Rabbi Nissen Mangel

18 May 2022

For the first few years after the Nazi broke up Czechoslovakia, in the beginning of the Second World War, my family succeeded in avoiding deportation. In 1944, however, the SS finally caught us. At the age of ten, I was sent to Auschwitz, the youngest inmate there, and then went on to Mauthausen and several other camps. I came face to face with the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele on more than one occasion, but through tremendous miracles, I survived. My mother and sister also came home, but unfortunately, my father never did.

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In 1951, my sister and I made it to Montreal as stateless persons. The only local yeshivah there for boys my age was Lubavitch, and that was where I ended up spending ten years.

During my first year in the yeshivah, I studied chasidic teachings, participated in the chasidic gatherings led by Rabbi Volf Greenglass, and began to develop a certain picture of what a Rebbe is. At the end of that year, Canada granted me permanent residence status, and so I was able to travel to New York, to the Rebbe.

The Rebbe was holding a farbrengen and I stood among the crowd. When he spotted me, he asked another student from Montreal who I was and then he called me up and gave me a piece of sponge cake from his table.

When it came time for my private audience, I was somewhat taken aback. Instead of asking me whether I was learning chasidut, or what I was doing in yeshivah, he asked about things I was not doing.

“Are you learning Tanach?” he asked, using the traditional term for the Hebrew Scriptures.

“No,” I replied. (more…)

Rabbi Moshiach Chudaitov

11 May 2022

I was born in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, in 1939. We lived in a courtyard with our extended family and several Lubavitcher families, including those of Reb Moshe Nisselevitch and, for a while, Reb Berel Zaltzman. It was Reb Berel, with his warmth, who inspired me to become a Chabad chasid myself. He introduced me to his family and to the other young chasidim who made up the local community, and who in turn became my life-long friends. Samarkand was fortunate to have these people living there, as well as several other venerable figures a generation or two older than us.

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Our house was located in the newer part of the city, near the train station. My father, Refoel, was a successful businessman and a major community activist. During the war years, hundreds of Jewish refugees, among them Russian Lubavitchers, stayed in our home. They had come to Samarkand to escape Hitler, and my father helped them find work and a place to live.

Living in the Soviet Union, Judaism had to be practiced underground. But even in those bitter times, my father made sure to have a melamed, a private teacher, who taught Torah to my older brothers and me.

Reb Moshe Nisselevich was the life force of Samarkand. Along with a group of young men, he founded the Chamah organization in 1954, and went on to set up a network of informal, underground schools in basements and other hidden places, so that Jewish children would grow up to be Torah yidden even in the Soviet spiritual desert.

Chamah’s work wasn’t only spiritual: In the winter, the organization distributed coal to the poor, and before every holiday, I remember going with my father to the market to buy sacks of rice and potatoes to distribute. As a young man, I was very inspired by all of this, and eventually became a member of Chamah myself.

We all knew of people who had spent ten, even twenty years in Soviet prisons for doing the kind of work Chamah did. We knew exactly how risky it was. So Reb Moshe thoroughly interviewed people before they could be trusted to join in this dangerous work. (more…)

Rabbi Tuvia Blau

4 May 2022

As someone who came to Chabad from the zealous Jerusalemite sector of religious Orthodoxy, and who stayed in close contact with the general haredi community in Israel, I felt there was a lack of literature presenting the school of Chabad philosophy in a manner that those communities could appreciate. For a time, there was Bitaon Chabad, a quarterly journal that the Chabad Youth Organization in Israel began publishing in 1952, but it ceased publication after nineteen issues.

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So, when I traveled to New York in 1962 for my first visit to the Rebbe, I raised the subject during my private audience with him. In providing some background for the journal’s demise, the Rebbe mentioned the Hebrew translated version of his Yiddish talks that were published in Bitaon Chabad. “The drafts of some of the translations that came here had to be completely reworked,” he said, “and there wasn’t any time for that. If you accept responsibility for the translation, you can start editing Bitaon Chabad.” He instructed me to include several others in the work of writing and editing the journal, mentioning Rabbi Chanoch Glitzenstein and Rabbi Adin Even-Yisrael Steinsaltz by name.

And so Bitaon Chabad once again saw the light of day, and for our first issue, I published an overview of my visit to the Rebbe’s court. The entire publication, my travel diary included, was reviewed by the Rebbe, who made a number of corrections and substantive edits.

Actually, I already started my work translating the Rebbe’s teachings while I was still in New York. Twice every year — before the High Holidays and Passover — the Rebbe used to send an open letter addressed to “the sons and daughters of Israel, wherever they may be.” These letters, originally penned in Yiddish, were translated into English and Hebrew, and distributed all over, including in the pages of the Israeli and American newspapers.

