Mrs. Estie Ash

13 January 2022

It was my first time back in the States since getting married. While my husband Michael stayed home in South Africa, I traveled with our boys, Eitan and Uriel, for a nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. Of course, we also went to have an audience with the Rebbe.

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My mother’s family had been affiliated with Chabad for generations, and, although we didn’t keep all the customs, she wouldn’t budge without first consulting the Rebbe: If anyone was sick, or getting married, or whatever, she would make an appointment. The Rebbe was very much a part of our lives when we were growing up.

We went to Crown Heights for Shavuot, but when we got there, I found out that the night before, the Rebbe had given out these beautiful, brown prayer books to all of the kids. Upset that we had missed out, I spent the whole holiday thinking about how I could get two of those siddurim for my children.

Our audience was at 11 PM, right after Shavuot of 1979. Eitan was just three years old and had fallen asleep, so I was holding him in my hands. Uriel, who was six, walked alongside me. The Rebbe greeted us very warmly; he looked at my children like they were his own grandchildren.

But before we had a chance to say anything, the Rebbe asked Uriel, “Do you have a siddur?”

Uriel replied, “No.” (more…)

Rabbi Leibel Altein

12 January 2022

One winter day, I was sitting with a few other yeshivah students in the study hall in 770, when Rabbi Binyomin Klein, the Rebbe’s secretary, came over to us. He wanted to know whether we’re willing to go on a list from which the Rebbe will choose emissaries to send to Australia.

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Two years earlier, the Rebbe had begun sending out groups of yeshivah boys as student-emissaries to the Yeshiva Gedolah of Melbourne. Since these groups went out for two years and Australia was far away, one could only be a candidate if found to be in good physical health, and only with his parents’ consent. My brother had been a part of that first group, and I asked Rabbi Klein to put my name down as well.

For a few weeks, we didn’t hear anything. But then, in the middle of a lively gathering the day after Purim, 1969, I got a tap on the shoulder. It was Rabbi Klein, summoning me to the office of Rabbi Hodakov, head of the Rebbe’s secretariat. I was going to Australia.

We were set to travel in time for Passover. Before leaving, the whole group – myself and five others – had a private audience with the Rebbe. When we came into his office, there was a box of matzah on a table at the back of the room. While standing behind his desk, the Rebbe addressed us: Now that the first group had just concluded their mission, he began, it was up to us to expand on the work that they had begun. He instructed us to each take one whole matzah and two broken pieces and then gave each of us thirty-six dollars, to be distributed to the pre-Passover charitable fund in Australia. (more…)

Mrs. Chani Lipskar

29 December 2021

Our family arrived from Russia to France in 1947, and I was born the year after, the second of five children. When I was six, we emigrated to Crown Heights, in Brooklyn, to be with the Rebbe.

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I loved life in Crown Heights and attending school there each day. The highlight of every week was attending synagogue on Shabbat, and when there was a farbrengen with the Rebbe, I and other girls my age would stay for the duration.  While we may not have understood everything, we sat for hours, observing, listening, and absorbing the Rebbe’s energy, words, and wisdom.

Upon graduation, my mother very much wanted me to visit her parents, who still resided in Paris, serving as the Rebbe’s emissaries. However, my father was not excited about the prospect of a 17-year-old girl traveling so far away on her own.  So we consulted the Rebbe and he gave me his blessing for the trip, on the condition that it included a stint at the Chabad girls’ school in Yerres, just outside of Paris. I began brushing up on my French, with a Berlitz language crash course.

My trip to France ended up being transformational. As it was summer, the school was running a camp for girls, and while there, I quickly came to realize that I was living as quite a privileged American girl, in a very protective environment. My family didn’t lead a luxurious life, but some of the girls in Yerres were the children of Holocaust survivors, or from broken homes, with so much pain and suffering in their lives – and still they were smiling. Just being around them was humbling. They taught me what was truly important in life, and they helped me gain a broader perspective. That summer, I grew up. (more…)

Rabbi Leibel Schapiro

24 December 2021

The anniversary of the passing of the Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad Chasidism, is on the 24th of Tevet each year. 1963, however, wasn’t just any year: Since it was the 150th anniversary of the passing, the Rebbe placed a great emphasis on that date for the entire year.

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Actually, it all started months earlier. I was a young yeshivah student at the time, learning in Crown Heights. While the older students studied in 770, we learned in a building that was about a fifteen minute walk from 770, on Bedford Avenue.

On the 18th of Elul, the Alter Rebbe’s birthday, the Rebbe announced that there would be an unscheduled farbrengen – a chasidic gathering where he would speak publicly. This was quite unusual in those years, as most such gatherings were planned in advance.

We would never miss a farbrengen, and we certainly didn’t want to miss this one. So when we got the message about what was happening, we literally ran from Bedford to 770 and made it in six or seven minutes, and got to our places just a few minutes before it began.

