Rabbi Yosef Shmuel Yehoshua Gerlitzky

11 July 2024

After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Rebbe pushed for increasing efforts into Jewish outreach. Over the course of the next year, he introduced four new “mitzvah campaigns” – in addition to the tefillin campaign that he launched in 1967, before the Six Day War – calling on Chabad chasidim to promote Torah study, mezuzah, owning Jewish books, and charity. (There would be five more such campaigns over the next few years – for Shabbat candles, kosher, family purity, education, and love for a fellow Jew, for a total of ten.)

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By this time, I had been studying in the Central Lubavitcher Yeshiva at 770 Eastern Parkway for a couple of years, having arrived there in the summer of 1970. Together with the other yeshivah students, I enthusiastically joined in these outreach activities, or “mivtzoyim,” as they became known.

Later that same year, there was a terrible terrorist attack that took place in the northern Israeli town of Maalot, in which over a hundred high school children were taken hostage, and over twenty murdered during the rescue attempt. Once again, the Rebbe spoke of the imperative to spread Jewish observance through the mivtzoim. It was in the wake of those events that outreach activities with the famous “mitzvah tanks” began in earnest.

Back then, the mitzvah tanks were not yet the fancy mobile homes they are today; they were just plain old trucks decorated on the outside with different Jewish-themed banners. On top of the vehicles, we strapped speakers playing lively chasidic music. Then, we hauled a few tables from the shul at 770, brought our tefillin and a few basic Jewish books – prayer books, Chumashim, and Tanyas – and spread out across New York City.

It was the yeshivah boys who took the initiative in making the mitzvah tanks, but the Rebbe took a real liking to them and encouraged them tremendously. (more…)

Dr. Irving Wolinsky

4 July 2024
This story is an excerpt from the book My Story 1. Get your copy today at www.jemstore.com.
I was born in Brooklyn in 1923. I was raised by immigrant parents and I was a traditional Jewish kid until I went to college. That’s when I got too smart for Judaism and dropped it all.
During World War II, I attended City College, majoring in chemistry, and together with the other chemistry, science, engineering, and medical students, I was classified 2A. This meant that we were considered essential for civilian defense at home and were not eligible for service abroad. When I moved over to the New York University School of Medicine and started studying dentistry, I was placed in the ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program). I went to school in uniform, like a soldier, but for all intents and purposes, I was in the inactive reserve. Unlike millions of other American boys who were shipped out to war, I served my country by staying home.

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The war ended and, in 1947, after completing my education, I opened a dental office in Brooklyn. After struggling for three years, my practice was facing disaster. One of my patients was a Lubavitcher chasid, and I mentioned to him that I was facing overwhelming challenges. My mother was suffering from a heart condition. My wife had just given birth and was suffering from postpartum depression. And now, suddenly, although I was desperately needed at home, the US Army began sending me letters about being re-activated for service in the Korean War! And this was all in addition to my practice not generating enough income to support us.
I was considering relocating my office to Bayside, Queens, but I wasn’t sure if things would improve over there.
Hearing my troubles, the chasid suggested that the Rebbe might be able to help me sort things out. I was reluctant, but my wife and my father-in-law, himself a Stoliner chasid, were both sure that the solution to our problems lay in the spiritual approach, and they urged me to go. Eventually, I relented and made an appointment to see the Rebbe.
This was toward the end of 1950. I don’t remember exactly when, but I know that the Rebbe was not yet officially the Rebbe, although everyone already seemed to accept him as such.
After a long wait, I went into the Rebbe’s office and poured out all my troubles. First, I described my mother’s illness and my concern that she didn’t have much longer to live. He asked me some questions about her medical care, and I explained it was the best available – she had top doctors from New York University School of Medicine. He voiced optimism that they would be able to help her. (more…)

Rabbi Levy Wineberg

27 June 2024

My Bar Mitzvah was on Shabbat, at the very beginning of 1967, with the celebration set to be held in a local Crown Heights shul the night after Shabbat. On the Thursday night before, I went with my parents for an audience with the Rebbe.

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The first thing that struck me during the audience was the respect the Rebbe gave me when he asked: “What have you accepted upon yourself to learn and say over at your Bar Mitzvah?”

I told the Rebbe about the pilpul and the ma’amar – the Talmudic discussion and the chasidic discourse – that I had been preparing to deliver. The Rebbe tested me on both, and then he proceeded to give a blessing to my parents and to myself.

But I was taken aback at the way he had put the question: What did you accept upon yourself? I had simply studied the material that my father gave me to study! The way the Rebbe phrased the question made it as though my speech was my own doing. It had the effect of bolstering the self-esteem of a young Bar Mitzvah boy.

Now in those days, every Motzaei Shabbat, my father would teach a half-hour class live on the radio. The class had two segments: fifteen minutes dedicated to the study of Tanya, the seminal work of Chabad philosophy, and fifteen minutes reviewing the Rebbe’s latest Torah teachings. Although the Tanya segment could be prerecorded, since the second segment came from the Rebbe’s most recent talks, it had to be broadcast live. And since my Bar Mitzvah was being celebrated in Crown Heights, it was impossible to get to the radio station in Midtown Manhattan and back in time. Instead, together with the studio technician, he came up with what was, at the time, a pioneering solution. He would link up the radio station to the location of the Bar Mitzvah and broadcast directly from there.  (more…)

Rabbi Yosef Yeshaya Abrahams

19 June 2024

My family had just moved to Chicago when my father passed away. It was 1948, and I was eleven years old. At the end of the school year, my mother decided to move back to her family in Philadelphia, and then she sent me off to the Chabad yeshivah in Brooklyn. I traveled from Chicago to New York by train together with Rabbi Dovid Moshe Lieberman, then the rabbi of Bnei Ruven, a local Chabad congregation.

