggested. “Then, if the Rebbe wishes, he will speak about it with me.” But I also asked that he send me a copy of his letter so that I will know what he has written, in case the Rebbe chose to bring the subject up with me. (more…)

Rabbi Mayer Plotkin

8 February 2024

After getting married in 1965, and spending some time in Montreal, where my wife and I are from, we wanted very much to move out on shlichus – to become emissaries of the Rebbe. We had the opportunity to take up positions in Detroit, California, or Florida – but first we had to ask the Rebbe.

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When I wrote to the Rebbe about the idea, he answered that I should “consult with friends.” I did so, and my friends thought that I should go into business. However, I didn’t want to become a businessman, so I wrote to the Rebbe a few more times, telling him that I still wanted to go on shlichus – and he kept giving me the same answer: I was to follow the advice of my friends.

In general, I would write to the Rebbe as if he were my father, openly expressing how I felt and what was on my mind. And so, I took a deep breath, and decided to write one last time. I suggested that – despite what he had already told me – the Rebbe would really want me to be on shlichus.

I’ll never forget the response: “Where did you get that idea from?” the Rebbe retorted.  “Haven’t I already written, once, twice, three times,” – underlining those words for emphasis – “that you should consult with friends? Stop sending letters here because I am not going to answer. Make a decision straight away based on the advice of your friends, and may G-d grant you success.”

Well, I tried, and I didn’t get my way. But it wasn’t over just yet. (more…)

Mrs. Rita Milstein

2 February 2024

We had always dreamed of leaving the Soviet Union, and leaving all of our troubles behind.

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My family lived in Kishinev, Moldova, where I was born in 1946. My parents were highly educated people, and although practicing Judaism was forbidden, they did their utmost to teach us the Aleph-Beis, to instill in us a love for the Land of Israel, and even to try and celebrate Jewish holidays. We never even had a Hebrew book, but we did the best we could.

When I was in second grade, my father was arrested after he began trading on the black market to make ends meet. Because he was Jewish he received an especially harsh sentence: Everything he owned was seized, and he was imprisoned for ten years. He left behind a wife and four children, and we were left with nothing.

As a little girl, I remember asking my mother repeatedly, “Why was I born here? We’re in the wrong country. We have to leave!”

Sh, don’t say that,” she would say. “G-d forbid the neighbors will hear, and we’ll get arrested too.”

Although we were so deprived, we held on to our hopes and dreams. (more…)

Mr. Mati Goldzweig

24 January 2024

My encounter with the Rebbe took place nearly fifty years ago when I came to the United States from Switzerland with the goal of helping Russian Jews oppressed by the Soviet regime.

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By way of background, my parents – both of whom were from Poland –miraculously made it to Geneva during World War II. This is where they met and married and where I was born in 1948.

In 1969, after being educated in yeshivahs in England and Israel, I enrolled in Geneva University’s School of Economics. And it is there that I was introduced to the plight of the Soviet Jews who were not permitted to practice Judaism or to emigrate elsewhere. It was a hot issue at the time and many organizations worldwide were staging demonstrations and working to influence their governments to pressure the Soviets into releasing the Jews.

Because of my involvement in this cause, I came to the United States in 1972. Upon arrival, I met with the famed civil liberties advocate Nat Lewin, who suggested that I use my background in economics to investigate how to influence the United States government to play a role. So I went to the Library of Congress, and there I found that legislation already existed in the US that could help the Soviet Jews by means of impacting Soviet trade, but this legislation had not been used for that purpose.

With that information in hand, I was introduced by Nat Lewin to US Senator Henry Scoop Jackson, who was well known for his involvement in the fight against anti-Semitism. After much effort on my part – canvassing members of Congress to gain their support – Senator Jackson undertook to propose an amendment to the Trade Act. This amendment (more…)

Dr. Dovid Krinsky

18 January 2024

In the 1970s, the federal government mandated that dental schools were to begin offering courses in a new kind of treatment delivery system. As a student, I thought they were interesting, and I was one of the few who signed up. After my graduation in 1974, however, the courses were dropped; the government’s interest must have waned.

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By 1982, I had long since accepted a position as an assistant professor teaching clinical dentistry at Columbia Dental School, while also attending at Presbyterian Hospital and working in a private practice. I loved teaching, but it didn’t pay well – nobody is there for the money – and I already had four children and a mortgage, so having three jobs was necessary.

At around this time, however, the government renewed its interest in this dental delivery system, and was offering well salaried teaching positions. Columbia Dental School hired a dentist, Dr. Bernard Tolpin, who had expertise in grant proposals, and the search was on for dentists with the right training to form a department to teach the subject.

Since I was the only person around with any experience in this area, I perfectly matched the criteria for the position. I applied and was interviewed by Dr. Tolpin, and we hit it off very well. I even thought he would hire me on the spot, but instead he promised to keep me posted. As time passed, I would regularly see Dr. Tolpin around the school, and he treated me like an old friend – but there was no job offer.

One day during this period of time, my uncle, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, one of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s secretaries, called me to say that the Rebbe had been asking whether I was the kind of chasid who only contacted the Rebbe when he had a problem. (more…)

Mrs. Sterna Malka Katz

10 January 2024

Throughout my high school years and into seminary, I became very involved in a girls’ youth group called Bnos Chabad. A small organization in the sixties, one of the things Bnos Chabad would do was to arrange “Shabbatons.” We would reach out to different communities, groups or schools, and they would send their students to spend Shabbat with us in Crown Heights.

