Rabbi Naftali Roth

30 June 2022

As a yeshivah student, I used to go on walks together with a friend every Shabbat afternoon, while discussing our studies. One week, we heard some people singing. We didn’t recognize the song, but I felt drawn in by its soulful melody.

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“Let’s go see where it’s coming from,” I told my friend.

That’s how we ended up at the “Baal HaTanya Synagogue,” a small Chabad shtiebel in Meah Shearim, Jerusalem. There we met ten or so men, singing chasidic melodies, as is the Chabad custom towards the end of Shabbat. The song, I learned, was an old Chabad tune, with lyrics from Psalms (62:6-7): Only to G-d should you hope, my soul, for my hope is from Him.

They sang this song a few times more, before moving on to others, and I felt something tugging at my heart. We started going to that shtiebel at the same time each week, and whenever I walked in, the locals would start singing that song for me. This was my first exposure to Chabad. After a few weeks, the rabbi, Rabbi Shimon Yakobovitch, offered to study Tanya with me, and before long I began to feel like a Chabadnik.

At a certain stage, Rabbi Shimon suggested I write to the Rebbe. (more…)

Rabbi Micha Peled

23 June 2022

I was born in Fez, Morocco, to the Turgeman clan, a deeply religious family. After the founding of the State of Israel, our family immigrated there and settled in Tiberias.

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The ‘50s were years of severe austerity in Israel, a time of poverty and famine. This allowed the kibbutz movement to recruit new immigrant children with promises of food, education and economic stability ,which is what happened with my family. Times were tough, my parents were naive about kibbutz life, and had several children to care for. So when a couple of young men came from a nearby kibbutz and spoke with them, they were persuaded, and reluctantly gave their permission for me to go to a kibbutz. When we separated, my father gave me a prayer book, a Chumash, and his blessings.

In the kibbutz, I was the only one leading a religious lifestyle. Gradually, I gave up wearing tzitzit, and then my weekday prayers, but I still tried to keep kosher and Shabbat to the best of my ability. When I reached my Bar Mitzvah, and my parents came to the kibbutz for the celebration, my father was shocked to find nary a trace of Jewish practice – there was no synagogue and I had no tefillin. He took me straight back to Tiberias with him and for the next two months, from morning till night, he had me shadow our community rabbi, who gave me all the Bar Mitzvah classes I had missed.

Still, after I’d spent two years becoming socially integrated into kibbutz life, my older brother told my parents that it would be unhealthy to tear me away from it now, so they let me return. Back at the kibbutz, my name changed from Machluf to Micha. Then, instead of Turgeman, I adopted the last name “Peled,” which was the name of the pre-military civil service youth group I was very involved in. (more…)

Rabbi Yonah Fradkin

15 June 2022

Back in the sixties, by Divine Providence, my family happened to move right next door to the dormitory of the Lubavitcher yeshivah in Montreal. One day my five-year-old younger brother Reuven, or “Ruby,” happened to smash a baseball right through the dormitory window.

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The students came out to this cute little boy, and you know how Lubavitchers are: They started to talk to him. Before you know it, they were coming to visit our family at home.

Zalman Deitsch was one of the students who would frequent my house, and he would learn with me as well. I was already attending a yeshivah in Montreal, but before my Bar Mitzvah that summer, he suggested I go to the Chabad yeshivah in New York to study.

“It’s a fantastic yeshivah,” he told me. “You’ll love it there.”

So in 1965 I came – a young and petrified boy –  to the Lubavitch Yeshiva on the corner of Bedford and Dean streets in Brooklyn, New York. Everyone was very nice to me, but it was a tremendously new experience. During my first year, I had the merit of having an audience with the Rebbe.

My yechidus took place right after my Bar Mitzvah, which had been back in Montreal. The Rebbe was extremely warm, and when I came in he looked at me and asked, “Have you been to my farbrengens?” (more…)

Rabbi Yaakov Shpitzer & Professor Aryeh Durst

8 June 2022

Rabbi Yaakov Shpitzer

In 1981, my niece, Tzippy – my brother’s daughter – was diagnosed with a severe form of leg cancer, malignant melanoma. The doctors at Rambam Hospital in Haifa were very pessimistic about her chances of recovery. One doctor gave her only one month to live. Obviously, her parents did not take the news very well, and they were at a complete loss as to what to do. She was a young girl – only nineteen years old – and an only child.

