Rabbi Moshe Weiss

1 June 2023

Growing up, I didn’t have any grandparents; they had all perished in the Holocaust. As a matter of fact, none of my friends or contemporaries in Los Angeles did either. In our community of Hungarian immigrants, almost all of the adults were survivors so I never even knew what a grandmother or grandfather was.

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My father, Berel Weiss, was a successful entrepreneur in the nursing home industry as well as a devout chasid and a very spiritual person. We would walk to shul each week on Shabbat, and he would tell me stories about the Baal Shem Tov and the Rebbe. “He is our grandfather,” my father would say.

Although there were very few Lubavitchers in Los Angeles then, my father had gone to meet the Rebbe in 1962, and it was a seminal moment in his life. He had a very emotional meeting with the Rebbe, and then a formal audience. He only brought my older brother Yona Mordechai along, but he did write my name in the note he handed to the Rebbe. The Rebbe read the note, and when he reached my name, he underlined it.

“Your younger son, Moshe Aron, where is he?”

“He’s too young,” my father explained. I was just two at the time.

When I turned three and had my traditional upsherinish, or hair-cutting ceremony, there was a chasid there by the name of Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Kazarnovsky. He was a very warm man who would periodically visit us in Los Angeles, and he delivered a gift. For my upsherinish, the Rebbe had sent me a little Chabad siddur. (more…)

Mr. Nissim Mizrahi

24 May 2023

I always felt that I would like to keep Shabbat and be religious. But unfortunately, when I lived in California during the ‘70s, I had to work on Shabbat. I wanted to stop working on Shabbat so badly that it was burning me inside, but in every job that I took, I had to do it.

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After twelve years, I moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Myrtle Beach is popular with tourists, and in the tourist industry, Saturday is the most profitable day; if you refuse to work on Shabbat, you would be shown the door. By then, I had a family to support so once again I ended up applying for a job in a chain store selling beach gear, where I had to work on Shabbat. But one day, I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore.

It was a Thursday afternoon, in the fall of 1991. During my lunch break, I decided to call the local Chabad House to ask Rabbi Doron Aizenman what to do, and he suggested that I write to the Rebbe.

What am I going to tell him? How would I write this? “Please,” I asked, “sit down with me and show me what to do.” Rabbi Doron told me to come over, explained the traditional way to address the Rebbe in writing, showed me how to use his fax machine, and left me in his office on my own.

“One thing you should know,” he warned before leaving, “is that you’re not going to get an answer for a while. It might even take three or four months.” In those days, he explained, the Rebbe no longer had the time to respond to every question that came his way, and certainly not right away.

I wrote my letter, placed it in the machine, dialed the number, and waited for the beep that told me it had been sent. After going back to work, I closed the store, headed home, and went to sleep. (more…)

Dr. Baruch Levy

19 May 2023

The oldest of four boys, I grew up in Tel Aviv in a traditional home where we soaked up a love of the Jewish people, its Torah, and its land. We had emigrated from Baghdad, Iraq, in 1935 when I was just two.

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Raised in the atmosphere of an up-and-coming country, I had a strong desire to be a part of the action. At seventeen, I was drafted into the army and signed up for permanent service. There, I served as an officer in the Nachal brigade and later, wanting to focus on education, as a commander at the Command Military Academy and in the Youth Corps, or Gadna.

In the early ‘70s, Prime Minister Golda Meir empaneled a special commission to inquire into the matter of Israel’s youth in crisis. In particular, it would be focused on youth within migrant communities, or “marginalized youth,” who, because of the inequalities in Israeli society and the discrimination they experienced, were suffering high rates of school drop-out and delinquency. I was then a colonel, and in light of my educational experience in the IDF, I was called on to lead the commission.

When the commission turned in its findings, we included a long list of recommendations for policy changes in the fields of education, housing, employment, health, and welfare. As a result, Golda Meir requested that I be discharged from the army, to join her office as an adviser for social welfare and to coordinate her staff’s efforts in implementing the commission’s recommendations, within the relevant government departments. Even after Meir’s resignation, her successor, Yitzhak Rabin, asked me to stay in this role, which I ended up filling for a total of four years. (more…)

Rabbi Alex Stern

11 May 2023

When I was growing up in the early sixties, the Lower East Side of Manhattan was full of great Torah scholars. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the foremost Halachic authority in America, lived in our co-op complex. Not far away were the Kapishnitzer and Boyaner Rebbes, and Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin was there too.

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Rabbi Feinstein’s granddaughter was my sister’s best friend, and at some point, she suggested to her grandmother that I could come over and help out, to answer the phone, or to write Rosh Hashanah cards. I was only ten, but for the next two decades, I used to come by Reb Moshe’s, as he is known, on a regular basis. Later on I would even sleep over on occasion, whenever his wife was away and someone had to be there to see how he was doing.