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In 1964, we got a call from a Reform congregation in New Jersey about a group of twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls interested in coming to us. We prepared a lovely Shabbat for them, and they enjoyed a beautiful program.

After Shabbat, one of our Bnos Chabad girls whose family was hosting some of these children mentioned to me that one of the girls who stayed in her house was not Jewish. Jewish identity follows the mother, and while this girl’s father was Jewish, her mother was not.

In those days, intermarriage was much less common than it is today, so when the girls’ rabbi later came to pick up the children, I explained to him that, given the nature of the program, he should have let us know that a girl who isn’t Jewish would be attending. “Well,” he replied apologetically, “the mother is thinking of converting, and she wants to raise her daughter as a Jew.”

Every time we ran one of these programs, I would write up a report for the Rebbe. This time, in his reply, the Rebbe sent me newspaper clippings from two different Jewish newspapers, one from Atlanta, Georgia, and I think the other was from Seattle, Washington. (more…)

Mrs. Tila Falic Levi

4 January 2024

I grew up in Bal Harbour, Florida, where my parents moved because of a young dynamic couple – the Rebbe’s emissaries, Rabbi Sholom Ber Lipskar and his wife, Rebbetzin Chani – who had started a new community there. Their style appealed to my parents who were young, with three children, and looking for a nice Jewish environment to raise their family.

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In 1990, when I was nine years old, I got sick – I had an upset stomach, intermittent fever, and heart palpitations for about six months – but the doctors with whom my parents consulted could not figure out what was wrong with me. It was not until we traveled for a relative’s wedding to Panama, where an old experienced physician suggested that I had an overactive thyroid – a condition called Grave’s disease.

At the time, little was known about this disease and my parents were worried about the severe side-effects that one of the recommended medications – radioactive iodine – could have on the growing body of a child. My father confided his concerns to Rabbi Lipskar, who immediately offered to write to the Rebbe for his advice and blessing.

In his response, the Rebbe recommended that we not just keep kosher – which of course we did – but that we switch to glatt kosher, a higher level of observance. This meant buying meat that was much more expensive than regular kosher meat. Back then, there were only two kosher butchers in Miami, and to do what the Rebbe advised involved a big effort on my parents’ part. But they took it very seriously. Even though they considered themselves Modern Orthodox and not Chabad, nevertheless, because the Rebbe said so, they decided they had to do it.

Up to this point, no one in our family had met the Rebbe, and it was decided that we would all fly to New York and approach him on a Sunday when he typically handed out dollar bills for people to donate to charity. (more…)

Gershon Burkis

28 December 2023

The first book that I published – my entrée into the publishing industry – was a pocket Book of Psalms, Tehillim. In 1975, when I traveled from Israel to the Rebbe and had a private audience with him, I brought along a copy, and I submitted it to his secretary in advance.

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During the audience, the Rebbe reached into his drawer, took out the Tehillim, and leafed through it. He inquired about whether we had been successful in selling the books.

“Thank G-d,” I replied.

“I heard that it’s going well in the army,” he noted, meaning that the soldiers of the IDF sought after such Tehillims, for the spiritual protection they provided.

“Have you ever seen such a Chumash [Five Books of Moses] that also includes Rashi’s commentary?” he continued.

I replied that I had seen a Chumash of that size, published by Sinai, but without any biblical commentaries.

“There is such a Chumash with Rashi,” he informed me, “but I don’t know if the text they used for the commentary is accurate without mistakes.” For years, I searched for such a book, and I eventually found a miniature Chumash with Rashi, slightly larger than our Tehillim, published by “Levin-Epstein.”

I subsequently printed Tehillims of six different sizes. Computerized layout and printing was coming into its own in those days, which enabled me to produce clear, newly-typeset texts with beautiful letters. When my wife next visited the Rebbe, she brought him one of the new volumes and, in turn, the Rebbe presented her with a dollar bill “for your husband, the publisher.” (more…)

Mrs. Chaya Kaplan

21 December 2023

Even before we met, my husband and I were on a quest for spirituality; it was the sixties and we were both on the hippie path. We wanted to know whether there was some foundational truth that existed throughout the universe, beyond what any individual person believed.

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I had grown up in an assimilated American Jewish family in Baltimore, Maryland, and unfortunately, my parents couldn’t teach me what they didn’t know. My parents never had the opportunity to have a Jewish education, although it was important to them I had one; I attended Sunday school as a child and our family also belonged to a Reform Temple.

I spent time exploring groups like Hare Krishna and then, as a high school exchange student in Argentina, I met Shlomo Carlebach. He encouraged me to learn about the Torah and my heritage and we remained close for years after. He was the only rabbi I knew and trusted, and when Dovid and I later decided to get married, he came to Baltimore and officiated at our wedding.

We spent the summer of 1971 in my husband’s hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts, where we got to know Rabbi Hershel Fogelman, the local Chabad rabbi, as well as other families in the community. They began encouraging us to take up different mitzvot. “Try eating kosher,” they would say. “Try one Shabbat; see if you like it. This is the mikveh; see what you think about it.”

We were open to all of it. “Teach us, show us, and then we will decide what we can handle and if we want to continue with it,” we told them. We tried everything, and kept on asking questions until we got answers that satisfied us. Then, Rabbi Fogelman sent us to Crown Heights for Yom Kippur. (more…)

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