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One Friday night, while my family and I were in middle of our Shabbat dinner, my neighbor, Rabbi Leibel Friedman, paid us a visit. He said, “I heard about your niece. You should know that the only person nowadays who can help her is the Lubavitcher Rebbe. My advice is that you go see him in the United States and do whatever he tells you to do.”

I was a little surprised to hear this coming from him, since he wasn’t a Lubavitcher chasid, but I listened to his advice and as soon as Shabbat ended I began making arrangements for the trip. I did not have a visa, and I knew that on Sundays the American consulate would be closed, so I contacted Rabbi Menachem Porush, who was a deputy minister in the Labor Ministry at that time. After hearing me out, he promised to assist in any way possible. I don’t know how he did it, but twenty-four hours later I was on my way to New York.

Immediately upon my arrival, I took a taxi to Crown Heights. I located one of the Rebbe’s secretaries, and after telling him the whole story, he promised to arrange an audience as soon as possible.

The next night, at around one in the morning, I entered the Rebbe’s study. Immediately, I experienced a feeling which is impossible to put it into words. Anyone who did not experience it will never understand.

The Rebbe looked at me and asked me what I needed. I attempted to hand him the X-rays and written diagnosis that I had brought with me, but he told me that he didn’t need them. “Just describe the problem, please,” he requested. (more…)

Rabbi Moshe Havlin

1 June 2022

I came from Israel to visit the Rebbe for the festive month of Tishrei, 1973. During that visit, we noticed a number of changes to the Rebbe’s regular conduct. He cried profusely while blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, as well as at the close of Yom Kippur. During the intervening Ten Days of Repentance (at the very moment Israel’s enemies were finalizing their plans for a surprise attack, as we later learned) the Rebbe called for children’s assemblies “to subdue the enemy.” And he spent hours giving out coins, for charity, to the children – another departure from his norm at the time. Once the Yom Kippur War broke out, we understood what this was all about.

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I was supposed to have an audience with the Rebbe the day after Yom Kippur but I was informed of another change: The Rebbe went to pray at the resting place of the Previous Rebbe, and all the audiences planned for that evening were canceled. Clearly, this was due to the dire situation in Israel. I was rescheduled for after Sukkot.

Among the issues I hoped to discuss was the matter of my wife’s pregnancy. At the time, Chava Chaya was pregnant with our second child. However, as I told the Rebbe, her term had been very difficult until then, and fraught with problems.

“With the help of G-d,” the Rebbe assured me, “you will have nachas from your children.”

I noticed that he said “children,” in the plural, and I understood that there was nothing to worry about. And everything was fine; our son Itzik was born and we also had another son not long after that. (more…)

Rabbi Noach Bernstein

26 May 2022

In the late ‘40s, I was a boy of about ten years old, living in Coney Island, and attending yeshivah in Brighton Beach. Like many other New Yorkers in those days, a Lubavitcher named Reb Mendel Cunin would spend his summers in Coney Island, and he attended the shul on 33rd street where my father served as gabbai. They became very friendly with each other, and one day my father told Reb Mendel that he was looking for a yeshivah with a more G-d fearing atmosphere for me.

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“I’ve got just the place for you,” said Reb Mendel, referring to the Chabad yeshivah on Bedford Avenue and Dean Street.

The yeshivah was in a building once home to the Brooklyn Union League Club, and had a large statue of President Grant on horseback in front. I ended up going through the whole Lubavitch educational system, eventually learning in 770.

Before I married my wife, Adela, I began serving as a rabbi of a shul in Brooklyn, and later came back to Coney Island, as rabbi of the Anshei Poland congregation. In addition, I went into business. At one point, I wrote to the Rebbe about a business opportunity that came up: A grocery store in Crown Heights had gone up for sale, and it was supposed to be a very good deal. The problem was that, in the ‘60s, people were running away from the area. There had been riots in New York, someone was killed in an apartment building, and there was an exodus. My wife was worried that there wouldn’t be any customers, and she wasn’t too excited by the thought of being a grocery lady either.

“You don’t have to worry about customers,” the Rebbe replied. “You’ll have customers. About your wife not wanting a grocery business – that you have to worry about.”

So for a time, I had a car rental company, and then I worked for the city of New York as a hospital care investigator. Then, in 1967, not long after the Six Day War, Rabbi Moshe Feller of Chabad in Minnesota came to me with a proposal. There was a shul in Duluth that needed a rabbi and he wanted me to take the position. I told him that my wife and I were already set up, but I let myself be convinced. (more…)

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…)

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