Rabbi Uriel Zimmer, who for years had been in charge of the Hebrew translation of these letters, passed away in 1961. So, after my audience with the Rebbe, his secretary Rabbi Leibel Groner approached me with the latest letter. “The Rebbe has asked that you translate this into Hebrew,” he said. I would go on to translate nearly all of those open letters, which were eventually compiled into the two volumes of Igrot Melech. (more…)

Mrs. Bronya Shaffer

27 April 2022

In a sense, my first encounter with the Rebbe was in my home: I came to know Lubavitch because my father, Dr. Yosef Slavin, had fallen in love with the Rebbe. He first met the Rebbe in 1940s Paris, and was there when the Rebbe was reunited with his mother after her escape from the Soviet Union. There was something about that scene that was deeply

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emotional for my father; “from that moment,” he would say, “I was the Rebbe’s.” Growing up, I knew that my parents’ every life decision was made after consultation with, and a blessing from, the Rebbe.

When it came time for me to start meeting young men for the purpose of marriage, it was no different. My parents never wanted my choice to be influenced by anything other than my own feelings but, unbeknownst to me, my father would consult the Rebbe before they agreed to a candidate.

One day, my father got a call from a close friend named Heishke Gansbourg. He had spent a Shabbat at Princeton University, and was assigned a certain student’s room to sleep in. The student was away, but after perusing the books in the room –  volumes of (more…)

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

20 April 2022

I’ve written several books over the years, but in 2014, I wrote one about the Rebbe. In my research, I spent almost five years with the Rebbe by immersing myself in his writings, and in the stories that hundreds of people who had interacted and lived with the Rebbe told about him.

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Over that time, the Rebbe started to have a great impact on my own life as well, in that I have become a profoundly different person as a result of studying the Rebbe’s teachings.

But my connection with the Rebbe goes back before then.

I grew up in what’s now known as the Midwood section of Brooklyn, and attended the Yeshivah of Flatbush; my father and grandfather were both ardent Zionists, and they wanted my sister and I to go to a Hebrew-speaking school. They also both had strong ties to the Previous Rebbe, as well as the Rebbe: My grandfather, Rabbi Nissan Telushkin, was already a Chabadnik back in the Soviet Union, before he got out with his family in 1923. Later, my father Shlomo Telushkin had the honor of being the accountant of both the Previous Rebbe and the Rebbe.

My father’s career as Chabad’s accountant started from the very beginning, right after the Previous Rebbe arrived in the United States in 1940. He derived a lot of pleasure from his career as an accountant, not because he made a tremendous amount of money, but because he worked for organizations he felt passionately attached to. As he got older, however, he started to cut back and give up his other accounts. The only accounts he always kept were those of the Rebbe and Chabad organizations. (more…)

Mr. Yosef Maoz

13 April 2022

I was born in 1937, in the city of Herat, Afghanistan, to the Mullah Ezra family. The Jewish community in Afghanistan is one of the world’s most ancient, and living there gave us a keen sense of our Judaism. The Jews of Herat all resided in the same neighborhood, in enclosed courtyards, each containing several homes. Although there were business ties between the Jews and our Muslim neighbors, especially ahead of the Jewish holidays – vendors would come on their donkeys to our area bearing fruit, vegetables, fish and chickens before every Shabbat and festival – we lived apart from our non-Jewish surroundings.

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In the larger courtyards, people raised livestock, providing milk and kosher meat. There were several kosher slaughterers, shochtim, in the community, and once the meat was brought home, the women – who were all experts when it came to removing any forbidden fats or nerves – would complete the koshering process.

The synagogues, four in all, were also in enclosed courtyards. Two such courtyards contained two adjoining synagogues, one of which would serve the younger people, along with a few in-ground mikvaot.

Behind each synagogue there was a study hall, which also served as a school of sorts. As a child, I studied Torah in the study hall of Rabbi Asher Garji. We would end up spending the entire day there: In the morning, we came to pray in the synagogue, we’d have breakfast at home, and then return to the study hall. At lunchtime, we returned to our homes, which were nearby, and then went back again to learn until the evening.

For the most part, the Jews made their living as merchants and shopkeepers. Our family also owned a store in Obe, but this town had been almost completely emptied of its Jewish inhabitants. A not insignificant portion of Afghan Jewry emigrated to the Land of Israel at the turn of the century, and then, after the founding of the State, the majority of those who still remained left as well. Although relations with our Muslim neighbors were mostly calm, I do remember how, after Israel’s Sinai Campaign in 1956, things became more tense. (more…)

Rabbi Elchanan Jacobovez

7 April 2022

The first time I traveled to the Rebbe was at the end of 1963, as part of a group of yeshivah students from Israel. The journey was more than a week long; part by ship; then by train from Italy to England, by way of France; and from there by plane to the United States. After arriving, I had my turn to go to the Rebbe for a private audience. That audience was thirteen minutes long, which was considered extraordinary.

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Among other things, the Rebbe took an interest in my family relation to Rabbi Aryeh Levine, the famous “Tzaddik of Jerusalem.” He was also known as the “Rabbi of the Prisoners,” a moniker that stuck ever since he took to visiting the incarcerated members of the Jewish underground in the days of British Mandatory Palestine.

“How are you related to Reb Aryeh Levine?” the Rebbe had inquired at the beginning of our meeting. “Is he your mother’s father?”