With the 150th anniversary of the Alter Rebbe’s passing coming up on the 24th of Tevet, the Rebbe said that we have to start preparing for it now — on the Alter Rebbe’s birthday.

Since the Alter Rebbe’s most prominent books are the Tanya and his Code of Jewish Law, the Rebbe suggested that the chasidim divide up these two works, with everyone studying his share before the 24th of Tevet. Learning his teachings would be a way to strengthen our connection to the Alter Rebbe. In addition, he asked us all to donate some money towards printing more of the Alter Rebbe’s teachings. (more…)

Mr. Marty Jacobs

16 December 2021

My father-in-law, Reb Yankel Katz, was an exceptional person, who enjoyed an exceptional relationship with the Rebbe. This relationship actually started with the Previous Rebbe, back when my father-in-law was just a boy, living in turn-of-the-century Chicago.

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He told me that when he was seven years old, he did not like going to synagogue with his father. His father had Lubavitch roots, wore a long black coat and had a beard, but did not consider himself an adherent. In fact, he didn’t very much like chasidim, or more accurately, he didn’t like the chasidic school of thought. The synagogue he attended was filled with people who were similarly opposed to it. Young Yankel Katz, however, was very attracted to Chasidism, and didn’t feel comfortable there.

So, one day he walked into a shul that prayed with the Nusach Ari liturgy – in accordance with Chabad custom – and he liked it. It was at that shul that he first heard about the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok, who had not yet come to America. By the age of eight, he was sending letters to the Rebbe in Europe, along with some change as a charitable donation, and the Rebbe himself would respond. It was then, he said, that he started getting very interested in Lubavitch.

It wasn’t until 1929, however, that he finally had an opportunity to meet the Rebbe, who made a stop in Chicago while visiting the US that year. And after the Rebbe moved permanently to the US in 1940, his connection to him, and eventually to his successor Rabbi Menachem Mendel, grew even stronger.

Often, a Rebbe doesn’t hear much good news; his followers turn to him when things are bad. The Rebbe himself once said as much to my father-in-law: “I am a tzaros Rebbe – a misfortune Rebbe. When someone has troubles, I hear about their troubles; when there is good news, sometimes I might hear about it.” So one of the things my-father-in-law thought he needed to do was to cheer the Rebbe up with good things. (more…)

Rabbi Mendel Azimov

9 December 2021

On the 11th of Nissan, 1982, the Rebbe was turning 80. And so, of course, his chasidim wanted to come to New York to celebrate this milestone and to be present at the farbrengen that the Rebbe would hold for the occasion.

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The problem was that everyone wanted to come, but not everyone could. Some chasidim even wrote to the Rebbe to tell him how bad they felt that they wouldn’t be able to make it, either because they couldn’t afford the ticket, or because Passover was just a few days later. So, a few weeks beforehand, the Rebbe announced that nobody should make a trip just for his birthday.

Restrictions like this were not new. Generally speaking, the Rebbe only gave permission for his overseas emissaries – like my parents, who were the Rebbe’s emissaries in France – to visit every second year. To come any other time, they needed a special reason.

Fortunately, we had a good excuse for anyone who wondered how we still made it to New York: My Bar Mitzvah was going to be the day after the Rebbe’s birthday, on the 12th of Nissan – not in Paris, but in New York. So my parents, and all the other French chasidim, would not be going to New York that year in honor of the Rebbe’s birthday, but in honor of Mendel Azimov’s Bar Mitzvah.

It was an incredible experience. The Rebbe held a farbrengen on Sunday evening that went through the night, into the early hours of my Bar Mitzvah. When the farbrengen ended, the Rebbe announced that he wanted to thank everybody for coming, and would personally hand out a copy of the Tanya to everybody present. He only finished handing them out at 6 AM, and after that, I was called up to the Torah for the first time, and then we set up another farbrengen to celebrate my Bar Mitzvah. When we went back to France for Passover, we were filled with inspiration. (more…)

Rabbi Shmuel Langsam

1 December 2021

It was 1979 when my two-year-old son developed a hernia. It wasn’t too serious, but we went to a few doctors, and they all told us he would need an operation. So I wrote to the Rebbe with two questions: Firstly, whether to undergo the operation. Secondly, if so, which surgeon to use, as each of the doctors had recommended someone else.

The Rebbe’s answer was simple: “In all of the above, follow the advice of Dr. Feldman.”

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Dr. Robert Feldman has been a community physician in Crown Heights for many decades now, but at that time he was practicing in the Bronx. We had already gone to see him, and having heard his opinion, we assumed there was no reason to ask again.

But Rabbi Binyomin Klein, the Rebbe’s secretary (and a cousin of ours), suggested otherwise. “Dr. Feldman was just with the Rebbe today,” he told me, “and they likely spoke about your son’s case. You might be able to learn more about what the Rebbe said.”