The Feinstein home was like Grand Central Station. People were ringing the bell or calling the phone every minute, and Reb Moshe would spend time speaking with them in person. But he spent most of his remaining time writing, whether it was writing up his Halachic responsa or his classes on the Talmud, which have now been printed in his Igros Moshe and Divros Moshe.

One of the things I used to do for Reb Moshe was give out his books. When he would publish a new volume, I would give it out to a list of thirty or forty prominent rabbis in the Lower East Side.

One Thursday night in 1969, I came to Reb Moshe’s house, and told him that I would be going to have an audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It was not my first time visiting the Rebbe; my father had taken my brothers and I to our first private audience a few years earlier, and we came back a few times after that for other audiences and public gatherings. (more…)

Dr. Rivkah Blau

3 May 2023

In the late 1950s, Jewish day school graduates began finding themselves in Ivy League and Seven Sisters colleges – and I was one of them.

On campus, we encountered an environment that was often hostile to Jews. Classes were held on Shabbat and exams were often given on holidays; we bought our own kosher food, but we still had to pay for room and board and could not bring our food into the dormitories. We also found that people were asking us questions about Judaism that we couldn’t answer. Despite our years of yeshivah education, many of us felt that we didn’t know enough, and we wanted to continue learning.

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We began organizing different groups: At Barnard, where I was, we called our group Ari; at Columbia, they called theirs Yeshurun and used to gather for afternoon prayers in the laboratory of a doctoral student; in Harvard, they called it Taryag; while Cornell had a Young Israel House with a kosher kitchen.

Once we heard about each other, we decided to establish a single body to coordinate all the groups. We called it Yavneh and our founding convention was in February 1960. Our goal was to promote Jewish learning and observance on campus, to ensure that Jewish students wouldn’t feel alone, and that if they wanted to learn more, we would be there to help them.

Everybody had his or her own reason for the name, but I was trying to carry on an organization that my father, Rav Mordechai Pinchas Teitz, had started before immigrating to America, when he was a fourteen-year-old in Latvia. After coming home from the Ponevezh yeshivah and discovering that the boys he had grown up with had joined the Communist Party, he founded a club – Yavneh – for Jewish boys to learn and have fun while getting a better feeling about their Jewishness. (more…)

Rabbi Chaim Yitzchak Cohen

27 April 2023

Three months ago, we published Rabbi Cohen’s description of his first encounter with the Rebbe in 1972. Here is his account of two subsequent audiences.

As an administrator and fundraiser for various institutions associated with the Sadigura community, I joined the recently appointed Sadigura Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Friedman, and a group of his chasidim on a trip to the United States. The year was 1980, and we were going to attend the wedding of the son of Reb Avraham Yosef “Monye” Shapiro, a leading Sadigura chasid as well as a relative of the Rebbe’s family. Reb Monye was a successful industrialist, as well as being politically active; later he would become a member of the Knesset for the Agudat Yisrael party.

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Upon arrival, I made contact with Rabbi Hodakov, secretary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I myself had met with the Rebbe before, but this time, I set up an appointment for the Sadigura Rebbe with the Rebbe. The two already knew each other, from the time that Rabbi Friedman lived in Crown Heights, while heading up the Sadigura study hall there, years before succeeding his father as Rebbe.

I invited Reb Monye to join us on the visit to the Rebbe’s court. As a wealthy businessman and a leading figure within Agudat Yisrael, he was close with the leaders of the Labor party (then Mapai) and was generally influential within Israel’s upper political echelon. The last time I had met with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, I told Reb Monye, I promised to return with someone who could assist the Rebbe’s “Mihu Yehudi campaign” to legislate Halachic standards on questions of Jewish identity. He agreed and came along.

The meeting was a lovely, dignified affair, and it lasted for an hour and a half. For the most part, the Rebbe conversed with the Sadigura Rebbe and Reb Monye, although at the end, as we were heading for the door, he turned to me and expressed his appreciation for organizing the meeting.

Throughout their discussion, which was recorded and eventually released in print, they exchanged words of Torah and also touched on many matters of public interest.

One subject was that of natalist policies in Israel. The Rebbe observed that, on one hand, the Israeli government offered new immigrants an “absorption basket” valued at some thirty thousand dollars so as to encourage population growth from abroad. On the other hand, they were spending money on “family planning” initiatives in order to reduce the domestic birth rate, rather than increasing incentives for having more babies. (more…)

Dr. Ruth Benjamin

20 April 2023

This story is an excerpt from the book My Story 1. Get your copy today at www.jemstore.com.

I was raised in South Africa, where my parents – who were not Jews but Christians, specifically Presbyterians – emigrated from England when I was nine. Eventually, after a lot of searching, I made my way to Israel and in 1965, at the age of twenty-five, I converted to Judaism.

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Shortly after my conversion, I got married. My husband was a Jewish psychiatrist at the Sha’ar Menashe Mental Health Center near Haifa, where I worked as a social worker. At first I was very enthusiastic about Judaism but after interacting with many non-observant Jews who questioned my observance, I became confused and riddled with doubts.