When I confirmed that that was the case, the Rebbe had a request for me: “I have already written to your grandfather, but if you would, please go to his home as well, and send him my regards.”

My grandfather was educated in the Lithuanian yeshivah world and was not a member of the chasidic community, but he and the Rebbe shared a bond of friendship and of deep mutual respect. In one of his letters to Reb Aryeh, the Rebbe wrote of his fine reputation — “his name goes before him,” was how he put it. My grandfather would also send all kinds of manuscripts to the Rebbe, and on his part the Rebbe would send him various publications released by Kehot, the Chabad publishing house. Indeed, after returning to Israel, I fulfilled my mission and passed the Rebbe’s regards on to my grandfather, who was most happy to receive them. (more…)

Rabbi Hershel Slansky

1 April 2022

When I was growing up in Newark, New Jersey, there were no yeshivot there, just a local Talmud Torah where most of the religious boys went, four days a week. We learned how to read and write Hebrew, we learned Jewish history, but no more than that. My parents were not satisfied with this and also arranged for me to study Torah with a tutor on Friday and Shabbat afternoons.

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“When you become Bar Mitzvah,” they said, “we’ll send you to a yeshivah in New York.”

Back then, you would have to take a bus from Newark to the Hudson Tubes, and then take the subway from there, which was really a bother for a small boy to do, especially when traveling alone. When the time came, however, I was going to go to Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn.

One day in 1942, Rabbi Moshe Pinchas Katz, a Lubavitcher who was living in Newark at the time, came over to my father. “Mr. Slansky,” he said in Yiddish, “We want your son.”

My father was a kibbitzer, he had a sense of humor, and so without hesitation, he replied, “Take him!”

Rabbi Katz then explained what he wanted me for: “We want to open a yeshivah in Newark.” My parents were thrilled by the idea, because their one and only little boy wouldn’t have to travel far from home.

When I got older, I joined a new high school that Lubavitch opened up in New York, and thank G-d, it was a good school. Rabbi Lasker, who taught English, was a top educator and every morning, we would go to 770 where Rabbi Shmuel Levitin would teach us Chasidic philosophy. Sometimes, if we got up very early, one boy who had a car would take us out to Brighton Beach to dip into the ocean, for mikveh. (more…)

Rabbi Yedidia Ezrahian

24 March 2022

I was born in the city of Sanandaj, Iran, to a line of rabbis that originally come from Safed, Israel, nine generations ago.

After the 1979 Islamic Revolution broke out, I was appointed as the head of the local rabbinic court, as well as the head of the community council, making me the point man between Iranian Jewry and the new regime. Not long after that, a group of students seized the American embassy in Tehran, along with fifty-two hostages. At one point during this crisis, the UN negotiated a clerical visit and, after some pressure

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from Jewish organizations, agreed to also send a rabbi for the three Jewish hostages. The Iranians didn’t want any Americans or Israelis, and so the rabbi of Mexico was chosen for the task – Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Hershberg.

Some tried to dissuade him from traveling to Iran at such a sensitive moment, so he decided to consult with the Rebbe. About a week before leaving, he apprised the Rebbe of his travel plans and his concerns. The Rebbe urged him to make the trip and reminded him to also bring some candles so as to light the menorah with the Jewish hostages for the upcoming holiday of Chanukah. Rabbi Hershberg did just that.

The day after their visit, the clergymen were invited to the mass Friday prayers in the main mosque of Tehran with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini in attendance. At one point, the congregation all knelt and then bowed down in prayer – except for Rabbi Hershberg and myself. Afterwards, an overbearing cleric came over to us. “Why didn’t you show us respect?” he demanded angrily. “Why didn’t you bow down like the priests did?”

“Those priests come from Syria and Lebanon and know Arabic,” Rabbi Hershberg explained. “But I don’t understand what is being said. Our Torah commands us, ‘do not prostrate yourselves,’ so how can I bow if I don’t know what I’m bowing for?” (more…)

Leave the Hoarse in America

16 March 2022

The first time I came to the Rebbe’s court was before Rosh Hashanah of 1965. I had come together with several of my peers from the yeshivah in Kfar Chabad, Israel, to spend the year studying Torah near the Rebbe. The journey was long and expensive, and people rarely traveled from Israel to America back then. So although we had read about what went on there and heard recordings of the Rebbe speaking, we had never seen him in person.

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In those days, guests who came to spend the holidays in the Rebbe’s court were able to have two private audiences – yechidut – with him; one upon arrival, and a second time before their return. We, however – the yeshivah students who had come for the year – were told that we wouldn’t be able to go into the Rebbe’s room just yet. The thinking was that we ought to first spend a little time around the Rebbe. After participating in his farbrengens and listening to his chasidic discourses, we would be prepared for a private audience, and more equipped to properly absorb the experience. So our first audience was set for four months after our arrival.

On the day of my audience, I was terribly excited. I finally went into the Rebbe’s room at midnight, and although I hadn’t eaten the whole day – the custom is not to eat, only to drink before meeting the Rebbe – I didn’t feel the least bit hungry. (more…)

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