Rabbi Klein advised that we visit Dr. Feldman in person instead of calling him. So we went to the Bronx, and Dr. Feldman told us what happened.

“Can you do me a favor?” the Rebbe had asked him.

The doctor, of course, replied that he would.

The Rebbe told Dr. Feldman about my letter. “You advised him to see a Dr. Soe in the Bronx,” the Rebbe said. “But I was thinking that maybe you should send him to Toronto.” (more…)

Rabbi Sholom Jacobson

25 November 2021

Until the late 1970s, the Tanya, the central work of Chabad chasidic philosophy, had been printed less than 100 times since its original publication in 1796 by the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman. But in 1978, the Rebbe launched a special Tanya printing campaign, announcing that he wanted the Tanya to be printed in any country where it had not yet been printed. Since then, there have been 7,530 editions, thank G-d, and we’re still going strong.

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The purpose of printing the Tanyas, as the Rebbe explained it, is to help bring Mashiach, by disseminating the teachings of Chasidism – “spreading the wellsprings outward,” in the traditional phrase. But, instead of those springs just bringing water to some far places, printing a Tanya in a new city was a way of spreading the “fountainhead” itself. A place where the Tanya was being printed would become the source from which the wellsprings of the Torah would flow out further.

He gave a few general instructions regarding the master text, specified that each print run should have at least a thousand copies, and also said something very significant: Printing Tanyas would be a channel to draw down blessings for the year ahead.

As a member of the team responsible for publishing the Rebbe’s teachings, I had worked on a commemorative edition of the Tanya, in honor of the Rebbe’s 70th birthday, a few years earlier.

Now, with this campaign, I became much more involved. On the morning before Yom Kippur of that year, just over a month after the Rebbe announced the printing initiative, we got a call from Rabbi Leibel Groner, the Rebbe’s secretary, who told me that the Rebbe wanted us to print a Tanya that very day and to submit it to him before Yom Kippur began – that meant we only had about ten hours! It was impossible. We started calling some printers, but they laughed when we told them what we wanted. (more…)

Marcia Greensite

22 November 2021

The first time I went to Crown Heights, in 1973, it was a disaster. I had grown up in San Diego, connecting with Chabad as a student at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), but going from the beaches of La Jolla to Brooklyn, New York, was just too much for me at the time.

So, I went back to UCSD, unsure about my Judaism and unsure about my own life. After about a year, I had a better sense of who I was and what I was looking for, so I decided to go back to New York. I’m going to go again, and give it another try, I thought to myself.

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My parents were not supportive of the idea, to say the least. We belonged to a Conservative synagogue, but our interest and involvement fell away after the Bar and Bat Mitzvah years.

“You know what, Mom,” I suggested, “come along with me and see what it’s all about.”

My mother was from New York and always missed the city, but she was horrified at the idea. Still, I managed to convince her to come with me for the weekend of the “Encounter with Chabad,” when we would have an opportunity to meet the Rebbe.

My mother was very impressed with our hosts and felt very warm towards the other people we met over that Shabbat. But she wasn’t comfortable with the whole religious scene. When we had to wait for hours to meet the Rebbe, she was not happy. But she was a real trouper and she joined me.

We were told to prepare a little note with our names so we could hand it to the Rebbe. My mother’s name is Carol, but her Hebrew name is Chaya. She was always very proud of it – it means “life.”

Eventually, we were allowed into the Rebbe’s office and my mother handed her note to him. He read through it, and then looked up at her. “You have another name, don’t you?”

My mother started to stammer, “Uhh… yeah.” (more…)

Rabbi Yisroel Rubin

12 November 2021

I remember standing at the Rebbe’s farbrengen, a fifteen-year-old on a visit to New York. During that winter night of 1965, I found myself holding onto the chain link fence overlooking the back of the main synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway, straining to hear, hanging on to every word.

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The Rebbe was presenting a teaching on the conclusion of the Talmudic Tractate of Makkot, and he was discussing the story of Rabbi Akiva laughing at the sight of the Holy Temple in ruins.

As the Rebbe portrayed the episode, Rabbi Akiva’s personal background set him apart from his fellow sages. Whereas his colleagues were elite members of the Jewish establishment, Rabbi Akiva was a baal teshuvah who had struggled to come closer to Judaism later on in life. “Rabbi Akiva said: I am the proof!” the Rebbe explained, paraphrasing the sage. “My character now is the result of all the hardships I have suffered. I exemplify how utter ruin can lead to ultimate redemption!”

The Rebbe’s voice was filled with emotion, and as he spoke, I couldn’t believe my ears. I had never before heard Torah presented with such a multidimensional perspective. With a deep understanding of the biographies of the people in these stories, the Rebbe analyzed who they were as individuals, their interpersonal dynamics, and how this related to their teachings. This unique method of Talmudic study led the Rebbe to ask questions that no one else asked, and to give answers that no one else answered. (more…)

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