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Just a few years after the war, the yeshivah had a mix of American kids, some Russian boys, and even a few Hungarians and other non-Lubavitchers whose communities didn’t yet have yeshivot of their own.

I saw the Previous Rebbe a couple times before he passed away in the winter of 1950. On special occasions, he would lead a farbrengen in his apartment upstairs in 770, but on account of his health, only a small number of chasidim would be allowed in – along with the odd person who managed to get in before the door closed.

Towards the end of a farbrengen on the 19th of Kislev of that year, the Previous Rebbe announced that “all the doors should be open – everyone should come in.” I made my way in, but there were too many taller people standing around his table for me to see anything. Then, an older yeshivah student picked me up and held me in the air for a minute. I saw the Previous Rebbe, wearing a fur spodek, his face flushed red beneath it. This was two months before his passing.

I had also seen his successor, the Rebbe – then still known as “the Ramash” – by then. A few months earlier, at a farbrengen held during Sukkot, someone pointed him out to me: “That’s the Rebbe’s son-in-law,” he told me. I watched as all the chasidim followed his lead on Simchat Torah, dancing as he danced, and then stopping when he stopped.

Over the course of the next year, as the chasidim began urging the Rebbe to take over his late father-in-law’s mantle, he began to speak in public more regularly. At farbrengens, he would often cry when speaking about the Previous Rebbe, and would always talk about how, even after their passing, the righteous do not leave their followers behind. “The shepherd has not left his flock,” he would say. “The Rebbe has not gone away – he is here with us.” (more…)

Dr. Dovid Krinsky

11 June 2024

One evening, the Rebbe’s wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, called 770, as she often would, to speak with the Rebbe. The Rebbe often worked late, but on this occasion the secretary who answered informed her that he had left some time before, and was not in 770 anymore.

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Now, it doesn’t take much time to get from 770 to the Rebbe’s house; it was long past when the Rebbe should have arrived home. Calls began to go back and forth. Nobody, not even the Rebbetzin, knew where he was; it was like the Rebbe had disappeared. Nor did anybody know the whereabouts of his car, or of Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, the Rebbe’s secretary who would normally drive him.
Word got out, and before long, a crowd of concerned people began to form in front of the Rebbe’s house. They were debating among themselves, wondering what to do, when all of a sudden the Rebbe’s car pulled up. He got out, smiled to the chasidim as he often would, went up the stairs, and closed the door.
The Rebbe had disappeared, and nobody knew where or why – only that he was back. For a couple of hours, there were only three people in the world who knew, and I was one of them.
Several years ago, when Rabbi Krinsky, who is my uncle, was sitting shiva after the passing of his wife, I visited him to give my consolations. While I was sitting with him, a certain man was escorted in through the crowd and seated right in front of my uncle. My uncle then introduced me to him as “the Rebbe’s dentist.” (more…)

Rabbi Avremel Silver

6 June 2024
After getting married in 1975, I first tried pursuing a certain opportunity to be a Chabad shliach, but it didn’t work out. So I got back on the bus, went back to Crown Heights, and started looking for ways to make a living.

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There were a few other young men my age who were going to work in the diamond industry on Manhattan’s 47th street, so I wrote to the Rebbe about the opportunity. His response came back about two hours after I had sent in my question, and it was clear: “Take the offer.”
In general, whenever I wrote to the Rebbe, the answers I received were very clear and direct. Often, I had peers who wrote similar questions to the Rebbe at the same time I did, but the Rebbe would simply advise them to “consult with knowledgeable friends.”
So, in January 1979, I began working in the diamond industry as a broker; finding people who wanted to sell diamonds, others who wanted to buy them, and earning a commission of about $300 a week. (more…)

Rabbi Shea Hecht

30 May 2024

After Lubavitch came to America in the 1940s, its first initiative to reach the outside world was the Jewish Released Time program for public school children.

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This program – which is active to this day – also became known as “Wednesday Hour,” because from 2 to 3 PM every Wednesday, in accordance with New York State law, children may be taken out of school to a nearby synagogue to learn about Torah and Judaism.
“Mesibot Shabbat” youth groups also started at around this time, gathering children together on Shabbat afternoons to teach them Torah, tell stories, and recite blessings over some snacks. In those days, there were a lot of Jews in New York who weren’t religious but were attracted to these groups, which helped them grow in their Judaism.
As an outgrowth of both of these programs, whenever Lag B’Omer fell out on a Sunday and all these children were free from public school, there would be a special parade in Crown Heights. Mesibot Shabbat was built around keeping Shabbat as a focal point for our Judaism and our relationship with G-d; Released Time was about giving children a Jewish education; and the main theme of the Lag B’Omer parade was the concept of Jewish pride. The Rebbe really wanted people, young kids in particular, to feel proud that they were Jewish.

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…)

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