Fortunately, two years later, we moved to South Africa. There, I was able to restore my faith and my Torah observance after coming in touch with Chabad. This led to my desire to meet the Rebbe, which I first did in 1972.

In advance of that audience, I had written to the Rebbe. I had been told to limit my letter to one page, but I had so much to say and so much to ask that I wrote in very tiny script to fit it all in. When I presented this one-page letter to the Rebbe, he actually took out a magnifying glass in order to be able to read it.

Among the many things I wanted to know was, “Can I really still count myself as a Jew?” I was worried that my lapse in observance had disqualified me somehow.

The Rebbe looked at me as if he was seeing through me. His eyes were so bright and full of light, I felt as if he was seeing my soul. And then he said – after noting that my conversion by the Haifa Rabbinical Court was sound in the eyes of Jewish law – “You most certainly can count yourself as a Jew. Indeed, you must. But how good a Jew you are going to be – that is up to you.”

I replied, “I want to be one completely.” (more…)

Rabbi Tzion Tzubary

10 April 2023

I was born in Yemen in 1944, and five years later my family emigrated to Israel. Our material circumstances were harsh; brought from one migrants’ camp to the next, we lived in tents that let in the winter rain. I remember once, in the middle of the night, that our entire tent simply flew off into a powerful storm, leaving us exposed to the rain.

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Nor were the spiritual conditions straightforward. There wasn’t yet a well-organized public religious education system, and so although we all came from observant homes, the authorities put us Yemenite children into classes combining boys and girls, with nonobservant teachers. Additionally, they attempted to draw us away from our faith. For example, they cut off our long peyot, under the pretext of a scalp ringworm outbreak. Once, they even tried to make us desecrate the Shabbat, but we refused and ran off. Eventually we left the school, and stayed home, where we received a traditional education.

In time, I attended the Porat Yosef yeshivah in Rechovot until 8th grade, before moving to another yeshivah high school in Kfar Haroeh. In my last couple of years there, Rabbi Yissachar Meir came to teach our class. He had been one of the first students of the well-known Ponevezh Yeshivah in Bnei Brak, and before joining us, he spent some three years in Morocco, setting up boys’ and girls’ Torah institutions.

Before our graduation, Rabbi Meir convinced our class to join him in forming the nucleus of a new yeshivah in Netivot which became known as the “Yeshivah of the Negev.” I ended up spending ten years there, through to 1968.

A year before that, in 1967, I got engaged and the question of where my wife and I would live came up. Of course, I wanted to remain in Netivot and continue my studies close to Rabbi Meir, to whom I had become attached. But my wife wanted to be in Rechovot so that she could live near her parents and help care for her sick mother. Having learned in the Chabad institutions of Rechovot, she had a connection with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, as did Rabbi Meir. With his guidance, we decided to write to the Rebbe, seeking advice on our dilemma. (more…)

Mr. Hirsch Katz

4 April 2023

My father, Yankel Katz, was born in Mogilev, Belarus, to a Lubavitcher family that moved to Chicago a few years later, in about 1905.

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He began working as a child laborer in a printing plant, and by the age of fifteen was the main provider for the Katz family since his father could not provide very well for them.

Although my grandfather parted ways with Chasidism, my father was dedicated to the community, and became an outstanding member of Congregation Anshei Lubavitch, an elegant synagogue that was one of four Lubavitcher shuls in Chicago at the time. He was also a friend of great rabbinic leaders, and as a young man in the 1920s, he would correspond and donate money to the great rabbis of Europe, like the Chafetz Chaim and Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski.

In 1929, the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, visited Chicago and my father was fortunate enough to make his acquaintance. There, in the Lubavitcher shul, began a close and dear friendship. My father was smitten with the Rebbe’s charisma, his manner, and his friendship. (more…)

Rabbi Sholom Ber Lipskar

28 March 2023

In the mid-‘70s, I was diagnosed with a murmur in my heart. A certain procedure had recently been developed for my condition, and the chief cardiologist at Miami’s Mount Sinai Hospital was going to perform it on me.

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I went into the hospital, and everything seemed to go very well. Since the procedure required general anesthesia and I was still out, the doctor informed my wife that I was in recovery. In the meantime, she went home to get some things. At the time, we lived just three blocks from Mount Sinai on North Meridian Avenue.

After enough time had passed and I was supposed to be out of recovery, she decided to call me in my room to ask me how I was. She called, and there was no response. So she hung up and tried again.

I was sharing the room with another gentleman, and eventually he woke up and picked up the phone.

“What’s going on with my husband?” she asked him. “Where is he?”

I was right next to him, sleeping.

“Well, wake him up.”

The guy tried calling out to me by name, but got no response. “Listen,” he told her, “your husband is not waking up.” (more…)

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