I come from a Chabad family with roots in Russia and Germany, though by the time I was born in 1958, my parents were living in Crown Heights. When my mother was pregnant with me, she and my father came to see the Rebbe to ask for a blessing. At the time, it was the custom among some religious women to wear a partial wig covered with a kerchief. At the time the Rebbe had been campaigning that married women should cover their hair with a full sheitel (wig). When the Rebbe saw my mother he said to her, “A half a sheitel is a half a blessing, a whole sheitel is a whole blessing.”
After blessing them, the Rebbe asked to see my father privately and when my mother had left the room, he opened a drawer and took out a sum of money. It was a pretty large sum for those days. He then instructed my father to go to Manhattan and find out where the Broadway actors buy their wigs and buy my mother the nicest sheitel he could find. That is just one instance of the Rebbe’s sensitivity and caring that my family experienced.
My father was in the business of buying and selling postal stamps. As a result he travelled a lot, especially to Central and South America, buying stamps there and selling them to collectors in Europe. And, as if the Rebbe didn’t have enough on his mind, he instructed his secretariat to save the foreign stamps from his incoming mail for my father. I recall my father peeling off these stamps from the envelopes and arranging them in special collectors’ albums.
On one occasion in 1972, while my father was preparing to travel to a number of foreign cities – including Managua, Nicaragua – he wrote out his whole three-week itinerary for the Rebbe, asking for a blessing for a safe trip. The Rebbe gave the blessing, but also told my father not to rush. Meaning the Rebbe was blessing him to go, but not just yet.
So my father postponed his trip. And on December 23rd there was a massive earthquake in Managua. 6,000 people were killed and 20,000 injured. Some of the people that my father was to meet did not survive. The destruction and loss of life was terrible, but my father was spared.
Six months later my father decided to try again, and he asked the Rebbe if he should go now. This time the Rebbe instructed him, “Check and see what the US State Department advises.” My father called the State Department, and they said, “The situation following the earthquake is very bad. We don’t recommend that American citizens travel there.” So he waited.
Another three months passed, and again he asked the Rebbe, who told him that this time it was okay to go, provided he made sure to be inoculated against malaria and other tropical diseases. (more…)